Cory Glaberson (Mayfair Games)
Levels 6 – 9
Summary: North vs South + The Dragon and The George
Before Fireborn. Before the Draconomicon. Before Council of Wyrms. Before even Dragonlance, there existed a mighty supplement centered around Dragons. Forged in a distant aeon when pop-culture still had some residual balls left, Dragons is a kickass supplement for old DnD that somehow manages to combine being both a Dragon Splatbook with a Gazzeteer in our first coverage of what I will henceforth tastelessly dub the Aidshawk books; Role Aids Gazzeteers focusing on a single species that can be dropped into any fantasy campaign setting but that have enough connection to eachother that they may be combined into a sort of ersatz campaign setting.
Enough introduction, we have a lot of ground to cover. Dragons opens with an overview of the Twelve types of Dragons it will be using for the purpose of this book, covering all the chromatic and metallic dragons and taking the trouble to add the Platinum and the Spectral Dragon. Each species is altered somewhat from its factory standard  in terms of alignment, breath weapon, behavior and so on but never to the point where they become unrecognizable and the author might as well have made up new types altogether. The breath weapon has been altered from its original TPK-inducing Dragon’s hitpoints = damage dealt to the comparatively lenient Breath Weapon = Dragon’s Hit Dice, with a FUCK YOU multiplier of x2 or even x3 depending on the type of Dragon.
The writing is pretty interesting in an off-beat way. Black dragons have an increased incedence of mutation because they live high up in the mountains, exposed to the harsh rays of the Sun, Platinum Dragons are a strange breed of dragon that is occasionally born within all other clans which serve as the priesthood of all of Dragonkind (though what they worship is never explicitly discussed) and Spectral Dragons are an ultra-rare Tiamat-esque breed that are the de facto royalty of the Dragonlands [more on that later].
So Dragons are Clan based creatures that live in extended family groups, possess many many powers derived from being PART GOD and IMBUED WITH THE POWERS OF THE ELEMENTAL GODS THEMSELVES. This is incidentally, how Dragons manage to fucking fly at all  and also serves as an explanation for their many hindrances (unpredictable rages, greed, small numbers and they lose their power of flight if they lose their self-confidence like the angstiest of teenagers). Before I give the impression that this is some sort of fluffsplat, the book is quick to provide you with some Grade A+ High-octane Crunch; A Dragon Class.
Part I: Dragon Class.
Yup, it covered this one too. The Dragon class is great because it IS an actual fucking experienced based progression layered atop of a monster and not some watered down facimile thrown up in the name of balance but on the other hand it is odd because unlike any other class it really has TWO methods of progression; experience and age, with AGE being by far the most significant one, rendering the class a challenge for the GM to integrate into one’s campaign alongside the more traditional classes.
The primary method of advancement for a Dragon is not XP but Age. As the Dragon reaches a new Age category, called a “moulting,” it increases in Hit Dice, To hit bonus, Breath Weapon Strength, Ability Scores, Saving throws and the type of advancements he has access to. Experience is a distant second for the Dragon, and advancing in level only provides the dragon with a selection from an extensive list of special abilities (as you age the selection of abilities becomes more formideable); improved saving throws, breath weapon useage, Wing Buffets, the ability to carry a rider or SHAPE CHANGE AT WILL (if you are 500 years+
). While an ancient or even mature Dragon will quickly overshadow all but the most overpowered of 1st edition parties, I can see some potential in a fledgeling or 1st moult Dragon adventuring alongside a mid- to high-level party.
Dragonic ability scores are generated by rolling between 3d6 or sometimes 4d6 dice (for Con and Str) and increase with each Moulting, to a maximum that eclipses the ability scores as they are described in the Player’s handbook (max Str 30 etc.) and Unearthed Arcana, extrapolation of which is neither fully provided nor easy to accomplish given 1e’s nonlinear scaling of ability score bonuses. I’ve always felt 1e ability scores completely fall apart for anything but humanoids and this book is no exception. The Dragon is given a new ability score, called EGO, which is actually one of the few unique vulnerabilities the living-attack-helicopter class is saddled with.
