D&D Ideas — Dragons

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Welcome once again to the weekly newsletter. This week’s topic is dragons, which we discussed in our live chat. We hangout every Monday evening at 8 p.m. EST and talk about D&D, RPGs, gaming, life and whatever nerdy stuff comes up. Speaking of dragons, in Wooden Dragon adventurers encounter a very unusual and strangely chatty dragon blocking the road. This and 54 other dynamic encounters ready to drop right into your game come straight Out of the Box here. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates, info on how to game with Nerdarchy and ways to save money on RPG stuff by signing up here.

5E D&D wooden dragon out of the box encounter
In Wooden Dragon a group of crafty kobolds brings their dragon master’s power and presence to bear for their own benefit. [Art by Kim Van Deun]

Nerdy News

Get lured in by the week that was and matriculate to D&D academia for your next campaign, flaunt those mind flayers and explore other RPGs and as always live chats with creative pros and live game plays highlight this week’s Nerdy News. Check it out here.

Delving Dave’s Dungeon

Dragons are a huge part of the game we love. Heck it’s right in the name — Dungeons & Dragons. I’ve currently begun running a dragon themed campaign called Court of Wyrms. Court of Wyrms first debuted on the Save or Dice YouTube Channel as a six episode miniseries. You can watch it here.
We started a new home game and one of the game pitches was to play in the Court of Wyrms campaign. Here is the primer from that game.

Court of Wyrms

Within a vast vale lies a kingdom of dragons. Three dragons rule this realm with a recent fourth deposed for trying to overthrow the rest. Recently an attempt by their followers to seize more power has been put down.

  • There are three major cities, one for each of the dragons. The inhabitants are all reptilian races. Most of the aristocrats are either kobolds or dragonborn.
  • Play draconic or reptilian races — dragonborn, kobold, lizardfolk, yuan-ti pureblood, tortle and grung
  • There are humans and other races but they live in primitive tribes outside of the cities.
  • Many of the religious beliefs of the dragon and reptile races are tied to the five elements of air, fire, metal, water and wood.

Play Options

  • Investigate the resurgence of the fourth dragon for one of the dragons or for an organization that wants to know what is really going on.
  • Rumors of an intelligent band of hairless apes magically transported to and from the vale, but magic into and out of the vale is impossible.
  • A cabal of wizards has hired you to figure out how this was able to occur.
  • The Temple of the Five Elements believes this is a sign of divine providence. They want you to find out what it means.

Notes from Session Zero

  • Starting at 3rd Level
  • Starting Gold 500gp
  • Starting in the city Zenkeer

Carlos. Human College of Eloquence bard adopted by a noble family.

Tali. Yuan-ti Circle of Spores druid escorting yuan-ti monk apprentice to the city of Zenkeer

Ted. Lizardfolk Battlesmith artificer who plays with dead things and received a blessing from Guyvnar the Keeper in Zenkeer.

Tima. Yuan-ti Way of the Four Elements monk urchin tested in a graveyard and then adopted by monks and taken to their mountain monastery.

Steph. Blue dragonborn Ranger noble adopted human (Carlos) (Taken it’s a secret)

Druid Mentor. Green dragonborn Panjed is a bit of a taskmaster. He’s secretive and keeps where he sleeps a secret.

Bard Mentor. Blue dragonborn Tourin

Session 1

Panjed’s clearing at the base of the mountains where the forest meets. Resting spot for druid and monk on their way to Zenkeer. Ranger and artificer travel to the grove to show off their new creation.

The known dragons in this game are more like mythical beings than your typical D&D dragon. This will be the third game I’ve run in the setting. The second wasn’t streamed, but a one shot adventure. It was an escort mission to take a kobold to a sacred site in the mountains. The whole party was split between kobolds and dragonborn. At the site all of them bathed in a mystical pool where one of the kobolds ascended.

Ted was playing the kobold who metamorphosed into dragon wyrmling. In the vale dragons ascend from kobolds instead of being born. The three dragons lay eggs every hundred years or so and multiple kobolds and dragonborn hatch from each egg. We did a video about this you can watch here.

