Dragon Encounters

Making dnd combat fun, finding monsters that fit together, monster tactics and strategies, and other ways of using the monsters of dungeons and dragons

Allies of an Evil Dragon

For the second of the dragon encounters, we’re going to discuss a scenario where the PCs team up and fight with an evil blue dragon. In other words, they’re on the same side.

The scenario you want for this is probably one where the campaign villains are a country or large organization. I’m going to write it as them having a fortress where they’re established, near the edge of the dragon’s territory.

At some point the players find out that they need to obtain an item from the fortress, and that it’s probably too well guarded for a theft to work. To get it, they’re going to need a powerful ally.

In an ideal world, the players would come up with idea themselves. In practice, it won’t happen. Players have plenty of good ideas, but never the ones that the DMs would like them to have. (Unless they have the idea sometime when you didn’t expect it. If you remember this article, you might be able to adapt the situation into something resembling this encounter.)

Setting up the Idea

If you want to have any chance that the players will come up with the idea, this is how I would do it.

To start with, get them familiar with the fact that there is a dragon there. Have a scenario where they have to travel around the dragon’s territory, and perhaps run into trouble doing so. Give them a chance to enter the dragon’s territory, and prepare a scene where they have to hide and sneak out after they’re discovered. Have a scene where some of the dragon’s minions try to bully them, and another afterwards comes after them, and they have to bribe it or fulfill a favor to get it to go away.

Spread out these scenes over as many games as possible. Two dozen or more would be ideal. You’re establishing the fact that the dragon is there, and ensuing that they know that it exists.

When they discover that they need to assault the fortress, they might need to assemble allies. They will definitely need to convince the dragon to let them through.

If you want to play with a chance that the players can come up with the idea, do this. (Again, I don’t think this has a chance of actually working, but I can’t resist suggesting it,)

Give them a choice of possible allies, each of which will be difficult to acquire, and/or have negative consequences of allying with. Also establish the need to get permission from the dragon to go through his lands. The hope being that they’ll think of the idea of skipping the get allies step.

To go just a little bit further, you could have the NPCs that they’re hoping to persuade not be willing to talk about a possible alliance until permission is obtained from the dragon. (The logic is that they don’t want to make enemies of the villains by allying against them unless it will gain them something, and/or unless they see that the alliance will serve a purpose. Or, they’re afraid the dragon will object to plans being made to travel through its territory. Or, they simply don’t believe that it’s possible, and won’t make a bargain for something that won’t happen.)

If [when] they don’t think of asking the dragon for an alliance, then when they approach the dragon, it will refuse to even consider letting an army through its lands. It will be interested to hear of the villains having a lair so close to it, however. Perhaps it has a grudge against the villains from long ago, or perhaps it knows that they have a treasure it covets. Either way, have the dragon suggest that they don’t need allies, it will help them instead. Of course, it will cost them.

It seems unlikely that they’ll have the treasure needed to pay an adult dragon’s price. You could have the dragon ask them to obtain some specific treasure, or other objective, that it can’t easily obtain. (The dragon can’t go into small areas, such as dungeons. [it can demolish structures, though.] Also, it’s noticeable, which means that if the objective is in the hands of a creature, they might keep sentries, and run if the dragon gets too near.)

If you don’t want to give a side quest, you can have the dragon be after an object kept by the villains, or revenge on a specific villain. Since I’m going to suggest that they separate from the dragon during the battle at the villains’ base [see below], it can be together or near their objective, and they can get it then.

If you aren’t going to hope that the players, come up with the idea, having the dragon suggest it is still a good idea. You can have them go before the dragon to obtain permission, [that idea can come from an NPC], and play it the way I suggested above. If you prefer, though, the entire idea can come from a friendly NPC, and he can suggest how to persuade the dragon.

Even if you don’t want to have the dragon demand a price unrelated to the villains, it is still customary that a gift is offered upon approaching a powerful being, and I would suggest you do so here. It will help build the dragon’s presence in the eyes of the players, and as this gift doesn’t have to be quite as large as a price would be, it shouldn’t require more than a 1-2 session subquest.

Ideally, have a friendly NPC tell them where to get it after the idea of approaching the dragon is already discussed. This will help make up for the fact that the gift is more than the rewards you would normally give them for a small size dungeon. If they have an NPC advisor who might be able to provide the treasure instead, I would still suggest that the players have to choose which of 2-3 options they think would be the most suitable, just so as to involve them in the gift.

If they did make other allies before deciding to use the dragon instead, remember to use them for something else later.

The Alliance: Attacking the Villains.

Once they are allied, I would suggest the following for how to run the actual battle.

A warning: You don’t want to have the dragon fight as another NPC on the side of the players. The dragon is too much more powerful than the players, which means that its attacks will overshadow the players and make their actions seem meaningless. This will be made even worse if you’re controlling the dragon (as I’d suggest with an evil creature that isn’t entirely on their side). The battle below is designed to try to avoid that.

The dragon arrives in the courtyard, or breaks open the wall and lands at the side of a great hall, or similarly massive room. The players are being carried along by it.

(Having the players ride on its back doesn’t feel like the right “look” for a powerful, evil dragon. I would suggest that the dragon either has a large basket, or instructs the PCs on how to build one. Then the players can sit in the basket while the dragon carries it.)

As a dragon attack isn’t remotely subtle, the arrival triggers the guards, who arrive in large numbers and attack the dragon. While the players will have to fight their way through the area, the bulk of the enemies will be occupied fighting the dragon.

This is a fight that will require a map, just in order to keep track of the large number of enemies, but should be run more in theater of mind. The main reason is that dragons have too many actions, as do the enemy guards, given their numbers. If you try to run the fight according to the rules the fight will go from exciting to boring, as more than half the time is run with you throwing the dice against yourself.

