Drake is one of a number of archaic alternative words for Dragon, and as such the term has long been bandied around in fantasy literature and gaming. But Dungeons & Dragons (and its Pathfinder progeny) took it to the inevitable conclusion and used it to designate a specific subfamily of dragons... but exactly what that's meant has been something that's fluctuated a lot over the editions.
In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, one arguable exploration of the drake concept was the Dragonets and their relatives the Pseudodragon and the Faerie Dragon. But the first major use of the term was a specific set of small dragons, offshoots of the faerie dragon, presented as alternative familiars in the article "Dragons are Wizards' Best Friends" in issue #146 of Dragon Magazine. Here, author David E. Cates introduces us to the following species for AD&D 1e:
- Crystal Drake: Nomadic gemstone-hunting miniature dragons covered in scintillating, crystal-like hides that are very popular amongst the unscrupulous. They can spit acid and gain short-lived magical boons by consuming specific gems. They love a good joke, but are more cautious about playing tricks than the average fairy dragon.
- Demon Drake: These malicious and slightly sadistic fairy dragon kin have mutated to look more like miniature fiendish red dragons. They're not all evil (Chaotic Neutral or Chaotic Evil), but they are annoying and their jokes are often dangerous. They have a strange fixation on kidnapping women (elf, half-elf, halfling, human, brownie, pixie, quickling or sprite) and holding them for ransom.
- Faerie Drake: A larger and more magically powerful version of the common faerie dragon.
- Shadow Drake: A stealthy, mischievous miniature dragon with an affinity for Shadow Magic.
This article would later inspire the article "Greater Drakes" by Johnathan M. Richards in issue #260. These "greater drakes" are essentially a more mundane branch of the dragon family tree; though they have the basic dragon outline (a six-limbed flying lizard), they live drastically shorter lifespans and are more rooted in basic biology - for example, they do not possess magical breath weapons, but instead have bladder-like organs in the throat used to contain some kind of natural forming projectile. They're basically animals in terms of intelligence, and have no particular hoarding instinct. They're essentially a way to make "dragon steeds" more available without belittling the actual dragons of D&D. This article introduces us to the following greater drakes:
- Vandalraug (Battle Drake): A large, aggressive and powerful greater drake that still responds well to training, vandalraugs slash at foes with wickedly spined wings and are popular steeds for flying warriors and wizards.
- Kavinus (Ghost Drake): A pale-colored greater drake with the highly unusual ability to enter and exit the Ethereal Plane at will. Their eerie bioluminescence sometimes sees them confused for actual undead.
- Arsalon (Hive Drake): These thick-scaled greater drakes sport a tail with a lethargy-inducing venomous stinger, and use chemical lures to coax wasps or other stinging swarming insects to next inside their throat bladders, allowing them to spew forth a swarm of pissed-off bugs in battle.
- Retchenbeast (Muck Drake): A barely flight-capable, amphibious greater drake that looks more like a draconic toad than anything. Their bladder is filled with a foul-smelling sticky sludge they can use to blind and disorientate their foes.
- Silislithis (Sea Drake): A coastal greater drake adapted for life both in the air and underwater. Their throat bladder can be used both like a siphon to "jet propel" them when swimming and to store water for high-pressure jet blasts when above the waves.
- Fumarandi (Smoke Drake): A sinister-looking greater drake, the fumarandi is impressively resistant to heat, and its stomach functions more like an internal furnace than a chemical chamber. The fumes of digested/burnt meals are stored in its throat bladder, and deployed as a choking smoke screen in battle. One of the smallest greater drake species.
These "greater drakes" never went on to bigger things, but they weren't entirely forgotten. Johnathan M. Richards would return with the article "Return of the Greater Drakes" in issue #284, which introduced several new greater drakes - this time for 3.0.
- Barautha (Spitting Drake): Boar-tusked drakes who can spit venom at their foes.
