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D&D 5E Is Neil Gaiman Wrong?


The most gamey part of D&D has always been the in universe durability of things required to make it work.

A 300 pound Fighter in Plate has no business surviving straight hits from a 5 ton Dragon. But a 5 ton Dragon probably doesn't like a Ballista into the vitals or a Disintegrate to the face very much either, and won't be able to go airborne after facing a squad of spearmen in a ground skirmish (assuming flight is somehow physically possible for a 5 ton creature). Wing membrane wouldn't exactly have AC24 if someone were to go specifically after it.

Even without 50cal Machineguns available everyone seems to become weirdly durable, when in reality a single good hit could always mean you're dead meat.

PCs surviving direct Fireball bits that should be comparable to grenades is a bit odd. And that's before they drop to 0 HP and just jojo back to action.

Physics just don't work the same in DnD, for all the attempted simulation going on across the editions lvl 20 shouldn't matter considering the amount of kinetic energy rupturing vessels and organs when a humanoid gets hit by a 7 foot weapon wielded by a Giant.

Accepting the excessive durability of pretty much everything in DnD, we have a system that isn't analogue to IRL. Physical parameters like mass are a minor variable sometimes, not the driving factor, which would be Level/CR.
What DnD has been "missing" since 2E or 3E is the mortality that used to be there. You start most campaigns and can reasonably expect to for your PC to fight dozens of battles without suffering permanent consequences like crippling injuries or death. Even in "gritty" campaigns you're still going to be relatively durable or just roll up a new character if you end up biting the it. There's a lack of consequences and threats to your existence because DnD is a game, one with only a single save, so it has to be somehwat easy to get through most stuff on the first attempt.
The opponents the PCs are facing are ultimately facing an inverted scenario. More often than not, they're doomed the second Initiative gets rolled. "Bounded" CR for the usual encounters and lenient DMs being the main factor here. You're just not gonna run into a combat encounter with a CR20 creature at level 7 and simply die. That wouldn't be fun, so those encounters tend to be sneaky or social, with the PCs escaping to return another day when they're ready.

In universe you'd probably be extremely skilled and extremely lucky to make it to Level 5 and it gets exponentially more difficult to succeed first try at everything that could cost your life.
If you're a legendary adventurer with the ability to even attempt to put down an Ancient Dragon you suffered through countless close calls and there's a couple hundred people who were once with you but didn't make it along the journey. Challenging that Dragon would mean you're putting your life, the live of the party members as well of everyone who sent you on the line. You wouldn't know about the precautions the other side made, there'd likely be no guarantee to even find what you came for, you'd be grimly aware at least some of you are dead men walking. The Dragon went through the same thing, but has been at it for a millennium or so. The odds have been in his favor since forever at this point, he doesn't really have any serious threats anymore unless he screws up. He's had 3 dozen generations of your ancestors to prepare for you intruding on him.

Someone can beat that Dragon, no question. But everyone who wants to attempt it might be one of the hundreds or thousands who died trying, those stories aren't really talked about and often forgotten in our campaigns. The ones who came before and failed don't show up in the story about our particular band of misfit superheroes who never ended up in a TPK and saved the world.
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Can dragons be defeated?

Sure they can, but is it plausible? I know, I know, plausibility, is something subjective when we are talking about a magical fantasy world, so let me better explain where I am coming from and where am I going.

I have a player that totally despise the idea of beings from the size of a dragon's toe facing a Gargantuan Magical Intelligent beast. He can't concede on that. There is no argument, no magic weapon, no number of warriors, nothing. In his words "We would need an army, all fully equipped with very powerful weapons, and a lot of luck to get a small chance to survive. There is no such thing as a dragon hunt."

Neil Gaiman said that one of the reasons why he wrote Coraline was because he wanted to tell his kids that dragons could be defeated. He even quoted GK Chesterton on it.
So, how do you cope with that?
How do you make you dragon quests plausible and interesting?
Is my player right? Or Gaiman/Chesterton are ?
What do you think?

My friend also has similar concerns.

however, this is myth making. People (heroes/gods) grapple with the primordial serpent. It’s universal.

if we play this game, we have to let linear clear cause and effect get fuzzy.

no, a few warriors could not take down a multi multi ton dragon. A housefly would not kill a person.

then again we have to grapple with hit points. If the fly caused me to swat it away while in a precarious position, I might stumble.

in another situation maybe someone small causes me to actually trip. now vulnerable, a small threat with a weapon could deal a significant blow.

when I was a teen asleep on the floor after an all nighter, my 6 year old brother dropped a metal sledgehammer he was playing with right by my head. Yikes. Had he intended to hit me with force? Double yikes. Why did he have a hammer? Pretending to be Thor as I recall after finding it in the garage.

The point is that a fully alert dragon or large beast in the open would simply step on a knight. Period.

we have to assume hit points and static positions are not synonymous. It’s not like a Japanese RPG where we appear to just take turns trading blows!

and then there is also magic...


Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
There's no easy way for one foot soldier to destroy a tank either...

Unless the soldier is equipped with the proper anti-tank missile and knows the weak spot in the target's armor. Much like good old whats-his-name in The Hobbit with his magical ballista bolt. ;)

But I agree. At least in D&D it is possible to take out a dragon because the dragons in D&D do not have god-like powers like some fictional dragons.


My son's Epic-20 5e Dragonborn barbarian PC likes to hunt and kill dragons for their loot. Toughest was Scarathesszar of Badabaskor, a Great Wyrm Red CR 27 or 28 spellcaster, with her ancient red lover. Couldn't actually kill her as she Teleported away when low on hp, but he did kill her family and get her loot. :D

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