…Aaaand we’re back! With the underworld dragon, no less!
Futsanglungs aren’t the most powerful imperial dragons by any means—that honor goes to the aptly named sovereign dragons—but they’re still no slouches at an eventual CR 16. With adamantine claws, repel metal or stone, and hefty fire and stone-related abilities, they’re more than a match for armored-up dragonslayers. Worse yet, an underworld dragon’s lair will likely be about as forgiving as the Plane of Fire, so full of heat, smoke, and lava that the PCs will have to use precious resources counteracting the environment itself even before the dragon starts spewing fire at them.
I’m going to assume you know how to use an underworld dragon in an Asian-inspired adventure. (“Can my samurai fight a dragon?” “Yes.” “I don’t trust the shogun’s treasurer in the dragon scale robes.” “Good call; roll for initiative.”) But there’s plenty of room for them in a traditional Western RPG setting as well.
First of all, they make great dragons period—just call them orange or gray dragons and they’ll fit right in with your chromatics, or call them obsidian or jet dragons and they can be dark reflections of your chromatics. As lawful evil creatures, they work especially well with duergar, azers, efreet, or fire-loving devils, and might even shift the balance of power away from the drow and urdefhan nations.
They’re also great as the thing that doesn’t belong. I can easily picture a campaign with the standard chromatics and/or metallics, plus underworld dragons—strange beasts that claim tunnels the way other dragons claim the sky. They’d likely be considered alien and dangerous, though brave blue dragons might enter into tenuous alliances with them. Or they might be the only dragons in you campaign—dark creatures cursed by the gods to crawl beneath the ground hunting for wealth.
Finally, you can play up the underworld side of the equation. What if underworld dragons actually are the guardians of the underworld, the gates of Hell, or some other mythical location? No one says they have to be all about treasure—they might guard souls or the secrets of the hereafter just as closely.
The new crime lord of Borsus is said to be no more than a teenager. Actually, he is a young underworld dragon that has just learned to change shape. For the moment he is having trouble balancing both roles—when he is not actively planning a new score in human form, he is obsessively tunneling under the depths of Borsus, hollowing out caverns for other monsters as he digs ever deeper toward the magma chambers that are his birthright.
The lord of the Unseelie Court is a mysterious figure indeed. Not only does he rule his faerie subjects with an iron fist (quite unlike the light touch of his chaotic good Seelie rivals), but he is not even fey himself. The Lord of the Sealed Vaults is actually an underworld dragon, who uses his great might and ample stores of gold to terrify or enthrall the subterranean faeries into doing his bidding.
Scholars vary on exact the number of the Precincts of Death—the Reformists say seven, the Yishraeites nine, and the Najj 14. But all agree the Fourth Precinct is guarded by the underworld dragon Morgus and his Iron Pack—a mix of cerberi and Nessian hell hounds. Morgus denies no one entry into the Fourth Precinct, but he jealously guards the exits back to the lands of the living. Spirits may pass, but corporeal undead, mortal adventurers, and especially oracles and witches can expect to face his wrath if they are not stealthy.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 3 102–103
I’m sure the phrase “precincts of death” has been used elsewhere, but my direct inspiration was Garth Nix’s Lirael and Abhorsen, which I’m currently enjoying on disc.
So no posts last week—New Hampshire called for New Year’s, and I answered. Hope you all had a great holiday season.
After weeks of no swipe access and late radio shows, someone finally left the doors open for me! …So of course I was late, thanks to ice. Sigh. But there’s a radio show for you. Download it here and fast-forward to the 18-minute mark.
PS: In the pre-Christmas rush I completely failed to post or even copy for myself my Christmas show (Saturday, 12/21). If by some miracle you downloaded it, give me a holler—I’d love the file. Thanks!