Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Dragon's Cough Part 2 (a low level scenario for the D&D RC)

Including: why dragons might have minions
introducing the Black Ear Kneesnappers goblin tribe

And here we go, the second part of that sick dragon adventure scenario I wrote about the other day. This one will start describing the minions, contacts and enemies of the dragon with some alternate (and community fueled!) adventure seeds for good measure somewhere down the road. I'll also give some notes about my thinking here to make this reproducible and all that (turned out to be the main part of that post ...). For rules I use the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (D&D RC) and house rule were I think it's necessary, but it should be easily adaptable with the whole D&D family ... This will have more parts than I anticipated.

Here's the introduction to the whole thing and here's Part 1

Do dragons have minions?

Or are they solitary creatures? That's a very difficult question to answer, I think. They'd most certainly have contacts, if they are of the talking sort and already around for hundreds of years. Wizards. maybe, or other dragons. There's a multitude of possibilities for allies of all sorts, actually. And the use of alignments in D&D makes it even more likely that they seek contact with theirs.

I don't necessarily think they mingle or are any other kind of social, even the lawful ones should be reclusive, going by literary examples alone. But (and this is a BIG "but") in the worlds D&D usually describes, it's not the dragon that is the alpha predator. He might be among them, even rank somewhat high if he gets old enough. But in a game (the D&D RC, in this case) where heroes get as high as level 36, wielding powerful items and magic on a planetary scale (to give but one example), a dragon might have to know his way around to be able to survive. And that means for starters alliances and gathering knowledge, followed closely by intrigue or manipulation or brute force were necessary (and possible).

Because a poor 12 hd creature might manage to be on a rampage for some time, but will die just as fast if the wrong parties get involved. And dragons being creatures of habit, stealing thousands and thousands of coins for a pile to sleep on will get powerful people involved sooner or later (emphasis on sooner, I'd say). So there is that. Dragons might need influence to ensure survival and that means allies and contacts.

With minions it's a bit more tricky, but I think in part also a consequence of the former thoughts. Or that's one aspect of it, at least. it's practical to have satellites to do the dirty work or represent you a little less ... conspicuous? Dragons just don't walk the streets of the next big city (well, they could, but that'd mean lots of stress on a vanilla setting like, say, Mystara ...). Using proxies, representatives, surrogates or anything else like that is very likely, then. And that means minions.

A second point would be that D&D RC dragons sleep a lot and I doubt that they'd do something like that unprotected in areas with dense population and way too curious types around ... Minions are a logical consequence because of that, too.

Getting the point across: a cleaning fish in action ... [source]
But there is yet another, (in my opinion) far superior argument. Dragons are big and complex quadrupeds and most (if not all) other creatures that size will attract symbiotic relationships with lesser creatures to make life easier for each other (like those "cleaning stations" described here). This being fantasy, we have with dragons not only giant dinosaurs, but sentient giant dinosaurs and I'd argue that their needs are to be expanded by that dimension. In other words: goblins could be to dragons what cleaner fishes are to, say, giant moray eels ...

One final paragraph about solitary dragon variants, though. There are those dragons without speech or hiding at the fringes of civilization. They could very well be solitary, terrorizing their surroundings without consequence for a long, long time. It's not what I'm trying to do here, but still a very worthwhile encounter to have in a campaign.

Minions and Contacts 1

Back to minions. I think symbiotic relationship describes my approach to this best. The dragon we are talking about here, Arez, has (needs) a territory with a radius of roughly 12 km and a lair that fits his size (double that during winter times, btw). I furthermore assume that he'll try to keep up to date about it, so he'll need sentinels and scouts. It might have small settlements in such a territory or even trading routes through it and goblins might not be able to move everywhere freely, so it needs eyes and ears and daggers as well (maybe even beyond the territory).

The rest is politics as you know it: bribes, rumors and the occasional poison accident. Stuff like "There are goblins in those hills, but they are mostly harmless and keep out of our way ..." or "Oh no, we don't hunt in those woods. They are cursed." or "Yes, they have tried to mine in that area, had a small settlement even. But they all got sick and died, so our thinking is that it's bad luck to settle there." or something like that. People will have reasons to avoid key areas and won't have a clue that it's because a dragon is living there. Hiding in plain sight and all that.

Anyway, the general ideas of "why" and "how" aside, it is just as important to individualize those working for and with a dragon. As I wrote somewhere else (I know it's in here somewhere, for instance), it's boring to just have a set of numbers for an encounter. It's also something a monkey could come up with, so when writing an adventure, it's the least important part. Beauty is in the specific. at least that's what I'm trying to show in this post. Here is my first example:

The Black Ear Kneesnappers (a Goblin Tribe: 45 normal, 23 young, 11 invalid)

Those mean little buggers are the loyal servants of Arez the Derisive. They worship that dragon, carrying idols and little keepsakes with them as good luck charms (dragon toe nails or scales, stuff like that) they (more or less secretly, at least without consent) gather during dragon cleaning shifts.

They tattoo their ears with their deeds up to a point where those ears appear black from a distance.

