We had an interesting encounter at last Wednesday night’s D&D game. On Thursday, I mentioned the fight with a green dragon at the Friends of the Dwarf Gaming Guild, and an old role playing grognard observed “Dragons? What level are these stalwart adventurers?” He knows that we have not been playing very long, and dragon encounters with low level characters, to maintain any sort of credibility, are likely going to end with the adventurers in the dragon’s tummy.
Here’s how it went down, with some behind the scenes notes. I won’t give a blow-by-blow description…or, should I say a roll-by-roll description…but I will relate enough for you to understand how it played out.
This post will blow away my general rule that no blog post should be more than one thousand words. Enjoy!
This story occurred in the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure included in the D&D 5th Edition Starter Set. Be forewarned…here there be spoilers for this section of the adventure!
The adventuring party consists of six players. Their ages range mostly from 16 to 21, with one perhaps in his 30s. Most of the players are playing pre-generated characters included in the Starter Set. This is the first game most of them have played of D&D, but they all have prior RPG experience. We have been playing this adventure since June or so: weekly over the summer, but every two weeks since school resumed.
My son, Josh, plays a human fighter (LN), Halador Clamont. This is his first D&D adventure, but he has been gamemastering Star Wars RPGs for over ten years, since he was eight.
My daughter, Grace, plays a high elf wizard (CG), Naivara Amastacia. She has been a regular player in Josh’s Star Wars campaigns.
The next two players are brother and sister who are friends of my kids, and they are long time players in Josh’s Star Wars campaigns. Corrie plays a Halfling rogue, Corrin (N). Her younger brother Cameron plays a hill dwarf cleric, Tordarrak Rockseeker (NG).
The next two characters are played by replacement players. The original players dropped out, and the characters were assumed by other people wanting to get into the game.
Tyler is a friend that my kid’s Star Wars group made at our local game shop, Matrix Cards and Games. I don’t think he actually played in Josh’s Star Wars games, but they hit it off just hanging out at the store. Tyler is about 21 and is a long time gamer, with experience in earlier D&D editions and Pathfinder. In this game, he plays human fighter Mulan Shore (LG). This character’s background is important to understanding his actions in this story. Mulan originally came from the now-ruined town of Thundertree. Thundertree had been destroyed by an erupting volcano, and then a wave of zombies. Mulan’s parents fled with him as an infant and drifted from town to town. Mulan has spent the last few years working on the docks in Neverwinter, but he wants to go back and reclaim his hometown from the monsters who dwell there now. It has long been known that the ash zombies are a scourge to anybody visiting the ruins, and there are now rumors that a dragon has settled into the ruins of the Old Tower. From the character sheet: “Slay the dragon or drive it off, and you’ll prove—to yourself and everyone else—you’re a real hero, destined for greatness.” Mulan’s ambition is to have his statue in the Thundertree town square some day. This type of heroic Lawful Good avenger is outside of Tyler’s typical character range, but when the original player dropped out, Tyler took up the role playing challenge with relish.
The last player is the newest addition to the group, and also the most experienced gamer in the party. Pat is probably in his late 20s or early 30s has been gaming for a long time, going back several editions in D&D. He Dungeon Mastered officially sanctioned D&D Adventurers League games at Matrix. Pat assumed the character of wood elf ranger Adirammillis Hiloscient (CN) when the original player dropped out. This is the only totally original character in this band. All of the others are pregenerated characters designed for the adventure. Like Tyler, Pat had to exercise his role playing skills with this character, since there were elements to the character that Pat would not have picked for a character he created. Tyler has played in Pat’s D&D games before, including Adventurers League games. Pat actually owns this adventure in the Starter Set. He had been role playing well, not taking advantage of any prior knowledge he might have had about the adventure.
All of the characters were third level.
