Draconomicon Heralds New Draconic Menaces

Draconomicion — “The Book of Dragons” — is a supplement for Dungeons & Dragons dedicated entirely to its signature reptilian scourges.

The first chapter — “All about Dragons” — presents a comprehensive look at the physiology and ecology of dragons. It dissects the physical characteristics of the beasts, reviewing everything from their eyesight to their sense of smell to their flying capabilities. It further breaks down dragon personalities by type, reviewing the characteristics of metallic and chromatic dragon.

Chapter 2 provides a “DM’s Guide to Dragons”. It opens with an overview of possible uses for dragons in campaigns followed by advice on how to run a dragon encounter (including use of melee attacks, flight and breath weapons). The chapter also includes new dragon-specific feats, spells and prestige classes.

Chapter 3 is given over to “The Players Prospective” and includes advice on how to fight dragons, new anti-dragon feats and spell, armor and weapons crafted from dragon parts, new magic items and a host of prestige classes.

Chapter 4 covers “New Monsters” and introduces numerous new draconic monsters. Some are true dragons, like planar dragons, whiles others are related creatures such as elemental drakes and terrain-related landwyrms. There are also several templates that standard monster templates and give them a draconic twist — like ghost dragons, dracoliches, skeletal dragons, and zombie dragons. A few old favorites also make a return to d20 D&D, namely shadow dragons and dragonnels.

The last chapter is given over to “Sample Dragons”. Every traditional chromatic and metallic dragon type is given a sample write-up for each of its age categories. Each write-up includes a name and brief description for the dragon as well as a detailed stat block. Rounding out the book are two appendixes, one detailing how to create unique dragon hordes and given 20-odd sample hordes, and second indexing every dragon published by Wizards of the Coast for Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 or 3.5.

Surprisingly Good Content

When I first saw the Draconomicon, I thought $40 was a bit steep for a book dedicated to one kind of monster, if its one of Dungeons & Dragon’s most archetypal creatures. Then it went on sale at Amazon.com for less than $20, and temptation got the best of me. I’m glad it did.

The book is a good mix of fluff and crunch. The fluffy bits may seem superfluous at first and I was tempted to blow right past them — hell, we’ve been playing with dragons for years — do we really need to know more about how they lair, or what their physical capabilities, or how they fight? The answer is a surprising yes. For one thing — and this came to me later on, after having read through a good potion of the book — in many campaigns dragons are rare and dangerous beasts, the sort of thing adventurers might come across only a handful of times in their adventuring careers. And if the adventurers are only facing dragons a couple of times, then DMs are only running dragon encounters a couple of times. And because DMs typically run different dragons each time (even if it’s the same color dragon, it’s probably a different age group), each encounter is unique.

Where the Draconomicon’s “fluff” content comes in most useful is in giving DMs ideas about how to run dragon encounters that are truly memorable. It gives them the sort of advice they need to make best use of the dragons attacks and strengths. In my opinion, dragons should be fearsome, dangerous creatures that players face with a great deal of trepidation — and Draconomicon’s strategy sections ensure that they’ll be exactly what I want them to be.

The crunchy bits are equally good, introducing all manner of spells and feats that should keep players on their toes. Take the “Clinging Breath” feat, which transforms dragon’s breath into something that “clings” to opponents and burns them on subsequent rounds. Or the “breath weapon substitution” spell, which lets dragons add another energy type to their normal breath weapon. Imagine the look on your party’s faces when they go up against a red dragon, fully prepared for its fiery breath … and are suddenly blasted by an equal amount of a sonic breath weapon! [evil DM laugh]. I also liked the draconic prestige classes, particularly those like the “Dispassionate Watcher of Chronepsis” and “Sacred Warder of Bahamut”, which allow dragons to switch out their virtual sorcerer levels for clerical ones.

The new draconic monsters were welcome additions to my personal monster compendium. In particular I liked the new templates — the idea of terrorizing my players with draconic ghosts is exceptionally tempting, and who doesn’t like dracolichs? I also like the planer dragons, which should come in handy for my players’ occasional forays to other plans, and the wingless drakes may find their way into my Stargate campaign.

While I can understand their reasons for including it (namely to expand the book’s audience beyond DMs) the player’s section didn’t do all that much for me as a DM. The prestige classes could certainly be used as draconic minions, either to defend dragons in their lair, or to act as heralds for them in the field. As a player, I can’t see taking many of these dragon-fighting feats and capabilities unless I was in a specific dragon-slaying campaign. Still, the dragon-fighting sections are useful for those times when you’re going up against one of these monsters for the same reasons the corresponding sections are useful for DMs.

I was disappointed by the “dragonhide” items — they’re little more than retreads of what we’ve seen in the Player’s Handbook and offer no unique capabilities. I’ve never understood why dragonhide armor couldn’t grant its wearer the same energy resistance that it granted the dragon it came from. If a dragon is an innately magical creature in life, why can’t its parts retain a faction of that power after its death?

The sample dragons section seemed like unnecessary fill at first glance, but as I read through them, they grew on me. Each dragon type included a sample lair — not an extensive lair to be sure, but enough of one to provide the nucleolus of a home-grown creation. The stat blocks for individual dragons are useful both as examples of monsters and as starting points for your own dragons. As a DM with a 1-year-old daughter, I can certainly appreciate the value of pre-generated monsters for use in my game.

Final Analysis

I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth of Draconomicon’s content. It’s still a pricy at $40, but if you can pick it up for $35 or $30 (and many places online offer it for that much) I’d definitely buy it.

Product Details

  • Draconomicon
  • By Andy Collins, Skip Williams and James Wyatt
  • 288 pages
  • Wizards of the Coast
  • MSRP: $39.95
  • Buy the book from Amazon
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