Dragon Tactics, Part 2.5

The fifth-edition Monster Manual includes listings for two “dragons” that aren’t individual creatures per se but rather templates that can be overlaid on any chromatic or metallic dragon stat block. Shadow dragons are dragons that have made lairs in the Shadowfell—a parallel plane of existence full of negative energy, dreary and desolate—and suffered the sorts of effects you’d expect from living for decades or centuries in such a place. Dracoliches are dragons that, like humanoid liches, have turned themselves into undead horrors in the misguided pursuit of immortality.

Shadow dragons and dracoliches are created by applying certain modifications to the stat block of an adult or ancient dragon of another type, either chromatic or metallic. (Yes, it seems that even metallic dragons can become shadow dragons or dracoliches, supposing that they were subjected to some sort of sufficiently powerful corrupting influence or curse.) Let’s look at what effects these modifications might have on their combat tactics. (more…)

Dragon Tactics, Part 2

“Metallic” dragons are the good complements to the evil “chromatic” dragons. Looking just at their statistics, they’re identical in most ways: Their physical abilities follow the high-Strength, high-Constitution “brute” profile. They have proficiency bonuses on all of the “big three” saving throws, plus Charisma. They have blindsight, darkvision, flying movement and one alternative movement mode (burrowing, swimming or climbing)—although I have to put an asterisk by this last one, because the editors of the fifth-edition Monster Manual seem to have forgotten to give silver dragons an alternative movement mode. Adult and ancient metallic dragons have the same legendary actions as chromatic dragons of those ages, and they share the chromatic dragons’ Legendary Resistance and Frightful Presence features. In addition, young, adult and ancient metallic dragons have the same Claw/Claw/Bite Multiattack. And, of course, they all have breath weapons.

Metallic dragons differ from chromatic dragons in four ways:

  • Young, adult and ancient metallic dragons all have social skill proficiencies in addition to Perception and Stealth.
  • Ancient brass and copper dragons, and adult and ancient bronze, gold and silver dragons, can Change Shape.
  • Adult and ancient metallic dragons have only two lair actions available to them, rather than three.
  • Each metallic dragon has two types of breath weapon, one of which is nonlethal and can be used to subdue without injury.

Given that these are good creatures—most of the monsters we’ve looked at so far are either evil creatures or unaligned predators—an encounter with a metallic dragon is going to play out very differently from an encounter with a chromatic dragon. Rarely will it begin with the dragon attacking the player characters—or, for that matter, with the PCs attacking the dragon. (more…)

Dragon Tactics, Part 1

The Monster Manual’s section on dragons is one of the longest in the book and, at first glance, one of the most complicated. But unlike, say, demons, which are all over the place in terms of what they can do, dragons are easy to work with, because they all follow the same pattern. I’ll begin today with the “chromatic” (evil) dragons, then continue with the “metallic” (good) dragons tomorrow.

First, there are certain things that all dragons have in common. They all fly, at twice their land movement speed, and all have one additional movement ability, depending on their color. They all have high Strength and Constitution. They all have bonuses on the “big three” saving throws (Dexterity, Constitution and Wisdom), plus Charisma. They all have proficiency in Perception and Stealth. They all have blindsight and darkvision, suiting their subterranean dwelling preferences. They all begin as uncomplicated “wyrmlings,” then gain abilities and features as they age and grow. And they all have breath weapons.

This last feature is dragons’ defining characteristic. Every dragon, even a wyrmling, has a breath weapon, with effects depending on the dragon’s color. The breath weapon does powerful damage over a cone-shaped area of effect. Because of its power, it has to recharge: At the start of each of its turns, roll a d6 for the dragon. If you roll a 5 or a 6, it has access to its breath weapon again. On average, this means the dragon will get to use its breath weapon once every three turns. But dice are fickle. My players recently fought a dragon that got to use its breath weapon three rounds in a row because the dice happened to fall that way. (They beat it anyway, very cleverly, I’m happy to say.)

Taking high Strength and Constitution as indicative of a “brute” profile, a tough creature with a strong preference for toe-to-toe fighting, most dragons are brutes, even at the wyrmling stage. Of the chromatic dragons, only black and green wyrmlings lack the Constitution to take on any comer in melee. These, despite their Strength, may prefer simply to use their Stealth to avoid combat unless they’re attacked. Dragons of every other color and age won’t hesitate to get directly up in your grille. (more…)