Sunday, July 11, 2021

Goin' Through the Fiend Folio Part 7 (Galltrit to Githzerai)

 It was not my intention to have such a gap since my last Fiend Folio review... Well, back to it! This next section, the letter G, has a few too many monsters to cover in one post so I'll be halving it, nine this time eight the next.

Just a weird little bloodsucker! I think the image of a grotesque little humanoid with anticoagulant spit is fantastic, but the mechanic that involves constitution drain and delayed healing is a bit clumsy. The galltrit being difficult to notice is cool, but weird with how large it looks in the drawing (also, why that lil guy got such a booty?), but its pretty central to the monster since if you are drained of enough blood to lose 3 points of CON (i.e. after 12 rounds) you just straight up collapse! That's pretty great, I love a bloodsucker that just sucks enough to knock you out, doesn't kill you necessarily.

A very unique and sadly underutilized creature! It isn't explicitly stated here but I get the vibe that the gambado is like some kind of skull hermit crab, since it is mentioned that its skull-head can be either an animal or a "primitive man" (I figure some kind of neanderthal skull, which is just such a good image on the shoulders of such an inhuman creature), and it is mentioned that they gather together in places with lots of bones. The spring-loaded manner in which they pounce, move, and attack is just delightful, and I love how they really take on the expectations of a dungeon monster; they hoard gold and jewels in their little hidey holes! I think these shouldn't be played as straightforwardly violent monsters; they're ambush predators for sure, but play with them as animals, or perhaps as creatures with some modicum of intelligence!

I'm gonna be completely honest, the garbug is definitely carried by the visuals and the concept. Sure it doesn't really do anything all that unique, the paralytic tentacles are seen in the carrion crawler, plenty of giant insects or flying enemies for adventurers to face off against, but are any of them a horrible fusion of a lobster and a wasp? I think the two different "types" are a bit redundant, at least in how they're presented. I would love it if the black and violet garbug were instead the species' two sexes. It would make sense! They share morphology for the most part but are sexually dimorphic. Though, notice how the garbug illustration gives them both the black garbug's proboscis and the violet garbug's pincers... an intersex garbug! I just think its a very monster movie esque giant bug mutant, and I love it for that.

Fog Giant
Not very distinct from the cloud giant from the Monster Manual, something further exacerbated by the fog giant being encountered with cloud giants if enough fog giants are rolled. I'm giving them two stars though because I actually think the fog giant is much more interesting than the cloud giant. Their pale skin and "black penetrating eyes" give such a unique appearance, and having them explicitly wear the skin of white dragons is honestly kinda cool, also I can only imagine what sort of "ornate swords" they love so much. They just feel much more characterful than cloud giants, but that doesn't make them super great.

Mountain Giant
This is just a hill giant but bigger and tougher. While the fog giant was basically just a cloud giant but weaker, it at least had more unique details and implied personality to make it stand out somewhat... the mountain giant has nothing like that. Not a fan of the weirdness around meeting giantesses of the mountain giants, it is always so strange to me how fixated some AD&D authors were on the sex makeup of monster lairs (although here it is rare to ever encounter a female mountain giant or young mountain giant so I just... don't get the point of even including it). Sorry to say it, but a pretty much worthless monster I am not inclined to use.

Giant Strider
Oh my god these things are birds? I actually did realize this before writing this post, but it wasn't that long ago, just earlier this year; this whole time I thought giant striders were two-legged lizard things! Then being featherless birds makes me love them a whole lot more. At their core, they're just good effective flightless birds. However, they have a super fun and unique defense mechanism: the ability to shoot fireballs from glands on the corners of their eyes! Really evokes the blood-spewing adaptations of the horned toads... is their blood made of fire? I love how they are so adapted to hot environments that fire spells act as cure light wounds for them, that is such a unique detail, and it is so good that they made sure to include the inverse: cold spells deal extra damage. Not a fan of how they never check morale, but I honestly never am a fan of overusing never checking morale. Y'know, actually looking closer at the giant strider's abilities have really given me a new appreciation for them, I never used to care much about them but this is such a unique monster.

