Tips for Using Dragons in Fantasy RPGs

How to put the "dragon" in "Dungeons & Dragons".

The most basic staple of fantasy role-playing games is the dragon. It has been used since the first modern RPG, Dungeons & Dragons, was published. Dungeon Masters like to throw dragons at their players as a challenge to test their (hopefully) high level characters, which is fine, but it can be a bit cliché. The mark of a good DM is surprising the players with new and creative adventures, unless you are running a hack and slash adventure, then by all means, pile on the dragons. However, if you want to use dragons in your adventure/campaign there are a few things to keep in mind and a few ideas that you can bend and shape into your campaign.

If you are running hack and slash adventures, you can change little things about the dragon to help keep your players on their toes while giving them the bloodshed and massive payoff they crave. Role-play driven gaming can take the dragon and put it in situations it is not normally found without the players worrying about fighting it.

Dragons in RPGs are usually very large and very rare. What if they weren’t either one? If you are making your own setting for players to adventure in nothing says that the dragons have to be to gigantic wyrms they are in other games. Dragons can be made smaller, from the size of a cat to the size of a horse. They could replace horses in wealthy families.

Most players are familiar with the dragons in RPGs; they know its strengths and at least some of its weaknesses. How would they react if they came up against a dragon adapted from mythology that they have never seen before? With a quick online search, you can get information about dragons from almost every part of the world. All you need to do is give the mythological dragon some stats and a good description and your players won’t know what they are up against.

As nature shows tell us, you never want to get between a mother bear and her cub because she will attack you and you will probably lose. Now imagine what a mother dragon would do if she felt the players were threatening her young. A dragon in this type of rage would be even more dangerous than normal. However, if the players arrived to find the mother dead and her hatchlings orphaned, what would they do?

When a party goes hunting for a dragon, it is usually because they have been hired by someone to take care of it. How would the party react if, when they reached the dragon, it made them a better offer not to kill it? Depending on the party, the dragon could offer to pay the party to kill whoever hired them.

Dragons are usually portrayed as being very long lived. If someone were to save a dragon’s life, it could become indebted to that person. Instead of repaying its debt with wealth, the dragon could act as a guardian to that person’s family and descendants. One of the player’s characters could be a descendant and have a dragon guardian. Depending on how long ago it was, the player’s family could have forgotten or thinks of it as a family tall tale.

A dragon encounter that is used far too little in RPGs is getting information. Since dragons live for such a long time, they have seen and heard things that most humanoids have not. A party of adventurers might have to bring gifts to a dragon in exchange for the dragon to give them the information they need. How accurate this information depends on the dragon’s personality. A mischievous dragon might give the information in the form of a riddle whereas an evil dragon might give the information, but leave out something important.

To really change things up for your players you can have them play as dragons. The players can be young dragons that have to band together to defend themselves against heroes, monsters, or even other dragons trying to kill them. You can also try starting them out as hatchlings that have to travel the world building up their treasure hoard.