Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Goin' Through the Fiend Folio Part 10 (Jaculi to Kuo-Toa)

 Hey there! It has been both quite a bit of time since my last post, and an even longer time since the last Fiend Folio review post! I felt that it was of the utmost necessity to rectify both of these issues! Today, we'll be covering the letters J and K in the good ol' Folio!

The jaculi (which the description is clear to point out that the term is both singular and plural) is just Okay. I don't really have strong feelings about the jaculi. They're arboreal serpents with a ridge of razor-sharp bone on their heads that can launch themselves from trees with surprising force. That's actually really cool! It just kinda feels like the execution is a tad lacking, and for some reason these guys are specified as being encountered in swarms. I'm all for swarms, but I don't think this is a creature that I would like to use as a swarm. And in a lot of ways, its because this is a real mythical creature! The jaculus is a creature from medieval European bestiaries (although it also appears in an Old Norse romance), where it is also known as a javelin-snake. When you get down to it, all that the mythical jaculus does is the whole launching from trees at dangerous speeds thing, but for some reason I just vastly prefer the Pliny the Elder style presentation of "well there's just these weird snakes that live in this place!" rather than the overt AD&D naturalisms.

Check out this medieval depiction! Still described as a snake, but with wings and feet!

Oh also, the Fiend Folio jaculi is said to also live in "pillared halls" in addition to trees, presumably so it makes sense to put it in dungeons. I think it makes sense for animals to adapt to new environments, plenty of interesting invasive species in real life and all, but also this is a COWARD MOVE. Just put a forest in your dungeon coward, do it.

This is one of those creatures that really, really, really doesn't need a full page of text. I honestly never like it when AD&D monsters have such extensive descriptions; I can understand it for monster categories with lots of subtypes like dragons, but when it's just another race of humanoids where most of what is written is what you would expect given the barest context for what the monster is, it is just so completely unnecessary. Jermlaine are gross little humanoids that live among rats, lay traps for players, act in a generally sadistic manner, and have weird baggy skin and conical heads that make them look like they're wearing leather armor. I actually really like that strange uncanny description, but god they did not need a full page of text. Much of it is absolutely unnecessary descriptions of what specific traps they set and how they will treat characters in different armor different and how they cut belts and straps off of characters if they stop near where they are positioned, etc etc. Also they have a special leader at higher numbers, which is something I actually like about old school humanoids, but this "very old and exceptionally evil one" can just drain the magic out of items. Their leader is just a disenchanter but without the cool look! As a side note, I actually do love how many different names these things have, it feels like a very natural little tidbit; they are known as jermlaine, jinxkin, and my personal favorite, the BANE-MIDGES. The thing is though, a nice detail in their name and an uncanny detail about their appearance does not a great monster make, and the illustrations are Really Not Good. Yeah, that's illustrations plural, they felt the need to include two drawings of these just okay to boring gremlins. I like weird sadistic torture guys that live underground, but I would much sooner just use a well established D&D monster like kobolds or some kind of fairy, or I'd use a literary reference like Lovecraft's Brown Jenkin or Richard Sharpe Shaver's Dero.

A nice, simple, distinctive monster! Visually, the kamadan is just fantastic, feeling delightfully mythical and chimeric. It is simply a leopard with a neck ringed by a mane of non-venomous snakes, with its only additional weird power being a sleep-causing breath weapon. That's honestly effective! I would always consider using the kamadan in my games, especially in suitable environs, and I know I'm not alone: my friend the Cosmic Orrery wrote up an adaptation of the kamadan for FKR games! The leopard isn't really a big cat that would be likely to appear in King of Kings, but a reskin that just changes it to a different feline is very easy to do. Oh yeah, there's also a note in the description that the kamadan is "clearly a relative of the displacer beast" which... is it really? The only connection is that both are feline monsters that feature some kind of tentacular limb. The description even says that "how it became such a curious cross-mutation is a matter for speculation". Perhaps, just going out on a limb here, the kamadan was never actually intended to have any connection to the displacer beast and the connection was forced in there by Gary when he gave the creatures his own edits. As far as I can tell, despite its mythical vibe, the kamadan has no connection to any previous inspiration, whether from myth or literature. This is one of the great inventions of the 1970s free-wheeling mashup culture!

Like I mention below, this is from Holly Black's and Tony DiTerlizzi's Spiderwick Chronicles. I just think it's a good depiction of the kelpie.

