Surprise Bonus Game Design!

So the other day, OUT OF THE FUCKING BLUE (as Nice Guy Eddie would say) I got asked by George Strayton (yes, as in that George Strayton) to fill in at the last minute to fix up the monsters chapter for his new RPG, Dungeons & Dragons Mazes & Monsters Legends & Labyrinths The Secret Fire. The game plays like a unique blend of 1st and 4th edition D&D, with some very old school fluff and attitude, some relatively modern design philosophies in play, and some delightfully foreign DNA (like LOST and H.P. Lovecraft) thrown into the mix.

So yesterday and today(i.e. in the space of 48 hours) I’ve been given the titanic task of statting about a dozen monsters, fixing the unusable stat for another 36 or so, and even fluffing when fluff is called for. That’s a LOT of work for two days, but after writing  Anathema in just 24 hours, I was ready.

Here’s a little snippet of what I’ve been working on (pre-proofreading and pre-editing, by the way!) because…that is what this blog is for. : )

Dragon, Elemental (Elements)

 The creature towering over you is one of the largest creatures you have ever seen. Scales like blackened iron cover its body, and huge claws tear up the ground. Your eyes are drawn upwards towards the creatures head, high above you on a serpentine neck. Eyes that have seen empires and races rise and fall regard you without mercy or pity, in a horned reptilian head whose toothed jaws could easily swallow you whole. You feel a primal sense of fear grip you, a race memory of when you were but a scuttling mammal and reptiles were the true lords of the earth.

Dragons are one of the most destructive forces on the planet, but spend most of their time asleep. They are incredibly ancient, and some sages postulate that they are all that remains of a great race whose rule encompassed other worlds, not just this one. No one has ever seen a dragon hatchling, although rumours exist of dragon eggs in distant lands.

Adult dragons reach up to 90ft long, including their barbed tail. Dragons come in three distinct types: Wyrms, Drakes, and Nobles. These are the mortal terms for dragons – the dragons themselves make no distinction. Wyrms have no limbs, and slither on the ground in the manner of a serpent, and are often found underground or underwater. Drakes are winged quadrupeds – their forelimbs have evolved into wings, and vestigial fore-claws. They are clumsy on the ground, but elegant in the air. Noble Dragons are hexapods with both wings are fore-claws and tend to be the largest species. All dragons have iron-hard scales, ranging in colour from the dark brown of burnished copper to glossy black, with hues of green, blue, red, and yellow occasionally prevalent in a dragon’s coloring.

A dragon enraged is a terrible thing to see, and all adventurers would do well to avoid offending one. They are the most destructive powers on the planet, with a formidable number of natural and magical abilities. They can see in the dark as if it were day; many magical spells fail against them; their amour is potent and turns most blades, their blood is rumored to be poisonous and caustic; and their teeth and claws can shred plate armour like paper; some of their bites are venomous; and, of course, the dragon’s breath weapon. Their most feared ability, dragons can breathe fire, acid, gas, boiling water, lightning or even a sonic burst: all are devastating and affect a wide area, with some dragons having the ability to breathe multiple types. The mere presence of a dragon awakens a flight response in most beings, and whole armies have fled before the fury of a dragon.

A dragon awake is a rare thing. They spend most of their time asleep (centuries mean nothing to dragons), but should they awake, their metabolism requires them to consume huge amounts of meat and vegetation. A hungry dragon can deplete an area of natural vegetation and wildlife within weeks. Some primitive cultures revere dragons as gods and may make sacrifices to them of goods, food, and people. The death of a dragon–an accomplishment simultaneously terrifyingly daunting and wholly necessary to some adventurers in the course of their careers–is in many ways a tragic thing to behold. Even if the world is made a somewhat and more predictable place by it, there is a certain melancholy in seeing something so ancient, majestic, and powerful finally meet its end. In spite of their long life spans, dragons are exceedingly rare, and when one dies some of the ancient magic in the world dies with it.

The combat capabilities of dragons are as diverse as their personalities and aims. They vary based on the dragon’s breath weapon and spells known. The below statistics are not representative of all wyrms, drakes, and noble dragons; just one example of each. Other wyrms may have acid breath, for example, and drakes are just as likely to breathe poison instead of fire.

