Players love facing off against a dragon.
Taking down the ultimate fantasy RPG foe is a real delight.
But you know what’s intimidating? Roleplaying a dragon as the GM.
Dragons are supposed to be fearsome monsters, greedy for gold and completely egotistical. As a GM, trying to inhabit a headspace where you want to kill anyone who intrudes your lair, steal their gold and tell them all how awesome you are while you’re at it can be tough.
We remembered some of our favorite dragons and past entertaining encounters while peering at some old copies of the Monster Manual for advice.
Here are a few things to remember:
Dragons are greedy. Dragons love expanding that treasure hoard. They should be eyeballing the fighter’s magical greatsword and attempting to convince the thief to leave his bag of gold behind. Alternately, he’ll fry those guys with his breath weapon and find those things in the leftover rubble.
Be egotistical. Remember how Smaug kind of toyed with Bilbo? He attempted to intimidate the hobbit by asking questions while showing off his mighty strength. If you’re playing the dragon, he knows he’s the smartest and most powerful person in the room. Play him that way.
Dragons are smart. If you’re the GM, you should know everything that’s going on in your game, including player strengths and weaknesses and the available terrain. Dragons are incredibly intelligent and should be keenly aware of their surroundings. As the GM, allow yourself to metagame a little bit and think of the way the dragon would take out the players.
Make the hoard interesting. Surely, there’s lots of gold that dragon has been piling up. But what magic items has he plucked off wary adventurers who previously infiltrated his lair? What mundane items could he have been picking up? What does the dragon collect? Is the dragon’s wealth made primarily of coins or of items of great value? Does the dragon collect trophies of any kind?
Who works for the dragon? Maybe he’s a solitary creature, but the dragon may also have minions to do his bidding or perhaps a right-hand-man who helps him find new targets for pillaging. He may have slaves working in his lair or a cult that worships him like a god.
What are his tactics? We don’t just mean in battle. The dragon should know his own lair very well (he built it after all) and should know in advance how he’d play out a battle. He’d also know how to play out a conversation. Don’t be afraid to write down lines and/or the direction you’d like to steer the conversation.
What does the dragon find tasty? Maybe he ate a dwarf once and really enjoys the taste, so seeing a bearded party member might get him excited. On the other hand, perhaps an elf once helped the dragon collect a host of treasure, and he now he has a soft spot for elves.
The dragon may not want to fight. Maybe he simply wants to talk. Dragons will defend their lairs and their hoards, but they don’t always necessarily do so with violence. That could involve pitting the players against one of the dragon’s other enemies or sending them up against a foe the dragon thinks they’ll never survive.
Dragons can be lazy. Sitting on a pile of gold can be so much more fun than flying around and breathing fire on everything. A dragon may find it easier to set a load of traps in and around his lair or send someone else to do his bidding. Of course, once those have run their course, a dragon is usually more than happy for a little bloodshed.
Dragons are usually loners. But not always. Once the dragon is taken down players expect that they’ve defeated the boss enemy. But what if there’s another dragon (perhaps its father or big brother or mentor) lurking around somewhere? Or perhaps there was a wizard working in concert with the dragon, and now he’s upset he lost his protection? Surprise your players by continuing the fight after the dragon is gone.
Some dragons can change shape. If your dragon can polymorph, he may have already met the players. Keep that character’s draconic nature a secret. Revealing it at the right time will blow your players away.