Friday, May 13, 2022

Goin' Through the Fiend Folio Part 11 (Lamia Noble to Mite)

 Hey! It's been a bit since the last time I did one of these. But I am deadset on finishing the Fiend Folio review series by the end of the summer. I think I can do it!!! And with this post, we're roughly halfway done with the monsters too! So let's just get into it!

Lamia Noble
Dang, off to a not so good start. I really don't like the tendency to have monsters that are just another, already established monster but more powerful; not a fan of the Neo Otyugh, not a fan of the Margoyle though at one time I kinda was, etc. It feels a bit different when it's well executed, but here it just is not. The lamia noble is a leader type for lamias, which were originally in the Monster Manual as monsters with the torsos of human women and the lower bodies of big cats. Here, however, lamia nobles have the lower bodies of snakes (which is cool), but they can be either male or female, and their abilities vary by sex with males being fighters and females being magic users. That's really cringe. Also, lamia nobles can disguise themselves as humans, but it says that "intelligent humanoids will always be able to penetrate the disguise", and then in the next paragraph it says that humans and demihumans of high enough level have a chance to identify them, all of which is just incredibly clumsy and annoying. They can also take away points of wisdom, and if the character goes below 3 wisdom then they are under the lamia noble's thrall... that's just a very underpowered charm ability. Why not just have it be a saving throw? So stupid. I like evil snake women, I don't like evil snake women or men with vaguely defined disguise powers and really weak charm abilities that have no real distinct identity. The note that they "are given to outbursts of senseless violence" is fun though.

Lava Children
OKAY HEAR ME OUT. I know that these are one of the Fiend Folio monsters very commonly made fun of and mocked, but I honestly think that they are really surreally fascinating. The offspring of earth spirits and fire spirits, lava children are like elemental mutant mules with an uncanny appearance and unnatural powers. They have a broad shouldered body with pale skin, but their hands have fingers tipped with long sharp claws and their faces look like constantly smiling children. I especially love the illustration that goes across the bottom of the page, where its shown that not only do the lava children have childlike appearances they are all exactly identical. These things are so creepy!!! And it seems that the folks over at Paizo felt somewhat similarly, when they included the lava children in their book of often maligned old school monsters, Misfit Monsters Redeemed. I honestly don't think they need "redeeming" though; they're already really cool! In terms of powers, they fight with their claws and bite, which is wonderfully animalistic for something so human looking, and it is explicitly stated that metal doesn't exist for them. Not that they are just immune to metal weapons, no, metal phases through them as if it doesn't exist, as if the lava children exist on a parallel plane only vaguely intersecting with the prime material. That is just so cool!!! It also means that their attacks ignore metal armor, which is cool. Most of the rest of their description is pretty much what one expects for an AD&D humanoid race, describing the types of leaders that they have (which, for the record, are mostly fighters but large enough groups also include magic users and clerics, with a note about rumors that their leaders are triple classed fighters/magic users/clerics), which I can really take or leave, it doesn't do anything for me here, feels very generic. The implication of a society that can support trained warriors, wizards, and priests is kinda weird to me, I don't know if it jives with how I read these creatures. One last note: their language is described as "sibilant", which is such a cool and delightful additional detail.

Lizard King
A lot of what I said about the lamia noble applies here. I'm not a fan of monsters that are just another monster but more powerful, the infatuation with cataloging humanoid leader types in AD&D most of the time doesn't do much for me especially if it's way too detailed, etc etc. The lizard king is alright though, for what it is. It's just a more powerful, more intelligent, and "more human" (that's what the description says) lizard man that rules over other lizard men. It gets an extra star over the lamia noble though because, for one, it is way simpler and more evocative than the lamia noble is, the lamia noble sacrifices anything interesting for overthought mechanics and generic vibes. Of note, the lizard king demands HUMAN SACRIFICES from the lizard men it governs, and if they don't provide human sacrifices then he will start taking his own followers as sacrifices. That's fun! They also wield a trident, which is a cool iconic weapon that deals extra damage on certain circumstances, though its bullshit that the extra damage and special abilities only count for when a lizard king wields them; the players should be able to get them too! Also the art just looks really cool, I love the tongue sticking out.

