Aggregate Monsters: Ecologies Challenging Encounters
– Matt Horrigan
The Computational Sublime in Monster Design
– Niklas Nylund
Contributing to Fiend Folio: White Dwarf and the UK RPG Scene
– Ian Sturrock and Tom Apperley
Fiend Folio: Tome of Creatures Malevolent and Benign, edited by Don Turnbull, was published by the US-based company TSR in 1981 as a fifth hardback manual for their flagship role-playing game (RPG) Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D). While largely following the structure of TSR’s Monster Manual1—the first AD&D hardcover—the Fiend Folio stands apart from the majority of other RPG products from TSR and other companies at the time for two reasons: First, the product was conceived as an international partnership between TSR and their UK distributors Games Workshop. Second, the project involved multiple authors, as the monsters included in Fiend Folio were sourced from submissions to the periodical White Dwarf published by Games Workshop.
The Fiend Folio had a remarkably poor reception on its publication. While some contemporary reviews welcomed the new rulebook2, it was taken to task in a review feature in Dragon, TSR’s official periodical, by contributing editor Ed Greenwood.3Don Turnbull’s discomfort is palpable in his response to Greenwood:
On this occasion, politely but firmly, he [Kim Mohan, editor of Dragon] asked me to reply to the comments by… …Ed on the FIEND FOLIO™ Tome and not to leave the country until the job was done.4
Turnbull’s main strategy for deflecting Greenwood’s criticisms is to raise the legal problems which delayed Fiend Folio’s production for two years.5 Turnbull, along with others at Games Workshop, had completed a formatted manuscript of the alphabetically listed monsters’ section (which made up the great majority of the first 99 pages of the published manuscript), during the second half of 1979. Turnbull’s Foreword to Fiend Folio is dated August 1979, and discussions in White Dwarf at the time indicate that Turnbull anticipated the publication date to be in December 1979.6 From the perspective of RPG history this ‘gap’ which irked Turnbull provides a great deal of insight into the rapid changes which were taking place in the RPG industry during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s as it went through a period of intensive growth and professionalization.
The rulebook has remained controversial for many RPG and AD&D hobbyists. It continues to be published as a PDF and print-on-demand book by Wizards of the Coast,7 where ‘product historian’ Shannon Appelcline highlights both the fraught production and troubled reception of Fiend Folio as curios in the product description. Appelcline8 also points out some of the ways that the collection contributed to contemporary Dungeon and Dragons (now it its 5thedition), by highlighting specific monsters which have played roles in licensed products and the relative fame of various contributors. In this respect Fiend Folio factors into larger histories of RPGs as games and RPGs in popular culture. However, it is crucial that the exceptional and extraordinary details of the Fiend Folio’s production history do not overshadow how it also reproduces much of the same problematic sexism and racism found in other RPG publications at the time9, particularly in the presentation of monsters.10
Fiend Folio: Brief Context
Today, in 2021 Games Workshop is a prominent manufacturer of miniatures and miniatures-based wargaming products. The Games Workshop that developed the Fiend Folio during 1979 was a remarkably different enterprise, although the project did involve their first experimentation with the close integration of miniatures and RPG/wargaming rules and supplements which later came to characterize their success. Games Workshop was originally a three-person partnership (Steve Jackson, Ian Livingstone and John Peake) that made boutique wooden boardgames and had pivoted towards the distribution of US-made RPG products in 1975—they held the exclusive rights to distribute TSR products in Europe from 1975-1978. In the ‘70s they began two major initiatives to promote RPG products in the UK, and consequently build their import and distribution business. First, in 1975 they founded an annual wargaming/RPG convention “Games Day,” which by 1978 was attracting over 2000 attendees. Second, in 1977 they founded the bi-monthly periodical White Dwarf (which shifted to monthly publication from July 1982).
