Game: The Slayer’s Guide to Dragons
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 3rd, June 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 10
Average Score: 5.00
If you thought the Slayer’s Guides are a series of 32 paged books designed to bolster, study and enrich those creatures your players are all too good at turning into meat paste then you would be wrong. You wouldn’t be very wrong, but you’d wrong. The Slayer’s Guide to Dragons aims to show that just when you’re starting to take things for granted that it can all change.
There’s a famous name on the front of this book of famous monsters. Garry Gygax is known as the grandfather of the hobby and as the man who wrote the original Dungeons and Dragons. This dragon book has Gygax as the author on the front cover, indeed, Mongoose would be mad to do otherwise, but this reviewer is determined to mention Jon Creffield at least once, since his name is along side Gygax’s in the line of credited authors inside. The book does feel different. For a start it boasts 128 pages, that’s four times as many as your usual Slayer’s Guide. Although the Guide follows the same structure of previous Slayer’s Guides – physiology, habitat, dragon society, methods of warfare, roleplaying with dragons and scenario hooks and ideas – it reads differently. Sure. Okay. There are an extra couple of sub-chapters squeezed in there which I’ve not mentioned but I think the main reason why it feels different is because there’s little distinction between in-game and out-of-game comments. If you could imagine someone who really believes dragons are real and, in fact, knows an awful lot about them has sat down to talk you and then shares his lore in game mechanics and rule speak then you’ll have a good idea of what I mean.
I suspect, though, many readers could care less of how the book feels and really just want to know what it contains. Here’s a quick list of some of the rumours I heard before the book came out and their answers.
> There are new types of dragons.
Yes, there are new types of dragons. There’s rules for crossbreeding chromatic dragons so you can end up with strange creatures like maroon or pink dragons but there are also creations like Web Dragons, Mirth Drakes, Hell Worms, Dragonkin, Abyssal Serpents and more.
> There will be rules for dragon characters
Urm. Not really. The Roleplaying with Dragons section covers possible character classes for Dragons and elsewhere in the book there’s a table to show at what sort of age a dragon becomes capable of holding down a character class (a gold dragon can have a character class at a young age whereas a black dragon needs to be older). It’s certainly possible to take rules from the book to aid your attempts to have dragon PCs but there’s nothing in the realms of experience point modifications for such characters.
> Garry Gygax uses the book to criticise 3E.
No, he doesn’t. He does say (or Jon Creffield says) that some people feel the Challenge Ratings in the core books are too low, though.
> There are new rules for Tiamat.
There is new information on Tiamat but there are no extra rules for her specifically. There are lots on the Dragon Queen’s role in Dragon society. There are also new rules for dragon magics. You’ll also find stats for Tiamat’s champion.
> There’s a new age category above and beyond Great Wyrm.
There is: Dracos Invictus.
Well, five rumours anyway. I’ll admit that hardly counts as a whirlwind of gossip and speculation but it’s certainly more than you’d expect for any non-WoT product.
The Physiology of Dragonkind attempts to address basic questions about dragon nature. Are they cold blooded or warm blooded? Warm blooded, we’re told, otherwise they couldn’t stand the cold. It’s possible to drive a truck though the holes in any attempt to claim that that’s an entirely convincing argument but the rest of the chapter provides sagacious entertainment. In particular I thought the sections devoted to remind us about the dragon’s acute vision and sense of smell will help remind players and DMs a like that they can expect a dragon to notice almost anything.
A new age category (Age 13+) is given life in the form of Dracos Invictus. All those dragons which are described in the Monster Manual are given pretty looking panels where their new Dracos Invictus form is stamped with suitable mechanics. The Red and Gold dragons reach Challenge Rating 30 whereas the White Dragon manages a “mere” 25. The new races of dragon, of course, have their Dracos Invictus age included in with their description. If phrases like “of course” rile you then I’m afraid you’ll have to get used to them in this Slayer’s Guide.
