Draconomicon I - Chromatic Dragons

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 127: Draconomicon I: Chromatic Dragons




No one is more tired of planar dragons than I am. Even when they were worthwhile and interesting, the constant barrage of them in Third Edition left me wishing for the Planescape era, where dragons were intentionally rare outside of the Prime in order to differentiate the multiverse. This differentiation is now largely gone, and one of the issues I’ve come across constantly since I began reading through D&D‘s Fourth Edition sources is that other planes of existence tend to feel little different from the Prime. Giving us yet more planar dragons only increases this issue by creating another point of similarity. My issue with the Underdark in the Feywild wasn’t so much conceptual as it was the way it created yet another point of similarity between the two worlds, such that I have difficulty telling any sort of difference at all. But despite all my protestations, it’s undeniable that Draconomicon I: Chromatic Dragons has quite a bit of planar material, not just in its dragon types but also with their lairs, and with this it also offers first glimpses of some of these newly created/reimagined planes. It’s a somewhat seminal text in this way, even if I don’t particularly care for many of the changes this edition makes with dragons, whether that be randomly renaming them (why not just let deep dragons be deep dragons and not rename them purple dragons?) or making them all potentially evil. 

I’m going to skip past the “Origins” section of this book even though it’s more-than-tangentially planar in nature, mostly because reading that type of lore in Fourth Edition is such a slog. There’s always primordials and stories that contradict every other edition of the game, and frankly I can’t really be bothered. There are now five distinct families of dragons in the game, but all of this is just annoying to consider and I’m going to really, really hope that this is dropped in Fifth Edition. Anyhow, where things become at least a bit interesting is the “Dragon Lairs” chapter, which first becomes planar when considering a Feywild lair on page 110. 

I figured “floating” bits of flesh meant in the blood, not the air, but this artwork implies otherwise.

This particular lair belongs to a green dragon named Razcoreth, who despite his color was once a pretty nice dude, never killing any victims and doing his best not to harm humanoids, just wanting them to leave his home. But then people attacked him because of course they did, and now he’s made a dark pact in exchange for assistance in not dying. It’s a pleasantly murky bit of moral ground, and leads itself to some interesting possible approaches… until you keep reading a bit, and it’s revealed that now he’s just a normal evil dragon with a compelling-yet-irrelevant backstory. His realm in the Feywild is in “the heart of an ancient forest,” which has bigger than normal tress because of its planar locale, though otherwise it’s just the same as any similar realm on the Prime. So as usual for this plane, there’s nothing terribly interesting afoot, though pursuing Razcoreth also likely means fighting dryads, hamadryads, and eladrin along the way, which seems like a fittingly Fourth Edition way of solving this and every other problem, i.e. punching anything that moves.


The next lair is also planar, though unfortunately it’s set in that other oft-dull parallel plane, Shadowfell. This is where Tzevokalas, “a fearsome draconic vampire,” lives, more particularly inside of an inexplicable cemetery, I guess because he’s all about cliches already so why not lean fully into them. It’s boring and so is he, but I guess sometimes you just want a really basic encounter in a cemetery, and throwing a dragon into the mix doesn’t hurt.

The book’s final real lair (though there’s another encounter that’s also vaguely lair-y) is in the Abyss, more specifically “the great Blood Sea.” Umm, sure, apparently that’s now a thing. It’s kinda like The Styx, but more stupid and something you’re probably a bit embarrassed to even mention. Regardless, a lot of this lair’s write-up is devoted to said sea, which has a boring explanation for the fleshy islands in its midst:  “the flesh might be the remains of the Blood Lord Haemnathuun, suggesting that blood fiends who joined the primordial in his ancient war against the deities.” All of this is written nonchalantly as if it is totally a thing people should know about and have heard of before, despite him being a new person involved in a previously unknown event with a new type of people who didn’t even exist six months earlier. Anyhow, Anthraxin, a deathmask dragon (see below), lives there, though her reign is now contested by “wretched demons from the deep.” Umm, sure. I suppose none of this makes for the worst layer of the Abyss if you wanted to use this in a reasonable, i.e. non-Fourth Edition, campaign, but it does all read to me as the type of location a third grader would come up with. 

I kinda like the concept and the artwork, I just don’t consider frostforged wyrms their own species, the same way a knight in armor isn’t actually a different type of creature from just any ordinary dude.

As for the dragons themselves, they are mostly new, though not entirely so, which as usual only makes things more confusing and messy than if they’d used all new creatures or reused all the old ones. Awesome! Abyssal dragons now include frostforged wyrms, who are white dragons “outfitted with heavy plates of cold-forged iron,” and deathmask dragons, who are a bit like purple dragons but with a lot more legs and the terrifying trait that once they kill “a living creature, it devours the creature’s essence, adding both flesh and spirit to its own.” Deathmasks  are legitimately a cool take on dragons, I just wish their name wasn’t so terrible. Battle dragons are now Astral and serve all sorts of random gods, while the other Astral dragons are “pact” red dragons working for the githyanki, and the reason for them requiring their own listing escapes me completely. 


