Wednesday, August 16, 2017


It was pointed out to me that I have never actually written down any of my rules about dragons, how they attack or what form they take.  I was surprised, actually.  I thought I had done it by now.

But no, I hadn't.  So here is a go at the content, collected in the next three posts, which are all copied from the wikispaces entries that I wrote today.  The content in the first post describes the dragon's combat abilities, along with details that apply to all dragons.  The second post gives the eight dragon ages, with some of my own names replacing those in the old monster manual. Finally, the third post gives an example of a dragon entry.  I really ought to work more on my wikipedia bestiary.

Dragons come in many forms, but fundamentally there are certain biological characteristics that all dragons possess. Dragons are covered in thick, heavy scales that serve as a powerful armor. All dragons will have four limbs, the potential to claw their opponents, a devastating bite and a tail capable of whipping opponents. Some dragons may lack wings, particularly those that dwell in underwater environments. While all dragons will produce various gases or liquids from an alchemical gland that is found just below the base of the dragon's long neck, the nature of the 'breath weapon' that emerges from this gland will vary from dragon to dragon.

Dragons that have wings will be able to beat these wings with sufficient force to cause a strong, buffeting wind, capable of causing damage and therefore stunning opponents. Some dragons of remarkable intelligence will have the ability to produce the effects of spells ~ however, this is not a "casting" ability, as dragons do not need to memorize this magic. The ability is inherent and therefore a remarkable dragon can discharge a set number of spells at will, per day. This is further described in detail below.

There are a number of misleading myths and ideas about dragons that do not apply to dragons in my world. It is, for example, nearly impossible to encounter a dragon that is sleeping. Dragons are the most prescient and dangerous creatures in all the world, precisely because it is so difficult to catch them off guard ~ and so the wishful thought that a dragon could be caught sleeping is a fantasy tale that emerges as a metaphor for accomplishing the impossible. Furthermore, dragons cannot be "subdued" as some would believe, being fantastically intelligent, nimble and very large in size. They do not intimidate easily and are nearly impossible to contain. Since a dragon's body is also covered in spines and sharpened ridges, they cannot be grappled, even by giant creatures, without damage occurring from the dragon's writhing body, not to mention that it would be difficult to keep from being ripped to pieces by a dragon's claws. Finally, some believe that dragons are cowardly, egotistical or driven to foolish acts out of a greed for wealth; these notions, too, are tales told by those who have sought to make nonsensical stories about dragons seem more plausible for dramatic purpose. There are reasons for these tales, in that less powerful dragons may be quite young and inexperienced, and potentially at the mercy of flattery and other enticements ~ older, more powerful dragons, however, are enormously wise and well-versed of the ways of weaker creatures. It is best well to assume that a strange dragon will make poor decisions that can be exploited.

Hit Dice, Mass and Age

Dragons will typically have a range of hit dice rather than a specific number. For example, a green dragon has 7-9 hit dice, while a silver dragon will have 9-11. This range indicates whether or not a dragon is willowy, sturdy or robust, these descriptions corresponding to the lowest number in the range of hit dice, the middle number or the highest number. A robust green dragon would have 9 hit dice.

The number of hit points that a dragon has depends upon its mass; a dragon's mass depends upon its species and upon its age. Typically, all adult-sized dragons will weigh approximately 500 lbs. per hit die. The robust green dragon above would weigh about 4,500 lbs, while a willowy green dragon would weigh 3,500 lbs. When we compare these numbers to the number of hit points per hit die, we discover that a willowy green dragon would 3d4 hit points per hit die (a total of 21d4, an average of 52.5), while a robust green dragon would have a d6 plus a d8 per hit die (9d6 + 9d8, an average of 72).

These numbers apply to the adult form of the dragon. Throughout their lives, dragons pass through 8 stages of growth: hatchling, yeulding,young, near-grown, adult, old, very old and ancient. The first five of these, from hatchling to adult, indicate an increase in size. The latter three, from old to ancient, indicate an increase in experience. (see Dragon's Lifespan). As dragons mature, they will have less hit dice, less of their full-grown attributes and less power to cause damage or breathe their signature weapon. Therefore, the actual age of the dragon must be taken into account to determine their effectiveness.

Melee Attacks: Claw, Bite & Tail

Despite their size, dragons are tremendously sprightly, limber creatures that are able to spin their bodies with amazing quickness. Some mistake dragons for lumbering like elephants, but it is much more true to say that dragons attack with the speed and merciless agility of a leopard or a shark.

