Review: Mordankainen’s Magnificent Emporium

Your Next “Core” Book

I’ll admit, my first impression of Mordankainen’s Magnificent Emporium was less than great. I excitedly opened its pages and thumbed through to only stumble over the few items I’d already seen from within DDI play test articles and a magical items that seemed pretty lackluster (flaming swords, wand of frost, gauntlets of ogre power etc), making me wonder why anyone would pay $40 for a book full of stuff they’d already seen?

Closer inspection and more time with the tome allowed me to realize its full potential – magnificent, evocative, flavorful, indispensable GM resource potential. I’m going to get my recommendation out of the way right in the beginning of this review by saying that Mordankainen’s Magnificent Emporium is a book every DM should own, the way it interprets items and their significance in both story and gameplay is something GM’s of any edition should take cue from. In addition to its great presentation and focus on the non-mechanical bits of Dungeons & Dragons, it also manages to bring some long-missing elements of the D&D ethos to 4th edition, including cursed items and shit that can kill you.

Story Items

Perhaps my favorite section of the book is devoid of a single stat block, Story Items present exactly what they sound like as a resource for DM’s to build upon and into their games. You may have tuned into the Haste Podcast last week and heard NewbieDM and I applauding the book for using the beans from Jack and the Beanstalk as a great example of a story item. Elements like these may seem obvious to most people but MME does a good job of putting them into perspective in an easily digestible read, I know that this section alone is going to vastly change my games from here on out.

Cursed Items

A point of contention with 4e D&D has long been that it removed cursed items from the playing field, as they were never mentioned in any product previous to MME. However it seems like those days are gone, WotC has listened and placed cursed items back in the game. Not that DM’s haven’t been concocting their own anyway, but it’s still nice to see an ‘official’ appearance – even if it is 3 years after the release of 4th edition. MME has brought cursed items back without pulling any punches, many deadly and truly obnoxious items lie within its pages. The array of items is nicely contrasted also, from the truly nasty Armor of Vulnerability and the Periapt of Foul Rotting to the wacky Boots of Uncontrollable Dancing.

Save Or Die

Yes, well not exactly a save or die mechanic but there are some truly awesome items within the pages of this book that contain properties along the lines of “if X is Y then, you die” within their stat blocks. While it’s not a majority, or even more than a small handful of items, it is still great to see WotC embrace some of the lethality that’s been missing from 4e D&D for far too long. It seems that since the launch of the game they have slowly begun to realize people miss these sorts of things and have trickled them in here and there, thus MME is no exception. Emerald Tome of the Devourer, anyone?

Henchman, Mundanes & More

Long have many a 4e adventuring party probably gone without the comforts of having good cannon fodder henchman around to lend them a helping “step on that pressure plate right there” hand. Fear no more because MME brings some pretty extensive, yet simple rules for both constructing henchman as a DM and hiring them out as a PC. You’ll have plenty of stalwart meatheads at your side for just about any situation, starting at the low price of just 5gp!

Joking aside, the henchman really do help recapture some more ‘old school’ feel that is weaved into the pages of the entire book. Also there is a collection of mundane items that have made it back into the game such as glass cutters, a jar of glow worms and of course the ten foot pole among many others. Not that these items were non-existent before MME, but once again it’s nice to see all of these items detailed officially along with some pretty nifty ideas for how to use them as well. There’s also trade goods, buildings and alchemical wonders also line the back pages next to the appendices, my personal favorite is probably foaming plaster. 

Supplementally Speaking

As with all of my new reviews I’ll drop some pro’s and con’s on you for quick reference, though I’ll finish up by saying that this book has truly inspired me. My 4e games will not be the same now that I’ve read through these pages, this is probably my favorite 4e book ever published, knocking the Tomb of Horrors hardback down to #2. Don’t miss this one guys & gals, even if you don’t play 4e I still think this book solid gold for idea mining. You should go buy it now, seriously.

PROS

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  • Unique and evocative  items, artifacts and more
  • Great DM advice and campaign building help
  • Fluff and Flavor over Crunch and Labor
  • Henchman, Alchemy, Ten Foot Poles and more classic D&D elements
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CONS

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  • It costs money
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7 Comments

  1. And this is why I think the book was shelved earlier in the year.

    When information on the book was released in its first incarnation, it was looking like another Adventurer’s Vault; ie simply just more new magic items to add to the pile we already had. I think WotC came to the conclusion, and rightly in my opinion, that the book would have failed in sales and decided not to release the book at that time.

    Since then I know the article on henchmen was released on DDI and likely added into the book later (as evidenced by the fact the original Henchmen article was considered non-official). I suspect more content was added to the book to make it more than just another magic item catalog. I think WotC made the right decision to pull the book initially off the release schedule, retool it, and release it later with a wider range of content.

    • Yeah I’d venture to say that you’re pretty spot on there, hoping they are coming to their senses about a lot more things these days. Here’s to hoping this is the new face of 4e, thoughtful and well done.

  2. I’m glad you liked the story items, Jerry.
    They were my one contribution to this book (sadly, uncredited).
    This section was actually written for another product, a couple years ago, which was canceled; it’s nice to see them resurrected in print.

  3. Amazing book, I really wish it was 220 pages though! I want more of this, lots more.

    The only thing missing in this book is market places and store/inn themes and alternative rules for money and food. I use a homebrew coinage system for my group; gp is just like krotes- a measurement, a few I use are enchanted coins; encrypted coins; blessed coins even working on cursed coins.

  4. Nice overview, thanks. I share your opinion, this is right up there among the very best of the D&D canon, not just 4e. You say every DM should have one? I’ll raise you with every player should have one. Of course, many will simply look to the powers and stats, but you can’t help but be lured into the 10 foot poles and the hook laden stories. I would love one of my players to come to me with a ‘wishlist’ that included one of these items, it would probably spark an entire scenario.

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