Basically, Dragons still retain some of the instinctive cowardliness of their lizardly ancestors (before the Gods reshaped them into the apocalyptic killing machines we know and fear, huddled in our blankets, praying for invisibility and wearing aluminum foil hats lest a stray thought be picked up by these dreaded B52s of the fantasy kingdom) and as a result every Dragon (even the good ones) is an insecure narcissist that has immense trouble acting in an honorable fashion and can be sent into hour-long sulking periods, obsessive quests for revenge or gamma-fuelled rage. In order to resist the frenetic pulsing of its underdeveloped amygdala, the Dragon must roll under its EGO on a d20. In short, A class eminently suited for modern elfgame audiences.
After the crunch follows a deluge of fluff interspersed with a few meaty bits on the Dragon’s origin, biology (in a gorgeous anatomical three-page spread that still looks damn good) and mutations. Mutations are apparently somewhat common among Dragonkind, particularly among the peak-dwelling Black Dragons, and can include anything from multiple heads, Gemstone Eyes  and other cool shit. The best mutation was Twins! two telepathically connected dragons of identical ability that can sense eachothers pain and are connected to the point where they even die at the same time. The birth of twins heralds great Calamity, and you are a FORSAKEN WRETCH WHO WILL CORRODE IN THE DARKNESS OF HIS OWN INADEQUACY if you cannot turn those sentences into something cool. I’d go for the albino Dragon twins Hezirah and Hazareh, concubines, bodyguards and oracles to the evil Dragon Emperor Scaramagnus the Iron-scaled or whatever.
There is a little side-bar on the bizarre (-ly awesome) practice of skull-moulding observed by many clans, whereby the skull of the newborn hatchling is forced into all sorts of bizarre shapes by the strategic use of GIANT WOODEN PLANKS AND ROPE. Yikes.
Incidentally, it’s nice to see some thought has been put into the logistics of your average dragon. An adult Dragon eats about a 70-pound sheep per day, more if it is younger, as well as an unspecified quantity of precious metals. The described setting of the Dragonlands goes through about a million sheep per year for its 10.000-ish draconic population, and the human serfs within its boundaries are forbidden to eat mutton or beef under threat of execution. The vast wealth in livestock of the Dragonlands ensures that this requirement is easily met.
There is a list of draconic ailments ranging from minor pests to positively crippling ailments such as Blood Rot or the ominously titled Shell Plague. Diseases add very little to my campaigns and as such I consider them little more then window dressing but I will give Dragons FULL credit in this case. The diseases either serve to curb or shape certain draconic behaviors (i.e Red Eye is a disease that is contracted mainly by dragons that spend too much time in hibernation) or are written so that their existence actually helped shape the current state of affairs. The existence of a tenacious type of mite, resistant to all but the most extreme cures , serves as the basis for co-operation (of a sort) between humans and dragons in the history later on, and the draconic population is eventually decimated not by armies of human knights or great sorceries but by that most formidable of history’s reapers; Disease. Can you say 95% infant mortality?
Part II: Culture
Dragonic culture is given an overview of 2 pages that focuses on the Dragon as a social animal. Despite their assholish tendencies, Dragons are not so autistic as to be entirely incapable of diplomacy or trade, and thus have been known to have contact with the humanoids that they tolerate upon their lands. A Dragon’s primary occupation seems to be hunting followed by the accumulation of ill-gotten gains, with a healthy dose of clan politicks, feuding (of various degrees, with arbitration by clan elders), exacting tribute and whatnot. Organization seems to be at the family level, which makes sense from both an in-game and a game-design perspective. Another sweet-ass element was Dreaming. Basically, dragons are so fucking magickal their very dreams re-shape reality in various awe-inspiring and occasionally catastrophic ways, up to the point where they may spontaneously generate a skeletal grim reaper dragon preying on their immortal soul. Nice. Some good notes on how the perspective of time of a thousand-year old apex-predator differs from that of an evolved ape which makes keeping appointments difficult and results in various burnings when a Dragon conveniently forgets to exact tribute for 50 years and then returns, outraged that the native population has completely forgotten about it. The one exception appears to be Dragons that learn sorcery, for which one requires a very fine-tuned (for a Dragon) sense of timing in order to estimate spell durations properly.
