In the Company of Dragons
This pdf clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 36 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So…this pdf introduces playable dragons – how does it go on to maintain balance and a world’s fluff? Well, by a number of rather unique, narrative stunts – first, the pdf maintains compatibility with your campaign setting’s dragons by assigning a unique, separate, but distinct fluff to these dragons – called Tanimin, they live in the secluded place called “Lost Isle”, isolated by planar boundaries from the realms of mortals. In this sheltered place, these beings called Tanimin, have prospered – but, as their origin myth specifies, there is a taint, a cancer growing at the heart of this place, its genesis crucial part of the extensive origin myth provided. There, in this taint, all draconic is twisted, turned into undragons (here, I had a UnLunDun-flashback while reading) – in here, wyrm truly are rendered into a worm, all perverted and lost. The whole myth and following discussion of the alignment, adventuring roles, etc., including age, height and weight-tables for various sizes, all is written in gorgeous, captivating in-character prose, rendering the pdf more enjoyable to read than comparable pdfs.
Now, it should be noted that chromatic/metallic distinctions are not *necessarily* color-coding Tanimin, though alignment-changes result in a molt that sees the creature hampered, only to emerge with a new coat of scales closer to their new alignment – can you see the gold dragon molt red? I can! Mechanically, Tanimin receive +2 Con and Cha, -2 Dex, are small, receive regular movement (1/2 when wielding items in their claws), can use manufactured weapons et al (at a -2 penalty), receive darkvision and low-light vision, are immune to sleep and paralysis, can glide, receive +1 atk and +2 AC versus dragons, +2 to identify dragons, a natural primary bite of 1d4, +1.5 str-mod, +2 natural AC, +2 perception and sense motive. When wearing armor, Tanimin increase ACP by 2 and suffer the same amount as a penalty to atk and are quadrupeds, receiving modified slots and increased carrying capacity. Alternatively, they can elect for +2 Str and Con, -2 Int, +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Wis and +2 Wis and Cha, -2 Dex. Among the alternate racial traits, better concentration, 1d3 secondary natural weapons (claws), giant killer-bonuses, manipulate objects sans penalty, get different bonuses, spiny hides or toxic blood.
The race also receives a couple of favored class options -barbarian, druid, fighter, magus, monk, paladin, ranger, soceror, taskshaper and war master are covered. Before I delve into the respective archetypes provided, let’s not mince words so far – the tanimin are strong. The race does suffer a bit from feature-bloat, with minor racial abilities increasing the power of the race. I generally tend to consider such bonuses somewhat unnecessary. That being said, I’m not going to start my usual “this is too powerful for campaign xyz”-rant here. Why? Because we’re talking DRAGONS. This book actually, by means of its very definition, is geared towards high-fantasy/power gaming and as such, it feels unnecessary and probably unfair to judge this race as being too strong low point-build campaigns on the gritty side. Got that? Awesome! On a cosmetic level, the slight feature-bloat and two alternate attribute-sets that gear the race towards caster/martials are not something I’m overly fond of. Still, generally, the race itself can be considered strong, but manageable.
Now the archetypes – first would be the draconic hero – an archetype that allows a tanimin of any class to grow at the cost of some class abilities usually gained – as a massive multiclass-covering archetype, the abilities replaced vary from class to class, once again including taskshaper and war master among the supported classes. Scaled Juggernauts are essentially tanimin fighters specializing in combat with their natural weapons, gaining rake and pounce at higher levels. Trueblood Sorcerors are locked into the draconic bloodline, but receive a scale-spell-component that replaces material components/divine foci and replace regular bloodline powers with a breath weapon. White Worm Apostates, oracles tainted as undragons, receive degrees of fortification and may disgorge a swarm of consuming, maggot-like worms and later, rise as a twisted phoenix from their corpse 1/day – a very powerful archetype that absolutely *requires* the immense social stigma associated with the white worm to be added to the campaign.
Now the racial paragon-class, which covers 20 levels, nets the tanimin full BAB-progression, 3 good saves,d12, 4+HD skills per level, no proficiencies apart from natural weapons. The tanimin also receives a draconic essence – each of which provides one type of scaling energy resistance, a color, a breath weapon type and a unique compulsion, which always remains hard for the dragon to refrain from doing – Which fits in thematically nice with the overall theme of draconic types – a total of 20 such essences can be found herein. Additionally, at 1st level, 7th, 13th and 19th level, the draconic exemplar can choose draconic weaponry – these can be used 1/2 class level + con-mod times per day. Rather interesting – if applicable, their save-DC is governed by either con or cha, depending on the ability. They include fascination-inducing gazes, bolstering oneself against assaults, receiving the breath weapon associated with the chosen essence, minor spellcasting, elemental aura, charging through allies, enemies etc. Additionally, at 2nd level and every 3 levels thereafter, the exemplar receives a draconic defense, which is chosen from its own list – rerolls versus sonic/language-dependent spells, evasion while airborne, spell resistance (even reflective one!) – quite an array of iconic tricks here.
As if that wasn’t enough, we receive a third list of special abilities – draconic gifts – chosen at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, they are also governed by con or cha, depending on the ability. These gifts usually require a specific draconic essence to pull off – without access to energy (acid) and a corresponding breath weapon, you can’t make pools of acid, to give you an example. Adding an auto-trip on a failed save to the breath weapon would be possible, as if lacing the bite with the breath weapon’s energy. Somewhat metamagic-y tricks based on using draconic weaponry’s daily uses as a resource for bonus damage, growing an alignment detecting pearl that works with Tanimin exclusively, adding poison to the breath, mastery of the elements, shapechanging into a humanoid, better frightful presence while airborne or increased speed/expanded class skill lists – the choices are many and while some are limited and available only to specific alternate racial trait choices of the tanimin, the sheer amount is rather impressive, though you’ll be expect to do some very careful reading here – quite a few combos are available only to specific builds and locking yourself out of a specific option might be something you wish to avoid.
Now you may have noticed that I’ve been mentioning flight and that the base race does not offer this. Well, here’s where dracomorphosis comes into play – gained at 4th level, this one nets you increased reach with the bite, secondary wing attacks (or gore for Lung-dragons), AC and attribute bonuses and size increases – and flight. Dracomorphosis is gained every 4 levels thereafter, allowing the tanimin to grow to gargantuan size at 16th level – the race also reduces dex during the size-increases and receives tail sweeps, crushes etc. Which is damn cool, granted…but what happens if dex drops to 0? No, I’m not kidding – with a total reduction of -8 to dex, this is a real possibility. And yes, I am aware of how this sort of thing is usually handled with monster-advancement, but the point remains that this pdf ought to have tackled this particular issue. The capstone is, of course, the final great wyrm apotheosis.
Of course, we also receive quite an array of new feats – additional uses of draconic weaponry, additional draconic defenses and gifts, better crushing, breath weapon modification, turning claws into primary natural weapons and high-level appendage severing (and even vorpal!) natural attacks become part of the deal.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glaring glitches. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked and with an array of different, neat full-color artworks of various styles.
Wendall Roy’s Tanimin have a difficult standing with me – as perhaps the ultimate of high-powered races, at least concept-wise, playing dragons is honestly not something I’m the target demographic for. The issue is simple – make them balanced versus standard races and you have pseudo-dragons (pardon the pun) or make them as they should be and you have over-powered beasts. *Personally*, for me dragons are the apex-predators and anything that diminishes them is not something I tend to enjoy. The narrative frame provided herein would be a neat way to offset this particular issue – and one that I wholeheartedly applaud.
So are the tanimin deadly? YES. They are. While their most powerful draconic weaponry thankfully has a daily limitation imposed on them, the sheer array of natural weapons and powerful options available make them formidable foes. The almost universally applicable archetype for draconic growth is a great way of handling adventuring tanimin of all couleur. And I do really like the highly modular draconic racial paragon class – much more so than I deemed possible.
Are the tanimin perfect? No – they have a bit of “rules-fat” that could be trimmed so they work better for less high-powered campaigns, the same problem many races balanced with rough regards to the ARG have…but then again, they probably don’t belong there in the first place. And yes, they are better balanced than *A LOT* of the ARG races. Two sets of alternate racial stats are geared towards martials/casters, respectively – and I’m not a big fan of that, preferring a more universal take (as per the default attribute-array) – but since that is easily disallowed/adjusted to your personal preference, again, at best a minor nitpick. Now as a DM’s toolbox, this is one glorious book, an alternate, highly modular toolbox to make dragons work more as a force/nation, rather than individuals – also thanks to quick and dirty, by no means extensive, but at least existing, renown/reputation-rules.
Now as for the player-part – the tanimin are not a weak race and you should be aware of that as a DM. Not all campaigns will find them fitting in well; If magic items are e.g. pretty rare for you, these guys immediately lose one of their drawbacks, the decreased slot-array. That being said, if you don’t play your cards right as a tanimin-PC, you can still pretty easily die – the tanimin’s defenses, in spite of armor, SR, DR etc. are pretty weak and while they can wreak deadly havoc, they will also find themselves at the highest priority to kill of just about any foe – after all, who do you kill first? Easy, the friggin’ dragon! Add to that the big form and thus, high chance of being a target of enemies/in the AoE of spells…you get the drift. Increased cost of armor and the resource-expenditure (either in items or abilities chosen) to maintain adventuring shape (shapechange to fit into tunnels, etc.) required for them also are rather ingenious, subtle balancing mechanisms. Now the oracle archetype definitely only belongs into DM-hands, but the rest of the options provided may be strong, but aren’t broken per se.
In fact, in spite of my admitted trepidations against the very notion of playing dragons, I can’t find it in me to bash these guys. While a couple of the abilities (crush, tail sweep, breath-tricks, etc.) are powerful and lend themselves to the full-blown knee-jerk reaction of screaming “This is OP”, actually playing the beasts tells a different story – the larger dragons require room to properly act and that is simply not always there. The decreased slot-array for magic items also hampers them at high level play, offsetting some of the admittedly meat-grinding oomph their array of natural weapons may cause. When they *can* act a perfect round, the player *will* be grinning, though, as damage keeps piling up. So, how to rate this, then? That’s a tough one. For DMs, I’ll settle on a full-blown get-this-recommendation to up their draconic arsenal or simply to use the tanimin as a much cooler draconic race that mops the floor with draconians, half-dragons etc. – they have the better flair, fluff, etc. For players – IF you are playing a high-fantasy campaign and lean towards the higher end of the power-spectrum, go for this. For low-powered games…why are you reading a review on playing DRAGONS? Kidding aside, there are some minor rough patches here and there and with the significant array of unconventional tricks usually reserved for apex predators and monsters, especially inexperienced DMs should *very* carefully read this one, lest it prove too much for them. On the other hand, one may argue that the “KILL THE DRAGON!!!”-factor, social stigma etc. can help quite a bit streamlining this one further.
For me personally, the pdf clocks in at 4 stars due to aforementioned minor hick-ups and my own mentality towards when to play dragons as PCs (In short: Not in my campaign.); As a reviewer, I have to applaud the significant task and achievement that this pdf represents – streamlining the collective of dragonkind into an actually rather well-crafted race that should work perfectly in most campaigns that take up the theme of draconic PCs. As such, this would be a 4.5 stars file, due to the minor issues here and there, but one I grudgingly have to round up – the tanimin’s flavor is too interesting, the options too varied and the racial paragon class ultimately, too cool to ignore or even call “only” good. DMs – to properly judge the impact of this class, don’t just stare pale-faced at the potential calculated damage output of a full attack; Instead, make a PC, run the character to ye average module (NOT a simulated fight in a vacuum)- you’ll see what I’d call intangible (i.e. non-math) balance factors – which for once, work in favor of this book.
Congratulations to Wendall Roy for pulling off this stunt – consider me definitely looking forward to the planned expansion!