A Tale Of Two Bestiaries: Looking At The Fiend Folio And Creature Catalog In POD
  • A Tale Of Two Bestiaries: Looking At The Fiend Folio And Creature Catalog In POD

    I've talked more than once about my love of bestiaries. They're my favorite part of any fantasy role-playing game. A well-done bestiary can do more to set the tone, and explain the setting, of a game than anything else. I've also followed along with the releases that DriveThruRPG has been doing of print on demand reprints of vintage TSR games and supplements. Today, these two streams cross in what I am going to call a tale of two bestiaries.

    One thing that the Fiend Folio for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and the Creature Catalog for the Rules Cyclopedia edition of Dungeons & Dragons have in common is that both of them have their roots in the British gaming scene of the 70s and 80s. The Creature Catalog is John Nephew's revision of the previous British-led edition of the bestiary for the B/X stream of D&D. The Fiend Folio is a reworking of monsters that were originally created and published for the seminal Fiend Factory series of articles that White Dwarf published (before the magazine became a house organ for Games Workshop). The Fiend Folio even contains early material by Charles Stross, and a couple of monsters by EN World columnist Lewis Pulsipher.

    Let's talk first about the Creature Catalog. The first edition of this came out in 1986 for the revised B/X line of D&D rulesets, but this edition came out in 1993 to support the Rules Cyclopedia. For the most part, the book compiled monsters from various of the Basic modules of the early 1980s into a single bestiary. It is a shame that they never put out a second volume to compile some of the monsters from things like the Gazetteers series or the Hollow World into a central volume. Most of the art from the first edition of the book carried over into the second, and a number of monsters from the first were replaced by other monsters in the second. You do come out ahead by a few monsters in the second edition, plus you aren't going to have to deal with some silly monsters like the Reflector.

    There is also a master index of monsters that give you page numbers for this book, the original edition, the Rules Cyclopedia, the Hollow World, Dawn of the Emperors and the Wrath of The Immortals boxed sets, as well as a number of the Gazetteers. There are also a number of random encounter tables.

    There are 150 monsters in the book, covering every possible monster need from aquatic to avian to undead to enormous, scary spiders. If you get the Creature Catalog to use with a retroclone, you're going to be in luck because the monsters contained within aren't in other core books, and they aren't the kinds of monsters that ended up as Open Content through the 3.x SRD or the various Tome of Horror books produced by Necromancer Games during the 3.x era, which means that these monsters are going to be uncharted territory for your players. There are a lot of weird monsters (which is a bonus for me) that will bedevil characters for a long, long time. And, honestly, that's what is important in a bestiary. If it isn't going to be useful in play, it isn't going to useful.

    The quality of the POD for the Creature Catalog is variable. The text is clear and clean, and most of the line art came through nicely. Some of the illustrations that were new to this edition, with heavier black tones and more grayscales were muddy in places. Obviously a scanned image from a printed book is not always going to look as good as the reproduction of the original art, but it is important to remember that the originals aren't available to projects like this. The illustrations for the monsters in the book did mostly reproduce well.

    D&D 5E fans might be happy to know that the Creature Catalog (both editions) was the birthplace of the Tortle. Unlike the Fiend Folio, unfortunately, the Creature Catalog doesn't let us know who actually created which monster. I never realized that creature's origins went back so far.

    The Fiend Folio was the book that started my love affair with bestiaries in role-playing games. At the time that I originally picked this up to use in my AD&D games when I was a kid I didn't know the story behind the book, all that I knew was the it was weird and cool. These days it is pretty common knowledge that the monsters of the book were originally developed in the pages of Games Workshop's gaming magazine White Dwarf. Don Turnbull, the editor of the Fiend Folio, was an original contributor to White Dwarf, before rising to a position of being one of the magazine's editors.

    One of Turnbull's jobs at White Dwarf was an ongoing column of monsters submitted by various of the writing staff of the magazine (and those who wanted to become members of that staff) called The Fiend Factory. If you haven't experienced The Fiend Factory I would suggest Googling it, because it was pretty interesting to watch. The Fiend Factory launched in the April/May 1978 issue of White Dwarf with 7 new monsters, six of which ended up in the final Fiend Folio. At this point, the write ups were actually for Original Dungeons & Dragons, and it would be a few issues before they started doing up the stats for AD&D.

