Almost a full calendar year after the Races Of series seemingly came to a close, Races of the Dragon emerged from the wizard’s cave (the one by the coast). Is the bottom of the barrel getting scrapped to cash in on a still-popular series, or did late inspiration bring a worthwhile new series entry.
As a big fan of the Races Of series, I had mixed feelings about Races of the Dragon. The three original Races Of sourcebooks came to a comfortable close, with all of the Player’s Handbook races covered and each book introducing a new playable races. Do we need a good series dragged on past its prime? However, if there is any race that offers enough material to warrant a new Races Of book, it’s dragons. The authors similarly left me torn. Jennifer Clarke Wilkes wrote Savage Species, a handy sourcebook that truly explores the races of Dungeons & Dragons. Kolja Raven Liquette worked on Weapons of Legacy a terribly assembled sourcebook that was so far from its potential it couldn’t find it on a map.
At a Glance
Steven Prescott’s artwork does not deserve to be on the cover of a sourcebook. Inked instead of painted, and in a gaudy array of colours, it stands out next to the rest of the Races Of series for all the wrong reasons. Exactly what is happening in the cover I could not tell you, except that the Dragonborn, Spellscale, and Kobold seem oblivious to the fact that they are surrounded by a huge red dragon with evil intentions in his eyes. Or maybe there are three bigger, more evil red dragons in the three directions not towards that red dragon our cover heroes are facing.
Inside the artwork is disappointing as well. Why is everyone purple? Seven of Eric Polak’s eight samples in Dragonborn Part 1 and Part 2 are purple even though they are all supposed to be based on one of the good (ie metallic) dragon races. The eighth is orange. Ed Cox’s series of eight Spellscale samples (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8) are also purple. Furthermore, they have a running caption that starts with “A typical Spellscale looks like this…” under the first, and every subsequent image is captioned “…or this…” The joke is lost to me, because it feels like they’re trying to imply that all Spellscales look different at yet the eight images all look like the same one in different moods and different clothes.
Many of the pictures look like they were drawn by hand and coloured by computer. This style, as seen in Draconic Heritage by Dan Frazier clashes with Dungeons & Dragons’ established look. To my knowledge, no other sourcebooks contained illustrations like these so I can assume it was instantly unpopular.
There are some nice illustrations in this book, of course. You have to admire Kurtulmak’s holy symbol, as illustrated by Chris Malidore. Kobolds use a gnome skull with a stake through it to signify their god. The Dradon-Descended chapter offers a couple of nice samples, like a red draconic bugbear running with his fellow bugbears, living the Draconic Life by Jim Nelson. Emily Fiegenschuh’s Nonhumanoid Dragonblooded Centaur shows the versatility of the template. Kobolds are well represented, with artwork like the Dragonwrought Kobold by Carl Frank, showing what a few racial feats can do to an otherwise basic race.
If you’re a fan of fantasy art, Races of the Dragon packs a weak punch. With so many new concepts presented in this book, it’s unfortunate that Kobolds, which we’ve already seen, are better represented than the Dragonborn and Spellscales.
Lots of New Options
Previous Races Of books have featured a chapter each for two PH races, one for a new race, and one chapter for more obscure thematic races and less significant new races that fit the book’s theme. Races of the Dragon mixes that up, with chapters for two new races, one for a familiar race from the Monster Manual, and one chapter for two familiar templates. Although I normally disapprove of format changes mid-series, this book respects the established format and stays as faithful to it as possible.
That said, the Dragonborn is an extremely flexible race. The race is not born of two Dragonborn parents but through a ritual that converts dragon-fascinated members of other races (like humans, dwarves, etc) into Dragonborn. If you are playing a character in a long running campaign and really like the Dragonborn, you don’t have to add a template or make a new character. Your character can perform a ritual that converts it to a Dragonborn overnight. A fun loophole Races of the Dragon presents to players that base character creation primarily on ability score modifiers. Dragonborn get +2 Con, -2 Dex. Spellscales get +2 Cha, -2 Con. So a Spellscale that is reborn as a dragon born is a whole new dragon creature with +2 Cha, -2 Dex. The Con bonus and penalty from the two races cancel each other out.
I dub this odd RAW technicality Scaleborn, the uber-dragonblood race.
Half-Dragons whose parent did not happen to be a Monster Manual have an entire list of every published dragon type to that date (outside Dragon magazine dragons, unfortunately) and what options each provides. Enjoy the Shadow Dragon from the Draconomicon? Here you go, Half-Dragon with energy drain breath weapon.
The Racial Substitution Levels are not up to par with past releases (what Dragonblood Paladin would give up Detect Evil so he can Detect Dragonblood?), there are a few winners. Kobold fighter springs to mind. I have never liked a Fighter substitution level because, frankly, substituting a feat for a class feature never made sense to me when the class feature could have just been a fighter bonus feat. But the Kobold fighter substitutes a bonus feat at first level for two feat-based class features, and later feats for ability boosts. It overcomes the Kobolds natural frailty without hurting the fighter class’ flavour.
The Player’s Handbook implies that sorcerer magic comes from a distant dragon descendent. Although I preferred that it was not stated as fact, the manner in which Races of the Dragon runs with that idea makes up for the loss of intrigue.
There are Sorcerer-only spells as well as typical Sor/Wiz spells. Spellscales are one of the few races with a Charisma bonus and has Sorcerer as its favoured class, as does the Kobold. A whole new category of feats, Draconic, is designed for sorcerers. There are sorcerer racial substitution levels for Dragonblood races and Kobolds. Most aspects of a sorcerer character has new options opened up for them thanks to Races of the Dragon.
