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Playing Dragon PCs

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
So, I am building a game based on stories I’ve been writing since I was a little kid, and one of the oldest elements of the setting is dragons that are also humanoids, and can go back and forth between the two forms fairly often. (It’s tiring, so not at-will, but a few times a day would be fine)

I wonder if any game out there has ever done dragon PCs well? Specifically I mean dragon PCs in the same game as human PCs.

Anyone got any examples, or just wanna chat about draconic PC options?

The same game may have “dragon” riders, as well. Basically dragons with a body the size of a smallish horse, and enormous wingspan, and probably distinct from the folks who can be dragon or human, that bond with a person psychically and fight together.

In a D&D style game, this would be hard to balance, but my game is a bit looser, and you wouldn’t be able to start play as an “adult” or ancient dragon. As well, Human or other mortal player characters can attain power eventually that would be comparable to a “true” dragon.

Honestly it’s just a thread about dragon PCs and dragon riders, and dragons in games.

Thoughts?
 

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AD&D had two settings where Dragon PC's were plausible, one of those they were implemented.
Council of Wyrms implemented them in AD&D 2E mechanics. I've never gotten it to table. It does include dual scale groups
Dragonlance would be a great setting to do so, but doesn't. It does, however, have some minimal rules for dragon riding. Likewise, rulse for dragon mounts exist in DL5A (which is non-D&D, but is DragonLance)

FFG had an RPG about dragons... Fireborn. PCs are cross-timing it; modern, they're usually a person; archaic, they're the big firebreathers. I've read, but not run, it.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Rifts, both the Palladium and Savage versions have also dragons as PC option.
Not sure how well they work in Savage because of Thoughness scaling. Palladium is less concerned with balance and other options can be equally as powerful or more, so it should be possible to get a balanced game going with a bit of effort.
No idea if that is also possible in the Palladium setting.

Dragon riders while stereotypical do not really work in my opinion because technically the main protagonist is the dragon and not the rider. Its especially weird when the typical dragon rider uses a short ranged melee weapon like a sword.
Thats basically the fantasy version of this picture
drive-me-closer_o_2093669.webp


A long weapon like a lance is at least workable, but still you would be better off with a ranged weapon but hardly any dragon rider in media/rpg uses one.
I quite liked the Temeraire book series because it breaks with many of the traditional dragon rider tropes in favour of things that makes more sense. Sadly I didn't penetrate into the RPG market.
skirmish_over_dover_by_ixal_dam83f3-fullview.jpg
 
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GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Dragons can make excellent PCs. In fact, sometimes they are almost indistinguishable from human PCs:

Dragon character, level 5Human character, level 5
This silver dragon has a 30-foot wingspan and a row of black spines down her back. She is a civilized dragon, having come of age in a community of scholarly, man-shaping dragons (which gives them the ability to speak and write). Her passion is art, and she strives to restore the great mountain-statue that once marked her home as the peak of civilization. Her dedication to her goal causes her to overlook opportunities, one of which is meeting with potential suitors.
  • Physical: 8, Mental: 11, Metaphysical: 16
  • Skills: magic (float 4) -3 (3), magic (alter 1) 6 (1), artist 1
  • Perks: mystic ward, large size, armor training (natural), mana (20), owl's eye
  • Gear: dragon scale d4, mystic ward d4, bite d4
It was rumored that this human had doppleganger somewhere in his bloodline, and he discovered the truth of it at the age of 12. His family thought him cursed, but an astute mage found it to be a blessing, so the mage took him in and taught him flight-magic and a protective ward in order to flee those who feared his gift. He still seeks the acceptance of his family but doesn't yet know it, and uses his drawing talent to garner attention that is ultimately unfulfilling.
  • Physical: 8, Mental: 11, Metaphysical: 16
  • Skills: magic (float 4) -3 (3), magic (alter 1) 6 (1), artist 1
  • Perks: mystic ward, large size, armor training (natural), mana (20), owl's eye
  • Gear: mage armor d4, mystic ward d4, punch/dagger d4
Different concepts, same character elements.
 
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So, I am building a game based on stories I’ve been writing since I was a little kid, and one of the oldest elements of the setting is dragons that are also humanoids, and can go back and forth between the two forms fairly often. (It’s tiring, so not at-will, but a few times a day would be fine)

I wonder if any game out there has ever done dragon PCs well? Specifically I mean dragon PCs in the same game as human PCs.

Thoughts?
I've run them in anime games with no issues; in fact it was pretty easy to build them as an alternative form; something anime games work well for. You might also use mecha rules to build them if you find a mecha system you like.

