Dumb Rules: Dragonhide

The rules for dragonhide armour are pretty stupid. This is not like how I say that the Sage or ninjas are dumb - this time, I mean it.

A druid player in my game decides he’d like some breastplate armour, which since druids can’t wear metal he decides on dragonhide. It’s surprisingly cheap, at 600gp for the masterwork stuff - in fact, about one third cheaper than having ironwood armour made. However, despite being made from a dragon, dragonhide armour doesn’t confer any sort of energy resistance or improved defensive ability.

Here’s where it gets weird. According to the rules, breastplate or fullplate created from created from dragonhide requires a slain dragon four sizes larger than the wearer. Each human-sized suit of breastplate requires a Colossal dragon!

Every goofball adventurer you see in dragonhide full plate? Someone slew a great red wyrm for the privilege - or gold, or silver. In fact, if you see one of any other colour, they’re lying, because those dragons only reach a twenty-feet-long Gargantuan, and apparently if you can’t run the distance from one end of the dragon to the other as a move action it’s not quite big enough to dress up in.

Despite being covered in flameproof material, however, you’re not any better protected against flames or the effect of heat. In fact, the only benefits of dragonhide armour are that it’s red, it’s rustproof, and that you can let on you slew an archdragon and dragged it single-handedly back to the city armourer when in reality you bought it pre-owned for a mere 3,300 gold pieces.

No worries, though - the rules also say you get to make a shield out of the leftovers. I’m thinking more along the lines of a small fortress.

Comments (17)

Jeffrey Boser (October 22nd, 2007)

The size thing always got to me too. It didn’t make much sense.

However, I don’t think there should be any elemental protection confered to the wearer just because the hide was of a dragon. Make the armor itself have resistances for itself maybe, but I don’t see why just because your breastplate is made from a red dragon’s scales that you can reach your hand into burning coals.

Now.. maybe a cost reduction for the energy protection enchantments, that might make sense. Fire type armor costs half as much to enchant to resist fire for example, and twice as much to resist cold, that sort of thing might make sense.

Treating dragon hide as just another form of hide made a certain amount of sense to me, other than the size absurdity issues. In a game I ran, I let twice as many one size-less dragon hides get used, with the minimum size of one size larger than the wearer (for heavy, same size for medium armor, and one size less for light armor). So it is feasable to kill 8 large white dragons in order to make a suit of full plate.

Unrelated to this.. one thing I disliked about 3.x was how powerful dragons were, but how small their hord’s were. Especially with the rolls given in the dmg, rarely produced reasonable treasures. So I stocked them high, and made sure there were lots of low-treasure challenges in the way of the lair.

Phased Weasel (October 22nd, 2007)

I’ve never liked the rules for many of the “flavor” materials. Unlike say darkwood, I feel super-flavorful materials (dragonhide, meteoric iron, etc) deserve some special consideration. Here’s what I’m planning for a druid I DM for, around level 5. It’s a little powerful, but players expect quite a bit from slaying a dragon. The campaign has been extremely treasure and magic item light so far.

Green Dragonhide Armor
This armor counts as beastskin hide armor +2 (total +5 AC, max dex +6, armor check penalty -1), and confers acid resistance 10. Its broken outline and shifting green colors grant a +1 to hide checks.
Beastskin armor allows a druid to retain the benefits and penalties (+5 AC, -1 armor check penalty and acid resistance) when wild shaped — this consumes one extra daily use of wild shape per use (optional).

Glug (October 22nd, 2007)

You know, the Wild property on Armor is a +3 bonus, so +2 armor with wilding on it is +5 bonus price, or 25,000 gold total. Of course, you’re causing it to consume a wild shape (which in Eberron could also come from his AP pool if necessary) to activate this, but at level 5, you might be out of your mind handing that item to someone.

They’d probably be better off selling it. With the roughly 13k cash, that’s a wilding clasp on an amulet of wisdom and/or natural armor, for example, with probably enough cash left over for those wands of lesser vigor that would help the party out quite a bit.

Jonathan Drain (October 22nd, 2007)

If we call it an artifact or relic, he can’t sell it. I’ve not much liked the third edition idea of buying and selling magic items, to be honest. It puts too much emphasis on getting the right items and requires a group to carry around all manner of vendor trash.

Phased Weasel (October 22nd, 2007)

Yes, I come firmly from the 2nd Ed camp, where you shouldn’t need feats to make items, and magic items aren’t nearly so liquid.

The balance in the armor comes from a character’s role. If he was the main tank (fighter, etc), it would have a large impact. However, this druid is played as the knowledgeable leader and sole dedicated healer. The armor is nice, and gives some punch to the wild shape form, but the won’t be augmenting his primary function.

How often do your players sell items, especially if they’re relatively uncommon? First you’d have to find some super rich druids, and some who planned to be engaged in a lot of combat. I don’t know, even with 3rd ed rules it seems like an awfully specialized item. Additionally my players like to keep the few odd flavorful items I throw at them, so it probably would not be liquidated even if we were playing such a campaign.