Elemental dragons are as boring as you’d assume, including the blazewyrm, the dragon eel, the tempest dragon, and the pyroclastic dragon, because I guess they needed two more types of fire dragon. Clearly it just wasn’t a niche being filled. But even the parallel planes are getting into it, with faerie dragons now being technically planar, plus the new mirage dragons and wretch dragons in the Feywild. Mirage dragons are slightly feather-y, and wretches are enslaved by the fomorians in the underdark; that’s all to really be said about either of them. And yes, shadow dragons return, as well they should, but so does a new type of dragon from the Shadowfell, blight dragons, who seem a lot like normal black dragons except they’re brown. Oh, plus draconic wraiths and skeletal dragons are also Shadowfell-y since they’re undead and all, though it’s hard to really care. 

In all, the planar dragons are much less interesting than they were in the previous edition, which sometimes made them distinctive and unique enough to warrant inclusion. More options is rarely a bad thing, but aside from the deathmasks, I doubt any of these dragons will ever stick in someone’s head. All of the book’s new dragons kind of blend together, planar and otherwise, and because of this it generally feels like they might as well not have been created at all.


Oddly, there are also some new planar creatures in this book who aren’t just more reskinned dragons. Abishai are no longer fiends at all, instead they’re “immortal magical beasts,” i.e. fiends with the bar codes sanded off. There is a sidebar to explain this change, sort of: 


Legions of devils are imprisoned within the cavern-realm of the Nine Hells, bound to the ruined dominion of the deity they rebelled against. The immortal race of devillike abishai are also found here, even though many of their kindred have escaped to Tytherion. Though many abishais who remain ultimately claim that their allegiance lies with the Dark Lady of Dragons, most encountered in Avernus, Dis, or other continents of Hell have more immediate commitments to see through. The Nine Hells are highly organized, and each devil has its place. Thus, abishais here serve devils who have not the least care for Tiamat. Many abishais in such roles serve as wardens and torturers, though a few might indeed secretly spy for Tiamat. If an abishai is discovered to have such a direct link to an external master, however, its devilish overlord makes short work of the traitor. Every devil has its place, and abishais that excel at the duties given them can be transformed into progressively more powerful forms through agonizing rituals.

Reading this made me look up Tytherion, which is only mentioned four times in this book, three of them in the abishai entry and one saying that this is where Tiamat lives in the Astral Sea. Fourth Edition’s lore always makes me so tired, and never more so than when they assume you know what they’re talking about with weird new proper nouns that are never fleshed out or given any real explanation. 

Anyhow, abishai are no longer color coded, because I guess it made too much sense for them to match their lord Tiamat. Now they’re wrack, venomous, storm, or inferno flavored, as this edition really loves throwing random adjectives into every single place it can. Though now that I think about it, there isn’t quite a pattern in that these aren’t all adjectives—venomous is one, but the rest of these titles are nouns, so shouldn’t that be a venom abishai? God, who named these, and why are they being unnecessarily changed at all? I’m sorry, readers, I hate this and I realize that it shows.


There’s also one fully new planar monster, the squamous thing, which is a draconic Far Realm monstrosity. The art for squamous things is actually pretty cool, and I could see using them, especially since they come in a variety of types. I wish their breath weapon was better explained (it just says psychic, so like is it even visible?), but they get points from me regardless for spewing fangs. Sometimes Far Realm monstrosities can feel a bit basic, as designers often just take a base monster and tentacle it up a bit, and I must admit that is going on here… but on the other hand, tentacled Far Realm dragons who spew fangs and do unexplained psychic damage are kinda sweet. 

Your friend and mine, Ashardalon. I wonder how many people actually met him in the Bastion of Unborn Souls, considering how unpopular high level adventures generally are.

The final planar bit of this book comes from the “Dragon Hall of Fame” chapter. This features our friend Ashardalon, best-known for his cataclysmic ending in the Sunless Citadel adventure path, and Tiamat, best-known for having five heads and occasionally being a lord of Dis. Unfortunately, moving them to this edition also means transplanting the Bastion of Broken Souls from the Positive Energy Plane to the Astral Sea, and from Hell to the Astral Sea. If you haven’t noticed by now, most previously unique planar locations are now just “somewhere in the Astral Sea,” the edition’s general purpose boring catch-all plane. Tiamat also now has an aspect, even though she’s a goddess, which makes the differentiation between aspects and avatars somehow more unclear than its already wishy-washy nature in Third Edition. 

Is there anything exciting in this tome for lovers of the planes? Sadly, no, not really. In essence, this splatbook serves to illustrate how nearly every Fourth Edition work ends up dipping into the planes at some point, they just rarely do so well. Most of the time, the lore isn’t as good as it was before, and it tends to be full of new and unexplained proper nouns, which are essentially the generic fantasy equivalent of procedurally generated slop in that it’s unmemorable and without meaning. Even fans of planar dragons, if such a people exist, will probably be disappointed by what’s on display here, since it lacks any verve or spark of creativity. Maybe its eventual counterpart will do a better job when it’s released a year later—or even better, it won’t contain any planar material and I can skip reading it entirely. 

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