For me, the biggest issue is that of tone. Dragons are often portrayed as very different from humanoids, with different motivations and even ways of thinking. It would not be possible, for example, to handle humans and dragons from Le Guin's Earthsea world as PCs adventuring together.

But as long as you are OK with dragons being portrayed as essentially odd-shaped humans, it should be no issue. It's worked for elves!
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
AD&D had two settings where Dragon PC's were plausible, one of those they were implemented.
Council of Wyrms implemented them in AD&D 2E mechanics. I've never gotten it to table. It does include dual scale groups
Dragonlance would be a great setting to do so, but doesn't. It does, however, have some minimal rules for dragon riding. Likewise, rulse for dragon mounts exist in DL5A (which is non-D&D, but is DragonLance)

FFG had an RPG about dragons... Fireborn. PCs are cross-timing it; modern, they're usually a person; archaic, they're the big firebreathers. I've read, but not run, it.
That is very interesting. I'd never heard of Fireborn.
Rifts, both the Palladium and Savage versions have also dragons as PC option.
Not sure how well they work in Savage because of Thoughness scaling. Palladium is less concerned with balance and other options can be equally as powerful or more, so it should be possible to get a balanced game going with a bit of effort.
No idea if that is also possible in the Palladium setting.
Yeah I will check those out.
Dragon riders while stereotypical do not really work in my opinion because technically the main protagonist is the dragon and not the rider.
Technically? I don't think that's technically or effectively true, necessarily. The main protagonists of the Dragonriders of Pern series are certainly not the dragons. Nor is How To Train Your Dragon. Hell, Kitiara isn't overshadowed by Skie in the Dragonlance novels (though, reading the wikipedia synopsis....I'd forgotten how cliche her whole "jilted lover convinced she will get her man if she kills her romantic rival" dynamic with Tanis and Laurana is. Gross.
A long weapon like a lance is at least workable, but still you would be better off with a ranged weapon but hardly any dragon rider in media/rpg uses one.
I quite liked the Temeraire book series because it breaks with many of the traditional dragon rider tropes in favour of things that makes more sense. Sadly I didn't penetrate into the RPG market.
It's also possible than any ranged weapon short of a high powered firearm would be useless while flying at high speeds. I could see lances and other polearms, though, for sure. A sword would be there for when you are off the dragon, though.

Although you could always just handwave the issues with missile weapons on the back of a flying creature.
I've run them in anime games with no issues; in fact it was pretty easy to build them as an alternative form; something anime games work well for. You might also use mecha rules to build them if you find a mecha system you like.
Interesting. I think I can see where you're coming from there.
For me, the biggest issue is that of tone. Dragons are often portrayed as very different from humanoids, with different motivations and even ways of thinking. It would not be possible, for example, to handle humans and dragons from Le Guin's Earthsea world as PCs adventuring together.
I'd think the issue there is more letting players play Earthsea dragons in the first place, not with also letting them play humans. Incredible differences in power within the narrative is only a problem in games that try to simulate a world rather than a type of story.
But as long as you are OK with dragons being portrayed as essentially odd-shaped humans, it should be no issue. It's worked for elves!
Eh the whole "alien mindset" thing is pretty overrated, IMO, so that certainly isn't an issue for me.

Heck, in Blue Rose you can play a sapient psychic animal.
 

To add to the excellent suggestions above - troupe style play a la Ars Magica cold be useful here. Everyone has a dragon character and a dragon rider character but they excel in different areas of the story.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Yeah I will check those out.
Be aware that Rifts is Science Fantasy, so you have dragons, plasma guns, giant robots, etc.
Palladium (the setting, not the system) is fantasy only from the same company.
Also the palladium rules (system) used for palladium (setting) and rifts are famous for being incomprehensible.
Technically? I don't think that's technically or effectively true, necessarily. The main protagonists of the Dragonriders of Pern series are certainly not the dragons. Nor is How To Train Your Dragon. Hell, Kitiara isn't overshadowed by Skie in the Dragonlance novels (though, reading the wikipedia synopsis....I'd forgotten how cliche her whole "jilted lover convinced she will get her man if she kills her romantic rival" dynamic with Tanis and Laurana is. Gross.

It's also possible than any ranged weapon short of a high powered firearm would be useless while flying at high speeds. I could see lances and other polearms, though, for sure. A sword would be there for when you are off the dragon, though.

