Dragon Player Characters

I really liked this a lot. I loved the Council of Wyrrms box set. This could be the basis of a great conversion to 5e. I also liked what you did with the subclasses. I don't know if I could mix a dragon into a non-dragon group but as a way to do an all dragon group this would be awesome.
 
I like this, but it might be because it has good presentation. Have you given it a try yet? Does anybody else have any balance thoughts on it?
 
You know, AverageCitizen, that's an interesting question. It's one of those things where the supposed drawbacks that would result from someone playing a dragon in a mixed campaign wouldn't really end up being drawbacks. The big one is that dragons are so large that they can't enter most dungeons. But, look at the reality of it. Will the player playing a dragon just have to sit out the adventure because the PCs went inside a cave? Probably not. Instead what will happen is the DM will just need to change the nature of the adventures she runs, either adding an opportunity for the dragon PC to fly above the cave and scope out danger while the others are inside, or forgoing caves entirely.

There could still be moments where the DM could hammer home the negative effects of being a dragon without causing disruption to the game. For instance the dragon PC would have to wait outside (far outside) any towns while the others are able to go in. Also the dragon PC can't use any magical items. Although the Great Serpent subclass with its shapeshifting abilities could solve a lot of these problems. If I did allow a player to play a dragon when no one else is I would encourage them to take that class.

All that said I don't see these rules being used in so called mixed groups very often. Instead I think they're best used as a basis for an all dragon campaign. Then balance between dragons and non-dragons doesn't matter. The only question is having to adapt adventures and battles for a group of dragons, but the idea is so cool it's probably worth all the work.
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
I've noticed a trend towards 10-foot squares in 5e so most dragons should fit in the dungeon just fine. Even with 5-foot squares a dragon can squeeze, and it sucks for them to fight in those conditions, but most dragons would just be like, "eh, I'm a damn dragon, I can take it." The only problem would be 2.5-foot wide passages meant for humanoids to squeeze through, but I see those very rarely in actual adventures. And the Apex Predator who turns Huge and becomes 15x15 might have to squeeze a lot more and would not be able to go down 5-foot passages, but by 17th level there should be ways to work around that, like a friend with teleportation spells, or shrinking spells, or taking the Change Shape feat.

Here are my thoughts on game balance:
  • At low levels, they are clearly overpowered. The racial traits alone are disgustingly good. I just couldn't figure out how to balance flight and non-humanoid type without making dragons seem artificially gimped.
  • By upper levels, I think it evens out. When everybody in the party is attacking 4 times per round, flying, slinging meteor swarm, doing 180 points of damage with Assassinate, etc., then having claws and breath weapons and 26 Strength doesn't seem as impressive.
  • The Maximum Strength ability is deceptive. It's meant to a) compensate for lack of magic weapons/armor, b) compensate for lack of Fighting Style, Rage, Smite, hunter's mark, etc., and c) siphon off Ability Score Improvements and feat selections by encouraging you to spend them on Strength. So in a way dragons get fewer ASI than other classes because they need to keep bumping their prime stat well past 8th level in order to take maximum advantage of an important class feature.
  • Likewise, the natural weapons (2d6) are no better than a greatsword, and most other abilities are impressive-looking but mediocre once you do the math and compare it to what a dedicated warrior or spellcaster would do. Dragons look tough but they are secretly a hybrid class, sacrificing martial prowes for spell-like breath weapon damage.
  • The archetypes are a big question mark, balance-wise. I agonized a lot over things like spellcasting progression and the damage of things like cataclysm and tail slap, and in the end, I went with whatever looked like about the same amount of damage as other classes were dishing out, but it is not well-vetted.
If I were going to use dragons in a mixed group with ordinary characters I probably wouldn't allow them until 5th level. At that point, most classes have some cool stuff going on, and while Fly 60 feet is still a great ability, it's no longer game-breaking.

An all-dragon party would be super sweet. That is where the multiclassing rules come in. I could totally see someone taking a few levels of dragon and then branching out into fighter, paladin, or sorcerer. Dragon warlock would be fantastic. It would really be a different approach to D&D fantasy than your standard murder-hobo campaign.
 

Winterthorn

Monster Manager
I actually own a copy of Council of Wyrms; your Dragon PCs pdf brought back some memories :) As an initial work, I think it is very well done even though there are questions of balance as you've mentioned. I have down loaded a copy and I will see if I can get some players to try it out (may take a while to report back, lol).

