Monday, November 18, 2019

Monstrous Monday Review: Fiend Folio

Last week I reviewed the penultimate monster tome ever created, the AD&D Monster Manual. this week I look at the second-ever produced AD&D monster book, and maybe one of the most loved OR most hated books, depending on who you ask; I mean of course 1981's Fiend Folio.

I will admit upfront, I enjoyed the hell out of this book.  There was something so different, so strange and so British about it.  I loved listening to Pink Floyd, The Who, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin while watching Monte Python, the Young Ones, Doctor Who and more I was a died in the wool Anglophile.  In the 80s if it was British it was good was my thinking.  The Fiend Folio was all that to me.

Yes. I am 100% in the "I Loved It!" camp.

Now, that doesn't mean I was immune to the problems it had.  But I'll get into that in detail in a bit.

Fiend Folio Tome

First available as a hardcover in 1981.  Available as PDF ($9.99) and PoD ($11.99 or $13.99 combined) via DriveThruRPG.  128 pages, color covers, black & white interior art.
The Fiend Folio is something of the lost forgotten middle child of AD&D.  Don Turnbull, then editor of White Dwarf magazine had been collecting monsters for his magazine since 1976.   In 1979 He wanted to publish a book of these monsters through Games Workshop as a new monster tome companion to the then released Monster Manual.  Through various legal wranglings which included TSR wanting to buy GW and then starting TSR UK, the book came to be published by TSR in 1981.

The hardcover was the fifth hardcover overall, the second "in a series of AD&D roleplaying aids", the last to use the classic cover art style and dress, and the only AD&D hardcover never updated to a new Jeff Easley cover.    To cement the perception that this book was the "middle child" every book after it had the new Jeff Easley covers and about as many were published before it as after it.

When released the book caused a bit of a stir.  In Dragon Magazine #55 we had no less of a personage than Ed Greenwood blasting the book with his Flat Taste Didn't Go Away.  Ouch. That is a bit harsh Ed and the article doesn't get much lighter. I am sure there were plenty of old-school AD&D fans who were at the time saying "Who the hell is this Ed Greenwood guy and why do I care about his opinion?"  Sy though, Ed is no fan of this book and calls many of the monsters incomplete, inadequate and many are redundant.  AND to be 100% fair he is making some very good points here. The editing is all over the place, many of the monsters are useless or way overpowered in some respects.
Alan Zumwalt follows this with Observations of a Semi-Satisfied Customer.  An endorsement, but not the ringing endorsement one might want.
Not to be forgotten Don Turnbull,  Managing Director of TSR UK, Ltd. and Editor of the FIEND FOLIO Tome ends with his Apologies - and Arguments; his defense of the Fiend Folio.
All three articles make good points and overreach in others. In the end, I still love the Fiend Folio, not despite its weirdness, but because of it.  I have decided though that when I run a pure Forgotten Realms game that I will not include any of the monsters that Ed found objectionable.  I was going to say not include any from this book, but that includes Drow and we know that isn't going to happen!

There are some "translation" errors here too.  In particular when the monster was written for OD&D and then later updated to AD&D.  Others the art didn't seem to fit the description.  I still find it hard to see how the T-Rex looking Babbler is supposed to be a mutation of the Lizard Man.


That is all great and a wonderful bit of historical context, but none of that had any effect on the way I played and how I used the book.

Everyone will talk about how that is the book that gave us the Adherer, the Flumph, Flail Snail, Lava Children,  and my least favorite, the CIFAL.    But it is also the book that gave us the Death Knight, Skeleton Warriors, Revenant, the Slaadi, Son of Kyuss and more.

The D&D cartoon featured the Shadow Demon and Hooked Horrors.  The D&D toy line used the Bullywugs.  And creatures like the Aarakocra, Kenku, Githyanki and Githzerai would go on to greater fame and use in future editions of D&D.  Some even first appeared in other D&D modules that got their first-ever hardcover representations here; like the Daemons, Kuo-Toa, and the Drow.

Many monsters came from the pages of White Dwarf's Fiend Factory.  Even these monsters were a mixed bag, but there were so many.  So many in fact that there could have been a Fiend Folio II.

Flipping through this book I am struck with one thing.  For a tome called the "Fiend Folio" there are not really a lot of fiends in it.  Lolth, the Styx Devil, Mezzodaemon, Nycadaemon and maybe the Guardian Daemon.

While this book does not fill me with the deep nostalgia of the discover of D&D like the Monster Manual does, it fills me with another type of nostalgia.  The nostalgia of long night playing and coming up with new and exciting adventures and using monsters that my players have never seen before.



