Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Goin' Through the Fiend Folio Part 5 (Elemental Princes of Evil to Eye of Fear and Flame)

Considerably smaller than yesterday's post, I considered for a moment lumping in the F monsters with this one but I just really don't feel up to it right now.

We begin with the five Elemental Princes of Evil, which are a pretty fun concept generally. I think that these elemental weirdos may be a fun unique alternative to demon lords, but that would really depend on their execution in a given game.

Cryonax (Prince of Evil Cold Creatures)
Not to spoil anything too early, but Cryonax is above and beyond my favorite of the princes of elemental evil. A pale white ape with octopus tentacles for arms is just such a fantastic image, one which reminds me of some of my favorite monster mashups of film (like Ro-Man the Robot Monster from 1953). I know the text describes Cryonax's body as that of a yeti, but his long muzzle gives me more of a baboon or mandrill vibe (and I know that this is the second time I've brought up baboons in this series of posts, I just like 'em!). Turning to Cryonax's mechanics, I rather like the note about how weapons have a chance to freeze and shatter when hitting him, and I like the note about his castle made of ice, quartz, and glass. I envision Cryonax as a haughty over the top b-movie monster villain, almost like an alien living in a world apart but so totally inimical to the world of the players. Thats the vibe I get!

Imix (Prince of Evil Fire Creatures)
There is nothing about Imix that I couldn't just come up with on my own. In fact, I think I could probably come up with a better prince of evil fire than Imix. He's just a pillar of fire that produces heat, can summon fire monsters, takes damage from water, lives in a volcano, and hates the princess of evil water. Boring! Surely this was already unoriginal and overdone in the late 70s?

Ogremoch (Prince of Evil Earth Creatures)
I really want to like Ogremoch... I love his illustration! He's a soft little boy, looks squishy, and I love him for that. But God is there nothing interesting in his description. Oh wow, he can turn flesh to stone and summon earth monsters and cause earthquakes? How definitely for real interesting! He doesn't live somewhere interesting, his home is just a flat mountaintop. Where is the creativity that was present in Cryonax? I really love the Li Lung's earthquake power because it feels like an interesting folkloric power... Ogremoch's earthquake power just feels like it gave it to him because it was expected of them. I really should have given more love to the east Asian dragons... they are much, much, much more interesting than all of the non-Cryonax princes of elemental evil. Gets an extra point for the illustration and fun name though.

Olhydra (Princess of Evil Water Creatures) and Yan-C-Bin (Prince of Evil Aerial Creatures)
Lumping these together because I want to be done with the elemental princes of evil. They both are very boring visually, just being large masses of their associated elements, and they don't have much that is very interesting mechanically or in terms of how they fit into the game world. I'm giving them an extra star because they each have one interesting thing in their description, with Olhydra's drowning ability and Yan-C-Bin's whirlwind ability, but even these aren't that special or unique. They seem like powers that all water elementals or air elementals should have. Its just that they make them just slightly more interesting than Imix.

I really want to like the elemental princes of evil, I really do... But the only one that lives up to the vibe that I think they deserve is Cryonax. Redesigning and reinterpreting the elemental princes of evil would be a must for anyone wanting to rely on the Fiend Folio.

Dark Elf
Okay let's be real, I actually really love dark elves, they are probably my most used elves ironically enough, mostly just because I like spooky evil things more than not spooky not evil things. But honestly, the Fiend Folio dark elf is so poorly presented. It takes up a whole page of text, with the most interesting portion being by far the lengthy Gygaxian prose explaining their origins. The rest of this immense monster description is dedicated to detailed descriptions of their special mesh armor, the spells they can use, the fact that they can see in darkness better than normal, that they can speak with other underground creatures, and the absolutely inexplicable notes separating male and female dark elves from each other by class and ability score generation. Honestly, this seems much more like a description for a player race than it is a monster. The conceptual density is all over the place, ranging from stuff that you would just assume (of course the underground elves can see in the dark and can talk to underground monsters) to stuff that is so inane that it might just be unnecessary (like the multiple paragraphs dedicated to explaining that drow arms and armor have special qualities but totally aren't magic guys). The most interesting parts of the original dark elf aren't even mentioned here! Those being, at least in my opinion, the social structures of the dark elves, their worship of Lolth, and their whole "backstabby assassins but also necromancers" shtick they've got going on. It pains me to give the dark elf anything lower than a 4, but the presentation here is trash. I figure the reason why dark elves have become so iconic since the late 70s and early 80s is more due to the Drow series of modules, rather than the Fiend Folio listing.

Honestly, I'll just link you to CosmicOrrery's stance on the enveloper, since I concur with him basically to a t! I think the concept here is fantastic, it reminds me a lot of the Abzorbaloff from Doctor Who, although that thing was a weird green monstrous humanoid that was somewhat marred by less well developed CGI (though I stand by its practical effects being pretty good!), whereas the enveloper here is a formless mass that can extrude limbs, and those absorbed by it lose their personhood in their entirety. I completely agree with CosmicOrrery that the enveloper should do more with the personalities of those it envelopes! An interesting idea that should definitely be developed further.

