THIS IS PART OF A SERIES EXPLORING SOME ADVICE ON HOW TO USE CERTAIN MONSTERS IN YOUR GAMES–A RESOURCE FOR FLAVOR AND OCCASIONAL COMBAT TIPS.
After being asked about the one we had in LMoP in our game, and how we wrote up the story of the encounter on our game’s Obsidian Portal, I decided to make a crib notes about how I treat dragons in my games.
Notably, this is just my take, and how I like to imagine them. Even (by and large, with some motivational changes and somewhat less blood) the “good” ones. I like them as the most scary and dangerous thing in the whole damn world–where a party is inclined on first thought (always) that running away or giving up is the only right answer (even if that’s not the second thought or possible).
So, RP Tips for Dragons
- They are born into a “society” amongst their own kind that reinforces (at the very beginning) that they are the “Titans” to the deities of the worlds’ “Greek Gods” status. From birth, they know–and know to their bones–they are simply another form of supremacy in the world. Some may see that as a temporal/material mastery of the creatures it is aware of around it like a city or a race, Some may see that as a spiritual mastery of the creatures it meets. Or a Darwinian one.
- They murder. Killing is something animals do, they end lives as an almost pubescent tendency. They’re intelligent enough to know and appreciate that they are the great enders of life, whenever they want. Some may also give themselves the idea that they might bring it, but their first true “steps” like a baby walking are learning how frail every living thing is and having little doubt about it. Even the not-brutal-killer ones are still fantastically aware and able and likely to snuff out a life that isn’t agreeable. There are always more, there is never consequence.
- They are given no attachments. They don’t have “parents”. They don’t keep “communities”. They probably rarely see another of their kind after their most juvenile stages of growth. They are the great incubators of anti-social behavior. The world is their world and beyond their sphere of perception and interest, there is no world. While intelligent enough to know there IS a world out there, from a psychological-habit they live as though the universe gives birth to new distractions and challenges all the time–almost randomly. It’s a lot like playing a “tower defense” flash game and having half your defenses already built up to max. Amusing. Boring. The things that come are food or possessed of riches, they’re not “real”. They’re meat with opinions. They’re sprites in a game. Its charming and likely to talk to a parakeet as though it’s a person, but it’s not one.
- There is no empathy. They don’t kill to get wealth. They don’t subjugate to hold political power. They don’t even really terrorize to create a legend of themselves. They do them because Agony, loss, fear… they’re just reactions in the world around them little different from a boulder rolling down a mountain and being smashed apart by the fall. They might be fascinated by the physics and show of it–may cause it so they can see it again–but they don’t care about the implications for the boulder or what it says about them that they tip them off ledges. Even the not-so-brutal ones would only at best sympathize (offer an intelligent condolence), but they are not capable of seeing themselves as others.
- Their victims (either of subjugation or death) are almost experiments in testing the limits of the world around them. A tribe of orcs that are made to worship some dragon, they’re an attempt to build a Lego tower and will as easily be smashed apart when its done or boring. They pull the wings off of flies, metaphorically. They are as likely to let you go be interesting for a few more minutes as they are to hold your mouth shut (and hold head in hand) while it tears your limbs off one by one so it isn’t bothered by the screams. Why burn the landscape? Because it burns. Why not burn the landscape? Because what’s the point? None of that is about real appreciation for consequence and tiny atrocities or morality.
- They have lives. They are more than their apparent habits. They factor into some version of the world in their own minds and many of their trappings (lairs, gold hoards, followers, arcane collection, even advising the villainous on greater villainy, etc.) are their attempt at some normalcy. It is the comfort. If asked, if it were ever possible to ask, they’d acknowledge that they don’t actually need that city over there to bring it food or tribute yearly–but its something they do because it’s what they should do. They would explain the desire to be formally worshipped by some tribe as a god as simply the role it plays in the world. For their brilliance, there is no depth to the things they do like this, and they don’t self-analyze it. They wouldn’t say their nature is to be a dragon, they’d say their nature is to be a “king/god/terror/plague/morality-tale/saint/martyr”.
- They often like companions, but almost always broken and incomplete people who can’t function on their own. Servants are common (though often short-lived) and they quickly exist as an extension of the dragon’s insanity. They begin to think of their own lives as merely a subset of their masters. Even more feral dragons have these “chittering mice” around them that exist only to help with the details. It is a misnomer to think they’re ever alone–they don’t let people “leave”.
- They are not animals. The brutality they have and serve is intentional and controlled, even in rage it is tempered by brilliance. Once of an age (adulthood, truly), they have taken care to craft a world around them (for miles even) that nurtures and protects and provides. Seeing a dragon’s lair means you’re already well within the bounds of its domain and surrounded by a disadvantageous environment that is its own toy. Anything with an intelligence score in a three-mile radius is either its minion, its sycophant, its sworn enemy, or exceptionally good at hiding. The lair is theirs, but the /area/ necessarily must be as well.
- They fight as a player (not a PC) would fight. They eliminate the weak, they confound and dismantle parties, they leverage weaknesses they see, they are a brilliant tactician and army rolled into one. Ground, advantage, crippling being often as good as death, concentrating firepower on the center mass… one dead priest can condemn an entire party, one spellcaster caught beneath a pile of rubble can spell the doom of everyone else. Ignoring the things swords (and glowing ones, particularly) can do? Foolish. They are the Hannibal Lector of monsters.