The party’s current goal is to locate the dwarf cleric’s cousin, Gundren Rockseeker. Gundren has been captured by goblins and is being held captive in the ruins of Cragmaw Castle. Gundren knows the location of the lost Wave Echo Cave, an abandoned but still lucrative mine. He was captured by goblins, but a more nefarious foe only known as Black Spider seems to be in charge. Nobody knows exactly where the ruins of Cragmaw Castle are located, but the party was advised by a townsmen that the druid Reidoth would probably know, and he was last known to be heading north to the Thundertree ruins. The party set out to find Reidoth.
Sure enough, they found Reidoth at Thundertree. He told them they should leave Thundertree as soon as possible, as the ruins were “dangerous—very dangerous.” He mentions “folks in black masks and cloaks” skulking around the eastern side of the ruins, but his main concern was figuring out a way to get the dragon to leave the ruins. He hadn’t gotten too close to the dragon yet, but he figured it must be a very young dragon trying to establish a lair. He would just like the dragon to leave.
Funny he should mention the dragon. Mulan would like the dragon to leave, too! Mission accepted!
The party stood at the base of the hill, at the end of the road leading up to the ruined tower.
This was the opening of the game session. At the last session, the party had concluded an encounter in the building across the road from the end of the tower road. The cleric had been able to heal most of the damage to party members except a few points to the ranger. As this session opened, Pat (playing the ranger) was late joining us. He had a new class at the community college and would be about thirty minutes late. Other party members have a hard curfew on the back end (I certainly understand those! I had them myself with my Mom!), so we only had about two hours to play. Pat told us to start without him.
When I DM and I am using commercial modules, I have no problem changing story elements or details as I see fit. The adventure as written had the ‘dragon cultists’ hiding out in a building on the east side of town. It said “they have been spying on the dragon from afar, trying to gauge its demeanor and needs…(t)hey are not interested in fighting anyone and prefer to be left alone.” The leader, Favric, “hopes to rise through the ranks (of the cult) quickly by earning the allegiance of the green dragon.” As far as interacting with the adventuring party, “If the characters talk to the cultists, Favric explains that they have come to treat with the green dragon. If the characters express a similar desire, Favric suggests an alliance. He really plans to offer the characters to the dragon as part of his tribute, and if a fight ensues, the cultists side with the dragon.”
This was the raw material I had to work with.
This party has dealt handily with the encounters as written so far, so I have been beefing them up as I think necessary. I decided to give Favric a little extra clerical ability, especially some spells.
I know that my party’s plan was to investigate the dragon and get the heck out of Dodge. They had no reason for ever going to the east side of the ruin, and they do have a pressing need to find Gundren Rockseeker while he is still alive, so this should be an in-and-out affair in Thundertree. As written, that meant they would miss out on the entire dragon cultist element if the cultists stay holed up in their assigned building until the adventurers stumble across them. I didn’t want that.
I reasoned that if the cultists had been spying on the dragon, they probably would have noticed the adventurers approaching the hill. The cultists had never noticed the druid in the ruins, because the druid was being stealthy. The party came into town lighting brush fires (getting rid of twig blights) and making other ruckus while fighting giant spiders. They were lucky the dragon hadn’t noticed them, but I decided the ‘skulking cultists’ had. As the party looked up the hill at the tower, I decided the cultists spotted them from around the corner of a nearby building. I figured that the closest two party members to that building would make perception checks to notice the masked figure peering around the building before ducking back. The closest two were the rogue and the ranger. Pat wasn’t here yet, so I had Corrie roll for her rogue. Fail. Hmm. I went ahead and rolled for the ranger. Fail. Oops. They were too intent upon watching the tower.
As the party gazed up at the ruined tower, they discussed their plan. Mulan, the fighter from Thundertree was anxious to get started in evicting the dragon. He saw no reason to waste time talking. Force would be necessary, and the sooner they started, the better.
Halador said, “This is a dragon. I’m not fighting a dragon.”
Mulan said, “But it’s not going to get any smaller. We have to get rid of it.”
“Look, we can go scout it, see if it’s there. If it is, we can note that, and come back when we’re stronger.”
Mulan sighed heavily. “Well, let’s get started.”
