D&D 5E Making Dragons cool again: New Dragon Traits

Yaarel

He Mage
For me the most important reallife archetypes about the dragon are:

The dragon is actually a species of snake. (There are reallife prehistoric ancestors of snakes that still have limbs, and the dragon would be an evolutionary branch from them. The dragon resembles a blend of snake and other animals, such as snake-lion-eagle or snake-wolf-bat, but is actually a kind of snake.)

The snake never blinks. Hence, the snake is all-seeing. The snake is intelligent and cunning, and is pragmatically aware of what actually is or isnt possible. It is impossible to bluff a snake. Oppositely, the snake is skilled at deception, and precisely exploits on the vulnerabilities of foes.

The snake has venom. The breath weapon is complex with various possible effects, including medical properties. Dragon breath can heal, and do other kinds of effects, including mind-altering effects.

The snake sheds its skin. Hence, the snake is eternally youthful and immortal. Other creatures can gain draconic properties to likewise rejuvenate, to become young, healthy and whole.

The Greek snake Drakon is actually the African Python, which is known for constricting around its prey to suffocate it. The Dragon tail can capture, entangle, immobilize, and kill a target
 

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aco175

Legend
What about giving spells back to dragons? Give them bonus actions to cast some and some special spells that affect things like changing their breath weapon damage type or being able to crit better with claw attacks.

I like the idea of giving dragons more abilities and it would be cool to have a list of things that could be added. Maybe a chart with a few dozen abilities and the DM rolls a few to add to each dragon to make each one more unique. Maybe add one random cool ability at each age bracket.
 

Evilhalfling

Adventurer
@Quickleaf those are interesting suggestions - I especially like the
breathing fire on the pillars for cover
Whispered secrets to arrows to remove legendary resistance (especially if this power is gained after dream banishment) I can just offer to trade this for damage 1/round.
The pillars are activated by a verbal command in draconic - int checks by characters who speak draconic, or trial and error by players can discover the command to shut it down for 3 rounds (1 cycle).

in 13th Age RPG (a brilliant adaption of 4e, unfortunate cause still 4e)
Dragons recharged & used their breath weapon as a free action when they were reduced to 1/2 HP.

I could use that and then just give the dragon the shield spell 1/day.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
@Quickleaf those are interesting suggestions - I especially like the
breathing fire on the pillars for cover
Whispered secrets to arrows to remove legendary resistance (especially if this power is gained after dream banishment) I can just offer to trade this for damage 1/round.
The pillars are activated by a verbal command in draconic - int checks by characters who speak draconic, or trial and error by players can discover the command to shut it down for 3 rounds (1 cycle).
Yeah, I think you have the makings of a really interesting dragon encounter. I like that connection between the dream banishment & some lore and the newfound Whispered Secrets ability. That's a nice touch.

in 13th Age RPG (a brilliant adaption of 4e, unfortunate cause still 4e)
Dragons recharged & used their breath weapon as a free action when they were reduced to 1/2 HP.

I could use that and then just give the dragon the shield spell 1/day.
I know this is unsolicited advice at this point, but some further thoughts...
  • I dislike that 13th age "recharge and immediately use" power because I like to telegraph when a dragon is recharging its breath weapon. I want players to know and to be able to do something about it, even if it's just take cover. So I'll roll the recharge immediately after the breath damage, then at the soonest opportunity (usually I wait till after the next player's turn just for flow) I narrate what its attempting to recharge looks like. And if I'm on my A game, I also seed some kind of vulnerability or exploit that players might follow up on.
  • I dislike the shield spell in every way because it's so good that it becomes a no-brainer choice, and ends up being tacked onto various PCs & monsters where it really doesn't fit the theme. +5 AC vs. ALL attacks until the start of my next turn? Sure! I get that it can be more work, but I can see so many cooler opportunities to boost a dragon's defenses than the shield spell.
 

dave2008

Legend
  • What if this dragon has scales that give it resistance to damage from ranged weapons? You might include caveats like a special "Aimed Shot" action (i.e. no multi-attacks, possibly requiring a check) can spot a chink in the scales to bypass this resistance.
I have given monsters, particularly hard scaled ones like dragons, resistance to piercing damage before. That covers most ranged weapon attacks that are an issue I think and, for me, fits the fiction of a dragon's super hard scales.
 

Stalker0

Legend
What about giving spells back to dragons? Give them bonus actions to cast some and some special spells that affect things like changing their breath weapon damage type or being able to crit better with claw attacks.

