In this month's exclusive interview, the designers of the new Fiend Folio discuss fiends, more fiends, and the apparently extremely fiendish blackstone gigant.
Wizards of the Coast: How is the new Fiend Folio compatible with the upcoming revision of the D&D game?
James Wyatt: We tried to anticipate many of the changes coming down the pike for the revised Monster Manualin the Fiend Folio. Some of that happened early on -- I pushed for the inclusion of an extraplanar subtype in this book because there are so many creatures that come from other planes but aren't necessarily outsiders, and then that type got extended to the Monster Manual revision. Other things happened while the book was in the hands of our amazing editors -- like changing the way skill points and feats are allocated for monsters so that they work just like characters. (That change is also previewed in Savage Species.) The swarm subtype is another rule we developed for the book that made its way into the revised Monster Manual. The much-discussed changes to damage reduction are not included in the Fiend Folio, though, because they require changes in all three core rulebooks. That said, we're going to make sure that revised damage reduction statistics for all the Fiend Folio monsters are available just about as soon as the revised Monster Manual is available.
Wizards: What's new in the Fiend Folio for players who've been in the game for a while?
James Jacobs: I really got a kick out of the swarm subtype that James Wyatt came up with. It's definitely a new subtype that the game needed; swarms don't work like any other monster in D&D, and it's good to have some solid baseline rules for them. I believe he used the statistics for the summon swarm spell to start and built up the subtype from there, and as a result there are some pretty disturbing swarm monsters in the book.
Wizards: How did so many of you come to work on this project? What was the design process like?
Jesse Decker: Monster books are probably a little easier to split up than most, and once James (Wyatt) had outlined the book's contents by monster type and CR, it wasn't too hard to split the monsters. Four of us worked in the periodicals department at the time (this was before the new company, Paizo, was formed), and while we were working on the book, hardly a day went by without someone drawing the rest of us into a discussion about monster design. As to how so many of us came to work on the project, I simply ask, who'd pass up a chance to work on the new Fiend Folio?
James Jacobs: Each of us got a stack of monsters to design. Some of them were monsters from earlier editions to be updated to the new D&D, but I'd say half were just vague concepts like "a demon with 20 Hit Dice" or a "mythic creature" or a "nonhorselike mount." In one case, Matt was designing creatures that excel at mounted combat, and he decided they needed a cool, unique mount of their own, so he asked me to use one of my "nonhorselike mount" monsters to design something that'd fit well with his critters.
What was it like working with such a large team?
James Wyatt: I was actually the person who had to coordinate the whole team. That meant that I spent the better part of a month figuring out what should go in the book (sometimes very specifically, sometimes more generally), putting together templates for the designers to work in, and dividing up the monsters among all the designers. Then I spent another month designing my part of the book. Every one of the designers brought such awesome ideas and creative implementation to the book; really, what I'm most impressed by is the way it hangs together as a very cool monster book.
Jesse Decker: Working with these guys was easy. Our assignments from James were very clear, and if we didn't like a monster or wanted to make a change in the assignment, we just traded among ourselves.
James Jacobs: It was great working with everyone on this project. I felt a bit like the "new guy" at the start, but that quickly went away once I realized that everyone else was just as excited about the book as I was. We were all here at Wizards at the time, so it was easy to wander down the hall and trade monsters or compare special attacks or talk about weird prehistoric sloths or whatever.
Eric Cagle: Since everyone that worked on the book was a pro, having such a large team for this book was a breeze. James had a very thorough and helpful outline ready at the beginning, as well as a statistics block template, so it was really just plug and play. It was a simple matter of looking at what James had outlined and picking what you wanted to do. Everyone had their preferences -- some people went "Oooh! Oooh! Gimme fiends!" while others (such as myself) dabbled in a bit of everything. There was a lot of horse-trading in the very beginning, which made for some weird conversations in the hallways: "Hey, I'll trade you an aberration and a new monstrous humanoid for a CR 12 magical beast and an ooze."
Chris Thomasson: Working with so many creative people was wacky fun. We chat about monsters all the time anyway, but this time we had a purpose. I think that the collaborative effort and idea-mining that went on between the designers made this a super-cool book.
Wizards: Give us an overview of the three new fiend prestige classes for monsters: fiend of blasphemy, fiend of corruption, and fiend of possession.
James Wyatt: The fiend prestige classes are three different ways for fiends to develop specialties in how they deal with mortals. The fiend of blasphemy is a fiend who's the center of a cult. I used some of the ideas from the old Ravenloft Van Richten's Guide to Fiends to make class abilities for these guys. The fiend of corruption specializes in corrupting the souls of mortals. A lot of inspiration there came from my article for Dragon Magazine, "Hell on Earth: The Hidden Faces of Evil." Where the fiend of blasphemy deals with a whole cultload of mortals, a fiend of corruption works one on one. The fiend of possession actually uses the possession rules from Book of Vile Darkness and presents one way to give possession abilities to a fiend that otherwise might not have them. Each of them is a 6-level class, so a fiend can add these extra abilities without varying too far from the fiendish baseline.
