Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Best and Worst of TSR: Fiend Folio

The Fiend Folio is much maligned for its silly and inane plethora of implausible beasties. But a perusal of its quirky pages also reveals a variety of monsters that have become "classics" in the annals of D&D. In addition it was the first hardcover to compile the various critters that had been published in modules up to it's release date.  Besides Drow, and the daemons (Mezzodaemon and Nycadaemon), it detailed such remarkable baddies as the Githyanki and Grell (well used in one of my favorite modules the Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun!).

Fiend Folio was the first monster book I owned. I didn't get the Monster Manual until much later, so this was my Monster Manual. Until I got the Fiend Folio I recall being frustrated I didn't have the Treasure Type table that the monster appendices in the Dungeon Master's Guide referred to. I was so happy to get this book because it had that table - accompanied by one of the best illustrations in the book:
This is what I imagined a small dragon encounter to be. A wizard crapping his robes and a fighter freaking the heck out. The dragon pissed that someone would dare to trespass in his lair. Piles of treasure waiting for the brave adventurer. I still love this drawing. I can't tell who the artist is, the signature seems to say Ian Gorn, but no such illustrator is credited, or even any name remotely similar in the credits.

Unfortunately the Fiend Folio did deserve much of its criticism. There was some weird and goofy stuff in here! As much as I love Erol Otus, his illustration of the Khargra was just...lame:

Maybe he didn't have much to work with given that the description had such terms as "equi-angularly" and "mouth aperature" in it. Still, he redeemed himself with a great illustration of the Volt and this very cool troll encounter:

Of all the illustrations in the Fiend Folio, the one that most inspired me was this one of a fighter, who looks very much like John Carter of Mars, battling Lizard Kings. This illustration inspired me so much that I wanted to draw like that artist (whose signature is indecipherable). Looking at it now I can see all the anatomy and other technical problems, but it is a good composition and my nostalgia still lets me see it like my younger, less art-educated, self.
One old-school D&D artist, who doesn't get the credit he deserves, who had some great illos in the Fiend Folio is Bill Willingham. He went on to be very successful in comics, most notably Elementals and Fables. His work had so much feeling and energy to it. I should do a post just on how great his illustrations for early D&D really were. There are some real classics I'd like to highlight. But, in the Fiend Folio there was one in particular that I always liked:
This image is just cool! I love that Valkyrie-like character. The emotion of the tragic moment a mighty warrior has been felled resonates in this image. The drawing and inking are superb. I love this drawing. It still inspires me and makes me want to make cool art.

The Fiend Folio is a real mixed bag. Mostly remembered for it's silliness, but it also had some of the best TSR had to offer in the way of cool and interesting monsters.


  1. I'm pretty sure the "John Carter of Mars" artist is Alan Hunter. It has the same stylized AH as the rest of his signatures, just not as looping as they are in the rest of the FF.

    Totally agree with the lack of recognition for Bill Willingham. My favourite was from the cover of the Hexagonal Mapping Booklet...

    And thanks for standing up for the FF. It has seriously been maligned around the blogosphere lately by people who really should know better.

  2. I actually like the FF for being a mixed bag. With any compilation, its going to be a cluttered mix of ideas from different scores. Sometimes you get a classic like a Githyanki, sometimes you get a misunderstood and/or poorly-reguarded Flumph (I'm actually a fan of the Flumph).

    As for the mysterious artist, “AH” (Alan Hunter) appears all over the book (bullywug, crabmen, and so on), and his style is vary different then the spread on page 60. The signature is confusing – it looks more like “FH”. All I can think of, is Albie Fiore. I'll be more content knowing who did all the art using the stippling (dotted) technique, like the Sandman, and the Flumph pics.

  3. I always loved the lizardmen battle illo too! I'm sure that skull-topped column worked its way into more than one adventure of mine, funny how stuff like that sticks with you.

    Word Verification "Bradtv". Really, Brad TV? The reality show about Brad...;)

  4. Ian Gorn would be "Fangorn", I believe. He's credited in quite a number of UK D&D releases, including the Holmes Basic book. As to who "Fangorn" is and how long they continued to illustrate, I am at a loss.

  5. Fangorn is the name Chris Baker goes under.

    He did some of the cover paintings for the "Myth" series by Robert Lynn Asprin as well as the slightly more recent Redwall books.

    He still illustrates, paints and storyboards.

  6. thanks biopunk! that is a mystery that has haunted me for many years. funny thing, I've seen Chris Baker's work before and really like it.

  7. Thanks for the great post! A welcome antidote to some of the recent nastiness in the blogosphere.

    I too love those FF illustrations, particularly the dragon encounter and the valkyrie.

    For some reason, the caryatid columns and the githyanki illustrations are memorable for me as well.

  8. Fiend Folio was also my first monster book. In fact, it was my first eve hard cover D&D book. When I bought it, I was still pretty new to the hobby, even though I'd been into the boxed set of the game for a bit. I picked up FF because I wanted more monsters for my boxed set adventures.

  9. paladin: caryatid columns!!! the effect they had on a teenage boy...

  10. Great nostalgia! I love a lot of the quirky monsters found inside the original Fiend Folio.

    And although Otus and Willingham are some of my favorite old school illustrators, I cannot help but thinking you overlooked the inimitable Russ Nicholson.

  11. Man. Thanks for reminding me of those illustrations.

  12. I've always liked the Fiend Folio, for its equal parts of cool and nutty. Thanks for highlighting some of its marvelous art.

  13. I think the John carter scene is in fact from a dray prescott (Alan Burt akers) book. There is an identical fight, but I can't remember the book. Anyway the FF was a great inspiration and I plan to hand it down to my kids.