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


On a Quest for an Evil Dragon

For the next article of how to use a dragon, we’re going to have the dragon be the quest giver.

Introduction

The city, village, area has a problem. A green dragon [adult] came down, and is politely but firmly asking to speak to some high-level* adventurers. So far, the dragon has behaved itself reasonably well, only eaten a handful of cattle and such, but it is a dragon. Nobody in their right mind wants to find out what happens if they can’t help the dragon with its request.

When they approach the dragon, it questions them about their exploits a little, and when they convince it that they qualify the dragon reveals its objective. It’s seeking a valuable [something], but the objective is inside an area that isn’t big enough for the dragon to enter. As such, it needs someone to run the dungeon for it.

If they ask for a reward, you can have the dragon agree to let them keep some of the other treasure in the dungeon. If they don’t agree to those terms, the dragon “sweetens” the deal by throwing in the lives of the townsfolk as well.

(Not that the dragon is going to kill the townsfolk if they don’t think to bargain more. Rather, bargaining more causes the dragon to use the townsfolk as a bargaining chip directly, instead of just by implication. In its cynical manner, I see the dragon presenting it the way I suggested, as a “Special” deal [“not only will you get the treasure, you’ll get to keep the entire town alive as well!”], but you should run it as seems best to you.)

If you want to, or feel the need, you can have the townsfolk offer a quest reward for getting the dragon off their backs.

(* unless your adventurers have a goal of becoming powerful enough to accomplish something, always refer to them as high-level, experienced, powerful, or whatever. It will play into the narrative where they are the hero’s everyone’s relying on to save the day.  Doing so won’t the higher levels feel “Less”. First, they most likely won’t remember it by then. Second, you can always find a way to make them sound even more powerful.)

On the Way to Adventure

Like in the last special dragon encounter, I would not have the dragon let them ride on its back, but instead it will have them go into a basket which it will carry. (It can make the townspeople provide a basket.)

On the way, you could have the dragon stop off at a bandit hideout, or other underground lair. Claiming that it needs a rest, the dragon will eye the entrance, wonder aloud what’s there, and after chatting with the players for a few moments, put its head against the entrance and blow a great cloud of poisonous gas down the tunnel, perhaps fanning it down with its wings.

The purpose of this is to let the players know that it can get to them anywhere, and as this threat will make a strong impression, I would suggest having the dragon look at them straight in the eye and tell them that. But not immediately. First it will send them down into the cave system, supposedly in order to see if there’s treasure, but really in order to let the dead corpses make an impression on them.

The inside will be lifeless, but in order to make something of an adventure of it, you could place a trap or two by the entrance, and/or add a few constructs or undead.

The constructs or undead could be shown mindlessly repeating the tasks they were working on when their masters died, sorcerer’s apprentice style, or you could have them be working on digging another way out, while the dead bodies of their masters are lying around behind them, still holding digging tools. If you want a battle, they can be under standing orders to attack any strangers they see inside the lair.

For a final suggestion, the valuables could be hidden. You could even have them discover, thanks perhaps to a letter someone was in the middle of writing, a specific treasure held by these people, and they’ll have to puzzle out the clues to figure out where it is.

I would advise giving some thought to what amount of the valuables the dragon will turn a blind eye to if they decide to keep, and what it will insist on taking. If they get too greedy, you can have the dragon decide to confiscate more of the treasure. The dragon won’t kill them, however, as it’s after a bigger prize. What it might do is confiscate some of what they already had, prior to this quest, either permanently, or until they earn it back. Realize that they’ll hate this, especially if the dragon keeps their treasure permanently.

(If they give the dragon all the treasure, it will just keep it. They have to act to take some for themselves or to argue with the dragon for it if they want a share.)

After they finish with this small dungeon, the dragon will carry them on to the main quest. To avoid having that just be a repeat, have the new dungeon be well ventilated, or have it not be a dungeon at all.

This is the end of the basic adventure. If you prefer to have it be part of a longer adventure, rather than a stand-alone quest, you could have them discover valuable information while doing the dragon’s quest, or make an enemy that will pursue them. (There are also other options.)

Below are other ideas if your players enjoyed this quest and you’d like to continue the story with more quests. (For future quests, you can have the dragon pay them. Even dragons can understand the concept of spending money to make money. Also, your players will rebel if they constantly aren’t paid.)