I have had some players ask me if I would run a Dragonlance campaign. Oddly enough a dragon PC could be very interesting, particulerly if there was a dramatic story arc around that PC. There *is* potential! :)
 
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The Grand User

Explorer
Oooh! *GRABS*

I shall have to try this out sometime for certain... just need more time >.>

It'd be interesting to have a mixed party and one of the "humanoid" members had my Polymorphed Dragon background.
 
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One thing I have been thinking of is having a dragon cohort campaign, and I think something like this would produce much more interesting dragon-companions than just the vanilla ones. So really, I'd be checking the balance among the dragons.
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
Dunther, that Polymorphed Dragon background is fantastic! I love how you captured the dragon psychology without making them one-dimensional. It's actually something I've been considering as a balancing factor for dragons: just giving all dragons a humanoid form, and saying they're trapped in it for the first 4 levels. Some people may think that's lame but it solves a ton of balance problems.
 

Ryuujin

Explorer
I've noticed a trend towards 10-foot squares in 5e so most dragons should fit in the dungeon just fine. Even with 5-foot squares a dragon can squeeze, and it sucks for them to fight in those conditions, but most dragons would just be like, "eh, I'm a damn dragon, I can take it." The only problem would be 2.5-foot wide passages meant for humanoids to squeeze through, but I see those very rarely in actual adventures. And the Apex Predator who turns Huge and becomes 15x15 might have to squeeze a lot more and would not be able to go down 5-foot passages, but by 17th level there should be ways to work around that, like a friend with teleportation spells, or shrinking spells, or taking the Change Shape feat.

Here are my thoughts on game balance:
  • At low levels, they are clearly overpowered. The racial traits alone are disgustingly good. I just couldn't figure out how to balance flight and non-humanoid type without making dragons seem artificially gimped.
  • By upper levels, I think it evens out. When everybody in the party is attacking 4 times per round, flying, slinging meteor swarm, doing 180 points of damage with Assassinate, etc., then having claws and breath weapons and 26 Strength doesn't seem as impressive.
  • The Maximum Strength ability is deceptive. It's meant to a) compensate for lack of magic weapons/armor, b) compensate for lack of Fighting Style, Rage, Smite, hunter's mark, etc., and c) siphon off Ability Score Improvements and feat selections by encouraging you to spend them on Strength. So in a way dragons get fewer ASI than other classes because they need to keep bumping their prime stat well past 8th level in order to take maximum advantage of an important class feature.
  • Likewise, the natural weapons (2d6) are no better than a greatsword, and most other abilities are impressive-looking but mediocre once you do the math and compare it to what a dedicated warrior or spellcaster would do. Dragons look tough but they are secretly a hybrid class, sacrificing martial prowes for spell-like breath weapon damage.
  • The archetypes are a big question mark, balance-wise. I agonized a lot over things like spellcasting progression and the damage of things like cataclysm and tail slap, and in the end, I went with whatever looked like about the same amount of damage as other classes were dishing out, but it is not well-vetted.
If I were going to use dragons in a mixed group with ordinary characters I probably wouldn't allow them until 5th level. At that point, most classes have some cool stuff going on, and while Fly 60 feet is still a great ability, it's no longer game-breaking.

An all-dragon party would be super sweet. That is where the multiclassing rules come in. I could totally see someone taking a few levels of dragon and then branching out into fighter, paladin, or sorcerer. Dragon warlock would be fantastic. It would really be a different approach to D&D fantasy than your standard murder-hobo campaign.
So yeah happened across this and I would like to play it, but I have some misgivings.

