Fifty Fiends (Patreon Request) (OSR)
This massive supplement clocks in at 76 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover/editorial, 1 page ToC/introduction, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 71 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue by one of my patreon supporters.
In many ways, this is a love letter to the Fiend Folio of old (not the 3.X version), and rules-wise, this employs the B/X rule-set, making this pretty much Old School Essentials-compatible, even if Gavin Norman’s new presentation of the classic rules is not explicitly pointed out, the description of the respective attacks and special abilities does look very much like the presentation of his work: On each page featuring one of the fiends, you’ll have the statblock in the upper left quarter of the page; to the right of it, you’ll have a b/w-artwork (all adhering to the same style, with quite a few looking genuinely creepy!). The lower half of the page then tends to feature the attacks and special abilities first, and if there is still room, we have more information on the respective fiend’s order, appearance, ecology, languages, etc. – I some instances, there obviously wasn’t sufficient room left for particularly exciting information here. Sometimes, reaction tables are included. If you’re like me, and consider the loss of all the delightful flavor to be one of the downsides of most contemporary roleplaying games, then you might feel the same and wish that the book provided a bit more flavor than what we get for these critters.
In case B/X means nothing to you: Descending AC, HD and HP values, saves reference class tables, morale values are provided, as well as treasure types. Super helpful, considering the nature of adversaries herein: Each statblock has a resistance/immunity section that notes e.g. when the creature only takes half damage from acid or gas or iron or untyped magical energy, also sporting required weapon enchantments to hit, if any. If you enjoyed the P/X: Basic Psionics Handbook, you’re also in luck, for quite a few creatures herein use the rules from that book. Even if you don’t have it, though, you’ll still get plenty of critters out of this bestiary.
Now, grognards might be shocked to hear that this pdf does assume a dual alignment axis angle, as its fiends are pretty differentiated, and the massive appendices not only explain it in detail, the book also contextualizes the (outer) planes of existences in this context as well as the inner ones. A pretty detailed schematic notes the means to progress between different planes via magic. Psionics, pools, items, etc., providing a more codified, and to me, interesting way to think about planar interactions. While the system may look a bit daunting at first, it is actually a rather simple model once you’ve understood it. The planes are described briefly, and it should be noted that neutral evil fiends herein are not daemons, but rather yamadutas. From true names to diabolical signatures, to recapping the properties of fiendish orders, the pdf does an admirable job presenting a book that’s useful even if you don’t have 20+ years of roleplaying experience and background knowledge about the planes.
All cool? Not exactly. The book also contains a pretty massive amount of spells, which, while mechanically precise, include e.g. lesser variants of banishment (that require the true name and are unreliable, granted) , aforementioned banishment, spells like blasphemy, etc. These are not bad, but we’ve seen them in various iterations by now, and a couple of them have always been rather clunky or frustrating…and e.g. the holy word counterpart for the often frustrating blasphemy is missing. Personally, I also tended to like that there was no dimensional anchor/lock spell here, but your mileage may vary. If you wanted B/X-versions of those, there you go. The magic item appendix follows the same paradigm, and isn’t exactly exciting, as far as I’m concerned. Then again, I’m looking for more wondrous material from my old school games; if you play old-school games like back in the day, then you probably won’t mind that a ring of the planes works like the amulet, but only affects the wearer. On the plus-side, a recap of languages, a treasure type table, and even a pronunciation guide for the fiend names? Heck yeah, I can get behind those!
Now, I already mentioned that the monsters have their own artworks, and the author (who also did the drawings!) may be proud – they adhere to the same style, yet are distinct; some are grotesque or even a bit funny, but many are just alien: Think, for example, of a satyr-like entity with a jundej’baht as a weapon (a root topped with a crystal), and a head defined by what I’d call a Klingon’s bone-ridges going out of control and taking over the face in a rather grotesque manner. There would be the one-eyed empress of enmity, who btw. may have exposed breasts, but seriously? Nobody will be aroused by this lady- From infectious dung fiends, and diminutive critters with a maddening chatter to a demogorgon-like fellow with two vulture-heads, from Xibalban bat-things to insects from Limbo with a hive mind and mental bonds, from thorn devils to armored creatures that reminded me slightly of the Giger Alien or 3.0’s steel predator, we have quite a selection – including strange, genderless…things, or Shezmu, the demon lord of executions, we have a rather interesting critter array, The latter is, btw., in aesthetics something you’d expect from goetic traditions – so no matter where your preferences regarding outsiders/fiends may lie, there’ll be something to enjoy.
Of course, I should also talk about “save or die”, a bit of a contentious topic. This book champions what I’d call “good” save or die – if a creature has a very powerful ability that can cause a save or die effect, it tends to either be a ruler (demon lords, archdevils, etc.), or have some limitations that make it fair. Aforementioned dung fiend? He can, once every 5 rounds, generate a squart – accidentally swallowing that causes a save or die. Good roleplaying (such as a covered mouth, saying that you clamp your mouth shut, etc.) can prevent that. Another creature taints water – drinking from the water causes save or die. Once more, clever players can avoid having to save in the first place. From cooldowns to simply good roleplaying, the book sports plenty of means to help make these creatures deadly, harsh…but also kinda fair.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level – I noticed no serious accumulation of glitches, and indeed, encountered only the rare and mostly cosmetic hiccup. Layout adheres to an elegant, no-frills two-column b/w-standard, and getting a single original artwork for every creature? That’s awesome. Less awesome would be the fact that the pdf version has no bookmarks, which makes navigation a colossal pain.
Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr., with assistance from David Welborn, has crafted an impressive book, considering that he seems to have made ALL of it. The bestiary is more refined in many ways than his first collection of creatures, but it also is, courtesy of its fiend focus, a bit less versatile. There is less of the magical realism angle here, less goofy oddness – and that’s on one hand good, on the other hand, I couldn’t help but bemoan their absence.
That being said, there’s one more thing: This book costs a grand total of $1.00 as a pdf. I am not even kidding you. This is insane, and yes, the book is worth that price at least half a dozen times over. Literally. In fact, I really love the monsters herein; while not all are brilliant, many made me want to use them. The same does not hold true for the supplemental material, and once I had finished the book, I couldn’t help but feel that more lore instead of spell/item conversions would have elevated this book. Then again, I’m complaining at a very high level.
Heck, even if you don’t play OSR-games at all – you get a ton of weirdo b/w-artwork and monster concepts for a buck. A buck. A single American Dollar. Even if you are not interested in B/X at all, I wager you’ll get your money’s worth from this book. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.
You can get this bestiary for a single buck here on OBS!
The print-on-demand version may be found here!
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