Part III: Magic.
Unlike almost every other ability, Magic IS influenced by experience (though Caster Level is always the same). Every Dragon above Hatchling level with an ability slot to spare can pick up at least Ordinary Magic. Forget such inconveniences as spell components, spellbooks and other such trifles. The premise behind Dragon Magic seems taken from Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea (or Viking legend before that if you are a purist ). The Dragon learns the true names of every object in the world and may now cast away with abandon. The the Dragon does have to cope with is a comparatively limited spell selection, progression limited as much by age as it is by experience and a dearth of Dragonic spellcasting masters to study spells (very slowly) from and one critical new vulnerability; studying the true names of the world means the Dragon’s own true name is now “revealed” and anyone who can figure it out can force the dragon to automatically fail his saving throws vs spells. Ouch!
Magic is divided into 3 categories, each of which must be purchased separately as a special ability. Ordinary magic covers a variety of enchantments, minor abjurations and utility magicks to help the dragon get through the day (and no fucking illusions sadly), which may be cast 5 times per day each. A few new spells (described in single sentences with casting times) allow the Dragon Wizard in question to drop a few wards, modify his breath weapon or Dragon Mark something (meaning it can be spotted unerringly from dozens of miles unless it is kept in a special container lined with precious metals).
The real deal may be picked up only when the Dragon in question is older. Elemental Magic is a sort of greatest hits of the earth and air themed spells; Earthquake, Control Weather, Call lightning, Haste, Stone tell etc. etc.
Master Magic is beholden only to Dragons who make it past the fourth mold but since they are practically gods at that point they might as well have handled the damned thing by pulling a VtM Kane and just writing “You Win” under every spell description . The LEAST of these magics are a CL 20 dispel magic, Time Stop, Mass Charm, Eclipse and CHANGE SEASON. It doesn’t specify how often they may be cast so I assume 1/day in most cases. The Move Mountain spell is by far the most extreme, though the Dragon must rest for 1d4 months therafter. How much damage does 1d10 miles of Mountains moving 1d10 miles in the direction specified by the caster? We will probably never find out. Here there be Gods.
Part IV: Bestiary
No creature-focused source-book is complete without a selection of new creatures to fuck around with, and Dragons made the sensible decision of NOT STUFFING IT FULL OF NEW DRAGON TYPES. This is a lesson the subsequent Draconomicon would fail to heed; no one, and I mean no one, NEEDS MORE FUCKING DRAGONS. 12 varieties of sub-boss monster emminently suitable to scale for a variety of power levels is already a considerable amount for a Dragon centric campaign, let alone your standard run-of-the-mill DnD campaign. Unless you are playing Zarkon and The Thousand Dragon Temples of The Scaled Lands that is .
Instead we are provided with a selection of unique guardians Dragons employ in their lairs alongside the normal coterie of intimidated humanoids, the odd giant and a variety of traps. There is a reason Dragons are in the title of DnD since they are practically the natural prey of adventurers; They hoard Gold, live in what are essentially Dungeons, set Traps and generate Quests just by living in the proximity of some dumb village. A GM needs to do ZERO work to incorporate a Dragon into a standard DnD game.
Anyway, the guardians are an off-beat choice, which is typical for the writing in Dragons. It avoids the obvious but most of it is well thought out. The creatures are taken from other worlds via the Crystal Gate, a single science-fantasy artifact in the high-fantasy setting of the Dragonlands and introduced here to serve as useful pets. Pretty far out too, Telepathic Watch Dogs, creatures that resemble animal versions of the crawling reptiles from lovecraft’s “the nameless city” only with desintegration rays to help the Dragons dig tunnels, a type of spore that will dissolve ONE SPECIFIC type of material upon bursting, a giant carp that spits rocks at lethal velocities and some sort of intelligent super Ocelot with a vulnerability for magic. Someone was on a roll when they wrote this section, because all those entries are awesome.