For the record, here are some of my favorites:  Apparition, Berbalang, Booka, Coffer Corpse, Crypt Thing, Dark Creeper, Dark Stalker (Labyrinth anyone?), Death Dog, Death Knight, Lolth, the new Dragons, the Elemental Princes of Evil, Drow, Errercap, Eye of Fear and Flame, Firedrake, Forlarren, Githyanki, Githzerai, Gorilla Bear (yes! I loved these guys), Grell, Grimlocks, Guardian Familiar, Hellcat, Hook Horrors (though I felt I had to use them), Hounds of Ill Omen, Huecuva, Kelpie, Kuo-toa, Lamia Noble, Lizard King (Jim Morrison jokes for D&D at last!), Meazel, Mephit, Mezzodaemon, Necrophidius, Neeleman (well...I didn't like the monster, I liked the SNL skit he reminded me of), Nilbogs (ok, no I didn't like these guys unless I was running the adventure), Norker, Nycadaemon, Ogrillon, Penanggalan (yes! loved these, but they should have been closer to the vampire as described in the MM), Poltergiest, Revenant, Scarecrow, Shadow Demon, Skeleton Warrior, Slaad, Son of Kyuss, Sussurus, Svirfneblin, the new trolls, Yellow Musk Creeper and Yellow Mush Zombie (Clark Ashton Smith for the win!).

The remainder of the book is given over to expanded tables.

The Future of the Folio

When I have talked about the Fiend Folio in the past most of the time I get a lot of positive remarks, so maybe the ages have been kind to the odd little middle child of D&D.

Since it's publication the Fiend Folio has seen a little more love.
The 14th (!) Monstrous Compendium Appendix for AD&D 2nd Edition was based on the Fiend Folio, though it would be almost 10 years after the hardcover version.   MC14 Monstrous Compendium Fiend Folio Appendix is available in PDF.

The 3rd Edition years gave us TWO different versions of the Fiend Folio.  The 3e Fiend Folio from WotC features many of the original Fiend Folio monsters, but also a lot more fiends; so living up to it's name a bit more.  Not to be outdone, Necromancer Games gave us the first of the Tome of Horrors books which feature many more of the original Fiend Folio monsters for OGL/d20.



Back in Print

So imagine my delight when I saw that the Fiend Folio on DriveThruRPG was now offering a Print on Demand option.  So, of course, I had to get it.  It was soft cover only, but I thought it would work nicely next to my Games Workshop printing softcover Monster Manual.
I was not wrong.



Other than one is a hardcover and the other is a softcover it is very difficult to tell the two prints apart.  Even the interiors compare well.

So maybe time has been kinder to the Fiend Folio. I still enjoy using it.

5 comments:

Dr. Theda said...

We still have this book... wet and chilly here... wishing you and yours a pleasant Monday

Jim said...

Love it. Some of those monsters are just iconic and were key elements of my Adventures in the 80s. I remember using the githyanki as a main villain in a series of Adventures. I remember befriending a little blindheim in the dungeon. Good Times

Basara549 said...

One of the things that happened with the book was that not all the assigned art was completed in time for the book, so many creatures had no art, and others MIGHT have used incorrect art that was close.

Jeff Dee, a few years ago, did new versions of the classic art for Wizards (apparently the originals were lost in all the dumping of TSR stuff that happened near the end of that company pre-Wizards), and in the process of that Kickstarter, the stretch goals had him do art for ALL of the FF creatures that had gone without art due to other artists failing to come through. I got the small prints from that Kickstarter, and I think the new art is available through whatever his Patreon (or similar) site is.

There's also a story, I've not been able to confirm, that the cover art for "Tales of the Outer Planes" may have been originally intended as the Easley recover for FF, and someone actually took that art, replicated the Easley-era trade dress, and did their personal version of the FF with that art/dress. It looked incredible.

I'd love to see a new edit of the FF with all that art incorporated.

JB said...

How is the MM the "penultimate monster tome" ever created? I must not understand the definition of the word "penultimate."

I also love the Fiend Folio, and many of my favorite TSR adventure modules were ones that featured FF creatures...and as I owned the modules BEFORE I had access to the Folio, I don't think this is a coincidence. I find the FF creatures to be some of the best (and it's easy to see how skeleton warriors, death knights, and githyanki became so iconic and beloved...dead cool monster warriors with big swords? How does that not appeal to your average 12 year old?).

When I first encountered the book, I was off-put by the unfamiliar style of the artwork (I appreciate it far more now, and it is probably my favorite of the 1E series). But my MAIN gripe was probably the lack of "good aligned" creatures in the book (compared to the earlier Monster Manual); it certainly is a "fiend" folio in terms of providing evil adversaries.

Psychedelic horror and monstrosity. I don't think the Fiend Folio has yet (nor ever will be) equalled by a D&D creature compendium.

Tom said...

I am in the "loved it" camp.

Even the redundant ones gave an element of the unknown. The best monsters in FF are weird and my players hadn't encountered them before. They'd all memorized the Monster Manual but when they saw me pull out the FF they didn't know what to expect. The unknown and the weird are the purview of the Fiend Folio and it still has a place at my table.

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