Dragons as Player Characters

Xeviat

Explorer
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Hi everyone. Back on the WotCommunity boards, back in the days of 3E and 3.5E, I was a prolific homebrew poster. I spent 4E playing and DMing rather than brewing (I loved the system, but found it harder to create for). With 5E, I've been wanting to make content again, but I got dazed and distracted by life's responsibilities and the draw of the DM's Guild telling me I could make money. After sitting on this 'supplement' I starting working on nearly 3 years ago, I've decided to just post it to the community.

Here, I present Scale, Flame, and Spell: Dragons as Player Characters. Inside is presented a race and class combination to play as a True dragon from nearly after hatchling at 1st level through to a young adult on the cusp of dragon adulthood at 20th. The ten Monster Manual true dragons are presented as the subraces, the subclass archetypes focus on different ways to be a dragon. This whole work was inspired by the monstrous classes in Savage Species, and the Vampire class of 4th Edition.

I believe it is balanced against other options. Throughout revisions, I have tried to keep it side by side with existing classes. In it's current incarnation, I believe it balanced well against an example Dwarf Fighter. The Fighter has more AC, better single target damage due to being able to focus Action Surge and one's regular action on a single target, and better ranged potential. The Dragon has more mobility (which costs AC to use until later), more robust saves, and better multitarget damage when they can catch multiple enemies in their breath weapon. Playtesting has found the Dragon fills a party role similar to a Barbarian, but one who relies a bit more on hit and run tactics than the barbarian's face tanking.

The initial design was built off the Sorcerer chassis. Its Breath Weapon was fueled by spell slots, and it was built comparable to a martial subclass like the Wizard's Bladesinger. Initial playtesting showed it had way too much base damage potential, and that was before cracking into all its spell stacking. It was far too much spells to be on top of base dragon features.

The second version was built on the half-caster chassis. This structure worked, but subclass design became difficult. The need for differentiation through subclasses brought me to the current version, where spells are optional.

The third version was built on the fighter chassis and even had the extra ASIs at 6th and 14th level. I removed those and moved Short Flight and True Flight from the age category increases to those levels. I felt like the third version was balanced against the fighter, but it felt like it excelled in too many areas. This way, maxing Str and Con or Str and Cha will feel like more of a restriction instead of giving the opportunity of extra feats.

Please let me know what you think. Editing corrections, balance concerns, all constructive criticism is welcome. I intend to add more to this, such as some more subclasses (I'd like a subclass for those dragons who spends more time in their humanoid form). I'm also considering building it into a larger document, with draconic subclasses for the other classes (dragon riding paladins, dragon pet rangers, draconic barbarians, and the like), as well as new versions of the true dragons.

I hope you like it.
 

aco175

Adventurer
At first look, it seems to be balanced ok. I might have some believability issues with gaining age categories from hatchling to wyrmling to young by level 11. I find most games level rather quickly over about a year of game play where the dragon should go slower, but to fit play needs to happen with the other PCs.
 

Xeviat

Explorer
At first look, it seems to be balanced ok. I might have some believability issues with gaining age categories from hatchling to wyrmling to young by level 11. I find most games level rather quickly over about a year of game play where the dragon should go slower, but to fit play needs to happen with the other PCs.
Yeah, aging as fast as the other PCs will require narrative hand-waving. I remember hearing about one time when dragons were described to be able to grow in size and power from collecting treasure. If 5E had a more structured gold/equipment progression like 3E or 4E, I probably would have worked something like that in.
 

Giltonio_Santos

Adventurer
It seems like great stuff. Hard to say how balanced it is without putting the rules to test, but I really like the overall idea and the execution. Thanks for sharing it!
 

Xeviat

Explorer
It seems like great stuff. Hard to say how balanced it is without putting the rules to test, but I really like the overall idea and the execution. Thanks for sharing it!
I'm definitely open for making adjustments as I get more playtest experience with it. Like, right now, I have concerns that the Serpent is the out and out damage dealing leader among the three subclasses, so I might need to make some adjustments to at least the Drake (though the Drake has more survivability).
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Thanks for sharing

If 5E had a more structured gold/equipment progression like 3E or 4E, I probably would have worked something like that in.
That makes for interesting story and to me that is the important part.