Magnesium Spirit
I'm gonna be honest, this is the first time I've read this monster's description. I think I just skipped over it a lot since it doesn't have an illustration! The magnesium spirit is actually a super interesting monster, one that I think I could see myself building a whole scenario around. The description mentions that there are only three or four of these things, summoned to the prime material plane ages ago by a powerful sorcerer, and they are constantly in search of humans to possess in order to perform the ritual to send them back to their plane of origin. That is really cool and evocative! Visuals wise, they're also pretty cool, a column of pale flame with a wispy tale, and it mentions how they move faster than even characters that have had the haste spell cast on them and that they can do a flash of blinding light. Love that stuff, super cool. What is not so cool is the extremely detailed stuff all about the magnesium spirit's powers, the detailed process of them merging with a human host to perform the ritual, how many levels a host has to have for the ritual to go forward, etc etc. It suffers so much from the kind of rules bloat that plagues a lot of AD&D monsters. I'm really not gonna get into how complex the whole thing is; suffice to say that there are so many hurdles the magnesium spirit has to go through that it is really a miracle if it is even at all able to do the one goal it has. I think I would love to use the magnesium spirit in a game, but what I would use would be a much simpler version; rather than tying so many things to player level, perhaps I would specify that they seek to take over a magic user to perform the ritual. I would give this monster four or perhaps even five stars if the description weren't so overwrought.

Lookit their sad little face!

The mantari is basically just a big airborne stingray. Not much more than that, and honestly that's alright! It attacks with its tail, which is described as "not poisonous" but instead acting on the victim's nervous system which uh... that means it is venomous, actually, it just has a neurotoxin instead of a haemotoxin, but yknow that's beside the point. Unlike the real world stingray's more defensive bestinged tail, the mantari uses its tail like a spear, pointing it at a victim and diving at them from the air. Also if you get hit twice by the mantari's tail it deals four times the damage. Jeeze!! That's a bit overkill honestly. I love the note that they usually prey on giant rats, it's such a lovely little piece of dungeon ecology, which is doubly asserted by the mention that their "preferred haunts are dirty dungeon chambers where its prey abounds". I love that! I think I'll definitely use the mantari in a certain dungeon I'm working on that will hopefully get some use. One thing I really don't like though is that they are 85% aggressive toward other creatures and humans. I just like the nice 2d6 reaction roll! Anyway, these things just seem like animals, albeit ambush predators; I don't think they should be so aggressive.

The meazel isn't anything really all that special, but what it is its pretty good at! These little shits are yet another kind of awful small humanoid who will do awful things to you underground, but they're at least a bit more fun and, more importantly, waaaaay simpler than the godawful jermlaine that didn't need to have such a long description. These guys are little thieves, with the same abilities as a level 4 thief, and often they fight with garrotes which is pretty cool, though the first illustration depicts one holding a sword. I really love the note that they are the enemies of orcs and kobolds, and that "most creatures of the underworld will attack meazels, for they have a nasty reputation even among dungeon denizens". Everyone HATES them. That's just so fun! I would love to have them as a faction in a dungeon. I similarly love that they don't recognize the value of gems, instead dumping any gemstones they get from the people they capture and eat along with the bones in big bags outside their lairs. That's so evocative and fun, and it provides a cool opportunity for players to acquire treasure without combat. Also they apparently almost all have a noncontagious skin disease that makes them look leprous. They are just so nasty!

I'm kinda breaking my own rule here, because I really how long and overly detailed in terms of specific creature behaviors the meenlock description is, but I honestly think that the monster's vibe and atmosphere still shine through to the point that I'm willing to give them a five out of five despite the overwrought description. Basically, meenlocks are awful little humanoids that dwell in mysterious deep shafts in the ground that are so dark and twist around in strange directions that you can't see the bottom, completely lined with moss so movements are silent in them. They have psychic abilities that allow them to create false smells, which they use to defend their tunnels by making it smell like there are rotting corpses at the bottom, and they can communicate telepathically. If the players open up one of their shafts and go down in, they will find the nest lair of the meenlocks at the bottom, in a little cave; the meenlocks will fight to defend their lair using their claws that have paralytic venom, but they are scared by light so their first priority is putting any lights the party has out. If the players open up one of their shafts and then leave without going down in, then the meenlocks will crawl out of the shaft and follow the party, sneaking so as to not be found, and they will select one member of the party to basically psychically harass into being stressed and paranoid, and then when the party goes to rest the meenlocks will come by and KIDNAP THEM, taking them back to the mossy shaft where they are TRANSFORMED INTO A MEENLOCK. It is so pulpy and fun! They seem a lot like awful little humanoids like Shaver's deros, or like children's bogeymen. My only problem is how overwrought their description is. In fact, this is one monster where I think I'd like to see my good friend the Cosmic Orrery make a FKR version! The vibes are all there, just gotta be certain about the execution.

