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D&D 5E Red Wyrmling Encounter Design

Dan Chernozub

First Post
Design Goals:
- make a more interesting encounter as compared to just a flying brute with a breath weapon
- upgrade Red Wyrmling to CR 7-8 adversary
- give Wyrmling a couple of escape plans

Suggested instruments:
- Spellcasting
- Minor Lair Actions
- Terrain

The most obvious route is to give him defensive spells like Shield. Giving him flashy AOE effects are not as interesting because those would overshadow his breath weapon.

For the Lair Action, I'm thinking of giving him a Recharge 5-6 Tremor.

I'm honestly lost on non-boring escape plans. Just giving him Invisibility can work, but I'd like something less straightforward.
 
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Dan Chernozub

First Post
Why not just use a young Red Dragon instead of a wyrmling and give it a few spells.

Young Red is CR 10 and is as much a flying brute with a breath weapon as a wyrmling is. Adjusting the difficulty by just increasing/decreasing the HD or damage of the flying brute does not add interest to the encounter.

Also thematically, the Dragon has just hatched, albeit it is an offspring of an epic parent and is thus quite powerful for a Wyrmling.
 

The best way to make a dragon encounter interesting, is by coming up with something interesting for its lair. Something other than the lair just being a cave. Maybe the dragon laid claim to an old vestibule, and littered it with various things it collected. Not just treasure, but entire carriages, statues, furniture. Some of these objects are made of wood, and thus very flammable. The dragon could easily set entire corridors of its lair ablaze. The old staircases of the vestibule would have broken in many places, due to not being made to handle the weight of the dragon. And thus the terrain certainly does not favor the players.

Another idea for a lair, would be an interesting environmental feature. An active volcano, a sufuric lake, an underground petroleum lake, a large fissure in the earth, or a huge hot water geyser. An environment that is dangerous to the players by its very nature, but mostly harmless to the dragon.

A good lair gives the dragon room to fly and take cover from projectiles and spells. It has multiple entrances/exits, and is very dark. The light of a torch or lantern will only carry so far. If the players are walking through a dark dragon's lair, and the dragon is up high above, looking down at them, they will have no clue it is there. It could strike suddenly and unexpected, showering them with fire from above, and taking cover immediately, without the players having a way to quickly close the distance.

Also, no lair is complete without minions. A dragon is most dangerous if the players can't just completely focus on one target. Give the dragon some back up.
 
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Coroc

Hero
Spellcasting is lame, use the flying and blasting from above, add a dive attack or other tricks, tail slap, to prone the PCs
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Young Red is CR 10 and is as much a flying brute with a breath weapon as a wyrmling is. Adjusting the difficulty by just increasing/decreasing the HD or damage of the flying brute does not add interest to the encounter.

Also thematically, the Dragon has just hatched, albeit it is an offspring of an epic parent and is thus quite powerful for a Wyrmling.

Design Goals:
- make a more interesting encounter as compared to just a flying brute with a breath weapon
- upgrade Red Wyrmling to CR 7-8 adversary
- give Wyrmling a couple of escape plans

Suggested instruments:
- Spellcasting
- Minor Lair Actions
- Terrain

The most obvious route is to give him defensive spells like Shield. Giving him flashy AOE effects are not as interesting because those would overshadow his breath weapon.

For the Lair Action, I'm thinking of giving him a Recharge 5-6 Tremor.

I'm honestly lost on non-boring escape plans. Just giving him Invisibility can work, but I'd like something less straightforward.

I prefer to start with the story first...I find that once I have that initial well of ideas, the actual implementation flows easily (most of the time). Definitely you have the GMing skill to find the implementation you want.

The story I'm picking up from what you've shared so far is recently hatched red dragon wyrmling descended from an epic dragon.

Is there any more to it than that (e.g. personality, circumstances/scenario, setting)? Or is that pretty much it?

EDIT: For example, if it's a mischievous wyrmling without any lair yet facing a low-level party, you could have it treat the location it has hatched in as its lair, wriggling into closets, zipping up spiral stairs, disappearing into cupboards, etc.
 

