Night Hag

A Walk Through the Planes – Side Story: An Interview with Jamie LaFountain about the Monstrous Compendium Outer Planes Appendix

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While researching my next essay in this super-niche series, which focuses on Monstrous Compendium Outer Planes Appendix (also known as MC8), I found myself hitting a wall as far as learning where its more revolutionary ideas came from. After all, this was the book that introduced the baatezu, the tanar’ri, and the Blood War, yet its sole designer, credited as J. Paul LaFountain, is virtually unknown. 

However, we live in the age of the internet, which meant that while searching for more information on the book, I stumbled into LaFountain’s website. On the off chance he might respond, I sent him a message asking if he’d be interested in taking a trip down memory lane and responding to some questions about the book—much to my surprise, he was. Which isn’t to say that this interview was particularly revelatory, as unfortunately it’s been about 30 years since LaFountain’s book came out, but he was still able to shed some light on the creation of this weirdly influential product. 


When did you first start working for TSR? How long were you there for?

I started working for TSR in either 1989 or 1990, I can’t quite remember. I was there for about two years or so. I was really young and really immature. If I had gotten in there later, when I was more in control of my actions, I probably could have made more of it. But it was not meant to be.

This was one of the longest of the Monstrous Compendium Appendices, and also one of very few (the only one I can think of) written by one person. How did that come about?

The then-Director of Creative Services, Jim Ward, just told me one day that I was being assigned the task of re-writing demons, devils, and other extra-planar creatures. He was the boss and he decided who was assigned what. It’s a pretty unsatisfying answer, I’m afraid, but that’s how it happened.

It was also practically the only appendix not based around a campaign setting. Was it something you pitched, or what led to this product making its way through development?

I did not pitch the Outer Planes MC. It was something that had been on the product road map for awhile and TSR was waiting for the right time. It was fairly politically charged because this was in the era of MADD (Mothers Against Dungeons & Dragons) and the idea was to sanitize the demons, devils, and other things that might offend parents out of the game.

How long were you given to work on it? Were there any particular design constraints you can remember?

This was a really long time ago and I honestly do not remember how long I was given to write it. It was definitely in months because it was a huge project. Constraints included the fact that demons and devils could not be mentioned by name. Also, I was told to eliminate anything that might offend the average parent.

As an example, as part of the design process I wrote an art order. Basically, it’s written instructions to the artist for every illustration in the book. After the artist received the art order, he did pencil sketches for all of the pieces. When the pencils are approved, the artist then inked final pieces. (I’m sure these days it’s all very different with art software and drawing tablets.) The night hag was holding a meat cleaver because I thought it was cool. But when Jim Ward saw the art, he immediately told me the meat cleaver had to go because a parent might think that since the average kitchen has a meat cleaver it might give kids bad ideas. So it was replaced, I THINK, with an axe [ed note: yup, it’s an axe now]. You know, because no home has an axe in it. 😉

How much freedom did you have in terms of selecting which monsters would be included?

I had total freedom. I had all of the 1st edition monster books in my cubicle and I went through them page by page, picking which ones I felt should be in the product.


What sort of contact did you have with the artist, Thomas Baxa?

As I mentioned above, I created a written art order, which described every single illustration in the product. Baxa was an external freelance artist, so someone else in the company handled the contract and all interactions. I never met him or even talked to him on the phone.

What sort of feedback were you given by the “developer & editor” Timothy Brown?

Oh boy. Well Tim is a really great dude. He was in a cubicle in the same areas as mine and we talked a lot. I remember him being quite irritated (and rightfully so) with my grammar. I was really young when I went to work for TSR and I probably needed a bit of help with grammar in terms of technical writing. But really that was about it. I never got any pushback on content.

Were you the person who came up with the names for the tanar’ri, baatorians, yugoloths, and greheleths? How much direction were you given about renaming the devils/demons/etc.? Likewise, how much freedom did you have with their descriptions and those of the angels (aasimar, etc.)?


Yes, all of those names were created by me. I went to the Lake Geneva Library (remember, there was no internet then) and checked out some books on occult and religion and even a few books on Latin. And I poured through them finding inspiration for the names. Basically, the names had to be unrecognizable in terms of their relation to demons, devils, angels, etc.

I wasn’t given any direction. I had total freedom for the names and descriptions just as long as it was sanitized as to connection to demons, devils, and angels.

Do you remember how you came up with the concept for the Blood War?

Again I’m sorry to say I’m going to have plead faded memory. I think that it was entirely my idea but it is possible I was given some direction. It was 30 years ago. For sure the design team members talked often. It wasn’t unusual to go to someone else’s cubicle for a bit and bounce some ideas around. Very little was created in a vacuum.

Was there any feedback internally about the Blood War? Were other designers at TSR excited about the idea?

I do remember that the Blood War was considered to be a way to add excitement back into sanitized demons, devils, and angels. And obviously it became a big deal later, after I had left TSR and moved on to other things in my life.


Were there any other large-scale planar ideas of this sort that you weren’t able to fit into the book?

Not really large scale stuff. I did create a bunch of linked encounters that were compatible with Skirmish System, which I had done a bunch of playtesting for. Ultimately, there wasn’t enough room in the product for them so they were cut. And there really wasn’t much appetite for them among the team, so they never made it into any other products.

Who were your favorite monsters to design? What makes them so memorable to you?

I can’t say that I had any favorites, really. It was a privilege to be able to write the product, and even though game design really wasn’t a part of my life path I look back on that one product with pride and humbleness.

After you left, did you ever end up playing or reading any of the Planescape products? If so, what did you think of them and the influence you had on its direction?

I never got into Planescape as a player. There really isn’t any reason why, it just never called to me. I’ve been playing D&D since I was 12 years old, and I’ll be playing it someday in a nursing home I suspect. There just isn’t room for everything that D&D encompasses, so Planescape just never made it into my personal gaming. I am, as I said, completely humbled that my idea was a seed that grew into so many wonderful products. As a lifelong D&D nerd, it’s a real source of personal pride.

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