The head is tremendously large and sits atop a flexible neck that can stretch to attack a creature up to three combat hexes from the dragon's main body. This encourages defenders who would cast spells (which the dragon's intelligence would recognize as a danger to be stopped!) to keep well back. Moreover, since the dragon can twist in place, the head is able to attack in any direction during a given round (though the dragon must turn its body 60 degrees to attack someone directly behind).

The dragon's claws are designed to attack creatures directly in front; each claw can do an effective amount of damage, with larger dragons easily killing a 1st-level defender in one blow. The dragon will begin combat by attacking multiple people with its bite and claws, then concentrating all its attacks the following round on any creature that is hit without being stunned.

If an adult or older dragon strikes with both claws in a given round, whether at the same or different targets, a dragon will then rake with its back claws, effectively gaining two additional attacks.

The dragon's tail, usually enriched with spikes and ridges, can cause nearly as much damage as the bite. The dragon will usually use it to attack anything that is to its rear or flank. It will always turn and strike with its tail upon giving round. Because of the tail's momentum and size, any small or medium-sized creature that is stunned by the tail will be knocked two hexes from the place where it was hit.


Dragons that have reached the age of being nearly grown are able to buffet their wings. This is less about the size of their wings than it is about the speed with which the dragon can flex them, creating a strong wind that will cause real damage. The dragon will rear up, forego an attack with its claws (the head and tail may still attack) and rapidly beat its wings, affecting a 180-degree circle radiating outwards from the dragon's body.

Anyone within four combat hexes of the dragon (20 feet) may suffer damage from buffeting. The amount caused is 1 h.p. per HD of the dragon. Those affected may make save against magic, suffering only 2 damage if they succeed (regardless of the dragon's hit dice).

Creatures larger than 510 lbs. will not be forced back by the severe wind, but lighter characters must give ground. Those starting within 3 hexes of the dragon (15 feet) must fall back two hexes; those between 4 and 6 hexes away must fall back one hex. Creatures that weigh 80 lbs. or less must move back an additional hex, wherever they are standing when affected. All movement must be in a direction away from the center of the dragon's body.

Buffeting with put out torches and lanterns of all sorts (some of the effect is magical, so that the wind will insinuate itself into the cracks of a lantern), knock birds out of the air and force them to land, stir up dust and create obscurement for one round, and fan the flames of any fire that covers an area of more than one combat hex.

The dragon must have room to buffet. Buffeting can be done while the dragon hovers anywhere up to 10 feet above the ground. Typically, a dragon will buffet before escaping, or moving off to seek a better defending position. Buffeting can also be done simultaneously with a dragon's breath weapon.

Flying & Hovering

If there is room, dragons prefer to fly rather than fight from the ground. It's best tactic is to beat its wings sufficiently to bounce from the ground up to ten feet in the air, striking with its claws upon landing, with its bite and tail from actually being in the air and then timing its attack so that it is moving upwards to ten feet, then hovering a second or two before descending. This means that the players are unable to use short melee weapons, though pole-arms remain effective.

If the dragon then chooses not to attack another round, it can beat its wings and take for the air (or buffeting hard) before actually touching the ground again. The combination of these tactics make a dragon very hard to fight in the open air, so that a dragon would rather escape its cave to fight than to remain cornered. In the air, the dragon can raze the ground with its breath weapon, strike with tail and head while flying over the heads of its enemies and retreat to thirty or forty hexes away in just two or three rounds ~ where it can wait before moving in to strike again, or give more ground until it finds an advantage.

Breath Weapon

The dragon's breath weapon comes in all forms: fire, liquid acid, poisonous and sleeping gas, blasting ice, lightning and so on. Principally, it is an area of effect weapon that causes a tremendous amount of unavoidable damage that can be reduced by luck but not avoided. I like that dragons are powerful enough to have this effect.

Rules most commonly try to give the area of effect of a breath weapon according to the location of the mouth and the radiating cone or path, or the dimensions of the cloud being produced. These rules discount the possibility of the dragon swinging its head around in a circle or a straggling strafing path as the dragon flies over a crowd of enemies. Therefore the rules I will play by will measure the dragon's breath weapon by the number of combat hexes the dragon can effect at a time, so long as the hexes connect together and form an imaginable path. The specific number of hexes, and the effects of each dragon's breath weapon, will be discussed on pages describing specific dragons.