Both Games Workshop initiatives prominently featured Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), in its first “White Box” incarnation.11 As TSR moved into producing AD&D, Games Workshop obtained the rights to print the hardcovered Monster Manual and Player’s Handbook12 in Britain as paperbacks, drastically reducing the cost of the books for UK consumers.13 In the case of the 1977 edition of Basic Dungeons & Dragons edited by J. Eric Holms, Games Workshop were able to print it in the UK with a cover by John Blanche and interior art by Fangorn (pseudonym for Chris Baker). They also published several products under license as official D&D products: Character Sheets,14 Hex Sheets,15 and Dungeon Floor Plans.16 Because they developed a deeper relationship with TSR through these endeavours, Games Workshop began pursuing import agreements with other US-based RPG, boardgames and wargame manufacturers. They worked with Fantasy Games Unlimited, Game Designers Workshop and Metagaming Concepts to distribute their products in UK/Europe 17
A watershed moment for Games Workshop occurred in early 1979 when they announced that they had partnered with Bryan Ansell to create Citadel Miniatures.18 Citadel began producing miniatures under license from US-based Ral Partha and three new ranges, including a range from “The Fiend Factory” feature in the White Dwarf: “A superb range of mythological and fictitious beasts for the discerning fantasy gamer.”19 The launch of the “Fiend Factory” miniatures range was announced in the February-March 1979 issue (#11) of White Dwarf, and the Fiend Folio project was announced in the following issue. The blueprint for a vertically integrated pipeline between rulebooks and miniatures was successfully drafted through these initial partnerships with Citadel and TSR but would not be successfully implemented for several years.
The Fiend Folio was initially announced in White Dwarf as a “second volume of the Monster Manual,” in the magazine’s popular “The Fiend Factory” feature.20 “The Fiend Factory” had been a regular feature since the April-May 1978 issue (#6). In “The Fiend Factory” feature Turnbull showcased monsters that had been contributed by the readers (and sometimes editorial staff) of White Dwarf. The success of the feature cemented his role at Games Workshop as “Features Editor” of White Dwarf from the August-September 1978 issue (#8).
Sharing of homebrewed monsters was a common feature in hobbyist publications in the early days of RPGs. D&D (and many other early RPGs) was designed in a way where monsters were a central and necessary part of play. Creating a monster was relatively easy, and sharing it was generally beneficial to the community as it allowed other players to use it in their games. This was facilitated by simple technical standards (armor class, hit dice etc.) for outlining how monsters operated within the rules which made monsters relatively easy to communicate and transfer between individual games. Monsters had the additional advantage of having few implications for the integrity of the game experience, compared to other homebrewed or house rules which might involve more substantial changes (for example, the parallel proliferation of homebrewed character classes for AD&D/D&D in RPG publications at the time).
In “The Fiend Factory” Turnbull had fiat to profile the qualities he was looking for in a monster: first, it must be “killable” or “have a specific purpose other than slaughtering player-characters”; second, it must be useable in a “regular” game; and third, it should be creative.21 He notes that the official rules lack “interesting yet relatively weak monsters” and mentions his interest in monsters that have “surprising, even asinine or humorous qualities.”22 For Turnbull, new monsters were crucial because they supported referees in developing different challenges—and a sense of variety—for players. It made sense to him that players would encounter monsters “with no particular function,”23 or were otherwise “non-dangerous” with only “nuisance value.”24
The main incentive for submitting a monster to “The Fiend Factory,” was that the “inventor” of a published monster received a free copy of the “issue of the White Dwarf in which his [sic] monster appeared.”25 Turnbull quite quickly became overwhelmed with the submissions. He regularly updated readers with the number of submissions he was working with:
- August-September 1978 (issue #8): “nearly” 150 submissions.26
- February-March 1979 (issue #11): “almost” 300 submissions.27
- August-September 1979 (issue #14): “nearly” 600 submissions.28
“The Fiend Factory” was extremely popular among White Dwarf’s readers. In the June-July 1978 (#7) issue, a short mail-in readers poll was published, “The Fiend Factory” was rated 8.9 out of 10 on average, the highest among the magazine’s regular features.29 The results from a second readers poll were announced in the February-March 1980 (#17) issue, and again “The Fiend Factory” was the highest-rated regular feature, with an average rating of 8.6 out of 10.30
Each monster in “The Fiend Factory” was accompanied by a short note by Don Turnbull and an illustration of the monster by one of the small group of freelance artists that provided illustrations for White Dwarf. Turnbull’s comments often focused on reflecting on the challenge that the monsters would provide for the players, although sometimes he offered more-or-less critical appraisals of the monster from a design perspective. From issues six to nineteen “The Fiend Factory” was primarily illustrated by artist Polly Wilson, who also created a unique font to write the names of each of the monsters she illustrated. “The Fiend Factory” in the April-May 1979 issue (#12) had illustrations by Alan Hunter and Russ Nicholson, several of which were reused in the Fiend Folio. Hunter and Nicholson did the majority of the monster illustrations for the Fiend Folio, along with Emmanuel (artist pseudonym) who also painted the book’s iconic cover. Several other artists who regularly worked with Games Workshop are also credited for art in the Fiend Folio: Fangorn (artist pseudonym of Chris Baker), Albie Fiore, Polly Wilson, and Tony Yates (a miniatures sculptor working for Citadel). However, although Fangorn’s art is signed it is unclear which contributions are made by Fiore, Wilson and Yates. The attribution of artists in Fiend Folio is further muddied by the unattributed inclusion of art by Tony Ackland on page 60 of the volume.31 Ackland, like Yates worked for Citadel illustrating and sculpting miniatures and it seems likely that his work being included unattributed was an unfortunate oversight.
