Making dragons…DRAGONS!

Do dragons need a fighting chance? Some of you may scoff at the very idea. Dragons are supposed to be the biggest and baddest monster one would come across in AD&D. But let’s take a look at what we have for dragons in the Monster Manual.

-Dragons do have good hit dice, or so it seems. Just look on the opposite page (pg. 28). The T-Rex has 18 HIT DICE. Yes, that’s right: 18 HIT DICE. Almost as much as Bahamut and MORE than Tiamat. Some may argue that cunning, intelligence, and a multiple of other special abilities make up for this lack of hit dice. I agree…to a point. I’ll elaborate on this point more.

-The dragons special abilities are impressive, but let’s take account of them.

  1. Infrasvision of 60′
  2. detect hidden and invisible creatures within 1″ (10 ft) per age level
  3. Adult age or older dragons produce a fear aura
  4. chance of using spells
  5. speak multiple languages (minor ability)

Infrasvision is definitely handy. #2 on the list is very useful indeed as well. Just the first two make it very difficult to sneak up on a dragon. Now we get to the rest of the list: #3 is a powerful ability, without a doubt…if the dragon is 51 years of age or more. So younger dragons are out of luck on this one. #4 chance of using spells is ever more rare. Without counting the good aligned dragons, whose range of spell ability is from 30% to 100%,  the red dragon is at the high end for evil dragons (not counting Tiamat) at a POSSIBLE 40% spell use. Not very good at all.

Then we get to the weaknesses. More than half a page in the Monster Manual is devoted to the famous (or infamous) subdual section. Right down to the possibility of SELLING a dragon in a large town or city. Really? How dumb is the dragon suppossed to be? And are they really that cowardly as the Monster Manual describes?

And don’t get me started on the treasure…

Well, I believe that dragons need a little more of a fighting chance.

Dragons are supposed to be NASTY!

I drew some inspiration from Dragon issue #50 (June 1981)* in a article called “Self Defense for Dragons: Give ’em a Fighting Chance” by Gregory Rihn. In the article Rhin details how to make dragons more of a challenge to PCs. I gave them wing buffet attacks, foot stomp, tail lashes, etc. I took it a little bit further and detailed every dragon out of the Monster Manual with some slight “modifications” of my own:

  • When looking at the chart “Small”, “Average”, and “Huge” correlate to the hit dice of the dragon (i.e. a Small Black Dragon has 6 HD, An Average has 7 HD, a Large has 8 HD).
  • The dragon gets more attacks per round! Anywhere from its base attacks of 3, up to 7 attacks!
  • Breath weapon has remained unchanged.
  • A list of Oriental Dragons and dragons from Monster Manual II may be in the future.

I think these additions will make dragons much more exciting and challenging to your players.

Enjoy!

*also in “Best of Dragon Vol. III

BLACK DRAGON
SMALL AVERAGE HUGE
2 CLAWS 1-4 2-8 3-12
1 BITE 3-18 4-24 5-30
2 WING BUFFETS 1-3 1-4 1-6
FOOT STOMP 1-4 2-8 3-12
TAIL LASH 1-8 2-16 3-24
BLUE DRAGON
SMALL AVERAGE HUGE
2 CLAWS 1-6 2-8 3-12
1 BITE 3-24 4-32 5-40
2 WING BUFFETS 1-4 1-6 1-8
FOOT STOMP 1-6 2-8 3-12
TAIL LASH 2-12 4-24 6-36
BRASS DRAGON
SMALL AVERAGE HUGE
2 CLAWS 1-4 2-8 3-12
1 BITE 4-16 5-20 6-24
2 WING BUFFETS 1-3 1-4 1-6
FOOT STOMP 1-4 2-8 3-12
TAIL LASH 2-12 4-24 6-36
BRONZE DRAGON
SMALL AVERAGE HUGE
2 CLAWS 1-6 2-12 3-18
1 BITE 4-24 5-30 6-36
2 WING BUFFETS 1-4 1-6 1-8
FOOT STOMP 1-6 2-12 3-18
TAIL LASH 2-12 4-24 6-36
COPPER DRAGON
SMALL AVERAGE HUGE
2 CLAWS 1-4 2-8 3-12
1 BITE 5-20 6-24 7-28
2 WING BUFFETS 1-3 1-4 1-6
FOOT STOMP 1-4 2-8 3-12
TAIL LASH 1-8 2-16 3-24
GOLD DRAGON
SMALL AVERAGE HUGE
2 CLAWS 1-8 2-16 3-24
1 BITE 6-36 7-42 8-48
2 WING BUFFETS 1-6 1-8 1-10
FOOT STOMP 1-8 2-16 3-24
TAIL LASH 1-10 2-20 3-30
GREEN DRAGON
SMALL AVERAGE HUGE
2 CLAWS 1-6 2-12 3-18
1 BITE 2-20 3-30 4-40
2 WING BUFFETS 1-4 1-6 1-8
FOOT STOMP 1-6 2-12 3-18
TAIL LASH 2-12 4-24 6-36
RED DRAGON
SMALL AVERAGE HUGE
2 CLAWS 1-8 2-16 3-24
1 BITE 3-30 4-40 5-50
2 WING BUFFETS 1-6 1-8 1-10
FOOT STOMP 1-8 2-16 3-24
TAIL LASH 1-10 2-20 3-30
SILVER DRAGON
SMALL AVERAGE HUGE
2 CLAWS 1-6 2-12 3-18
1 BITE 5-30 6-36 7-42
2 WING BUFFETS 1-4 1-6 1-8
FOOT STOMP 1-6 2-12 3-18
TAIL LASH 1-8 2-16 3-24
WHITE DRAGON
SMALL AVERAGE HUGE
2 CLAWS 1-4 2-8 3-12
1 BITE 2-16 3-24 4-32
2 WING BUFFETS 1-3 1-4 1-6
FOOT STOMP 1-4 2-8 3-12
TAIL LASH 1-8 2-16 3-24