Not all breath weapons cause damage. Those that do cause damage will also require that characters to make save for items in their possession. Any characters in an affected hex must make saving throw against breath weapon; the amount of damage is halved if the saving throw is made, or the effects of non-damage causing clouds is reduced or dispelled.

Additional Notes

I have suspended a number of rules that apply to dragons in old D&D's Monster Manual, such as the aura of fear surrounding dragons, ferocity bonuses associated with mated pairs fighting together, all rules associated with subduing dragons, the convoluted manner in which dragon saving throws are calculated (dragons save according to their hit dice or energy levels), calculations for dragon treasure and dragon alignments.

To my mind, all dragons have an intelligence that permits them to speak. Only old, very old or ancient dragons have magic use, as I have indicated on my Dragon's Lifespan page. Not all dragons are either metallic or colored, nor are dragons locked into a two-dimensional moralistic view of the world. Dragons are intelligent creatures, of all sorts, some bad, some good, some self-interested, some generous and so on. Not all dragons are solitary; I have two places in my world (so far) where dragons have actually formed a social structure and which are treated by outsiders as sovereign territories. The last thing I want in a game called Dungeons & Dragons is a narrow minded view of how dragon culture works.

For the time being, I will let these details stand as is, coming back another time to flesh out anything that seems needful. At this point, it would be best to start writing about the motivations behind individual species. I've played with the nomenclature a little, but after some though I must admit that I'm used to using the colors to describe them.

The other two posts, then follow after this one; I posted them in reverse order, so they could be read from front to back on the blog.


kimbo said...

These are rightly terrifying. Great stuff.

Ozymandias said...

I especially like that a dragon can "shape" the area of its breath weapon by swinging its head.

How do you determine the hit dice of an adult dragon? Do you just use the figures provided in the Monster Manual?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Yeah. I'm used to those hit dice.

JB said...

Huh. You know, even though I've long known you don't play with alignment, I've never considered the implication with regard to monsters (only PCs). So dragons...for example...are simply intelligent, sentient individuals of whatever personality you deem to give them, right? There's no tendency of reds to be terrifying, destructive tyrants of the countryside or golds to be helpful and pleasant or anything? Or do you use the original alignment designations as a guide to behavior and personality?

On the one hand, that's cool. On the other, I'd think it would be fairly terrifying to your players...they'd never know what to expect from a particular breed/color of wyrm, and have to operate with the assumption that such an inhuman creature could react in any way imaginable (subject to its self-interest). With the power they possess, erring on the side of caution would probably result in heading to the hills regardless of the scale coloration.

Perhaps it's a good thing they're confined to a limited number of regions in your world!

Alexis Smolensk said...

"Fairly terrifying" is the goal. I always said the name of the game, & Dragons, deserves an iconic representation. So I don't think that't the other hand of cool. I think that's pretty cool too.

My long running party has faced dragons three times in my campaign. A little one when they were just 4th level. A good-sized white one when they were 7th. Then four at once, a black dragon family, two adults and two yeuldings. And you should see the look on the party's faces when they find out there's a dragon around. Whiter shade of pale, I think I'd have to call it. Then it is a long, long discussion about whether or not they want to "go for it." And wow, when they do, is it ever preparing for Normandy. You've never seen such preparation. It is rather awe-inspiring to watch a party decide they're going to squeeze every bit of power they can find out of their skills, spells and willingness to cooperate. Suddenly, every single move of every single player is coordinated right down to the minutest detail.

That is pretty cool. But my partner Tamara was just saying yesterday, about these tables: "Remember the one that took the airship in its teeth? I am sooooo glad we decided not to fight it." That was a bronze dragon. An ancient bronze dragon. Wanted to know how they got the airship, because it hadn't heard or seen such a thing. Just wanted to talk. Didn't hurt the ship with its teeth. But while the party freaked out, they also froze and decided to wait and see. Wow. What a marvelous response that was. And looking back on the three groups of dragons Tamara took a part in killing, THIS is the one she chooses to remember. The one they didn't fight, they just talked to.

I love this sort of possibility. I did make it bronze because metallics are the nice ones. They couldn't tell, however, because it was amidst a terrible storm, at night; at first, they thought they'd hit something in the dark. I could have made it a red dragon. Why not?