Friday, October 5, 2018


Dragons are great.  They should have great noises. 

Other smart people have written a lot about dragons already. Beloch Shrike wrote a post about constructing them, Skerples wrote several posts about a precarious kingdom of dragons, and Arnold K wrote some about a precarious family. My dragons have a little bit of Patrick Stuart’s Spectre of the Bröcken in them as well. These posts are my basic model for dragons: they’re intensely magical, scary for everyone at every level, but conceivably so, and also all batshit crazy. They go on every long-distance travel and city encounter table. 

But my dragons are special, of course. Along with appearance, abilities, and hoarding, I add something else to the mix:

Instrumentation. It can telegraph a dragon's strengths or weaknesses, even before the players see it. 

It also lets your players know that they're not in Magic Kansas anymore. 

Dragons have the strongest souls. They’re more real than everything else; the universe likes them, reshaping itself to their whims, letting them fly and breath fire even though--according to all known laws of aviation--those things are ridiculous. The universe also likes adventurers a lot. Who does it like the most? Bards. 

That’s not a coincidence. Bards stole music from the dragons, and with it, they made the universe like them, too. The dragons are still pissed. Before, each dragon had their own unique instrumentation, but then those filthy humanoids came along and started mucking things up, duplicating instruments and forming ensembles. 

Now Some More Detail 

Name: What it calls itself and/or what people call it
Appearance: What it looks like
Instrumentation: The noise it makes as it moves
Personality: How it behaves
Weakness: Vulnerability and effect on dragon
Minions: Lesser beings serving the dragon. Kobolds and dragonborn were other creatures who came to the dragon offering servitude; the dragon ate them, remaking them in its image as servants or warriors. 
Hoard: Types of thing it hoards. Will not attack if offered an item for its hoard, no matter how shitty it is

HD: Number of d8s, rolled for HP
Armor: In terms of equivalent armor (Leather/Chain/Plate/Plate and Shield)
Move: In multiples of the standard human movespeed, assume 1x Ground if unlisted
Attacks: Attacks separated by a slash can all be taken on the same turn, and OR means the dragon must choose. Breath attacks are always “OR” attacks
Breath: Special attack, most often breathed out. Recharge is chance to be able to use its breath 
weapon at the beginning of each turn 

"wy do all mi shep keep dyin aftr som days, gotta steel som mor" (Kou Takano on ArtStation)

Name: Nameless, known as The Devourer
Appearance: Large-cottage-sized, verdant green, fairy tale dragon, the sort knights might slay
Personality: Bestial. Roughly understands language but doesn’t deign to speak
Weakness: Coordination is confusing 
Minions: None
Hoard: Small houses, Livestock. They die after a few days without food, frustrating The Devourer. It never eats the livestock in its hoard

HD: 10
Armor: as Plate
Move: 2x Fly
Attacks: 1d8 Claw/1d8 Claw/2d10 Chomp
Breath: 60’ 60 degree cone, 3d6 Fire Save for Half, Recharge 2-in-6. Spectacular movie fire

They call it the Devourer. It swoops down every few days and carries off cows or entire sheds, leaving burned wreckage where the townsfolk tried to fight it. It would be better for everyone if it had someone to tend its flock, but nobody has seen the state of its hoard besides the dragon itself. 

Season with Mustache to taste (How to Train Your Dragon)

Name: Ludwig
Appearance: Size of a small dog, bright yellow, snake-like, snobby mustache
Personality: Egotistical snob. Particularly detests music that isn’t classical
Weakness: Takes double damage from Sneak Attacks
Minions: Network of rat-sized kobolds spread throughout an entire city, scouting out performers, and Dragonborn performers
Hoard: Sheet music and performers, who are 50/50 on willingness to be part of the hoard regardless of status as dragonborn, kobold, or unconverted

HD: 4
Armor: as Plate and Shield
Move: 2x Fly
Attacks: 2d6 Bite OR 3d6 Poison Bite on Sneak Attack
Breath: Eye contact, 3d4 Silent Ignition, no Save, Recharge 6-in-6, interrupted by damage. The dragon stares at you and flames leap from your body

Ludwig has been kidnapping musicians for 10 years now. Its orchestra is nearly complete. The violinists are excited to perform because they’re very good, the violists are excited to perform because they haven’t done that before, the cellists are weaponizing their bulky instruments in preparation for a rebellion, and the bassists are getting ready to raft out on their instruments. Ludwig is a terrible conductor and any performance he leads will probably end in violence. 

