What Do I Know About First Impressions? Mordenkainen’s Fiendish Folio Volume 1 (Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition)
I wanted to do a quick first impression article on the newly released DM’s Guild Product, Mordenkainen’s Fiendish Folio Volume 1, which, despite being a DM’s Guild Product, is a Wizards of the Coast release developed by the D&D team to support the Extra Life Charity.
All of the monsters in this volume are alumni of the Fiend Folio from 1st edition AD&D, that have not yet had 5th edition D&D stats provided. Both the title and the internal narration imply that this may be the first of such volumes to arrive, but not the last.
The PDF is 21 pages long. The headers, accents, and stat blocks are in color, but the monster art is (very polished) black and white artwork. The formatting is similar to other official 5th edition books, but the background image is a grid pattern that reminds me of some of the D&D Next playtest adventures that were released.
First Things First
The introduction is written by Mike Mearls, and I can’t in good conscience avoid the opportunity to point out that there is still a looming issue involving Mearls and his connection to Zak Smith. Not only did Mearls advocate for ZS to work on 5th edition D&D, but he went beyond just advocating. He not only turned over accusers information to Zak so that he and his followers could harass those that were concerned about his employment, but Mearls personally impugned the character of the people that were calling for WOTC to rethink their hiring of ZS.
While WOTC has removed the credit that they gave to Zak in the 5thedition books, Mearls still personally insulted the accusers and exposed them to harassment, and he should give all of them a public apology. I do not know if he has not done so due to contractual and legal obligations put on him from WOTC, or if he has chosen not to address the situation on his own, but this is a situation that needs to be rectified, and the main reason I continue to support Dungeons and Dragons is that I have a great deal of respect for several other team members.
With all of that said, there is a section that lists all the members of the D&D team and this is the first time I have seen DC’s name on a WOTC product, although I’m not sure if this is the first official time they have been mentioned. I’m happy to see it, however.
The Monsters, Malevolent and Benign
The following monsters appear in this product:
- Assassin Bug (CR 3)
- Blindheim (CR 2)
- Crab Folk (CR 3)
- Dire Corby (CR ½)
- Eye of Fear and Flame (CR 9)
- Forlarren (CR 3)
- Giant, Fog (CR 11)
- Jermlaine (CR 1/8)
- Khargra (CR 1/8)
- Killmoulis (CR 0)
- Mite (CR ¼)
- Needlefolk (CR ½)
- Needle Lord (CR 3)
- Norker (CR ½)
- Norker War Leader (CR 3)
- Screaming Devilkin (CR 1)
- Ygorl (CR 23)
- Xill (CR 3)
In addition to the monsters, there are sporadic sidebars that represent Mordenkainen’s commentary, since this product is framed as a continuation of the work presented from the wizard in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. If you are a fan of Mordenkainen’s grumpy self-importance and lack of a sense of humor, it’s here in all its glory (entertainingly so).
I’m not going to pick apart each monster entry individually, but there is some strong monster backstory in these entries, which is consistent with other 5e monster products. There were a few entries that did make me think about how older editions might have supported the story elements of the monsters. For example, Crab Folk have a fondness for silver that immediately reminded my of AD&D treasure types, and the Dire Corby and Jermlaine entries made me wonder what the “Number Appearing” entries should have been for these monsters (no, I’m not looking it up).
The Mite, Needle Lord, and Screaming Devilkin all have a very strong through line in their backstory that hints at abiogenesis via strong emotional states while in the Feywild, and I really adore that concept. The backstory for jermlaine made me want to cook up a flesh golem made up of thousands of tiny creatures (I’m terrible). I’ve had a soft spot for the Killmoulis since 2ndedition, when some of my PCs took kindly to one, and I like the very fairy tale feeling of blessing or cursing people that cross its path based on how it was treated.
Another minor theme that emerged was moving away from some of the stricter narratives of monsters that come from adding two other monsters together, in the traditional, biological sense. Both Forlarren and Fog Giants are monsters that in past editions were the children of devils and satyrs, or of Cloud Giants and Frost Giants, but their 5e origins make them distinct creatures with a different origin. The Forlarren have an interesting, tortured dual nature that plays out in a tragic and dangerous pattern.
Anyone that knows me knows I’m an easy mark for giants, and the Fog Giants are no exception. I really like the idea of exiled Cloud Giants that become bandit kings to regain their lost status, and I like the mechanics that they introduce to reinforce this story, in addition to the traditional “giant that can ambush you from fog” trick that is kind of obvious from their names.
The Dire Corby causes an odd array of specific setbacks that make sense for what the story of the creature is, but reading that collection of abilities made me wish that fewer creatures defaulted to confusion or fear as their baseline offensive status abilities.
It would be hard for me not to spend some time discussion Ygorl, the Slaad Lord of Entropy. Honestly, they are scarier than most of the demon lords or archdevils I’ve seen introduced into 5e. Their scythe disintegrates people reduced to 0 hit points, their touch causes fatigue in addition to necrotic damage, and they can release a horrible “unmaking” attack by using three of their legendary action. On top of that, there is actually kind of a neat bit discussing why something so destructive might not be evil, and why they can’t form empathic bonds with others. It is a little rough to read about a sapient creature being referred to as “it” for their pronouns, and I’m not sure how I feel about that, even for a deeply alien intelligence.
The Uncomfortable Past
The thing I liked least in the monster entries is the narrative elements of the Norker page. Instead of talking about how Norkers are perceived by goblin society, they are definitively branded and being lazy and indolent, despite being abused by hobgoblins and goblins. It’s the kind of uncomfortable narrative that D&D has often used with “evil” humanoids that resonates too strongly with the way real-world marginalized people have often been portrayed. The most interesting aspect of the entry is the Norkers’ unique take on Maglubiyet as imposing a “survival of the fittest” test on them with the suffering they endure.
Give Until Your PCs Hurt
One of the main reasons I’m not making this a formal review is that there is as much of a reason to pick this up to support Extra Life as there is to get your hands on new (to 5e) monsters. With that having been said, I really like the backstory work they put into these monsters, and several of the creatures have some neat mechanical tricks that I think would be fun to use, as well as abilities that are on-brand for reinforcing the story elements for the creature.
Personally, I hope to see more volumes of the collection in the future, but I can never get enough monsters.