As Mulan led the way and Halador fell in behind, but before the others could start up, a voice from behind them to the right called out “Hail, friend!”
The party spun to see four figures approaching, scabbarded scimitars on their belts, but hands out and open. The four figures wore stylized dragon masks and cloaks. The lead person said “I see you’ve business with the dragon.”
Halador said “Business…of sorts.”
“Maybe we can resolve this peacefully.”
Mulan said, “Why would we want to do that?”
“Well…it is a dragon. Even if it only is a little one, it would be hard to fight.
Since it wouldn’t have much treasure to steal, my guess is that you would simply like the dragon to be gone. We would like it to leave here, too.”
“Why would you like it to leave?”
“We have prepared a place for him to live far away from civilized lands, far from trouble.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Why, so we can worship His Majesty in the manner befitting his splendor, of course!”
The party considered the offer.
Halador said, “We are not negotiating with a dragon!”
Tordarrak said, “If it leaves, then when it becomes an adult dragon, it will only cause problems for somebody else in another time and at another place.”
Mulan replied, “But it would not be here, and now. And if we can convince the dragon to leave peacefully, without any of us getting killed today, we will still be strong enough to rescue the dwarf’s uncle.”
Halador said, “We are not negotiating with a dragon!”
Mulan said, “We have to.”
They turned to the cloaked figures. “I like to know the names of those with whom I deal.”
The leading cloaked figure said “I am Favric.”
“Favric, we will help you convince the dragon to leave.”
Halador sputtered at Mulan, then shook his head and sighed.
The party started up the road, the cultists falling in trail behind them. Favric moved to the front alongside Mulan.
Well, this was turning out easier for the cultists than I thought it would. I figured Favric would have to cast a Charm Person spell on somebody to get the party to go along with them. Nope.
The party climbed the hill and approached the cottage attached to the tower. The tower entrance was through the cottage. The party entered the building. The room was dusty with cobwebs everywhere.
Tordarrak said, “I don’t think it would do our cause any good for a dwarf to try negotiating with a dragon. Why don’t I wait down here?”
Halador said, “Well, we’ve got elves, too, so I don’t think this is going to be easy no matter how we try it. But, stay here if you think it best.”
“I do,” said Tordarrak as he fell out of line and let the adventurers and cultists pass. Corrin, the Halfling rogue, discreetly passed him a small stone as she walked by.
Corrie’s character had acquired a set of Sending Stones. They are two small polished stones that allow the owner to communicate telepathically by means of a Sending spell with whoever holds the other stone. Only short messages of twenty-five words or less can be sent, and they can only be used once a day. As one of the players said, “Just enough for a jam.”
About this time, Pat arrived at Matrix. He asked the party to fill him in. “We’re going up into the dragon’s tower with some cultists to negotiate with the dragon.” Pat’s horror-stricken eyes said it all. “Oh,” was all his mouth could say.
Favric led the group into the tower and started up the stairs circling to the right up the inner wall. The tower’s middle was empty. The stairs wound up past a landing at the second floor, which only led to a catwalk around the circumference. The stairs led up to the third floor. At the third floor, there was a landing and a small antechamber. Favric and Mulan led the way into the antechamber.
Naivara (the elf wizard) and the ranger followed. The ranger moved away from the doorway. Corrin stayed at the anteroom door, just outside, but close enough to peer through and see inside.
The other cultists filed in last.
The remains of the fourth floor above hung mostly in tatters. A large section hung secured to the wall by iron and brick. Laying on this section, was a green dragon. He lifted his head and yawned. The dragon had been sleeping.
“Yes?” the dragon said. An acrid plume escaped his lips as he spoke.
Favric said, “I trust you enjoyed your sleep, My Lord.”
“Sleep is good, but one had best not become too enamored of it. What have you there?”
“Friends, Your Majesty. We found them in the village below. We thought you should talk.”
“Talk?” The dragon considered. “Yes, we should talk.” The dragon rose, spreading his wings. “Leave us, to…talk.”