Dan Chernozub

First Post
Spellcasting is lame, use the flying and blasting from above, add a dive attack or other tricks, tail slap, to prone the PCs

What is a dive attack?

I do like prone condition, but I don't think that wyrmling tail is strong enough for this, so I'm considering Tremor for DC15 or fall prone.

I agree, though, that even a 3rd level spellcaster newborn is a bit strange. I will give him 1st level sorcerer, though.
The best way to make a dragon encounter interesting, is by coming up with something interesting for its lair. Something other than the lair just being a cave. Maybe the dragon laid claim to an old vestibule, and littered it with various things it collected. Not just treasure, but entire carriages, statues, furniture. Some of these objects are made of wood, and thus very flammable. The dragon could easily set entire corridors of its lair ablaze. The old staircases of the vestibule would have broken in many places, due to not being made to handle the weight of the dragon. And thus the terrain certainly does not favor the players.

Another idea for a lair, would be an interesting environmental feature. An active volcano, a sufuric lake, an underground petroleum lake, a large fissure in the earth, or a huge hot water geyser. An environment that is dangerous to the players by its very nature, but mostly harmless to the dragon.

A good lair gives the dragon room to fly and take cover from projectiles and spells. It has multiple entrances/exits, and is very dark. The light of a torch or lantern will only carry so far. If the players are walking through a dark dragon's lair, and the dragon is up high above, looking down at them, they will have no clue it is there. It could strike suddenly and unexpected, showering them with fire from above, and taking cover immediately, without the players having a way to quickly close the distance.

Also, no lair is complete without minions. A dragon is most dangerous if the players can't just completely focus on one target. Give the dragon some back up.
Some great ideas, despite my dragon being just a kid and without much treasure. Definitely not going to fight adventurers in a 40x40 box.

So far my idea is that the Lizardfolk cult was trying to hatch the eggs of a Red Dragon laid in a not hot enough swampy region by artificially heating the waters in the old temple using Fire Snakes summoned through an old portals to the Plane of Fire (how the portals were created is a different part of the story).

(I also really like Fire Snake creature design)


So, what I have so far for the encounter is:

- Red Dragon Wyrmling
-- 1st lvl Sorcerer (Prestidigitation, Message, Minor Illusion, True Strike; Silent Image, Shield)
-- Swimming speed 30 ft.
-- Lair Actions (DC 13):
--- Tremor shakes the lair in a 30-foot radius around the dragon. Dexterity saving throw or be knocked prone
--- Flaming Sphere appears at a visible point within 60 feet of the dragon, it lasts for 1 minute and moves randomly
--- Sulphurous gases form a cloud in a 20-foot-radius sphere centred on a point the dragon can see within 120 feet of it; creatures inside must succeed a Con save or take 1d4 necrotic damage & gain no benefit from the first magical healing trying to affect them before their next rest.

- 3 Fire Snakes
-- Swimming speed 30 ft.
-- Cold Vulnerability
-- Each is bound to one of the Portals, gets resummoned after destruction


Terrain: A partially submerged temple with:

-- Roof which has no convenient way for PCs to get on to
-- Main level with lots of walls and columns for cover and lots of shallow, muddy water (difficult terrain) and some deep water where uncareful PCs can fall to the
-- A lower submerged dark level which contains
-- 3 Portals to the Plane of Fire that:

--- Have a 100 gp glowing ruby in the centre that can be removed/destroyed to deactivate it
--- Generate boiling (1d6 fire damage) water 10 ft. around it
--- Resummon Fire Snakes 1d4 turns after destruction


Encounter Tactics
Fire Snakes lay in wait on the lower level, boiling the water. They raise to the main level at the sounds of a fight.

Unless PCs advance stealthily through previous encounters leading to the Lair, the dragon is hiding on the roof, observing the main floor through a hole in the roof. A Minor Illusion of a still, sleeping dragon is laying at the pedestal.

