Review Draconomicon

Copyright Robert J Defendi © 2003

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

"Someone in the design team has a large number of ranks in the Ironic Death skill"

I never paid much attention to the original Draconomicon. It had a Forgotten Realms logo on the cover and I wasn't the person in my game group who followed the Realms. When you compare the sheer volume of information (read page count) between the two, however, the new hardcover Draconomicon wins hands down at 288 pages.

First off, I have to say this is a pretty book. If you've glanced at it in your local store, you know what I mean. The cover art is magnificent, the interior art not far behind. There are sketches and diagrams supporting the text throughout, and I just have to say kudos to Dawn Murin. I've done some light art director style work, and I know producing a book half this pretty isn't easy.

But what about information inside the cover?

This starts with a chapter called "All About Dragons." This chapter contains information on what dragons are like at various ages, what their senses can and cannot do, their outlook, their society, their weaknesses, their religion, their physical dimensions, and of course, their language (with all the little language lists WotC has put out now, I could probably tell you how to say "Mialee, talk to the ugly elf" in about five different fictional tongues). At first, I was a little annoyed by this chapter, by its length and its attention to minutiae, but the more I read it, the more it grew on me. The information here is great, and eventually it will all be useful, whether for flavour text in a campaign or useful tidbits for actual draconic confrontations. This might not be everyone's favourite chapter, however, and I'm not sure it was a wise way to lead.

The next chapter is the DM's Guide to Dragons. It starts with the obligatory dragons in combat section, which is fine, and deals with some important topics such as flight manoeuvrability and breath weapon usage and strategy. It then moves on to the section on draconic feats, which I loved, expanding dragon combat options and meta-magic style feats like Shape Breath Weapon. Really a must have section in a D&D book, and well done. Next comes my favourite section, the new spells. A race that seems to be the fountainhead of magic in the new D&D needs a lot of spells which are all their own. These are dragon spells, many of which effect the dragon's breath, a natural, but to date overlooked, aspect of the draconian magical lifestyle. I was really impressed here. Next comes the new magical items, which was fine as well, including things like magical claw sheathes for dragons. Finally come prestige classes for dragons and rules on Dragon advancement. None of these jumped out at me (except in the art; did I say kudos to Dawn Murin?) All in all, a good solid chapter, and probably the heart of this book, where most campaigns are concerned.

Next comes the Player's Perspective chapter, which starts out, of course, with the obligatory combat section, this time discussing how to fight against dragons. We then move on to feats, which are much as one would expect - well done but nothing spectacular. Then we go into spells again, which is another competent section. The section on Dragon armour disappointed me. I've never liked dragon armour in the current game; it's nothing more than a prestige item and ridiculously little of it can be fashioned out of one dragon. I was hoping they'd do something here to make it better in the new game - maybe abilities that can be awakened with enchantments - but no. I was really let down. Next comes a fine section on items, followed by the prestige classes. I really liked this section, including must-have classes like the Dragonrider and Dragonslayer. Then it moves onto dragons in the party, whether as familiars, steeds or player characters.

The next chapter is New Monsters. Let's just say this section is . . . thorough. If your game is hurting for new and interesting dragons, then you will love this chapter. If not, you'll probably throw up your hands in surrender at the horde of creatures featured. Near dragons and planar dragons and elemental dragons (I thought the standard dragons were elemental, but I guess I was wrong), skeletal dragons, dracoliches, zombie dragons, ghost dragons, vampire dragons. This section is, uh, full. My favourite thing here was the horde scarab, great to swarm over a party that is hanging on by a thread after defeating the adventure's boss monster, adding insult to injury. Someone in the design team has a large number of ranks in the Ironic Death skill.

The final chapter is entitled Sample Dragons. Here, each of the major dragon types gets a series of sample characters and an (often beautiful) lair map. This section is great if you need a quick mini adventure, and even if you don't, it will be of great help for a GM who wants ideas on how to build a dragon in his home-grown adventure. Finally, there's a section on [yawn] sample hoards. I'd complain about this as rolling or writing up treasure is my favourite part of a dragon adventure, but honestly, this book is so thorough that I don't know what I'd put in its place, and its not a big enough section to impact the price of the book.

Conclusion

This is a well-designed book with a wealth of good information. It's worth the money, especially if you play D&D because of your love of dragons (like I do). For others, it's good information if you intend to have dragons in your game, but obviously, it's not much use if you don't. Still, I'd buy it just for the artwork.

Editor's Note

Draconomicon retails for $39.95 USD. For more information, visit http://www.wizards.com/ or your local gaming store.