There is an entire subsection on Giant Termites, which in this game form a natural symbiosis with Dragons, meaning many dragon lairs will now have a fucking TERMITE HIVE underneath it. I know this sounds like damning with faint praise and I must stress it isn’t because this is THE BEST TAKE ON DND HIVE MONSTERS I HAVE SEEN THUS FAR.
It’s all about variety and tactical complexity. Garden variety workers are non-agressive but will generate some sort of chemical mist that attracts Soldier Termites within several rounds of detecting an enemy. There is a second type that acts as the direct eyes-and-ears of the Telepathic Termite queen that can sacrifice themselves in a burst of psychic energy if need be. Then you get a whole swiss-army knife worth of anthropod killing machines equipped with limb-severing mandibles, paralytic brushes, units that form living walls to plug tunnels, tiny units that fire poisoned bristles from a distance, walking artillery equipped with glue or toxic spray and even a living poison-pellet sniper rifle bug and you have a recipe for absolute hell. Thought you could sneak in through the back door did ya? Game over man. Game over. Add a telepathic queen and a King that is only hostile during migrations but that can be spiked with some sort of chemical goo to be a formidable opponent and you have yourself one hell of a bughunt.
The adventure practically writes itself. Just take the dragon lair you already have and add a sublevel of winding, branching pathways, loops, chutes, caverns and about 200-400 fucking termites. Instant hit.
This section ends with a two-parter on Dragon herbalism and mineral and stone lore that seems woefully out of place. What use is a fucking cleric if a Dragon can just use his super duper nature lore to make a curse go away using fucking lent. 4 hours of searching and a percentage chance per region is still way too strong, fuck this, Dragon are interesting enough without becoming ambulatory apothecaries. The gemstone lore ability is more interesting. Essentially, Dragons can enchant different gemstones in their sorcerous pools lined with precious metals but the processes is both A) time consuming and B) requires stones worth at least 1000 gp. There doesn’t seem to be a restriction on the amount of enchanted stones you can wear so I assume they don’t stack.
Part V: HISTORY AND NEW CLASS
The Setting of the Dragonlands is a thing of beauty, a mixture of both elegance, imagination and depth that sets the imagination alight in ways that few campaign settings do nowadays. The more I read the less I am captured by that spirit of imagination that carries me aloft and instantly makes me think of ways to run it or interesting scenarios or adventure ideas. Consider me a fan.
The history of the place is communciated in but 3 pages yet filled to the brim with interesting possibility. There is an air of plausibility to the whole the way it passess from official mythical dogma, shrouded in obscurity, to current events, exactly as it should be. It should not suprise anyone that creatures as arrogant as Dragons have a view of the world that places them firmly at the centre, but the reality is left ambiguous, exactly as it should be.
The gods, after having created men, elf, dwarf and all the animals, looked upon them and consider them flawed, each in their own way. The God of Air looks at a cloud, is struck by inspiration and proclaims: BUT WHAT IF WE MAKE CREATURES FROM OUR OWN DIVINE SUBSTANCE INSTEAD OF FUCKING CLAY? Thus the first Dragon, who mates with the daughters of the elements, giving birth to the piece de la resistance of creation, the Dragon.
Unfortunately for the Master Race, tidings are tough, and after 3 millenia of constant warfare against the untermensch, the Dragon is all but extinct. Then comes King Dragon Jesus, to unite the clans and beat the shit out of everyone else. After figuring out that demographics are a thing and they cannot sustain this conflict because of their low birth rates, the Dragons call a big meet up with the rest of the world, divide the world into Ethno-states, and move to the North, which is to be their domain, in what I hope will not be a curious and ill-considered analogy to future geo-political events.