The new races of dragons include neither new colours nor metallic dragons, I suspect, therefore, in order to fit the rules on Chromatic / Metallic divisions in this Guide that most have to count as Chromatic. Actually, many of the new types of dragon have a demonic strain to them. The Abyssal Serpent is labelled as Dragon (Demon/Tanar’ri) and reaches CR 30 for its Dracos Invictus form (that’s the same as red and gold dragons). The Dragonkin are half dragons or three-quarters dragons or somewhere in between. The Hell Worm, multi-headed beasts that are closely tied to Tiamat herself, surge past the mighty gold dragons and reach CR 31 for their Invictus age category. They’re also given the dragon (Devil/Baatezu) type. The Mirth Drakes are the smallest of all dragons, ideal for those impressive pets and cute tavern dragons. They are small, nesting in twigs and spider webs and fall into the “fine” size category. Rock Dragons reach CR 28 once they’re old enough to fall into the Invictus category, despite that, I’d say they’re rather scary. They count as dragon (Earth). Sea Dragon’s fall into the predictable type of dragon (Water) and their Invictus age brings a CR of 26. I think the Web Dragons are my favourite, the idea of spindly-legged dragons perched on top of a maze of threads appeals to my sense of cinematography. They’re quite timid compared to other dragons though, only reaching CR 14 for the Invictus age. Mind you, Baal Shiruat the Chromatic Prince “only” has a CR of 21. He’s an unique dragon but I can’t help but imagine the first Hell Worm that came along would topple him.
The habitat chapter is extremely thorough. If you read through the chapter in sequence then you’ll probably find it suffers from too much monotonous detail but if you access one of the sub-sections directly – you’re planning a White Dragon for you game, for example – then you’ll probably be thankful for this detail. The section runs through every type of dragon covered (except the cross-breeds) and considers where they’d make their lair and then provides a sample lair. The sample lairs are all mini-adventures in their own right; fairly deadly adventures too!
The crossbreeds of dragons are hidden away in the Dragon Society section. It’s probably a wise choice given how insular dragons tend to be. However, in this chapter you’ll find text on the scary Dragon Moot, the R’saknakus, when dragons of all sorts gather to debate and pay homage to their King and Queen dragon deities. We’re told that the Chromatic Dragons have twice come close to agreeing to wipe out all humanoids!
Normally, in the Slayer’s Guides, the Methods of Warfare section is a fairly subdued offering. Previously authors have contented themselves with a brief study on possible combat tactics that might be employed by the race in question. Many of the races in the Slayer’s Guides are basically brutal and barbaric and so these combat tactics tend to be somewhat terse. Dragons are different. Gygax and Creffield elect to run through the magical arsenal available to the dragon race and consider very many of the spells and their application. The resulting effect is many pages of spells and reminders of what effects they have. I can see why the choice was made, it’s wrong to have a dragon stand there like a lump of stone and breath fire (gas, acid, lightning, cheese, whatever) at the players when it could be made into a so much more challenging fight. On the other hand, if you know you stuff or if you think you do, then so much of this is like watching a cheap episode in a TV drama that’s been composed almost entirely of flashbacks to earlier episodes. It’s not all like that, though, the advice from the authors is to push aside the complex flight rules in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and to flow freely with aerial combat but to be sure to remember that dragons can, will and probably should take to the air if they’re engaged in combat.
Also in the Methods of Warfare section you’ll find new draconic feats and spells. I think this sub-section alone will sell copies of the book. The spells can be taught to dragons to humanoid creatures but unless the humanoid creatures have scales to toughen or eggs to protect they’ll probably not find them very useful. As a DM, however, you’ll find that these feats and spells will add further life to your dragon encounters, especially if your players are getting too used to having the upper land. There are also a few dragon-specialised items as well.
As mentioned near the start of the review, the Roleplaying with Dragons section doesn’t spell out how you can be a dragon PC; instead it does what the title suggests and offers tips on how to roleplay with dragons (you let them have the last can of cola). Really, though, it’s a study of which character classes best fit the dragon race, why and how.
The scenario hooks and ideas chapter is the longest in any Slayer’s Guide yet. It offers hooks and ideas and then ends in a whole adventure. The Revenge of Ghorkai is a twenty-four paged adventure and it’s suited for 4 to 6 characters of 8th to 10th level, providing that the combined total of levels is at least 40.
I liked The Slayer’s Guide to Dragons. I can find flaws in it, I can find strengths in it and it is probably easier to find typos in 128 pages than in 32. I think the Guide does manage to inject new life into dragons, only a little new life but certainly some. The artwork, as is always the case with Mongoose products is top class. There’s a double page spread of dragons at one point. If you want to use dragons in your fantasy game then you’ll find useful stuff in this book, if you want to be in possession of a collectable product then you’ll want this book and if you’re just interested in adding a sensible expansion to your RPG collection then you’ll be wise to consider the Slayer’s Guide to Dragons. If you’re interested only in gritty low fantasy then I doubt you’re looking at any of the Slayer’s Guides at all.