TSR staff artists also provided illustrations for the front and end matter of the Fiend Folio, as well as several monster illustrations. These artists Jeff Dee, Erol Otus, Jim Roslof, David C. Sutherland III, and Bill Willingham, mostly contributed more general fantasy art for the lengthy revised wandering monster tables which were included over pages 100-119 of the book. These artists featured prominently in TSR’s early publications and defined the visual style of the game at the time:
This aesthetic drew inspiration from the fantasy fiction revival of the same period, the art of early pulp fantasy magazines from the 1930s, underground comic books, counterculture fanzines, children’s fairytales, and progressive rock album covers.32
This style contrast particularly with Nicholson’s style, which is more in the vein of the “grimdark” aesthetic cultivated in the pages of the White Dwarf—and later Games Workshops other products Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Warhammer 40,000—by artists like Russ Nicholson, Tony Ackland, and John Blanche.
In the April-May 1979 (#12) issue of White Dwarf where Turnbull announced the Fiend Folio project, he was clear that it would be made from the monsters that had been “submitted for publication” to “The Fiend Factory.”33 Ultimately, forty-two monsters previously published in “The Fiend Factory” from issues six to thirteen would be republished in Fiend Folio, along with three monsters from elsewhere in White Dwarf. Another nineteen monsters were contributed by TSR staff—Gary Gygax, Tom Moldvay, Lawrence Schick and Jean Wells—including several which had previously been published in softcover adventure supplements. However, the majority of the Fiend Folio entries (124 of the 185) were drawn from the hundreds of unpublished reader submissions that Turnbull had available.
The Fiend Folio was not the first multi-author collection of Monsters for use with D&D. All the Worlds’ Monsters, edited by Steve Perrin and Jeff Pimper and published by The Chaosium had piqued even TSR’s official Monster Manual when it was published in 1977. Perrin and Pimper followed up with All the Worlds’ Monsters, Volume Two (1977) and All the Worlds’ Monsters, Volume III (1980) both also published by The Chaosium. The second volume of the series even reprinted monsters which had been previously published in Alarums & Excursions. Turnbull, in his role as features editor for White Dwarf, had taken on much of the responsibility for producing “Open Box” a multipage feature that reviewed new RPGs, boardgames, wargames and supplements. He reviewed All the Worlds’ Monsters in the February-March 1978 (#5) issue, with quite mixed comments. Turnbull welcomed the idea of a collection of new monsters for D&D, but thought that the product was poorly executed, noting: “I would prefer the editors to have been a lot more discriminating.”34 His review of Volume Two in the April-May 1979 (#12) issue had similar criticisms35 However, it is clear that Turnbull saw the utility of Perrin and Pimper’s concept:
…limiting one’s dungeon occupants to those in the original TSR books gives inadequate opportunity for variety and can lead to predictability as players gain familiarity with monster characteristics and particularly their weak points. Notably, the variety of low-level monsters is limited in the TSR rules, and I for one looked to this collection for a fresh variety of beasts which could guard the upper Greenlands Dungeon levels.36
The earlier publications provided a “proof-of-concept” which Turnbull hoped to—from his perspective—improve on. Not just through the planned partnership with TSR making Fiend Folio an officially licensed product, but also through a more judicious process of selection (several issues worth of “The Fiend Factory” were made up of “near misses” which were eliminated in the final stages of completing the manuscript),37 and more professional presentation using experienced Games Workshop in-house editors and artists.
