Friday, April 22, 2011

Fiend Folio Friday

Reviving an old feature of this blog, I'm going back into the Fiend Folio to wax poetic on its strange and wonderful contents. Personally, despite some glaring problems and general wierdness, I still consider the Fiend Folio my favorite 1st edition monster book.

This week, I'm struck by the FF's seeming fascination with human-animal hybrids. It's of a furry convention nightmare of sorts in the Folio, quite frankly. Not that the Monster Manual didn't start it with Minotaurs and Lizard Men and the like, but the Fiend Folio seemed to really run with the ball and give us plenty of monster-human hybrids to consider for our games.

The Folio has its fair share of bird-men, thanks to the aaracockra, dire corbies, and kenku. I'm not sure I really have an interpretation of this, but I do find it notable that each of these bird-man monsters is very different. The aaracockra are possible barbarian allies living in heights and presenting a tactical challenge from intelligent, flying foes; the dire corbies are crazy-ass orc-ish monsters; and the kenku are some weird interpretation of Japanese tengu, just as the ogre mage was some sort of twisted interpretation of Japanese oni.

Not that the Folio editors stopped there. We had frog-men (bullywugs), crab men, salamander-men (firenewts), fish men (kuo-toa), lizard men (lizard king), bear-men (quaggoths), and cat-men (tabaxi).

 This implies a world of multiple strange animal-human hybrids (though the Folio doesn't grace us with snake-men, we do get both ophidians and yuan-ti by the time Monster Manual 2 rolls around) very distinct from lycanthropes who run around in our world of elves, dwarves, and halflings. And apparently, most of them don't much like us. Which makes for some interesting family dynamics with our creepy cousins from the depths of the earth. It's like we've stumbled into the dungeon crawl of Dr. Moreau.

Of course, ever since I read Brian Daley's Doomfarers of Coramonde, I have liked the idea of lizardmen as player characters, inspired by Kist-Haa the Lizard Man (not that I have played one in a game, but it just seemed like a cool idea), so I guess I understand the appeal of coming up with ways to include some sort of animal men. Though every time someone brings up the idea of cat-people, even if they are basically Kzinti, it stinks a bit of nekomimi to me.

That said, this seems to highlight an early gamer fascination with various animal-human mixes, and provides plenty of fodder for creatures ranging from Lovecraftian wierdness (kuo-toa) through simple anthropomorphic animals.