09 November 2011

Reinventing the Dragon

Dragons are an interesting, iconic monster that's remained popular outside of our favorite hobby. There's just something about dragons that makes people want to get tattoos of them on their bodies, or wear weird silky shirts with a repeating dragon motif, or put oddly-shaped purplish dragons on their cars. Dragons are "cool."

Normally this is where I'd put something that reeks vaguely of counter-culturalism, but whoa. Dragons really are cool. At least, the well-drawn ones are. There's something about a swift-winged engine of destruction that stirs the imagination, and you just can't help it. You can't help but like dragons.

And since I had fun re-imagining the "Tarrasque" the other day, I'm going to have a bit of fun reinventing the classic, iconic D&D Dragon. And it needs it.

I'll admit, I don't have the original D&D rules for Dragons, but I do have the Swords and Wizardry rules pdf here in front of me, and it does do something pretty cool- it makes dragons' health and attack rolls almost the same across age categories. The only things that change are the physical size, the health, and the damage of their breath weapons, which is pretty cool. Unfortunately for my tastes, it still has color-coded dragons while still making the colors of dragons very similar. It doesn't conflate type with personality, though, which is awesome. I never quite understood why every red dragon should be fiendishly intelligent and also act exactly the same as every other red dragon, for example.

Dragons in the Rules Cyclopedia, however (that is to say, basic D&D), are split into three age categories (small, large, and huge), and divided by color. As far I can tell, the dragons are all pretty much the same except for their alignments and exactly what they spit, but I'll be damned if I'm going to do anything more than skim over the unwieldy, three-page-long rules for Dragons. It also goes into rules for Crystal Dragons, which apparently are so named for their ability to breathe total nonsense at people in addition to breathing regular dragony things like fire or lightning bolts or whatever.

In 3rd edition, of course, everything goes crazy and each individual type of dragon has separate stat blocks detailing its every statistic for each of 12 sizes and if I'm not going to read the Rules Cyclopedia, I'm sure as shit not reading any of those monstrosities.

For my approach, I'm not going to do any of that. I couldn't care less about color-coded dragons. To me, a Dragon is an enormous lizard of any color (but usually reddish) that breathes fire. They might be intelligent, and they might not. Some Dragons are burninating assholes, and some are wise demigods. The difference is in their personalities, because Dragons are intelligent and know that they can get away with terrorizing you and your livestock because they're much bigger and more powerful and as long as they're careful you'll never find them outside of their almost inaccessible lair- or that because they're bigger and more powerful, you really should accept them as a demigod, bring them offerings of food and maybe some gold, and then go away before he torches your head.

To this end, I'm thinking of maybe three types of Dragons.

First is the Searing Dragon. Although all dragons breathe fire, Searing Dragons are named for their favorite pastime of burning things with extreme prejudice. Where other dragons can be found tearing into opponents or possibly casting spells, Searing Dragons spend most of their time as a sort of artillery piece, using their wings to get in position to scorch their attackers with gouts of flame. Searing Dragons are unique in that they make such a study of their own abilities to breathe fire that they're able to direct and control their own fire-breathing in ways that other Dragons are unable to match.


Anywhere from 8 to 12 feet long, these agile, aggressive Dragons use their breath weapons at every opportunity. Though they are hardly slim, they are by far the most lithe and agile of the dragons. They possess sharp claws, but they do not favor close-in attacks. They instead prefer to fly out of reach of their enemies and breathe their fire at a distance.

Hit Dice: 9+20 (avg 56 health)
Initiative: +5
Speed: 90' (240' flying)
Armor Class: 1 (19)
Attacks: 1 breath attack or 2 claws
Damage: 8d8 (see below) or 2d6/2d6
Save: F8
Hoard Class: XV

The Searing Dragon may choose to breathe one of three forms of fire: The Line, the Blast, and the Cone.
The Line is a direct line 80' long, 5' wide, and 5' tall that the dragon directs with his mouth.
The Cone is a funnel 40' forwards. It is as wide and as high as it is long.
The Blast is a lobbed fireball that the Searing Dragon can launch up to 100'. The fireblast explodes with pinpoint accuracy on the target selected by the Searing Dragon where it detonates, affecting everything within 20' in each direction, in a sphere.

After the Searing Dragon breathes, it must work its internal forges for a short time before breathing again. For each turn since the last time it has breathed its fire, its next blast deals 2d8 fire damage, to a maximum of 8d8 fire damage.

Secondly, we have Brawling Dragons. These guys are the biggest, meanest, and most aggressive dragons around. While Searing Dragons might set fire to your village, eat your livestock, and then leave you with burning buildings, a Brawling Dragon will land right in the middle of a castle, knock the whole thing to the ground, and feast on the nice, toasty humans in the middle. Of all the dragon types, these guys are the least likely to have a nice, civil conversation with anybody.

Stocky and cruel, Brawling Dragons aren't afraid to get right in their enemy's face and make them suffer. Frequently more than 15 feet long and roughly 10 feet tall, these dragons are bad-tempered and territorial. They're just smart enough to know that they can probably kill you before they even break a sweat.

Brawling Dragons favor a mixed-method approach, often using their breath on grouped enemies before landing in the middle of a fray and attempting to crush their enemies with their bulk. Any enemies that are not crushed are then savaged with the dragon's massive claws while his breath replenishes itself.

Hit Dice: 12+30 (avg 78 health)

Initiative: +8
Speed: 90' (240' flying)

Armor Class: -1 (21)

Attacks: 2 claws or 1 breath weapon

Damage: 4d8/4d8 or 6d6 fire

Save: F8
Hoard Class: XV

Brawling Dragons' breath can either be a line or a cone. Line breath weapons are 60' long, 5' wide, and 5' tall. Cone breath weapons are 30' long, 30' wide, and 30' tall.

After a Brawling Dragon breathes, it must wait for its internal fire to replenish. For each turn since the last breath attack, his next attack will deal 1d6 damage, to a maximum of 6d6.

And last but not least, we have the Dragon Mages.

I'll go into Dragon Mages another time, because frankly, this is a lot longer than it should be, and they kind of deserve their own post with a lot of detail. The subject of spell-casting dragons is kind of an odd one, and hard to deal with without either glossing over their magic or going the 3e route and giving them so many spells that they might as well not even have any spells because nobody can remember all their special abilities and also 20-odd spells they need to cast.

1 comment:

  1. So, what you're saying is, yOUR DRAGONS ARE [lawfully in]DIFFERENT? ;-)

    Seriously, though, interesting stuff. I like reading alternative takes on this cool, iconic monster. In some ways, you are on the opposite end of the spectrum from J. Matthew Stater's, which is a cool contrast.