This article collects interviews with five writers of Fiend Folio monsters, offering an insight both into UK hobbyist culture of the time, and the processes of creating and submitting a monster for the anthology. We were interested in exploring how contributors remembered their relationship with the hobby at the time, and what being included in the Fiend Folio meant for them. We also hoped that by speaking with people involved in making the Fiend Folio we could conceptualize the book and the hobby itself as a process made up of many small contributions from people with a more-or-less committed and long-term engagement with the hobby.
The interviewees were recruited using the list of authors in Fiend Folio and Google. Ten contributors were contacted this way and recruited for interviews via email. However, due to scheduling issues and other miscellaneous mishaps, only six interviews have been conducted at the time of writing. One of these contributor interviews—with Ian Livingstone editor of White Dwarf during the ’70s and early ’80s and co-founder of Games Workshop and Citadel—outlined such a different perspective that we decided to discuss it elsewhere in the future as it didn’t gel with the more mundane experiences we wished to uncover. Four of the five interviews we use in this article were conducted using the web conferencing software Zoom, the other was conducted over email, at the interviewee’s request. Each interview was conducted in the framework of Tampere University’s guidelines for ethical research. The interviews used a semi-structured format, beginning with questions about the interviewees’ history of playing and contributing to tabletop RPGs, and specifically about their experiences contributing to White Dwarf magazine and later to Fiend Folio, with the interviewee’s responses becoming the basis for more free-ranging conversations. The interviews that were recorded were later transcribed into text form. We then examined the subsequent document, focusing on locating parallel and repeated themes among the participants’ experiences while also noting dissimilarities.
We found that in general, the Fiend Folio contributors were early adopters of the hobby and had more experience of playing the original version of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) than they had with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) when they designed their monsters. All of the interviewed contributors were involved in writing for games in zines and magazines beyond their contribution to Fiend Folio, two of them quite extensively. Despite the quite different personal circumstances of the contributors, they all felt part of the larger ‘community’ of White Dwarf. The contributors also shared their reflections on their payment, and how their creations had changed through Don Turnbull’s editing.
The five Fiend Folio authors that were interviewed all began playing D&D with the so-called “White Box,” which was the first published version of D&D, which was available from 1974 in North America and was imported into the UK under license by Games Workshop (GW) from 1975 onwards. For Phil Masters and Roger Musson, it was a pastime they picked up while studying at University, Masters during his first year of study. Cricky Hitchcock, Bob Scurfield and Martin Stollery started playing when they were younger, in the early to middle years of high school. Cricky recalls being twelve years old, Martin, eleven. Cricky, Phil and Bob also recalled using the supplements to the White Box published by TSR, particularly Greyhawk. Bob also mentioned that he followed several other British zines that predated White Dwarf. The White Box and these other resources were central for all the interview subjects from the period when they began playing, up until the Fiend Folio was released in 1981. Only Martin quickly shifted to mainly playing the AD&D rules as it was made available in the UK over the period 1977-1979. Cricky described the approach to play as “very much do-it-yourself,” as “the rules were fairly sketchy, and weren’t really developed in detail.” He continued to explain: “In my circle of people that I played with, we used the publications as resources and suggestions, but we would make up our own rules. I had made up my own combat tables and came up with my own spells and that was kind of the circle that I played with, that was pretty standard.”
Phil is more critical of the presentation of the rules in the White Box: “Frankly it was shambolic. Everybody had their own variations on it because it was pretty much impossible to play the game as written.” In any case, the play cultures of the time adapted the rules from the White Box into multiple localized contexts both to suit the preferences of their group, and potentially—as Phil points out—to reconcile contradictions, and other problems within the rules as written. The qualities of everyday creativity found in gaming circles in the UK at the time are also exemplified on forums like ‘The Fiend Factory’ which focused on sharing home-brewed monsters from individual campaigns.