6 comments on “Making dragons…DRAGONS!”

  1. Todd Hughes

    Dragons didn’t start being seen as weak until things like specialization and the UA methods of ability score generation was introduced. Dragons as they are work well against charcaters generated using just the PHB and DMG.

  2. DM Nick

    I think that the article on the time in which it was written (June 1981, about four years before UA came out) proves that dragons were seen as not the most dangerous and powerful of monsters to be encountered.

    You may disagree, and that’s fine, but I’ll stand by what I’ve written.

    I think it has merit and well worth experimenting with in any given campaign.

  3. DM Jakey Danger

    This article was exactly what I’m looking for. All of the players in my current campaign are still pretty new to the world of tabletop roleplaying and have been jaded by MMOs, so I want to put the terror into them that I felt the first time I ran into a dragon. And the second. And third. And fourth. And so on 😉

  4. DM Nate

    I seem to remember that the 1E version of the Forgotten Realms (the “grey box”) had rules for beefing up dragons. Sadly I dont have a copy any longer but I think it was along the lines of “max hp, double attacks, etc.”. Anyone have that handy?

  5. DM Nick

    Yes, that’s correct! The Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting boxed set for 1st ed AD&D has info for dragons specific to the setting (pg 15 of the DM book):

    -2x normal attacks as listed in the MM.
    -may split attacks to multiple targets within 15′
    -only split attacks when outnumbered by 3x their HD
    -may use breath weapon as many time as they wish in a day, up to 3x their maximum hit points

    there are some other changes (older dragons, subduel, etc.) but these are the combat related ones.

    I might use the breath weapon option in my campaign.

  6. Christopher Letzelter

    I’m with DM Nick on this one – in fact, I’m in the middle of developing a dragon’s lair adventure in an abandoned mine, and have the referenced Dragon magazine article. Besides beefing up the dragon’s combat ability, I was inspired by reading Gygax’s ideas to use 10- and 12-sided hit dice for larger, stronger, older creatures, so I’m toying with the idea of the adult Green Dragon having more hp/die. This would also adjust it’s breath weapon damage upward, making it more formidable.
    Another trick to use is to give the dragon some minions, whether they are Charmed, cowed into servitude, or admirers of the beasts’ power; these can serve as front-line troops which allows the dragon more tactical opportunities. Reptilian minions, such as troglodytes, lizard men, or firenewts may be more disposed to allying with a dragon than orcs or goblins. Other large reptiles, such as giant lizards, wyverns, basilisks, and dracolisks are natural fits for this service.
    As mentioned in the article, an intelligent dragon whose hoard contains magic items would certainly make use of any items compatible with it’s bulk, vocal ability, and manipulative claws. I can see a dragon putting on a magic ring, using a magic staff, even an Ioun Stone or drinking a potion.
    While the dragon’s reputation as one of the most fearsome opponents precedes it, I’ve seen dragons fall way too easily to moderate-level parties.
    No longer NPC Braaaydon the Mule, just ChrisL from Pittsburgh….

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