Yes yes finally!!! The ettercap is one of my all time favorite Dungeons and Dragons monsters, period. And the Fiend Folio ettercap is above and beyond the best rendition of the beast. When you get down to it, there isn't much going on with the ettercap though; a hirsute humanoid that can produce silk and has venomous fangs and generally gets on with spiders. Its that spider theme that makes the ettercap into more than just another monstrous humanoid to add to the hierarchies from kobold up to bugbear. The silk powers are incredibly versatile and unique, something which no other humanoid monster at the time had and very few humanoid monsters since have had either (sure there's the aranea from the Isle of Dread but that leans much more toward being a full on spider than the ettercap). But, the reason why I love the Fiend Folio ettercap so much more than every subsequent rendition of the ettercap in D&D's long and storied history is because it isn't a spider. I'm someone who absolutely loves to have bugs in my games, but there is something so much more intriguing and interesting about the ettercap being a weird hairy man-thing that just spends time around spiders so much that it has some of their traits. Let the ettercap just be spiderlike without being a spider!

Eye Killer
If I'm being completely honest, the eye killer gets such a high rating mostly off of the visuals. I adore the image of a coiled up snake with the helplessly flapping body of a bat where its head would otherwise be. The pathetic, the pitiful, is so so much better than the intimidating or bloodthirsty. The eye killer's description emphasizing its generally noncombative nature is fantastic, with it only using its most destructive power if approached with bright lights. I really like these things that can affect how the players engage with a given creature when encountered. I also absolutely love the detail that the eye killer is born as a featureless white ball; that feels like something out of a medieval bestiary. Not as into how the "Death Stare" works... I don't like how it uses both an attack roll and a saving throw, and how on top of that it can only be used once per day. You don't get to highlight the eye killing that the eye killer does!

The eye killer was first featured in the Fiend Factory column in White Dwarf, with this fantastically scuzzy yet very animalistic illustration. This eye killer feels more like a real living thing than the illustration on the Folio eye killer. The Factory eye killer doesn't have the mention that the Death Stare can only be used once per day, and there is a weird note that the eye killer never blinks unless light sources are brought in front of its eyes. No clue what that really means. 

Eye of Fear and Flame
I quite like the eye of fear and flame if I'm being completely honest. The name is fantastic, the illustration is fantastic, it having literally no ability to fight other than its two gemstone eyes functioning as magic wands is fantastic (I'm bothered by how the gemstone eyes lose their magical powers when removed from the eye of fear and flame though, that's a real missed opportunity for fun and interesting things to gain from an encounter with the creature). The eye of fear and flame mostly just following you around and trying to get you to do awful things is pretty great, but I really don't like how tied up the thing is in the nine point alignment system of AD&D. Would much rather that the eye target anyone, rather than specifically lawful good types. The note about there being only twenty is a bit unnecessary, though I think it would work well if there being a small number was really meaningfully worked into the game. I just kinda think it'd be better if it were either unique to a given area or there were a smaller number.

Well, that would be the last creature for today... if I had not realized that I actually missed one of the previous monster's entries in the Fiend Factory! In the interest of completeness of analysis, its high time we took a look at that accidentally unnoticed critter!

The Fiend Factory carbuncle isn't too different from its Folio counterpart (which you can find my review of here, if you haven't read those earlier posts in this series), but the illustration does have considerably more personality than the Folio version. A little mischievous smirk, a gentle glow emitting from the gem in its forehead, and a much more armadillo-like armoring make this rendition of the creature much more interesting, at least visually. The description isn't very different, but some small details are rather fun. For instance, the carbuncle's gem is still worthless if the creature dies (just like the Folio version), but rather than shattering it "deflates to a worthless soggy red pulp". I absolutely love little details like this, that provide a more fun alternative to the faux seriousness that a lot of published TSR products had. The mischievous toying that the carbuncle does with the party is a bit more specific, with "false prophecies" and even the creature using its telepathy to enrage monsters into fighting mentioned. And, in my opinion, the most interesting part of it is the given reason why the carbuncle toys with the players: not hostility, as implied in the Folio description, but rather just that the carbuncle, as a creature who has no concern with death or pain, doesn't understand why the player characters would be bothered by being hurt. Now that is a unique characterization for a monster!

I also especially wanted to point out the Fiend Factory carbuncle because of this little tidbit in Don Turnbull's editor commentary: "This is a monster which would take an awful lot of skill on the part of the DM - certainly it is not a monster whose reactions you should determine from random tables (if anyone still uses these things at all)." I find that offhanded comment about how much Mr. Turnbull found random reaction tables useless absolutely fascinating; I for one absolutely love them, and I love the general uncertainty they provide to the game! Seeing someone so casually discard something that I today consider a core part of the classic D&D experience is really interesting, at least to me.

Well, that's probably plenty of rambling from me! I hope you have a lovely evening! There are some ideas here that I'm thinking of expanding into larger posts... I guess we'll have to see and find out.

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