Thursday 15 August 2013

Dragonslayer's Handbook

Now that the dragons have been unleashed, it’s time to train, gather equipment and supplies, and set out to slay them! For those in need of a few tricks of the trade to help them slay a dragon, there’s the Dragonslayer’s Handbook. This Player Companion book provides players with background information on dragons, new feats and archetypes focused on dragonslaying, new spells, new equipment, and more.

There’s no denying that the Dragonslayer’s Handbook is a bit of a niche product. It’s geared towards player characters who intend to make a career out of slaying dragons, and many of the abilities and archetypes won’t see much use unless the campaign features dragons quite regularly. As such, the book may not be of great value to many games. However, those games that do focus more heavily on dragons will find much to benefit from in the book. There are some very nifty new options in here, including a whole new category of equipment called dragoncraft items, along with the aforementioned feats, spells, etc. That’s also not to say campaigns that only feature dragons occasionally can’t gain any benefit from the book. Dragoncraft items can easily show up in any campaign, as can the other equipment and many of the spells. It will just have lower utility in such cases.

Like most Player Companions, the Dragonslayer’s Handbook opens with an overview of its topic, providing what is considered common knowledge about dragons (information that doesn’t require a Knowledge check to know). This includes basic information about the ten most well-known types of dragons (the five chromatic and five metallic). It then goes on to advise how best to prepare to slay a dragon and provides a few equipment kits that may be useful. Next up is information on typical dragon lairs, including forest, march, mountain, underground, and underwater lairs.

The meat of the book really starts with the chapter “Dealing with Dragons”. One thing I’ve really liked about how Paizo has handled Pathfinder is that it continues to support options introduced in later books, not just the initial core books, which tended to be the pattern with 3.5 D&D. As well as providing extensive advice on bargaining with dragons, this chapter includes three new bardic masterpieces. Masterpieces were first introduced in Ultimate Magic, and are special performance abilities that bards can gain by sacrificing a feat or spell known. Of the new masterpieces here, Ancients’ Flight, is particularly fun. It compels dragons to recite an epic poem telling the story of their race’s creation, making it impossible for them to use their bite attacks, breath weapons, spells with vocal components, or any other activity involving their mouths for the duration of the effect.

The next chapter provides brief backgrounds on six of the most notorious dragons on Golarion. Five of these dragons are detailed in Dragons Unleashed, making this a nice cross-over reference between the two products and can help gamemasters looking to set up the presence of one or more of these dragons in their games. The sixth dragon is Mengkare, the gold dragon ruler of Hermea, who is briefly detailed in the Inner Sea World Guide. There is also a sidebar containing a new story feat, Dragon-Touched (continuing the support of newer options—story feats were first introduced in Ultimate Campaign). Story feats have a tendency to be quite specific, and players need to work with their gamemasters to be sure any story feat is appropriate for their campaigns. However, Dragon-Touched is very specific and very niche. The initial benefit provides bonuses against a particular type of dragon chosen by the player, such as a blue dragon. While the bonuses are quite decent, to get much use out of the feat, you need to encounter multiple blue dragons (or whatever dragon type you’ve chosen) over the course of the campaign. The completion benefit allows you to add additional dragon types, but even there you must first defeat one of those types without the benefit of the feat before gaining its benefit on further dragons. This means you also have to encounter multiples of each type to see use of the feat’s abilities. It’s a feat that will require quite a lot of patience for little gain, and I can’t imagine many players selecting it.

After providing some information on lesser dragonkind (such as drakes, linnorms, and wyverns), and an absolutely wonderful centre-spread diagram of dragon anatomy, the book introduces dragoncrafting. By taking the new Dragoncrafting feat, characters can create dragoncraft items, special equipment made from the body parts of dragons. Dragoncraft items are very similar to alchemical items—indeed, several dragoncraft items (such as Dahak’s fire and dragon’s gut) actually require Craft (alchemy) in addition to the Dragoncrafting feat. Overall, the abilities of dragoncraft items are not substantially different from many alchemical items, so not everyone may see the utility in the Dragoncrafting feat when they can just put some ranks in Craft (alchemy) and use their feat slot for something else. However, dragoncraft items do add an interesting bit of colour to the game. I’m tempted to remove the feat requirement in my games and just make it a branch of alchemical items that require fresh dragon parts in order to create them.

The next chapter covers several dragonslaying organizations from across the Inner Sea region and provides some suggestions for forming your own dragonslaying group. There are also three new teamwork feats for ganging up on dragons.

The remaining chapters focus heavily on new mechanical options. There are three new archetypes (dragon drinker for sorcerers, dragon hunter for rangers, and wyrm sniper for gunslingers), quite a few new feats and spells, and lots of new equipment and magic items. Apart from the archetypes, many of the options in these last few chapters could easily see use in more than just dragon-focused campaigns as they are things that either don’t require as heavy an investment (such as the relatively cheap dragon muzzle item) or are useful against more than just dragons. One of my favourites is Snoutgrip. This feat allows you to make an immediate action grapple attempt after a creature misses you on a bite attack. If you are successful on your grapple, you are holding the creature’s mouth shut. Of the archetypes, the wyrm sniper is actually more of a siege engine specialist than a dragon specialist, so it could work in a slightly wider variety of campaigns, but the other two are quite hyper-specialized and really only work in a dragon-focused campaign.

Although the Dragonslayer’s Handbook deals mostly with very specialized characters, campaigns focused around dragons and dragonslaying will find it a very useful book. It contains numerous new options that will help characters triumph over their dragon opponents. However, games where dragons are not the focus and only show up very occasionally will not find it all that useful. When creating characters for a new campaign, players should check with their gamemasters whether this book will be of use. If so, they can then go wild with its options. And gamemasters who include this book in their games should make sure there are lots of dragons for the PCs to fight.

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