The Fiend Folio was the first Advanced Dungeons & Dragons hardcover I owned, thanks to the local Kay-Bee store marking it down to a quite affordable four bucks. As my initial foray away from the basic D&D box sets, it occupies a special place it my heart and it set the tone of my campaigns for straight through — and even into — my transition into Warhammer Fantasy Role Play a couple of years later.
The Folio’s off-beat assortment of (mostly UK fan-created) creatures populated scores of dungeons, and remained my primary resource for monstrous adversaries even after I picked up the somewhat more staid pair of Monster Manuals. I was enraptured by the utter weirdness of the entries, which made them stand out against the usual rogues’ gallery of orcs, ogres, and dragons.
I had a particular fondness for the Folio’s host of bizarre undead monsters, a fascination fed by my EC-reprint-and-VCR-fueled transformation into an adolescent gorehound. This was a good decade and change before zombies became big business, back when renting Dawn of the Dead from some mom ‘n’ pop video store was akin to joining some mystery religion.
Of all the freakish corpse-things the Folio had on tap to terrify player characters, my favorites were the Sons of Kyuss.
The creatures were rotting corpses infested with writhing worms eager to spread their necromantic contagion, and thus hit the perfect sweet spot for an aspiring edgelord’s will towards tryhard transgression. They were also great fun to throw into some underground passage, where my lurid description of their foulness would end up being the most detailed narration of the entire adventure.
“Um, it’s a long passage. It’s, um, dark and stuff with a dirt floor. Further down you can hear a something that sounds like someone slapping raw meat against a stone. It gets closer and now you can hear SOMETHING squirming around like a beetles beneath and overturned stone. Then you see it. A half dozen rag-clad figures, their flesh hanging in rancid tatters and thick wet maggots crawling in and out of the figures’ eyes and mouths. ROLL FOR INITIATIVE!”
The era also marked the height of my artistic ambitions, where I opted out of freshman earth science (and any chance of becoming class valedictorian) in favor of taking an art class. The instructor singled me out as one of her most promising students and granted me my own work area and incredible latitude to pursue whatever I wished.
In terms of direction, I was highly conflicted. On one hand, I felt I had to live up to my mother’s and paternal grandmother’s legacy of doing “serious” art. On the other hand, I was a fifteen year old boy who thought flaming skulls were rad as fuck.
Oddly enough, my instructor tended to encourage the latter tendency. When the time came to enter something into the school’s combined art & talent show, I picked a drawing I’d based on a Nat Geo shot of San Francisco’s Chinatown. It was a single-point perspective street scene, but I did the buildings in silhouette with the various signs in detail.
I was proud as hell of it, and my heart leapt when I was told I tied for first place in the show. Then I discovered the winning picture was another one of my drawings my teacher had stealth-submitted — a sketch of a giant skeleton gorilla picking mushrooms in an underground cavern that I had knocked off one afternoon to look busy.
So, where do the Sons of Kyuss tie into this?
A segment of the class involved clay sculpture, which I was not great at and “wasting” clay was seen as a sin in a time of steep budget cuts. One of my inelegant attempts in the medium was a human figure sculpture, resulting in a grotesque crime against basic anatomy.
To cover up my failure, I used a garlic press to squeeze out a mass of worm-like strands of clay and used them to cover my creation’s shame. Then I flattened its face, stabbed a rough approximation of skull holes into it, and pleaded a fit of artistic inspiration.
My sole objective was to avoid getting yelled at. My teacher entered it into the Globe Scholastic Art Contest. (I didn’t win, or even make it past the initial cut.)
I held onto my ad hoc Son of Kyuss sculpture for years. First on my dresser and then in the back of the cabinet on top of my dresser, where it continued to shed broken bits of ceramic maggot-mass until I accidentally dropped it while clearing space for some Warhammer 40k figures.
Recommended listening: Alien Sex Fiend – Mine’s Full of Maggots (from Maximum Security, 1985)