The number of published monsters within the Fiend Folio, and ‘The Fiend Factory’ varied quite considerably among the interviewed authors. Bob and Martin had both had one monster published in ‘The Fiend Factory’ in the White Dwarf issues, from October-November (#9) 1978 and June-July (#13) 1979, respectively. Both these were revised and republished in Fiend Folio in 1981. Cricky had two monsters published in ‘The Fiend Factory’ the Svart in the October-November 1978 issue (#9) of White Dwarf, and the Desert Raider in the April-May 1979 issue (#12). The Svart along with another submission from Cricky was eventually published in a revised form in the Fiend Folio. Roger, who was a friend of Don Turnbull had eleven monsters published in ‘The Fiend Factory’ between the April-May 1978 (#6) issue and August-September (#14) 1979 issue of White Dwarf. Four of these—Chaoticus Symbioticus, Disenchanter, Nilbog, and Sandman—were revised for Fiend Folio and published with seven other monsters Roger devised. Phil was also a major contributor to ‘The Fiend Factory’: fifteen monsters he designed were featured there between the October-November 1979 (#15) issue and the April 1984 issue (#52), and he also authored a series of ‘The Fiend Factory’ from the March through to June (#39-#42) issues of 1983. However, all four of his monsters published in Fiend Folio had not previously been published.
Among the interviewees, sharing homebrew monsters was the most common way to make creative contributions to the community, but for the majority, this was not the only way. Bob also shared magic items from his campaign in the White Dwarf column ‘Treasure Chest’ in the May-June 1979 (#12) issue, while over the course of 1979 and 1980 Martin had at least three publications in the UK zine The Beholder. This included the nine-page “competition dungeon” ‘The Mines of Mentorr’ in the July 1979 issue (#4). Roger published his first article in White Dwarf in the April-May 1978 (#6) issue and published five more articles, the last one in the October-November 1981 (#27) issue. During this time, Roger had faced significant controversy through his criticism of the ‘Armor Class’ mechanic in D&D, which had led Gary Gygax to make a ‘corrective’ response in the ‘Letters’ page following issue. This in turn provoked a response from the readers of the White Dwarf, supporting ‘house rules’ and ‘homebrew.’ Roger went on to write a column ‘Stirge Corner’ for the bi-monthly Players Association News from January 1982 until it was folded into Imagine magazine in early 1983. Imagine, the house magazine for TSR UK, printed ‘Stirge Corner’ each month for the entirety of its 30-issue run from April 1983 to October 1985. Roger also contributed several articles and reviews to the UK Board/Wargame magazine Phoenix over the 1980-1982 period. Phil accumulated many writing credits for White Dwarf between 1979 and 1984, publishing articles on both D&D and Traveller. Subsequently, Phil has worked on numerous RPG related projects, making his living as a games writer and editor.
The interviewed authors submitted monsters to ‘The Fiend Factory’ out of a sense of community. For Roger, this motivation was palpable, as he was in correspondence with Turnbull about the new feature and it seemed like a good idea to share the creatures he had devised for his campaign at the Grand Edinburgh Adventuring Society (the Roleplaying Society of the University of Edinburgh). For Phil, it was a ‘fannish’ thing to do, with the additional benefit of providing him with a free copy of White Dwarf if he got a monster published. Cricky, who sent in his contributions from Toronto, Canada recalled: “At the time, it was still a small community. I was playing these games and reading the magazines, it didn’t seem presumptuous for a 14-year-old from 3,000 miles away to be ‘Hey, take my monster!'”
Martin was in part motivated by his proximity to the first GW location at 1 Dalling Road, Hammersmith, which he passed by every school day after it opened in April 1978, until it was moved to a new location in 1980. “I used to pop in during my lunch hour after school. It was not something that was distant and far away. I could go in there and look at all the D&D material and I used to buy White Dwarf directly from the shop. It seemed realistic that I could actually contribute something because of that personal contact.”
For Bob the impetus to submit a monster of his own design came from what he saw as a lack of creatures which suited his campaign which emphasized wilderness exploration and druidic mysticism. “The druidic element was also quite interesting, as D&D tended to concentrate more on what happened underground. But you could have an awful lot of fun above ground and in different sort of settings.”
Bob’s recollections reflect the gradual development of D&D away from the primarily architectural mechanics of the dungeon to embrace the exploration of land and oceans, which was increasingly realized during the course of the 70s through publications in zines, magazines, and licensed and unlicensed supplements.
While interviewees had widely different relationships with the growing UK RPG community, contributors also clearly felt to some degree a part of this community, whether proximate or distant from the ‘ground zero’ of GW’s Hammersmith location.