    The Fiend Folio was the first book for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons line that was produced outside of the Wisconsin office of TSR, and it was the first book for the game that was produced outside of the scope of Gary Gygax's plans for the game. Gygax did produce a few monsters for the book, along with a couple of other American TSR staffers, but the bulk of the work was produced by Games Workshop/TSR UK. What makes the production of the book interesting was that work started on the Fiend Folio before the entire line of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons core books were published. Work on the Fiend Folio started at about the same time as the Dungeon Masters Guide.

    Honestly, I'm not sure what else I can say about the Fiend Folio at this point besides: you really need to have a copy of this book if you don't already. The Fiend Folio's most important contribution to the lore of the D&D multiverse would have to be Charles Stross' (yes, the same one) Githyanki and Githzerai. Due to their relationship with the mind flayers, these creatures importance grew and they became one of the handful of creatures (along with another Stross creation the Slaad) to be a part of Wizards of the Coast's closed off product identity. The kuo-toa, a "fishy" monstrous race, also debuted in the Fiend Folio and is among those closed off creations.

    Among the contributions to the book by Gygax would be the AD&D premiers for the drow and Lolth, who would grow in importance to the D&D lore more through fiction set in the worlds of the game. Outside of the core rule books, I can't think of a single AD&D book that has had the lasting impact upon the lore of D&D that the Fiend Folio had. Without even getting into how cool the monsters are in the book, I think that the historical importance of the Fiend Folio is enough of a reason to have it in your library.

    The Fiend Folio lives up to its subtitle of being the "Tome of Creatures Malevolent and Benign." There are a number of demonic and downright evil creatures to be found in the book. In fact, the flumph, one of the most maligned creatures in the history of D&D (not to mention one of the few lawful good monsters of the early days of the game).

    Even if you aren't playing an AD&D 1E game, or using a suitable retroclone, there are a lot of reasons to pick up the Fiend Folio. Odds are, if you're playing one of those, you already have a copy. But if you aren't in that group of people I think that it is probably one of the more important texts in the history of D&D. Not only is it a great book of monsters, but it also signaled a major turning point in the lore of the D&D setting. For both of these reasons, you should have a copy of the book. Physically, the quality of the book is excellent. The images were clean and crisp, and the text was ledigble.

    One negative that I have about my orders from DriveThruRPG's POD services is that their printer habitually under packages the books that they ship out. My copy of the Creature Catalog had a couple of dings to it, but the Fiend Folio was pretty banged up upon arrival. The book was loose in a box that was too big for it, and it obviously bounced around in the box during the shipping process. I wish that I could say that the shipping damages to these books were an outlier, but as I buy more print on demand books via the service at DriveThruRPG I find that the poor packaging isn't an aberration. I hope that the powers that be at DriveThruRPG iron this out. They offer a good number of great RPG materials in print through this program, but if books are getting damaged during shipping, that doesn't help anyone.

    Despite this, I still recommend checking out the print on demand offerings that are sold through DriveThruRPG (and I hope that they expand the lines). With gaming in a new period of growth, and seeing more new gamers than we have in decades, it is good to have older materials available for those who weren't around to see them the first time. As the newest edition of Dungeons & Dragons looks more to its past than other editions have in a long while, it is good for people to be able to see the original sources and see where the games and their settings have come from. As both the core books for the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and the Rules Cyclopedia edition of the B/X line of Dungeons & Dragons that these two books reference are already available in POD and PDF, it invites newer players to explore the game's history, and for them to create their own history as well.
    Comments 39 Comments
    1. Ghal Maraz's Avatar
      Ghal Maraz -
      I would suggest to change all the "B/X" references to "BECMI".

      The former usually designates the Moldvay/Cook Basic & Expert sets, while the latter is used for the Mentzer edition, for which the original Creature Catalog was writte, and which was compiled and edited by Aaron Allston as the Rules Cyclopedia.
    1. RevTurkey's Avatar
      RevTurkey -
      I wish they would get the Basic/Expert books available on PoD. The scans are good...they release some pretty recent 4e stuff that is still warm but can’t get the two books I and many others would jump at the chance to purchase...maybe they are holding out for some reason..
    1. Converse02's Avatar
      Converse02 -
      "One negative that I have about my orders from DriveThruRPG's POD services is that their printer habitually under packages the books that they ship out."