Dragon, Wyrm

Environment: Lakes, Swamps, Oceans, and Subterranean Rivers

NUMBER ENCOUNTERED: 1-2

SIZE: Huge

ALIGNMENT & STABILITY: Any, but often Evil and Chaotic

LANGUAGES: All (but rarely speaks)
MORALE:  Starts at Determined (12) but drops to Indifferent (6) if seriously wounded.

MOVEMENT: 80 feet swimming (16 squares), 30 feet (6 squares) on land

ABILITY SCORES:  Mighty (+3/18), Clever (+1/13), Insightful (+1/13), Hearty (+2/16), Charming (+2/16), Quick (+1/13).

TRAINED SKILLS:  Athlete, Deceive, Frighten, Lore, Magic, Perceive, Reflexes, Wildlife

LEVEL: 8

STAMINA: Titanic (15)

ENERGY POINTS: 10

INITIATIVE: +4

DEFENSES:  Dodge 10, Armor 10, Endurance 10, Anti-Magic 8, Willpower 8.

ATTACKS & MAGIC:

  • Venomous Bite (Standard): +10 melee attack vs. Armor (2d8 + 8 physical damage) plus automatic hit vs. Endurance (4d6 poison damage) on successful hit.
  • Aqualung (Action): +8 magical ranged attack vs. Anti-Magic (8d6 cold damage); targets all enemies in an 80 foot (16 square) long, 10 foot (2 square) wide line. All targets that are hit are knocked down, and those the attack misses suffer half damage. After using this breath weapon, the dragon must wait 1d4 rounds or spend 2 Energy Points before using it again.
  • Draconic Sorcery (Action): This particular wyrm knows and casts spells as an 8th Level Wizard. Every dragon favors different spells, and they are never chosen carelessly; dragons tend to prefer mind-effect spells that dominate or charm foes and defensive spells to keep themselves alive.

SPECIAL QUALITIES:

  • Lucky Son Of A Snake (C/NC): Dragons receive a +3 bonus to all Luck Throws.
  • Daunting Aura (C/NC)All characters within line of sight of a dragon are frightened by its magnificent presence and suffer a -2 penalty to attack and damage rolls as long as they remain able to perceive it.
  • Fortune Favors (C/NC): A dragon can spend one Energy Point to reroll any attack roll, skill check, or luck throw it makes. It can also spend one Energy Point to force an enemy to reroll any one attack roll, skill check, or luck throw it just made. In either case the dragon must accept the new result. A wyrm can spend up to three Energy Points this way per turn.

TREASURE TYPE: T

XP: 1,000


Dragon, Noble

Environment: Forests, Hills, and Caverns

NUMBER ENCOUNTERED: Usually Solitary

SIZE: Huge

ALIGNMENT & STABILITY: Any, but often Lawful.

LANGUAGES: All

MORALE:  Starts at Determined (12) but drops to Indifferent (6) if seriously wounded.

MOVEMENT: 40 feet flying (8 squares), 40 feet (8 squares) on land

ABILITY SCORES:  Legendary Strength (+12/30), Legendary Intellect (+9/24), Legendary Wisdom (+9/24), Legendary Health (+12/30), Legendary Presence (+9/24), Clumsy (-2/4).

TRAINED SKILLS:  Deceive, Endure, Frighten, Lore, Magic, Perceive, Reflexes, Theology, Underworld

LEVEL: 10

STAMINA: Unstoppable (20)

ENERGY POINTS: 18

INITIATIVE: +0

DEFENSES:  Dodge 8, Armor 12, Endurance 12, Anti-Magic 10, Willpower 10.