Wizards: Grafts and symbionts are unusual new concepts. Can you outline these and discuss their design origins?
James Wyatt: Ingredient 1: Ed Stark saying that the Fiend Folio should include some new rule system. Ingredient 2: The fiendish imagination of Monte Cook, as expressed in the Infernal Machine in Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil (and reprinted in Book of Vile Darkness).
Monte introduced the idea of attaching demonic body parts to a mortal form. I took that idea and blew it up into the various grafts that appear in the book -- more fiendish grafts, illithid grafts, yuan-ti grafts, aboleth grafts. . . . The basic idea is that some of the stranger types of creatures in the D&D universe engage in some pretty despicable practices in working with slaves and the like, grafting on body parts to enhance the capabilities of the graft recipients. In the end, these work a lot like magic items. Then there are symbionts, which work a little bit like grafts in that they're attached to another body. These ones have minds of their own, however.
Wizards: What didn't make it into the final version? Was there anything just too big, too terrible, or too complicated that it had to be left out?
James Wyatt: After all the designers did their work, Rich Baker and I spent some time developing it. We ended up with more monsters than we could possibly fit into the book. Some of them we decided could work very well in an upcoming product. Others, we decided, as cool as they were, needed more attention than we were able to give them at the time. I'm hopeful that everything we cut will eventually see the light of day, because they were all so great. Doing the trimming was very difficult (so difficult, in fact, that I left most of it to Rich).
Chris Thomasson: Alas, one of my monsters was cut for the latter reason. I got too eager and overwrote one monster by double the allotted space and made it a little too powerful for its Hit Dice. I hold out hope that I'll find a way to revise it and get it into another product or into an issue of Dragon.
Wizards: What are you most proud of or impressed by in this volume?
Eric Cagle: I remember James saying, "There's a really good reason why it's called the 'Fiend' Folio." This book is heavily slanted towards evil, vile, and downright nasty critters. Even the good or neutral monsters in this book are not to be trifled with. Now that's cool.
Erik Mona: Like everyone's said, it was neat working with a team of professionals who just happened (in most cases) to be sitting within shouting distance. In addition to our specific assignments ("Mona, you do the yellow musk creeper, the skulk, a bunch of celestials, and a CR 12 ooze on the double!"), we each had a more nebulous assignment: create a new race with enough potential to become the next githyanki or mindflayer. Sure. No sweat. All of us conferred, and each decided to pick a different monster subtype, to provide gamers with a wide variety of cool monsters. We've got outsiders and plants and elementals and more. I was lucky enough to do a race of aberrations, which I called the ethergaunts. If by some small measure the ethergaunts make the Ethereal Plane even remotely interesting, I will consider it the success of my year, if not my entire D&D career.
James Wyatt: My best bits: The yuan-ti anathema, the fiend prestige classes, and those grafts and symbionts. The ghostly visage, the soul tick (which was inspired by a nightmare my wife had one night, by the way), the psionic sinew. . . . Weird and cool stuff, in my humble opinion.
Jesse Decker: I'm keen on both the shadar-kai and the maulgoth, but my favorite is definitely the rapture locust swarm. The locusts cloud the emotions of their prey, surround it, and then literally rip the character apart while he stands frozen with euphoric bliss. Good stuff, that.
James Jacobs: My favorite of my monsters is probably the ahuizotl . . . it's a weird aquatic creature from Aztec mythology that's not only bizarre but just plain creepy. I had several "real-world mythology" creatures to design, so I spent quite a while scouring mythology books and the Internet for some new monsters of this type that have never been done up as D&D monsters before, then sent the list out to the rest of the guys, and the ahuizotl was pretty much the only one that everyone agreed must be in the book. I mean, the thing's got a hand on the end of its tail! How cool is that? Runners-up for me would probably be the crawling head, the kaorti, the wendigo template, or the octopus tree.
Matthew Sernett: I really enjoyed creating the keepers and the rilmani. Both of those were intriguing monsters from the Planescape setting that deserved more attention. Thanks to the Fiend Folio, they're getting a second chance.
Chris Thomasson: I'm most proud of the demondands. I was really nervous about doing them when Erik Mona told me he'd kill me if I screwed them up. I re-read the section on Carceri in the Manual of the Planes many times, and spent the most time refining them than any two other monsters. I'm quite satisfied with the final result. Oh, and giant sloth monsters (megatherium) rule.
Wizards: Now, let's cut to the chase: What should players be really, really afraid of in here? In other words, what are the "If it shows up in your campaign, run!" creatures?
James Wyatt: The frickin' blackstone gigant. Man, oh man. There was some question about whether we'd pegged the CR too high on that puppy, so I threw one at the 12th-level PCs in my lunchtime Oriental Adventures game. I had to explain later that it had all been a bad dream, and come up with a more reasonable monster for them to fight. I think it's pretty happy at its CR 18. Well done, Mr. Sernett.
