Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Setting Write-Up: Dragon Overview and Volcanic Dragon

This is a new series (hopefully a long-running series) where I'll be writing up stuff for my as-yet unnamed and unwritten campaign setting. I'll pick a game element I like and start writing stuff about it. Once I get it to a stage I like, I'll post it here. This time, and for the next few posts, it'll be all about the various dragons I like in my games.

So, here's the deal about dragons: they're awesome. They're powerful, live practically forever, and they're perfect treasure hoarders. Everything about them says "great risk, but great reward." They're in the name of the game (well, the original game at least), and every D&D player has at least one dragon story.

But, the standard metallic/chromatic split has been done dozens of times. It's traditional, fairly interesting, and a D&D staple. And I'm getting rid of it. Well, some of it.

I'm keeping three types of dragon - chromatic, metallic, and catastrophic. Since I don't use alignment, generally, the whole "chromatic are evil, metallics are good" split is going away. A noble, kind red dragon is just as likely as a princess-gnawing red. But, I'm keeping a lot of the "reds breath fire, blacks spit acid, etc." stuff, because I really like it.

I'm also adding in catastrophic dragons to throw a wrench in the works. Catastrophic dragons, instead of being created by a dragon god to serve that dragon god's purpose, were created by a vengeful nature god to keep those uppity mortals from getting the idea that they can "defeat" nature. Catastrophic dragons are a reminder to mortals that nature will always win, no matter what. Stone castles, underground fortresses, island paradises - none of these are safe havens from the elements. They're not evil, they're not good, they just live to destroy. A volcanic dragon blasts things with fire and magma because that's what it was made to do, just like a blizzard dragon freezes and shatters things as the god commands.

One thing you might note from the sample volcanic dragon I've written up here: there's no spellcasting. See, I don't care for spellcasting dragons. I like arcane, interesting dragons, but turning every single dragon into a mage just bugs me, always has. Some might have some spell-like effects, but I really like how 4E gave dragons unique abilities instead of just "okay, so this dragon casts spells just like a 12th level sorcerer" like 3E and some other editions/games do it.

NOTE: This series is going to be using ACKS stats, mostly because I really like how dragons are handled in that system. One day, I'll convert all this stuff to Swords & Wizardry White Box, once I get an actual campaign running.
Not 100% how I see volcanic dragons, but close. Source.

Volcanic Dragon

When the world was still being forged by the gods, Arathon, god of nature, took it upon himself to alter the still-young races of dragons. He feared that his pristine wilderness would be tamed and battered into submission by the mortal races. So he took dragons of wild nature and temperament and molded them into personifications of the forces of nature: the first catastrophic dragons.

The first of these were the volcanic dragons, former red and gold dragons warped to suit Arathon's needs. He gave them fiery natures and granted them the power to shape their territories to fit their needs. Some of those first volcanic dragons are said to slumber beneath the world's volcanoes, belching and spewing magma across the land when their sleep is disturbed.

Volcanic dragons are powerfully muscled and heavy dragons. Their scales resemble obsidian and orange light shines through cracks between the scales. Their eyes shine a malevolent yellow-orange; their wings are patterned to resemble dark rocks floating in pools of lava. Their claws and teeth resemble black, jagged stone.

Breath Weapon
Volcanic dragons breath superheated ash and molten rock, resembling nothing more than a volcano spewing magma sideways. Where a red dragon's breath is mere flame, volcanic dragons breath the very essence of the world's heat.

An aura of immense heat surrounds volcanic dragons. Any foes within this aura are seared, the air stolen from their lungs and set ablaze. Metals melt, flammable items catch fire, and flesh is charred.

Common Personality Traits
Rage, violence, malevolence – these are all terms that fit the volcanic dragons' temperament. Volcanic dragons rarely deign to speak to mortals, preferring to watch and destroy them at the first sign that the mortals are gaining dominance over the dragons' harsh territories.

Preferred Territories
Like all catastrophic dragons, volcanic dragons alter their territories to suit their needs. However, volcanic dragons prefer to lair in existing volcanoes, causing eruptions to blanket their lands in ash and molten rock. Fields of flowing black rock, persistent ash clouds, and a complete lack of vegetation are all signs of a volcanic dragon's presence.

Favored Treasure
Catastrophic dragons, like all dragons, are covetous and protective of their treasures. Volcanic dragons prefer gems, usually black or red, and set them into the walls of their lairs where the light from the ever-present magma can shine on them. Volcanic dragons have no use for gold or other metals, as they would rapidly melt in the dragon's heat.