While my favorite archetype is the Apex Predator, because I like the idea of a huge bruiser of a dragon, it seems a bit weak compared to the other two. It gets slightly higher Strength, assuming you spend pretty much every single ability score increase on Strength. Huge gains it some more hit points, though potentially the Force of Nature might be doing better, since it is more likely to focus on Constitution. It seems like Huge doesn't increase reach, then again neither did Large. But Large increased the damage of the natural attacks, and it seems like Huge should really do the same for their natural attacks, Tail Slap and Mighty Bite. Speaking of Mighty Bite, uh I am not sure it will get used much. Unless you are on a cliff face or tower edge or something. 2d10 damage is nice and all, but not really better than just attacking twice for 2d6+str damage, especially with the str modifier the Apex Predator can get. And the 1d6 per 10 feet will be, maybe, 1d6. Unless you are in a contrived situation where you can fling them off a cliff or tower or something. Basically it is an underwhelming feature. Heavily Armored is of questionable use. On the one hand the class is SUPER MAD and normally wants a 14 Dexterity for max AC, and this feature can allow you to safely dump Dexterity, but not too far because of the importance of Dexterity Saves. But really unless the Dragon has less than 14 Dex this does NOTHING. Honestly I like the concept of the Archetype, but a lot of it is underwhelming until 13th level. Also there would be some questions on if it can attack anything within 5ft of it once it gets reach, but it does keep the 5ft reach claws so that ends up not really mattering. Another thing, it looks like this archetype is the only one without a 3rd save proficiency?

The Force of Nature is interesting for a Breath Weapon focused build, and would probably not max Strength, and thus lose the use of an entire very primary class feature, just so they can jack the save DC up with higher Constitution. This will also likely end up giving them more hit points than the other two builds. But what happens if you use more than one Breath Weapon in an encounter? Since Devastation gives you a reaction elemental aura thing when you breathe that lasts for a minute. Not really much to say about this one, it is focused on improving the Breath Weapon and it does that.

The Great Serpent seems to turn it into a Warlock, using a Sorcerer spell list. This uh I am not sure how powerful it is. That seems potentially broken, on top of the actual dragon class. Then again if all you go for is blasting it probably doesn't do much more than the actual breath weapon. It is fairly straightforward and strong, but I am unsure if it is too powerful. If you just use all your breath weapons to cast spells it might be more powerful than the warlock class, and that is not counting everything else the actual dragon class gets. Also just how broken is Animal Form? Guess they lose spellcasting? Except they don't really do spells except with their innate dragon breath to spell thing. Lose out on that sweet strength, except that really this build is unlikely to focus on strength. Where the Apex Predator is probably going to use all its ability score increases on increasing strength, with maybe a single spare feat, or two, on either increasing Constitution or actually gaining a feat. The Force of Nature is probably going to spend a couple attribute increases on getting 20 Constitution, maybe some Strength for when out of Breath Weapons, but really wants to focus on that Breath Weapon DC. The Great Serpent is going to want to spend a couple attribute increases on getting to 20 Charisma for the DCs of their innate spellcasting.

For the class as a whole, I like a lot of it, especially getting Unarmored Defense based off the increasing Strength, though it ends up maxing out at 20 anyways, except for the 28 Strength Apex Predator I guess. Which is the same as a 20 Wisdom 20 Dexterity Monk, but a Barbarian can get higher, if they put enough into Dexterity, a Fighter can do better, a Wizard can do better. A lot can do better. The Fighter is going to be having 20+ AC, probably more than 21 by 17th level, and doing four 2d6+str attacks with possible magic weapon bonuses, or extra fire or something with a named magic weapon, similar hp to the Dragon, and whatever they get from their archetype. Admittedly the Dragon does get 3/short rest Breath Weapons. But depending on what archetype the Fighter gets who knows what else they could pull off. Speaking of magic weapons, is there anything that lets the dragon overcome Non-Magical Weapon Resistance? Monks get it eventually and the other actual weapon using classes can get magic weapons. But the Dragon, especially the Apex Predator archetype Dragon, is kind of in trouble when facing something resistant or immune to non magical weapons, and their breath weapon type.

The Dragon is now the character build with the fewest skills. Some races get a bonus skill or more, but not all. All backgrounds, except this new Wyrmling, get 2 skill proficiencies. And all classes get at least 2 class skills, which the Dragon class does get. The class is also fairly MAD. It wants Strength, a lot of strength if you want to actually make use of the class feature that can get your max strength up. It wants Constitution, not just for hit points but also, for the Breath Weapon DC. And it wants Charisma for the Frightful Presence DC. It doesn't get any more ability score increases than any other class, it has its own special feats it might want, and there are feats in the PHB that it will want. It will also want 14 Dexterity, unless Apex Predator, for as much AC as possible.
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
Fantastic analysis!!! The high-level answer is, I erred on the side of making them underpowered so that they wouldn't accidentally be overpowered. But I don't want them to be a trap option either.