Speaking of story
I think alternate form is rich with possibilities

Some Dragons humanoid form might be somewhat less well strongly defined (they may have difficulty keeping it if they enter a fight) so humans in places where this is common might use duelling to first blood as a method for sussing out a Dragon walking among them.

Others their humanoid form is only proximate (perhaps Dragonish pride interferes) and they show through their nature even in their alternate form with scales and horns and the like.

Other heroes might have excuses for their incredible advancement like reincarnation or prodigies or whatever seems reasonable to allow PC Dragons similar things as backdrop for theirs.
 

Rob Kuntz

Adventurer
I played the first Dragon PC in the play-tests of D&D in 1973--Nedlog-- (spelled backwards, "Golden") as in the Eastern variety who could shape change into a human and as sourced from such stories then apparent as edited for Ballantine Books by Lin Carter. Anyone with any D&D system can create a template for whatever monster and play it.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Anyone with any D&D system can create a template for whatever monster and play it.
So you are going with belittling? wonderful. Ok anyone can do it, so what? Doing it and not have the character feel overpowered (overshadowing) , underpowered, out of sync, or lacking versatility or any of the other design failures possible is very far from straight forward smh.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
So you are going with belittling? wonderful. Ok anyone can do it, so what? Doing it and not have the character feel overpowered (overshadowing) , underpowered, out of sync, or lacking versatility or any of the other design failures possible is very far from straight forward smh.
You can't really play a dragon that isn't overpowered compared to other PCs, unless some sort of magic has crippled it. A gold dragon wyrmling has a 19 str, 14 dex, 17 con, 14 int, 11 wis, and 16 cha. If a dragon PC isn't getting real dragon stats, then it isn't a real dragon PC. That makes balancing a dragon class with other classes impossible. At least a dragon class where you are playing a real dragon. Better to make some sort of dragon disciple class where you get some dragonish traits. That can be balanced.
 

Rob Kuntz

Adventurer
So you are going with belittling? wonderful. Ok anyone can do it, so what? Doing it and not have the character feel overpowered (overshadowing) , underpowered, out of sync, or lacking versatility or any of the other design failures possible is very far from straight forward smh.
HUH? Not belittling anyone. Design is indeed not straight forward, but as noted, it's not rocket science. Just look at the rules for how designers create monsters, note the formulas, check out the weights of this or that, and then play-test them to get out the kinks if any. That's what we did to create Nedlog. The fan base today is no less capable of such as BitD, in fact, I'd wager they have many more applied design instances to work from than we did as D&D was not even published by that time. Cheers!
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
HUH? Not belittling anyone. Design is indeed not straight forward, but as noted, it's not rocket science. Just look at the rules for how designers create monsters, note the formulas, check out the weights of this or that, and then play-test them to get out the kinks if any. That's what we did to create Nedlog. The fan base today is no less capable of such as BitD, in fact, I'd wager they have many more applied design instances to work from than we did as D&D was not even published by that time. Cheers!
Yeah. I didn't understand the belittling comment, either. My feeling with dragons, though, is that you play them with the understanding that they really aren't going to be balanced against other PCs, but rather the DM has to figure out a way to challenge them in the game.
 

Rob Kuntz

Adventurer
Yeah. I didn't understand the belittling comment, either. My feeling with dragons, though, is that you play them with the understanding that they really aren't going to be balanced against other PCs, but rather the DM has to figure out a way to challenge them in the game.
Well. To incorporate them as PCs you can always use scaling; it's Fantasy after all, we do have demi-gods and demi-demons and such. Just make it up, that is what's being done with everything in the game. Shrug.
 

Weiley31

Adventurer
I always liked the idea of the "Main Protagonist of Tyranny of Dragons" being a legit dragon bound in whatever PC race and pretty stuck in that outside of certain "story beats" where a dragon transformation happens or "unlocks" a dragon devil trigger form for hard encounters.
 

Nebulous

Hero
This looks interesting. I would like to run something like this with a whole PARTY of young dragons in a unique setting, not your default Realms or Eberron or whatever. Where dragons are the norm and other races are either very minor or non-existent. Like Planet of the Wyrms. )
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
HUH? Not belittling anyone.
Yeh I see you were wanting to encourage. I think however you under-estimate the difficulty of making something that works well. The vast majority of those gamer hacked together stuff have been historically really poorly done for instance splattered all across a certain wiki is huge amounts of material that I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole (now you can say I am belittling if you want). It may well be that people now have better foundations to work off of than they did in the past because designers are presenting an easier to read clearer model than they used to though.

(Also I am certain I wouldn't use anything made by someone whose idea of balance is oh the DM can have more bad guys attack you even if you are more powerful SMH)
 

Rob Kuntz

Adventurer
Yeh I see you were wanting to encourage. I think however you under-estimate the difficulty of making something that works well. The vast majority of those gamer hacked together stuff have been historically really poorly done for instance splattered all across a certain wiki is huge amounts of material that I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole (now you can say I am belittling if you want). It may well be that people now have better foundations to work off of than they did in the past because designers are presenting an easier to read clearer model than they used to though.

(Also I am certain I wouldn't use anything made by someone whose idea of balance is oh the DM can have more bad guys attack you even if you are more powerful SMH)
Design either works or it doesn't. Most of it is numerics, what we call balance is more often connected to that as the base-line, so it really comes down to scale in this (current topic) instance. Understanding (intuitively, even) through engagement with the system of how the numeric weights are applied within it becomes the most paramount measure for affecting add-ons and such. Once you conquer the system's numerical balance points then the application of it within abutting streams should become much easier and less hack-worthy.
 

Twiggly the Gnome

Adventurer
This looks interesting. I would like to run something like this with a whole PARTY of young dragons in a unique setting, not your default Realms or Eberron or whatever. Where dragons are the norm and other races are either very minor or non-existent. Like Planet of the Wyrms. )
It would work well in Eberron, if you focused on the continent of Argonnessen.

As to the write-up here, it might be neat to have a class that got a humanoid "pet", along the lines of the Artificer's iron defender or Ranger's elemental beast.
 

LordEntrails

Adventurer
To me, the issue with dragon PCs isnt really about balance. (Though that needs to be addressed before they are used.) But a lore fundamental concept to the mythos.

Dragons get tougher by age. PCs get tougher by experience. This is a massive disconnect in my mind and how I envision a setting in DnD. I could see an entire campaign of dragon characters, but I just cant envision a 20 or 40 year old dragon character reaching level 20.
 

Rob Kuntz

Adventurer
To me, the issue with dragon PCs isnt really about balance. (Though that needs to be addressed before they are used.) But a lore fundamental concept to the mythos.

Dragons get tougher by age. PCs get tougher by experience. This is a massive disconnect in my mind and how I envision a setting in DnD. I could see an entire campaign of dragon characters, but I just cant envision a 20 or 40 year old dragon character reaching level 20.
Well. Just do an RPG, or sculpt the current one based on a magical demi-dragon race. Heck, we've included all forms of sub-humans and demi-humans. Or have some sustaining ritual that the PC must reapply at a certain place or time, a rare alchemical mixture perhaps. Not to trivialize historicity within Game Worlds, of course, to each their own, but in Fantasy (and design) my route is to expand the possibilities and not contract them, so I see myriad "methods" in PC-driven "dragon whatever". Thus good ole Nedlog. :)
 

Stormonu

Hero
To me, the issue with dragon PCs isnt really about balance. (Though that needs to be addressed before they are used.) But a lore fundamental concept to the mythos.

Dragons get tougher by age. PCs get tougher by experience. This is a massive disconnect in my mind and how I envision a setting in DnD. I could see an entire campaign of dragon characters, but I just cant envision a 20 or 40 year old dragon character reaching level 20.
This could be turned on it’s head - mortals age. But what of “immortal” beings. Perhaps humans have it wrong because they don’t understand the magicallity of dragons. They don’t age, they molt. Molting for a dragon is dependent on hoarding - treasure, knowledge, what have you. Dragons get more powerful when they absorb or bind with their hoard. A lucky dragon may molt into a Ancient Wyrm overnight if it happens upon a large enough hoard at once, or a “poor” dragon may remain a baby wyrmling for centuries due to lack of a bound hoard.

I remember Council of Wyrms (which used some of these ideas), but the problem with it was always finding or making suitable adventures - for a party of dragons.

And if power level bothers you, start at something like 5th, and work up to 25th or some such. Not every game need begin at 1st level.
 

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