Given the time that has passed between the 2021 interviews and events which took place over the course of 1978-1981, it’s not surprising that Fiend Folio contributors had difficulty remembering the processes of correspondence with White Dwarf and later GW. None of the interviewees had kept any of the correspondence. Cricky recalled that he had received first a letter in 1978 notifying him that the Svart would be published in ‘The Fiend Factory,’ and then subsequently receiving another letter during 1979 about his inclusion in the Fiend Folio: “I didn’t know, about the Fiend Folio at all. I remember getting a letter from Don Turnbull, saying that they were putting it together. I don’t even remember if they asked for my permission or not.”
Phil also recalled a two-stage correspondence, where he first received a letter that monsters he had submitted would be published in a future ‘The Fiend Factory,’ and later received a second letter that they would instead appear in Fiend Folio. “As far as I remember, the letter said that he [Don Turnbull] was going to be editing the Fiend Folio. Now he wanted to use monsters that had been submitted to the Fiend Factory. The letter explained that was they were being diverted and I was happy enough to agree to it appearing in a book.”
Phil also remembers that Turnbull requested to use several of his other unpublished ‘The Fiend Factory’ submissions in Fiend Folio. These ultimately never appeared: “I assume that was simply a space thing at the time and they had their reasons.”
What was clearer in the authors’ memories was the payment that they received for their contribution. Phil, who worked with White Dwarf in a number of freelance roles during the period recalled that the payment was rather “parsimonious,” but very much normal for “the hobby at the time.” “In theory, the payment was a discount on the cost of a copy of Fiend Folio per monster contributed. I had done enough monsters to get a free copy of the book. Wasn’t exactly generous, but I did get a free copy of the book for my four monsters.”
Other contributors had quite different experiences with their payments. Bob recalled getting a free copy of White Dwarf issue 9, where the Whipper first appeared in 1978, and several years later receiving a free copy of Fiend Folio in the mail which was delivered to his parents’ address. Cricky remembered receiving a discount coupon like Phil did, which did not help him obtaining a discount in Toronto.
“I got a coupon which entitled me to one pound off the British edition of the Fiend Folio, which I was completely unable to use in Canada. I got absolutely nothing in terms of financial payment. But I wasn’t really expecting anything. There were basically two stores that I frequented in Toronto, and I went in and showed them the letter, but they were like: ‘No, sorry we can’t do anything with that.'”
Martin also recalled getting a discount voucher for Fiend Folio, although he had no recollection of any payment for his contribution to White Dwarf. “I do remember being a bit peeved that it was simply a discount rather than a free copy. I think I would have been perfectly happy with my payment with just a free copy because that was, I was into the game and it would have been helpful.”
Martin says “just a free copy” because he also remembers getting a check: “When my design of the imp was then taken up in the Fiend Folio, I was sent a check, in US dollars. Which, given the banking system at the time I never cashed because when the bank had deducted their fees, I would have got like a couple of pounds so I thought it’s better just to keep the check as a memento.”
The contributors had different recollections of being paid for the work with White Dwarf and later Fiend Folio. The most common memory is of a form that offered them a discount from the cover price of Fiend Folio.
All of the interviewed contributors reported heavy editing of their work between the initial submission, initial publication in ‘The Fiend Factory’ (except Phil), and the final publication in Fiend Folio. None of them recalls being consulted about the revisions made to their entries, which were likely to have been made by the named editor Don Turnbull. However other Games Workshop staff were heavily involved in the preparation of the Fiend Folio manuscript, particularly Albie Fiore and Ian Livingstone. Cricky assumed that the revisions on the Svart had been made to avoid copyright infringement. The Svart (as published in White Dwarf #9) was explicitly “based on creatures in the book The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner,” a reference that was removed from the description provided of the now renamed Xvart in the Fiend Folio. ‘The Fiend Factory’ often showcased monsters which were interpretations from fantasy and science fiction, although in Fiend Folio these connections were often obscure and implicit. Bob’s creation, the Whipper had also been renamed: “They changed the name on me. Probably that would be for copyright reasons, or whether. It was W-H-I-P-P-E-R I submitted it under. They changed it to ‘Whipweed.'”
Bob also recalled that in his initial submission he had made specific reference to a miniature that was suitable for portraying the Whipper. “This was before they were particularly customized. I had said if you want tabletop mode use Minifigs number (whatever the reference number was) and paint it up. But that must have been considered advertising at the time so that it was all cut out of the description.”
