Legends & Lore: Playtesting Dragons

I do not ever remember fighting a dragon in 2nd Edition. I am sure that it happened, but nothing comes to mind. 3rd Edition is not much better in that I can remember fighting one once. It was great because since it had the Fire subtype it took double damage from cold magic, so the arcane archer put a bunch of fireball spells that he Metamagic-ed into inflicting cold damage into some arrows. It died before its breath weapon recharged.

Ultimately the joke was on us, because the Dungeon Master forgot his notes that mentioned what the dragon would have in its treasure hoard. Since we did not want wait until next week for him to get it, he rolled up a new treasure on the spot. While I do not remember all of it, what I do recall was a lackluster haul amounting to tens of thousands of copper
pieces and a scroll with Tenser's flaoting disk scrawled on it, which we joked could be used to carry the coins out.

3rd Edition dragons start out pretty straightforward: charge the nearest character and attack them. If they do not move more than five feet away, take a 5-foot step and follow up with a full attack, as even the lowliest of dragons starts out with a triple-attack routine. As they get more Hit Dice, things change. It starts out with just more attacks, adding wings and then tail to the mix. It is not so bad until they start getting spell-like abilities and sorcerer spells.

Spellcasting in 3rd Edition was particularly harsh if you multiclassed, or got access to spells at any point after 1st-level. Dragons do not tend to get them until they are in the Challenge Rating 8-10 range, which means that they are generally used against level 6+ characters. At that point the damage output and saving throw DCs are so low that to get the most bang for their buck you would just stick with self-buffs like mage armor and shield. This is why that the only time I remember throwing a dragon at the party, I used the Xorvintaal template from Monster Manual V I think to strip all the spells away and just give it more cool things to do.

4th Edition made dragons better, but it was not until they got solos "right" in Monster Manual III and Monster Vault that they really shone. They were fast and easy to run, got more dangerous as the fight progressed (bloodied breath and static bonuses), and had unique actions/reactions to really mix things up. The Draconomicon books allowed you to swap out powers to mix things up further, though I guess you could just stack them on, and the general ease of building monsters in 4th made it pretty easy to give them spells if you really wanted to.

Though 5th Edition does not have an elite or solo category, dragons remind me of 4th Edition dragons in that they fit on one page and do not require you to reference other books to figure out what they can do (I guess they also have the recharge mechanic). The only downside is that they have no reactions or ways to take multiple actions, and they do not get more dangerous as the fight progresses. Really the only thing that differentiates them from each other is what energy type their breath weapon inflicts, and what they are immune to.

Legendary creatures are kind of like solo monsters, except that they are limited to specific types of monsters, namely dragons, titans, demons, guys with expensive magic items, and the like. I guess solos and even elites were initially intended to be reserved for Larger and larger creatures, but even that barely lasted a few encounters what with the party-killing elite goblin in H1: Keep on the Shadowfell. I am not complaining, because I do not believe that being able to make multiple attacks and hold your own against superior numbers needs to be somehow tied to the fabric of reality.

That aside I kind of like how legendary actions work in that they let you do more things than you normally could. The way this works is that you get a number of legendary actions when the turn ends, which can be spent on a list of actions with a variable cost. The black dragon can recharge its breath weapon automatically, make a tail attack or move with a few restrictions, and auto-detect anything within a short distance. Not bad, though I wonder why its tail is the only thing on the menu; being able to spend all four points to use its breath weapon would be pretty cool.

Though the article mentions being able to auto-succeed on attacks, saving throws, and skill checks, the black dragon only has the option to automatically succeed on a saving throw up to four times per day. This is pretty underwhelming, and I much preferred it back in 4th Edition when solos just got a hefty bonus to saving throws. Even better, Monster Vault dragons got other benefits as well, such as getting a free out-of-turn to charge or bite, and could also end certain conditions when its turn ended.

The last part of the legendary trinity is being able to change the surrounding environment. This is actually pretty cool, giving the creature lair actions that automatically trigger on a set initiative count, legendary lair actions that it can use with its other legendary actions, and regional effects that affect the surrounding terrain. In the case of the black dragon, pools of water in their lair can surge forth and pull creatures in, it can spend a legendary action while underwater to heal itself (again, x times per day), and forests within 10 miles of its lair become difficult terrain.

I think this needs some refinement, especially because a dragon in its lair should be worth considerably more XP than one outside. I think that these regional effects should be applicable to non-legendary creatures, or even just places in general, like undead lords that cause everything nearby to whither and die, hags whose forests can disorient and confuse travelers, and even random magical effects around a wizard's tower. There should also be plenty of options to choose from, so that not every black dragon lair has the same capabilities.

The last thing of note is the dragon's interactions. This is basically a list of role-playing notes for running the dragon. It is not much, and like legendary actions and environment effects I would love to see a massive list of suggestions, but it goes a long way for giving you something to work with.


  1. So once again, D&DNext doing things that 4e did it with alot better results ... thought it's kinda hard to beat one of the things 4e did better....Monsters...even more with the fixed math

  2. I have said this several times, but it feels like that they are slowly introducing 4th Edition design into the game so as to avoid provoking people that did not like it for whatever reason. Some of it is a bit different (for now), like Hit Dice, skill training, and fighters with actual maneuvers, but it is there.


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