The creatures of lore and legend-of myth and mystery - only the dragons know the answers to the secrets and ciphers that surround them. But brave adventuring souls who have gone before have left behind clues and epistles with valuable information for anyone in pursuit of dragons. This tome is a compilation of the lifetime efforts of numerous dragon-hunting adventurers, presented to those who crave hints and leads for dragon-questing.
FOR1: Draconomicon (1990) was the first release in a new series of Forgotten Realms sourcebooks produced for Second Edition Dungeons & Dragons. It was originally released by TSR in October 1990, then rereleased by Wizards of the Coast in 1999 with a new dragon on the cover.
FR vs FOR. Of course, in 1990, TSR already had a series of Forgotten Realms sourcebooks - the "FR" series that began with FR1: "Waterdeep and the North" (1987) and continued through FR16: "The Shining South" (1993), after which time it was replaced with the "FRS" code. The new FOR books didn't impact the publication of the older FR series at all; at least two FR books appeared every year from 1987 until 1993.
The TSR code of FOR was simply meant to be an abbreviation for the Forgotten Realms, which was sort of confusing because that's what the FR code was for, as well. However, the FOR books were definitely built around a different concept: Whereas the FR books were all (to that date) geographical sourcebooks, the FOR books were meant to expand upon what Ed Greenwood calls "elements," meaning "power groups, races, cultures, magic items, war histories," and other non-geographical materials that weren't adventures either.
The FOR books were also physically different from the FR books. Whereas the FR sourcebooks (and the Forgotten Realms adventures) were traditional saddle-stitched RPG publications, the FOR books were instead squarebound paperbacks. They were thus somewhat similar to TSR's other prestige paperbacks of the period, the "PHBR" (1989-1995) and the "DMGR" (1990-1997) series.
Though the FOR books weren't leatherette, they did have their own fancy cover treatment, called "tone-on-tone": the picture in the middle of the cover was glossy, while the cover's background was matte. Unfortunately, this impacted the longevity of the books, as the unfinished covers were somewhat susceptible to water damage. Like TSR's other prestige series, one factor in the production of the FOR books was likely that they were cheap to produce and sold well.
The FOR series ran from 1990-1999, with just one release in most years; the final books didn't carry the FOR code, as TSR had eliminated module codes by then.
A History of Monster Books. As a complete book-length reference on dragons (including psychology, some physiology, geographical notes, and more), Draconomicon was a first for TSR. Though they'd produced the "PC" series of books (1989-1992) for Basic D&D - which talked about running various monster races as player character - a book-length reference on a monster itself was more innovative.
Of course, TSR also had a precedent in their very long running "Ecology" series of articles, which began with "The Ecology of the Piercer" in Dragon #72 (April 1983). There'd even been a few draconic ecologies, including "The Ecology of the Red Dragon" in Dragon #134 (June 1988) and "The New Ecology of the Dragons" in Dragon #146 (June 1989) - the latter covering the revamped dragons for the 2e AD&D game.
Draconomicon author Nigel Findley had written a few of the ecology articles himself, covering the gibbering mouther, the greenhag, the peryton, and the will-o-the-wisp.
More broadly, monster books had present in the gaming industry since at least "Skinwalkers & Shapeshifters" (1980) by small press Morningstar Publishing. Chaosium's Trollpak (1982) was another major touchstone, though those trolls were usable as PCs.
Mayfair Games had been the only company to publish fantasy monster books as more than a one-off. Though their Roleaids line included books on PC races like "Dwarves" (1982) and "Elves" (1983), it also included other releases like "Dark Folks" (1983), their own "Dragons" (1986), and "Giants" (1987). Much like Draconomicon, Mayfair's early racial/monster books included not just discussion of the races, but also adventures - and may thus have been an influence on this TSR release, which did the same. One of the later Roleaids books, "Witches" (1990) was by none other than Nigel Findley; that history of cultural & ecological writing begins to suggest why he was picked for Draconomicon.
The other place that "monster" books tended to proliferate in the 80s was in science-fiction games because many of the "baddies" were fully sentient races, as seen in FASA's "The Klingons" (1983), GDW's "Traveller Alien Module 1: Aslan" (1984), FASA's "The Daleks" (1985), and GDW's "Kafer Sourcebook" (1988).
Monster sourcebooks really became popular much later, in the early 2000s, when they became a potential venue for d20 publication.
Why did TSR choose dragons for their first monster book release? Everyone loved dragons, and TSR had a long history of writing about them (often in their anniversary issues of Dragon).
Expanding the Realms. Prior to this book, most information on dragons in the Realms centered on the Cult of the Dragon, a group focused on raising dracoliches. Ed Greenwood introduced them in "The Cult of the Dragon" in Dragon #110 (June 1986). They also appeared in his Spellfire (1987) novel. Surprisingly, the Cult and its dracoliches were barely touched upon in Draconomicon, though. They would instead have to wait years for Cult of the Dragon (1998), one of the final books in the "FOR" series.
Overall, Draconomicon focuses much more on dragons than on the Realms, though there's still some integration, such as a discussion of draconic history events in the Realms and a look at where the various sorts of dragons can be found therein. The four adventures are also set explicitly in the Realms.
New Monsters. Draconomicon includes three new dragon subtypes: the mercury dragon, the steel dragon, and the yellow dragon. This was the first appearance of the mercury dragon, which has mostly been restricted to the Realms in the years since. A one-of-a-kind steel dragon had previously appeared in Dragon #62 (June 1982), but this was the first appearance of the modern species, which again has been mostly limited to the Realms. Yellow dragons have been more popular, probably because they're a "missing" chromatic color; previous versions had appeared in The Dragon #38 (June 1980) and Dragon #65 (September 1982).
Future History. Draconomicon was supplemented and complemented by several Dragon articles over the year. "Dragon Dweomers" in Dragon #218 (June 1995) was one of the first. It was followed by sequels in #230, #248, and #272 (1996-2000) though the later "Dweomer" articles were increasingly distant from the original Draconomicon.
An article called "The Draconomicon" can be found in Dragon #234 (October 1996), but it actually talked about the Cult of the Dragon rather than material in this book - as the Draconomicon allegedly describes how to create dracoliches. Finally, Ed Greenwood offered up his own take on dragons in the Realms in "Wyrms of the North," an impressive 27-part column describing specific dragons, from "A"-"Z.. It ran from Dragon #230 to Dragon #259 (1996-1999).
The Draconomicon name has been used for a few totally different books in later versions of D&D: The Draconomicon (2003) for 3e, and Draconomicon: Chromatic Dragons (2008) and Draconomicon: Metallic Dragons (2009) for 4e. It was also the name of a 1997 expansion for the Spellfire CCG.
About the Creators. In 1990, Nigel Findley was at the start of his unfortunately too-short career as a full-time writer. That year he wrote for four different AD&D settings (Forgotten Realms, Lankhmar, Oriental Adventures, and Spelljammer) and also did extensive work for Shadowrun.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.