I’m going to have to disagree with the Handbook today. That’s because there is one beast more overconfident than a dragon. It is the foulest, most dangerous monster in all of gaming. It lairs in basements and behind cardboard screens, and can be identified by means of a Knowledge (Obscure Geek Shit) check. Be wary, friends! For if ever you hear its haunting call of “Roll for initiative!” it is already far too late.

So any dang way, let’s talk about GMing dragon fights. Our pal Uchichi Draguto gives a pretty good overview of the what-not-to-do. Wading into melee like a dumb winged dinosaur is going to get your scaly butt handed to you. It’s far better to trust the open skies, practice your strafing run, and isolate individual PCs as much as possible. A quick google for “dragon tactics” will give you the breakdown for your system of choice, so let’s not sweat the minutia. Instead, I’d like to talk about dragon encounters in a more general sense.

You see, when you’re the GM, you have access to all the stats on the battlefield. You know what your monster is capable of, and that it is easily the biggest badass on the grid. Unfortunately, that tends to blind folks to the grim reality that every dragon has to face: five heroes are collectively tougher than one overgrown iguana. Everybody and their mama knows that the action economy is a thing, but addressing the issue mechanically is only half the challenge (thanks legendary actions!). When it comes to making a dragon fight feel special, you’ve got to do more than mechanics.

The lair actions in 5e give us a clue here, making the environment relevant to the encounter. But for my money, the setting surrounding your climactic chromatic combat should be about more than “make a save or suffer an effect.” These are friggin’ dragons we’re talking about. They are the mascots of the hobby, and each and every one of them deserves to feel like a set piece encounter. For green dragons, that might look like a swimming retreat into a slimy pools followed by tense rounds of hide-and-go-seek negotiation. If you’re dealing with a white dragon, getting caught out on an ice flow or running from an avalanche is half the fun. A red dragon attacking a city should block alleyways with debris, strand NPCs in burning towers, and cause mass panic with its frightful presence. In every case, it’s about more than the smart tactics of “fly away while your breath weapon recharges.” It’s about spectacle. It’s about bombast. It’s about reshaping the game world to accommodate an overwhelming draconic presence. And if you want to do that, you have to look beyond the stat block.

So for today’s discussion, why don’t we brainstorm a few dragon encounters? Pick a color or a metal, propose a setting, and let’s build a few memorable set piece encounters. Everybody ready? Let’s hit it down in the comments!


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