Jesse Decker: I'll second the warnings about the blackstone gigant and add my own about the maulgoth. Even against a high-level party, there's a reasonable chance that it can grab a character, slip through a nearby wall ethereally to finish that character off, and then come back later to pick off another character.
James Jacobs: Of my own monsters, it's probably a toss up between the crawling head and the myrmyxicus demon. And although the ulgurstasta's not quite as tough as those two, it's freaky-looking enough that it managed to scare off the player characters in the Thursday night game I run; it even forced one of the characters to use the violent thrust version of telekinesis on himself to get away from it faster!
Then there's that blackstone gigant. AIEEE! I seem to remember Matt being worried that it wasn't tough enough. Never fear, Matt! It's good, old-fashioned nightmare fuel for sure!
The new and improved disenchanter is just plain mean. And the paeliryoth devil might just make a lot of high-level characters break down and cry like babies.
Eric Cagle: James is dead on with the blackstone gigant -- my character was one of those killed off by the monstrosity!
Matt Sernett: I just wanted to make a cool monster. I didn't want to hurt anybody. I'm so sorry Eric.
Eric Cagle: Apology accepted. You know it's a nasty critter when combat goes like this: Round 1: 13th-level character approaches monster. Round 2: get turned to stone. Round 3, 4, 5, etc.: remain turned to stone. Stare at DM and other players in disbelief. Yeah, baby.
If I had to choose one of the creatures that I wrote, I would go with the new and improved disenchanter (based on the monster that first appeared in the original Fiend Folio). It's been considerably beefed up from its original incarnation and poses a serious physical threat as well as possessing the ability to suck all the magic out of your favorite goodies. Stay away; stay far, far away.
Chris Thomasson: Bah. The gigant's a wuss. (Someone has to stop inflating Sernett's ego.)
Seriously, I had a large number of high-CR monsters, and I think once you reach the CR 13+ range, all the monsters get pretty scary. That said, the CR25 klurichir was super fun to work on because it seemed like I couldn't give that dude enough abilities! The chorontyryn is also super lethal, since it's a super proficient spellcaster and can manipulate time.
The crawling head gives me nightmares, especially now that I've seen the art. Jesse Decker's shadar-kai got me really thinking about how cool the Plane of Shadow can be. And Erik Mona's ethergaunt takes magic to new places.
Erik Mona: All of my monsters want to be your friend. They wouldn't imagine hurting anyone. In fact, they all volunteer to take first watch. Don't sweat it -- they'll wake you up when it's time to set out in the morning.
Wizards of the Coast: What are you working on right now? What's next on your personal design schedule?
James Wyatt: I am busy doing design work for the brand-spankin'-new campaign setting we're releasing in 2004. If I said any more, that would be cheating.
Jesse Decker: I'm wrapping up my portion of a new book from Wizards that's not due out until early 2004. Once that's done, I'm coauthoring a sourcebook on elves called Bow & Blade with Chris Thomasson, and then I'll spend the rest of the year writing a big rulebook for Green Ronin. All that said, though, my weeks (and most weekends) are all about Dragon magazine.
James Jacobs: I'm just now starting design work on a book from Wizards that's still a bit down the road, along with a big adventure for the website. I've also got a big project brewing with Bastion Press that'll hopefully see the light of day by the end of the year or early 2004 (assuming I can finish it in time, of course!).
Matthew Sernett: By day I'm mild-mannered Dragon Magazine Associate Editor Matthew Sernett, but by night I am sleep-deprived, mole-eyed, keyboard-cramped Freelance Lad! I worked on Fiend Folio while I was writing Plot & Poison for Green Ronin. After burning all that midnight oil, I wanted to take a break, but I was offered work on a d20 Modern book and decided that REM sleep wasn't really all that important. I just finished that book, and now I'm working on another book for Green Ronin that will come out around the time that Jesse's big one hits the shelves.
Eric Cagle: At the moment, I'm writing several items for the Wizards website -- some Character Closeups, some Monster Mayhems, and another d20 Modern adventure. I've just begun work on a book for a new d20 company. It's still too early to divulge anything, other than it's going to be unlike anything you've seen before.
Erik Mona: Polyhedron, the magazine I edit, will be monthly by the time you read this. That's going to take up an enormous amount of time. We've got all sorts of stuff planned for the new version of the magazine, and I hope all of you run out and demand it from your local game or magazine stores (where they probably refer to it as Dungeon, the crooks). Speaking of crooks, I'm working on a Mutants & Masterminds supervillain catalog called Crooks! for Green Ronin Publishing. It's the latest project from Super Unicorn, my new design studio (with mates Sean Glenn, Kyle Hunter, and Rick Achberger), and should hit stores in the late spring.
Chris Thomasson: Editing Dungeon takes most of my time. I'm working on a massive project in the magazine right now: a new Adventure Path series that launched with "Life's Bazaar" in issue #97. This has sort of become my life's obsession. I'm also writing Bow & Blade with Jesse, and I try to write for Dragon whenever I can. I'm a lighter freelancer than most of these guys, because I've seen the dark circles under Matt's eyes. I like sleep.