hat? How is it possible that I've written twenty of these articles already and haven't talked about dragons?
I plead insanity.
Type: Huge to Colossal (by age) Dragon
Black—chaotic evil Level:
By age/size (medium to high); red > blue > green > black > white Environment:
Black—Swamp, jungle, or caverns
Blue—Desert, hills, or wastelands
Green—Forest or jungle
Red—Mountains or wastelands
White—Arctic or mountains
Dragons are an ancient race of creatures that once dominated the world. They are mythic, mysterious beings with a numinous quality. Those who encounter a dragon and survive often speak of feeling as though they had been transported someplace not quite in the world, and are overpowered with supernatural awe and terror. The oldest dragons are almost godlike, not just in their sheer destructive power, but also in their wisdom and their awe-inspiring presence. (All dragons should have a frightful presence ability that gets more powerful with age. They also have high Intelligence scores, and most have high Wisdom and Charisma scores as well. Naturally, their Strength and Constitution scores are commensurate with their size, but dragons are not particularly dexterous.)
Because of their mythic nature, to call dragons "reptilian" is akin to calling an angel "simian" because it resembles an ape in its general shape. The details of their biology—their feeding habits, their reproduction, and the function of their breath weapons—are not things that can be discovered through scientific study and dissection. That said, their basic physical form is similar to a long-necked lizard with tremendous leathery wings.
Every dragon is a unique individual with its own specific abilities. Some can cast spells, others can change into humanoid form, and still others can enter a frothing rage like a barbarian. Some dragons go to great lengths to acquire unusual abilities, binding demons to their hearts or engraving mystical markings on their scales. That said, each kind or color of dragon has some abilities in common (particularly the breath weapon) and certain tendencies in their other powers (usually related to the nature of the type of dragon's breath weapon or its favored environment). For example, all blue dragons can exhale a bolt of lightning, but some can also employ lightning in different ways (as a burst around themselves, for example, or as forked lightning). And some of these desert-dwelling dragons have the ability to create and manipulate illusions that resemble mirages.
Dragons also share certain tendencies of behavior, both within their color and across all colors. All dragons establish permanent lairs, for example, and build up hoards of treasure over their long lives. All dragons grow larger and more powerful as they age, so fighting a relatively young dragon of only a century or so is a very different proposition than facing one that has seen multiple human kingdoms rise and fall. The youngest and weakest dragons commonly encountered, perhaps at the climax of a long adventure that has brought adventurers to 5th level, are Huge (around 50 feet long from nose to the tip of the tail) and extremely challenging (around level 8). Older dragons get progressively larger. Discovering dragon eggs or recent hatchlings is exceptionally rare, because dragons hide their eggs and rear their young in the most remote and inaccessible locations possible.
It is extremely difficult to kill a dragon that's not in its lair. In the open wilds, dragons prefer to fight on the wing, strafing the ground with their breath weapons or snatching foes up in their claws to drop them from a height. If seriously threatened, a dragon retreats to its lair. When caught in its lair, a dragon pulls out all the stops for a truly epic battle, using the terrain to its advantage and unleashing its most devastating attacks, including not only by using its breath weapon, claws, and deadly bite, but also by making buffeting attacks with its wings and making slapping or sweeping attacks with its tail. Perhaps the only saving grace of such a battle is that a dragon is limited in how often it can use its breath weapon. (It should have some kind of recharge mechanic.)
Dragons are also quite resistant to harm. In addition to the protection against weapons offered by their thick scales, adult dragons have magic resistance, are unharmed by damage akin to their breath weapons (red dragons are immune to fire, for example), and can't be put to sleep or paralyzed. They have extremely keen senses and are hard to hide from, sneak up on, or deceive. Even invisible creatures rarely escape their notice.
Most dragons fall into two broad categories: the evil and rapacious chromatic dragons, and the reclusive but generally benign metallic dragons. The goddess of the chromatic dragons is the five-headed Tiamat, while the Platinum Dragon, Bahamut, is patron of metallic dragons.
Black Dragon. Black dragons are evil-tempered, cunning, and malicious chromatic dragons most often found in swamps but also in other wet environments, such as jungles. They're adept swimmers and can breathe water as well as air, and they often lair in caves with underwater entrances. Their coloration makes them difficult to see as they swim or lie submerged in murky swamp water.