Like this, but with fewer legs and more unidentifiable excrement and lethal electric charge (WoodsOfOld on DeviantArt)

Name: Pypewyrm
Appearance: No legs, six inches thick around the body, hundreds of feet long, mostly in pipes at any given time. Would be electric blue if it wasn’t caked in mud and feces
Personality: Hissing suspicion, always hungry
Weakness: Smell of good cooked food is irresistible 
Minions: None
Hoard: Cooked food, especially baked goods. It rots constantly, frustrating the dragon. It never eats the food in its hoard

HD: 8
Armor: as Chain
Move: 2x Slither Through Pipes
Attacks: 2d6 Bite
Breath: Electrically charged body deals 1d6 damage to attackers using bare skin or metal weapons 

The Pypewyrm lives in the sewers below the city, stealing and gathering as much food as it can, unbeknownst to the citizens it slides beneath. It will soon learn the location of the city’s bakery, the most decadent in the country. This will be too much for the Pypewyrm. 

There's not really anything I can add to this (Real Truth on tumblr)

Name: Gunshow 
Appearance: Elephant-sized, firetruck red, bulging biceps, capable of short-distance bipedalism for showing off
Instrumentation: Snare drums like gunshots 
Personality: Swaggering jock, flexes biceps as punctuation
Weakness: Always responds to immediately-fulfillable challenges (dares)
Minions: Kobold pyrotechnics experts, always ready with more fireworks and the occasional illusion-spell hologram/megaphone, and musclebound Dragonborn experts with hoarded guns
Hoard: All types of firearms, art of muscle-y things

HD: 8
Armor: as Plate
Move: 2x Ground
Attacks: 3d4 Punch/3d4 Punch
Breath: 200’ line, 2d6 exploding on 1-2 (regular Attack roll). Mouth opens snake-wide, brief pause, bullets pour out

Gunshow is going to host a sharpshooting tournament. Gunshow will try to A) rig its own victory, B) find a way to petrify the most muscle-y participants into statues, and C) kill the remaining participants, resisting spectators, and meddlers and take all the guns for itself. 

Do you see how majestic this is? The relaxed pose, the regal expression? Try to picture the opposite of this (Ciruelo Cabral)

Name: Postwald
Appearance: Twitchy, horse-sized, patchy white, salamander thing 
Instrumentation: Asthmatic accordion 
Personality: Gloating, pompous, stupid
Weakness: Plans always fail when Postwald is involved, one way or another. Postwald is also very foolish, just in general
Minions: Very intelligent, lethal kobolds. Masters of traps and deception. Single dragonborn named Bos, creaky storyteller. Worship Postwald as god
Hoard: Religious texts, secrets, criminals

HD: 6
Armor: as Leather
Move: 1x Ground
Attacks: 1d6 Flail/1d6 Flail
Breath: 30’ 60 degree cone, Save vs Overconfidence, Recharge 4-in-6

Postwald is a dragon in Skerples’ Veinscrawl, which is free and awesome and has a handful of other useful dragons. Postwald itself is a perfect example of the sort of incompetent villain I love most. The only thing I’ve really added here is its instrumentation: a wheezing accordion. Postwald and its minions believe it is the sound of Creation coming into being, naturally. 


So when I first came up with this idea--musical dragons--I didn’t actually use it. I was still in the fairly early stages of learning to GM (well, earlier than now, anyway), I was playing just once every few weeks, and my players weren’t traveling above ground enough to get the “dragon” result on the random encounter table. As a result, my dragons—just Ludwig and Devourer at that point—languished in the back of my mind. The idea of musical dragons slowly faded for me, becoming bland in comparison to the other RPG books I was reading (Vornheim and Veins of the Earth, I think). 

Then, finally, they hit a dragon encounter: Ludwig, in the middle of the city. My players loved it. They were fascinated by the violin noises it made, and talked to it for a solid 10 real minutes before moving on. I was surprised by how interested they were in it. Later on, the same group of players met the Pypewyrm (they cooked some rats for it), and I think a couple of them started to figure out how I run dragons. Unfortunately, that group has scattered to the winds, but I’m hammering out a new group now and they’ll start running into dragons soon enough. If there’s a point to all of this, it’s to have confidence in your own ideas even after you let them sit unused for a while.

UPDATE: Torch Hollow made some more MUSIC DRAGONS for Secret Santicorn! Check 'em out here: