Dragons have always been an iconic monster in D&D, but far too often they get turned into boring quantities. They are the elemental-themed bosses that you make sure you have resistances against before confronting. They are the fighter planes of the D&D movie, big and damaging but ultimately forgettable. They are monsters whose stats fail to convey their majesty. But they don’t have to be.
Throughout April Dungeon’s Master is participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge is to write a new article ever day in April, excluding Sundays. That’s 26 articles over the course of the month. To make things even more interesting the title of each article will begin with a different letter of the alphabet. This year we’ve decided that every article will provide our readers with new adventure hooks. Today Joe Lastowski helps out the Dungeon’s Master team by sharing some great adventure hooks about Dragons.
Dragons are among the longest-lived species in the world. They have centuries to learn secrets, learn about manipulating people, and accumulate wealth. In many worlds they also have access to magic and spell-like abilities, with years or even centuries to master their spells. In some worlds, Dragons may be responsible for the birth of the planet, the seasons, etc. And let’s not forget Dark Sun, where transforming into a Dragon is the ultimate manifestation of a Sorcerer-king’s power.
Today we share several Dragon-themed adventure hooks that will potentially give your players some new thoughts on Dragons, and give you unique ways to incorporate these mythic creatures into your games.
Adventure Hooks: Here Be Dragons
1. The Collector
An eccentric and wealthy collector hires the party to retrieve an old family heirloom. The collector is actually a Dragon in Human form, and the heirloom was stolen from his horde many years ago by a “hero” that he’ll paint as a vicious villain. Or if you’re going really ancient, the item belonged to one of the Dragon’s ancestors, and the current owner is the descendant of the hero who slew the Dragon’s relative generations ago. The Dragon knows that the item’s current owner is an expert at stopping Dragons, which is why he’s sending the party to get it rather than just retrieve it himself.
2. The Shield Generator
Someone close to the party (a brother, a young adventurer they met, etc) gets trapped by a Dragon, but the Dragon offers the party the chance to trade for his release. All the party needs to do is visit a distant village, disable the magic wards around a particular statue of a Dragon, and return that statue to the Dragon. What the party won’t know is that the statue is currently imbued with anti-Dragon magic. The village, which has long been an enemy of the Dragon who hired the party, has grown complacent in their presumed safety. After the party returns with the statue, the Dragon will fly off to destroy the village, giving the party consequences they will need to deal with.
3. The Evil Dragonslayers
While the party is out wandering, a storm comes up and they find a cave in which to take shelter. It appears that the cave may have once been a lair of something large, but it has been cleared out. It’s not until later in the night that the party meets a young Dragon who used illusion magic to hide. The Dragon will approach the party after some show of morals, or upon seeing that they worship a good god, or after judging their characters to be decent. The story is that a team of evil Dragonslayers slaughtered this Dragon’s parents (and possibly injured her before she hid), and now she wants the party to avenge this horrific crime. She gives descriptions of the brutes and offers portions of her family’s treasure (plus the knowledge of each item’s history) if they avenge her.
4. The Guildmaster
Many thieves in large cities are all beholden to a Master Thief or Guildmaster who is never seen, but whose guild enforcers impose a strict rule among the criminal populace (think organized crime). Each crew must pay tributes to the Guildmaster, however, after providing the required tribute most thieves don’t have enough loot left to live off. The party’s Rogue comes across a legend (or oracle, or prophesy) about this Guildmaster saying that any thief skilled enough to steal something from the Guildmaster’s home will earn his respect and not have to pay tribute anymore. This can set up a great caper-style adventure, and gives the DM a chance to set up a map of the Guildmaster’s home with the sort of traps and hazards that a trap-breaker would create. Of course, the Guildmaster turns out to be a Shadow Dragon, and the party will either have to be great thieves or find some other way to deal with this problem they were not expecting.
5. The Dragon Graveyard
When Dragons get really old, where do they go to die? A recent explorer claims to have found the answer far into the range of unknown mountains, though his last party died and he barely escaped. The potential riches in such an area are incalculable, and should be enough to whet the appetites of any greedy party. But there’s a catch… though these Dragons have died, their Ghosts may be stirred if their graves are disturbed. You could also have younger Dragons (zealots/priests of whatever Dragon gods may exist in your world) patrolling the borders of this sacred site, stopping adventurers and others with greedy motives from disturbing the remains of these honored elders.
6. Opposite Expectations
While many villages fear the arrival of a Dragon in their area, many others in a particular region feel quite differently. Attracting a metallic Dragon to your region can mean that other monsters will stay away, plus it could mean an influx of trade as the Dragon orders various exotic things with its vast wealth. Also maybe the ambient magic of the majestic beast will improve crop harvests, or keep storms away, or increase the number of game animals in the woods. Superstitious villagers may believe just about anything. The party’s job is to help a village set themselves up to attract a draconic patron. They need to clear a large enough cave of monsters to house the Dragon, beautify the natural growth in the region, make treaties with area monstrous tribes (Orcs, etc) to keep them from attacking the Dragon, etc. It may even involve taking a trip to some exotic locale (cloud castle, holy mountain, that spot in the eastern sea where the dawn comes from, etc.) to negotiate with the Dragon directly to convince it to come form a bond with this village.
7. Before There Was Language
On of my favorite things to do with ancient Dragons is to give them names that defined a word. So the great Red Wyrm “Inferno” is the reason people use that word to describe a huge mass of fire. Or the Earth Wyrm “Avalanche” caused so many rockslides that he considers any who use his name to be worshipping him out of fear. Maybe that Dragon even takes a selfish pride in the use of that word, referring to instances of it as his children. This also works great for worlds where Dragons may ascend to something like godhood, because it can convey to your players the scope of awe that such a creature imposes on the world. These ancient Dragons might never be fought, but are probably known by every other Dragon in the world, so any interactions the party has with them will reverberate throughout the rest of your gaming world. Plus, that could be a crowning achievement for a party who successfully fights back a demonic horde trying to blot out the sun – a gold Dragon messenger shows up to tell them that Radiance is pleased with them and offers them thanks.
8. Ride the Dragon’s Tail
Dragons are massive creatures. The sculpted miniatures (size L or size G) hardly ever seem to convey that scale. But when an ancient Dragon hires the party to exterminate the vermin that live within its scales, that scale can take on a whole new meaning. This might be a better hook for an epic tier adventure, where you can use other planes of existence where Dragons as big as planetoids might recruit the party. Just imagine how much more epic a bug hunt adventure might be if it were on the back of a massive Dragon. How many earthquake/digging/ground-smashing powers might have to be altered so you weren’t pounding into the flesh of the Dragon upon which you walk? Incidentally, there are a couple flip-maps for sale at local gaming stores which look like landscapes made of giant scales, which would be great to pick up for an adventure like this.
9. Turtle Power
Dragon Turtles often get ignored when we think of Dragons. They don’t fly, they live underwater, and some editions never even bothered giving them stats. However, when looking at a large fishing or trade city, a Dragon Turtle could be a huge plot hook. Depending on how massive you want to make the creature, it’s in-and-out breathing could be what causes the tides in that area. The salt its claws dig up from the ocean floor (or salty calcite that sheds off of its shell) could be why the sea is salty. However, sunken ships might awaken and anger the giant sleeping behemoth, or perhaps the approach of a Kraken or other oceanic terror necessitates that the party go down to wake the great Dragon Turtle up themselves to beg for protection. Alternately, perhaps an egg long-buried in the beach cracks open, and the party must defend the baby Dragon Turtle from predators as it slowly crawls its way back to the ocean (Picture attacks from Rocs and other over-sized predators).