There are some images that are the epitome of the genre they come from, whether it’s a psychic monk with a glowing energy sword for space opera or a leather-clad rebel fleeing from police on hover-bikes through the filthy alleys of a dystopia for cyberpunk. For fantasy, though, the iconic image is that of a sword-wielding hero riding on the back of a dragon. Despite its iconic stature, however, it’s not something that’s easy to pull off in your average Pathfinder game simply because of the problem with finding a dragon that your character can ride on…until OtherWorld Creations published The Genius Guide to the Dragonrider.
For a technical perspective, this PDF does relatively well. There are no bookmarks, something I prefer in PDFs, but since there are only thirteen pages here, I can’t really take off points for that. There are brief borders along the top and bottom of each page, and several full color pictures, so printing this out shouldn’t be too much trouble for anyone who wants to play one of these.
And in all honesty, who wouldn’t want to play a dragonrider? When I read the description for the book, I reflexively put my pinky to the corner of my mouth and exclaimed “Are you telling me I have a frickin’ DRAGON for a mount?” And indeed, that’s what this class offers, and that’s just for starters.
A full 20-level base class, the dragonrider has full BAB progression and all good saves. Moreover, eventually is able to cast a few levels of arcane spells (fourth being the highest), and gains new class abilities at each level (e.g. energy resistance, scent, etc.), but all of that pales in comparison to the dragon steed he gets right from 1st level. While this might sound horribly overpowered, the book actually makes it work, since the dragon is not only young, but less powerful than normal dragons, though it grows stronger as the character advances. As such, there are balancing factors like the breath weapon being very limited, the mount needing to spend an action to give the dragon full actions in combat, etc. The end result is that while there might be some issues (a flying mount that can carry you at 1st level, or trying to fit a Gargantuan dragon into a dungeon at 16th level), this class is one that stands alongside the other Pathfinder classes on relatively equal footing.
By itself, that would be an incredible accomplishment, but what really makes this book superb is the narrative descriptions for why all of this works the way it does. Author Owen K. C. Stephens has some serious RPG chops on him, and he shows it off here. Why does your dragon have less power compared to other dragons? Because its innate magic is being largely spent to fuel your mystic bond with it. Why would any dragon agree to this in the first place? Because after the rider dies, the dragon gains all the powers it’d have at the age it hits that size (since it grows larger as you gain levels) even if it’s otherwise very young. It’s this kind of in-game perspective that really makes the class shine, since it comes up with reasons for why this class works like it does, rather than glossing over those issues.
There are ten dragon types listed, those being the five chromatics and metallics, each having three special mount stat blocks for each size. In effect, this also fulfills the Pathfinder paradigm of having classes whose main feature(s) is variable, making for different iterations of the same class. A dragonrider with a silver dragon is similar to one with a red dragon, but some of the powers are altered.
Looking over this book, I tried to find some aspect of it that I was critical of, but all I really found was in the things it didn’t do. Beyond questions of bookmarks or printer-friendly versions, I can see wanting there to be some related content here, like dragonrider-specific feats or spells. That said, I really don’t think that’s much of a strike against what is here, since it’s already done very well in being mechanically balanced and flavorfully evocative. This is a strong addition to the lexicon of Pathfinder material out there, and as such I definitely recommend picking it up so you can finally make a PC that evokes that iconic image of the hero riding into battle atop his dragon.