DRAGONS, An Alternate Take on a Classic Foe

MechaPilot

Explorer
While doing some work on the setting document for my homebrew setting of Tenesia (which takes place on a world called Etrimus), I recently finalized my setting's version of dragons, and I was wondering what the community's thoughts, opinions and concerns might be.

The following is an excerpt from the monster section of that setting document:


Dragons

Etrimus' dragons differ from those of other D&D worlds. They're less intelligent, though incredibly cunning. They don't cast spells, and they can't speak humanoid languages, but they can learn to understand and read them.


Critical Strikes. The dragon critically hits on an unmodified roll of 18, 19 or 20. An unmodified roll of 20 deals triple damage instead of double damage.


Destructive. Attacks with the dragon's teeth, claws, tail and breath weapon deal double damage to structures and objects. A critical hit with the dragon's teeth, claws or tail against a structure no more than one size larger than the dragon instantly causes it to collapse.

Devour. When the dragon's bite attack reduces a creature to 0 hit points, or imposes a failed death save on an unconscious creature, the creature is killed and devoured (at least in part) by the dragon. The dragon then recovers hit points equal to the damage done by the bite attack.


Dragon Hide. A dragon's hide is so tough it's known to destroy weapons used against it. Any attack against a dragon risks weapon damage or destruction.


Anon-magical weapon is damaged on any attack roll that fails by five or more to defeat the dragon's AC. Magical weapons fare a bit better. Magical weapons suffer damage only on a natural 1, and they face no threat of immediate destruction.

A damaged weapon gains a cumulative -1 penalty to attack and damage rolls. When the penalty reaches -5 the weapon is destroyed.


Also,on a natural 1 a non-magical thrown or melee weapon is destroyed,spraying shrapnel in a 5 foot radius from the point of impact. This shrapnel does 1d4 slashing damage. Non-thrown ranged weapons do not break on a natural 1. However, the ammunition fired at the dragon still shatters in the same manner as a melee weapon, except that the damage from the shrapnel is 1d2.


Dragon Rage. When the dragon is first reduced to half (or less) its maximum hit points, or is critically hit while below half its hit points, the dragon enters a rage that recharges its breath weapon. At the end of a turn in which the dragon's breath recharges due to this feature, the dragon can spend 1 legendary action to use its breath weapon, or 2 legendary actions to use its breath weapon and make an attack against every enemy within melee range.


Dragon Resistance. Wyrmling & Young dragons gain resistance to non-magical bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage. Adult and Ancient dragons gain immunity to non-magical bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage.


Dragon Senses. A dragon's vision,hearing and sense of smell are incredibly keen. The dragon has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks using these senses, and a +5 to their passive perception related to these senses. Additionally,dragons can see and smell the presence of magic within 120 feet.


Legendary. Tenesian dragons are legendary beasts whose number of legendary actions and uses of legendary resistance equals one less than the number of foes it's facing (minimum of three).


Persistent Breath. When the dragon uses its breath weapon, the effect of the breath weapon lingers on the field of battle. Anyone who remains in the area affected by the breath weapon will take one point of damage for every two dice of damage done by the breath weapon.


Example:an ancient red dragon's breath weapon deals 26d6 damage in a 90 ft.cone. This creates a 90 ft. conical section of burning terrain that deals 13 fire damage to anyone who enters the area, or who begins or ends their turn in it.
The lasting effects of a dragon's breath weapon remain for 10 minutes (i.e. 100 rounds).

Rend Armor. When the dragon hits an armored foe with a bite or claw attack, the target's armor is torn apart, giving the dragon advantage to all attack rolls against that target until the armor is repaired,replaced or removed.



Lair Actions
Fighting a dragon in its lair is both reckless and foolhardy. Unlike other dragons, Tenesian dragons hate magic and gain no magical lair actions. Instead, a Tenesian dragon in its lair fights with more tenacity and ferocity than anywhere else because it's defending its home and its horde, and because it has nowhere to run to if the battle goes poorly. Replace the dragon's usual lair actions with the following:

  • The dragon ends one negative condition it's suffering from. The dragon can use this ability even if it's suffering from a condition that prevents it from taking actions.
  • The dragon regains one spent use of its Legendary Resistance.
  • The dragon makes one melee attack. If the attack hits, it's automatically a critical hit.


