The Practically Complete Guide to Dragons Review

As if to continue the rivalry between giants and dragons, just one week after the release of Bigby Presents: Glory of the Giants Wizards of the Coast has released a new book on dragons. The Practically Complete Guide to Dragons is not a replacement for Fizban's Treasury of Dragons. In fact, it's a bit of a puzzlement as to where it fits among other Wizards of the Coast D&D books.

Continuing the trend from other D&D 5E lore and reference books, TPCGtD is supposedly written by someone in universe. In this case that's Sindri Suncatcher, “the greatest Kender wizard who ever lived.” The cover art by Clint Cearley shows Sindri having tea with a silver dragon, and the book has a distinct Kender perspective. The actual writers are project lead James Wyatt, who also spearheaded FToD, Susan J. Morris, and Lisa Trutkoff Trumbauer.

PCGD_Cover Art by Sindri Suncatcher_and Silver Dragon Art by Clint Cearley cropped.png

What's Inside?

The most notable thing is what isn't inside TPCGtD – stat blocks. While yes, classic dragons such as blue dragons, gold dragons, etc. each get their own entries, any information on their specific powers and abilities are specifically omitted. By contrast, FToD had full stat blocks.

And despite the “practically complete” in the title, it's far from it. While it includes a few related dracon kin and draconic subspecies like shadow dragons and dracoliches, it completely omits the gem dragons, among others. Instead, it primarily focuses on metallic and chromatic dragons along with dragonborn, kobolds, etc.

TPCGtD seems to fall somewhere between FToD and the Dragons & Treasure book from Jim Zub's excellent Young Adventurers series. It focuses on dragon life cycle, anatomy, lairs, hoards, etc. The draconic language gets a full-page table translating various words. Draconic script gets another page as does another on polite phrases in draconic.

When it switches to entries on specific dragons, it includes facts like favorite food, habitat, favorite treasure, and natural enemies in addition to maximum wingspan, breath weapon, height, and weight. Lair and combat information round it out.

The art is good with some magnificent images of adult dragons. I also liked the vaguely taxonomic drawings of dragons that accompanies the start of the Types of Dragons chapter. The image of kobolds dragging treasure to their dragon overlord also amuses me, and I agree with Sindri's note that the one wearing a skull seems to having a great deal of fun.

However, I can't credit any of those specific artists because unlike other Wizards of the Coasts books, individual art credits are missing entirely. I've complained about how hard Wizards makes them hard to read in the usual D&D books, but omitting them entirely seems really unfair.

The cartographer's credit is easy – Todd Gamble. His lair maps have a certain minimalist charm and look like something Sindri might have sketched out. Still, I prefer Dyson Logos' maps from FToD.

PCGD_Red Dragon_Art by Kieran Yanner smaller.png

Summing It Up

TPCGtD is a fun book to read. If you're a dragon lover like I am, it's probably of interest. That doesn't mean it's one you need to rush to buy it, though. If you want stat blocks and more hardcore information for campaigns instead of inspiration for how to run dragons in your campaign, you might want to skip this one.

Wizards has previously published A Practical Guide to Dragons in 2008 and 2010, written by Susan J. Morris and Lisa Trutkoff Trumbauer. I don't have those for comparison but suspect at least some copy may have carried over from those, based on the writing credits.

I'm just really puzzled as to where/how Wizards feels this book fits into its releases. The Young Adventurer Guides are geared to younger readers, making D&D concepts and lore easy to understand and inspire them to try playing the game. Those books also have some useful material for new D&D players of any age.

If TPCGtD is intended to entice fans of fantasy in general and dragons in particular so they try D&D, that could work. It just seems like a book that is betwixt and between.

If you're a sucker for dragon lore like I am, The Practically Complete Guide to Dragons is a B-. For anyone else, it might be a C+, not because it's a bad book. It just seems redundant and lacking the inspiration and adventure hooks both FToD and BPGotG had.
 

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

talien

Community Supporter
I sold mine to Noble Knight last year. I'd rather they find active use on someone else's shelf than gather dust in my garage.

I was really torn over selling the Practical Guide to Wizardry, though -- combine that with all of the somatic gesture cards from Rock, Paper, Wizard and you've got a lore book even most of the grumps would appreciate. (That's right: There are official somatic gestures for many classic arcane spells, along with verbal components in Practical Guide to Wizardry.)
Yeah, I got this book for my kids when I was trying to get them to both play D&D and learn something in Harry Potter-style classes (I ended up creating an entire school for them), and I was astonished to discover that the book went into much more detail than the core rules on how components work.

It's the kind of thing that really makes you wonder how these decisions are made. Did the author and artists just make it up as they went? Did they consult with the core D&D team? Was there ever any plans to reincorporate that content back into the core rules (years later, the answer is .. nope).

These kinds of one-off contributions to the game always strike me as a sign that there's a fundamental gap they're trying to address ... but there's never any lessons learned and we never see that content again.