This history is great because it immediately attaches historical significance to several landmarks within the Dragonlands, making the world feel lived in and dynamic. “It was at this River that the Dragon Lord Kaban-La-Ri proclaimed that no men would step over its boundaries etc. etc.” True to his mythical stature, Dragon Jesus then leaves the people to their own devices, and lo it was good. The Dragons enjoy several thousand years of peace and prosperity by obliterating any an-a-tem (non-dragons) who cross their river and casting out any malcontents and criminals, cementing the Draconic reputation as ABSOLUTE SHITBAGS. The Dragons have themselves a veritable golden age of culture and poetry, discover the Crystal Gate that leads to a thousand other worlds, spreading themselves across the universe and bringing in a manifold of artifacts, gods, creatures and ideas from other realms. Like any ancient civilization worth its salt, the Dragons eventually screw themselves over because it turns out those other worlds also have DISEASES, and the Dragons end up nearly exterminating themselves before they pressure their Priest Caste to close the fucking thing and be done with it. While the Dragons as a species would survive, organization above the family level was permanently ruined from the resulting conflict and Dragons ended up as the insular clan based shitbags we know today. It was of course, the dirty dirty humans that ended up fucking them over in the end.
So at some point a Dragon was helped by a human ranger to clear out the terrible pests that drove him to rage and though he devoured that human, the Master Race learned an important lesson about how useful humans could be and thus to the shame of all the other fucking Dragons in the world, the Dragonlands start importing the fuckers and running a sort of Dragonic Feudal state since someone needs to herd all those sheep.
This prompts more migrations and warfare between the species, and eventually the Blue Dragons, whom the story keeps insisting are the villains of the piece, decide that someone needs to keep out humey, proclaim a new King (from the obscure and relatively powerless and therefore easily controlled Spectral Dragon clan) and over time start getting themselves some new laws to restrict human migration, crop farming, children and increasingly insistant queries about “ze human kwestion”.
Since the Dragonlands are not hindered by a hideously converged, overtly hostile and corrupt media, this genocide is actually acknowledged and thus the Dragon Republicans who live in harmony (of the feudal, oligarchical sort) with the humans band together against the Dragon Royalists, with some clans joining one faction and others being split between the two or entirely neutral. My only regret is the seemingly unambigous nature of the conflict, since military fantasy like any other drama tends to thrive in situations where the brutal and dehumanizing nature of warfare is revealed for the shitshow it really is .
In defence of the portrayal of the Draconic civil war, the conflict officially starts (after the preliminary raiding of carvans, burning of crops etc. etc.) when a flight of 30 Blue Dragons burns down a human settlement to the ground and the Brass Dragons respond by chasing down the guy responsible and fucking murdering his entire clan, eggs and all. Lawful Good my ass. Welcome to the Dragonic Civil War!
The setting segment opens properly with the introduction of a NEW CLASS FOR HUMANS! The DragonLord grew out of the practice of strapping human peasants with lances onto one’s back and charging another fucker in imitation of the mounted cavalry of human lands and eventually became a sort of upper class of the human population, forming clans of their own and handling all the important affairs like law, fighting and interceding when a Dragon gets pissed off and wants to burn down the town. What is really interesting about the class is that the Rider is honour-bound to obey its mount.
There is quite a lot of detail on the organization of a Dragonlord town and the various induction and training rituals which I will skip for the sake of brevity.