So, what do you think of my take on dragons? Any thoughts, concerns and constructive criticisms are welcome.

Also, feel free to share your own take on this classic monster, and tell us how your dragons differ from the norm (if at all).
 
S

Sunseeker

Guest
I'll be honest, I tack a lot of these right on top of regular dragons. Especially in the upper age categories.
 

bleezy

Visitor
These are pretty good.

Critical Strikes: Why not add 1-2 extra dice of damage to claw and bite attacks? Huge damage spikes are not that much fun in my opinion.
Devour: I use this for pretty much every Huge or larger monster with a bite attack. An ability like this is pretty essential to any threatening monster. You probably don't need to kill the character though. If by some miracle they manage to the get the character out in the next two rounds, they should be able to keep him alive.
Dragon Hide: This seems like more trouble than it is worth. I would be pretty epic if someone's legendary magic weapon was sundered in a killing blow against an ancient dragon, but that's hard to work out in game mechanics.
Dragon Rage: This is cool!
Dragon Resistance: I would shift these up one level.
Legendary: The n-1 legendary actions is a must have. I actually use this for every single legendary creature of every level, not just dragons. The n-1 legendary resistances are a bit harder to justify from a simulationist point of view. Why would a dragon get more resistances if he were fighting more enemies? Is he not taking them seriously in smaller numbers? I bet he would start taking them pretty seriously when he gets hit by a disintegration beam. It makes about as much sense as increasing HP when there are more players, which can be ok sometimes. I can see this making for a more interesting fight though, so it sounds good.
Persistent Breath: This is pretty cool. 10 minutes seems like a long time though. I would make it a few rounds.
Rend Armor: This is weird. I like the idea but it can create some strange effects. If you are wearing light armor, you might be worse off after it gets rendered than if you were never wearing it. Why not say each hit reduces the AC by 1? You could have a maximum reduction of 2 or 3 so that heavy armor never becomes useless.
Lair Actions: I don't like these. I especially don't like the dragon regaining legendary resistances.
 
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Eltab

Adventurer
The powers are fun and flavorful. They are somewhat overpowered (IMO), but can be toned down without losing the effect:

Devour: use the Swallow Whole monster power. If a victim fails its final Death Save and is inside the dragon's mouth, it is eaten by the dragon. The body cannot be retrieved for Resurrection &c. I like the part about "Dragon heals self a bit".
Dragon Hide: If my weapon does more damage when it breaks than it does when I use it as intended, then I should smash it on the floor more often. Maybe 1d2 Slashing to each adjacent creature? The visual image is evocative and makes 'we will go fight the dragon' scarier, so I like the idea behind it.
Dragon Rage: Explicitly make this a Reaction. The dragon auto-uses it when triggered.
Dragon Resistance + Dragon Hide + Rend Armor = unbeatable dragon (for non-magic-users)? Individually the effects are neat, together may be overwhelming.
Persistent Breath: Have the zone last until the beginning of the dragon's next turn. If the zone persists for a while, the dragon's best move is to breathe a thick multi-layered field in his doorway (or some other bottleneck) and keep renewing it until the pesky adventurers are destroyed or they give up and go away.
Lair Actions: I don't like regaining Legendary Resistances. How about replacing that one with 'Frenzy: The dragon can Claw / Claw / Bite; these attacks need not be against the same target'?

All that said, it sounds like fighting a Tenesian dragon in its lair will be the high point (and probably natural completion) of a story arc. Nicely done.
 

MechaPilot

Explorer
Thank you for your comments (and your compliments). I appreciate your thoughts and the effort you've taken to reply. Allow me to explain some of my decisions in designing these abilities.

