In an exclusive interview, the designers of the new D&D sourcebook Draconomicon talk about dragons, dragons, and more dragons . . . in all shapes, sizes, colors, and dispositions.
Wizards of the Coast: A book like this has been a long time coming. Why haven't we seen it before now? And where did it begin?
Andy Collins: I remember talking about this project as early as 2001 or so, during our regular "What are we going to write next?" meetings. At one point, it was tentatively slated as a full-blown coffee table book with only minimal game material. We eventually realized that that wasn't our strong point, but the notion that this book should be art-intensive stuck around.
James Wyatt: There was a 2nd Edition Forgotten Realms book called Draconomicon, but it took until 3rd Edition for D&D to have the tools in its toolbox to make a book like this. The old Draconomicon couldn't have prestige classes for dragons, for example, because putting a class on a monster is a concept that didn't exist in the rules at the time. Once 3rd Edition made this book possible, it was simply a matter of time until we got around to doing it. We had other bases we had to cover first, but this was high on our priority list.
Skip Williams: I was an early proponent of the coffee table book, mostly because I knew that artists Todd Lockwood and Sam Wood had lots of ideas and unpublished sketches lying round from their initial work on D&D 3.0. So you could say this book has been in the works for a while.
Wizards of the Coast: How did you divide up the work?
Andy: It was basically a matter of Skip creating an outline (with Design Manager Ed Stark) and then meeting with James and me to decide how we'd divvy up the material. I definitely had a preference for player-friendly material, so I took the bulk of that section (including prestige classes, feats, spells, and equipment).
James: I expressed my preference for the new material designed for dragons -- the prestige classes and spells and such intended to make dragons even tougher opponents.
Skip: Once I had an outline in hand, it was just a matter of making sure everyone got some choice bits. Having had my fill of rules writing after working on D&D 3.0, I was happy to get down and dirty with the artists about what makes dragons tick. Because I went first, I was able to poach on the other designers' turf a little bit here and there.
Wizards: A number of elements in this book are going to bowl players over. Take, for instance, dragon prestige classes. Or the various prestige classes for players who want to be dragonriders or hoardstealers. Do you have favorites among these? Do you think certain classes will find favor with DMs for dragon NPCs or with players for their PCs?
Andy: I like the "dragoncraft" items -- potent pieces of equipment that can be crafted from a dragon's parts, such as a dragonfang weapon or the potent blood elixir. They're great additions to any game, but particularly for those who favor "flavorful" magic or quasi-magical items over the Dungeon Master's Guide's catalog-like approach.
One advantage in creating new prestige classes for player characters in this book was that I could take it for granted that dragons would be a significant part of the DM's campaign. (After all, if you're not using dragons in your game, you're probably not reading this book.) Classes that might, in another book, seem too specific in their approach (such as the dragon stalker or hoardstealer) instead turn out to be perfectly suited to the campaign.
James: The dragon prestige classes are my favorite part of the book, though the lazy DM in me is particularly fond of the 120 sets of dragon stats. I think that DMs will get a kick out of trying out a bunch of those dragon prestige classes to keep the players on their toes. The first time the PCs encounter a bloodscaled fury, I think they'll never look at another dragon encounter the same way again.
Skip: It's tough to beat all those cool prestige classes, so I'll just add a few notes here. Metabreath feats are going to shock a few players. The DM tips on running dragons are pretty sweet; when the DM starts putting those into play, the campaign will change. A badly played dragon is just another monster. A dragon played as a dragon should be darn scary, even without all the extras we've added.
Wizards: The new monsters are outstanding. (The vampiric dragon is unusually terrifying, and hats off to whoever designed that one -- though you'll undoubtedly get some hate mail from players who've lost PCs to one!) What are your personal favorites?
Andy: My favorites are the elemental drakes and the landwyrms. These categories of creatures contain a wide range of challenges for DMs who like throwing dragons at their PCs, but they're far easier to run than a true dragon. That's great for the DM who wants the threat of a 30HD dragon, but not the headache of spellcasting, multiple special abilities, and so forth.
James: I wrote the fiendish dragons, originally intended for the Fiend Folio (which ran out of room for them). I love those.
Skip: Love those landwyrms! Early on, we agreed to devote space in the book to more monsters that had the dragon type, but weren't true dragons (wyverns were getting lonely). I think we've presented a great selection here.
