Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Red Dragon

Megatron. When you’re role-playing red dragons, think Megatron.

What, you’re still here?  Really?  Okay, fine, I’ll elaborate:

Purists might point you to Smaug, Fáfnir, or the dragon from Beowulf.  But Fáfnir was more of a linnorm, the Beowulf dragon not much of a talker, and Smaug’s bad example was the reason why so many 1e dragons got caught napping in their lairs.  (There’s a reason every other article from the early days of Dragon Magazine was about making dragons tougher.)

But the best example for how a red dragon behaves comes not from fantasy, but from the Transformer Megatron (preferably the cartoon movie version from 1986 or the IDW comic version of today).  Ruthless.  Capricious.  Cruel.  Armed with overwhelming power.  Willing to do anything to be the victor, and not hesitating to lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, or run away when pure force won’t do the job (though it usually does).  Rest assured, he will come back, stronger than ever, and make you pay a thousandfold for the insult of existing.

Megatron is a red dragon, and vice versa.

As far as making red dragons original…well, honestly you don’t need to.  Sometimes it’s nice to have a monster that does exactly what it says on the tin.  Reds are the original-recipe, full-calorie Dragon Classic.  They’re the virgin-gulping stereotype every other dragon species plays off of.  And in everything I’ve read about them, from “The Ecology of the Red Dragon” by Gregg Sharp in Dragon #134 to Dragons Revisited from Paizo (and all the Draconomicons in between) red dragons are about dominance, mastery, destruction, aerial might, and fire.  That doesn’t make them boring; it just makes them red dragons.

To that end, don’t forget to play up the collateral damage.  In addition to pyrotechnics, wall of fire, and a fire aura, red dragons can literally make flames do their bidding.  They can melt stone defenses into slag, then melt the minds of the defenders with frightful presence and suggestion.  Should your PCs actually manage to hurt one—whoops, it just set the orphanage on fire.  Looks like your paladin’s going to be busy a while.  Red dragons are evil, smart, and callous, so play that to the hilt.  A red’s only vulnerabilities are to cold and to its own pride…and most wyrms that live long enough learn to compensate for both.

Still, if you do want to shake up your red dragons, here are two final thoughts: In most early versions of D&D, githyanki had a relationship with red dragons (won at the cost of their savior Gith).  A similar pact (perhaps with xills, serpentfolk, or demodands) could really shake up your campaign world.  Also, most red dragons are disdainful of higher powers, feeling themselves already practically divine…but a red dragon with the power of a godly or demonic patron behind it could be truly terrifying…

Most red dragons disdain to breed with what they consider to be lesser creatures.  Vilthorikai in Scarlet is an exception.  She is the chief spokesdragon of a philosophy (and possibly a Power) she refers to as the Becoming Holocaust.  She eagerly mates with minotaur, lizardfolk, and manticore supplicants in order to create an army of half-dragons to set the world on fire…literally.

A disease infects all the dragons with elemental fire in their blood, driving them to dragonrage.  They duel with each other in the skies and leave smoldering villages in their wakes.  No fire dragon is immune—brasses, golds, and even underworld and magma dragons are affected—but it is the reds that cause the most damage, incinerating whole cities with abandon.

Neither black powder nor the enchantments to power skyships are unknown in the aerial archipelago of Aeryth.  Yet there is hardly more than a brace of pistols to be found in most villages, and trade is conducted entirely by small ornithopters and messenger gliders.  The reason is Caryx the Skysmasher, a red dragon of monumental proportions.  He and his kin rouse themselves every few decades to reduce to kindling any gunworks or skyships they find.  Adventurers who discover Caryx’s home valley will find it littered with the skeletal remains of previous eras’ flying machines.

Pathfinder Bestiary 98–99

If you like dragons, don’t forget to check out Dragons Revisited.  Keith Baker’s Pathfinder module Blood of Dragonscar also has a pretty nasty, soul-devouring red dragon.  And if you like dracoliches—er, I mean, raveners—don’t forget that Friday’s post is now up.

Special thanks to cobaltwashere for the redcap reblog—making each monster your new favorite monster is why I do this—and to Bill for the fantastic email—keep us posted on how your rakshasa/lamia campaign goes!  Love the feedback, guys—thanks again!


  1. There's a Beast Wars in-joke in here, and I'm hoping it was intentional, else I'm a bigger nerd than I thought!

  2. Nope, you're a bigger nerd than you thought. :-) I know absolutely zilch about Beast Wars. It came out when I was in college, when I wasn't watching any TV but The Simpsons.

  3. I grew up with the original Transformers, but saw the newer stuff hanging out with my younger brothers. Megaton as a red dragon was pretty cool, IMO.

    I'll be interested to see your take on shadow dragons, one of my all-time favorite bad guys!