The dragons from my setting are embodiments of power, wrath and greed. They were created by the goddess of war, who's also knows as the mother of dragons, and there's a certain aspect of them that represents the cycles of war and peace. The dragon settles in a territory and clears out all humanoid life within 100 miles of its lair. After a period of activity where it engages in rampant destruction and the accumulation of valuables, it slumbers for many years (often for a couple centuries or so). When it wakes, it usually finds that settlements have arisen in the 100 mile radius the dragon has claimed for itself, and it begins the cycle anew.

Magic is one of the few things that's reliably able to hurt them, and that's why they hate magic and those who use it. In any fight, the dragon is assured to begin combat by focusing on enemies from whom it can sense magic. Although Tenesian dragons are less intelligent than most typical D&D dragons, they're very cunning and capable of learning. Tenesian dragons that attack a town are generally capable of recognizing churches and libraries, and they'll attempt to destroy those things first (with smithys usually being next on their proverbial checklist). The dragon will also employ its breath weapon, and the lasting areas of harm that it creates, to pen in its victims or to wipe out a town. A dragon attacking a city with a keep, or with barracks for the town's soldiers, will often use its breath weapon to separate the innocent citizens from their defenders.


Critical Strikes & Rend Armor
Critical Strikes is intended to synergize with Rend Armor. The dragon gaining advantage makes it more likely to crit on future attacks against that target (it also mitigates the effects of any PC abilities that impose disadvantage on a foe).
[MENTION=6778458]bleezy[/MENTION], I get that the spikes of damage the ability creates isn't fun for you. Each person has their own style and preferences, and that's perfectly fair. To be frank, when I play a character I don't really care for having passive abilities like an increased crit range; I vastly prefer active abilities. However, for my dragons, and for the themes I want them to portray, the Critical Strikes ability (especially in synergy with Rend Armor) makes the dragons more dangerous without adding a lot of mechanical complexity.

Regarding the situation you mention where "If you are wearing light armor, you might be worse off after it gets rendered than if you were never wearing it," I think that's okay. However, your comment has made me realize I need to figure out how long it'd take a character in damaged armor to pull it off if they chose to. It doesn't seem fair to use the full don and remove times since pieces of it are already hanging in tatters from the character.

Persistent Breath
Persistent breath has a 10 minute duration because of its intended use. It exists to give the dragon the ability to exercise control over the battlefield. It lets the dragon separate creatures from their allies, and it lets the dragon create zones of harm to punish foes who get too close to it.

Dragon Hide
[MENTION=6778458]bleezy[/MENTION], the ability is a bit of work. I would've preferred something more simple, but I couldn't figure out a simpler mechanic that evoked the feel I was going for: that a dragon's hide is a cloak of destruction, and attacking it with non-magical weapons is like trying to break up a boulder by chopping at it with your sword.
[MENTION=6803337]Eltab[/MENTION], I agree with you about the damage of the weapon shattering. I'll change that.

Dragon Resistance
I appreciate the concerns about how this, especially combined with other abilities, really hampers non-magical characters. It's a more than fair concern. However, it also plays into my setting's concept of dragons. If a town without any magical ability is able to defend itself well from (or even defeat) a dragon (especially an adult or ancient one), the dragon isn't tough enough. It's supposed to be a living, breathing terror of wrath and destruction capable of breaking armies underfoot and wrecking castles. It's also noteworthy that my setting isn't exactly low-magic. I don't give out +X items, but magic items with other properties, or items that simply count as being magical, aren't tremendously difficult to come by. By the time a party meets an adult or ancient dragon, they each should have at least one magic weapon (even if none of them grant a +X to hit and damage).

Devour
[MENTION=6803337]Eltab[/MENTION], I looked at the swallow whole monster ability (specifically, those of the purple worm and the remorhaz). It doesn't look bad, but it also doesn't feel like it entirely fits the theme I'm going for. That said, I'm not 100% on which one to use. You've given me something to consider.

Legendary
[MENTION=6778458]bleezy[/MENTION], I agree that it doesn't make sense from a simulationist standpoint. However, I also feel that legendary resistances and legendary action uses are specifically designed with a standard party of four in mind. A creature that's supposed to be an embodiment of power and destruction shouldn't run out of resistances or actions just because the game designers assumed fewer characters in the party than are being run at my table.