The 185 monsters published in Fiend Folio, had 70 authors, which included one pseudonym ‘Underworld Oracle’ which is assumed to be the editors of the UK zine of the same name: Lou Nisbet and Phil Alexander. As well as the TSR staff, Games Workshop staff members Ian Livingstone (co-founder of Games Workshop and Editor of White Dwarf) and Albie Fiore (Feature Editor of White Dwarf) also contributed monsters. As did several authors who were well-known for their contributions to White Dwarf during its early years: Brian Ashbury, Oliver C. MacDonald, Phil Masters, Roger Musson, and Lewis Pulsipher. Many of the contributors had published or would publish, RPG writing in an UK or USA-based zine. For example, six of the Fiend Folio authors also contributed to US zine Alarums and Excursions, seven to the UK zine Trollcrusher which ran for 29 issues between 1977 and 1984, and four to the UK Diplomacy zine Chimaera which ran for 102 issues between June 1975 and July 1983. Several contributors also went on to work professionally in game design and writing, such as Mike Fergusson, Michael MacDonald, Phil Masters, and Graeme Morris.
It is evident that many of the contributors were part of the creative ecosystem that emerged around the RPG, boardgame and wargaming hobbies in the UK. The early editorial staff of White Dwarf had developed their professional skills through their involvement both with amateur publications—Turnbull had edited the Play-by-mail Diplomacy zine Albion from 1969-1975—and more professional venues such as Games & Puzzles where feature editors Steve Jackson, Don Turnbull and Albie Fiore had all written.38 Fiore had even been its editor for a short period. By capitalizing on existing amateur and professional networks Games Workshop was able to recruit suitably skilled and experienced staff and freelancers for their projects.
Ultimately, Fiend Folio became TSR’s project as a part of complicated negotiations between them and Games Workshop. When Games Workshop’s exclusive distribution deal for TSR products had ended, and negotiations for Game Workshop to be purchased by TSR had failed, the previously close relationship between the two businesses had to be untangled. Primarily this was because TSR would start a new branch, based in the UK. In the process, both Don Turnbull and the Fiend Folio became part of TSR. Turnbull as the Managing Director of TSR UK, and Fiend Folio as the 5th official AD&D hardback rulebook. This new situation had a lasting impact on Games Workshop, which was now in need of a flagship product.
The six articles that make up this special issue of Analog Game Studies, expand core issues in the study of RPGs through their engagement with the Fiend Folio and the rules and playstyles of D&D/AD&D from this period in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The special issue begins with “The Fiend Folio’s Function and Genre: A Continuation, Not a Rupture,” Roger Sorolla’s careful analysis of the myths surrounding Fiend Folio. He argues that rather than being a departure or rupture from the familiar format and style of AD&D, that the Fiend Folio is remarkably similar in composition to the Monster Manual. This provides an excellent opportunity to reevaluate the place of science fiction in the Monster Manual and the “Appendix N” of the Dungeon Master’s Guide.39
This is followed by Sarah Stang’s discussion of the portrayal of female-coded monsters in the Fiend Folio, “The Fiend Folio’s Female Fiends: Kelpies, Vampires, and Demon.” Through an examination of the Kelpie, Penanggalan and Lolth (the Demon Queen of Spiders), Stang argues that these monsters fall into a long-established pattern of dehumanizing women by equating them with predatory and deceptive femme fatales. Such positioning of women in popular culture reinforces the otherness and monstrosity of women to transgress and challenge patriarchal norms.