The “Good Villain” Option

There is an unfortunate rule of thumb that when a villain teams up with the hero, one of three things happen. 1) The villain betrays the hero, with it being revealed that the villain set up the situation in the first place. 2) The villain stops being a villain, in every way but name. (This sometimes happens retroactively.) 3) The villain repents, and then dies, often in quick succession.

Leaving aside the last option, which isn’t very applicable in an RPG (if you don’t already know better, let me break it to you. NPC deaths are almost always treated as practical, matter of fact, not as tragedies.), I’m going to go through both options. (I don’t think breaking the rule is a realistic option.)

The good option is the simpler of the two options to write about. It happens because the players start to like the villain, and keeping him evil starts to feel painful, especially because it means that they’ll have to oppose him, eventually. I will note that a lot of the fun comes from the fact that he is evil, and as such it’s worth keeping him as evil as possible for as long as possible. Having him annoy snobby good-aligned NPCs is always funny.

Below are a few quest ideas that are deliberately “Grey”, designed to make the players have to think hard as to whether to take the quest or not. (I didn’t think that these ideas were needed for the original quest, as just the fact that the quest giver is a green dragon makes it interesting.)

  1. The dragon sends them after a powerful magic item, capable of releasing great destruction. (I would suggest a gem in which a powerful demon is imprisoned.) The dragon assures them that it only wants to collect it, and shows them that it has similar objects already (and therefore no need to use it), but the paladin order or their equivalents want it destroyed, so that it can never be used.

At the same time, they wouldn’t have known about it without the dragon, and even they admit that it’s safer with the dragon then where it is now. (The players can know what the item they’re after is from the beginning, or find out mid-quest.)

  • The dragon sends them after an object held by a good-aligned NPC, whose father took it from the dragon in the first place. It can provide a trustworthy NPC to confirm its story, although the players will have to travel to the NPC in order to ask.

If the players are already familiar with the NPC, their decision will be heavily influenced based on whether they like the NPC or not.

For a variant, you can have the object be hidden in the NPCs home without their knowledge. It still technically belongs to them, and the quest is morally grey as long as they won’t be willing to give it up.

  • The players are sent to do something that is technically illegal, such as to pick up a package from a criminal. Something that violates the religious beliefs of a good-aligned religion might also work, if the area in question is under their jurisdiction. (Buying wine during prohibition, for example.)

To make it greyer, give the players some reason to have allegiance to the government or religious order.

  • The dragon informs them that a certain person is actually evil [provide details as to how he is evil], along with some way to verify it. The verification isn’t strong enough to let them publicize it, and/or the person is well-liked/powerful/influential. The dragon asks them to take something from him, or to outright kill him. (The dragon wants revenge against him for some reason.)

The “Evil” Option.

The other way to run this story is to have the dragon act more and more villainous until the players eventually have to fight it [ideas below.] If you aren’t running a pure sandbox, with no overall villain, you will probably end up having the dragon be allied/working for the main villain. This is a bit of a trope, but having a villain that will be a significant focus for a long while will distract from the main story if it isn’t tied into it.

In this case, you might want to deliberately make the dragon less friendly, and more villainous.

The first is best accomplished by having the dragon be creepy nice, and imply that it’s watching them.

The second is done by letting them hear about occasional crimes, such as the dragon eating a person’s livestock, and letting them see how it hurts the people involved. (A crime without a sob story isn’t half as convincing,)

You can have the dragon commit the crimes in front of them, but only if the crime is something that can be repaired. Having the dragon eat a poor person’s livestock is something that can be replenished. Having the dragon kill a person in not, and they’ll feel a need to intervene.

Eventually, either they’ll refuse to go on the dragon’s quests anymore, or the dragon will become suspicious and try to kill them.

If they refuse, they’ll need to either hide from the dragon or fake their death, otherwise the dragon will force them. (It has no compunction about killing people until they cooperate.) As DM, it’s up to you to decide if they get away with it.

(That said, if they’re trying to escape, either let them or activate one of the suicide missions below. You won’t be successful in trying to force the players in a direction they don’t want to go. For its part, it makes sense that the dragon would catch on to the fact that the players are trying to buck its authority, and respond accordingly.)

