I picked up Fizban's Treasury of Dragon and have been reading it cover to cover. This is my review of the book, chapter by chapter. In this post, I discuss Chapter 5: Draconomicon which, despite the its name, is not actually all about Dragons.
In previous chapters, I felt a little strange that different kinds of Dragons were getting mentioned before they'd actually been "revealed." Because chromatic and metallic Dragons are known entities thanks to the Monster Manual, they seem like fair game, but it felt a little odd to talk about an Amethyst or Sapphire Dragon before the reader even knows what that is. I figured it was building tension, though, hinting at exotic Dragons that would soon be revealed in the big, exciting 80-page chapter called Draconomicon.
This chapter, however, is very noticeably not the big reveal of all the Dragons. It's essentially a continuation of the previous chapters. It provides adventure hooks, personality traits, lair maps and lair actions, and hoard contents. It's frankly puzzling.
The big Dragon reveal actually happens in the next chapter, called Bestiary. That's when you get to see the stat blocks for the Dragons being hinted at in the first ¾ of the book. I feel like that's putting the cart before the horse. Even if you don't think that a stat block is required in order to have "met" a creature, the fact is that for some of the Dragons in Chapter 5, there's no context. If you've never read an earlier edition of the Draconomicon, then you don't know what a Deep Dragon or a Moonstone Dragon is, and you've just barely been introduced to the idea that gem Dragons exist but you don't know that their powers are Psionic or that their alignment is Neutral-based. It seems odd to introduce the homes of these characters before the reader has met the characters themselves.
This chapter is obviously supposed to be Chapter 6. However, it got slotted in as Chapter 5, and because I didn't realize what was happening until I was half way through the chapter, I dutifully read this in the order it was presented.
Ignoring that this chapter is misplaced in the book, I really enjoyed it.
It's one thing to describe lairs, lair actions, and hoards in a generic way, as Chapter 4 did. It's something else to provide, for each and every major Dragon type:
There are 20 Dragon types (OK, some of them don't get a mapped lair, but most do.)
Suprisingly useful, I think, are the personality traits and ideals. For NPCs, these are the defining characteristics, but I found that the tables provide valuable perspective into how to roleplay a Dragon NPC.
I think it's easy to fall into extremes with a Dragon NPC. The chromatic ones are evil with no mercy and no redeeming qualities, and the metallic ones are good and benevolent and helpful. That works for passing encounters, but if characters are dealing with a Dragon frequently or for long spans of time, then you need subtlety. The personality tables provide that.
Roll a 1 on the Copper Dragon traits, and you get "I'm generous with my time, my words, and my wisdom. But my treasure is mine."
Roll an 8 on the Green Dragon traits, and you get "I harbour no animosity toward anyone. Leave me to grow ancient with my forest, and I'll leave you in peace."
You get this for every Dragon type, and there are 20 of them in this book. Or, at least, there are 20 in this chapter. (I don't know how many Dragon types there are in the book, because the chapter covering each Dragon in detail hasn't happened yet.)
Based on this chapter, I assume there are 20 Dragons types in this book. Arbitrarily using the AD&D Second Edition Monstrous Manual as reference, that's only 6 Dragons left out: Brown, Cloud, Mercury, Mist, Steel, and Yellow.
I've been pretty unhappy with 5e's maps. It's not that 5e's maps are worse than previous maps, but I do feel that we have a lot of technology available to us now that could prevent Dungeon Masters having to re-draw maps on either virtual or physical tabletops. The maps in Yawning Portal, for example, are really beautiful. They're colourful, too small, they all contain information that only the Dungeon Master should know (for instance, secret door indicators).
And they're utterly useless to me, whether I'm making a Xerox (or whatever the generic version of that is) copy of them or whether I'm scanning them and importing them into MythicTable.
This book contains some notable exceptions [partial, anyway].
The lair maps in Chapter 5 are beautiful line art illustrations, so they're easy to copy or scan, scale, and print. Most of the maps are either full-page art or they're near enough.
Some annoyances persist. All of the maps have 10-foot squares, so you have to sub-divide those if you want to use them with miniatures, or else grant everyone movement speeds divisible by 10. All maps also have secret doors clearly marked on them, so a little touch-up work in GIMP is required before use, unless your characters are carrying around Whelm or something that gives them free access to secret doors.
I don't understand why, in 2022, we don't get usable player and DM maps along with the materials we purchase, or at least the option to download them. The maps exist. I don't see the point in making them hard to use.
Now, these are mostly "just" maps. There are brief descriptions of each major area, but it's less detail than most one-page dungeons. That's appropriate in this context, I think. The maps are here to give you an easy setting for a lair. Threats and NPCs and backstories are up to you, based on the adventure hook and circumstances that brought player characters to the doorstep of the Dragon in the first place.
Although this chapter was nothing like what I'd expected based on previous publications called Draconomicon, it is a genuinely useful chapter. It reminds the Dungeon Master that Dragons are full of variety, and that their lairs are richly detailed and exciting and dangerous locations.
The next and final chapter is the bestiary at last!