By Thilo Graf
This full-colour pdf from Open Design is 62 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page (almost) logo-less front cover, 1 page editorial & ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving 54 pages for the drakes. So…what are drakes?
Well, drakes are lesser draconic creatures and, as the introduction by Adam Daigle and Mike Welham discusses, there is a certain necessity for these critters that has as of yet been neglected. But wait, let me elaborate on the thesis: I am an adherent of the mindset that dragons should be the most iconic of antagonists and monsters and subsequently I hate the tendency that was prevalent in 3.5 for some time to make anything half-draconic and spam dragons without any context into a given adventure. However, I still sometimes am drawn into said adventures, probably thanks to said iconic quality and the fact that I can’t escape the pull and the temptation to include them once in a while. Oh, there’s another dimension: I don’t like too young dragons: They are not large enough to evoke the awe I feel is an integral part of a dragon-encounter and more often than not, are easily killed by the PCs, which again undermines what I consider a good dragon encounter. That’s where drakes come in – have your cake and eat it, so to speak: Drakes are related to dragons, but are not true dragons, thus offering a nice way to use draconic themes without detracting from the iconic qualities of true dragon encounters.
After a page of introduction to the topic at hand, we get the first section of the book, an ecology of drakes prefaced by a short, yet aptly-written fluff-text, which is interspread throughout the whole discussion of the drakes, greatly enhancing your reading enjoyment. Three classes of drakes are introduced: Esoteric, Material and Geographic drakes. After a short discussion on these types, all of the different drakes and their roles in the Midgard-setting. The ecology also features 30 sample drake pieces of treasure as well as 10 short write-ups of sample drakes, each an adventure hook in its own right.
Chapter 2 focuses on the interaction between players and drakes, respectively the part going beyond encountering and potentially killing them. With a rich and rather interesting mentality as companions, we also get 10 new feats related to drakes, some of which enhance their combat capabilities, some rather exciting and one feat being the basis to get a drake as a semi-permanent companion that has to be appeased with items. Inquisitors don’t like drakes though, and from the table I gather there’s a reciprocity there – malice and whimsy don’t mix well with harsh judgments. I had a problem with one feat: “Tooth and Claw Form” has very low requirements and enables the user to either deal piercing, slashing or bludgeoning damage with his unarmed attacks. Depending on the focus of your campaign, this feat could potentially impede the character’s necessity to plan/bring the right weapons to a fight. In addition to the new feats, we of course get new alternate class features for all the classes (including APG, but not the Magus from UM): Alchemists get a cool draconic mutagen, barbarians get a rage-focused breath weapon, bards get a calming performance based on euphoria, the cavaliers get a new anti-tyrant/rather chaotic order, Clerics can take the Drake Subdomain, Druids become Drakeshape druids, fighters get 2 alternate abilities to better combat dragons and drakes, Inquisitors can get a new anti-dragon judgment, monks can get a better focus on their stun, oracles can be cursed with claws or scales, Paladins get the very iconic “Dragon Challenger”-archetype, Rangers can replace favored terrain, with favored nemesis, specializing on being even better to kill a subset of his foes. Rogues get two new rogue talents and in contrast to the other abilities, I’ve got problems with one: While one cool one lets the rogue use sneak against blindsense, the other is simply overpowered: Crush Windpipe lets a rogue force an enemy to make a fort-save when sneaked AGAINST THE DAMAGE OF THE SNEAK ATTACK. If the save fails, the crea-ture CAN NO LONGER USE ITS BREATH WEAPON OR VOCALIZE UNTIL HEALED! This is broken beyond repair. Wow. This talent screams “Abuse the hell out of me!”, practically making ANY caster with verbal components easy prey for rogues and, to add insult to injury, fails to mention how it works on foes with breath-weapon and no windpipes and potentially deprives dragons of their most iconic breath weapon. This talent screams power-creep and I don’t get how it could stand among the other, balanced and cool class features. Ähem. *Endzeitgeist calms down from a fit of nerd rage* The sorcerer gets the nice new drake bloodline. Summoners can exchange half of their bond sense ability rounds for a bonus feat. Witches get an excellent new hex to temporarily take away flight via a new hex and expand upon their blight with a major hex. Wizards get a new draconic focused arcane school.
