Monday, September 14, 2015
More Dragons in the Dungeons
So there's this game you may have heard of called Dungeons & Dragons. It seems to have more dungeons than dragons, which is a shame.
Ancient and medieval depictions of dragons aren't of multi-story lizards breathing out gigantic fireballs. They are generally small, more slender reptiles, comparable in size to large horses, that seek out treasure hoards and guard them. It's a classic underworld trope to have dragons atop a burial mound or ancient tomb, which makes them a natural fit for dungeons.
Dragon inflation has been a constant of D&D, and it has slowly pushed the dragon out of the game, except at high levels. Dragons went up in hit points significantly in the first edition PHB, and much further in second edition, firmly ensconcing them as upper-echelon enemies. They have stayed that way ever since; a party will pretty much have to be 5th level or higher before even thinking about slaying a dragon.
OD&D dragons aren't unbeatable super-beasts. White dragons only have 5-7 hit dice, and are 25% likely to speak, and 60% likely to be sleeping when encountered. A Very Young white dragon only has 5-7 hit points and a similar score on its breath weapon; in my opinion that's not out of the question for an encounter on the first dungeon level. It's a logistical challenge, since the party will want to avoid being hit by the breath weapon, but not one that the party can never overcome. Even at 3 square inches (30 feet), the cone of a white dragon's breath will not necessarily hit multiple party members if they arrange themselves properly, using terrain obstacles or shapes to their advantage. If nothing else, they won't just assume they can kick in every door and slay the monsters.
All OD&D dragons are treasure type H. This is a hoard with literally piles of coins; there is a 75% chance of 10,000-60,000 GP. On average (and not counting magic items), a hoard should be in excess of 80,000 GP, with most of that coming in jewelry and gold pieces. Slaying a dragon and taking this much treasure would be a fine haul, although the reward stops being quite so dramatic after 5th level, when a dragon's hoard is no longer an automatic level gain. But up to level 5 or so, dragons are an efficient way to gain a level.
If you want to picture a hoard, let's say that gold pieces are about the size of a Krugerrand. 60,000 gold pieces would be about 50 gallons of space, which would be larger than the volume of a typical bathtub. This would have about 25 pieces of jewelry and/or 50 precious gems mixed in. Armored PCs could only take out about 1800 coins each; you'd probably want a few wheelbarrows. Transporting gold out of the dungeon should be almost as much of a challenge as slaying the dragon. It's impressive, but not cavernous rooms full of coins. The largest possible hoard would have 184,000 coins, which is in the area of a refrigerator.
By design, dragons should be a low to mid level monster: a hard challenge at level 1 or 2, but able to be handled with much more ease at levels 4 to 6.. If the referee is running OD&D by the book (as it were), it's a poor decision to take on a blue or red dragon. They are more likely to talk, and thus to parley, and less likely to be sleeping. And their treasure will be the same as a white dragon, which could be as much as 6 hit dice lower than its red cousins.
There's another reason to put dragons in your dungeon, though: factions. Dragons will naturally relate to the other denizens, although obviously this relationship may be more of a predator/prey one. But it will always make the dungeon more interesting if there is a dragon sitting on a big treasure hoard. Whether or not the dragon talks is a big factor in this, as a brute white dragon that picks on the goblin tribe would be very different from a crafty green dragon that has a group of gnolls or bandits doing its bidding.
The moral is simple: don't be afraid to add dragons to your dungeon. They are designed in OD&D to be things that you can handle but still have some "badass factor."