Somebody Turn Off the Damned Dragon Generator!

There comes a time in most every Dungeons & Dragons campaign when for whatever reason there is more than one dragon kicking about either as a foe or an ally for the players. This can be problematic for a Game Master for a number of reasons, and I’d like to take some time to nail down the ground rules that I use and that others might find useful. Much has been written about dragons, easily more than any other type of monster in the game, because as the name of the game suggests dragons are key to Dungeons & Dragons. Always remember that a dragon is an insanely powerful being and must not be treated in the same way as a randomly generated encounter. The story must in some manner hinge on the dragon if the story has a dragon. These are not superficial easily ignored creatures. The dragon is never randomly soaring overhead. Dragons have purpose even if the players never figure it out.

Bearing in mind that a dragon is absurdly powerful and perhaps the most devastating opponent one can have in a physical altercation it is imperative that a Game Master not get carried away with how the dragons in their world operate. Dragons are keenly aware of their own strength, perhaps arrogantly so, and should not stoop to slaughtering everything weaker than themselves just because they can. Dragons have a far better grasp of the long term consequences of their actions (except white dragons, those poor bastiges are more stupid than a sack of frozen hammers) and are naturally reluctant to do anything as rash as wiping out all of the people in their territory. They may however devise a scheme to dominate those people, or at least use them for their own designs in some manner. A group of ranchers might have to forfeit a cow or two every month to appease a nearby dragon, for instance. A more demanding dragon might demand a human sacrifice on a regular basis if it is particularly evil, but such a demand while understandably unreasonable in itself is not going to wipe out an entire community. It is going to make that dragon terribly unpopular, though. And that can cause trouble for the dragon. Game Masters need to consider how far a dragon will push their agenda given the potential risks. If a dragon is aware that powerful adventurers might be drawn to defeat them because of their demand for a human sacrifice, then that demand is going to be scaled back to a more acceptable level of heinous.

There then must follow a plan for the Game Master to use the dragon in their story without ending up slaughtering the adventurers. Dragons are formidable enough on their own but the older a dragon gets the more treacherous it can become. Spells and psionic abilities increase over time as the monsters age. The more intelligent the dragon is the more likely that they have minions of their own, or at least trustworthy allies. This can make good and neutral aligned dragons especially dangerous as they tend to collect extremely faithful friends. But evil dragons can also have some truly reliable and awful buddies. Know that song by Garth Brooks? Friends in low places. An aged evil dragon is bound to have some staggeringly gruesome cohorts. The players shouldn’t expect to know every trick that a dragon has hidden in its scales, but the GM needs to communicate fully how dangerous it is for the players to tackle this endeavor at all. Whether the dragon is good, neutral, or evil, the Game Master needs to impress upon everyone in the game how absurd it would be to treat this as just a critter that flies and has bad breath.

So it becomes important to set the dragon well apart from the mere mortals with whom the dragon has to share space. Players might want the dragon to be an ally, or at least not an enemy. This is no small interaction. Anything the players have to offer has to appeal to the dragon. Remember how powerful the dragon is. What can they offer that the dragon can’t just take? What enticement can they produce that would cause the dragon to express any interest whatsoever? Players need to be challenged on this. Whoever the dragon is and whatever they are up to aside, the players need to bring their best game plan to either attract or defeat the beast.

With all of that established there may be another hiccup to the storyline. Wherever there is one dragon, there may be a second. Or a third. Or well over half a dozen. They may be of different types and alignments, and they may be at odds with each other. How do the players fit in to this? Game Masters must keep the story rolling and it can’t be just about dragons. Consider this the ultimate backdrop to a good tale: big ol’ lizards flying around doing their stuff while the players are in the foreground trying to avoid getting entangled in their reptilian shenanigans. While I certainly don’t object to dragons being used to drive a point home about how this is suddenly a damned serious situation, a Game Master has to know what each dragon is willing to do and what it is absolutely not going to do. Define those dragons. Keep them defined. They plot and scheme over the entirety of their lives and that can be hundreds upon hundreds of years. They don’t have to care about what the players are doing. In fact they may not care at all. Or if they do care, then the players might be rightly alarmed. What course of action have they embarked upon that it has interested a dragon, or a group of dragons? And might the fact that they are interested at all be a warning?

The answer to that is yes. If a dragon has taken an interest in you and your life then you are probably headed for some serious trouble. Because if there is one thing a dragon takes note of, it is an apocalypse. Game Masters take note. This needs to be carefully considered.