A 30 page book, the Midgard Player's Guide to the Dragon Empire is a very attractive PDF, with an accent framed parchment style background to the pages, heraldry shield page decorations, both color and B&W artwork, a predominately two column layout and truly astounding editing work. Where as the TOC is not linked, the PDF comes with nested bookmarks that handle the issue just fine.
So, the Dragon Empire...Imagine for a second what would happen if the biggest and baddest dragons out there got tired of defending themselves constantly. If they got tired of having to put out their own efforts to keep their lands and hordes growing. What would happen if egos and personal ambition could be put aside long enough to realize an alliance, a council if you will, would be beneficial for far more reasons than not. From this the Mharoti Empire came into being, named for the dragon who brought the proposal to his fellow dragons within the lands that came to be ruled by the empire.
The really cool thing here in this concept is that we have a very familiar thing here, in that a ruling council governing a large body of people living in various social castes, but we are presented something very new and fresh at the same time. The idea of a society that is in fact designed to favor the scaled races, while allowing for the usage and growth of the various “hairy” species is really cool. We are given not only the social caste and who falls where, but the terminology in Draconic for each level. Coolest thing there in regards to the draconic language being incorporated? We get a common phrase straight from the lips of the Jambuka (Jackals – or to be less polite, us humans and our fellow hair growers). Now, the oddball thing here is that the office of power within the empire is given to a human, as the dragon lords recognized that they could never trust each other to rule the collective lands and amassed armies. Where as the position carries a great deal of power with it, in the end it is a puppet string away from the teeth of the Great Dragon Lords, and the Sultanate lives a life of constantly trying to balance the desires of her draconic masters.
A collection of new traits provided give plenty of options for characters who choose to be from the Dragon Empires as opposed to merely traveling there. Several of the traits however seem to be missing their prerequisites. By the wording, and the sheer names of some of the traits it is not hard to see what the prerequisites should be, but a GM will need to impose them to avoid those players looking for loopholes, as gaining traits benefiting from draconic heritage when one need not be of draconic descent could make it very easy for someone to gain an unfair advantage. As an example of what it is I am referring to I offer up the trait Quick and Cunning Kobold Child - Your quick wits and quicker reflexes are reflective of your kobold ancestry. Now, I'm not going to list the benefit here, but I will say that there is no requirement for you to be either kobold, or at least have an associated bloodline, even though the wording makes it pretty clear you're supposed to. Now, there are section heads detailing for some of the groupings of traits (Combat, Magical, etc.) to whom they are supposed to belong, but there are several points where no distinction has been made, and I find only one trait that specifically has a prerequisite. We are also given a full set of traits that are specifically linked to certain races, as explained in the section lead-in, and the names of each trait. To be clear my complaint in regards to missing prerequisites is for various traits before the racial traits section.
So, that out of the way, what are we getting out of this traits section? A lot. 43 traits in total, with my favorite out of them all being Draconic Trait. This trait allows ANYONE to take a trait meant only for dragons, drakes and dragonkin. It still has its limitations to keep one from going insane, but it does allow you to replace a racial trait with one from the kobold or dragonkin options. A very cool way to allow for the idea that those who live amongst and serve the reptilian races will, in time, pick things up.
24 new Feats make up the next section of the book, with a small sidebar recommending how to handle playing a Drake as a PC race. A great deal of the feats here help take a dragonkin or kobold a step further towards their ancestral big cousins, with feats covering flying, gliding, thicker hide, breath weapons and the such. But there are plenty of feats here for any and all races as well, and even feats to recognize the four elemental gods of the dragons of this region as well. A decent collection of feats, with prerequisites in place and a couple of small feat chains for those who love to link their feats for bigger and better effects.
The next section brings us the archetypes and prestige classes for the Dragon Empire, and the first offering impressed me to no end. Order of the Firedrake (Cavalier Archetype) is in fact a rider, be it dragon or drake, aimed at being that character on the battlefield inspiring and leading her allies into combat with a roar on her lips, and the blood of her enemies painting the ground beneath her. An impressive set of class abilities, my favorite being Dragon Strike (15th level she brings her allies with her on a charge attack, granting them an attack on their move as long as they reach a target...imagine the damage of such an attack folks). The Elemental Exarch (Druid Archetype) gives us a druid who doesn't worship nature, but rather the elements themselves, the underlying keys to nature. Gaining an elemental companion in much the same sense as an animal companion, although with several much cooler perks in regards to what one's companion can do for you, these druids can literally be fused with their elemental, gaining instant bonuses to ability scores depending upon the nature and size of the elemental.