“Yes, My Lord.” Favric said as he turned to go. The other cloak-clad cultists preceded him.
Corrin thought a message to Tordarrak via the Sending Stone: “Things are going downhill. Get up here!” Tordarrak started up the stairs.
Halador subtly dropped his hand to his sword hilt. The ranger leaned on his bow, rehearsing in his mind which arrows in his quiver were the poisoned ones.
The dragon extended his wings and hopped down to the third floor, controlling his decent with his wings. “Now…we can talk.”
Naivara asked, “Why did you make your followers leave?”
“Because I always dine alone.”
Halador glared at Mulan, as Naivara hurled three rays of fire at the dragon.
That’s my girl, getting the first shot off!!
Favric and the cultists could not believe their luck up to this point. Favric had not had to cast any spells to get the party to go along with the plan. The cultists had not had to draw their weapons. They were happy about that. Favric figured that his dragon will get a good meal, and the appreciative dragon will remember this as he grows in power and majesty. Favric hopes to get in on the ground floor on serving a powerful dragon, thereby increasing his own power and prestige.
The adventure script says that the dragon “does not want to give up such a promising lair, but if the characters reduce it to half its hit points, it climbs to the top of the tower and flies off to fight another day.” The dragon had 136 hit points, so they can drive the dragon off by inflicting 68 points of damage. If they can last long enough to inflict 68 points, that is.
There is a significant difference between AD&D dragons and dragons in 5E. If I recall correctly, a dragon could only use its breath weapon a limited number of times a day—two or three, as I recall. Then it couldn’t use its breath weapon at all until the next day. 5E dragons aren’t limited on the number of times a day the breath weapon can be used, but they do have to reroll to recharge them when they have been used. After using its breath weapon, a dragon rolls a d6 at the beginning of its next combat round, and the breath weapon recharges on a 5-6. The dragon rolls every round until the breath weapon recharges.
I am still new to 5E, but it seems to me that this difference changes a dragon’s tactics a little bit. In AD&D, a dragon had two or three guaranteed shots with its breath weapon, and I remember using them early in a combat. In 5E, when a dragon shoots its breath weapon, there is a good chance it will not have another shot right away. A dragon, especially a young and inexperienced dragon, might want to conserve that shot for the right moment. In the long run, a 5E dragon will get more shots off than an AD&D dragon, but not necessarily as quickly. This is what I had in mind as I fought the dragon in this battle.
Naivara’s three rays of fire hit the dragon. The dragon reared back and roared. Mulan drew his two scimitars and flung himself with his whirling blades at the dragon.
Halador charged with his longsword and shield. Corrin and the ranger unleashed a volley of arrows, the ranger’s arrows having been dipped into the poison sacks of the great spider they had defeated earlier that day.
The dragon roared and gnashed at Mulan, causing him grievous injury…or what would have been grievous injury in somebody not as stalwart as our hero.
The dragon bit Tyler’s character pretty hard. A young dragon bite does 2d10+4. I don’t recall exactly how much damage the dragon rolled (which is one reason I can’t recreate this fight blow-by-blow, or roll-by-roll), but it did knock down over half of Tyler’s hit points in one blow. On Tyler’s next turn, he used one of the fighter class’s special abilities: Second Wind. It is a bonus action that allows a fighter to regain hit points equal to 1d10+his fighter level, three in this case. Tyler regained about 11 HP and shook off that first hit. Before Tyler’s character can do this again, he needs to have at least a short rest to recover the ability, so he cannot use it again in this fight.
The ranger is using arrows that he dipped in the venom sacks of a giant spider they had killed earlier that day, but green dragons are immune to poison. Nice try, though.
That was the first round of combat. By this time, I was thinking, “You know, guys…running away is an option.”
Naivara loosed a salvo of Magic Missiles from her fingertips into the dragon, causing the dragon to rage more intently. Mulan and Halador skillfully played their blades, getting hits past the dragon’s mighty claws. More arrows found the dragon. The dragon again threw his slashing jaws at Mulan, but Mulan masterfully skipped away from the maw…this time.