I do love me some D&D dragons, but I enjoy turning the common D&D tropes on their heads. As this campaign progresses I do have other ideas to further change up my players assumptions.

What are some ways you change up D&D tropes in your worlds?

From Ted’s Head

When we look at fantasy roleplaying games dragons seem like the ideal monster. After all for the world’s most popular roleplaying game it is written in the name: Dungeons & Dragons. I have seen numerous books with numerous takes on those amazing creatures.

Since third edition when I paid more attention to the monster details and the ability to get prepainted minis chromatic and metallic dragons had a more uniform look. On top of this dragons have a structured alignment system that makes identifying them so much easier. I think this actually takes a bit of fun out of the game.

Nerdarchy did not really like these things to be so easily identified. So we have always tried to treat dragons as entirely unique creatures. Scale color and what they look like, even though it is a staple of D&D, are not any indication of what kind of personality it would have. After all if people are going to have huge variety why should dragons be any different? Angels and fiends are part of a larger society where it is bound within their nature, and to some extent dragons could be the same. But what if they were not?

If you have metallic dragons as antagonists and chromatic dragons potentially being allies it makes the story possibilities much more interesting as well as if you use miniatures. With this limitation removed you can use the minis as they are and how you want. The noble looking silver dragon can use their silver tongue to get themselves out of trouble and into more.

Beyond removing these limitations you can go a step further. You can use dragons vastly different from those in the monster manual. So if you find a cool mini that does not resemble the ones found in the books just modify to your heart’s content. I enjoy doing this kind of change frequently as it makes these amazing creatures feel much more unique. Yeah, it is more work but in the end I feel it is worth it.

Changing looks, breath weapons and adding new and fun features makes a dragon encounter unique, fun and memorable. Make a dragon that exhales sharp shards of metal and lives underground carving new tunnels by eating their way through the tunnels holding all the iron rich ore to fuel their breath weapon. Instead of the fire dragon breathing flames, what if instead breathes lava that might not do as much damage but clings to the target causing lasting damage unless removed and makes the battlefield full of hazards and difficult terrain. Thinking outside the Monster Manual when it comes to dragons makes for amazing encounters your players will certainly remember and maybe even fear.

From the Nerditor’s desk

I’m going to go the other direction from what I hear in a lot of conversations about dragons and advocate putting more dragons in your Dungeons & Dragons games. They’re rare, they’re special, they’re really powerful and yadda yadda yadda.

Players enjoy dragon encounters. They’re kind of what brings them to the dance. I don’t think it’s a coincidence the first published adventure for fifth edition D&D begins with a dragon attack, do you? The first third edition adventure did too, and the 5E iteration of Sunless Citadel elicits as much excitement from players when they encounter the wyrmling as it did when I ran the adventure from the earlier edition.

Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle? Dragon.
Lost Mine of Phandelver? Dragon.
Dragon of Icespire Keep? Guess what — dragon.

My Spelljammer campaign villains were dragons. The game I ran for my friend and his family included a dragon. Basically any time I introduce someone to D&D there’s a dragon, and I haven’t scoured all the official adventures but I’m willing to bet there’s a dragon somewhere in every one.

Even our own Out of the Box snuck a dragon in and I don’t mean the unusual one mentioned at the start of this newsletter. You can hand it to one of our fantastic guest creators (who happens to be a prominent game designer with credits in a bunch of official D&D books) for making sure there’s a dragon in the mix there too.

Based on my interactions with other Dungeon Masters I feel like they put pressure on themselves to make dragon encounters epic, unforgettable and rare. Each one’s got to mean something, and make a major impact on the characters, the adventure and the players themselves.

But sometimes players want to roll dice and stand bravely against a dragon in a game called Dungeons & Dragons. Show off your dragons! We’ve got plenty to choose from and a never ending supply of these most classic of monsters on deck whenever a DM feels like it so what’s the hold up?

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