Dragon is planning to surprise adventurers, engulf as many as possible in a breath attack and when to retreat into hiding, gathering power for a next breath attack, confusing PCs with Illusions and Messages and letting Flame Snakes and Lair actions to weaken them. He will use his superior mobilty to move through different levels of his lair.

If he feels like he is losing combat, he will attempt to flee either by air or through a tunnel on the underwater level.
 

Dan Chernozub

First Post
[MENTION=20323]Quickleaf[/MENTION]
Sorry, missed your post while typing the previous one.

The story is that he was recently hatched by a Dragon-worshipping cult/tribe. He was worshipped even before his hatching but had to fight his siblings to the death upon hatching to become the only heir. He is already paranoid. He understands that his knowledge of the world is very limited, and craves information. He knows what Lizardfolk know about the adventurers and will treat them as enemies. He will not flee right away because he wants to capture and interrogate the PCs.

In the previous post, I've also described the Flame Snakes and the Portals that were used by the Lizardfolk to hatch a Red Dragon in a swamp (yes they are linked to the Fire Giant King trapped in the ancient Dwarf Hold). I'm not afraid of the portal theme getting old, on contrary, PCs have seen something familiar before and it might give them a hint on how to confront it.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
[MENTION=20323]Quickleaf[/MENTION]
Sorry, missed your post while typing the previous one.

The story is that he was recently hatched by a Dragon-worshipping cult/tribe. He was worshipped even before his hatching but had to fight his siblings to the death upon hatching to become the only heir. He is already paranoid. He understands that his knowledge of the world is very limited, and craves information. He knows what Lizardfolk know about the adventurers and will treat them as enemies. He will not flee right away because he wants to capture and interrogate the PCs.

In the previous post, I've also described the Flame Snakes and the Portals that were used by the Lizardfolk to hatch a Red Dragon in a swamp (yes they are linked to the Fire Giant King trapped in the ancient Dwarf Hold). I'm not afraid of the portal theme getting old, on contrary, PCs have seen something familiar before and it might give them a hint on how to confront it.

That's a good starting point. So the wyrmling has already found a steady source of sustenance, has tested itself (fighting siblings to death), and has a "lair." I'd imagine the wyrmling wanting to learn more beyond what the cult has been telling it. In fact, I imagine the wyrmling is quickly outgrowing the cult and either is looking to assert its control over the cult more completely, or to expand its lair, or to seek out older dragons to teach it.

Spellcasting is one option to make it a more interesting encounter, but I see it overused a lot & I'm not sure it fits your scenario. Maybe there's lore I don't know about, but from what you shared it doesn't feel like a good fit – even in older editions, wyrmlings had precious little magic.

I'd explore the dynamic between the paranoid wyrmling and the overbearing cult more. Maybe the cult is too slowly realizing that the wyrmling can't be controlled? Does the cult want to turn the wyrmling into a dracolich like the Cult of the Dragon in FR? Do they revere it like a god-in-flesh? How does the wyrmling react to being treated as a god? This gives the players a wedge they can lean on to try to drive the cultist and wyrmlings against each other...if not in actual armed conflict, then in terms of gathering intel or easing their way to the wyrmling's lair. Or maybe the wyrmling is revered as a god, but held as a prisoner, and has information for the PCs if they orchestrate its escape from the watchful eye of the cult?

Don't know about the cult's lair, but I'm envisioning something subterranean. It would be interesting to give the wyrmling the goblin's Nimble Escape, having it hide within the tunnels in a running guerilla battle. You could also give it Pounce to represent it taking a short burst of flight when attacking underground.

For Lair Actions, I'd look at the cult and the specific setting you're using for the lair. Things like commanding cultists, triggering traps with its breath weapon, etc.
 

Dan Chernozub

First Post
Solid input, Quickleaf. The truth is I was separating Lizardfolk Tribe from the Wyrmling somewhat, but it is probably more interesting to put them closer together. This is a major thing.

Nimble escape (and a better Stealth) might be a strong addition. One of the points of making him a level-1 sorcerer is to showcase to my PCs hot to make use of Illusions in DnD combat, even simple ones.
 

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