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5E Is Neil Gaiman Wrong?


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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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?
30 or 40 wasp stings can kill you. These beings the size of the dragon's toe have magic items and spells more potent against the dragon than a wasp sting is to a human.
 

Mort

Hero
Supporter
The thing with D&D that you can trace all the way back (see Gods, Demigods & Heroes, Deities and Demigods) is that if you give something hit points, someone is going to want to kill it.

But no, an enemy that cannot be defeated (but may have to be tricked, bypassed, or merely survived) is not boring. Far from it.

What is boring to me is the idea that everything must be defeated, that every character must be the mythic hero, the Avenger slaying Thanos.

Some things are unwinnable; at the very least, sometimes you just have to change the victory conditions.
You'll note that that's actually exactly what I said in my post - overcoming something doesn't mean killing it - it means overcoming the challenge.

And what I said was boring was just rolling over and just saying "we can't prevail..." There are plenty of ways to prevail that aren't - kill the monster.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Meh, this is one of those core fantasy things that depend so much on personal buy-in to various tropes that it's going to be impossible to really get a fix on in any general sense. Dragons are pretty much the Ur monster in the fantasy genre. The importance they play in the genre directly indexes the variety of depictions and twists we see. Orcs tend to be orcs in a far more stable way than dragons are 'dragons' in fantasy. As the Ur monster, dragons will also get defined, to a certain point anyway, in opposition to the genre niche a campaign inhabits. High fantasy, low fantasy, grim fantasy, four colour fantasy, etc etc etc.

This is maybe a little more obviously true when you examine dragons from game to game rather than from campaign to campaign within D&D, but I suspect dragons have a whole lotta variance even within D&D.
 


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?
The biggest issue I see with your player is the size. In D&D dragons are not so big as to be un-killable. Many of the whales humans hunted historically were much larger. In 5e an ancient dragon is around 50-75 long. That is really big, but not so big that a sword or spear or even arrows couldn’t injure it. Heck, people hunt elephants and whales with spears and bows.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Sir Fang's Dentist
The biggest issue I see with your player is the size. In D&D dragons are not so big as to be un-killable. Many of the whales humans hunted historically were much larger. In 5e an ancient dragon is around 50-75 long. That is really big, but not so big that a sword or spear or even arrows couldn’t injure it. Heck, people hunt elephants and whales with spears and bows.
We are, of course, discussing the genius-level pachyderms and whales that can polymorph, cast spells, fly, and breath voluminus amounts of fire on parties?

I kid. The main issue with dragons in D&D is that the majority of DMs play them as if they were elephants. Standing there, smacking the party with their trunk a time or two and waiting for the party to focus fire on them until they are D-E-D .... as opposed to hyper-intelligent and long-lived beasts that will sure as heck be using advanced tactics, henchmen, and all of their resources and never, ever allowing the party to corner them in a one-on-one or fair fight.
 


We are, of course, discussing the genius-level pachyderms and whales that can polymorph, cast spells, fly, and breath voluminus amounts of fire on parties?

I kid. The main issue with dragons in D&D is that the majority of DMs play them as if they were elephants. Standing there, smacking the party with their trunk a time or two and waiting for the party to focus fire on them until they are D-E-D .... as opposed to hyper-intelligent and long-lived beasts that will sure as heck be using advanced tactics, henchmen, and all of their resources and never, ever allowing the party to corner them in a one-on-one or fair fight.
Sure, but not all dragons are “hyper-intelligent” or spell casters. I don’t remember their 5e stats, but in 1e some were not much above beasts
 

Mort

Hero
Supporter
You failed to understand the principal lesson. Sometimes, an adventurer cannot cheat death.
And Sometimes they can. Are you saying they shouldn't even try because sometimes they can't -because why even adventure then? Why not just get a trade/become an accountant?

What's more, how is this actually relevant to the question - can/should characters overcome a dragon in the game?

I, literally, have no idea what you're trying to say/proved here.
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Supporter
But what if we just don't agree with either premise?

Many people are aware that there are already superhero RPGs out there, and if they wanted to play the Avengers, they would play one of those RPGs, not D&D.