They might be about in the territory as soon as the sun is down or all day if the sky is covered in clouds. Their first impulse is to run for back-up and strike with force (if they think it's worth it or a threat), ideally from an ambush of sorts. They are clever about it, too. Other than their lucky charms, they prefer to wear black or dark green cloths and appear healthier, better equipped and cleaner as their "unemployed" counter parts in the mountains. They also carry no treasure other than their charms, because, why should they have coins? To go for a pint in the next pub?

Bonus Escalation Seed: Once the goblins realize the potential of the
dragon mucus, they might end up doing something like this ... [source*]
Tactics: if they hit a target with a 16 or more it means that they saw an opening in a characters defense and go for the knees instead  of doing normal damage(characters need to make a save versus petrification or fall down and getting as much damage as they rolled over target). They also love collecting ears, so if a character falls unconscious, 1d2 Blackear(s) will take the time (one round) to cut off that characters ears (each Goblin going for one ear) and waving them triumphantly accompanied with some savage screams and dancing (giving all goblins in this fight +1 to attacks and morale from each round that happens until the end of the fight).

Goblin monster stats as per page 180 in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (and something every DM should know by heart, right?). Use the following table to make it a bit more colorful:

Diversity Roll (d6 each for 1d4 of the encountered group):
  1. Female Warrior (prefers to attack men, goes for the nuts with a 16 to-hit or higher with the same result as described above, her intimidating presence also raises morale by 3)
  2. Veteran (a old and experienced goblin, will fight with a small bow and shout tactical advice, give all goblins a +1 to hit, has some ear lucky charms ...)
  3. The Crazy (check every round if this one does something totally irrational like attacking a tree or barking, there's a 50% chance that he acts normal and the manic nature of this guy gives all other goblins a +1 to damage)
  4. Shaman (level d3 goblin cleric as per page 216, D&D RC)
  5. Wokan (level d3 goblin magic user as per page 216, D&D RC)
  6. The Sick (the goblin metabolism is mostly able resist the bronchitis draconis, but goes through horrible changes if infected (a 1 in 20 chance) ... the resulting dumb and slimy goblin hulks gain double hd and two attacks per round with their natural bone weapons ... everyone fears them and they stay to die)
Current affairs: The tribe is on high alert right now because of the bronchitis and the mean attitude that seems to come with it. The weak of the tribe have sickness duty most of the time and half of the rest is out and about, either looking for herbs or for threats (which are a plenty and part of  later post). The rest is protecting the lair and the young. Because of that they are out there all day, sun or not.

Thoughts on Part 2

Well, first of all I hope this is useful, of course. It's not necessarily how I would put something like that down for my campaign notes, but it shows the thought process and illustrates the result as you'd expect it in a blog post. It's also full of the things I tend to hand wave if I haven't written them out in advance.

Arez really digs those sleazy pulp novels ...[source]
Just as I wrote above, beauty is in the detail. Those goblins aren't that much different to what you'll find in the book, but they have individual combat tactics and will leave an impression on adventurers who happen upon them. They have a bit culture and some motivation, the rest is still chance (if and when they are encountered and how they react).

Next up will be some individual servants of the great Arez (a senile dwarf assassin with a thing for poisons and a somewhat mad writer among them) and some contacts ... There are at least two more parts in this thing.

Thoughts and ideas are, as always, very welcome. I already have some additional adventure seeds from some great comments and if you got an idea or something you'd do different, please share it with us. I'll collect all of that and put it in the final post as variant adventure seeds for this scenario!

* Originally an illustration from the 3e Book of Vile Darkness ... I mean, if nothing else, at least it had some decent artwork.


  1. I just started reading and I know it's not the point of the article, but....
    Do you feel the ability of Rules cyclopedia characters to reach such levels that they outpace pretty much any monster is a design feature or a game breaker at higher levels?

    1. Now that's a discussion right down my ball park. Thank you for playing :) As a matter of fact it wasn't that long ago that I wrote something along those lines. Not more than a passing thought on a different subject regarding the RC, but nonetheless, here it goes. On very high levels it gets very, very difficult to just gain xp by killing things. As a matter of fact, it might even turn out to be difficult to fill the huge voids between levels with gold as xp. The fastest way to gain a level if you are that high, is (I kid you not) role playing. Having good ideas, playing your character well, being heroic, all those things give you 1/20 of the xp you need to gain the next level. So there is a big shift in the game somewhere around name level and it is enforced by the rules. I actually love that aspect of the rules as written and think the high level are a feature, if played by the book. At that point it isn't about beating the dragon and more about having an adventure (if that makes any sense at all ...).

      That being said, I've seen in The Dream of Ruin how a high level campaign should be structured and highly recommend checking it out!

  2. Pretty cool!
    I like the idea of the goblin as feeder fish. Somebody's got to scrape off the kobolds - which are the lamprey of the dragon world :-)

    1. Thanks! You know, I thought about using kobolds, them being the more obvious choice and all. But I just like goblins more and it is changed easy enough :) I really like the idea of kobolds acting like lampreys towards dragons, though. I might use that somewhere ...


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