View Full Version : How to best use a Dragon in combat?

2008-03-11, 08:17 PM
Hey, all! I need a little help in figuring out what is the best strategy for running an encounter against a dragon. The adventure I am running features several evil dragons amongst a large group of Tiamat worhipers:
Red Hand of Doom
Anyway, the dragons are mostly Juvenile to Young Adult, and are thus a bit light on the SLAs and spellcasting. The PCs have already faced the first dragon, which relied a strafing w/ breath weapon strategy, and they did pretty well against it since they have an 8-man party with a lot of ranged attacks.

The PCs are nearing level 7 and are getting close to the next dragon, so what I want to know is how best to impress upon the players that they should really be taking these dragons seriously? How can I make these battles tough enough (strategy-wise) without just giving the dragons some extra HPs? What is the #1 best strategy (from the dragon's point of view) for a dragon to use in any given encounter?

Thanks to everyone in advance!

2008-03-11, 08:30 PM
Grapple, fly, drop.

1d6 fall damage per 10 feet.

But that depends on how ready they have things like feather fall. Just a funny idea.

2008-03-11, 08:35 PM
Well, the strafing thing tends to be important. Breath weapons are their bread and butter.

First, I would say subterfuge. Dragons are intelligent and cast like sorcerers. Why not have them use Ghost Sound (or something similar) to confuse the party?

The next thing is movement. If these are younger dragons, they're probably smart enough to know that they should attack when they have an advantage. If the dragon has to sit out in the open, he's not going to live long. Instead, he'll probably attack from a terrain where he can fly about freely, and then find hiding places where the PCs can't reach him.

Finally, try to think like a dragon. The last time my PCs fought a dragon, they weren't expecting him to fly around, so they had to drop their melee weapons to quickly draw ranged weapons. As soon as they moved away from those magic weapons on the ground, the dragon swooped in, picked them up, and stowed them away safely on top of a cliff. Disarming a PC packing a magic weapon is dangerous for the dragon, but it can be highly disconcerting for the players and very in-character for the dragon.

2008-03-11, 08:46 PM
I think the campaign you have has information on how to run a dragon. Personally, I feel the best way to scare the heck out of the party is to have the dragon be able to cast True Strike. Have it cast the spell behind some cover, or somewhere the party can't reach. Then, have it Power Attack for the maximum amount as it hits the weakest member with a Flyby Attack. It simulates the epic battles with dragons, even though the party has range weapons; what good are arrows when you have no chance to use them? It also gets players to think, rather than aimlessly shoot arrows and makes the chance of a character death all the more likely. They need that kind of caution in the setting of your campaign anyway.
It also helps to address the capabilities of each of your party members. If they are all spellcasters, melee would be their bane. Same thing goes for ranged attackers. If they are straight up melee, the breath weapon of a dragon will cause serious consequences. Remember, however, that you should balance the battle in such a way that everyone can contribute. For example, the Wizard gives the fighter a Fly spell to fight toe-to-toe with the dragon while the Cleric heals/buffs and other party members hit it with damaging ranged attacks. Don't have the dragon spam WTFOHKO moves the whole time, your party will hate you for it.

2008-03-11, 09:12 PM
Entangling Breath.

2008-03-11, 09:13 PM
Spoilered so no one reads anything they shouldn't.

It's been a while since I last read through RHoD, but if I remember correctly the next dragon is the Black Dragon in Rhest. If so, take advantage of the watery terrain. If there's someone not so good at grappling, swoop in, pick 'em up, and dive down below the water (I think it should be deep enough in some places). Use your acid breath as much as possible. Also, isn't the goblin wyrmlord (Saarvith, I think?) based out of Rhest, too? Don't forget about him - he's a Ranger, so he can probably hang out at the top of the big tower (or wherever PCs can't get him) and pincushion them with arrows while the dragon focuses on those that spread out too far from the rest.