And there are, in fact, quite a few people who aren't playing "mythic heroes." At the very least, I have no idea if any particular character is going to be "mythic" or not when I start- that's revealed through play, and choices, and all sorts of factors.

If I know going in that it's already set up to be a mythic hero, that kind of takes the fun out of playing. Might as well just read some book about a mythic hero.
I would argue that if your characters have advanced to the point where they're fighting gargantuan dragons, they've proved themselves to be "mythic by demonstration". It's literally revealed itself during play.

If the argument is that characters shouldn't be able to take on gargantuan dragons outside of narrative considerations like raising an army, then I would simply limit the level the characters can obtain; or make all dragons near demigod level potency.
 

But what if we just don't agree with either premise?

Many people are aware that there are already superhero RPGs out there, and if they wanted to play the Avengers, they would play one of those RPGs, not D&D.

And there are, in fact, quite a few people who aren't playing "mythic heroes." At the very least, I have no idea if any particular character is going to be "mythic" or not when I start- that's revealed through play, and choices, and all sorts of factors.

If I know going in that it's already set up to be a mythic hero, that kind of takes the fun out of playing. Might as well just read some book about a mythic hero.
Simply by virtue of being high level, a character is on par with legendary/mythic heroes.
You may not know for definite whether any particular character is going to live that long or whether the campaign is going to go that far when you start them, but they all have that potential.
 




Reynard

Legend
I think dragons as adversaries in D&D games tend to fall in one of two categories: either they are "just monsters" in that they can fill the same roles as any other powerful creature, from sack of XP and treasure to BBEG's mount to random encounter; or, they are SPecial because they are dragons. In the latter case, the MM dragon needs A LOT of work by the DM for it to be Special for its given CR. Even Ancient dragons are not especially difficult to defeat for a prepared party, unless the DM goes to a lot of effort to define the dragon's lair and minions and unique powers and attributes. And this is perfectly reasonable. I think if you want the dragon to be Special you should spend a few hours working on it. And you should feel free to make it extremely difficult to harm (Immunity: all damage from non artifact weapons; Immunity: all mortal magic) or extremely versatile (Unlimited Shapeshifting; 20th level caster) or anything in between. This is especially true if the dragon sits at the pinnacle of the campaign. I made a terrible mistake and made a dragon the central villain in a game and did not modify it from the MM and it was the worst, most frustratingly anticlimactic even in 30 plus years of DMing for me.
 

Undrave

Hero
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?
Our ancestors drove megafauna to (faster) extinction with nothing but sticks and stones. Whalers were driving some of the largest animals in the world to extinction before toilet paper was common place.

If it is alive, a human will find a way to kill it.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Dragons, especially older ones, in my campaigns are extremely difficult to kill. In all my years of DMing the PCs have never managed to [edit] defeat kill [/edit] an ancient dragon. Admittedly, that's partly because I don't throw many.

Have they defeated dragons and stopped their plans? Sure. A few times. But an ancient dragon will never engage the enemy in a fair fight, if they did they would never have lived so many centuries.
 
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Undrave

Hero
Dragons, especially older ones, in my campaigns are extremely difficult to kill. In all my years of DMing the PCs have never managed to defeat an ancient dragon. Admittedly, that's partly because I don't throw many.

Have they defeated dragons and stopped their plans? Sure. A few times. But an ancient dragon will never engage the enemy in a fair fight, if they did they would never have lived so many centuries.
At a certain point, a Dragon's biggest concern is a bigger dragon. Like with 'gators. If you don't kill the oldest gators periodically, they kill all the kids and the population stagnate.

And yeah, the type of dragon matters, not all of them are ancient and not all of them are even that smart...
 

Snarf Zagyg

Sir Fang's Dentist
Sure, but not all dragons are “hyper-intelligent” or spell casters. I don’t remember their 5e stats, but in 1e some were not much above beasts
From the Monster Manual (1977) intelligence of dragons:
Black: Average
Blue: Very
Brass: High
Bronze: Exceptional
Copper: High
Gold: Genius
Green: Average-Very
Red: Exceptional
Silver: Exceptional
White: Average

None are beasts (in terms of intelligence), and all dragons are at least human intelligence (average) and most are more intelligent than that.

I would say that's a little different than your average elephant.
 

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