Friday, April 10, 2015

Review - The Fallible Fiend

The Fallible Fiend by L. Sprague de Camp is a 1973 book, expanded from a slightly earlier version published in Fantastic.It recounts the misadventures of a quite likable and philosophical "fiend"named Zdim. Summoned for a year's servitude to the prime plane in exchange for some iron ore, which is very rare on his home plane, he soon comes to trouble because of his tendency to follow orders too literally and his difficulty reconciling seemingly conflicting instructions.. For example, Zdim is instructed to eat anyone trying to steal items from an area he is guarding, but later he and his master become vegetarians. When a thief eventually does try to steal something, he doesn't know if he should eat him or not because doing so would violate his instruction to be a vegetarian.

In his travels, he encounters some rather unlikely societies and adapts to them the best he can. He finds himself facing various amusing obstacles and foes and just before the joke gets old, the book ends.

Old School Credentials: Fairly strong. It is listed by name in the first edition Dungeon Masters Guide's Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading. It is also a possible source for the concept of a prime material plane (Referred to as the "prime plane.") and may have had some influence on the clairvoyance spell and crystal balls.

The Good:The book is what it's meant to be. It's fun, mildly amusing, and a reasonably engrossing read. The main character is amusingly sane in an utterly insane world.  And being on the " Inspirational and Educational Reading" list mean it offers insight into the early influences on D&D/AD&D.

The Bad: This is very light reading and won't likely be remembered years later. It's a bit short by contemporary standards.

Value:At Amazon, it is currently available for $0.01, which equals $4 when shipping is added in, which is a fair price. If you can find it at a used bookstore, it will likely be even cheaper. (I picked up my copy a few weeks ago at a local library for 25¢.)

For the larcenous GM: All things considered, there is surprisingly little that could be adapted into a normal campaign. A few ideas, such as having to deal with both a "drunk council" and a sober council to convince a group of barbarians to help the adventures could provide a bit of comic relief. The story's main villains, the Paaluans, a society of naked cannibals that includes magic users using human bones as wands, but are otherwise quite civilized and even philosophical, could make a very surreal addition to many worlds. Because the book is rather successful at being silly fun, its uses as source material are necessarily limited unless the GM wants to run a very non-serious campaign.

Overall: I really liked this one. It was exactly what it set out to be, a fun, entertaining little romp. While short compared to most books today, it knows when to quit (another hundred pages would have caused it to drag). The Fallible Fiend book is very good but not quite great. I'd probably give it an A-.

[P.S.: Content other than just reviews will begin soon and those upcoming reviews I listed before will come soon. I just wanted to review this one while it was still fresh in my mind.]