Tuesday, March 17, 2009

All Fiend Folio, All The Time

Ah, the much-derided Fiend Folio. Whenever a list of hated monsters from D&D comes up, you can bet several of them graced the pages of that first edition Fiend Folio. Some are just too silly. Others are actually cool descriptions, but wasted on yet another 1+1 HD critter (with no special powers) and which just doesn't fill a role kobolds, ogres or orcs didn't already cover. A handful of others are now-classic (and perhaps even over-used) races that seem to be always played-against-type by fanboys and best-selling-novelists alike.

Yet at the same time, the Fiend Folio accounts for about 52% of the things that keep the D&D setting from being just another overdone generic fantasy rip-off. Go read your first edition Monster Manual, and you'll find nearly everything comes from Tolkien or folklore. The handful of critters that don't spring from such a source (Beholders, Mind Flayers, and the like) really stand out, like you're watching a "one of these kids is doing his own thing" segment on the Sesame Street of our youth. The Fiend Folio was the book that said "if this setting can have Otyughs and Lurker Aboves, it can have freakin' anything!" Fiend Folio took that concept with it when it went to town.

For all it's flaws, the Fiend Folio was clearly something special.

Reflecting on this, I thought it might be interesting to run an "All Fiend Folio, All The Time" campaign. If a critter isn't detailed in the FF, it doesn't exist. And yes, that means no humans. PCs would be Bullywugs, Flinds, Snyads, Tabaxi or Xvart*. An Ogrillion monk would be a good PC choice too, but it opens the can of worms of how you explain Ogrillions (an Ogre-Orc crossbreed) in a setting that lacks Ogres and Orcs.

My first inclination was to do a wimpy compromise. Flinds seemed hampered if they didn't have Gnolls, so I thought perhaps I'd allow any critter that was mentioned in the Fiend Folio, even if it's stats were located elsewhere. On further research, I can tell that's just not gonna work. I knew my beloved Flinds mention Gnolls, and that was in fact part of why I contemplated this route. Little did I realize they also mention Orcs, Hobgoblins, Bugbears, Ogres, and Trolls. If that's what one monster entry coughs up, I imagine it'd be a normal D&D setting by the time you were done listing the cross-references. Drow mention other Elves, Ettercaps mention Spiders, Nilbogs mention Goblins, and then there's new Devils, Demons, Giants, Trolls, etc. Better to just draw the line and say if it's stats aren't in Fiend Folio, it's just a myth.

Of course, that means the local ecology and environment are pretty bizarre. Plant life is restricted to Algoids, Kelpies, Whip Weed, Wither Weed, and Yellow Musk Creeper, all of which are just as likely to eat you as to become salad. I'm thinking Al-Mi'Raj and Rothé steaks are the mainstays of every meal, augmented by the occasional fried Blood Hawk or Urchin sushi. (Speaking of which, we're probably looking at a gem-based economy, considering that Urchins and Carbuncles both grow them.) You wash it all down with a little fermented Stun Jelly. That, or maybe the priests are relied upon heavily for their Create Food and Water spells. Discovery of the rutabega would be ripe with all the promise of a modern get-rich-quick scheme.

About 40% of the critters in the Fiend Folio either are subterranean or from the Elemental Plane of Earth, and another 40% are from the Ethereal or Astral Plane. So I think we dump the contradictory baggage that is the planes, and just declare the setting to be large asteroids floating in the ether with all the critters in the FF being native to the whole place. The PCs are from an asteroid composed of one or two city-states (with sprawling fortress-farms where the dangerous food sources are kept under armed guard), and most adventures start with other asteroids crashing into, accreting into, or recently arriving in orbit around them.

Sounds like fun, though probably just for a one-shot or short-shot.

*: Oh sure, you could nudge up the power range a tidge to feature Drow, Sverfneblin, Kuo-Toa, and the two flavors of Gith as Player Character races. Doing would no doubt simplify the process of recruiting players to this hypothetical campaign. At the same time, I kinda feel like giving the players something as comfortably familiar as the Dark Elves and Deep Gnomes is sort of squandering the uniqueness of the All Fiend Folio setting. Then again, now that I've contemplated the weirdness of the rest of the environment, perhaps giving the players access to the good ol' familar Drow is a really good move towards making the setting approachable.


Hunty said...

That actually sounds like a lot of fun! Weren't all the goofy "platonic solids" monsters in the Fiend Folio?

by the way, I made a few minor tweaks to F# (primarily adding a paragraph about "aspect description vs. value" and changing difficulty 4 from "professional quality" to "flawless"), so you might want to download it again before you run it!

r_b_bergstrom said...

Re: F#: I'd hate to have to get back up to speed on 1st Ed D&D just to run this. I bet I could catch the feel with F#, and not have to wrestle with saving throw tables, convoluted psionics rules, THAC0, or weapon proficiencies. F# for FF it is, then.

Re: Platonic Solids. I think the Modrons were in Monster Manual II. I didn't see them when I flipped quickly through the FF this morning, but I was mostly just looking for plantlife at the time.

Hunty said...

Yay F#FF!! :)

r_b_bergstrom said...

Update: This is a go, and will be run for the Emerald City Game Feast next Thursday.