I like the idea of giving dragons more abilities and it would be cool to have a list of things that could be added. Maybe a chart with a few dozen abilities and the DM rolls a few to add to each dragon to make each one more unique. Maybe add one random cool ability at each age bracket.
Spells are great, but they do add an entire avenue of complexity, and the goal with these traits was to add something quick to existing dragons.
 

RoughCoronet0

Dragon Lover
One of the things I did to change my dragons was to create variants of iconic attacks to fit each dragon’s preferred fighting style.

For example, dragons get a Wing Attack as one of their Legendary Actions. I have three variations of this action.
  • Wing Slam. This is the standard Wing Attack which does a bit of damage and knocks creatures prone on a failed save, before allowing the dragon to move up to half its fly speed. This version of Wing Attack is used by dragons that tend to enjoy switching between melee and ranged combat, or those who enjoy having full range of movement across the battlefield.
  • Wing Buffet. This variant deals a bit of damage before pushing creatures away and allowing the dragon to fly straight up into the air for half its fly speed. This is for dragons who are not as physically imposing and prefer staying more at ranged to assault that party with projectile attacks or their breath weapon.
  • Wing Vortex. This variant deals a bit of damage, has a greater area of effect and pulls creatures right up to the dragon so it can prepare to unleash a flurry of melee attacks or an elemental burst attack on its turn. This is for more physically imposing dragons who’s primary damage in through its melee attacks and elemental burst actions.
I also have several variant features for the Breath weapons. Sorry for the unoriginal names.
  • Standard Breath Weapon. These are the typical line/cone breath weapons used by the dragons. Some are just damage, others may have added condition they may inflict.
  • Breath Barrage. This is a bullet heck style breath weapon that hits all creature within a large range around the dragon. It does less damage compared to the standard breath (typically about half damage) and those who fails their saving throws are knocked prone.
  • Breath Shockwave. This has a similar range and damage amount as the Breath Barrage, only it pushes creatures away from the dragon instead of knocking them prone. This also makes the area difficult terrain until the end of the dragon’s next turn.
  • Breath Burst. This variant creates a concentrated burst of energy that hits all those within short range of the dragon. This deals a bit less damage then the standard breath weapon and leaves an aura that deals extra damage or inflicts a condition to those that stay in the aura until the end of the dragon’s next turn.
  • Breath Barrier. This variant is similar to the Breath Burst attack, only it does less damage and creates a wall of energy around the outer edge of the area of effect that encircles the dragon that blocks line of sight to all but the dragon and makes ranged attacks from outside of the wall less effective.
  • Breath Blast. This variant creates a ball of energy that is launched out and impacts within a set range, creating a ranged AoE (like fireball). This deals a bit less damage then the standard breath and creates an area that deals extra damage or inflicts a condition to those that remain inside until the dragon’s next turn.
  • Breath Smite. For this variant, the dragon charges and inflicts a single devastating Bite Attack with a part of its breath’s energy. The creature takes both the bite damage and effects and half of the standard breath weapon damage, and all creatures within a short range take some residual damage.
  • Breath Casting. This variant allows the dragon to cast a non-damaging spell through its breath weapon. The breath does far less damage, but the spell affects all those that fail against the breath weapon’s saving throw. This would be a more limited ability, and only used by full casting dragons.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
That is a simple approach. Ideally it would be more individualized, but that is the idea. Though to be honest, I like the idea of exploiting the weakness causing more damage. Not sure of the best way to make that work.
Called shots.

When you attack you can either attack as normal or (if the weakness is known) declare before rolling to hit that you're going for the weak point and take a -10 on your to-hit roll.

Successful hits against the weak point do double (ETA: or triple, or whatever bonus) damage.
 
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dave2008

Legend
Called shots.

When you attack you can either attack as normal or (if the weakness is known) declare before rolling to hit that you're going for the weak point and take a -10 on your to-hit roll.

Successful hits against the weak point do double (ETA: or triple, or whatever bonus) damage.
I'm not generally a fan of called shots, but it could work. You still need to know the weakness to "call" it
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I'm not generally a fan of called shots,
Me neither, but this is one place where it could be a useful mechanic.
but it could work. You still need to know the weakness to "call" it
Exactly - if you don't know the weakness, you can't call the shot.

And a mechanic for learning the weakness on the fly might be that it is exposed by any critical hit that does more than [x-threshold] damage. In the fiction, the critical is a lucky strike that finds the gap after which you can, with difficulty, deliberately aim for it.
 

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