Roger also recalled that he had no say in the editing process. He was particularly concerned about the entry for the Nilbog, which in hindsight is now one of the more notorious monsters from the Fiend Folio. “In the case of the Nilbog, I was anxious that it should be stated that it was the work of Nick Best, not me, and this never made it into print, so the answer must be no [I was not consulted on the revised entries]. In fact, I was not really happy about the Nilbog ever seeing the light of day, since (a) it was Nick’s creation, and (b) obviously a joke. But I mentioned it in passing to Don [Turnbull] and he was keen on it.”
When the Nilbog was originally published in ‘The Fiend Factory’ in the April-May 1978 (#6) of White Dwarf, Nick Best was acknowledged, but this acknowledgement was not included in the revised entry for Fiend Folio. The main editing that Phil recalled of his entries was the name change: “The only change I do remember was that the Screaming Devilkin was originally the Screaming Demon, which I thought was a better name. Why they changed that was never clear. I never got any correspondence to explain the reason.”
Martin’s submission also had an unexplained name change, from Imp in ‘The Fiend Factory’ to Mephit in Fiend Folio. “The thought occurred to me, was there something kind of slightly underhand going on here? I wondered if the change of name had something to do with TSR claiming ownership over the monster.”
The interviewed contributors all recall having their work changed in more or less significant ways for its publication in ‘The Fiend Factory’ and Fiend Folio. In the context of the Fiend Folio at least Turnbull and potentially other Games Workshop staff involved in preparing the manuscript undertook sizable revisions—even to the point of co-authorship—without consultation with original authors.
In the pages of White Dwarf Turnbull signalled the high level of involvement that he had in crafting the Fiend Folio entries several times. In the April-May 1979 (#12) issue where the Fiend Folio project was first publicly announced, Turnbull stated: “Designers will be credited if their creations are to appear. There will have been modification/expansion of some of the entries, I hope designers don’t mind my messing about a little with their creations and will approve the changes as worthwhile. Some names, too, will be changed for various reasons.”
In general, during his tenure as editor of ‘The Fiend Factory’ Turnbull would occasionally make asides that monster names had been changed for White Dwarf, or would be changed in the future for Fiend Folio. For example, in the August-September 1978 issue of White Dwarf (#8), he criticizes Roger Musson’s Chaoticus Symbioticus: “Roger – couldn’t you have invented a simpler name???” and refers to it as “the C.S.” throughout the entry, despite a clear fondness for the monster. Ultimately, the C.S appeared in Fiend Folio, but as the “Symbiotic Jelly.” In another case, he notes he changed the name of the Desert Raider, from what Cricky initially submitted “for copyright reasons.” In the April-May 1980 issue (#17) while discussing the Goom, a monster published in that issue’s ‘The Fiend Factory,’ Turnbull stated: “This is very similar to the gluey, one of the earlier Factory monsters which has been further developed to appear in the Folio under another name.” Once the Fiend Folio project was in its final stages it appears that the creative role of the contributors was over. Given the initial rush by Games Workshop to complete the project before the end of 1979, the reluctance to consult seems like a practicality stemming from the timeline. Ultimately the project was not published until around two years after Games Workshop had completed the monster descriptions. With this knowledge, the process of producing the final manuscript might have been more consultative.
The interviewed contributors to the ‘The Fiend Factory’ and Fiend Folio all felt that it was somewhat of an achievement. Roger recalled “I was quite happy about it. I would have been happy if they had used more, to be honest.” Phil, who by the stage that Fiend Folio was published in August 1981 was a regular contributor to White Dwarf, said: “Personally it didn’t feel like I had suddenly made it to the big leagues. The hobby back then was still semi-professional, and a lot of people were publishing their own material in zines that were available in the local game shop. So having something published and sitting on the shelves in a game shop didn’t feel like a huge professional achievement. I suppose it was more of a boasting point than an actual accomplishment.”
The younger contributors—Bob, Cricky and Martin—had very clear recollections of the unqualified sense of accomplishment they felt when they saw that their work was published.
“I was really chuffed. It encouraged me to think about sending some more in. I got lots of ideas at this point and not just about Monsters, as White Dwarf would occasionally publish a two or three-page mini-dungeon. I was very tempted to sort of send in a couple of other things from our own adventures, but for whatever reason, I didn’t follow up on it.”
“I was excited, I think I was still playing D&D then and it obviously gave me a certain amount of kudos amongst my sort of immediate circle of players to have had something published.”