Wizards: Were hordes of PCs wiped out during playtests of the new monsters and combat scenarios?
Andy: The characters in my campaign went up against a tundra landwyrm, and were quite surprised when it snatched one of them up in its claw and started drinking his blood. From that point on, they referred to it as the "vampire dragon," and were quite eager to bargain with the monster instead of facing it in a fight.
Skip: Our online playtesters worked with most of the new rules in the book. There weren't piles and piles of casualties unless we'd guessed wrong on something (such as a monster CR). Any dragon can be bad news, but a dragon's the worst when it's free to fly around, and doubly so when it doesn't have anything to defend. (Thanks to its speed, spells, and that awesome breath weapon, a dragon is the master of the hit and run.) When a dragon catches you in the open, be prepared to negotiate or run for cover, because it's a sure bet you'll have to do one or the other.
Wizards: What's the one dragon in the book you'd most like to avoid in a face-off?
James: Um . . . I'd avoid the really old ones.
Andy: Personally, the monster I'd least like to run into isn't any of the dragons, but rather the tiniest creature in the book. I'd name it here, but I don't want to steal some DM's surprise. Let's just say this: Greedy characters, beware!
Wizards of the Coast: Draconomicon seems astonishingly complete to me. Did anything end up on the cutting room floor? Are there areas that you would have liked to explore in greater depth?
Andy: We didn't get to include as many sample dragon encounters as we would have liked (the 120 dragon stat blocks sort of crowded those out). Still, the simple fact that the DM with this book now has 120 fully written dragons for his campaign should supply an awful lot of encounters.
James: Whenever I'm working on a project, I maintain a "cut file" of material that gets taken out for whatever reason. I don't have one for this book. I think that if you look really closely, you'll find a kitchen sink in there somewhere.
Skip: Every point on the original outline got at least some page space. I don't know about kitchen sinks, but if you read this book, you know the dragons of the D&D game literally inside and out. It's worth noting that this book is about the dragons of the D&D game. Just about every culture has myths about dragons, but D&D dragons represent a unique mix of power, guile, and sheer elemental fury.
Wizards: With all this new information about dragons, what's next for dragons in future adventures or sourcebooks?
James: Without saying too much, I think you can look forward to some new and interesting roles for dragons in the Eberron Campaign Setting, coming out next summer. Ooh, and don't forget the dragon miniatures coming up in the Dragoneye set of minis! Those are some sweet figures.
Skip: The name of the game is Dungeons & Dragons -- that just about says it all.
Andy: As the name of the game suggests, we're keen on dragons around here. I fully expect that you'll continue to see them holding their rightful place of honor in products for a long time to come.
Wizards: What are you working on right now that you can tell fans about?
Andy: By now, people have undoubtedly heard about Unearthed Arcana, the next book hitting the shelves with my name on it. The new UA is a treasure trove of new and variant rules for DMs and players, from variant core classes to optional combat rules to rules subsystems entirely new to D&D (such as sanity rules, taken from the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game. The UA design team (including Jesse Decker, David Noonan, Rich Redman, Ed Stark, and me) aimed to recapture the spirit of the original Unearthed Arcana -- one of wonder and excitement at all the new possibilities within its covers -- without simply relying on the formula it used (new races, new classes, new spells, new magic items, etc.), which has since been replicated in hundreds of other game products.
After that, things get a little murkier. My next project doesn't come out until fall of 2004, but it's guaranteed to send a chill down the players' spines. [Insert evil laughter here.]
James: My next project out will be the Player's Guide to Faerūn, due to release in March. After that, it's all about Eberron, which has occupied most of my life for the last several months. I wrote about a third of the campaign setting book (as well as participating a lot in the world development), and I'm almost done with my part of the first Eberron sourcebook.
Skip: Print versions of Cry Havoc hit the shelves this month. (It has been available as a PDF since late July.) Cry Havoc is my book on war in d20 fantasy campaigns from Malhavoc Press. You'll also be seeing a brand new feature from me on the Wizards website starting in January (the tentative title is "Rules School"). The column turns a microscope on some of the more troublesome aspects of the D&D rules. I have other projects in the works, but those are the ones I can talk about!