- Ermalkankari (Stone Drake): Rocky-scaled greater drakes armed with an anklyosaur-like bony club for a tail, which they use both to smash anyone who attacks them and to break up rocks to store in their throat bladders, letting them spray stony shrapnel at anyone who bugs them.
- Mardallond (Mead Drake): Small, grain-eating greater drakes who use their throat bladders to ferment the grain they eat into natural booze, which they then spray at enemies to get them to leave them alone. If they persist, the mardallond is happy to cut them down with its scythe-like tail blade.
- Trilligarg (Chameleon Drake): The smallest and fastest of the greater drakes, this gecko-like drake uses colorchanging scales to hide, and if attacked, its throat inflates to expose an array of spikes it can use as defensive weapons.
- Vallochar (Web Drake): The largest and most sinister looking of the reater drakes, the vallochar's throat bladder houses glands that produce a chemical compound that turns into a hyper-sticky glue.
In Mystara, Drakes are a subspecies of dragon that have a wyvern-like body structure - serpentine lizard with legs but arms that have turned into bat-like wings. However, they are quite intelligent and have the innate ability to shapeshift into humanoid forms. There are four distinct species; the Mandrake (can take human form), the forest-dwelling Wooddrake (can take elf or halfling form), the cavern-dwelling Colddrake (can take dwarf or gnome form) and the Elemental Drakes - distant cousins of the three species subdivided into the inevitable Air/Earth/Water/Fire species and able to assume the form of an immature giant (cloud for air, stone for earth, fire for flame, and storm for water) if on the material plane and a small elemental on the elemental planes. Players are actually able to play Wooddrakes in the book "Tall Tales of the Wee Folk" for BECMI.
The term "drake" went largely ignored until the 3e Draconomicon, where it was used in two senses.
The first was a new monster called the Abyssal Drake, which was the product of a demonic breeding program to cross demons and red dragons with wyverns to produce a superior flying steed for powerful demons.
The second was the return of the Elemental Drakes - almost literally. These new "setting neutral" creatures were described as distant kin to the wyvern, but native to the Elemental Planes. As a result, in addition to the classic Earth/Air/Water/Fire quartet, there are also paraelemental drakes of Ooze/Ice/Smoke/Magma.
This was the first - and so far last - edition in which the idea of the Drake became a mainstream monster. In 4e, "drake" became a combination of a term used for carnivorous dinosaurs (herbivorous ones became "Behemoths" instead) and a dumping ground for the various "more mundane" members of 3e's sprawling Dragon Type family. One of the unusual side-effects of this is that it actually added to the presentation of the Nentir Vale as a magical world, thanks to the lack of space devoted to more mundane animal statblocks.
Aside from the Athasian Earth, Air, Water and Fire Drakes, which showed up in the Dark Sun Creature Catalogue, 4e is home to the following drake species:
- Crested Felldrake
- Dark Drake
- Ambush Drake
- Fang Titan
- Guard Drake
- Hestavar Racing Drake
- Hissing Felldrake
- Horned Drake
- Leaping Felldrake
- Needlefang Drake
- Portal Drake
- Rage Drake
- Sabermaw Urdrake
- Scytheclaw Drake
- Spiretop Drake
- Spitting Drake
- Demonic War Drake (Kadyx)
- Tri-Horned Felldrake
- Venomous Urdrake
- Vulture Drake
- Warwing Drake
- Coldscale Drake
In 5th edition, the Drake was removed from the core monster categories. It returned officially in Volo's Guide to Monsters, where "Guardian Drakes" are a kind of homunculus that can be created from boiling down dragon scales, producing a vaguely dragon-like lizard beast that can used as a guardian monster - sort of a jacked up half-dragon guard dog.
- Elder Shadow
In Pathfinder, drakes are a lesser strain of dragon that possess wyvern-like body structures. They are characterized as having full sapience, breath weapons, and even minor magical abilities, but are a pale echo of the sheer strength and majesty of a true dragon.