There’s that one gamer at every table that seems to approach the game with the idea that irreverence is the soul of fun; that is, they draw joy from taking nothing seriously, regardless of the circumstances or consequences of doing so. The challenge for the GM, and often the other players, is usually to find a way to make that PC function within the boundaries of the game, where the player can be true to what they want, without being disruptive.
I mention this because Jon Brazer Enterprises’ Book of Heroic Races: Half-Faerie Dragons, seems to be aimed squarely at this middle route. Shockingly, it actually seems to manage to walk it. Let’s take a closer look.
The book comes with the requisite aspects of a PDF product, in that it has full nested bookmarks and copy-and-paste is enabled. More striking, however, is the book’s spartan visual presentation. Now, to be clear, there is artwork here, having several color and black-and-white pieces, usually set in the center of the page with the two columns of text flowing around them. The issue here is that that isn’t enough.
The nature of half-faerie dragons is that they’re Chaotic Outgoing, possessing a manic nature with a focus on pranks and illusions. It’s therefore something of an irony that, save for the aforementioned art, the book presents itself with stark austerity. There are no page borders here, nor are there any backgrounds; just black text on white pages. Normally I’m glad for printer-friendly materials in a PDF product, but here the contrast is sharp enough with the subject matter that I can’t help but find it somewhat ironic.
The heavy text itself has an off-putting effect, albeit a very slight one. While most of the pages have their visual design enhanced with bullet points, tables, sidebars, or the aforementioned art, you will run across the occasional page with densely-packed text and little else. It’s somewhat fitting that these sections tend to be the flavor text for half-faerie dragons, as it pretty well encapsulates the idea of them fluttering around you and chattering at you nonstop.
The book opens with roughly a page-and-a-quarter of framing fiction which very clearly encapsulates not only the mania but the magical nature that are archetypal among half-faerie dragons, after which we’re presented with their racial stats. I frowned just a little to see that they didn’t have the Advanced Race Guide-style racial point breakdown for their race’s abilities; this isn’t a big deal, but it references the ARG for one or two other things (such as alternate racial abilities, though it notes that are also found in the Advanced Player’s Guide), so their lack of inclusion is somewhat notable. Also, half-faerie dragons have the “draconic” subtype?
The book doesn’t dive into the crunch straight away, however, as we’re given several more pages of the flavor text, Core Rulebook-style, about things like half-faerie dragons appearance, alignment, why they advanture, etc. The surprising length of each section is characteristic of the book where non-mechanical aspects of the race are concerned, and is something I’m of two minds about. One the one hand, all too often we’re given a new race without any real idea of what makes them different – they’re given a few broad (and often predictable) strokes regarding the roles they fall into, and that’s that. Here, at least, the author is trying to give us more than just a few sweeping statements about half-faerie dragons; he’s clearly got a very specific idea in mind and wants to communicate that.
The drawback to this strong authorial voice is that, in addition to simply being daunting at times, it can also start to feel something like a straitjacket. The idea of half-faerie dragons as giddy magical pranksters is hammered home quite often throughout the book, to the point where you have a hard time seeing a half-faerie dragon character any other way. If a new race can be typecast right out of the gate, the half-faerie dragon surely has been.
I also can’t help but bring up the book’s stance that, yes while the occasional half-faerie dragon is the result of a faerie-dragon/humanoid pairing, most are born to existing half-faerie dragons. In other words, that there’s already a stable population of these half-breeds so that they now breed true. While not quite as disingenuous as Paizo’s “most half-dragons are the results of magical experiments, and not that dragons are kinky…honest,” it still smacks of a taking the easy way out regarding the thorny issue of half-faerie dragons being prevalent enough to get their own sourcebook to begin with. It’s not an issue of practicality, but it was still mildly irking regardless.
Beyond this, the book (quite wisely) switches back and forth between fluff and crunch as it progresses. We’re given a suite of half-faerie dragon-specific traits, alternate racial abilities, and favored class bonuses, after which is a large section on their psychology and lands, before dealing with their vital statistics tables (for which I give props for remembering an oft-forgotten part of including a new race). Following this are new archetypes and prestige classes, feats, and equipment.
The above new crunch is good, but nothing that sets a new standard, with one exception. Early in the book the flavor text tries to paint the picture that half-faerie dragons are drawn to arcane magic holistically, that they trend towards preparatory and spontaneous arcane spellcasting, rather than one or the other. If that seems odd, it struck me that way too, until I saw the new prestige class here: the dappled theurge. I was quite struck by this, because it’s essentially a mystic theurge prestige class for preparatory and spontaneous arcane spellcasters. On paper, this may sound like a silly idea, but it works…or at least, it works as well as the normal mystic theurge PrC does, which meanst hat, at the very least, it puts the idea of a multiclass preparatory/spontaneous character in the realm of something feasible – it’s something genuinely new, and given that it’s done by using such a small yet artful twist on an existing PrC, it’s truly notable for that.
Three new faerie dragon deities are presented, forming their own mini-pantheon for religiously-inclined half-faerie dragons. The deities themselves are presented in something of an abstract way, denoting their relationship to each other more than how they interact with mortals, though they do note how mortals tend to view them. I appreciate that these write-ups included subdomains and oracle mysteries, but it was slightly vexing that their holy symbols weren’t listed (nor, to be exceptionally picky, are inquisitions, a minor game mechanic introduced in Ultimate Magic for the inquisitor class).
Several new spells, magic items, and even artifacts follow, before the book takes a long look at several half-faerie dragon communities (no community stats given) and how to use the race in your game, finally closing out with three NPCs.
That’s the entire book in a nutshell. Overall, how much you take away from this is likely to depend strongly on to what degree the author’s intent for the race influences you. Without a doubt, there’s enough new mechanics here that you could do a great deal with half-faerie dragon PCs and NPCs for quite a while. It’s the flavor text, however, that will likely make or break your enthusiasm for what’s here – if you agree with and like the idea of this as a race of merry magic pranksters, but still want to really role-play them, then you’ll likely find this book to be made out of solid gold. On the other hand, if you find preconceived notions and attitudes for the race your playing to be obstacles more than springboards, then you’ll probably feel like you’re swimming upstream against the author’s writing.
Having said that, I do appreciate that having more to work with, even if you don’t agree with what’s here, is far better than lacking material to work with at all. When it comes to new races, less is not more. Given that, and that the other issues I had with the book were small omissions and stylistic disagreements, I can’t find any reason to give the Book of Heroic Races: Half-Faerie Dragons full marks. Five out of five fluttery butterfly wings.
[5 of 5 Stars!]