Welcome back adventurers and DMs (Dungeon Masters) Wizard Charlie here! Today join me in my new series called “How to Run Your:” in which we cover a series of monsters and how you can make them feel more alive. And today we will be talking about Chromatic Dragons! (in a more general sense). In the future I will cover the dragons more individually and we will even make some example dragons! I don’t know if you know this but I actually majored in Dragon studies… among many other topics, but do not mock me for enjoying learning! This will be more of a helpful guide to new DMs, but all are always welcome.
This game is called Dungeons and Dragons, so there’s no surprise that when it comes to running a Dragon there is a sort of expectation. Dragons are big, scary, and powerful. All of these dragons have claws, tails, wings, and most of all breath attacks. The mechanics in running these dangerous beasts are important but that is something you can always figure out on your own; you’re always free to change those things how you see fit and I will talk about each of them in more detail in future articles. But I want to focus more on how you can make them feel, I want to talk about your dragon’s personality.
There are two types of dragons in the D&D 5e Monster Manual (MM), Chromatic Dragons & Metallic Dragons. If you play D&D chances are you already know the differences between these two types and if you don’t then I do suggest after this article you go and learn about them because they are all so cool! But today our focus will be on the evil chromatics. Chromatic Dragons come in five main colors; black, white, blue, green, and red. They demonstrate acts of evil and are often driven by the darker ideals of malice, greed, arrogance, and just have an all around awfulness to them, usually.
Now, who can tell me the most important aspect of playing a Dragon? Anyone? No, not their breath attack but that is a very good guess. Anyone else? Well if you guessed personality then you guessed right! You don’t have to agree, in fact I welcome a healthy debate on the subject, but hear me out; anyone can run a dragon, it isn’t really that hard. Just like any other monster you look up the stats and beat at the adventuring group until either they die or the dragon does (although their first dragon should usually try to run away if it gets to that point). But it is of my opinion that the difference between a memorable Dragon and a regular one is their personality.
How do you get personality down you might ask? You can implement a variety of techniques to get your dragon to come across as dangerous, terrifying, and memorable. One dragon I ran didn’t even get a single attack off and yet most of the party were already terrified of him and I did this with just one conversation. I used 4 simple things; voice, speech patterns, actions, and tactics. What is your dragon’s voice? Are they a low growling and whispering Green Dragon? Maybe they are a primal White Dragon that snarls between words and licks his teeth in anticipation. Maybe they are a proud and arrogant Red Dragon who loves to show she is stronger and better than the adventurers by letting them live while she spews on about her greatness. The point is, a battle can be won before a single blow is dealt and that is done with scare tactics. Even in Mixed Martial Arts an important part of any fight is getting into your opponents head. Show how dangerous your dragon is without having to attack. That’s part of how you make a memorable dragon.
I mentioned 4 methods that I used in order to make my dragons seem more threatening; voice, speech patterns, actions, and tactics. It is important to remember that each dragon is different, even two of the same dragon could have slight variances to set them apart. You have to consider age as well with this because we speak and act differently as we grow older, one can imagine that dragons do so as well. There are wyrmlings, young dragons, adult dragons, and ancient ones. Chances are your party won’t fight a wyrmling without a mama dragon present in which case gooood luck guys it was nice knowing you. A young dragon is something a lower group of adventures might fight, an adult dragon is a difficult but more common fight, and an ancient dragon just means you hate your group and you’re planning on wiping them all out (just kidding, they are great for high level parties). So let’s now get back to and break down those 4 methods.
- Voice: I know right away for some of you the thought of changing your voice is terrifying. “I’m not a cast member of critical role!” well I am here to tell you don’t have to be. As kids we have all played make believe right? Hell some of us still do it now. How many times have you spoken in a random monster voice to tell scary stories? Or just because you felt like it? You can do it! Pretend to have a growl in your voice, change the tone so it’s a bit deeper, and beeee the dragon. Try it right now to yourself, and keep practicing until you get something you like. But let’s say you don’t, that’s fine too. There is still always cadence and speech patterns. But try and do both if you can because combining these two traits can turn your dragon into a memorable and terrifying one.
- Speech Patterns/Cadence: Similar to voice there is speech pattern. Look at Voldemort from Harry Potter. The man’s cadence is scary. He normally speaks in a low and almost raspy whispered tone but when he gets angry he shouts and screams and demands the rooms attention. A villain should be memorable, and in the case of an evil dragon you definitely want them to be. Maybe they have a favorite word? Maybe a White dragon calls the group morsales the entire time it speaks to them. Maybe the Green dragon thinks long before using words, as if picking the exact right ones. Maybe the Red dragon is the opposite in which they don’t think before speaking at all, after all they are a powerful dragon, and who would dare go against a dragon.
Then there is age to consider. A young dragon is much more arrogant in that it doesn’t yet realize it can be killed much easier than say an ancient one. And yet an ancient dragon is much more dangerous in that they have had hundreds and even thousands of years to develop a cunning intellect. Therefore, as far as speech patterns might go an ancient dragon might speak more slowly or with more intelligent sounding words depending on the type. An ancient white dragon might actually use less words over time if they are now a master hunter who has spent a lifetime alone in the wild. The way we speak when we are kids is very different from when we are adults. Take this into consideration when making your dragon. Youth comes with a certain cockiness.