Josh Goldfond focuses on examining the changing depictions of the Kuo-Toa in D&D in his essay “The Deep Ones and the Kuo-Toa: Lovecraft’s Racial Politics in Dungeons & Dragons.” He argues that from their roots in H. P. Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu mythos,” they have taken on several different incarnations which reflect the gradual growth of the D&D hobby towards a more inclusive approach to monsters that seeks to portray them in a complex and varied manner, rather than as irredeemably evil “cannon-fodder.”
The subject of Matt Horrigan’s contribution to the special issue, “Aggregate Monsters: Ecologies Challenging Encounters,” is the centrality of the game mechanic of the “encounter” in AD&D/D&D through what he calls “aggregate monsters.” These monsters are exemplified in the Fiend Folio entries Algoid, Cifal, and Protein Polymorph which provide a representation of otherwise under-represented group entities in AD&D. Horrigan argues that these creatures illustrate the limited ways that the mechanics of AD&D can represent the social world.
Niklas Nylund’s article “The Computational Sublime in Monster Design” introduces what he calls “the computational sublime,” which explores how the rules of monster design are transgressed to confuse and terrify players. Relatively well-known creatures employing transgressive mechanics in the Fiend Folio are the Crypt Thing, Disenchanter and Nilbog. Through a close reading of gaming forums where these monsters are discussed Nylund elaborates on the transgressive dimension of monster design and considers how this has shaped how monsters are appreciated in RPG culture.
Finally, in “Contributing to Fiend Folio: White Dwarf and the UK RPG Scene” Ian Sturrock and I present a summary of a series of interviews we conducted with five Fiend Folio contributors earlier this year, which focuses on their experiences developing a monster/monsters for publication in White Dwarf and Fiend Folio from the motivation to create the monsters, through to eventually seeing their creation in print.
The articles presented in this special issue of Analog Game Studies probe various crucial issues in the study of RPGs by highlighting the many ways that scholarly engagement with the Fiend Folio can shed light on the past and present of the RPG industry.
-Special Issue Editor, Tom Apperley
October 12, 2021
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].
Thanks to Aaron Trammell and the Analog Game Studies editorial team for their work supporting the production of this special issue.
Featured image “Gen Con Dice Haul #2” by Will Wheaton @Flickr CC BY-NC-SA.
AD&D: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, which was published as three hardback rulebooks—Monster Manual, Players Manual, Dungeon Masters Guide—by TSR over the period 1977-1979. A softcover UK edition of the first three rulebooks was printed under license in the UK by Games Workshop.
Basic D&D: An introductory version of D&D that “taught” people how to play it rather than just being a rulebook, published by TSR in 1977 and edited by J. Eric Holmes and often colloquially referred to as “Holmes Basic.” A UK edition was printed under license in the UK by Games Workshop.
Citadel: UK miniatures company founded in 1979 by Games Workshop and Bryan Ansell.
D&D: A game retroactively described as a “role-playing” game published in 1974 by TSR.
Fiend Factory: A line of miniatures from Citadel which made 25mm lead models of the creatures published in “The Fiend Factory.”
The Fiend Factory: A regular feature in Games Workshop’s magazine White Dwarf, edited by Don Turnbull from issue 6 through to 17, then by Albie Fiore.
Fiend Folio: A hardcovered AD&D rulebook edited by Don Turnbull, published by TSR in 1981, produced during 1979 by Games Workshop staff, largely made up of submissions to “The Fiend Factory.”
Games Day: Annual London-based convention run by Games Workshop since 1975.
Games Workshop: UK-based manufacturer of miniature wargames, founded in 1975.
TSR: US-based game publisher founded in 1973 and active until 1997, manufacturers of D&D and AD&D.
White Box: A colloquial reference to the first published version of D&D from 1974.
White Dwarf: Periodical published by Games Workshop from June-July 1977. It was bi-monthly until the August 1982 issue.
- Gary Gygax. Monster Manual. Edited by M. Carr. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR Hobbies, 1977.
- Jamie Thompson. “Open Box.” White Dwarf 28 (December/January 1981), p.14.
- Ed Greenwood. “Flat taste didn’t go away.” Dragon 55 (November 1981), pp.6-7, 9-10.
- Don Turnbull. “Apologies – and arguments.” Dragon 55 (November 1981b), p.10.