Also, a big thing - don't be afraid to let the dragons escape. That just means they'll be mad next time and can hang out at the entrance to the Fane later in Chapter 5.

2008-03-11, 09:16 PM
I think the campaign you have has information on how to run a dragon. Personally, I feel the best way to scare the heck out of the party is to have the dragon be able to cast True Strike. Have it cast the spell behind some cover, or somewhere the party can't reach. Then, have it Power Attack for the maximum amount as it hits the weakest member with a Flyby Attack.

Try Wraithstrike (Sor/Wiz-2, of all things) on for size - swift-action spell that makes all your melee attacks that round resolve as incorporeal touch attacks. Combine with Power Attack and a Full Attack. From a Dragon.

Make sure to have umpire gear on had for the player riot, of course....

Or better yet, ignore this post completely.

2008-03-11, 09:25 PM
I find giving "boss" type monsters that have to go 1-on-4 with the PCs (in your case 1-on-8, dear lord) an extra Standard Action a turn helps. They can move, claw someone, and then breathe on others. Or move, full attack. Or full attack, breathe. Or move, cast, claw someone.

Generally the problem with these kinds of fights is that the PCs can do SO MUCH in comparison to the dragon. They get 16 actions a round, and the dragon gets 2. Unless the Dragon can one-shot everyone from full to -10, then nothing will get accomplished. Letting the dragon take 3-4 actions will even it out without it becoming an instant death sentence, so long as you spread the attacks out, which you're justified in, because you're the DM.

2008-03-11, 09:56 PM
I'm actually running that same campaign right now, and my players will be getting to this encounter during the next session. Here are my thoughts:

Don't be afraid to bump it up to young adult instead of juvenile, especially considering how many people you have in the party. Also, remember that the Dragon in question has had experience with Adventurers before (it's in his backstory, I believe), so it's fully aware of how to deal with them, and which ones are the biggest threat.

Also, don't forget that if the players fail to take care of Saarvith first, he'll be riding on the dragon's back, which makes things significantly more difficult, especially since he has all the mounted combat feats. Strafing & breath weapon + goblin ranger with 3 arrows a round = difficult. Also, consider giving Saarvith flaming arrows, or something like that, and don't forget about his favored enemy bonuses.

If Saarvith is out of the picture, I'd go with what rtg0922 said about using the water to the dragon's advantage. Suddenly, that full-plate armor isn't so great when you're under water (especially given the rules that it outlines for getting entangled in that water earlier in the chapter).

If the party hasn't taken care of the razorfiend before this, you can also think about having the dragon fly through and destroy the razorfiend containment shack, if the fight is looking like it will be close. Dealing with one flying dragon is difficult, dealing with a flying dragon while you have a crazy jumping spring attacking fiend/dragon as well is something entirely different.

Kol Korran
2008-03-12, 02:15 AM
i don't know the adventure in question, but maybe some other, general advice:

- the Draconmicon supplement has some good tips on running dragon encounters. read through them.
- dragons are supposed to be highly cunning survivalists (at least that's how i play them). unless the party takes special precaution, the dragon can probably choose where and how to attack (off a cliff, from the water, and so on). i'd suggest a good strategy would be "divide and conquer"- the dragon uses terrain/ illusions/ trickery and so on to try and get some distance between some of the members, and then he swoops/ breathes/ grapples the less prepared ones. once the party seem to retaliate in force, retreat...
and then, change tactic, harass. the dragon will attack in full force only if it is fairly sure it has the upper hand, or something seriosu is at stake (it's treasure hoard?).

i don't know the kind of adventure you're running. i kind of dislike the "every monster, especially the main antagonists, await at their place" kind of adventure modules. my main "bad guys" take actions all the time...

2008-03-12, 02:24 AM
Forget anyone who mentioned breath weapon attacks. Dragons deal all their best damage in close combat. For example, let's take 2 young adult reds.

good attack bonuses, scads of feats, good HP, and flight. What spell like abilities they have should NOT deal damage. They should assist the dragon. Glitterdust, see invisibility, invisibility, grease, things like that.