An additional reason is that dragon fights are built to be over fast, with the dragon capable of dishing out vast amounts of damage, but having few HP [relative to other monsters of their level.)

I would suggest, instead of trying to do all that successfully, to simply give two places in the initiative order for the dragon’s attacks and the attacks against it, perhaps on initiative 10 and 20. On those turns, just narrate a sentence or two about what’s happening, for atmosphere.

Either skip rolling dice entirely (if your players won’t object), roll dice and then announce the results you want, regardless of what the dice rolled, or simplify the dice roll as much as possible. (For example, make it so that the only choices are the dragon doing overall well or the dragon doing overall poorly.)

The players will be mostly concentrating on defeating the enemies between them and a nearby door, or getting past them without defeating them (their choice). If they try to interfere in the larger fight, have the dragon object and order them away. If they still don’t listen, you could even have the dragon make an attack or two against them, to punish them for interfering. (Evil dragon, remember.)

Below are a number of ways that the dragon’s fight can affect the fight to get out through the door. You’ll probably want to use at least one or two of these to make the players’ fight seem like part of the main fight. You don’t want to use one of every time that the dragon’s fight comes up in initiative order, as that will make the fight way too chaotic.

  • The dragon uses frightful presence. This will affect both the PCs as well as the enemies that they’re fighting against. The dragon will probably do this toward the beginning of the fight, which is why it’s mentioned first.
  • 1-2 enemies move from the dragon’s fight to join the enemies fighting the players, or vice versa.
  • The dragon uses wing attack, affecting both PCs and their enemies. If fighting in a great hall, you can have the dragon stomp, sending tremors through the room, and causing many people on both sides to lost their balance. (Same effects as wing attack, different visuals.)
  • The destruction the dragon is doing causes stones to fall, hitting PCs and/or their enemies to take damage, and perhaps to be knocked prone. In an extreme scenario, they can get pinned to the ground and need either a STR check or assistance to escape.
  • The tremors mess up the ground, turning areas into difficult terrain. (Can be combined with the last two.)
  • A spell aimed at the dragon catches some or all of the PCs inside its area-of-effect.
  • An enemy spellcaster or ranged fighter catches sight of the PCs from elsewhere in the room and starts to target them. This can be one time (targeting them with a single attack), or repeatedly, in which case the players can either ignore it, respond with their own ranged attacks, or you can have the dragon take out this enemy later in the fight, (vibe wise, taking it out as part of a breath weapon attack, and without noticing that it was important to the players would be best.)

Once the PCs get through the door, it will become more or less like a normal dungeon. To keep the vibe going, I would suggest occasional mentions of the distant sounds of the fight. I would also keep the dungeon short, and make it easy for them to know where they’re supposed to go. This is to give the vibe that it’s all part of the same raid/battle.

Recommended encounters would be having them blunder into a group of enemies running to or from the dragon’s fight, or running from the same. Since most of the fighting forces are presumably busy fighting the dragon, they won’t meet many other enemies, but you could still have a fight against some type of guardian that was assigned to guard the players’ objective, and wasn’t reassigned, and/or a clever mini-boss (lieutenant) who realized what the players were up to.

Traps, obstacles, and puzzles will also be still in place, although I wouldn’t use anything too complex. Again, keeping the dungeon short (which means short as the players perceive time, not just as the NPCs perceive time), would be best. They aren’t coming to conquer the place, but to raid it, and that means getting in and out quickly.

Costs of Allying with Evil

While it may be a necessary sacrifice, allying with an evil creature comes with certain drawbacks. Aside from the moral compromises it may entail, there are also some very real drawbacks. Below are a few drawbacks that you might wish to use.

(I would recommend using one or two, so that the dragon feels properly evil. Otherwise, it may end up feeling like an alliance with a good creature that is somewhat stuck up.)

  • To begin with, it would be perfectly normal for the dragon to desire some treasure it sees, perhaps on a fallen enemy, and to demand that they players fetch the treasure for it before they leave. This will resemble the original fight a bit, although slower paced, as both the players and the enemies are likely to be short on HP and limited use abilities. You can also increase difficulty by making the object be in a hard-to-reach location, pinned under the enemy’s body, or otherwise hard to get.
  • On the way back, the dragon spots a group of NPCs, and decides to help itself to a snack (to eat them), to claim their treasure, or to commit a different atrocity. Ideally, it should be something that will bother the players and force them to intervene. You might want to consider what races they would feel sympathetic to, or something similar. Prepare a few ideas of what they could do to convince or bribe the dragon, and be prepared to accept whatever ideas they might come up with.
  • The dragon claims half the treasure, as previously agreed, and the players find out that the agreement meant half of what treasure they managed to collect. Obviously, the dragon is going to keep everything it collected. If they thought to conceal some of the treasure from the dragon, I might even have the dragon claim everything they didn’t conceal. (The main reason I’m not having the dragon claim everything is so as not to upset the players too much, and over here, the players are still getting something.)
  • The players took back a prisoner, who agreed to help them in exchange for them sparing his life. After leaving the fortress (to make it clear that it was deliberate, not accidental), the dragon notices the prisoner, and eats him. The dragon only promised them safe passage, not any prisoners they might take.
  • The dragon drops them off at the edge of its territory, as agreed. It doesn’t drop them off where they want to be, and in a place that is safe for them.

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About Me

I have been a DM for several years, and I was designing home RPG games since my young childhood. I have been a fan of many different types of games (computer, board, RPG, and more) and have designed several for my own entertainment. This is my first attempt to produce game content for a wider audience.