If the dragon decides to get rid of them, it would be very in character for the green dragon to set them up to get killed instead of killing them directly. This way it doesn’t have to take damage, and it would probably find this way more amusing. Below are a few ways to do it:

  • The dragon alerts the enemy to the players’ imminent arrival: Have the enemies ambush them, or try to, and reveal to the PCs as they’re dying that they expected them, but they didn’t realize / weren’t informed about how powerful they were.
  • The dragon leaves them in hostile territory, and it never shows up to pick them up. It’s a place where they’re going to struggle to survive, (because of monsters/enemies, as D&D magic tends to remove the issue of basic survival needs, like food and shelter.) Getting back from the area should also be incredibly difficult, and will likely mean crossing hostile terrain (mountains/dessert/swamps, and/or cursed lands and/or lands inhabited by monsters.)
  • The dragon sets them up on a quest that is far too hard for them: This one is extremely hard to communicate to the players, as they automatically assume that any quest you send them on is possible. I would suggest placing a very hard fight, and then having the dying enemy let them know that even though they won this time, the bosses below are far more powerful, and will finish them off. If they continue on, provide harder and harder fights until they get the message. 

With all of these, you might have enemies pursuing as they work to return to civilization. They’ll need to hide their trail, and they might have to deal with attacks from the pursuing enemies, especially if they don’t hide their trail.

Once they get back to civilization, consider having a friend or resistance movement member contact them. It seems stupid to have them get back to safety, and then immediately get pounced on by the dragon.

Finishing Off the Dragon

The final step on this storyline will be to take down the dragon. I gave one way in the article Prisoners of a Dragon, which you could repurpose, but I’m going to give another way here.

Taking down an adult green dragon requires a level 10-11 party, at minimum. Lacking that, the party’s best chance will be a power source for themselves, or a way to weaken the dragon. Since power sources aren’t something that’s readily available (by definition, a power source is a coveted treasure, and as such is sure to be claimed), they’re going to go for a magical item to defeat the dragon.

The magic item is in the dragon’s hoard. There is no way that the dragon would just ignore the existence of a magic item that could threaten its existence, and as such this is the only place that such an item could be.

I might suggest a quest to an oracle, who will send them on to the last place where it was, who will reveal that the dragon or a being that they already recognize as one of its minions stole it, but you might decide that this storyline has gone on long enough and that their allies can have already done all this legwork for them. Either way, I’m going to move to the part where they have to break into the dragon’s lair in order to gain the treasure.

They’ll need their ally to either set up a distraction to lure the dragon elsewhere, or to keep track and inform them when the dragon is elsewhere. If you don’t want to have an ally, the oracle can tell them when it’s an auspicious time, and as they arrive, they see the dragon leaving. Or they just get lucky, and see the dragon leaving as they arrive.

The inside of the dragon’s lair will be sure to have a few traps. I’ve placed a few suggestions below, which you can use or not as you’d like.

As they arrive at the hoard, the dragon arrives. They have enough time to grab the item, but they’ll have to use it here and know.

Here are the stats I would give the item:

Longbow of [Green] Dragon’s Bane:

The bow is a legendary item. When used against a dragon*, it has the following properties: + 5 to hit, + 15 damage, grants proficiency to its user if they didn’t have it [for use with itself only]. When hit with a bolt from this bow, the dragon is weakened, suffering disadvantage on all its attack rolls and saving throws, it loses 2 AC, and it becomes vulnerable to all damage types that it isn’t immune to. Also, it goes down to a single legendary action a round. Since this would make wing attack impossible, wing attack now only costs 1 legendary action.

The full effects last 2 rounds. After that, it has – 2 instead of disadvantage, and it loses its vulnerability. The loss of legendary effects should last throughout the fight, however.

This assumes 4 level 5 players. If your players are levels 3-4, you should raise the stats to:

+ 35 damage, halves the damage that the dragon deals while affected. (Since the dragon rolls two dice with all its attacks, just lower it to 1 dice plus half STR.) The half damage effect also lasts for the entire fight. Everything else is the same as before.

In addition to the above, they’ll need potions and/or scrolls with the power to heal each of them back to full health, and a potion of resistance to poison damage. I’d give each of them one of each potion. The healing potions/scrolls can come from their allies, or be found in the dragon’s lair. The potions of poison resistance are something that they’ll have to make, buy, be given, or otherwise obtain.