- Don Turnbull. “The Fiend Factory.” White Dwarf 15 (October-November 1979d), pp.24-25.
- You can purchase and download the PDF here.
- Shannon Appelcline. Designers and Dragons ’70-’79. Silver Spring, MD: Evil Hat, 2014.
- See Garcia, Hibbard, and Trammell. Antero Garcia. “Privilege, power, and Dungeons & Dragons: How Systems Shape Racial and Gender Identities in Tabletop Pole-Playing Games.” Mind, Culture, and Activity 23.4 (2016), pp.232-246.; Lee Hibbard. “Redesigning the Tabletop: Queering Dungeons and Dragons.” First Person Scholar (March 2019); Aaron Trammell. “How Dungeons & Dragons Appropriated the Orient.” Analog Game Studies 3.1 (2016).
- Sarah Stang and Aaron Trammell. “The Ludic Bestiary: Misogynistic Tropes of Female Monstrosity in Dungeons & Dragons.” Games & Culture 15.6 (2019), pp.730-747.
- Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Dungeons and Dragons. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR Hobbies, 1974.
- Gary Gygax. Player’s Handbook. Edited by M. Carr. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR Hobbies, 1978.
- According to Appelcline, the UK softcover prints sold for £4.50, while imported hardcovers sold for £6.95. Appelcline, 2014.
- Games Workshop. Character Sheets. London, UK: Games Workshop, 1978.
- Games Workshop. Hex Sheets. London, UK: Games Workshop, 1979.
- Games Workshop. Dungeon Floor Plans. London, UK: Games Workshop, 1979.
- Appelcline, 2014
- Anonymous. “Announcing…” White Dwarf 11 (February/March 1979), p.4.
- Anonymous. “Citadel.” White Dwarf 12 (April/May 1979), p.2.
- Don Turnbull. “The Fiend Factory.” White Dwarf 6 (April/May 1978b), pp.6-8.
- Turnbull, 1978b, p.6.
- Don Turnbull “The Fiend Factory.” White Dwarf 16 (December/January 1979d), p.25
- Don Turnbull. “The Fiend Factory.” White Dwarf 8 (August/September 1978c), p.8.
- Ian Livingstone. “Editor’s Note.” White Dwarf 5 (February/March 1978), p.9.
- Don Turnbull. “The Fiend Factory.” White Dwarf 8 (August/September 1978c), p.8
- Don Turnbull. “The Fiend Factory.” White Dwarf 11 (February/March 1979a), p.10.
- Don Turnbull. “The Fiend Factory.” White Dwarf 14 (August/September 1979c), p12.
- Anonymous. “The White Dwarf Questionnaire Results.” White Dwarf 8 (August/September 1978), p.22.
- Anonymous. “Questionnaire Results.” White Dwarf 17 (February/March 1980), p.24.
- Zhu Bajiee. “Fiend Folio. Still wrong after all these years.” Zhu Industries. June 15, 2016.
- Greg Gillespie and Darren Crouse. “There and Back Again: Nostalgia, Art, and Ideology in Old-School Dungeons and Dragons.” Games and Culture 7.6 (2012), p.446.
- Don Turnbull. “The Fiend Factory.” White Dwarf 12 (April/May 1979b), p.10.
- Don Turnbull. “Open Box.” White Dwarf 5 (February/March 1978a), p.14.
- Don Turnbull. “The Fiend Factory.” White Dwarf 14 (August/September 1979c), p.12.
- Turnbull, 1978a, p.13
- Issues 16 and 17 featured monsters that “were originally considered for the Fiend Folio but, for one reason or another, did not eventually achieve inclusion” (Turnbull 1979e, p.18). Fiore presented another Fiend Factory feature made up of “near misses” in issue 27 (1981, p. 24). Don Turnbull “The Fiend Factory.” White Dwarf 16 (December/January 1979e), pp.18-19; Albie Fiore. “The Fiend Factory.” White Dwarf 27 (October/November 1981), pp.24-25.
- A UK-based magazine that was published from 1972-1981 which was entirely focused on games and puzzles.
- Gary Gygax. Dungeon Master’s Guide. Edited by M. Carr. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR Hobbies, 1979.