Dragon Rage
[MENTION=6778458]bleezy[/MENTION], Thank you for the compliment.
[MENTION=6803337]Eltab[/MENTION], I appreciate your input but I'm going to disagree with you on this one. Making it a legendary action prohibits the dragon's rage from being short-circuited in cases where an effect prevents the dragon from taking a reaction (such as if shocking grasp were the attack that brought the dragon to half or less HPs, or that critically hit the dragon).

Lair Actions
[MENTION=6803337]Eltab[/MENTION], thanks for the suggested replacement. A frenzy does sound like it might be more evocative of the dragon being fierce because it's cornered. I'll make that change.
 

dave2008

Legend
I like them a lot - good work. It is creative to make dragon's tougher without resorting to more HP, more damage, and more magic. Of course, I still like my dragons with more HP and more damage ;)
 

MechaPilot

Explorer
I like them a lot - good work. It is creative to make dragon's tougher without resorting to more HP, more damage, and more magic. Of course, I still like my dragons with more HP and more damage ;)
Thank you. I'm glad you like them.

However, I will say that some of it does come down to more damage. The critical strikes feature (especially coupled with rend armor) is all about improving damage output while keeping with the theme I was aiming for.
 

dave2008

Legend
Thank you. I'm glad you like them.

However, I will say that some of it does come down to more damage. The critical strikes feature (especially coupled with rend armor) is all about improving damage output while keeping with the theme I was aiming for.
Yes, but just not more dice.
 

Draegn

Explorer
In my game all dragons regardless of colour and type, breathe fire (hot or cold flames), exhale toxic fumes and spit acid. Few dragons are a pure colour including white, grey and black. Fewer have a metallic sheen or crystalline sheen. Most are a shade, tone or tint of a true colour.

The four types of dragons are the heraldic with four limbs and two wings. The drake with two legs and two wings which is weaker than the heraldic but a much faster and more agile flyer. The wyrm with four legs, immensely strong and tough, considered to be a living siege engine and fortress. The serpent without any limbs or wings and by far the weakest, yet able to easily burrow itself in loose materials and breathe underwater.

The majority of dragon eggs produce lesser dragons that lack all the special attacks and are of a variable size ranging from the size of ferrets to the occasional size of larger herd animals. While dragon mothers love all their children they understand that in lean hunting times that the lesser ones serve as a food source for any true dragons hatched.
 

MechaPilot

Explorer
What effect does this have on a Dragons CR?
I'm sure it raises the CR; the only question is by how much.

I haven't done the math of it, but I did look at the DMG section on calculating monster CRs, and I haven given it some thought. Here's my breakdown of it:

There are a few abilities that are mostly thematic, and that I don't see substantially adding to the dragon's CR. Destructive and Dragon Senses fall squarely into this category. Likewise, Legendary is simply meant to adjust the dragon for larger party sizes (and doesn't affect the dragon if facing a standard size or smaller party), so I don't think it adjusts the dragon's CR either.

Dragon Resistance & Dragon Hide: These undoubtedly raise the dragon's defensive CR as if the creature had extra HPs. For higher CR dragons, PCs are much more likely to have magic weapons, so this is progressively less likely to matter as the PCs reach higher levels. I can see these increasing CR more for younger dragons than for older ones; an ancient dragon is unlikely to have its CR substantially affected by these abilities (because the PCs are so likely to be magically armed by the time they face one). So, I'd say no increase for ancient, no or a +1 increase for adult (depending on its preexisting CR), and a +2 increase for a wyrmling or young dragon.

Critical Strikes & Rend Armor: This likely raises the dragon's offensive CR. I'd say +2.

Devour: This ability only comes into play if a character is reduced to zero HPs by one specific type of attack the dragon can make an average of once a round, twice if the dragon's fought in its lair (once for the attack action, again if it rages, and again if it frenzies as a lair action). The ability does heal the dragon, and it does kill the character brought to zero HPs (or damaged while unconscious). I can see this ability increasing the dragon's CR by 1.

