I’ve been told that dragons are nothing better than big, dumb, idiot lizards who can fly and have a breath weapon. This series was started in an attempt to dissuade that notion, and show that when a dragon is used to the fullest of its abilities, it can be a terrifying force of nature. Let’s start by discussing the psychology behind playing a dragon. If you’ve read my previous posts, feel free to skip this next section.
The Minds of the Vicious
Dragons are not claw/claw/bite creatures and should never rush blindly into a battle. They are dangerous enemies and your players should be afraid of them the same way they are afraid of Beholders, Mind Flayers, and Medusas. The common attribute of the 3 previous enemies is that their intellect is a key component of their danger. Dragons, due to their massive pool of hitpoints and powerful physical attacks may be treated as a bag of hitpoints that can quickly keel over given enough firepower. With the action economy of 5th edition, it is very easy for a dragon to get overwhelmed. When your players see a dragon, they will not hold back and neither should you as the Dungeon Master.
A dragon’s main goal in any battle should be to isolate the individual members of the party. This means the battle may begin far before you ever pull out the battle map. Dragons have many special abilities associated with them that they can use to separate the party, but one thing that is common amongst all of them is their grapple attack. It’s not on their stat block but with their massive strength modifiers they can easily grasp a Wizard in their claws and drag them through any hazards far away from the help of the party. Drop them from a few thousand feet and see how they fare.
Now I would like to talk about the psychology of the DM who decides to use a dragon. When you pull out that miniature your intent should be to kill. I myself am very bad at actually killing my players, but if I want the group to fear and respect my encounter then I need to do everything in my power (and within the rules) to kill them and I should feel no remorse for acting out the intentions of these creatures.
Green Dragons are the most intelligent of all dragons by far, and using their wit is a key part of their strategy. When a Green encounters the party, they aren’t going to open with their claws outstretched and breath weapon spent. They will instead start by talking to the party and try to appeal to their voice of reason, lulling them into a false sense of security until it’s too late.
This comment by /u/BrosEquis discusses how to play the dragon from the adventure Lost Mines of Phandelver and excellently covers how a dragon would approach a party. Thank you to /u/Spectre-63 for pointing out this comment to me.
“Have him perched above in the tower, ready to strike when he first whiffs the smell of fresh human, dwarf, elf, and halfling.
Adventurers! I know you’re out there. Talking to that druid, I presume. I can smell your foul odor. I know that druid wants me to leave. Coveting my treasure. Undoubtedly I’m sure you do, too. So if it’s a battle you want, I will provide it, but I hope to parley. If you value your lives you should hear me out. I come carrying, as the human custom goes, the white banner of peace. Step into my lair and no harm should come to you.
When the players come in have him reveal and slither down to meet them…a disarming move. To show he’s not dumb, but willing to expose himself to talk and he means no harm. He needs to get the players into the middle of the room, and their weapons and shields put aside.”
The goal of the dragon here is to convince the party to help him/her. It doesn’t matter whether the dragon is going to betray them or not, but as long as the dragon can get the party to reason with it, it has gained control of the encounter. By controlling the situation through conversation, the dragon can learn more about the party and put himself/herself in an advantageous position. While leaving the high ground may seem foolish, /u/BrosEquis points out that the dragon can use this as an opportunity to block off their only escape. This tactic of giving off the appearance of vulnerability is a key point of Sun Tzu’s book “Art of War” and is what makes Green dragons so interesting. They aren’t afraid of looking weak if that will give them the upper hand. I highly recommend reading the rest of their comment to better understand Green dragons.
When a Green is done having a conversation with the adventurers, they will want to start the battle by appearing strong and dangerous to make the players attack carelessly. As the battle wears on and the dragon gets weaker, it’ll start to run away from the players and make them believe that they are winning the fight. It’ll feign how hurt it really is, and lead the players straight into a trap. The lair actions are especially powerful when the dragon is trying to lead the players where it wants them.
- Grasping Roots and Vines erupt in a 20-foot radius centered on a point that the dragon can see within 120 feet of it. That area becomes difficult terrain, and each creature there must succeed on a DC 15 Strength saving throw or be restrained by the roots and vines.
Turning the ground into difficult terrain makes it very hard for the players to chase the dragon. It also has the chance to restrain some players, but it’s not the main function of this move. At the start of the battle, if the dragon is far away from the fighter (and it should be if it did it’s smooth-talking well) it’ll keep the warrior from advancing close in a reasonable time. During the second stage of the battle, the dragon can also use this lair action to slow down the party to give it time to set up traps.
- A wall of tangled brush bristling with thorns springs into existence on a solid surface within 120 feet of the dragon. The wall is up to 60 feet long, 10 feet high, and 5 feet thick, and it blocks line of sight. When the wall appears, each creature in its area must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw. A creature that fails the save takes 18 (4d8) piercing damage and is pushed 5 feet out of the wall’s space, appearing on whichever side of the wall it wants.
This is the perfect lair action to start the fight. After the dragon has maneuvered into a position that is closer to the party and is talking with them, it can then summon this wall to separate the party into two groups. Isolating individual party members is important for dragons to win fights, and the Green can quickly change sides if it’s getting too hairy. This also does decent damage for an area of effect attack. During the second stage of the fight, the dragon can use this to lead his prey down paths towards traps.
- Magical fog billows around one creature the dragon can see within 120 feet of it. The creature must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or be charmed by the dragon until initiative count 20 on the next round.