Sample Dragon and Lair
Davarax, Volcanic Dragon
Age Category: Old (175 years old)
% In Lair: 40
Dungeon Enc: 1
Wilderness Enc: 1
Movement: 90' (30')
A Fly: 240' (80')
Armor Class: 9
Hit Dice: 14***
Attacks: 3 or breath weapon (90' long, 30' wide cone)
Damage: 2d4/2d4/3d10
Special Abilities: Volcanic aura (1d4 damage to creatures within 20'), breath weapon, clutching claws
Save: F14
Morale: +1
Treasure Type: R
XP: 4,900

Davarax the Pyroclastic, though still relatively young for his race, has claimed a formerly-dormant volcano for his lair. This volcano, Flamestrike Peak, was surrounded by snow and ice before Davarax formed his lair. Davarax chose the icy peak for his lair for the sheer joy of perverting such a cold area into a fiery hellscape. Causing Flamestrike Peak to erupt, blowing the top of the mountain off, Davarax has altered the landscape. Hot ash rains from the sky, molten rivers of rock flow and harden, coating the land in a hard crust of obsidian. A clan of kobolds manages to eke out a living in the furthest reaches from the mountain, as far as they can get without being in the tundra. Davarax allows them to live, as they barely survive and haven't managed to tame the blasted wasteland.

Click for full-size.


Davarax's lair is in the top magma chamber of Flamestrike Peak. It is open to the sky above the magma pool, and a river of lava flows out and splits into two before streaming down the mountainside.

1. The Tunnel
A sharply-sloped tunnel leads from the lower mountain caverns to Davarax's chamber. The dragon knows about the tunnel, but hasn't bothered to seal it up. He knows that, in theory, someone could use the tunnel to enter the lair, but in his arrogance, he believes that no mortal would ever dare to confront him.

2. The Ledge
The path opens onto a small ledge overlooking the magma pool. Once a pile of rock, the intense heat from one of the mountain's eruptions smoothed the rock and formed a series of ledges that function as crude steps to the main floor.

3. Magma Pool
The chamber's defining feature, the magma pool lays open to the sky. The air above it shimmers with heat, meaning that anyone entering the chamber may not be easily seen from the Throne on the other side (1-in-6 chance of being seen).

4. Davarax's Throne
If Davarax is in his lair, this is where he prefers to be. A tall ledge set into an alcove, nearly thirty feet above the rest of the chamber, Davarax's Throne has carved steps leading to it, made of smooth, melted rock. Davarax's hoard is here – hundreds of gems arranged on the alcove walls that reflect the light of the magma pool and brighten the Throne area (roll on the treasure tables for exact value). Occasionally, Davarax also has magical items here, from any recent travelers or adventurers in his domain that he has slain.

5. Magma Rivers

The magma from the center pool flows out through this hole in the chamber's southern wall. A massive obsidian chunk splits the river into two to stream down the mountain.


  1. I like ditching the alignment restrictions and ditching the spellcasting. Dragons are way too badass to adhere to cosmic alignment unwaveringly and not all of them should stoop to using elf spells.

    I don't think you have to keep the taxonomy though. If you lose the good vs evil, then you don't have to keep track of them that way. There's nothing wrong with catastrophic dragons just being dragons in my opinion.

    Maybe it's the name. Catastrophe Dragons is more pleasing. But in any case I don't think you need it.

    1. I'm mostly keeping the catastrophic/metallic split because I plan on having two opposed dragon gods. I don't use alignment at all - even going so far as to remove Protection from X Alignment and similar spells - but I like the idea of two dragon gods, like Bahamut and Tiamat, creating separate dragons to oppose each other.

      But, I also like the idea of those dragons having free will and being able to choose between the two gods, or another god, or no god altogether.

      For catastrophic dragons, where Bahamut/Tiamat (or whatever their final names are) created the metallics and chromatics, the nature god Arathon took the existing dragons and physically altered them to be a new species. Catastrophic dragons literally change the environment around them, which is why I give them auras like the volcanic aura Davarax has.

  2. Oh hey. I've been working on OSR catastrophic dragons this past weekend myself. How funny is that? I like this interpretation. Oh well, no big loss, I have something else in the works I'll post instead.

    1. I even took spellcasting off of mine just like you did. Great minds think alike, eh?

    2. Thanks, glad you like it! If you do end up posting your version, let me know. I'm always looking for cool new OSR stuff, even (or maybe especially) if I've already got my own version.