Next. Flyby attack. Combined with a dragon's reach, means most players will be unable to melee.

Third. Focus fire. Dragons are smart, and can pack hunt. Use it. Breath weapons should be used mostly early on, to seperate the party. From there, coordinated attacks, focusing on one party member at a time.

Fourth. If one party member renders himself seperate from the group, don't be afraid to Hover and full attack. Two great feats for this are hover and travel devotion (Complete Champion). Move in and full attack. You can't flyby with this, but eh, you still have reach and are flying.

Last: Terrain. A cliffside battle gives a bit extra oomph to the dragon with Improved Bull rush. Dragons with Improved Grapple can take the Draconomicon feat to lower the "not count as grappling" penalty to -10. Now you can entrap the party, fly off, and drop from altitude.

2008-03-12, 02:51 AM
Try Wraithstrike (Sor/Wiz-2, of all things) on for size - swift-action spell that makes all your melee attacks that round resolve as incorporeal touch attacks. Combine with Power Attack and a Full Attack. From a Dragon.

That's not an interesting encounter, that's a TPK.

Or better yet, ignore this post completely.

Yes, that's probably for the best.

Citizen Jenkins
2008-03-12, 05:50 AM
First, I think you're in a tough spot. When you're dealing with eight characters, anything challenging to the party will be capable of killing a character in one round (especially if you upgrade to a Young Adult dragon) but anything weaker gets stomped by the party. So here's my suggestion,

Run a Juvenile red dragon. Now this dragon has seen his fellow dragon die to the hands of these adventurers so he's prepared himself. Like a sensible dragon he's learned Invisibility and Resist Energy. He is also able, through magic items or the like, to cast Obscuring Snow (Frostburn) and Disguise Self. Our clever dragon casts Resist Energy an uses Disguise Self to change his color and appearance to white (minor changes to a human). Once he spots the adventurers he lands near them and casts Obscuring Snow, using his Blindsense to see his targets and attack the weakest members using just his physical attacks. Your party, hopefully fooled by the disguise and ice style magics proceeds to blast him with fire magic while he feigns injury. Even once they figure it out, he's still got the Resist Energy spell, which basically limits your party to physical attacks. I do suggest your dragon take Practiced Spellcaster once or twice so his spells will survive a Dispel magic. Have the dragon go after any rogue or wizard characters and if he manages a kill, have him grab their loot. Once things start to look troublesome, especially if he's acquired some decent loot, have him fly off and cast Invisibility. Nasty without being overly lethal and a smart party should figure out the trick.

And while it's frustrating, I do think trick battles like this are the best option for such a large party. Honestly, while a Young Adult red dragon would be a pretty fair fight, 10d10 (55 damage on average) is going to kill most spellcasters outright and if he catches a bunch together then it's almost assured that someone's character is going to die and there won't be much they can do about it.

2008-03-12, 07:01 AM
As has been mentioned earlier, Draconomicon has some good advice for running a dragon encounter. My advice:

1. Dragons are not tyrannosaurs. They do not sit around and just hit in melee. They will fly, cast spells from the air, and use their breath weapons to strafe.

2. They will avoid situations where they are cornered. They will full attack when given the opportunity, and due to their extensive reach this is not too difficult to achieve.

3. Larger dragons (Gargantuan and up) can and will most likely use crush to take out softer opponents. (Dragon grapple scores are insane anyway, so even the strongest fighter might not be able to wriggle out from under a gargantuan dragon's weight.) Tail sweep is actually not very useful as only a colossal dragon can use it against medium creatures.

4. Pick spells wisely. One of the best defensive buffs that a dragon might have is scintillating scales, which transfers their natural armor bonus to deflection---very good against touch attacks. I'd actually expect dragons to rely on buffs and utility (dispel magic, etc) more instead of using blaster spells. Animate breath is also very effective for giving the dragon backup muscle.
Remember, dragons can cast cleric spells too, as well as domain spells depending on their type.

