Thursday, July 14, 2011

Augury - Book of Drakes

The Book of Drakes is probably Open Design’s must visually stunning product so far. The beautiful cover art by Kieran Yanner – one of my favorite artists – is justification enough for buying this Pathfinder supplement. Consider the rest of it a very (very!) generous bonus.

The Book of Drakes is 58 pages color sourcebook, with light brown pages. The inner stylized layout is discreet, very well done, without overloading each page. The inner color illustrations are also very flavorful, capturing easily the drakes’ whimsical nature. This review is based on the bookmarked PDF version of the supplement.

I must confess that I was skeptical at first about this sourcebook. While I love pseudodragons, I had many doubts about the viability of an entire product dedicated to them. I’m glad I was wrong. The Book of Drakes is not only full of new and very useful rules, but also managed to make lesser dragons an interesting and varied subject.

The first chapter – the Ecology of the Drake – gives the author’s take on drakes: lesser draconic creatures aligned with nature materials (ash and steam), regions (mountains and rivers), objects (gears, libraries) and esoteric themes (moon and lycanthropy, for example). What make these creatures so interesting is that drakes seem to manifest around many forces or concepts important to humanoid civilizations – like the candle drake. This creates a new niche for the little dragons in Pathfinder games, clearly differentiating them from their greater cousins and other monsters.

Another positive point for the Book of Drakes are its tables: simple, fun and very useful.  Right at the first chapter we get a cool table on “drake treasures” and other on “unclassified drakes” (that goes very well with new rules for creating drakes, further ahead on the supplement).

Chapter two is about mechanics, we get new feats for drakes and rules for using drakes as “willful companions” (a nice variant of the cohort mechanic, but where the player character must constantly bribe and cajole his lesser dragon), spells, magical items and new gear. Some of the new feats are generic and useful to any character. There also new alternate class abilities – like breath-weapon as a rage power for barbarians and (my favorite) a new performance that let bards becalm creatures; cavaliers get a new order, oracles get draconian curses, paladins get a “dragon challenger” variant, sorcerers get a drake bloodline etc. Finally, we have an entire alternate class for the summoner – the Drake Tamer; and a prestige class. Most of the mechanics are top-notch in regard both to their themes and they way they’re implemented. Closing what is for already for me a perfect chapter there’re rules for playing pseudodragons and drakes (finally a tiny race option for player characters).

Chapter three is for Gamemasters and includes a bestiary of 19 new drakes, among the hostile ash drakes, the rampaging crimson drakes and the probably adventuring party-favorite alehouse drake (best breath-weapon and special abilities… obligatory for tavern scenes). The drake’s CR range from 1 to 14 and include creatures of all types of alignments – many deserve an entire adventure about them (like the moon drake). However, the highlight of this chapter are rules for constructing your own drakes (together with a full example – the vine drake), including a mechanic of feature points designed to better customize the scaled pests.

The Book of Drakes is a great product, with a good price for its quality and content, which will add color to any campaign; in fact, the Gamemaster now runs the risk of finding himself with an overwhelming presence of lesser dragons on his game*.

*To my luck, one of my Pathfinder games is based on Korvosa, a city from the Golarion campaign setting, famous for its native pseudodragons.