Dragon Rage: When a party faces a dragon to the death, this ability is only guaranteed to trigger once (when the dragon drops to half or less HPs). It's probably safe to assume at least one PC crits the dragon while the group is whittling down the latter half of its HPs. So I'd say the ability triggers twice in a fight to the death. This is probably worth a +1 CR increase.

Persistent Breath: This is largely a battlefield control feature. It'll annoy PCs with some extra damage if they don't steer clear of it (equal to one-half the breath weapon's minimum damage), but it's not much damage. Even for an ancient red, we're only talking about 13 hps. At most I'd say this ability is worth a +1 increase to CR.

Lair Actions: These replace a dragon's ordinary lair actions. I'd say they create either no change or are worth a +1 increase.


In summary, I'd say the modifications Tenesian dragons get raises their CR by 5 to 7 points.
 

Harzel

Adventurer
Persistent Breath. When the dragon uses its breath weapon, the effect of the breath weapon lingers on the field of battle. Anyone who remains in the area affected by the breath weapon will take one point of damage for every two dice of damage done by the breath weapon.


Example:an ancient red dragon's breath weapon deals 26d6 damage in a 90 ft.cone. This creates a 90 ft. conical section of burning terrain that deals 13 fire damage to anyone who enters the area, or who begins or ends their turn in it.
The lasting effects of a dragon's breath weapon remain for 10 minutes (i.e. 100 rounds).
Most dragons' breath weapons are conical. Although (as usual) the PHB is sloppy about some of the associated terminology, I have always taken that to be a 3D effect. Did you envision the persistence for conical breath weapons to be taking place in three dimensions, or just in a triangular* area on "the ground"? If the latter, what happens if the breath effect does not intersect some solid surface? The conic(al) section seems to me like a natural way to envision the persistence of fire, and maybe cold, but the gas attacks might more naturally persist as an actual 3D cone. For the sake of having fewer cases, I myself might go with the 3D persistence. Not a criticism, just a thought.

*Although this brings up the point that technically the triangle is actually a special case in which the dragon has his chin on the ground**; the more general case is either an ellipse or a parabola, depending on height and angle. Perhaps this is what you meant by "conical section"? That would be close to proper terminology, though when I read it I assumed you meant the commonly envisioned triangle.

** Yeah, ok, really, really technically his chin would have to be slightly below the ground. Picky, picky, picky.
 
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I like everything written except the followBig:

1) weapon and armor damage. Players have a crazy adversion to item destruction. I’ve seen worse reactions to it than a tpk. Just not worth it.

2) I think the devour is a bit strong. I like it, just tone it down a tad
 

MechaPilot

Explorer
Most dragons' breath weapons are conical. Although (as usual) the PHB is sloppy about some of the associated terminology, I have always taken that to be a 3D effect. Did you envision the persistence for conical breath weapons to be taking place in three dimensions, or just in a triangular* area on "the ground"? If the latter, what happens if the breath effect does not intersect some solid surface? The conic(al) section seems to me like a natural way to envision the persistence of fire, and maybe cold, but the gas attacks might more naturally persist as an actual 3D cone. For the sake of having fewer cases, I myself might go with the 3D persistence. Not a criticism, just a thought.

*Although this brings up the point that technically the triangle is actually a special case in which the dragon has his chin on the ground**; the more general case is either an ellipse or a parabola, depending on height and angle. Perhaps this is what you meant by "conical section"? That would be close to proper terminology, though when I read it I assumed you meant the commonly envisioned triangle.

** Yeah, ok, really, really technically his chin would have to be slightly below the ground. Picky, picky, picky.
I assumed 3 dimensions, but I also assume some breath weapons would need a solid surface to interact with. Fire, for instance. However, poison can easily be a lingering cloud that continues to fill the whole three dimensional cone. As could cold. I could also see lightning creating a weird 3d tesla space in three dimensions as the electrical potential of the area is changed by the breath weapon.
 
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OB1

Jedi Master
I am definitely stealing this template for an upcoming likely fight in the outer planes.

Instead of n-1 for legendary saves, I’ll just give her 5 for being an ancient and the option to try and recharge a single resistance in lieu of recharging her breath weapon (5-6 out of lair, auto success in lair).
 
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