Powerhouse Dragons

by Mike Shea on 18 January 2010

Dragons are the absolute staple monster in Dungeons and Dragons (hell, it's even in the name). 4th Edition did a great job of breaking these beasts out from the rest of the pack with the concept of "solo" creatures.At level 11 and above, however, dragons become less and less dangerous by themselves compared to the great power PCs wield at paragon and above.

Today we're going to look at some alternate or additional powers you can use to build powerhouse dragons that keep the threat high and put the fear of the Red Ancient Wyrm back into your PCs.

Ranged Breath Weapon

The breath weapon is the iconic attack of all dragons. Unfortunately, it is often only manifested with a close blast 5 attack. This isn't bad, but it takes a bit too much threat off of the ranged-attackers. Consider adding a ranged breath attack that shares the same recharge as the main breath weapon. The flavor for this sort of attack is the fireball breath rather than the cone of flame. Some dragons might even take flight and drop one of these on the party as it soars overhead. Here's an example for an adult red dragon.

Ranged Breath Weapon (standard, recharge, this shares the same recharge as Breath Weapon) Fire

Area burst 2 within 10; 2d12+6 fire damage. Miss: Half damage.

This attack gives the dragon more options to put the heat (pun intended) on all the characters in the battle instead of only the front line.

Multiple Turns Per Round

Some solo monsters in D&D are given multiple turns per around on different initiatives. For some powerful dragons, consider using this same feature. Here's an example power:

Frenzy

The dragon acts two times in a round, on initiative counts 20 and 10. It cannot delay or ready actions. On each turn, it has a standard and move action instead of its normal allotment of actions. It can use one immediate action between each pair of turns.

Now your dragon has a lot more mobility and is a lot more active in the battle than it typically would be.

Shake Off Marks

Marks are the bane of solo creatures. A single fighter or paladin has the ability to completely tie down a single solo creature with a well placed and well maintained mark. One way to help control this is to give powerful dragons a chance to shake off these marks. Here's a sample power:

Refocus (Free action, Recharge 5,6)

The dragon removes any existing marks.

With that, a dragon can occasionally shake off marks before it performs a big and powerful series of attacks.

Give Dragons the Heroslayer Power

The "Heroslayer" power is another great way to counteract marks. Consider giving certain dragons the following power:

Heroslayer

While this dragon is marked, it gains a +2 bonus to attack rolls and a +5 (or +10 if it's a level 21+ monster) bonus to damage rolls against the creature that marked it.

This gives your defending PCs pause when they place or keep marks on this powerhouse dragon. Now the decision is up to them. This works a lot better than simply making a dragon immune to marks.

Prevent Lock-Down

There's little more frustrating to a DM than to watch a powerful boss creature become locked-down with a series of stuns and dazes. While a stun is well balanced against a single creature, a stunned dragon is the equivalent of stunning five creatures at once. At the higher tiers of play, it is very possible to stun and daze a dragon every round until it is dead. To prevent this, consider the following power:

Heroic Will

When stunned or dazed, the dragon instead loses its next standard action and grants combat advantage.

This prevents your fancy solo dragon from being pinned down with stuns and dazes the entire fight but still gives players a benefit for having stunned and dazed it.

Add Damage

Sometimes you might feel like your battle is dragging on and your dragon is no longer a real threat to the party. Consider boosting the dragon's damage when it becomes bloodied with the following power:

Bloodied Rage

When bloodied, this dragon adds +1/2 level to damage.

This is a great way to ensure your dragon's damage scales way up when it becomes bloodied. If this seems like too much damage, you might instead add +1d damage on all attacks. At paragon and above, most parties have lots of ways to mitigate damage. This power insures that the battle becomes significantly more dangerous later on in the fight.

Not For Everyone

It is important to remember that these alternate powers are not for all groups. Some groups will have a hard enough time fighting a dragon without powering up the dragon like this. Some groups, however, have so many ways to mitigate damage and lock up solos that these tools may become necessary. For them, dragons no longer appear as much of a threat. Give these powers a try and put the fear of dragons back into your game.

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy the Lazy Dungeon Master. You can also support this site by using these links to purchase the D&D Starter Set, Players Handbook, Monster Manual, or Dungeon Master's Guide. Send feedback to @slyflourish on Twitter or email mike@mikeshea.net.