Great catch on the magic weapons, though; that was just an oversight on my part. I'll respond to your other points later, which are all good points.
 

Ryuujin

Explorer
Didn't mention it earlier but I was also kind of disappointed by the 20th level capstones. Legendary Resistance is kind of nice and useful, but it is a once per day kind of ability. Lair seems, well, limited. If you are in a certain, unlikely to ever happen, situation it could prove useful. I know they kind of reflect actual abilities the high level dragon
 

The Grand User

Explorer
For the lair, might I suggest that rather than it be a class feature, that it's an alternative or additional system for treasure/rewards?
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
Well Legendary Resistance is pretty powerful even at 1/day. I'm comparing it to the fighter's thing where he gets to reroll a save 3/day -- Legendary Resistance is automatic success so it's only 1/day.

Lair is supposed to be "fun" but not useful, if that makes sense. That said I LOVE the idea of making this an alternate reward system. I'm thinking that acquiring lair and regional effects requires you to have $X0,000 gp in your lair, and this gives dragon PCs a mechanical reason to hoard treasure and magic items.

The real "capstone" abilities are the level 17 archetype abilities (Huge, Cataclysm, and Pythian Oracle) although they vary in effectiveness.

Regarding the MAD on this class -- I am kind of a fan of MAD. Or rather, I hate classes like the wizard where you max out one single stat and then nothing else matters. I prefer classes like cleric, paladin, monk, or even fighter, where you have 2-3 stats that you have a clear trade-off between, maybe with 1 stat that is primary and the others are nice-to-have.

In the case of dragons, I think you can play it several ways. I think all 3 paths want Strength. Apex Predator probably wants Str and Con for the HP, but can dump Cha because Frightful Presence is nice but not essential. Force of Nature wants Con for the breath weapon save DC but I think there is a reasonable trade-off between that and Strength, which is granting melee attack/damage and AC. And the Great Serpent can actually go full-Strength too and dump Charisma if he buys only buff/utility spells -- the advantage is he can turn into a humanoid with ridiculous Strength and bludgeon people to death with a quarterstaff, which seems fun to me. But it's also reasonable for the Great Serpent to max out Charisma and still have slots left over for Strength increases.

Actually in my original draft of this class instead of Maximum Strength there was simply a Strength Bonus (+2 at 2nd level, +4 at 11th level, +6 at 17th level -- nothing at 5th level because that is when you get Extra Attack) which was meant to make up for the lack of smite, fighting styles, rage, magic weapons, etc. I changed it to Maximum Strength increases because I was worried it was too powerful to just give those bonuses for free. I'm really worried about things like Tail Slap which are hard to judge just how effective they will be.

Personally I think Tail Slap is one of the best things any of the archetypes get because you can use it any time you get attacked in melee, the DC is Strength-based, and it does half damage even on a successful save. So that and a further +2 Strength help the Apex Predator a lot I think. By comparison the Force of Nature's Devastation ability is not a super lot of damage, and it's only a reaction to getting hit, not all attacks. It basically gives the dragon a ranged attack that is not very good. And the Cataclysm ability looks impressive, but it requires the dragon to save against its own attack (ouch) which uses up some of the hit points they get from having a high Con.

You are right that Mighty Bite is lame. Originally I had it initiate a grapple but that is way too powerful because the dragon could grapple and then fly up into the air and drop the victim. That is still kind of a problem with Extra Attack but I guess the dragon is only going half speed? I may change the Mighty Bite to just deal more damage so that it is competitive with claw+claw.

The Great Serpent's warlockish spell casting is nice, but they get fewer spell slots and lower caster level than a warlock at most levels, and very few spells known. It's sort of a warlock "half-caster." I used sorcerer spell list because they are traditionally associated with dragons, and I think the sorcerer list is suitably constrained so that there shouldn't be too many abusive spells on there. I haven't really scrutinized this, though. All I know is, I was having real trouble deciding how many spells/day they should have, until I said, "Ahah! Spells replace breath weapon usage!" And then it was just a matter of making sure spell slots weren't too far ahead of breath weapon damage. (I am not sure I succeeded there and may reduce the maximum spell level they get from 5th level down to 4th or even 3rd, just to keep them noticeably weaker than the warlock and encourage more claw-claw-bite solutions to their problems.)