Mechanically the class is most reminiscent of the Paladin as a more potent fighter sub-class with severe restrictions. The first are the ability requirements, which are INSANE. 15 Wis and Int, 12 Str and 10 in Con and Cha. Good luck qualifying for that one. Main class features include a magical staff at 3rd level that can turn into a Lance!, increases damage over as you level up and grants spell-like abilities of a healing and utility nature. A 3rd level Dragonlord has to make do with 1d8 damage, +2 to hit, -1 AC, a built in torch and flashlight and 1d4 healing 1/day, Remove fear 1/day and Resistance 1/day while at 12th level you can expect shit like Raise Dead 1/day and 1d20 + flames, -5 AC and all sorts of other nonsense. Your biggest feature is of course your mount, which is like being a mech pilot and having a sixteen year old girl who is EXTREMELY PARTICULAR ABOUT OBSERVING RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS who also happens to be both your employer and your mecha. Depending on the Season, your Dragon has a percentage chance of actually fucking showing up for that week, which varies SEVERELY. Certain days your dragon will just not fucking show up. During winter, the percentage chance is cut to 10% excluding modifiers (magic items work). I am actually intrigued at the game’s suggestion of having one player play the mount and the other the Dragon but foresee immense trouble actually making this work since the Mount is thus likely to be absent for large periods of time. I imagine you either give the mount a backup character for the downtime sessions or you run the ill-advised but potentially intriguing split-screen campaign format. All in all, a bizarre class.
If that was not enough of a hindrance, Dragon lords actually have 13 BACKBREAKINGLY STRICT CODES OF BEHAVIOUR that TRANSLATE INTO ACTUAL GAME MECHANICS such as; only receiving xp for combat (and maybe roleplaying, not discussed), no shield and some sort of Ablative Chain that works fairly well against biting and grabbing but is easily lost (AC against other things is not specified), d8 hit dice, only using lance/staff/short sword, having to donate half of your shit to your dragon, total obedience to your dragon, dietary restrictions (Str 17 max, weight limited to 150 pounds), only marry women from other Rider families, not being to advance to a higher level then your dragon and being barred from accepting Southland Magic WHICH INCLUDES MAGICAL HEALING. Where it gets interesting is that you can actually pick 2 of these rules to IGNORE, which your dragon will grudgingly tolerate. Bam. Instant interesting customization option.
The DragonLord class would be interesting for a very plot driven, more roleplaying intense campaign but the way I see it there are two real flaws. The first is the equipment section, which introduces a myriad of useful and rider specific equipment, which the game does not always deign to provide with the accompanying mechanics. That is sloppy. What was REALLY needed for this entire supplement however, is an expanded AERIAL COMBAT system. The setting is about DRAGONS FIGHTING OTHER DRAGONS which will likely take place mostly in the air. A one or two page system which incorporates maneuverability, passess, modifications on the breath weapon rules is basically essential and its omission here is the first glaring flaw of the work overal.
This review is taking its sweet time, so I am going to break this one down into two parts. Join me Soon for the continuation in Pt. II; Setting and Adventures! Same time, same channel folks. We haven’t even started!
 i.e the creatures described in the original Monstrous Manual and to a large extent in subsequent iterations thereof
 Unless you happen to be John Ringo and Dragons were created in the geno-forges of post-scarcity entertainment moguls, generally a Dragon’s vast weight would render them incapable of flight
 Dragons in…Dragons seem to accumulate precious metals and minerals as a by-product of their otherworldly biology to such a degree that they are literally ambulant hoards. A Dragon’s Gemstone Eyes (a rare mutation to be sure) functions as a type of Gemstone after it has been er…removed from its owner.
 i.e Cloudkill, Sarin, VX
 Much as I thought the Wyrmsteeth Range from CM1 was “da bomb,” any concentration of more then 5 dragons is going to be mostly window dressing or plot device. It would be like running a street level detective game and having the murderer be a fully loaded Nimitz-class Aircraft Carrier with 160 hornets. Just. Say. No.
 Or Eragon for that matter. And an exalt if you actually managed to get through that my lovelies. One of the few books I have ever dropped.
 I mean fuck, some of the other Elder Dragon Abilities you can select are A Phylactery, Illusions EGO/day, Shape Change at Will, immunity to normal weaponry and the ability to summon an 11 HD elemental.
 Not actually a thing.
 While I’d hesistate to call them classics, I think Adrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher novels do a damn fine job of portraying the often ambiguous and muddled moral waters of war.