Although you could always just handwave the issues with missile weapons on the back of a flying creature.
They don't overshadow the dragons when not riding them. But when they do you have to ignore that the dragon is actually the one in charge, especially when the rider is using melee weapons which are completely useless in most instances in combat.
And don't forget crossbows. When you do not have firearms they are better than bows for fighting on a dragon because you can hold the shot till you have a clear line of fire.

But as I mentioned above, I like the Temeraire solution the best
  • Multiple people on the dragon.
  • Using firearms to slowly whittle down other dragons and kill their crew.
  • Formation flying is important.
Eh the whole "alien mindset" thing is pretty overrated, IMO, so that certainly isn't an issue for me.

Heck, in Blue Rose you can play a sapient psychic animal.
Another thing Temeraire does well. Dragons do not think like humans, but are not so alien as to be unrelatable.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
There are asymmetric games like Ars Magica which has magicians (powerful) and various henchfolks (not). Would doing something similar with troupe play fit your needs, or do you want them all roughly balanced?
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
There are asymmetric games like Ars Magica which has magicians (powerful) and various henchfolks (not). Would doing something similar with troupe play fit your needs, or do you want them all roughly balanced?
Well, the power variance is definitely not usually that big, but balance isn't as tight as, say, 4e DnD.

I don't think troupe play concepts would work. Every PC is supposed to be a hero.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
To add to the excellent suggestions above - troupe style play a la Ars Magica cold be useful here. Everyone has a dragon character and a dragon rider character but they excel in different areas of the story.
For a game where everyone is a dragon or dragonrider, absolutely.
Be aware that Rifts is Science Fantasy, so you have dragons, plasma guns, giant robots, etc.
Palladium (the setting, not the system) is fantasy only from the same company.
Also the palladium rules (system) used for palladium (setting) and rifts are famous for being incomprehensible.

They don't overshadow the dragons when not riding them. But when they do you have to ignore that the dragon is actually the one in charge, especially when the rider is using melee weapons which are completely useless in most instances in combat.
And don't forget crossbows. When you do not have firearms they are better than bows for fighting on a dragon because you can hold the shot till you have a clear line of fire.
Hmm. I'm not sure crossbows work unless you solve for the arrows (most crossbows use arrows, not bolts) easily being knocked loose. A bow works great in terms of timing shots, it's just arrows flying reliably in the more erratic wind above ground level that I worry about. I probably don't want to be that nitty gritty, though.
But as I mentioned above, I like the Temeraire solution the best
  • Multiple people on the dragon.
  • Using firearms to slowly whittle down other dragons and kill their crew.
  • Formation flying is important.
That is definitely a cool thing, but wouldn't fit the fiction at play, here.
Another thing Temeraire does well. Dragons do not think like humans, but are not so alien as to be unrelatable.
Yeah basically, that's the idea. The game has playable nature spirits, so different but basically relatable is the general idea.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Hmm. I'm not sure crossbows work unless you solve for the arrows (most crossbows use arrows, not bolts) easily being knocked loose. A bow works great in terms of timing shots, it's just arrows flying reliably in the more erratic wind above ground level that I worry about. I probably don't want to be that nitty gritty, though.
Bows are actually very bad in timing shots because unlike what movies show you do not hold arrows in the bow and wait till the target presents itself. You draw and shoot instantly. Crossbows on the other hand can be kept loaded and you can wait for the perfect shot.
But it all depends on what you want to simulate.
Yeah basically, that's the idea. The game has playable nature spirits, so different but basically relatable is the general idea.
Some examples from the books (in spoilers in case someone wants to read them)
  • Dragons only own what they actively defend. If they are not on sight and its not in their lair they don't own it (although that can be overwritten by education).
  • Dragons are very protective of eggs, not only their own ones. But once the eggs are hatched they lose all interest in the hatchling. In the books they literally hunt a egg thief across a whole continent, but when they found out that the egg has hatched in the meantime they stop caring instantly.
 

Silvercat Moonpaw

Adventurer
I quite liked the Temeraire book series because it breaks with many of the traditional dragon rider tropes in favour of things that makes more sense. Sadly I didn't penetrate into the RPG market.
skirmish_over_dover_by_ixal_dam83f3-fullview.jpg
Isn't that set in the early 19th century? Would those guns be accurate enough to use like that?

I do agree that if you want dragon-based combat you might as well just let players play the dragon.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Isn't that set in the early 19th century? Would those guns be accurate enough to use like that?