I assume most folks reading this will be at least somewhat familiar with the kelpie, since they are one of the more well known Celtic folkloric monsters. In the folklore, the kelpie is a deadly water-dwelling horse; as an aside, one of my favorite ever illustrations of a kelpie is Tony DiTerlizzi's drawing for the Spiderwick Chronicles (which is totally on topic, since DiTerlizzi was an illustrator for AD&D second edition!). The kelpie as presented here, however, is completely divorced from its faerie origins, instead being a form of intelligent plant life that dwells underwater and can shapeshift. The Folio kelpie's default form is actually that of a human woman, with the more folklorically accurate horse form mentioned only offhandedly. Kelpies do the classic water-monster thing of trying to trick people into the water only for the kelpie to grab them and drag them to a drowned death beneath the surface. Their shapeshifting is part of the temptation here, but they are also able to cast a charm spell once per day. Personally, I think the charm spell kinda defeats the purpose of the tempt to go underwater thing, since it takes away agency from the player, but it's whatever. Additionally, it is specified that the charm spell only works on men, with women being completely immune. I understand the impulse here, since this kind of effect is well attested in myth and literature, but I gotta say I don't love the gender segregated effects. It feels like it is founded in a sexist idea of how men vs women engage with things around them; however, I will say that the given justifications for the kelpie's power over men are actually very fun. The description provides two possible explanations, either that the god of the sea made kelpies to punish men who sailed the seas without paying him their respect, or that Olhydra, the elemental princess of evil water, created kelpies and made it only effect men because she is a feminine being. I still would prefer just to not have gender segregated effects, but the explanations are fun and mythic-feeling at least! Additionally, it is mentioned that they can walk on land for a few hours and they can save against fire attacks only ever taking a maximum of half damage due to their "slimy wetness". Just felt that it would be valuable to include that for completeness's sake.

A very interesting and fun humanoid race, and one that really doesn't feel like anything else! This isn't the first bird-person featured in the Folio, but in my opinion the kenku is leagues more interesting and evocative than the aarakocra. The latter are just bird people, while the kenku are eagle-headed thief-magicians that act like folkloric tricksters a la faeries or tengu. I find it interesting that the Folio kenku has the head of an eagle; in more recent editions, they have more often been depicted with a corvid head and black feathers. I obviously love crows and ravens, but the eagle head feels nicely incongruous for a race of tricksters that one may meet in a dungeon; corvids are just trickster birds in real life! Since I mentioned the tengu, it seems pretty apparent that the Folio kenku is inspired by the Japanese tengu, with the pseudo-Japanese name and the fact that they wield stereotypically East Asian weapons (quarterstaff, samurai swords). The magical powers of kenku of higher HD feel evocative of some of the powers of mythical tengu as well, although mixed in with more typically gygaxian fare. I know I complained in the jermlaine entry that I didn't like unnecessary detail in a humanoid entry, but I actually quite like the succession of magical powers that kenku have as they reach higher HD numbers. It makes them feel almost like a B/X style race-class, with them gaining each power at respective levels. Their more unique abilities are very evocative: namely the fact that they can disguise themselves as humans (not shapeshifting, but rather disguise!), which seems almost impossible (how on earth does a feathered bird head turn into a passable human face?) but the description mentions that their beaks always make distinctive noses; in addition, there is a mention of how kenku favor kidnapping as a source of money, and will sometimes give away treasure freely only for the coins to turn to dust the next day. That is just so delightfully folkloric! They also speak exclusively telepathically, which has fascinating implications. I just really like the kenku!

A delightfully strange earth elemental creature that appears as a metallic organic cylinder with fins, swimming through the earth in search of metals. Between things like this and the xorn and rust monster existing, I'm honestly surprised that there is any metal left at all in the implied world of AD&D! I think the khargra has a bit of that AD&D description bloat problem, taking up roughly half a page of description that I personally think could mostly be gleaned from "a creature that swims through earth as if it were water and eats metals"; like, for instance, I don't really think it needs a whole paragraph to say that the khargra can leap from the earth it is moving through. I kinda like the mentions of spells that can stop them in their track, though again a lot of it is just stuff that makes sense (like heat metal hurting it); I'm interested by the fact that the phase door spell kills it instantly if it is in the middle of phasing back into the earth. I'm gonna be completely honest though, this would be a three point monster if it weren't for the illustration. I really quite like the weird monstrous gaping mouth and tiny claws on the drawing. Personally, my go-to metal-eater will always be the darling little rust monster, but these burrowers are alright!