There are 7 more archetypes covering the Magus, Dragonkin, Monk, Oracle, Rogue and Elementalist classes...and no, I didn't miscount, there are two for the Monk – Monk of the Fiery Mist and Monk of the Wind Palm. I could easily write another full page discussing these archetypes, but having nothing negative to say in regards to them, I am going to move on instead to the prestige class. Dragon Emir is a full 10 level prestige class that takes what the Order of the Firedrake started in whetting my appetite with a mounted concept and kicks it into high gear. The Dragon Emir are the elite, those few chosen to ride draconic mounts in to combat, leading the charge, rallying the troops and devastating the enemy. A very cool prestige class, even if it is limited to only the scaly races, lol.
Now what good would a book introducing us to a new lands and society be without a section on new magics, right? Thankfully the Kobolds agree, and they have graced us with 17 new spells to make you twirl your mustache while laughing evilly...mwahahaha...oh..ahem..sorry. So, spells, let's discuss my new favoritest spell for the week...Coin Swarm. Turn any pile of 1,000 coins into a freaking swarm of flying cutting whirling disks of metal, with all the bonuses of potential exotic metals (cold iron, silver, etc.)...I warn my players here and now, as I know a few of them read my reviews...every dragon from this day forward will know this spell....lol. Wyvern's Sting does one of two things, either it transforms the end of a character's tail into the whiplike stinger of a wyvern dealing Con damage, or for those PCs without tails it grows a full wyvern tail for the duration of the spell dealing the same damage as above.
Fiery Sandstorm brings into being a bludgeoning sandstorm enhanced with burning damage as well thanks to the flames licking through the sand. Extra perk? Natural flight impossible, and spell chuckers have to make concentration checks or fall back to manual labor while in the midst of the sandstorm.
A sampling of the exotic goods of these lands closes us out, and is truly the only place in the PDF where I feel let down. We open with a collection of monsters and animals that serve different purposes within these lands, and the list for the most part makes perfect sense and really helps sell the fact that a great deal of the Dragon Empires is in fact a desert nation ruled by draconic races. However, in the intro to these animals and their usages it is mentioned that zombies and yeti are amongst the creatures imported for usage, but they do not appear in the actual write ups, so we are not given a reason for them to be there. From the imported critters we move along to some of the more exotic wares one would find amongst the bazaars of these lands you might not find back home, like Aboleth Brain, or Basilisk Heart (both a delicacy amongst dragons), various weaponry for those with a draconic body frame, poisons that will overcome a dragon's natural resistance to sleep and paralysis...just over all cool exotic stuff...with no prices. And that is where we hit my disappointment with this book. This insanely cool chapter filled with really cool new gear, with no simple chart showing us weights, prices, etc...the basic information we need for gear to incorporate it properly. I can overlook the zombie and yeti being left out of the first part of this chapter, but teasing me with all of this cool gear, and then not giving me prices and basic info...ouch.
Four new magical rugs/carpets tie it all up as the last offerings in this PDF, with a magical trap in the form of a Carpet of Confusion, another in the Rug of Suffocation and Flying Carpet of Suffocation offering the more mobile version of the rug of the same name. The Teleportation Carpet allows for instant transport between two rugs sharing the same plane as long as one knows the correct activation word, unless of course these are set up as traps as well, causing any and all who step upon them to be whisked away...ah traps, wrapped up in cool magical items...gotta love it.
Which brings me to the final thoughts and rating. Overall, I loved this book. I did. My only real complaint is that the chapter handling gear feels like it is missing a very vital chart, detailing not only the gear, but the weaponry introduced there as well. The problem is I don't feel that is a small thing, as it leaves us without prices for any of it, let alone weights. Luckily, this is the type of thing that would take up enough of a page all on it's own it could easily be drawn up and released in the form of an enhancement to avoid having to update the PDF. Hopefully we'll see such a chart at some point.
Now, on to the positive stuff...everything else. No really, this PDF is solid, and introduces a really cool new locale for your Midgard campaign. Not playing in Midgard? Not an issue, a scaly race empire could easily make any campaign world it is dropped in a cooler place to play within. The art is very thematic and will have you thinking along the lines of Persia, Arabia and the vast deserts...well, except for the tribute piece to the classic arcade game Joust....lol, that piece alone needs to be put on T-shirts...just saying Wolfgang, put me down for one, lol.
OK, so, rating. I'm settling at a 4.5, with a rounded rating of 5 for the purposes of this forum, but I am going to clarify that the only reason I am not giving a true 5 is the lack of important information in regards to the new items and gear. And I do hope that something formal is made available to address this.