ATTACKS & MAGIC:

  • Draconic Fury (Action): Two +8 melee attacks vs. Armor (2d6 + 5, claw) and one +8 melee attack vs. Armor (4d8 + 10, bite) plus medium or smaller creatures hit by a bite must succeed a Luck Throw (adding Strength or Agility adjustment, whichever is lower) or be swallowed whole. In a turn in which a dragon moves, it must give up both its claw attacks or its bite.
  • Holy Thunderforce (Action): Blast 10 vs. Anti-Magic (10d6 lightning damage) plus targets that are hit must make a Luck Throw or be Deafened and make a Luck Throw or be Knocked Down. After using this breath weapon, the Noble Dragon must wait 1d4 rounds or spend 2 Energy Points before using it again. The dragon must wait at least one round even if the requisite Energy Points are spent.
  • Draconic Sorcery (Action): This particular noble dragon  knows and casts spells as a 10th Level Wizard. Every dragon favors different spells, and they are never chosen carelessly; dragons tend to prefer mind-effect spells that dominate or charm foes and defensive spells to keep themselves alive.

SPECIAL QUALITIES:

  • Lucky Son Of A Snake (C/NC): Dragons receive a +3 bonus to all Luck Throws.
  • Daunting Aura (C/NC)All characters within line of sight of a dragon are frightened by its magnificent presence and suffer a -2 penalty to attack and damage rolls as long as they remain able to perceive it.
  • Fortune Favors (C/NC): A dragon can spend one Energy Point to reroll any attack roll, skill check, or luck throw it makes. It can also spend one Energy Point to force an enemy to reroll any one attack roll, skill check, or luck throw it just made. In either case the dragon must accept the new result. A noble dragon can spend up to five Energy Points this way per turn.
  • Digestion (C): Creatures swallowed whole by a noble dragon automatically take 2d10 acid damage every turn until they take an action and succeed a Hard (5d6) Athlete or Reflexes check to escape.

TREASURE TYPE: X

XP: 1,500


Dragon, Drake

Environment: Mountains, Plains, Plateaus, and Caves

NUMBER ENCOUNTERED: Usually Solitary

SIZE: Huge

ALIGNMENT & STABILITY: Any, but often Evil.

LANGUAGES: All

MORALE:  Starts at Determined (12) but drops to Indifferent (6) if seriously wounded.

MOVEMENT: 50 feet flying (10 squares), 40 feet (8 squares) on land

ABILITY SCORES:  Legendary Strength (+9/24), Legendary Intellect (+9/24), Legendary Wisdom (+9/24), Legendary Health (+9/24), Legendary Presence (+9/24), Uncoordinated (-1/8).

TRAINED SKILLS:  Deceive, Endure, Frighten, Lore, Magic, Perceive, Reflexes, Theology, Underworld

LEVEL: 10

STAMINA: Unstoppable (20)

ENERGY POINTS: 18

INITIATIVE: +0

DEFENSES:  Dodge 12, Armor 12, Endurance 12, Anti-Magic 8, Willpower 8.

ATTACKS & MAGIC:

  • Draconic Fury (Action): Two +10 melee attacks vs. Armor (2d6 + 5, claw) and one +10 melee attack vs. Armor (4d8 + 10, bite). Only a dragon on land can unleash draconic fury. In a turn in which a dragon moves or will move, it must give up either its claw attacks or its bite attack.
  • Dive Attack (Action): If a dragon has room to take to the air, it can move its flying speed and make a +12 melee attack vs. Armor (2d6 + 10) against a medium or smaller target within reach at any point along its flight path. Targets hit by this attack are automatically snatched in the dragon’s talons. A Hard (5d6) Athlete test is sufficient to escape, although how to get back safely to the ground after that is a separate matter.  At the start of the dragon’s next turn, it can drop its victim to the ground, causing falling damage determined by the MC based on the height dropped (often arbitrarily high damage and spectacularly fatal results would be our guess).
  • My Breath, Death! (Action): Blast 10 vs. Anti-Magic (10d6 + 10 fire damage) plus victims must make a Luck Throw or be set on fire. Burning targets suffer 2d6 damage (unreduced) at the end of each of their turns (Luck Throw ends, or the target can spend an action and describe how he extinguishes himself using the available resources) After using this breath weapon, the Drake must wait 1d4 rounds or spend 2 Energy Points before using it again. The dragon must wait at least one round even if the requisite Energy Points are spent.
  • Draconic Sorcery (Action): This particular Drake knows and casts spells as a 10th Level Wizard. Every dragon favors different spells, and they are never chosen carelessly. Dragons tend to prefer mind-effect spells that dominate or charm foes and defensive spells to keep them alive.