      Same experience here. Recently brought a few PoD books; the books are awesome, but getting them with a few dings because the books are loose in the box during shipping is a downer. Hope DrivethruRPG looks into it.
    1. Lancelot's Avatar
      Lancelot -
      Interestingly, the Fiend Folio was heavily criticized in Dragon Magazine when it first came out. Two reviews were published, both negative. The first was Ed Greenwood's (!), who described the book as "irritating" and "disappointing".

      Among his specific criticisms were: not enough info provided on ecology and origin (which is a harsh call, IMO, given how little is also available in the 1e Monster Manual), too many things left unexplained, some of the monster names are grating (like Caryatid Column), too many new races (Ed felt that creatures like the Forlarren would find a comfortable place in D&D, while others like the Bullywug were merely adequate, and the Xvart was completely needless), and a host of nit-pickings (Death Dogs are unnecessary given the Hell Hound already exists; why Oriental Dragons, when a perfectly good set of neutral dragons were created in Dragon #37?; etc).

      The other review was from Alan Zumwalt, who heavily criticized the Oriental Dragons. His issues were that nobody would use names like Li Lung instead of the easier-to-remember Earth Dragon, the dragons didn't fit with the Euro-centric nature of most D&D campaigns (and, hence, more "European" neutral dragons should have been used instead), and the Oriental Dragons lacked a leader like Bahamut or Tiamat. He also criticized the lack of Elemental Princes of Good, the presence of sub-races of existing creatures (like Lamia Nobles and Lizard Kings), and that many creatures from the official D&D modules weren't included (most would later appear in MM2). Overall, he described himself as "semi-satisfied".

      [For my part, I thoroughly enjoy the Fiend Folio... terrific artwork, imaginative creature design, and some invaluable contributions to D&D lore]
    1. TerraDave's Avatar
      TerraDave -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lancelot View Post
      Interestingly, the Fiend Folio was heavily criticized in Dragon Magazine when it first came out. Two reviews were published, both negative. The first was Ed Greenwood's (!), who described the book as "irritating" and "disappointing".


      [For my part, I thoroughly enjoy the Fiend Folio... terrific artwork, imaginative creature design, and some invaluable contributions to D&D lore]
      I have that Dragon. I remember being impressed by the fact that it would have negative reviews of a TSR product.

      But it does hold up pretty well in hind sight. And had a lot of the kind of raw creativity that is much scarcer to find these days.
    1. Olgar Shiverstone's Avatar
      Olgar Shiverstone -
      Yeah, I do think the original Fiend Folio had a pretty poor ratio of mind-blowing to mind-boggling monsters. For every drow or githyanki there was a nilbog or flumph.
    1. Celebrim's Avatar
      Celebrim -
      I considered the Fiend Folio full of big hits and big misses.

      The biggest problem I have with most bestiaries is that I figure I will actually use only a tiny fraction of them ever, because I will find most of the monsters in it simply unusable. I don't mind so much if there is content I might never get around to using, but monsters that I would never use ever bother me.

      Fiend Folio is choked full of such monsters. As such, I generally found it irritating as well. The creativity and good design on display in a few monsters didn't make up for the bad design, poor implementation of the idea, and general wackiness of much of the rest.
    1. rknop's Avatar
      rknop -
      Interesting that Ed Greenwood complained about the name of the Caryatid Columns, because that's actually a name from history : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caryatid

      I picked up the Fiend Folio when it was pretty new. I was in a great spot at the time -- an 11 (or 12?) year-old in a D&D campaign with college students. (As I was older, I realize what a huge favor they were doing to let me be in that game.) One of the other guys in this campaign, when driving me over, was telling me about this book. At first, I thought he was talking about "Deities & Demigods", which was the "fourth" AD&D book. When I realized what it was, I got it.

      I used it a fair bit in the campaign I ran with a friend for many years. There are definitely some misses in the book. I remember my friend saying, "oh, no, it's not another one of those dippy Fiend Folio monsters, is it?"
    1. murquhart72's Avatar
      murquhart72 -
      Bear in mind that such critters as Drow, Lolth and kuo-toa didn't debut or premiere with Fiend Folio, but were merely collected into the volume after first appearing in adventure modules of the late 70s. Heck, even the original Monster Manual was just a collection of creatures that already appeared in the original game and it's supplements/magazines.
      I wonder what the book would have to look like to collect EVERY creature ever designed for Dungeons & Dragons!
    1. werecorpse's Avatar
      werecorpse -
      As a DM I referred to it as the "Friend Folio". I'm sure I wasn't the only one.