Races of the Dragon was released one month after the Spell Compendium. Therefore, all the spells included are exclusive to this sourcebook. The magic items saw reprint in the Magic Item Compendium, however. Still, there is more original material here than in sourcebooks released before Races of the Dragon including a series of new Power Word spells.
Kobolds (Un)Playable Race
Before reading Races of the Dragon, I thought a Kobold’s greatest racial ability was dying en masse. The lowest rung on the Monster Manual ladder. With a Challenge Rating of ¼, a kobold puts up as much of a fight as a cat. Now I think they are a fully developed and fully unplayable race.
Races of the Dragon tries very hard to make the Kobold an attractive choice with Kobold exclusive feats and options, some of which are interesting. But the biggest strike against playing a Kobold is the seventeen pages exploring Kobold life, with great-emphasis placed on how community-based Kobolds are. Although it stays true to everything we know about Kobolds, including the high rate of death thanks to their firm believe in reincarnation, a player must either play a rebel kobold and disregard the facts of his race or come up with an excuse for how his Kobold’s adventuring career is for the good of tribe.
The five prestige classes introduced are underwhelming from end to end. The most interesting is the Dracolexi, a prestige class that masters the inherently magical nature of the draconic language. If you can get past the fact that this is a bard/librarian (bardbarian?), it has unique mechanics that produce interesting powers. Dragon Devotee is a different take on the Dragon Acolyte Prestige Class found in the Dungeon Masters’ Guide, Dragonheart Mage should have been a highlight of the book and an ideal prestige class for sorcerers that want to bring the dragon out of their blood instead gives sorcerers a breath weapon and some Draconic feats. I have complained in past Races Of reviews when they offer non-race specific prestige classes in race-specific sourcebooks, and Races of the Dragon commits that same crime. Of the five prestige classes, two are for races found in this book, two are non-specific, and on is for non-dragons, therefore not for any of the races the book that introduces this prestige class is about.
Stuff That Just Bugged Me
More than most sourcebooks, every few pages of the Races of the Dragon brought me face to face with stuff that bugged me. Insignificant on their own, the volume of them left me feeling like this was a much worse book that it truly was. Take the book’s naming conventions. Singer of Concordance is a terrible name for a prestige class made worse by the fact that single class bards do not qualify. One truth about the Dragonborn is that they are not born a dragon. They are born a non dragon and reborn a Dragonborn. By calling themselves Dragonborn, they are lying. At least the name has a nice ring to it. Why the chapter that introduces them was named Dragonborn of Bahamut confounds me, clouding an interesting name with a complicated on that barely fits in the chapter tabs on the side of the pages.
Spellscales, on the other hand, are only lying if they happen to be a non-casting race. Some races are better geared towards spell casting classes than others, this is true, but must that be in the race’s name? At least gnomes have spell-like abilities. Spellscales have no magic unless they take a casting class.
On a related note, I loved reading about how Dragonborns come to be. It was a unique idea that made the race very appealing. So when I read in the next chapter that Spellscales have a similar born-as-one-race, turn-into-a-dragon-race ritual, I was flabbergasted. A remarkable, original idea already overused by the second chapter of the book that introduced it?
Kobold have dire ferrets as their mount of choice. It’s a comical idea, dire ferrets, but Kobolds are often comical. Maybe I missed it, but rules for dire ferrets have not been printed in any WotC D&D sourcebook that I own. Or if they have, Races of the Dragon does not offer assistance as to where these rules can be found.
Finally, every chapter ends with a note about how to use these races in Eberron. And the book references Oriental Adventures and Dragons of Faerun. I do not play in these campaign settings and do not want material about them taking up space in my vanilla sourcebooks.
The spell Mighty Wallop and Greater Mighty Wallop have it all: effects we haven’t seen before; a memorable, descriptive name; elements that come together perfectly.
Another choice spell is Steal Size, which works like an offensive Reduce Person and defensive Enlarge Person cast at the same time.
Draconic Racial Class is a smart solution to LA 1 races. Rather than gaining all benefits of the Draconic template at once, but forcing a player to start at second level, you gradually gain racial abilities over the first couple of character levels and get to have a class from first level.
Accelerate Metamagic is a feat that shows why Dragonblood sorcerers are superior spellcasters.
Currently Jay is playing a Dragonborn human. Because it’s a dragon blood race, it is hard for me, as a DM, to run a social encounter without addressing his draconic heritage. That said, the race is working out for him so far.
I skimmed this book repeatedly on the shelf of my local gaming store. I found it difficult to get past the Spellscale. Maybe because the art in that section is particularly bad or maybe because I knew Kobolds were the next chapter and I could not imagine enjoying that.
Now that I have read it cover to cover, I regret not giving it a closer look. There are a lot of intriguing options introduced. Yet there was also a lot of aggravation (see Stuff That Just Bugged Me). If there is room in your campaign for dragon-themed PCs, you will want to pick this book up. Or if you are a fan of the Races Of series
Races of the Dragon is similar enough to the best of that series to justify picking it up.
If You Liked This Book…
The other books in the Races Of series are: Races of Stone, about dwarves, gnomes, and introduced goliaths; Races of Destiny, about humans, half-elves, half-orcs, and introduced illumians; and Races of the Wild, about elves, Halflings, and introducing raptorans. Each goes into details about the featured races and provides background useful for any player or DM.
Release Date: January 2006
Date Reviewed: April 2008