Will you be my fwiend?
Ahhh, Dragons. They account for 50% of the name of the worlds’ most popular role-playing engine (the other half being “Dungeons &….”, of course), but have ironically suffered more at the hands of RPG designers than any other critter. Except maybe the Flumph, but the game’s not called Dungeons & Flumphs, so I’m sticking to my story, ok?
I mean, when it comes to 3.5 Edition D&D, dragons are – to put it mildly – more than a little unplayable. It’s almost as if they went out of their way to make the most iconic monster of all some kind of uber-DM test which only the mightiest could succeed. For a start, unlike any other monster in the books, Dragons demand preparation, and lots of it. Despite what the 4th Edition designers have said, there are Dragons ready-to-run in Monster Manual I; in fact, I’m looking at the Young Adult Black Dragon on page 72 right now. That’s missing from the SRD, but there are more than enough resources to give us ready-to-run dragons of every level, not least of which is Wizards’ own excellent Draconimicon.
No, what makes Dragons a nighmare to run is all the number juggling and options involved. I’ve never run, or seen run, a 3rd Edition combat involving a Dragon when the DM hasn’t looked back and realized he’s forgotten some ability or missed a duration check which could have completely changed the tide of the battle. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter much, but it always leaves the poor DM feeling less satisfied with the whole thing. And that’s wrong; fightin’ dragons should be huge, climactic and very, very satisfying for everyone. 3rd edition just doesn’t do that.
The only way to run a decent Dragon battle is to plan in advance; work out a round-by-round timetable of what the Dragon is going to do well before the game commences. That’s not a good use of the DM’s time, and few other monsters need the same level of advance prep. It makes DMs shy away from using even the lowliest Young Dragon (such as the one above) where they’d be appropriate. The thing is that it wasn’t this way until 3rd Edition came along. Even the rules-laden monstrosity that was AD&D let the players kick some Dragon butt when the DM gave ‘em a chance, and back in the days of Classic D&D they were virtually required encounters around 7th level. Heck, in the D&D Basic Red Book, Dragons were given one and two-third pages of space, and that provided all we needed to know about White, Black, Green, Blue, Red and Gold Dragons. Now, the same core six (plus a few cousins such at the Silver) take up 20 pages of Monster Manual I, and are much poorer and less usable for it.
Back in the day we tossed Red Dragons at towns when we were short of scenario ideas; now, that would require many hours of fricking planning, plotting and calculation.
From what I’ve heard about 4th Edition so far (especially from Ari), I’m hopeful that this new edition will put Dragons back at the top of the pile of fun, playable, and usable monsters again.
Well, we can but hope