Everyone has their own particular image of what a dragon is. The most popular conception is probably that a dragon is a huge hulking beast that lives in a cave, sits upon an enormous treasure, terrorizes the countryside, and breathes fire at anyone foolish enough to disturb it.
Tolkien’s Smaug was much like this but instead of just being a hulking brute, he was also shown to be highly intelligent, cunning, capable of speech, and willing to talk (at least long enough to gain some information).
Gary Gygax introduced nine additional species of dragons. Each had a different breath weapon. Some had two. Half of the dragons (the chromatic dragons) were evil while the other half (the metallic dragons) were good. In addition to speech, many had spell casting abilities as well.
Lots of Dragons
Other authors have created many new categories and endless species of dragons. Between TSR and WotC products, Dungeon magazine, Dragon magazine, and various other related materials, there are scores of different dragons written up.
Imo, most of these dragons are pretty ridiculous and have no place in my world. Beyond that though, even the dragons I choose to include don’t really fit entirely within my view of what a dragon is.
For a long time I envisioned dragons as having some sort of mysterious legacy heretofore unknown to anyone else. One idea I played with involved the 1,000+ year lifespan as being merely the first stage of a dragon’s development. After that they would seal themselves off in their cave and go through a metamorphic process (perhaps within a chrysalis, perhaps something more magical in nature) transforming themselves into a humanoid-reptilian form. These evolved dragons would form a highly advanced secret society with unfathomable motives and goals. Unfortunately, the best I was able to come up with along those lines ended up being just as silly as the whole idea probably sounds here.
I gave up on that sort of idea and tried to determine just what it was I didn’t like about some of the views people have come up with about dragons and what it was I wanted dragons to be.
My View of Dragons
Whatever it was I wanted a dragon to be, it was not to be an easy target. I wanted dragons, at an early age, to be an enormously difficult challenge. By adulthood, they should be nearly invincible to any small group of adventurers. Taking on an older dragon should be inconceivable, even for small armies. Dragons, imo, are not merely monsters to be fought, but iconic symbols representing the absolute top of the food chain.
Defining Some Parameters
What stood out the most, about the common view of dragons that I did not like, was the multitude of different dragons. Even if you limit the number of species to the ten “standard” dragons (metallic and chromatic), there would have to be a huge dragon population (far greater than I think is reasonable without unbalancing my world) roaming around to sustain each of their individual lines. Second, I restrict alignment to beings of the planes inhabited by the deities. Any other creature may have tendencies towards one ethos or another but with a great deal of crossover. The idea of all chromatic dragons being evil and all metallic dragons being good doesn’t work for me. They are all selfish and mostly see other species as food. Good or evil doesn’t really come into play. Third, there is a great deal of effort put into defining differences between the various species. Most of these differences are extremely minor and often are only cosmetic or of importance only to the DM. Spending pages defining the exact size of one dragon compared to another at a specific age category is pretty unnecessary and wastes a lot of paper (I edit, compile, and print my own modified monster manual as well as maintain all the info on a private web page).
After a while I started to see a pattern. Every minor difference between one dragon and another was expanded in an attempt to define each difference as a separate species. The same has been done with people but in that case we call it racism. I definitely don’t want to draw the attention of any draconic activists!
A Unified Dragon
Instead of multiple species of dragons, why not treat all dragons as one species with each individual having different powers. There is no need for a red dragon to find another red dragon in order to mate and make a baby red dragon. Instead, any dragon should be able to mate with any other dragon and produce a clutch of baby dragons. Each clutch could contain offspring of various types (not restricted to the same types as their parents). For the most part, I am restricting dragons to the ten standard dragon types but this approach leaves the door open for an occasional rare offspring of a new and different type.
This concept also makes it reasonable to define just one set of characteristics that describe all dragons. Each type may look different, but each dragon is essentially the same as any other dragon with the exception of having a different breath weapon.
The Family Unit
Humans tend to form family units. Because of this, we assume that all other species will want to do the same. It’s true that some animals remain with their mates and offspring. But it doesn’t seem reasonable to me that dragons would do this. Dragons require a vast territory to supply themselves with an adequate feeding ground. A mated pair would require twice the territory. Throw in some offspring, and the territory would need to grow even further. For this reason alone, solitude seems to me to be a necessity.
An even more compelling reason though would be the avarice nature of dragons. Dragons love treasure. They amass huge treasure hordes and zealously guard them. For one dragon to allow another dragon into its lair seems out of character. For one dragon to leave its lair, which it has painstakingly located and prepared, to live with another dragon seems against their nature as well.
Lastly, raising a baby dragon may be instinctive but allowing it to remain even into adolescence is to allow a threat to grow within the adult dragon’s territory.
My view of dragons does not allow for any meaningful family unit. Instead, I see the female dragon locating a male in neutral territory, mating, returning alone to its lair to lay a clutch of eggs, hatch them, care for them for a year, and then urge them to go out on their own before they become a threat. Beyond that, related dragons may be cordial to one another, but that cordiality may not extend to allowing another dragon within its territory.
A Dragon’s Place In The World
A full grown dragon is one of the most feared creatures in the world. And they know it! Even at a young age, a dragon can challenge most any creature it encounters. This position within the food chain naturally produces severe megalomania. A dragon will feel that it is doing you an immense favor simply by not eating you.
It seems unlikely that a dragon, especially an older dragon, would ever feel threatened. It may become infuriated that anyone would have the audacity to intrude upon its lair, but even then I doubt it would feel the need to instantly attack anyone out of fear. By that reasoning, I would expect any encounter with a dragon to be viewed by the dragon as a mere annoyance, or possibly a bit of dinner theater. The dragon may wish to play with its food (or interrogate if you prefer) before jumping in to battle.
Due to a dragon’s sense of superiority, it is bound to assume that every encounter is a foregone conclusion with its opponents posing no real threat. Combat may not involve any real strategy as the dragon would see no need. As soon as the dragon gains the slightest inkling that it may be in danger though, the dragon’s tactics would change drastically. Instead of fighting toe-to-toe, the dragon is much more likely to take to the air at that point, concentrating on breath weapon and flyby attacks. If seriously threatened, a dragon is far too experienced to stick around and risk being killed. It would flee temporarily but thereafter pursue a lifelong vendetta against the attackers.
Dragons, although solitary, have numerous worshippers living in close proximity to their lair and guarding its entrance. At an early age, kobolds begin to flock to the dragon out of reverence and in hopes of protection. As the dragon ages, other (typically reptilian) races appear as well. A dragon’s form isn’t ideal for many tasks. These humanoid worshippers act as the eyes and ears of the dragon as well as performing whatever else may be asked of them.
I’ve adopted the standard twelve age categories with certain modifications as listed below:
|#||Category||Age||Size||Length*||Level||Breath Weapon Damage||Spell Resistance|
|12||Ancient Wyrm||1000+||C||Over 64′||39-44||12d12||60%|
* The length listed does not include the tail, which is half as long as the rest of the body.
As you can see, these dragons are far more powerful than those typically found in official material. Dragons, imo, are the most dangerous creatures in the world. They aren’t creatures to be farmed but awe-inspiring legendary icons to be feared and avoided. Even younger dragons should pose a significant challenge for any group, regardless of level.
In addition to their powerful melee attacks and breath weapons, I’ve greatly expanded the abilities possessed by all dragons.
- Frightful Presence Aura – Everyone within one space, per age category of the dragon, must make a will power save every round to fight off the effects of the frightful presence aura. Those that fail their save are frightened for one round. Those that succeed are shaken for one round. The save DC is equal to 10 + half the dragon’s level + the dragon’s charisma modifier. Dragons are immune to charm and therefore immune to other dragons’ frightful presence auras.
- Immunities – All dragons are immune to charm and paralysis effects, as well as the damage type corresponding to their breath weapon.
- Spell Resistance – All dragons have spell resistance equal to 5% per age category.
- Damage Reduction – All dragons have damage reduction to all forms of damage equal to half their level.
- Magical Attacks – A dragon’s natural weapons are treated as magic weapons (+1 per age category) for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction.
- Dragon Roar – Hearing a dragon’s roar is a truly spectacular, and frightening, event. All creatures within five spaces, per age category of the dragon, take 1d12 sonic damage per age category of the dragon plus one point of ongoing sonic damage per age category (save ends) and are deafened (save ends). A successful fortitude saving throw reduces damage by half and prevents the ongoing damage as well as the deafness. In addition, all creatures (within the same range) must make a will power saving throw against fear (at a penalty of -5). Those that fail the save are terrified (save ends). Those that are successful are frightened (save ends). Note that these ongoing fear effect saves are also at a -5 penalty.
- Breath Weapon – All dragons have a breath weapon that does 1d12 damage per age category of the dragon plus one point of ongoing damage per age category (save ends). The type of damage (initial and ongoing) is determined by the type of dragon. The breath weapon consists of a 90° cone that extends one space per age category of the dragon. Once used, the breath weapon recharges on a 1d6 roll of 5 or 6. The breath weapon also recharges automatically when the dragon first becomes bloodied.
- Blindsense – Dragons can pinpoint creatures within a distance of 60 feet. Opponents the dragon can’t actually see still have total concealment against the dragon.
- Keen Senses – A dragon sees four times as well as a human in shadowy illumination and twice as well in normal light. It also has darkvision out to 120 feet.
- Universal Translator – All dragons have the innate magical ability to speak the racial language of any creature they encounter.
- Water Breathing – Dragons can breathe underwater indefinitely and can freely use their breath weapon, and other abilities, while submerged.
- Camouflage – Dragons have a natural ability to blend in with their environments giving them a bonus of +5 to stealth.
After beefing up every other aspect regarding dragons, it probably seems unusual that I haven’t included spell casting in the list of special abilities. Giving a dragon the ability to cast spells has always seemed to me to anthropomorphize dragons. The training required to cast spells would imply a society and not fit within my view of a dragon’s isolationism. Beyond that, it just seems that spell-casting would be out of character for a dragon. Much as an wealthy person surrounded by servants would hire a plumber instead of repairing a toilet herself, I envision dragons as viewing spell-casting as being beneath them, preferring instead to have others see to any magical tasks that need to be done.
Throughout literature, dragons have been associated with enormous hordes of gold and silver, gems and jewelry, untold wealth beyond description. I like this view. Having such a horde in the possession of the dragons found in the official material would be unbalancing to the game, as those treasure hordes would occasionally find their way into the hands of adventurers. If a group of adventurers is to gain a haul like that, I want them to have faced an adversary worthy of the tale.