- Actions/Mannerisms: An ancient dragon is sure of itself, it has had time and it knows it has many more years ahead of it; that means that an ancient dragon though powerful, may never believe a small group of adventurers to be much of a threat to them; they are simply ants passing by trying to take what doesn’t belong to them. Use this! Your evil dragon might see themselves as eons above the tiny mortals, barely worth batting an eyelash at, let alone battling.
Where your dragon lives and how your group has to pass through that domain, is an extension of your dragon and who they are as well. So they might act superior to your group, they might act as if they are completely untouchable. If you match a hawty voice along with such descriptors as “a pumped up chest” for a red dragon then you can really portray the air of “I am better than you”. Or if you describe a “low hanging head, close to the ground with a toothy grin” you can portray the feeling of a snake, which suits a Green Dragon perfectly.
The way they present themselves and the actions they take show who they are. A green dragon might talk the most and pretend to be a friend or a future ally as they slowly move closer and closer waiting for the right moment to commence a battle or better yet scare them into submission or, best case scenario, they trick the party. So really think about how they act and their little mannerisms, their posture, how they move about, and how they look at the adventurers.
- Tactics: Similar to actions, tactics play a big part. Tactics in battle change depending on the dragon and the age.
First thing’s first, dragons live to very old ages because they run when they have to. So if a dragon is getting close to death it will tend to run, but there are a few caveats with this.
- First, this lets your players have a chance at surviving the encounter, if they die it happens but you don’t want to purposefully kill them so it is a nice reason to end the fight after the dragon has taken enough damage, usually at half health or a third.
- Second, if the dragon tries to run and your group uses good use of their abilities and items to still take it down before it can get away? Let them. If you waited too long to pull the dragon out then it still fits because it was the dragons pride and arrogance that got them there. Do not rob the players of their earned victory, dragons are hard to kill and as an adventuring party it feels nice to say you slayed the dragon. If it does get away then maybe it will return later to seek vengeance for embarrassing it.
- Third, a dragon is smart it does not want to die. So if it has to choose between death and living to fight another day then it will always choose to live…unless. And that brings us to our final caveat, weakness and exploiting that. If the dragon is a red one who are known for being arrogant and boastful then it tries to flee from a battle against adventures and the group can no longer reach it…what if one of them yells up “you yellow bellied coward! You’re no dragon!” Be it for better or worse, that dragon might just come right back and try to burn them alive, or at least go to kill that one person who called them out. This gives a chance for a player to exploit the weakness of a dragon, which we will discuss more in a little bit.
I suggest you look into the MM for this one as each dragon tends to fight differently. But here are a few suggestions.
- A blue dragon likes to rely on its lightning breath attack and keep to the skies to attack from afar. This means that if a turn goes by where they did not get their lightning breath attack back then they have a choice to make, either stay in the sky where it is safe and wait until they get it back or get in close and personal. But given the choice they usually are smart enough to stay in the sky unless there are a lot of ranged fighters.
- Red Dragons are so arrogant that they are most often in the thick of it, battling on the ground and squishing bugs beneath them, laughing and mocking the whole way through.
- The White dragon would most likely switch off between the two, usually preferring to freeze their dinner before coming down to finish the job up close and personal.
- Green dragons might save their breath for the opportune moment, after getting up close after a long duel of words prior.
- Black dragons would most likely do whichever derived the most pleasure for them so use your imagination for these guys. They quite simply mean, so they might do the meanest things.
When making these dragons it can be just as fun to also incorporate built in weaknesses. I once made a green dragon who I incorporated a weakness in it in which after talking for so long it would start tripping up on its lies with contradictions. A red dragon might go against its own survival instinct if, as its fleeing, it is suddenly called a coward or weak. A blue dragon might be so full of its power and control over others that it might not see that it’s general is about to betray them, which a party can exploit and use. These weaknesses don’t always have to be obvious and they can be as small or as large as you like. However, these weaknesses allow players to feel incredibly good if they can figure them out and exploit them.
That being said it’s important to remember one thing and that is that you make your own rules, subvert expectations. You don’t have to follow any of this. If you want a chromatic dragon that was raised good and is now a good dragon who struggles with their inner turmoil then do it! If you want a green dragon who, although evil, actually provides a lot of stability and structure for the city it has incorporated itself in then do it! In D&D you can be as creative as your heart desires. And subverting the expectations of your players is a truly phenomenal way of making your dragon become a stand out one that they will remember for years to come. But most of all, above all other things, make sure you and your players are having fun first. Don’t put anything before that. Death may happen in game and that is okay, death in game is a learning experience, but don’t go out of your way to ruin it for them because its “what the dragon would do” It is a fine and difficult line to walk but i believe in you.
To wrap things up, let’s recap. To have a memorable chromatic dragon you should incorporate personality; you can do this by giving them good voices, speech patterns, actions, and tactics. We covered some methods that can be used to make your dragon become more memorable than just another creature that the adventurers hit until it dies. The flavor of your dragon makes all the difference and if you want to change the way these dragons are and work to subvert the expectations of your players then do it! And lastly remember the importance of the game and that is to have fun for both you and your players, because that is what the game is all about first and foremost. And remember DMs it isn’t just your world, and it isn’t just the player’s world, it’s all of yours.