“I was very pleased that the issue of White Dwarf that they were published in featured a little adventure that had Svart in it. One of the facts I had made up about Svarts is that they have a hatred for halflings and halflings have a mutual hatred for them. In the adventure, the Svart had a book called, ‘A Thousand Embarrassing Facts About Halflings’ and any halfling that destroyed the book would get extra experience points.”
The scenario that Cricky describes is Albie Fiore’s ‘The Lichway,’ which was also published in the October-November 1978 issue (#9) of WhiteDwarf.
The Svart turned out to be a popular addition to many of the White Dwarf audiences’ monster rosters. In a reader poll that was conducted from the October/November 1979 (#15) issue of White Dwarf and closed on the 1st of January 1980, readers were encouraged to vote for the best five Fiend Factory monsters. The results were published in the April/May 1980 (#18) issue. Cricky’s Svart was at number 3 in the top ten, while Martin’s Imps were number seven. A second poll with a November 1st 1981 deadline was announced in issue 27 of White Dwarf and published in the February/October 1982 issue (#29), the Svart again featured in the top ten monsters at number 8.
Being included in the Fiend Folio did not cement the authors into habitual contributors. Nor did it ensure the ongoing centrality of D&D in their personal use of RPG systems. While Roger continued to write for RPG publication until 1985, after playing ‘White box’ D&D for 3 or 4 years from 1975 using “illicit photocopies” of the rulebooks, he shifted to DragonQuest, but gradually left the pastime due to work and family responsibilities. His gaming is now computer focused: “But I do play a lot of computer RPGs, both single-player (the likes of Skyrim) and multiplayer (World of Warcraft). It’s easy to fit in an hour’s play whenever you want.”
Phil stopped playing D&D after a couple of years, then restarted after he graduated from college. By this time, he was more interested in other RPG systems and never played D&D intensively again. This period of freelancing where he was publishing regularly with White Dwarf, does represent the start of him dabbling in what later became his professional career. Bob didn’t play much after he went to boarding school and then joined the army: “D&D went on the back burner for many years really until I had a kid of my own.” Cricky played D&D much less regularly from 1982 when he left Toronto to attend college but picked it up again during the early 1990s while at grad school for a short time. Martin mentioned that he had several negative experiences at early RPG conventions in London with more aggressive-style ‘wargamer’ players and had gradually drifted away from D&D to other hobbies. “We started going to gigs around the age of 13 or 14. In London there was lots going on and lots of good music at the time. It was just a natural shift of focus of interest. It just didn’t seem relevant to be playing D&D anymore.”
The UK tabletop RGP scene in the late ’70s and early ’80s was astonishingly vibrant. Many of the contributors to the scene were youths, their participation was enabled in part by a network of hobbyist zines and the more professional White Dwarf. The White Dwarf maintained several features which were open to reader submissions, including ‘The Fiend Factory’ – which was the most popular feature in the magazine for several years after it was introduced. Through their involvement with ‘The Fiend Factory’ all five contributors shaped the development of the hobby and some of their creations even had a long-term impact (Roger’s Crypt Thing, for example). Given the growth of the hobby since the early 1980s, it is significant that only one of the interviewees remains involved with tabletops RPGs. This indicates that RPGs at the time were for many participants a youthful pastime associated with periods such as high school and university where leisure time was plentiful. The creative networks in place in the RPG scene in the UK were able to cultivate and sustain the fleeting creativity of short-term yet intensive associations, while also creating a range of publication opportunities for people who saw game design and writing as a vector into developing a career.
Tom Apperley’s contribution to the work was supported by the Academy of Finland funded Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies [grant number 312395].
Both Tom and Ian are extremely grateful to the interview participants from this project for taking the time to share their experiences. Tom would also like to thank his colleagues Frans Mäyrä and Olli Sotamaa for their support.
Featured Image Alien Throne by John Fowler @Flickr CC BY 2.0
This research was conducted and written equally and collectively by Tom Apperley and Ian Sturrock.
Tom Apperley is a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies at the University of Tampere, Finland. He conducts research on digital games and playful technologies with an emphasis on their impact and influence on culture, particularly areas such as social policy, pedagogy and social inclusion. Tom’s more recent work has appeared in Games and Culture, New Review of Multimedia and Hypermedia, and Mobilities.
Dr. Ian Sturrock is a Senior Lecturer at Teesside University, as well as having written for and designed tabletop roleplaying games for Green Ronin, Guardians of Order, Cubicle 7, Modiphius Entertainment, Pelgrane Press and others.