Magical fog is an interesting ability because it’s something that can be used outside of combat. During the discussion phase, the dragon can use its charm to get more players on its side. The players may recognize this, at which point the dragon can then offer a rebuttal or even attack. During the fight, the fog can be used to take out the Barbarian who made Wisdom his dump stat and take him out for a turn.
The Green Dragons lair actions are all focused on diverting the players. If they try to run in a straight line towards the dragons, they will be thwarted. This will throw off the player’s turns and will force them to change how they approach the encounter. After their path has completely changed and they wasted their whole turn getting through a bush, the dragon can just use one of it’s legendary actions to move away from them wasting their turn again. If the players only ever get to use their reaction attacks against the dragon, they won’t be utilizing their turns to the fullest.
Another thing that I keep bringing up is the idea of a second phase. This is common in video games where boss battles will have a second phase as you deal more damage to the them, and as I was writing this series I realized that the same can apply to dragons. For the Green specifically, his/her second phase plays into the cunning aspect of the dragon. Give them a false sense of security and then destroy them, just like when the dragon started talking to them, in the beginning, to bring their guard down. The second phase can make the fight feel more epic and will create a more engaging battle.
- Thickets form labyrinthine passages within 1 mile of the dragon’s lair.
I really like this regional effect because of the many different applications it can have in the encounter with the dragon. When the party first arrives, the thickets can be confusing and mazelike and may even change on the players as they are making their map to get through the maze. During the actual fight, when the dragon starts to get away, the players will try to follow but will be stopped by the undergrowth. The dragon could also control the passages to lead the players down the path it wants. It doesn’t say in the book that it can control the mazes the thickets make, but I think it adds another interesting level to the Green to be worth mentioning.
- Within 1 mile of its lair, the dragon leaves no physical evidence of its passage unless it wishes to. Tracking it there is impossible except by magical means. In addition, it ignores movement impediments and damage from plants in this area that are neither magical nor creatures, including the thickets described above. The plants remove themselves from the dragon’s path.
This is key to the second phase of the battle and helped me realize that there can be a second phase to the battle. The dragon is in charge of what the players know about it, and it can use this information to lead the players down the path towards its traps. It’s going to be difficult to keep up with a dragon that can move up to 120 feet a round, and they can only follow the dragon if it so chooses. If it realizes that the players are more threatening than it expected, Greens are more than ok with running away and trying another day.
- Rodents and birds within 1 mile of the dragon’s lair serve as the dragon’s eyes and ears.
Green dragons need all the information they can get, and this is a powerful source of information that the players may not even be aware of. Getting to hear in on their strategies of how they are going to defeat the dragon will give the dragon a ton of power in deciding how it can “fall” for their devious plans, and then turn the tables on them. The dragon can also use the rodents to glean key information about the reasons they came here, and use it during their initial discussion to gain leverage over them. Finally, when the dragon is running away, it will always know where the party is and won’t have to guess.
Lair of Deceit
Now it’s time to take all of the above elements and combine them into a 6-mile wide hex that will antagonize your players for sessions to come. Greens are masters of controlling information, both about what the party doesn’t know, and especially what the party does know. By feeding them droplets hinting at specific things, Greens can maneuver their prey right into their claws.
Green dragons like to keep their lair cloistered away in caves found in sheer cliffs, preferring hidden entrances such as behind a waterfall or beyond a small lake. (Greens have a swim speed just like Black dragons). Greens are not going to frivolously fight next to their lair entrance, especially when it knows where the greedy adventurers are. This means that Greens will lure the players away from the lair entrance proper, and fight them in an area that they have chosen, preferably already prepared with traps.
I personally like the aesthetic of a castle that was overcome with vegetation as a fun place to fight a dragon, so that will be the assumed lair for this encounter. Getting to this area will be much easier than anywhere else and the whole forest can naturally funnel them to this location. When here, they can start the battle in a traditional throne room of sorts (that the dragon has probably placed some treasure in to misdirect) and when running away through the castle/forest can lead the players to the traps and even a surprise attack.
Greens are the perfect example of a creature that does not fit the Challenge Rating presented in the Monster Manual. When compared to other CR 22 monsters, Greens seem like they would be at the bottom of the list. But when played with tactics and strategy, they can easily be the most frightening and difficult of the dragons. Greens want to be perceived as the weakest of the dragons because this will lead people to underestimate their abilities, and get punished when the dragon outsmarts and outmaneuvers them. Intelligence is key to this dragon’s stat block, and it’s not immediately apparent on the surface. Use a Green appropriately, and your players will feel like they were defeated even if they are having dragon steak for dinner that night.
Dragons should never be an enemy that is considered boring. They are the face of the game for a reason and have so many abilities available to them that allow them to truly terrify the players. Playing a dragon intelligently is a difficult task with 4-6 brilliant minds facing you alone. Utilizing the lair effectively can help give a dragon much-needed oomph for when you need to show your players that dragons are not just big, dumb, idiot lizards. Thank you all for reading, I hope you have a great week and an amazing Tuesday!
The thickets and mist clear to reveal an ancient stone castle, worn down by time and nature. The emerald green dragon you’ve been hunting rests atop the tallest pillar of the ruins. It sniffs the air and turns its head towards you and gives you a wicked grin. “Welcome to my lair, adventurers. If you value your life, come and parley with me and I promise no harm to anyone who steps into my domain, dragon’s honor.” With this, the dragon slithers down the pillar and comes to meet you eye to eye. Plants grow behind you and the glint of a hunter briefly shines across the dragons eye.
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