Overall though, while I tried to balance individual class abilities, it's really hard to figure out the power level of the class as a whole. I also worry that it would be too easy to build a gimped dragon by, say, maxing Dex and dumping Str, because it might not be obvious that this is a bad idea. I should really build some dragons at high level and pit them against a tarrasque or something and see how they do.
 

ingeloak

Visitor
I like this, but it might be because it has good presentation. Have you given it a try yet? Does anybody else have any balance thoughts on it?
Well, while this is a solid effort, it doesnt follow the given rules laid out in the monster manual. If we are making a dragon PC, let's do it right. It needs to follow the listed stats for dragons, which is why this would probably be too powerful for conventional parties. In a council of wyrms style campiagn, bring it on! I loved that boxed set.

Example: the class description says you have gone beyond the wyrmling stage. However, even the black dragon wyrmling has a mightier breath attack than 2d6. Black dragons have a D8 for breath weapons, so a black dragon PC should too. A limiting number of times per day is a decent way to keep it from being overused. Another might be to make it a class feature gained at X level.

The natural armor for dragons is higher than the class, as well. My take on it would be to devise a scaling natural armor progression for dragon PCs, while prohibiting worn armor. Dragons are haughty and proud, and wouldnt be caught dead wearing the feeble metal coverings of lesser beings. The use of spells and/or items such as Bracers and Rings is perfectly acceptable, however.

While draconic claws are usually too big for tools, all metallics can polymorph, and those who cant probably use unseen servant or mage hand to manipulate tools and smaller objects. An appropriately sized piece of wood could make a good wand of mage hand or unseen servant for moving things.

just a few thoughts on the subject. i like this idea and would like to see it in action. in its current version, though, i can answer the question of why a dragon would be adventuring with humanoids. they are weaker than their other brethren.
 

The Grand User

Explorer
Not being exactly like the NPC stat blocks doesn't mean it's not following the rules, it's just admitting that the rules for PCs and Monsters/NPCs are different. It doesn't need to be an exact match for the dragon MM stats anymore than the other PC classes need to be a match for the NPC stat blocks.
 

ingeloak

Visitor
Not being exactly like the NPC stat blocks doesn't mean it's not following the rules, it's just admitting that the rules for PCs and Monsters/NPCs are different. It doesn't need to be an exact match for the dragon MM stats anymore than the other PC classes need to be a match for the NPC stat blocks.
that may have been a poor choice of words then. i was trying for "this racial class needs to be on par with a typical dragon of its type." while it should not be an Ancient at first level, it should be at least equal to wyrmling. Ancient comes at 18-20 range. :)
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
Thanks for the feedback!

My take on this issue (for dragons and all monsters) is that the Monster Manual statistics do NOT reflect a typical member of the species. They reflect a member of the species that PCs are likely to encounter and fight. So the dragons in the MM have developed along different paths than those available to PCs. It's kind of like how the humanoid NPCs aren't built using the PHB race-and-class rules, either: they don't have nearly as many special abilities and feats, but tend to have more hit points, and ability scores that may be higher or lower than the standard array.

That said, I did try to reflect the general nature of draconic abilities so that most of the abilities in the MM stat block are available to PCs in some form. Damage expressions were actually the trickiest part and I may increase those at later levels based on Ryuujin's feedback. But to me it's not really important whether breath weapons are d8s or d6s. The guy with the d8s is about to get ganked for XP, so let him have a little bonus damage. ;}
 

The Grand User

Explorer
that may have been a poor choice of words then. i was trying for "this racial class needs to be on par with a typical dragon of its type." while it should not be an Ancient at first level, it should be at least equal to wyrmling. Ancient comes at 18-20 range. :)
That's still just the same thing, and I wasn't implying that it would be an ancient dragon at level 1 either. So even with your clarification, my statement still stands.

One reason is that the actual numbers or amount of dice something has is just an abstraction. So all the a PC dragons need is "Does he have a breath weapon and is it fairly strong compared to other attack options available to a PC at that level?" (and obviously that would be with some limit on the number of uses), same with flight and natural armor and attacks, etc. They don't need to be exact to any specific breed and age from the MM, they just have to be good enough to be a significant and defining part of the PC to feel like a dragon.
 

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