I do agree that if you want dragon-based combat you might as well just let players play the dragon.
Napoleoninc war.
And the books are a bit unclear if those are muskets or rifles. But even muskets are accurate enough at around 50 yards.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Bows are actually very bad in timing shots because unlike what movies show you do not hold arrows in the bow and wait till the target presents itself. You draw and shoot instantly. Crossbows on the other hand can be kept loaded and you can wait for the perfect shot.
But it all depends on what you want to simulate.
I know people who actually do mounted archery. This is not correct. Bows are excellent for mounted archery, and we can know that without asking modern mounted archers who do it as a sport because it was the most common type of cavalry in all of Asia for thousands of years. Not only that, but you don’t keep a crossbow readied for very long without shooting. It puts needless strain on the moving parts (arms and cord) and it risks accidental fire, or loss of the arrow.

It is common in mounted archery to hold 3-5 arrows in the same hand as the bow, and to knock one as you approach the next target.
Some examples from the books (in spoilers in case someone wants to read them)
  • Dragons only own what they actively defend. If they are not on sight and its not in their lair they don't own it (although that can be overwritten by education).
  • Dragons are very protective of eggs, not only their own ones. But once the eggs are hatched they lose all interest in the hatchling. In the books they literally hunt a egg thief across a whole continent, but when they found out that the egg has hatched in the meantime they stop caring instantly.
That’s interesting. It feels very D&D dragon, though I think there are D&D novels that depict dragons training their young until their adolescent and able to function as a fearsome predator on their own and seek out their own territory. But D&D isnt even consistent with stuff like that, so…🤷‍♂️
 

Ixal

Adventurer
I know people who actually do mounted archery. This is not correct. Bows are excellent for mounted archery, and we can know that without asking modern mounted archers who do it as a sport because it was the most common type of cavalry in all of Asia for thousands of years. Not only that, but you don’t keep a crossbow readied for very long without shooting. It puts needless strain on the moving parts (arms and cord) and it risks accidental fire, or loss of the arrow.

It is common in mounted archery to hold 3-5 arrows in the same hand as the bow, and to knock one as you approach the next target.
One big difference between real life mounted and theoretical dragonback archery, the wings are not in the way half the time which only gives you a short window to draw and shoot.
With a crossbow on the other hand you can perform the draw part whenever you want.
Thats why crossbows were often preferable to bows when attacking a castle. You can draw them behind a shield and wait for the enemy archer to step out from his cover to shoot him. With a bow both archers would draw and shoot at the same time.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
One big difference between real life mounted and theoretical dragonback archery, the wings are not in the way half the time which only gives you a short window to draw and shoot.
With a crossbow on the other hand you can perform the draw part whenever you want.
Thats why crossbows were often preferable to bows when attacking a castle. You can draw them behind a shield and wait for the enemy archer to step out from his cover to shoot him. With a bow both archers would draw and shoot at the same time.
You’re underestimating both how long you can have an arrow knocked waiting for your shot, and how quickly trained archers can draw and shoot.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
You’re underestimating both how long you can have an arrow knocked waiting for your shot, and how quickly trained archers can draw and shoot.
What pull strength?
Dragons are mythologically rather heavily armored and when shooting at human targets you need to do that from quite some distance because of wingspan.
Thus you need a heavy bow with 100+ lb draw strength and no trained archer will hold an arrow with that bow because or risk of injury and even when you do not care about that it tires you out quickly.
Drawing such a bow in full (often when you want to shoot fast you do not do the full draw, but that doesn't help against armor) also takes longer than those low strength bows you see in videos about rapid firing.

But I think that is enough about the details of archery for this thread.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
What pull strength?
Dragons are mythologically rather heavily armored and when shooting at human targets you need to do that from quite some distance because of wingspan.
Thus you need a heavy bow with 100+ lb draw strength and no trained archer will hold an arrow with that bow because or risk of injury and even when you do not care about that it tires you out quickly.
Drawing such a bow in full (often when you want to shoot fast you do not do the full draw, but that doesn't help against armor) also takes longer than those low strength bows you see in videos about rapid firing.

But I think that is enough about the details of archery for this thread.
Lol sure just ignore that knocking an arrow and holding it ready isn’t the same thing as holding a full draw. Why worry about engaging with what I said rather than random stuff I didn’t say?
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Lol sure just ignore that knocking an arrow and holding it ready isn’t the same thing as holding a full draw. Why worry about engaging with what I said rather than random stuff I didn’t say?
Because holding your arrow is not the only thing that takes time when you draw a bow. When I made my argument I didn't even think about reaching for the arrow from a quiver.
 

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