🤷
 

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Dire Bare

Legend
My copy of The Practically Complete Guide to Dragons arrived today, so I've had a chance to compare it to its ancestors. Some observations:
  • This is primarily a reprint of The Practical Guide to Dragons. It has about a third of The Practical Guide to Dragon Magic and even less of The Practical Guide to Dragon Riding mixed in to fill out the page count. The content has been slotted together in a logical manner and you wouldn't know it was originally from three separate books.
  • Even though many of the page spreads have the same illustrations as the original, there is also a lot of new art. I think all of the main, full-page pictures of each type of dragon are completely new.
  • The pages of the new book are whiter and glossier than the original. The original Practical Guides used a yellow, fake parchment type of paper, with notes often presented as hand-written additions to the text. The new presentation is cleaner with neat post-it notes for comments on the main text.
I think I slightly prefer the original, messier style of presentation, but only when comparing the two books side-by-side. If I only had The Practically Complete Guide, I'd be quite happy with the style. Like the originals, this would make a great gift for a junior D&D player, or any child of the appropriate age with an interest in fantasy. It's also a decent coffee table book for adults.

If you already have the originals, you don't need this, but if you already have the originals, you're probably a D&D collector and then you'll want this anyway. (He says, patting copies of the Dungeons & Dragons Word Search and Coloring Book and the Official Dungeons & Dragons Tarot Deck which arrived in the same package...)
The new D&D tarot deck is pretty neat, isn't it! :)
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
Yeah, I got this book for my kids when I was trying to get them to both play D&D and learn something in Harry Potter-style classes (I ended up creating an entire school for them), and I was astonished to discover that the book went into much more detail than the core rules on how components work.

It's the kind of thing that really makes you wonder how these decisions are made. Did the author and artists just make it up as they went? Did they consult with the core D&D team? Was there ever any plans to reincorporate that content back into the core rules (years later, the answer is .. nope).

These kinds of one-off contributions to the game always strike me as a sign that there's a fundamental gap they're trying to address ... but there's never any lessons learned and we never see that content again.

🤷
Strixhaven would have been an ideal time to incorporate the lore from Practical Guide to Wizardry and Rock, Paper, Wizard, even if it was just another online supplement like Domains of Delight (which obviously should have been physically incorporated into Witchlight).

I certainly hope there was someone at the conference table, waving this book, during the Strixhaven conversation, even if they were ignored.
 

How does this book compare to the fluff in the 2e Draconomicon and the 3e Draconomicon?

The 2e book was pretty short, but almost entirely fluff and this dragon lover quite enjoyed it. The 3e version was big and full of crunch, but it also had a lot of good fluff (maybe even as much as 2e).

Fizban's Treasury of Dragons was somewhat disappointing for me. A lot of its fluff was just random tables. I'm actually a big fan of random tables, I'm just not a fan of how 5e has started to use them. I'm also not a fan of most of the statblock and design changes for monsters, so much of its crunch is going to need reworked for me (unlike the 2e and 3e stuff).

If this book is more like the old Draconomicons then I might actually be interested in it.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
How does this book compare to the fluff in the 2e Draconomicon and the 3e Draconomicon?
Much shorter, much lighter. Personally, I think the content in this is better than Fizban's, but it's written for advanced elementary schoolers, not adults. It is three books in one, though, so it's a decent amount of content, and nearly all of the art is unique to the Practical Guides.

I was able to flip through it at Barnes & Noble, and I suggest that adults considering buying this for their tables do the same before picking it up, just so they don't feel burned.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
How does this book compare to the fluff in the 2e Draconomicon and the 3e Draconomicon?

The 2e book was pretty short, but almost entirely fluff and this dragon lover quite enjoyed it. The 3e version was big and full of crunch, but it also had a lot of good fluff (maybe even as much as 2e).

Fizban's Treasury of Dragons was somewhat disappointing for me. A lot of its fluff was just random tables. I'm actually a big fan of random tables, I'm just not a fan of how 5e has started to use them. I'm also not a fan of most of the statblock and design changes for monsters, so much of its crunch is going to need reworked for me (unlike the 2e and 3e stuff).

If this book is more like the old Draconomicons then I might actually be interested in it.
The 3E Draconomicon is the pinnacle of D&D dragon excellence. It has not yet been matched by any book.

If you still have your copy . . . I'm not sure the "Practically Complete Guide to Dragons" is going to add much lore you don't already have. And it is all lore, no game stats. But . . . flip through a copy at your local book or game store.
 

Weiley31

Legend
I sold mine to Noble Knight last year. I'd rather they find active use on someone else's shelf than gather dust in my garage.

I was really torn over selling the Practical Guide to Wizardry, though -- combine that with all of the somatic gesture cards from Rock, Paper, Wizard and you've got a lore book even most of the grumps would appreciate. (That's right: There are official somatic gestures for many classic arcane spells, along with verbal components in Practical Guide to Wizardry.)
Yo, really? The somatic gestures cards make it worth the purchase honestly.
 

BB Shockwave

Explorer
I dunno why such reviewers do not post more images from the book as example. One measly artwork only? When on youtube, you can find leaf-throughs of the whole book.

Gotta say, it seems like a lot of the art is re-used from 3E or 4E. The "anatomy of the Dragon" page Red Dragon I am pretty sure is from the 3E Draconomicon, as is the head sketch of the Black Dragon, or the Gold Dragon art.
 

Echohawk

Shirokinukatsukami fan
Gotta say, it seems like a lot of the art is re-used from 3E or 4E. The "anatomy of the Dragon" page Red Dragon I am pretty sure is from the 3E Draconomicon, as is the head sketch of the Black Dragon, or the Gold Dragon art.
We discussed this (a lot) upthread. This book is essentially a reprint of three earlier books printed between 2006 and 2010. Those three earlier books reused a large amount of art from previous D&D books. I'd estimate The Practically Complete Guide to Dragons is about 25% new art, 75% recycled art.
 

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