(Unfortunately, they’ll end up defeating the dragon without using them, and then use them on a different quest, but some stuff you just have to live with.)

The Battle:

The treasure room is vast, but the roof isn’t big enough to fly. The dragon will not use lair actions during this battle (perhaps it sacrificed them to use the magic for other uses, such as the auto-destruct after it’s killed, mentioned below.)

The size of the room means that they’ll be able to scatter, which they’ll probably do in order to avoid the breath weapon. The are also statues and mounds of gold, which means that they have opportunity to hide and to sneak.

At first the dragon will just charge in and try to crush them with its overwhelming superiority. If the fight starts to get dull, then a few moves the dragon might use include:

  • Running its tail through the piles of gold in order the trigger a collapse of the piles. Then the PCs will hopefully be knocked prone and won’t be able to stop it while it charges past to get to the PC holding the Longbow. (This is wing attack, just redescribed for the indoor battleground.)
  • Using a tail attack to knock down a statue on one of them. Hopefully (if they fail their DEX save) it will knock down the PC it falls on, and pin him to the ground. He’ll need a successful STR check, or assistance from someone who can make such a check, in order to get free. (Don’t use if the players aren’t level 5. Even against level 5, be careful that this doesn’t doom them.)
  • Ducking out of the treasure room and around a corner. The condition only last two rounds, so it will try to wait for it to run out. Burrowing under the treasure is another way to do this.
  • If the dragon takes down the PC wielding the Longbow, it can’t break it or carry it, but it can stand guard over it. (Only if there are plenty of places to hide, and the players have the means to sneak past the dragon and get it. Otherwise, say that the dragon can’t be near it when it’s been charged up recently.)
  • Similar to the last. The dragon disarms the wielder, and throws it into a corner. See the last idea regarding whether the dragon should guard it.
  • The dragon will keep fearful presence in reserve until a shot from the Longbow misses. Then it will use it in the hope that it will keep the next one from hitting, letting the effects fade.

Epilogue

If you don’t want your players to be immensely wealthy for the rest of the campaign, I would suggest that the dragon have a Deadman’s switch (an effect that triggers automatically upon its death.) Perhaps the room shakes, with the floor cracking and poisonous sludge beginning to fill the room. Feel free to substitute something else, if you prefer.

The players deserve some treasure. I would prepare a list of exotic items, some of them being fairly obvious, such as a collection of potions, others perhaps less obvious. Try to have at least twice as many items as players, preferable two and a half to three times.

All of them should do something useful (these are meant to be rewards), and the shape should make some ideally have some connection to their purpose. You could also have some of them turn out to be valuable instead of magical.

Try to make them all somewhat bulky, to explain why they can’t take more than one. If necessary, though, you can just explain that the item is fastened to the wall, or high up and hard to reach. Finally, I would let any player who wants take 500 gold instead of an item.

(If you need ideas, D&D Beyond has every official item, with filters that will let you sort them in multiple ways. These include source [including many that are available without purchase. Look under basic rules], type [to look for size], and anything else you might want. They also have nearly half-a-million homebrew items, although homebrew items tend to be broken, often badly. Use at your own risk.)

Trap Ideas for Dead Dungeon

These are a few ideas for the dungeon that the dragon kills in order to demonstrate its might, on the way to the main quest.

Trap 1: Have a rope bridge, with the ropes at both ends fastened to stakes that are fixed to the ground. If the party examines the stakes on their end, they’ll see that there is a bolt that goes through the bottom of each stake, fixing it to its base. While they can’t see it from where they are, the stakes on the far side aren’t bolted in (The bolts are lying on the ground next to the stakes), which means that the stakes will pop out and drop the bridge as soon as someone puts pressure on the bridge. (By beginning to cross it.)

If you like, you could add a coil of rope fixed to another stake. This is to let the rope be reeled back in if it drops. The players can have the rope described to them as “Other rope from the bridge is wound around a third stake, at the side of the bridge”.

Trap 2: The ceiling is held up with occasional cement blocks. (Narrate dirt coming down onto them from an area without ceiling stones.)

At a certain point, there are a pair of chains coming down from the ceiling, and bolted to the floor. The chains have barbs coming out of them, and the barbs are poison tipped. If the players undo one or both of the chains, they’ll discover that the ceiling block that they are attached to isn’t fixed to anything. Instead, it is barely balanced on top of a thin beam that runs from one side of the passage to the other.

