Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Crowdsourced Monsters & the Fiend Folio

Hey, let's keep talking about the Fiend Folio! I had a lot of work today and many things to do tonight, so I'll keep it brief, but Fiend Folio-appropriate.

Lich Van Winkle has a post up discussing the origins of the Fiend Folio.

The long and short of it is, Don Turnbull crowd sourced this book.

I never thought of it as "crowd sourced" but it certainly is. Lots of authors, submitting monsters all over the place, brought together in a curated collection of monsters. One of the OSR books I bought was that, really, although I found its execution a bit spottier - The Swords & Wizardry Monster Book 0e Reloaded. I still found things to use in it.

One issue I think you get with many-authored monster books is a feeling of consistent execution and theme. It's tough to have multiple authors on the same page. It happens - I know that even my players have groaned at "my" monsters from DF when they're Sean Punch's idea and execution, and at how evil Sean is when, actually, I made that one. We have similar ideas of what a monster should do, and then editing by Sean usually burnishes off the differences. But the more authors, and the less heavily the hand of the editor falls, the more visible the differences in origins and ideas. For every campaign that would love to have Kilmous in it there is one where they're useless at best. Some types of games would use a Tween, or have you fight a Adherer, and others would write both off as silly or weird.

Given a collection of such weirdness by one person, you get a feeling of consistent strangeness. From many authors, it can feel a little random. I personally think Don Turnbull did a good job and I turn to the FF again and again when I want to make my games better. But I think it's easy to feel the difference between it and the Monster Manuals I and II because it has so many authors.


  1. Peter, thanks for continuing the conversation about this, because it is an issue that touches, ultimately, on all aspects of our kind of game. It's not just game and supplement design, but it comes up in at-the-table dynamics. Does a single brain, belonging to one Referee, set the tone of a session or a campaign? How much player input goes into the setting? More collaborative and more single-author settings each have their pros and cons. I guess, in the end, it's all about the chemistry of the participants. Some Referees are wizards who can conjure an enthralling or immersing setting, if their players like what they are receiving and work together well. Other Referees explicitly work with their players to create a world of shared input.

    That difference has a parallel in the old Gygaxian aesthetic of the Monster Manual versus the wilder variety of old D&D players at large in the Fiend Folio.

    1. That's an interesting parallel - the group-created game and the ref-created game. Mine is largely ref-created with player-created additions and refinements. Even so, I realized a while back I regard it as "our game" as much as "my game."


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