SPECIAL QUALITIES:

  • Lucky Son Of A Snake (C/NC): Dragons receive a +3 bonus to all Luck Throws.
  • Daunting Aura (C/NC)All characters within line of sight of a dragon are frightened by its magnificent presence and suffer a -2 penalty to attack and damage rolls as long as they remain able to perceive it.
  • Fortune Favors (C/NC): A dragon can spend one Energy Point to reroll any attack roll, skill check, or luck throw it makes. It can also spend one Energy Point to force an enemy to reroll any one attack roll, skill check, or luck throw it just made. In either case the dragon must accept the new result. A drake can spend up to five Energy Points this way per turn.

TREASURE TYPE: Z

XP: 1,500


 Roleplaying Notes:   Dragons prefer to lair in out of the way places, usually high up so that they can launch themselves into the air, using magic to help propel them through the air. Some dragons, notably Wyrms, prefer lairs deep underwater or underground. Dragon lairs are usually deep caves, often going far beneath the ground. Certain dragons may actually be entombed, as the land has shifted and buried them beneath earth and stone while they sleep on. In some cases, the dragon’s lair may have become riddled with tunnels by other beings, becoming a dungeon complex of its own. Often these beings are useful to the dragons whose homes they’re squatting. Or they’re lunch. Or they’re useful to the dragons by being lunch.

To make any generalization about the personality of all dragons is like making a generalization about the personality of all humans; necessarily false. Dragons are just as wildly diverse as the lesser races, sometimes even more so. But they do tend to share certain traits.

All dragons are intelligent to a certain degree and many are truly ingenious. Dragons tend to have charismatic, charming, and forceful personalities, although that doesn’t necessarily make them inclined to socialize. For tens of human lifetimes they’ve been able to get everything they want without asking nicely.

All dragons can communicate telepathically if needs be, sometimes deigning to speak to the talking monkeys for amusement. Rumors exist of certain dragons able to take human form and walk amongst the world of men, manipulating the course of human events over generations and ruling in secret. Of course, if dragons even possess this ability, there can be no doubt that many of them simply don’t bother. It is the dragons who wield political influence as well as political power, who rule kingdoms rather than terrorize villains, and who greet you with a smile and a proposition rather than a blast of fiery breath who are often the most dangerous.

Those dragons who do get involved in the affairs of mortals play the long game, chessmasters manipulating the fate of civilizations over centuries. Their motivations are mysterious, but some sages say that dragons are locked in titanic, unseen struggles against one another using humanoid pawns as catspaws. The conflict is ancient and highly ritualized, a kind of draconic game perhaps, invented to stave off the boredom of millennia of unchallenged existence.
There have been reports of awakened Dragons going out of their way to question travellers as to the state of the world, and then leaving them in peace if their conversational skills are adequate, but these are rare. Some dragons also appear to have gone insane over the aeons and remain awake attacking anything in their territory, leaving only a blasted wasteland and ashes around their lairs.

Dragons have been romanticised over the years and there are many tales of dragon hoards, of weak spots, or of dragon wisdom. There is no credence to these tales of hoarded wealth: Dragons do not hoard treasure, but they are attracted to shiny objects, so would-be fortune seekers are as likely to find glass as gems. They find metals comfortable to sleep on, but have no preference as to whether it is gold coins or pig-iron ingots. Dragons don’t have a weak spot either, as many foolish adventurers have found out.

The best way to roleplay dragons is with an attitude like that of a disinterested cat. You can’t be bothered chasing these mammals, as it is too much effort. However, if they do provoke you, don’t hold back.  Also don’t forget that dragons are individuals with their own goals and objectives; they can be charming, even friendly, when it suits them. And they are superlatively excellent liars.

If you want the game, you won’t have to wait long. It should be launching at GenCon which is coming up…far, far too soon. Eep!


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