The only reason it isn’t toppling over is because the chains are pulled taunt in both directions. As soon as they release one of them, or break one of the chains, and then pull even slightly on the other chain, the block will crash down onto them.

The people living here solve it by having one person hold one chain taunt while another unties it and reties it after they pass. When they need it unties for a longer period, then drill a small stake through the chain and into the cement block, locking the chain in place.

Entrance Barrier: The door lies across a small gap, with a place for one person to stand in front of the door. The gap is literally small enough to step across, but the door opens outward, which means that anybody opening the door will be knocked into the chasm. The door is locked or barred, and doesn’t have a doorhandle on the side that the players are on.

If you like, a small window in the middle of the door through which they can see who is there makes sense, but it should also be locked.

I’m assuming the players can figure out a way past. I created this mostly in order to signify that the door was locked, to make the dragon’s poison getting through more impressive.

Traps for the Dragon’s Lair

Below are three traps that the dragon might use to guard its lair, and which the players will have to get past in order to reach the Longbow [quest item].

  1. There is a locked door, a small lake of acid, and a lever. They can see a small island poking out on the other side of the acid. If they look at the lever closely, they’ll see that it’s coated in poison (the dragon’s minions are either immune, or they wrap up their hands.) Pulling the lever will cause a bridge to extend, letting them cross to the island. On the island is another lever. Pulling up that lever will cause the bridge to rise again, stranding them.

The trick: the first lever also unlocks the door. They won’t notice as the unlocking is silent, and the door won’t swing open until they turn the handle. The bridge on the island is a decoy.

Description of the bridge: The way I envision the bridge is that it’s in five pieces. Between pieces 1 and two, and again between pieces 4 and 5, there are ropes or strings rising to the ceiling. Pressing the lever causes the ropes to go up, basically folding up all the sections of the bridge except the third and placing them on top of the third.

As level 5 PCs might be able to fly, you might want to drop a portcullis across the far half of the room when the lever is pulled, as well as having the bridge go up.

  • The next room is a walkway that runs along the side of another acid pond (or part of the same one). Halfway across, there is a lever. Pulling the lever causes the walkway to fold into the wall and dump the PCs off.

The door isn’t locked. The lever is entirely a decoy.

If you want to make it harder (potentially, a lot harder) as soon as the doorhandle is twisted, the door opens a little in the direction of the players. Then is stops. There is a chain fixing the door toward the wall on the other side, and they can’t get it more than a crack opened. The trick is that the door opens both ways, and pushing the door instead of pulling means that the chain won’t even be an inconvenience.

Put poisoned spikes on the door, so that you have an excuse to narrate how the door swings toward them, and they think for a moment that it will hit them.

  • The opposite of the last two traps. There is an empty room, and a lever in the middle of the room. If they open the door without pressing the lever, several poison-tipped crossbows will go off right in their face when the door opens. Pressing the lever causes a different door, concealed as part of the wall, to pop open.

(In both of the sets of traps, I deliberately aimed for traps that would be easy to get past, for people who know that it’s there. If it feels like the dragon’s traps are two similar, I see it as a game, to see if they players can outguess the dragon or not. I would imagine that a green dragon would love this type of game.)

minions/allies
6 Ways to Use… Summary

 

1)    
A dragon, or other villain, has need to have people achieve quests for it also. Just the fact that they’re on a quest for a villain can make stuff interesting.

2)    
To roleplay a villain, give it an opportunity to show of its power and ruthlessness. (Villains see ruthlessness as being a part of power, anyway.)

3)    
If you want to make the villain, feel like more of a villain, have the quest be ethically dubious. Any quest that breaks the law qualifies, as is any quest where both sides have a claim to
the item.

4)    
If you want to get rid of the villain, or to intensify the story, have the villain send them on a quest which is likely to get them killed, while deceiving them as to the difficulty.
Force the players to abort the quest in order to survive.

5)    
Once you start using a villain as a main plot villain, and especially if you want to work with the fact that he assumes them dead, you’ll need a resistance movement or similar allies, to convey information to the players and set up their next movements for
them,

6)    
If there is a magic item that can destroy the villain, the most logical place for it to be is inside the villain’s base. Who else has motive to take possession of the item?



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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.

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