Revisiting the Fiend Folio

This special issue of Analog Game Studies examines the Fiend Folio: Tome of Creatures Malevolent and Benign (Turnbull 1981) in its historic and contemporary significance to game cultures and game design. Fiend Folio was an anthology of monsters published in 1981, the fifth official hardbacked rulebook of TSR’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D). It was the first TSR publication that was led by its newly instituted UK branch. The source of many of the monsters in the Fiend Folio was a regular feature in the London-based periodical White Dwarf, ‘the Fiend Factory,’ which published homebrew monsters from the campaigns of its readers.

The diversity of perspectives created by multiple authors, along with the monster illustrations from White Dwarf’s in-house artists of presents a strikingly different vision of AD&D from the official ‘Gygaxian’ vision of the first four rulebooks. However, the Fiend Folio continued to entrench many of the well-established and problematic views that were espoused in earlier materials for AD&D and original Dungeons and Dragons (Gygax & Arneson 1974). Views that continue to reinforce a culture of hegemonic white masculinity in game design today.

The Fiend Folio was met with substantial public criticism from within TSR. In issue 55 of Dragon, TSR’s official magazine, contributing editor Ed Greenwood wrote a four-page negative review that characterised the rulebook as a “disappointment” (1981, 6). This special issue aims to consider how Fiend Folio failed to meet expectations, and disrupted and challenged ”common sense” publication norms and approaches to game design by exploring 1) the tensions between world-building and technical challenge in monster design 2) the role of unconventional and unusual monsters in role-playing games and game cultures 3) the role of art and illustration in fantasy world-building.

Work that approaches these issues from a critical race perspective is particularly welcome. Given long-term concerns about racism and race representation in Dungeons & Dragons and the recent ill treatment of non-white employees at Wizards of the Coast, the Fiend Folio provides a lens into the complexities of white reactionary fandom in early role-playing games. The problematic concept of ‘race’ in the character design of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is established (Garcia 2017; Hibbard 2019). The controversial Drow (as Elf, Dark) was one of the monsters published in the rulebook, and other creations demonstrate elements of the identified orientalism of early Dungeons and Dragons (Trammell 2016). The Fiend Folio offers the opportunity to extend the critical analysis of AD&D by focusing on the role of monsters. Recent scholarship has opened important trajectories for examining how monster design can embed problematic world views (Stang & Trammell 2019), and is demystified, made mundane and knowable through containment within the rules (Jaroslav Švelch 2018).

Perspectives that draw on feminism, disability studies, gender studies, indigenous studies, queer studies and critical whiteness studies are also encouraged. Hegemonic norms of whiteness, masculinity, able bodiedness and cis heterosexuality saturate the monster designs submitted by the Fiend Folio‘s contributors, artists, and editors. These have had a broad, multi-decade impact on how monsters are conceived of in games and gaming culture.

Potential Topics (The call is not limited to these topics they are suggestions)
  • What makes the Fiend Folio distinct among the Advanced Dungeon & Dragons hardcovered rule books? and how can this history inform contemporary critical approaches to RPGs? Potential foci include: crowd-sourcing, national identity (the perceived ‘Britishness’ of the Fiend Folio), artwork, and other aspects of its production history, as well as it incorporation into latter editions of AD&D and D&D, and OSR clones.
  • What qualities of game design values and play experiences are reflected in the monsters collected in the Fiend Folio? For example: How does the Fiend Folio challenge the “Gygaxian Naturalism” (Maliszewski 2008) presented in previous publications from TSR? How do the varied monsters presented in the Fiend Folio reflect the diverse ways that AD&D was played?
  • How has the world-building in the Fiend Folio been influential? For example, the rulebook introduces many monsters which were denizens of the Underdark as well as many inhabitants of a burgeoning multiverse. Furthermore, is the Fiend Folio’s influence reflected in the more deliberately strange and fantastic campaign worlds of Planescape (Cook 1994) and Spelljamer (Grubb 1989)?
  • How have the unconventional and unusual monsters introduced in the Fiend Folio been received in game culture? What role do they have in contemporary D&D and the numerous OSR clones? Have they made their way into popular culture? Many of the monsters from the volume remain the subject of periodic derision and dismissal, while others quickly became celebrated classics. Can the persistence of these strange ‘unplayable’ creatures offer the possibility of re-evaluating the Fiend Folio from the perspective of disability studies or queer studies (cf. Ruberg 2019; Stokes 2017)?
  • What can the artwork of Fiend Folio tell us? The illustration of individual monsters had become a norm with the Monster Manual (Gygax 1977), what qualities does the Fiend Folio illustration have or lack? Why is the issue of illustration so crucial in the reception of collections of monsters? How does nostalgia shape appreciate for the artwork (Gillespie and Crouse 2012), and the contemporary evaluation of the work?
  • What can the monsters of the Fiend Folio tell us about hegemonic attitudes and notions among players and designers? Do the monster entries and/or illustrations in Fiend Folio outline monstrosity in a problematic manner? Manuscripts may focus on the analysis of a monster or group of monsters to critically examine how their monstrosity is established.

 

Submission

Please email an abstract of 200-300 words to thomas.apperley@tuni.fi by November 2, 2020. Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by mid-November, and the 3000-4000 word submissions will be due on February 8, 2021.

Please contact the editor of the special issue at thomas.apperley@tuni.fi if you have questions about your potential submission.

 

References

David Cook 1994. Planescape. Lake Geneva: TSR.

Antero Garcia. 2017 Privilege, power, and Dungeons & Dragons: How Systems Shape Racial and Gender Identities in Tabletop Pole-Playing Games. Mind, Culture, and Activity 23(4), 232-246.

Greg Gillespie and Darren Crouse 2012. There and back again: Nostalgia, art, and ideology in old-school Dungeons and Dragons. Games & Culture 7(6), 441-470.

Ed Greenwood 1981. Bad Taste Doesn’t Go Away. Dragon 55 [November] 6-7 and 9-10.

Jeff Grubb 1989. Spelljammer. Lake Geneva: TSR.

Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson 1974. Dungeons & Dragons. Lake Geneva: TSR.

Gary Gygax 1977. Monster Manual. Lake Geneva: TSR.

Lee Hibbard 2019. Redesigning the Tabletop: Queering Dungeons and Dragons. First Person Scholarhttp://www.firstpersonscholar.com/redesigning-the-tabletop/?fbclid=IwAR1yI_FVYyl-IrwXSvxEG6yhBDXpOgmuwXgek7IFLl7yOL4ti-RnSgQqJ4w

James Maliszewski 2008, September 4. Gygaxian “Naturalism.” Grognardia [web log]. http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2008/09/gygaxian-naturalism.html

Bonnie Ruberg 2019. Video Games Have Always Been Queer. New York: New York University Press.

Don Turnbull [editor] 1981. Fiend Folio: Tome of Creatures Malevolent and Benign. Lake Geneva: TSR Hobbies.

Sarah Stang and Aaron Trammell 2019. The Ludic Bestiary: Misogynistic Tropes of Female Monstrosity in Dungeons & Dragons. Games & Culture [online first].

Jaroslav Švelch 2018. Encoding monsters: “Ontology of the enemy” and containment of the unknown in role-playing games. In the edited proceedings of The Philosophy of Compute Games Conference, Copenhagen 2018. http://gameconference.itu.dk/papers/09%20-%20svelch%20-%20encoding%20monsters.pdf

Aaron Trammell 2016. How Dungeons & Dragons Appropriated the Orient. Analog Game Studies 3(1). http://analoggamestudies.org/2016/01/how-dungeonsdragons-appropriated-the-orient/