A fascinatingly weird little creature, with, once again, a very folkloric vibe. The description explicitly compares them to brownies, since both the killmoulis and brownies come out at night to help around the house or, in the case of the killmoulis, around the granary/factory. What is much more... unfortunate about the killmoulis is that while they are doing work for you at night, they will also eat anything and everything around to eat (namely grains) and will kill any dogs or cats that may be around. I feel like someone waking up in the morning will be more concerned about finding their dog poisoned or their cat "snared or killed with long pins" (both of which are explicitly described as the killing methods of the killmoulis for dogs and cats respectively) or finding all of their food gone than they will be about the chores getting done. Honestly, this is a very perplexing creature, and not one that I think is fitting for dungeon exploration or for wilderness encounters; rather, it seems to me like the killmoulis is a prompt for an adventure, with the owner of a granary or somesuch confused as to why food is disappearing at night or why their cat was killed. I don't think I would use the killmoulis, but they're kinda interesting at least.

Check out that pincer staff in action!

Okay I know what you're thinking. I hated how the jermlaine took up a full page of text, even gave them a poor score because of that, but the kuo-toa which has even More text gets a full five out of five stars? Yeah, well you see, it is simply because I am biased. I just like weird fish people more than sadistic mice people. Though I do think it is a Bit more than just simple bias. While I definitely do think the kuo-toa description is unnecessarily wordy and long (which is very typical of the creatures that Gygax himself contributed to the Fiend Folio), it feels more like it has earned that length in a way that the jermlaine (which, as an aside, are also a Gygax addition) do not. Rather than simply being things which one could extrapolate easily from a very basic description, the description for the kuo-toa primarily features a relatively detailed description of kuo-toa society which goes even further than the typical composition of force descriptions that most old school humanoids received. In addition to telling the prospective DM how many fighters and clerics would be present in a given group of kuo-toa, it also describes in relatively evocative sword and sorcery prose the backstory of the kuo-toa, their reproductive habits, and elements of their social structure. These things make a lot of sense given the context that the kuo-toa originate from, i.e. the Drow series of modules which features a fully realized underground settlement of kuo-toa. Kuo-toa society is highly stratified and theocratic, with the leaders of groups of kuo-toa always being clerics or dual classed cleric/assassins (which is an absolutely fascinating combination, as an aside). They keep slaves and have specified roles for "whips" that maintain morale, "eyes" which report back to kuo-toa priest-kings, and "monitors" that manage the workings of lower ranking kuo-toa and slaves. They just feel so delightfully sword and sorcery, and I think provide a fantastic pair with the b-movie style crabmen from earlier in the Folio. Kuo-toa also have very fun and unique items and powers: some wield a "pincer staff" which they can use to capture human-sized opponents (always into non-lethal weaponry!), some wield harpoons that deal damage and can be used to drag in their victim, and many carry shields that they coat with a sticky glue-like substance before the start of combat (adherer-style! also, I just think it's cool how the rules here use the same mechanic as the d6 roll to force open a door, that makes a lot of sense). Additionally, kuo-toa have slimy skin that makes them hard to grapple or ensnare in a web, and clerical kuo-toa can collaboratively conjure BOLTS OF LIGHTNING. I just love that detail that they are able to collectively perform supernatural powers like that; I believe the collaborative lightning power mentioned here, along with the mentions of kuo-toa insanity, are the root of the lore that kuo-toa psychically generate their gods using their own collectively unconscious. There are also mentions of how the kuo-toa relate to other subterranean monster factions, but almost across the board it seems they don't like other groups. I just think they're neat and really fun, so sue me! They're the best AD&D fish person race by far.

Also check out this fantastic illustration from the original module the kuo-toa appear in!

Also, I realized while perusing the collected Fiend Factory column that I missed a monster in a previous post! So go check out my last Goin' Through the Fiend Folio post to see what the Fiend Factory Imorph is like!


  1. Dang, mouse-sized trap-setting gremlins is such a strong idea. It's too bad they overdid it.

    How do you know which entries were contributed by Gygax?

    1. The "Index of Major Listings" at the back of the book provides a credit for every monster! It's honestly really good that they did that, since the Folio was a collaborative project; the lack of such specificity in the Monster Manual leaves you uncertain who contributed what.

      The monsters listed as being created by Gygax are: Booka, Bullywug (co-credited with his son Luke), Lolth, Dark Elf, Jermlaine, Killmoulis, Kuo-Toa, Mezzodaemon, Nycadaemon, and Svirfneblin. He isn't the only person from TSR credited either; there's a handful credited as being from Tom Moldvay!