A black dragon's breath weapon is a stream of viscous acid. Acid drips from its mouth when it is agitated, and clouds of acrid air tend to form around it in combat. Many black dragons also gain powers that allow them to control their environment, causing plants to grow or clouds of stinging insects to appear.
Black dragons are relatively weak chromatic dragons, weaker than green dragons and more powerful than only white dragons. Their natural environment does not usually put them in conflict with metallic dragons, except the occasional bronze, so they have no particular enmity except their hatred for metallic dragons in general.
Blue Dragon. Blue dragons are vain and territorial chromatic dragons most often found in deserts but also in badlands, dry grasslands, and desolate wastelands. They can burrow through sand and soft earth, and they often lair in caverns that are inaccessible except by burrowing. Although their coloration makes them easy to spot against their arid surroundings, they burrow into the ground to wait for prey, leaving only part of their heads exposed.
A blue dragon's breath weapon is a bolt of lightning. Sparks and crackling arcs of electricity tend to dance across their scales, especially when they are angered or agitated. Many blue dragons also gain powers of deception, mimicking sounds and creating mirages or illusions.
Blue dragons are almost the greatest of the chromatic dragons, second only to the reds. Their preferred terrain frequently puts them at odds with brass dragons.
Green Dragon. Green dragons are belligerent and cruel chromatic dragons that lair in forests in any clime. A green dragon's coloration helps it hide amid hanging moss and shrubbery. It is lithe and agile, able to snake easily through the trees.
Green dragons breathe cones of poisonous and caustic gas. This gas wafts from their nostrils, surrounding them and filling their lairs with its acrid scent. Many green dragons also gain powers of manipulation—twisting humanoid minds or trees and plants in the environment with equal ease.
Green dragons sit in the middle of the chromatic dragon power spectrum, below the blue and red and above the black and white. Like the black dragon, they don't compete with metallic dragons for territory. Because they like forested hills, though, they often are in conflict with hill giants.
Red Dragon. Red dragons are the most arrogant and greedy of all dragons, making their lairs in caves on high mountains or in desolate wastelands. They perch on high bluffs or promontories to survey their territories and search for prey.
Red dragons breathe cones of pure fire. Smoke constantly rises from their nostrils, and they give off an odor of sulfur that fills their lairs. Many red dragons also gain powers of domination or abilities that help them locate precious items to add to their hoards.
Red dragons are the mightiest of the chromatic dragons, and only a gold dragon of similar age and size can hope to best a red dragon in combat. Silver dragons sometimes compete with reds for territory, often resulting in epic battles between evenly matched opponents.
White Dragon. White dragons are brutish, impulsive, and ferocious chromatic dragons that lair in cold regions—primarily in extreme latitudes, but also in high mountains. They can burrow through ice and snow, climb icy surfaces with ease, and swim through frigid water, relying on their coloration to camouflage them amid the ice and snow.
A white dragon's breath weapon is a cone-shaped blast of frost that coats everything in its area with rime. The creature tends to accumulate fractal lines of frost across its scales, and its lair is even colder than its environment. Many white dragons gain other cold-related abilities, such as the ability to create blasts of icy wind or clouds of freezing fog.
White dragons are the weakest chromatic dragons, easily overpowered by any chromatic or metallic dragon of comparable age and size. They are fierce rivals of frost giants, however, who hunt them for their meat and their hides.
What Do You Think?
I don't think there's much in here that's surprising. What do you think?
Now, how does my description of dragons in general fit with your sense of the iconic D&D creatures?
Previous Poll Results
How do the golems I described fit with your sense of the iconic D&D creatures?
What do you think about golems' magic immunity?
|1-Hate it. Every character should get to shine in every encounter.
|2-Don't like it. It's just more trouble than it's worth.
|3-It's OK. I guess I see the value.
|4-Like it. If it was good enough for Gary, it's good enough for me.
|5-Love it. It makes fighting a golem a unique and interesting experience, and it encourages PCs to find solutions other than combat.
Anything to say about the specific dragon entries? Please comment below!
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.