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Dragons Revisited
By James Wyatt

During the holiday season, we're looking back at some of the most popular articles this year, within each column. Today's Wandering Monsters originally ran back on September 10.

We look forward to seeing you again in the new year!

I t's been a while since I talked about dragons, and we’ve had a number of additional conversations about them here since then. You’ve seen some of the results of those conversations in Mike’s Legends & Lore column, where he showed off the way that a dragon might interact with its environment—particularly in its lair. But about a month ago we did an exercise where we tried to think about a dragon’s lair as a dungeon in itself—what does it look like, what else might live in and around it, and that sort of thing. All of these are best demonstrated with examples!

Green Dragons

Personality: Green dragons are wily, seductive, manipulative, controlling, scheming, and subtle. Just because a green dragon can swallow you whole in a single bite doesn’t mean it’s going to—it would rather wrap you around its finger until you’ll do whatever it suggests.

A green dragon seeks dominion over the forest and treasure, like other dragons. It has a broad definition of treasure that includes the minions and pawns it can use to gain more treasure. Control is its driving desire—control over its environment and every living thing therein.

A master of misdirection, a green dragon bends others to its will by letting them think they’re getting what they want, right up until it’s too late. It’s very skilled at assessing the desires of its opponents and playing off of them. Anyone foolish enough to subdue a green dragon learns sooner or later that it is only pretending to serve, while actually manipulating its “master.”

Environment: Green dragons live in forests and jungles in any climate. They sometimes compete with black dragons in marshy forests (or mangrove swamps) and with white dragons in subarctic taigas. But it’s not hard to tell, upon entering a forest, whether it’s controlled by a green dragon or some other sort.

A perpetual fog hangs in the air of a green dragon’s forest, with a hint of green to it and just a whiff of the acrid chlorine the dragon exhales. The trees grow close together, except where winding pathways trace their way like a maze toward the center. Moss grows thick on tree trunks, making the whole forest a bright, emerald green with otherworldly beauty. Light barely reaches the forest floor and every sound seems muffled by the fog. Branches seem to reach out to snag clothing, and roots twist up to catch feet and twist ankles. Half-glimpsed shapes appear and vanish in the fog, inspiring sometimes fear, sometimes desire—leading you in or scaring you out, depending on the dragon’s wishes. The fog makes it nearly impossible to keep track of one’s path through the forest, too, which sometimes keeps intruders out and sometimes hems them in.

No creature living in the dragon’s forest is unaffected by its presence. A silent squirrel frozen on a branch as the party passes by is the dragon’s eyes and ears. Crows calling to each other in the uppermost branches are issuing warnings and tracking the party’s movement. Snakes dangle from branches overhead, lizards crawl upon the forest floor and scurry up gnarled trunks, and snapping turtles lurk in burbling streams. Deer and other large game are even more skittish than usual, knowing they could become the dragon’s prey at any moment.

Servants: Above all else, a green dragon delights in corrupting elves and bending them to its will. Sometimes (as was the case of King Lorac of Silvanesti), a green dragon so wracks its minion’s mind that the fog throughout its forest reflects the tortured dreams of the imprisoned minion.

Green dragons view other fey only as a food source, but other forest dwellers make fine minions for the dragons.

  • Bugbears and goblins
  • Ettercaps
  • Fomorians
  • Kobolds
  • Peryton
  • Yuan-ti

Hoard: A green dragon’s favored treasures include people bent to its will, famous or significant people it has subverted (such as a renowned bard), emeralds, sculpted wood, musical instruments, and artistic busts and other sculptures of humanoid subjects.

Lair as a Dungeon: At the heart of a green dragon’s dominion is an enormous tree with a thick tangle of roots at its base. Among the roots is the opening to a cave. Or it might be a tree grown over an ancient elven ruin, like you see in Angkor Wat and other old temples in Southeast Asia.

Inside the cave, the tunnels branch like a root network as they proceed down into the earth, with occasional small caves that serve as dens for the dragon’s minions. Roots hang down from the ceiling everywhere in the tunnels, even at their deepest extent, and the dragon can cause them to extend and grasp at intruders.

The fog that shrouds the forest above is here in force, reeking of pungent chlorine and disorienting intruders to the point where they can’t keep track of the branches or even their direction of travel. The dragon can thicken the fog to obscure vision (like obscuring mist), slow movement (solid fog), weaken the mind (mind fog), and even sicken (stinking cloud) or kill (cloudkill) intruders.

Nestled in the midst of all the branching passages is a large cave that serves as the dragon’s nest. It often has a small stream flowing through it. Many passages lead into the cave, giving the dragon an easy way to escape from intruders—and then circle around behind them when they get lost in the passages again.

Black Dragons

By Chris Perkins

Black dragons are the living embodiments of corrosion and decay. They inhabit the dark, dismal swamps of the world, as well as the desiccated and worm-ridden ruins of bygone civilizations. They collect the wreckage and half-forgotten treasures of fallen empires, to remind them of their superiority and invincibility, and they loathe seeing the weak and vainglorious prosper. They revel in the collapse of elven, dwarven, and human kingdoms and will make their homes in the gutted, hollowed-out remains.

Personality: Black dragons are sadistic, cruel, and vile. They like nothing more than to watch their victims beg for mercy, perhaps even offering the illusion of mercy or escape before finishing them off. A black dragon might attack a party of adventurers, fly off with the cleric in its clutches, and torment the survivors by leaving pieces of the cleric and his equipment in places for the party to find.

The dragon strikes at its weakest enemies first. It seeks out quick, brutal victories, even during larger struggles, to bolster its ego and terrify its foes. It never allows itself to appear weak. If on the verge of defeat, it will do anything to save itself, but it will die before it allows anyone to claim mastery over it.

Black dragons hate and fear other dragons. A black dragon spies on rivals from afar, and it attempts to slay weaker dragons and avoid stronger ones. If a stronger dragon threatens a black dragon, that dragon is likely to seek new territory.

Black dragons hoard the treasures and magic items of crumbled empires and conquered kingdoms. These salvaged relics remind black dragons of their greatness. Everything else dies, but they live on. The more civilizations a dragon outlasts, the more entitled it feels to claim the wreckage of its former neighbors as trophies.

Environment: Black dragons live in swamps and moors on the frayed edges of civilization, where privacy is assured and food abundant. A black dragon’s lair is typically a dismal cave, grotto, or ruin located within its territory. The dragon will at least partially flood this place, using a great pool of water as a place to rest and “pickle” the flesh of its victims. Its lair is littered with the acid-pitted skulls and bones of previous victims, the rotted and fly-ridden carcasses of slaughtered beasts, and crumbled, mold-encrusted statues scavenged from dead kingdoms.

A black dragon uses a hidden, submerged tunnel to come and go from its home. The dragon usually has one locked or sealed aboveground entrance to entice and capture adventurers. Such passages are rife with traps and might be guarded by the dragon’s servants, such as lizardfolk or dragonborn.

If confronted in its lair, the dragon remains within its pools of water. It swims from one to the next through submerged passages between them, relying on its reach and breath weapon to slay its foes.

Due to the dragon’s innate magic, its lair becomes a place of great magical power. The land twists and changes while under the sway of the dragon’s influence. Intruders must contend with grasping tendrils of fog and pools of acid. When fighting in its lair, the dragon can use its link to the land to draw strength from its surroundings and turn them against invaders.

All sorts of vermin (centipedes, scorpions, snakes, worms, and maggots) infest the black dragon’s domain, and the horrible stench of death and decay pervades the place.

Servants: Evil lizardfolk venerate black dragons. They raid settlements for treasure and food for their master and build crude, eerie effigies of the dragon along the borders of the dragon’s domain. Entrances to the dragon’s lair often have elite lizardfolk defending them.

The dragon’s malevolent influence can also cause the spontaneous creation of evil shambling mounds that seek out and slay good creatures approaching the dragon’s lair.

Evil druids may ally with a black dragon, although the dragon sees the druids as useful servants rather than true partners.

Kobolds infest a black dragon’s lair like vermin. They tend to be as sadistic and cruel as their dark master, often torturing and weakening their captives with centipede bites and scorpion stings before delivering them to the dragon’s waiting jaws.

James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.