I want to like gibberlings, I really do, I mean just look at the name! The idea of a bunch of pallid subterranean humanoids that just make weird incomprehensible noises is so good... but the execution is intensely subpar. They always fight to the death (again, never a fan of things that overuse never checking morale), they just attack with swords and are just good at fighting with swords like a normal swordsman is, they have no discernable language and no leaders and no real society despite somehow being able to utilize tactics and somehow being able to produce metal swords. In the end, these are just another brand of boring humanoid to mow down, and they don't even have the benefit of being able to parlay with! It is the worst of both worlds: the inability to communicate of a mindless crazed animal, and the qualities of a generic D&D humanoid. I would much rather it commit to being one or the other (and ideally the mindless incomprehensible babbling one, since that is such a unique image and there are already so many other monstrous humanoids around).

The githyanki are one of those monsters with such a unique vibe going on that you kind of have to appreciate them. I especially appreciate them here where they look like absolute ghouls with skin drawn tight on their bones. In terms of their place in the game world, they are fantastic: the mutated evolved descendants of humans bound in mind flayer slavery for generations, having rebelled from the mind flayers using developed psychic abilities, now dwelling in a higher dimension, worshiping an undying lich-queen, doing expeditions into the material world, and having special agreements with red dragons that let them ride them around. That is just so so much absolutely fantastic detail, I love it! As far as humanoid factions go, I don't think there is much better than the githyanki. The githyanki are what I wish the (Fiend Folio version of) the dark elves were, in terms of evocative detail. Less interested in the specifics of the composition of their parties and treasure rates, but those are just kind of expected for AD&D 1e humanoids. Though I will say, I love the detail that their silver swords can sever people's connections to their physical bodies when they are in the astral plane. The only reason they aren't a 5 star is that they aren't universally usable; if I were to put the githyanki into a setting, I would want them to be a major part of said setting. They have to be tied into the rest of the game world, or else all of this interesting detail becomes ultimately unimportant. Also I think it would be cool to take historical inspirations from real life societies that grew out of revolution; githyanki society as a fantasy version of Actually Existing Socialism would be such a cool angle to take.

The githyanki are also the only monster in today's post to be featured back in the Fiend Factory column. The Factory version of the githyanki is more or less identical to the Folio version, even featuring identical art. I am honestly much more inclined to use this version mechanics-wise, if only because it is much simpler. A lot of the same details are here, including weapon and class probabilities, but it is just explained in way fewer words. Don Turnbull's comment isn't very interesting, though I am intrigued by his characterizing the githyanki as a "'tribal' beast"... what on earth does that mean. Small tribes aren't mentioned anywhere in the githyanki description, in fact the mention of the lich queen makes me think that the githyanki are governed by one single tyrannical state. He says that the swords are cool though, and on that count I think I am inclined to agree.

I am... considerably less interested in the githzerai as I am in the githyanki. Firstly, appearance-wise they are just less interesting looking, dropping the githyanki's hellish skeletal visage for... being a race of completely identical lanky monks? The description doesn't say they all look the same, but all four of the githzerai seen in the illustrations have the exact same face, which honestly provides a much more interesting implication than anything in the rest of the description (are they perhaps a race of clones?). The githyanki-githzerai war and the githzerai truce with the mind flayers are only really interesting when paired with what the githyanki have going on, which kind of ends up making the githzerai feel less independent conceptually. Though I will say, now that I've suggested githyanki as monstrous AES, I guess the githzerai end up as... revisionists? Anti-revisionists? A bit of a silly thought perhaps, but I end up much more enthused for my version of the githzerai than for the one presented in the Folio proper. The githzerai wizard-king would feel less interesting compared to the githyanki lich-queen except apparently the wizard-king never lets githzerai advance past 9th level? What on earth does he do, does he kill them? See I just end up interested in questions or musings prompted by isolated sentences in the description or comparisons with the githyanki, rather than the githzerai on their own! They would be only two stars if they didn't prompt such musings; as it stands, just on their own they are very very weak.

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