Summoners are kind of the winners on the class-sides, as they get a fully stated 20-level alternate base-class, the so-called dragon tamer focusing on summoning and modifying drakes and working with them. There is also a new PrC, the Master of Drake Forms (d8, 2+Int skills, medium fort and ref-saves, moderate BAB) focuses on shape-changing, draconic abilities up to an apotheosis. While shape-changing is required to qualify, no spell-progression is offered by the class, which makes it an interesting pick: I’d be screaming “unbalanced” from the top of my lungs otherwise, but breath weapons, resistances and natural weapons make for nice replacements of the lost spells: Nice job! Additionally, if you want to play a drake PC, full racial modifiers and information on how to use them for both Pseudodragons and candle drakes are given. Next, we’re into the obligatory spell-section: 16 new drake-centric spells are provided, from the self-explanatory drake form-spells to veiling companions and mislead presences. There are two spells in particular, though, don’t fit well with me: One spell “Greater to lesser” transforms a dragon of 15+ HD to 1/3 of its HD, with all the accompanying ramifications. It’s also permanent. Wait, what? Yes, there are plenty of tales that feature similar themes, but a) I never liked them and b) this is one fort-save deciding between a climatic encounter of epic proportions and a completely whipped minor draconic being. Did we really need to potentially pussyfy dragons? And while I like the fact that having a piece of the dragon’s hatching-shell can provide a -8 penalty to said save, I don’t think we need it here. If this was a temporary effect, I could possibly look over it. As written, I’ll never, ever use it. I also hated the spell “Protection from lesser dragons”, which is essentially a protection from evil-spell against all things draconic. Quite frankly, I think this particular spell wastes space that could have been put to better use and don’t really get why dragons should have their own protection spell. Isn’t evil/good/chaos/law enough already? “Wingspan”, on the other hand is visually cool and increases, you guessed it, the creature’s wingspan, thus improving its flight capabilities.
We also get 7 new magic items, 4 weapons to increase the damage potential of the natural weapons of drakes and 3 new pieces of adventuring gear to carry around and/or capture drakes. The companion replica can force companions temporarily into the replica, making for potentially interesting roleplaying opportunities between the free-spirited companions and their masters. Dimming Paste also makes for a cool item: It impedes blind-sense and blind-sight. I had no problem with any of the items.
The third chapter is the meat gamemasters have been clamouring for – we get 20 new drakes ranging from CR 1 to CR 14. From the drunken-revelry inducing mischievous alehouse drakes (that had me chuckle and which focus one of the cutest artworks ever), the malevolent ash darkes, the benevolent candle drakes, the dwarf-stalking rather hunter-themed crag drake and the mist drake to the others – we get a lot of cool ideas. Want to know more? Well, there are the rather impish, breath-weapon using crimson drake, the deadly stalker of the depths called deep drake or the ephemeral dream drakes. Steam and Gear drakes are also provided for the steam-punk/clockwork-aficionados out there to the lycanthrope-allied moon drakes and their strange powers over lycanthropes to the drake-incarnations of law, the pact drakes and their negotiation skills, we are in for cool creatures. But what about the paper drake? Paper drake? Yep, you read it right – drakes that can fold themselves and look like living, drake-formed origami. AWESOME! Ok, that’s enough to give you an impression, if you want to know more, you’ll have to get the file. Have I mentioned that guidelines to create more drakes are also provided to the beleaguered DM over 10 pages? The set comes with 4 sets of base-stats, as well as a very comprehensive and cool point buy system in accordance with the universal monster rules. There’s also a nice list of cosmetic features to add to your very own drake and a fully stated-out example of a drake created with these rules.
Editing is top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Formatting suffers from some VERY minor text-alignment issues, but the content does not suffer, so I’ll let this one pass. The full-color pdf is also extensively bookmarked. Let me comment on the layout: It adheres to the two-column standard and is beautiful, elegant and just a pleasure to the eyes. Speaking of which: Both cover artist Kieran Yanner and interior artist Hugo “Butterfrog” Solis went out of their respective ways to create some of the best, iconic artworks I’ve seen in quite a while: Each drake gets an iconic, cool artwork and the ones that are spread throughout the book all adhere to the highest quality. Some of the drakes might elicit a squee from the female demographic out there – my non-gamer lady got all gooey-eyed over the alehouse drake. Even better, the drakes all have their unique, cool abilities that make you actually want to use them – signature abilities rock. The alternate Drake Tamer-class is awesome and most of the alternate class features rock, as do the “Create-your-own-drake”-rules. Where the book does not adhere to its otherwise almost stunningly high quality is in the one broken rogue talent and the, at least in my opinion, rather not too special new feats and spells, that left me rather cold, especially when compared to the other crunch. So, what’s my final verdict, then? While my review might be considered harsh in spaces, it’s mainly because the rest of this product is STELLAR – were it not for the gripes I mentioned, I’d gladly give this one my seal of approval. I’d rate it 4.5, but it’s quite frankly too good to be thus downgraded, resulting in a final verdict of 5 stars, in spite of the bits I abhorred. If you’re only remotely interested in things draconic and willing to ignore some rather problematic component parts, you have to own this.
Book of Drakes is available from: