So this is the first installment of Rite Publishing’s new “Variant Foes”-series – content-wise, it clocks in at a more than solid 47 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with a massive 42 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?
Red dragons…the most iconic apex predators EVER. I have, at length, complained about overusing dragons, forgetting that these majestic creatures are supposed to be the most powerful threats PCs face – and this pdf seeks to bring back the unpredictability back to dragons – and unpredictable they are. In case you didn’t know, statblock supremo Justin Sluder, responsible for the deliciously complex characters we know from the Faces of the Tarnished Souk-series, is also responsible for the statblocks herein – you won’t find a single lame dragon/simple build herein. Now in this series, he has teamed up with Elaine Betts -so let’s take a look at what this duo delivers, shall we?
Well, first of all, we get Rite Publishing’s by now almost trademark frame narrative that cloaks the content herein in a guise that makes the crunch not only more digestible, but actually a pleasure to read. Each entry features an IC-narrative of the respective draconic entity, supplemented by a note from the researcher Leiraleen Amelour. Now CR-wise, the entities herein range from CR 30 (!!!) to CR 3. Now the CR 30 beast would be Seer Hekush – a chronicler of ages not really from this planet and neither a true dragon in the classic sense – this man is actually a LN bipedal accelerated dread mummy undead lord very young red dragon diviner 11/loremaster 10 that wields his sarcopahgus as a kind of armor and who has seen at least two ages come and pass – at AC 56 and more than 400 HP, this eternal chronicler of the ages sets a high standard – one, as I’m happy to report, the other beings herein live up to:
Take the Fould Dcotor Feulzik – CR 28 mythic runecarved savant great wyrm red dragon (OUCH!) who experiments with the very essences of life and death, seeking to probe (and possibly transcend) the limitations of vital essence itself. Or take Unja of the Undying Fire, a divine ravener divine channeler undead dragon that can blast foes to smithereens with fire both black and searing hot, annihilating any opposition and “elevating” adversaries to glorious living death. Need some draconic goodness that is a bit more subtle? What about a bipedal exemplar multiarmed mystic dragon ninja? OUUUUCH!!! Just contemplating the PAIN these beings may mete out makes me chuckle with fiendish glee!
Are you a fan of Warhammer’s two-headed chaos dragons? Well, this supplement has got you covered and also features one (or is it two?) of these as well as hellfire dragons, furnace dragons with weapon master levels, stealthy pygmy dragons, a crippled invulnerable rager, a dragon tired of life, yet afraid of death, young (and cowardly dragons) and a (probably) kind of cute wyrmling that has been unhinged by being suffused with chaos magic that infects those around him.
The book also chronicles the tools made to create these magnificent beasts: 7 templates,11 feats, 1 spell, 1 magic item, 2 arcane discoveries, all necessary information for divine channeling as well as the properties of quintessence.
Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect – I noticed some minor glitches here and there, no crucial ones, though. Layout adheres to RiP’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a significant amount of full color artworks, many of which I have not seen before – and some of these artworks are downright awe-inspiring, so kudos indeed! The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
OH BOY! What a way to start a series, what a way! The dragons herein run the gamut from cool in character and build and rather common and easily inserted to downright GLORIOUS BEASTS that should more than satisfy even the most discerning of tastes wishing for exceedingly complex builds. Even in Rite’s tradition of complex, cool builds, these stand out and mark this pdf as one damn fine example of the art of NPC/monster-craft that has me clamoring for more! If you liked the complex builds of the Faces of the Tarnished Souk-series, if you hate standard dragons as used in so many modules, give these a go – the beings herein live up to the terror they ought to inspire and definitely are anything but common. Remarkable, complex and a good read to boot – well worth 5 stars + seal of approval!