5. Draconomicon has a lot of good feats for dragons. Wingover (which is core anyway) is good for the bigger dragons, as it allows them to make hairpin turns without losing precious movement squares. Awesome Blow is good for disrupting the party.
Draconomicon has Metabreath feats, which can add some pretty nasty side effects to the breath weapon.

6. Monster Manual V has the Xorvintaal dragon template, which allows the dragon to trade spellcasting and SR for special abilities. Might not really fit the thematic focus of your campaign, but it does allow for simpler dragon encounters.

2008-03-12, 07:10 AM
If you want to be particularly devious and teach the players the use of readying actions, give the dragon spring attack and make the water near impossible to see through. Remember, these guys are smart, and will use any advantage to their favor,, and they can spend days underwater. Players can't. Also note, small creatures have a heck of a time getting out of a grapple, and if they aren't gnomes, can't hold their breath for that long.

2008-03-12, 06:09 PM
I have run Red Hand of Doom successfully to its conclusion. Very neat mini-campaign, I might add. The siege of Bryndol is a very cool part of the campaign.

As to the dragons, I can only tell you what I did with them:

I upgraded the Black Dragon in Rhest an age category which increased its size to large. The goblin ranger rides atop him, firing arrows, and don't forget he can negate 1 ranged attack a round(against the dragon) with a DC 20 ride check. Since my PC's were fighting him on top of the building he was originally in, I had the dragon flying around the base of the tower, popping up to breathe or let his rider fire arrows. This was actually one of the more memorable battles.

The Behir doesn't technically count as a dragon, but I'd be wary nontheless. The monster is essentially able to kill(or swallow) one PC every round.

The Red was a major pain for them with its breath and flying-by tactics. My groups are fairly optimized, and I briefly considered upgrading him one age which would make him Huge, but I backed out at the last minute, fearing a TPK. My players won this fight accidentally, through sheer luck on their die rolls.

I wish I could give good advice on blue other than the same "fly and breath" but unfortunately, my PC's one-shot this dragon with a well rolled prismatic ray (poison) followed by me rolling a natural 1 on its fort save. I was so close to fudging that roll, but did not for reasons of fair play.

In my experience, the best way to challenge large groups of PC's is not to upgrade already powerful monsters, but to throw in more lesser (but not weakling) monsters to tie up more players. The idea above to have greenspawn razorwings show up during the fight is a great way to distract several PC's from simply focusing all firepower on one target (i.e. the dragon).

Instead of upgrading the Red for example, you could add a wyvern or two (or three!) who fly along side him as a sort of personal guard.

Anyway, I hope some part of this rambling nonsense is helpful to you. :)

2008-03-12, 10:06 PM
First let's see what you have. Smaller dragon. Not big, scary, I'llkick your arse type. Cunning, survivalist, killer type. I like using the Creature Feature Formula.

Ask yourself- what makes creature horror flicks so cool? It isnt the fact that the python can squish the dude in like 3 seconds flat. It's not that the giant bird monster can pick up the girl and drop her. It's the terrain. The python sneaks through the water, undetected, and eliminates the prey unseen. The bird swoops down unexpected and smashes into someone, pitching them off a cliff.

Others have said it, I just reiterate- the coolest thing about smaller dragon encounters is using those small special abilities like your life depended on it. Black dragons swimming through the swamp, drowning characters silently is intense, memorable, and most importantly, hard to counter. An Ice dragon who meets his foes on a frozen lake can not only laugh as they slip and fall, but bash through the ice in a bull rush, forcing some of the characters to save their comarade while the dragon meets a smaller force. And I've never seen a party who isn't dropping their d20's in fear when the blue dragon sucks someone under the sand and out of site, all without the players noticing. The reason dragons are so distinct by color is becaue it's freakin awesome to use them in encounters where the dragon is the least of your worries.