A steam mephit

I'm going to be reviewing the mephits as one creature even though there's four subtypes, mostly because in general there is a lot in common between them. I did it before with some of the other monsters that had a bunch of subtypes, it's alright. Mephits aren't really my favorite personally, but I can see why they exist in the game. They are the, to use the description's wording, "evil messengers and errand runners of the powerful creatures of the Lower Planes", which is definitely a sort of conceptual niche that is needed in fantasy games like D&D. Personally I think I'd be more inclined to use things with more literary vibes than the elemental themed mephits; like, I dunno, maybe basing things on Lovecraft's servitors of the outer gods or Poe's imps of the perverse. In fact, why not just use imps, which were literally in the Monster Manual? Okay okay, there is one thing that I really love about how the mephits are described, which honestly let me just quote it in its entirety:
"Mephits are connoisseurs of the vulgar and tasteless; they share an extraordinarily twisted sense of humor (to a mephitic, the sight of a creature writhing in agony is excruciatingly funny). They delight particularly in tormenting the helpless. If they can obtain them (and it is usual that they do) they will wear clothes of the most garish design and color possible. They are often seen puffing upon smoking rolls of exceedingly foul smelling dried vegetation. They adopt a strutting gait and have shrill voices."
They are evil assholes with a mean sense of humor and they're described as stoners who dress in gaudy outfits. I bet they listen to breakcore or 100 Gecs or something (I really like 100 Gecs actually so that's a good thing lol). Now, for the sake of brevity, let me just summarize my thoughts on the four subtypes of mephits. In general, I really don't think there needs to be so many subtypes, and since the publication of the Folio there have been many, many more. It is typical of the kind of overly taxonomic gygaxian impulse to just constantly add new variations on monsters as canon "subtypes", "breeds", etc., and I am decidedly not a fan. However, here's how I feel about the four types of mephits described here:
Fire Mephit: Pretty basic, they're always on fire so touching them deals damage, they have a breath weapon of fire that they can change the shape of between either a jet of flame or a blanket of flame, I guess that changes how many targets it can hit? Also they can do heat metal and magic missile. Pretty generic.
Lava Mephit: These guys are delightfully gloopy, their illustration has such a shitty expression on its face, even its nose is drooping with dripping lava. They're not actually made of lava either; lava mephits instead sweat lava, it's described as oozing from their skin. I really like that, it's so messed up. The lava sweat obviously produces a lot of heat, so they can be detected from a good distance away, touching them deals damage, etc. They can also spit lava and their touch dissolves/melts stuff and they can shape change into a pool of lava. A bit too many powers in my opinion, but pretty alright!
Smoke Mephit: Honestly these guys are just a reskinned fire mephit. The description even directly compares them. Rather than spitting fire, their breath weapon is a "sooty ball of smoke" that can also blind you in addition to dealing damage, and they can turn invisible and use the spell dancing lights. Also when they die they "cough up" 1 point of fire damage to everyone nearby, which is kinda fun.
Steam Mephit: Like the lava mephit, these guys aren't actually made out of steam but instead sweat boiling steamy water, which I really quite like. Their breath weapon is a jet of scalding water; more importantly though, they can also summon a magical rainstorm of boiling rain, that is treated as an ice storm but just with the temperature reversed to really hot. That's an amazingly messed up power. I think I might steal that for a different monster sometime.

I kinda hate that I felt the need to write so much about the mephits. My favorite ones are the lava and steam mephits.

