Dragons are large reptilian creatures of ancient origin and tremendous power. True dragons, including the good metallic dragons and the evil chromatic dragons, are highly intelligent and have innate magic. Also in this category are creatures distantly related to true dragons, but less powerful, less intelligent, and less magical, such as wyverns and pseudodragons.

All Dragons

Dragons should rarely be a single creature encounter. The base mechanics of most games already provide advantages to the characters, don’t compound this by pitting multiple characters against a single dragon. Try adding some dragonborn allies or even some other avian species that have reverence for are or enslaved to the dragon. Red drakes are a great choice as well.

When directly engaged, most dragons know to stay away from fighters’ swords and archers’ arrows. By moving carefully and using intervening terrain, the dragon achieves partial cover or higher ground advantages. Dragons are rarely surprised. Their longevity, various abilities, and general paranoia make them keenly curious about everything going on around them.

While they may not know characters’ names, they might well sense magic items and abilities and be able to accurately judge class abilities based on observations of previous battles and mundane choices like armor or specific weapons. All of these observations will allow the dragon to prepare traps and tactics to the maximum advantage.

When forced into direct conflict, dragons are acutely aware of their abilities and will bring them to bear in unusual combinations. Make that dread palpable with dramatic description.

Tail swipes near the edge of a cliff or raging fire can quickly escalate from blunt force trauma to instant death.

  • Myriad claws, bites, and kicks can allow the dragon to attack the entire party at once or result in knockdown effects.
  • Breath weapons funneled into a rock cul-de-sac are force multiplier as the flames concentrate to explosive levels.
  • Never forget that simply gazing upon a dragon is terrifying. Assign additional penalties, other than fleeing, for failure against the dragon’s fear aura.

The point here is that creative combination can allow for anything from stalling tactics to outright annihilation.

Flying dragons present unique challenges to characters who are bound to the ground. Use flyby attacks to reduce exposure to missiles, and whenever possible, grab a character or two in the dragon’s claws. A successful grapple check will reduce the affected character’s ability to attack, and the dragon only needs to fly up and release them. Gravity will take care of the rest. If confronted with characters that can take to the air, consider giving the dragon abilities or spells that reverse gravity or otherwise impede or reduce their airborne tactics.

If spellcasters can target a dragon at a distance, so too can the dragon target that spellcaster. Much will depend on the situation and terrain, but targeting spellcasters is always a solid idea.

You might also compose a shortlist of alternate or additional powers and abilities to assign to a particular dragon. In these cases, avoid changing the iconic abilities, such as a red dragon’s breath weapon. There is such a thing as going too far. But nothing is stopping you from creating an ability that increases claw damage two-fold and naming it Claws of Steel. Or allowing a wing buffet attack, Winds of Death, to daze or stun characters beyond the normal knockdown effects.

Is the Dragon at Home?

When dragons are in their lairs, they sacrifice mobility for traps and cunning. They might not be able to keep their distance as easily, but they can compensate by not allowing themselves to be approached directly. The simplest deterrent might be a gigantic boulder blocking the entrance to their horde that only the dragon is strong enough to move. While the characters scratch their heads, the dragon has time to put other defenses into play. Again, allies can play a tremendous role here. They can divert and defend while the dragon uses spells or breath weapons on selected targets. Come up with your own list of potential allies that goes beyond kobolds, dragonborn, and the more obvious choices.

Guardian Drakes

When the opportunity arises, add some red guard drakes to a dungeon or map and be sure there’s an elevated area that they can pounce down from, creating an opportunity for the monster’s natural abilities. Place them in groups of three to support one another and create more dangerous scenarios in combat. All of this is great to soften up the party before the main event gets underway.

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