      Because it was largely reprinting monsters submitted to White Dwarf it had a big pool of imagination to draw on. It did have a wide range of creatures some meh like the carbuncle and gambado (iirc) and some great and evocative like those mentioned above and the death knight. I would rather get 5 great and 5 meh monsters than 10 average monsters so IMO it was an excellent book.
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      The Fiend Folio is a weird mix. There are some entries that it's hard to imagine would get a lot of traction (eg meazels. adherers, sheet phantoms). But there are a lot of entries that are really strong - besides the ones mentioned in the OP, there are sons of Kyuss, Styx devils, Oriental dragons, yellow musk creepers and zombies, death kinghts, etc.
    1. Myrdin Potter's Avatar
      Myrdin Potter -
      I bought the Fiend Folio when it originally came out and was quite disappointed at the time. A few good monsters and a lot of bad ones plus art that was so so. Not worth saving my allowance money up is what I thought at the time.
    1. Jhaelen -
      I love my Fiend Folio. I'm really glad I've been able to pick up a copy for a reasonable price. It's my favorite Monster Manual of all D&D editions. Even the somewhat wacky monsters are cool because they're imaginative. There are very few complete duds in the book.
    1. AriochQ's Avatar
      AriochQ -
      Like many, I remember being 'meh' about Fiend Folio when it first came out. Most of the monsters were to wacky for me at the time (as a 13 year old DM). I do recall including the Githyanki in an adventure path and it threw my players for a loop since they had pretty much memorized the MM by the time FF came out.
    1. rknop's Avatar
      rknop -
      That was the real benefit of the FF -- monsters were novel.

      The one friend who was the only one I played D&D with from age 14 to 23 (1982-1991) bought me the 1e Monster Manual 2 so that I would be able to spring monsters on him that he didn't know. (I was the GM, he was the player. For much of that time, we were in college at different places, and/or living in different places, so we'd typically only play once a year. But, it was a truly epic campaign which ended in 1995 or 1996 or thereabouts).
    1. Jer's Avatar
      Jer -
      The Tortle was actually published first in the module x9 - the Savage Coast and then included in the Creature Catalog. The Creature Catalog compiled together a good number of creatures that were included in Basic, Expert and Companion-level modules that weren't in the main rulebooks. But it isn't just a compilation book - there are a lot of other creatures in there as well that I don't know if they came from some published source or were created for the Catalog - my favorite is probably the Gray Philosopher, an undead evil ghost cleric who died plotting some evil and now just sits in contemplation and generally ignores the world while its evil thoughts become tiny fanged spirits that aggressively attack anyone they see. It's a great visual and makes for a different kind of "Weird Tales" inspired encounter.

      If I had to choose between either the FF or the CC, I'd probably go with the CC. Unlike a lot of other folks I have quite a bit of love for the eclectic collection of creatures in the FF, but the CC has that too and I think it has a higher proportion of creatures that "work" as threats than the FF does. Also the best creatures from the FF have been cherry picked out over the years and are already in the various monster tomes for 5e - the CC has creatures in it who haven't been seen since the 2nd edition Mystara Monstrous Compendium. Definitely a book you can use to surprise your players.
    1. Ralif Redhammer's Avatar
      Ralif Redhammer -
      The Fiend Folio’s weirdness is part of its charm. The last time I ran a 1e campaign, I loved diving deep into and coming up with monsters that had the players scratching their heads. Everyone knows about dragons and trolls, but what the heck is a tirapheg?

      I need to break out my copy of the Creature Catalog and give that another look-over. My recollection is that there are a bunch of monsters in it (and the BECMI books themselves, for that matter) that never jumped to other editions of the game.
    1. Zarithar's Avatar
      Zarithar -
      Fiend Folio grew on me over the years, to the point where I now prefer it to the original Monster Manual just due to the outright weirdness of some of the creatures.
    1. Cameron Guill's Avatar
      Cameron Guill -
      I still use the FF, I just have to convert the monsters to 5e. So many players memorize the MMs, like they always have, so I have to get creative. Snagging creatures that haven't been in print since before most of players were born is a good place to start.
    1. Wrathamon -
      It was my first AD&D book. I was playing the original basic and went to the store to buy the AD&D phb and FF had just come out. I bought it. I was the cool kid cause no one else had it. I really loved it even thou it was full of weird stuff.

      I then got the other books for xmas
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