Supplement Review: Book of Drakes by Adam Daigle and Mike Welham from Open Design

Is it possible for a game supplement to be too beautiful? If that’s the case, then the Book of Drakes by Adam Daigle and Mike Welham from Open Design would surely push that boundary to its limits. In a world where the greater dragons get all the press, it’s amazing to see the lesser dragons get some love for a change!

What is a drake? If you look up the definition, the first thing that comes up is “a male duck.” The second and third things
are a “drake fly” or “a dragon” (seemingly in either order). Since we’re reviewing a RPG supplement, I say we skip the duck and the fly and go straight for the dragon reference…

But even in the gaming world, the term “drake” can sometimes be misunderstood. Check out this great article at the Wizards of the Coast site of a discussion with an artist about the difference between drakes, dragons, wyverns, wyrms, worms, and wurms… According to this fictionalized chat, you have this as the definition of a drake:

“… A drake is, once again, different in kind from a wurm. A drake is generally blue-aligned, about the intelligence of a dog, and a common servant to mages. Drakes have dragonlike heads, long reptilian tails, and scaly wings, but also have back legs, somewhat like a bird’s.”

“Drakes and Dragons, Wurms and Worms” by Doug Beyer on the Magic the Gathering website (WotC)

Ok, so now we have a bit of context about a drake. Let’s see what the Book of Drakes has to say about them. Authors Adam Daigle and Mike Welham put drakes, faerie dragons, and wyverns in the category of “lesser dragons” and offer these words to define them:

“… Lesser dragons are not epic, they don’t grow in power as they age or live long lives terrorizing the countryside. As powerful and magical creatures without the baggage associated with true dragons, lesser dragons can play smaller roles in a campaign without cheapening their true cousins.”

– “Welcome to the Book of Drakes,” Book of Drakes by Adam Daigle and Mike Welham

Now we’re talking.

The Book of Drakes not only describes more than 20 different types of drakes in detail, with a gorgeous picture, full stat block, and description… But it offers guidance to both players and game masters about how to integrate these magnificent little creatures into your games. Though the book describes them in terms of where they appear in Midgard, Wolfgang Baur‘s setting from Open Design that we’re learning a little more about with each new Midgardian supplement, these creatures could offer flavor to any Pathfinder RPG campaign and really any other fantasy setting you wished to translate them into. They’re not tied to Midgard or Pathfinder and could find their way into nearly any fantasy (or even urban fantasy) campaign quite easily.

In Chapter 1, we learn a bit about the origins of the drakes and how they differ from their larger, more powerful cousins. Though the similarities are easy to see, the differences (beyond size) are sometimes a bit more difficult to ascertain. These smaller beasts are smart and have adapted to live in civilized lands as well as the wild, showing their intelligence as well as their abilities in many different contexts. Some are kinder than others and some take their jobs extremely seriously – but each species is unique.

Chapter 2 focuses on how drakes may become companions to PCs and NPCs. Drakes are not pets. Far too intelligent to be kept on a leash, I find it amusing that their favorite phrase is “I told you so” when dealing with their humanoid counterparts. (I hear that a lot from my own children, so I have to wonder if there’s a bit of drake in them…) Though the list of drake feats is short, it offers quite a few options to explore as a player – from using a drake companion in battle to how the PC/NPC communicates with the drake directly.

But what struck me as very interesting was how having a drake as a companion was expanded to classes beyond spellcasters. Wizards, sorcerers, and rangers have traditionally been the classes I’ve known to have animal companions in the past – but the list of possibilities in the Book of Drakes offers a variation for just about any class you can think of – from fighter and thief to arcane spellcaster or cleric, there’s a drake in every pot. I’m not sure I’d spread the wealth quite that far, but it offers some definite inspiration for a world where drakes are much more common.

There’s even a new class to play with – the Drake Tamer. These are the folks you want to call when you’re a character looking for a drake companion. Someone to coax and cajole these smart, spirited creatures to join you (and stay with you) on an adventure. It sort of hits me like this class is the “Dog Whisperer” of the drake world, which would be more of an NPC class than a PC class, but could present some interesting roleplaying challenges for either a player or a GM.

Then in Chapter 3, you get all the stats and descriptions you could ever want for these fun critters – from the Alehouse Drake to the Tor Drake and everything in-between. Here are three of my favorites:

  • Alehouse Drake – If I was a tavern owner, I’d want one of these in my establishment. Not only would it help keep the rowdies at bay, but it would offer some cheap entertainment (so long as I kept its ale cup full) for my more well-behaved customers.
  • Pact Drake – I would never have thought there would be a lawyer among drakes, and yet here he is. As a businessman, one of these would be a useful companion to make sure my business partners kept our bargains intact and didn’t try to cheat me.
  • Tor Drake – These are simply cool. Guardians of graveyards and the dead, as a GM I would put one of these in any major graveyard in a city to keep the necromancers from stealing bodies and any other mischief from going too far. If the grave robbers came calling (from The Grumpy Celt’s article at Nevermet Press), they’d get more than they bargained for!

But if the 20 drakes weren’t enough, there are rules and guidelines for creating your own drake species. And what I especially appreciated was the fact that they used those rules to create a new drake – the Vine Drake. Guidelines are great, but without a solid example of how to apply them sometimes things go awry – so the example makes it much easier to put these rules into practice.

Getting back to what I said in the very first paragraph of this review, the Book of Drakes has to be one of the most gorgeous books I’ve seen in a very long time. The cover art from Kieran Yanner is rich, warm, and offers a glimpse into the wonderments within. The interior art from Hugo Solis continues that trend with detailed images of every drake described… And though some of these critters are fun and whimsical, there are many others that I’d just as soon not meet in a dark alley in Zobeck.

Though this is a relatively short book at around 60 pages, the Book of Drakes offers some amazing details and tools for GMs and players alike to put into use in their games. Using style, amazing writing, and simply beautiful artwork this has to be one of my favorite books to come out of Open Design since Tales of the Old Margreve. The kobolds outdid themselves with this one folks. Be sure to snag your copy at RPGNow, the Kobold Quarterly Store, or at Paizo’s online store.

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