Posted on July 5, 2011 by Megan
Available at RPGNow.com
Nothing quite as sweet as a miniature dragon, perhaps of a suitable size to hold in your arms like a pet… but drakes are not pets, but sentient beings in their own right, fascinating creatures to have around in your game. (I had to add ‘in your game’ lest I start to conjure fantasies of one coming in my back door…).
The Introduction talks about, despite – because of? – their iconic nature, how difficult it can be to actually have a DRAGON wandering around in your game. They’re big, they’re tough, and they tend to amass game-unbalancing amounts of treasure. Moreover, they’re supposed to be the creatures of myth and legend, not someone you meet down the pub for an ale and a few hints about the next adventure. This is where creatures such as drakes come in: all the awesome features of real dragons without actually breaking the legend that dragons ought to be in your alternate reality.
Then on to The Ecology of the Drake. If you want to have them around, it’s important to know a bit about how they live, what they eat (especially when adventurers are out of season), and so on. Whilst fitting in to the Open Design setting, Midgard, most is applicable to any game world, at most you’ll need to change a few names and locations. It all started off with pseudodragons, which are the first of the class of critter now called ‘drakes’ to be recorded. Popular with wizards as familiars, and even around the house, some tried to call them ‘common drakes’ but it never caught on, they are too, well, uncommon! Yet, once they were established in the popular mind, other types were discovered and these were even less common. Most are tagged by some ‘feature’ that is associated with them – generally esoteric, geographical or material. So you get glass and ash ones, those which embody an idea, and those associated with an area or geographical feature. They are definitely related closely to dragons: reptilian, winged, and with a breath weapon. But there are differences too. For a start, you cannot tell just by a glance at the colour of one what its alignment might happen to be, and they do not have all of the magical abilities dragons have. They tend to get on better with ordinary people as well, building rather more sustainable links than those based on slavery or lunch. Drakes and dragons don’t always get on, either. Some dragons don’t like these pesky upstarts, others think they’d make neat pets.
Drakes do like to hoard, but rather than going for gold and gems, a common theme is the ‘curiosity’ – unusual items, maybe of historical interest – or ones based on the type of drake that they are. Even aside from the geographic drakes, many choose to live someplace that is appropriate to their type, like the colony of ash drakes that live amongst the smokestacks of the foundries of Zobeck. One section runs through many of the known drake types and where they are to be found in Midgard. The chapter rounds off with a list of some ten famous individual drakes: drakes of renown, even if your characters never meet them, they might have heard of them.
Next, Chapter 2: Players and Drakes looks both at companion drakes, and at those who want to actually play a drake character. (Don’t laugh, I have a pseudodragon PC in one of my games who is great fun, even if he did set an entire monastery church alight through incautious use of his breath weapon!) For those seeking a drake companion, remember that they are not good at following orders, and are certainly not the docile creature that some familiars appear to be. Even if you choose not to use the rules for Wilful Companions (which are a delight for the mischievous GM to contemplate), they ought to be played as distinct personalities in their own right, often a bit superior, convinced that they are by far the most important members of the party and probably counting ‘I told you so!’ as one of the first phrases they learn in Common! Several feats aimed at drakes are presented, including ones for those who become companions. Drakes can choose any character class as their companion (and yes, they tend to see it that way round!), but different types prefer different classes, and – a rather neat thing – confer slightly different mechanical benefits based on class. For example, Cavaliers can choose a new order, the Order of the Drake, and Monks can develop a style based on how drakes fight. Those who really, really like drakes can take a whole new class, the Drake Tamer; and a prestige class, the Master of Drake Forms, aimed at anyone who enjoys shapeshifting.
The second part of this chapter looks at actually playing a drake character. Beginning with the pseudodragon, and using this as a framework to construct the necessary game mechanics to create any of the drakes in this book, you’ll find all that you need if you fancy playing one of these small but fascinating creatures. Advancement and the sort of roles a drake PC might occupy are also discussed. This is followed by some new drake-related spells and magic items made for or by drakes. Finally, mundane items that are of use to drakes, including such useful concepts as blades that can be attached to wing or tail.
Next is Chapter 4: Game Masters and Drakes. The meat of this chapter is a full run-down on no less than 20 drakes to be used as allies or enemies in your game. This is a bestiary rather than a collection of NPCs, you will have to add specifics relating to each individual as you need them. Alehouse drakes sound rather fun, whilst candle drakes are useful to have around despite the unusual diet (they not only produce light, they eat candles, you see!). Others, such as crimson drakes and deep drakes, are inimicable by nature and far more likely to serve as foe than friend. There are some fine illustrations of the different types, too, the sort you want to print or project so you can say “You see this!” to your players. This fine array is followed by a set of rules for creating additional drake types to your own design.
This tome is quite a gem, particularly notable for the flexibility of approach from a bestiary to everything you need to create your own drakes as monsters or characters… if it’s drakes you want, you will find them here.
Review by Megan Robertson