Monday, August 10, 2015

Monsters Matter: The Black Dragon

About a week ago I was answering someone's question on Reddit about how to handle a young dragon encounter for about mid level heroes while keeping it threatening.  That conversation lead me to think about how lots of gamers (especially early gamers) tend to lump monsters of similar types into all acting more or less the same and dragons are a perfect example.  While yes many dragons will strafe the skies reigning down death with their breath weapon not all of them fight that way.  Hell even when it comes to aerial combat no two dragons are exactly the same, but that's for another time.

Over the next few weeks I'm going to start by breaking down each of the different chromatic dragons and how they interact with heroes differently.  If you guys seem to enjoy the series I'll continue onto others.  I figured I'd just run this alphabetically, but honestly its perfect because in my opinion the black dragon is possibly one the most often miss used dragons out there.

D&D over the ages has done a pretty good job at describing the differences in the dragons, but often that's over looked of just used as flavor. Plus not every one plays D&D (it's a strange concept, but it's true). Anyways, to make it simple black dragons are ambush predators.  They don't coming in guns blazing straight at a party of heroes.  They bide their time and strike those that become separated from the group.  In my mind each dragon can be compared to a character class and the black dragon is a rogue, more specifically an assassin. They strike with precision that dart back into the shadows.  Only once a group of heroes is weak enough for an easy clean up will they choose to strike out in the open.

First thing to look at when designing an adventure around a specific kind of dragon is to look at what their environment is and what they will tell you about how they encounter heroes, for black dragons this is swamps and marsh lands.  The first thing this tells us is that black dragons don't fly.  Yes they can fly, but with the murky waters of the swamp why would they never expose themselves like that. Swamps are full of water so dirty and mud filled that not only can you not tell how deep it is at any given spot, but you also have no clue what is lurking down there.  A perfect black dragon's lair would be a network of flooded caves and sink holes that are either invisible or near invisible while walking along the swampy surface.  Something to remember is black dragons breath under water so if they can get heroes down there with them they don't even have to beat them with pure force.  Just get them stuck down there and let time do the rest of the work.

So with the dragon's mentality and environment  understood the beasts tactics can start to unfold.  Using D&D stats (because they just tend to do the best at differentiating the dragons, but can be translated to any system) black dragons are pretty cleaver and their breath weapon  is a line of acid not a cone of fire like the stereotypical dragon.  This tells us two things, one the dragon will think about his actions and try to plan ahead and two even his breath weapon is designed for precision strikes.    Lurking under the dark waters of its lair a black dragon can pop at little as just its head out of a submerged cave to pick off the weakest looking of the group before darting back underwater.

Black dragons that are old enough for a lair and lair actions (Something from D&D 5e, but I think should be hacked into any system where you want a big bad enemy that doesn't need a bunch of goons around) have an action that lets them use pools of water to grab and drag heroes under water.  Even if they don't have this ability a black dragon can wait hidden near the waters surface for one unlucky hero to get to close before is lunges up grabs them and falls back under.  Drowning one hero at a time both makes things easier on the dragon and is a great way to start to really put fear into your players.

Dragons, including black ones, can sense things even while blind out to 60 ft.  This means that their water can basically be just really viscus mud leaving heroes that either escape the dragon while underwater or that dive in to save their friends unable to see what's going on while the dragon does as it pleases.  A black dragon would now this and might even kick up extra soot to make water as cloudy as possible when readying an attack.

That's really it for Black Dragons.  There's no need to say use this power at this time, just now that they take their time.  If your heroes are venturing into their lair then the fight is on their terms and let them have every advantage that brings.  In all honestly these tactics can make even a younger dragon wipe out a foolish party and almost guarantees one player will not come out alive.  Then again they're waling into a dragon's home they should know what they're getting themselves into.

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