Tordarrak ran up the stairs and met Favric and the cultists on their way down. Tordarrak cried, “My friends!” as he made his way past them. The cultists hugged the wall as the dwarf made his way by.
Slash. Feint. Parry. Strike. Roar. The battle raged. Naivara, deciding that the swirling claws were getting too close to her, spoke the words to create a field of Mage Armor about herself. More arrows flew. Mulan slashed mightily with his scimitar, hitting the dragon on the wrist of his right foreleg, and cleanly sliced the dragon’s foot right off.
Tyler rolled a natural 20 for a critical hit for double damage. I also started using the Lingering Injuries Chart for additional effects, and it came up 2: ‘Lose an arm or hand.’
And then the dragon reared back its head, and blew forth a choking cloud of green gas which filled the room.
The suffocating cloud was too much. Naivara, Corrin, and the ranger fell. Mulan and Halador remained on their feet and continued to swing cutting steel towards their foe. The dragon spread his wings and leaped into the air. The blades continued working at the dragon as he lifted and turned. One thrust of his wings, and the dragon cleared the wreckage and was gone.
The dragon’s breath weapon is chlorine gas. The party had inflicted a lot of damage to the dragon in a little bit of time. I don’t think it was more than three rounds into the battle when the dragon used its breath weapon, and that was the same round that it reached 68 points of damage.
Everybody in the blast zone of the breath weapon, which was everybody in the room, had to make a DC14 CON saving throw. That means the number to beat was 14, and everybody added his/her CON modifier to their rolls. The three that dropped failed their saving throw. The other two took half damage. The damage was 12d6…and I rolled 27. Well, good for the party. That was enough to drop Grace’s, Corrie’s, and Pat’s characters to below 0 hit points. It was really bad for Pat. Because of the damage he had already taken that hadn’t been healed, the damage to him dropped him to exactly -17. A character whose HP drops below 0 still has a chance. However, from the Players Handook: “When damage reduces you to 0 hit points and there is damage remaining, you die if the remaining damage equals or exceeds your hit point maximum.” Pat’s maximum hit points at that time was 17, so at -17, he was really and truly dead.
The other two had to start rolling Death Saving Throws. Every round, they had to roll a d20. A roll of 10+ is a success, and they tic off a ‘success’. Lower than 10 is a fail, and they tic off a ‘fail’. This continues until one of three things happens:
- Somebody stabilizes them, basically administering first aid;
- They have three ‘fail’s, in which case they die;
- Or they have three ‘success’s, in which case they become stable.
Grace and Corrie’s characters were able to be stabilized and lived. The brave ranger, alas…
Meanwhile, back on the stairs…
Tordarrak, having just passed the cultists on the stairs, saw the green cloud billowing from the anteroom. He screamed, “Nooooo!!!” as he spun to his left, bringing his war hammer around from his right and swinging wildly at the first thing he saw…Favric.
Tordarrak’s hammer crushed Favric’s chest and blasted him back against the tower wall. Favric slumped and fell to the ground. He pitched forward and fell over the edge of the stairs to the ground, two stories below.
The four remaining cultists fled for their lives down the stairs.
Cameron rolled a natural 20 here. Double damage and broken ribs. The double damage alone was almost enough to kill poor Favric. I really needed a Wilhelm Scream to play here as Favric pitched over the edge. The script said that the cultists flee if Favric went down, and I thought it was perfectly fitting here.
And this is where we wound up for the night. We were at the hard curfew for some of the players, and with the parents I had, I am particularly sensitive to those hard curfews. We will deal with the aftermath in the tower when we play again in two weeks.
As an afterward, the party would not have stood up much longer to this dragon. There were only two left standing in the room. They had been damaged. One more dragon bite or claw to either one would have been enough to end him. Another dragon breath blast surely would have finished it. The critical hit that took the dragon’s foot, and the direction that the dragon would leave after taking half damage, are the two things that saved this party.
And now there is a three-legged dragon out there with a grudge.