Mephits are also our first monster in this post to have originally been featured in the Fiend Factory column in White Dwarf! Notably, however, you will not find them if you go looking for the name "mephit"... That's because they're actually new types of IMPS. I WAS RIGHT. I SAID THEY SHOULD JUST BE IMPS AND THEY ORIGINALLY WERE!!! I have no idea why they were changed from just being new subtypes of imp to being a completely separate type of monster in the transition from Factory to Folio, but that's just what happened. The four types are all here, but lava mephits are instead called molten imps. In terms of powers and abilities, they are roughly the same, though the powers are stated in much simpler language in the Factory versions, which is very welcome. The smoke imp/mephit is described as oozing smoke in a similar fashion to how the steam and lava/molten mephits/imps ooze their respective material, so that's super cool. Also Don Turnbull remarks that cautious DMs may want to avoid having certain types of imps in the same encounter together, saying that the steam imp's rain of boiling water and the molten imp's lava would interact in really bad ways. I say screw that, the awful clouds of steam and the sudden reaction of the water with lava would be great for an encounter! I will say, also, that the Fiend Folio version has a lot more personality, with the mentions of their gaudy clothing and awful senses of humor. Normally I find the Folio versions to be relatively worse than the originals, but here there is much more personality in the Folio version.

Mezzodaemons are Okay. I really love the illustration, like I really really love it, its such a good creature, but basically everything else is generic as hell. It feels almost like they were just created to fill in a gap in the AD&D cosmology so that there would be monsters for the planes between the nine hells and the abyss.  They really have no distinctive or unique powers, abilities, or flavor; they just have great strength, fight with their "horny hands and talons" (a bit of unfortunate word choice there) or sometimes with magical weapons, they can use basically any magical item and can cast a handful of specific spells, they're immune to nonmagical weapons and take half damage from acid and cold and fire, they have magic resistance, they can see infrared and ultraviolet, and they have unique names that if someone else knows then they can control them. All of that is basically the same stuff that every other fiendish creature in AD&D has. The name thing, the magic resistance, the immunities, the spells, it's pretty much the same as a given demon or devil, and pretty much all the time the demon or devil will be more interesting or iconic. Really sucks though, the illustration is great.

Yet another awful little humanoid that will do awful things to the player characters in the dungeon? These guys are getting a bit repetitive at this point. These ones are actually specified as being related to the jermlaine and the snyad, which we will get to in a future post; yet another instance of annoying gygaxian naturalism, feeling the need to establish these unnecessary genetic relationships between monsters. I personally don't really benefit from having a taxonomy of very similar awful little humanoids that live in dungeons, at least not the way its done here. Mites capture adventurers with traps, tripwires, etc., beat them half unconscious and rob them, strip them of their armor, tie them up, and then drag them to a main corridor of the dungeon to be killed by a wandering monster. I guess the mites are on better terms with the other dungeon inhabitants than the meazels are. I really like the detail that adventurers can sometimes hear them scurrying around in their little tunnels that wrap around the larger dungeon corridors, that's cool. Other than that, though, I honestly think that the meazel is a much more interesting alternative. This one has a great illustration by Russ Nicholson, though.

The humble mite is also our only other Fiend Factory original for today. And, other than the uh, very lackluster illustration, the Factory version is much better. All the basic beats are there; mites live in small tunnels all around dungeon corridors, adventurers can sometimes hear them scurry around in there, they use traps and tripwires to capture adventurers and beat them up and steal all their stuff before leaving them back in the dungeon to be killed by wandering monsters. However, and this is an important thing, there's no mention of the stupid forced genetic relationship with the jermlaine and snyads. I know that the jermlaine were Gygax's creation, so of course he would force other people's monsters to have explicit "canonical" relationships with his. Typical Gary move. Also, there is one thing in the Fiend Factory version's description that is so good I simply can't believe it was left out from the Folio version. Since the tunnels are so small that most human sized creatures can't effectively fight in them, the most effective way to combat mites is to fill their tunnels with smoke. I love that!!! It's such a cool, creative weakness that really feels like something adventurers could feasibly figure out, AND it's evocative of bees. You just have to find all the openings to their tunnels, cover up all but one of them, fill the tunnel with smoke, and then bada bing bada boom you can fight them as they come out. Really fun! If that had been included in the Folio version, I honestly probably would have given them three stars.

Hey so I'm really sorry about the length of this one! I just really didn't want to break up the letter M and it turned out that I apparently had a lot to say about some monsters that I felt mostly mixed on. Well I hope you are having a lovely day and stay tuned for the next entry in the Fiend Folio review series, where we will do the letters N and O!

1 comment:

  1. The good, memorable details that make a monster worth including in your game are never the statblocks or power lists that Gary was so fond of filling his books with. I had never heard of "Misfit Monsters Redeemed," but it sounds like it might be worth a look!

    I'm enjoying this series!