Speaking of which, the very first items I passed out were two Dwarven Beard rings (when originally one of the characters was slated to be a dwarf rogue). Those were sold to cover a debt in town, being useless to the sea elf replacement.

Phased Weasel (October 22nd, 2007)

Bah, I transcribed that wrong anyway. In my final version I did end up making it +1 hide with beastskin, and I still think the wild shape consumption is not an inconsiderable cost.

Nigel (October 22nd, 2007)

When we went dragon hunting in my last campaign, we simply made up new rules for dealing with dragonhide armor. The first thing we did was examine what exactly was involved in the entire process. Obviously, making a suit (or multiple suits, if the dragon was big enough) of armor involves some serious craftsmanship, so it needs to be done by someone who’s a pretty skilled armorsmith. It also involves understanding how the various scales, horns, teeth, claws or underbelly of a dragon would be worked into the pieces that make up a suit of armor. Obviously something like breastplate would require a couple of very large scales, since normal breastplate is made of very large, single sheets of metal. This means that it would require a certain size dragon to create a suit of breastplate for a particular sized creature.

So we started by building a table based on the size of the dragon that described how many suits of various kinds of armor could be crafted, and of what size category they would be. Failures in crafting mean the parts to build the armor were destroyed and no longer usable, and we assigned a pretty difficult DC for this craft check, again, based on the size of the armor being constructed, the size of the dragon, and the type of armor being constructed. The table’s median base ended up looking something like:

For a Dragon of Size: Large, you could build
1 suit of medium Breastplate OR Fullplate armor
1 suit of medium Half-Plate OR Banded armor
1 suit of small Scale Armor
1 suit of medium Leather or Studded Leather armor
1 suit of medium Hide or Padded armor
1 medium shield

As the dragon size increased, so did the number of suits of various size categories you could craft. For every suit of armor you can build of a specific size category, you can build two suits of that same armor at of the next smaller size category, in the above example, 2 suits of small Breastplate or Fullplate, for example. All of the above is considering 100% use of the hide of a dragon.

Next, we went into the task of assigning armor class bonuses, armor qualities (such as armor check, etc.) and the cost of creation. We based the maximum dex bonus on the regular armor max dex bonus, but increased it by 2 across the board because we figured dragonhide is generally more flexible and lighter than steel or iron. Armor check penalty we reduced by 2 for the same reasons. Spell failure we reduced by either 5% or 10% across the board, I forget which. The overall weight of the armor we reduced by about 25-30%.

For the armor bonus, we built a HUGE table that was based off of the NATURAL ARMOR BONUS of the dragon who was being harvested, since this is the relevant factor in determining how tough the hide would be. The chart would be impossible to replicate here, but basically, the armor bonus for the most hard core armor (Full Plate) was equal to about half of the natural armor bonus of the dragon, rounded down. From there, we calculated the remaining armor bonuses based on the original ratios for the various types of armor as presented in the Player’s Handbook. So a dragon with a natural armor bonus of 20 that was crafted into a suit of full plate would grant the wearer an armor bonus of 10.

Last, we decided that all dragonhide armor granted its wearer with Resistance 5 to the various elements the dragon was immune to and was completely immune to that same element itself (Acid for Black Dragon and Fire for Red Dragon, for example.) We chose to do this because you’re body is armored in a type of material that is technically impervious to a certain type of element, which meant that while it’s immune to such effects, it only grants you minor protection. It makes sense that if you were hit by a fireball, while you’d still suffer some serious damage from it, the armor covering your whole body that’s completely invulnerable to fire would offer you SOME SORT of protection against it.

So by now you’re all thinking, “So, essentially what you’re saying is that these armor rules you guys made up made dragon hide armor completely overpowered, is that it?” Well, yeah, pretty much. You have to kill a LARGE SIZED DRAGON OR BIGGER for any party of medium-sized creatures to get any armor at all, and even then there’s only enough for a few suits at a ridiculous craft check that if failed, wastes all of the materials involved. Not only should it be hard in your campaigns to go hunt down and actually find a dragon, but to actually slay one should be a pretty hard feat to accomplish. Don’t forget that most dragons are pretty reluctant to fight to the death, and they’re all pretty willing and able to fly the hell away if they think they’re going to die. Dragon slaying is a dangerous and hard-fought business. There should be a pretty sizable reward involved, I think. :)

Phased Weasel (October 22nd, 2007)

Now that we’re discussing these flavor items, I’d like to make a request. I enjoyed some of your items / item attributes from deep in the archives. Specifically, dwarven beard rings and the “sour” armor attribute are awesome and I have incorporated into the game.

Any other “flavor” items or attributes would be appreciated!

Glug (October 23rd, 2007)

re: Nigel’s stuff.
I like it. Not bad. I assume Dragonhide would be fairly expensive, perhaps comparable to the price of the Dragonhide plate in the DMG? If that’s the case, there’s another nice limiting factor here. If you’re making sure that your players kill and harvest their own dragon, then you’re looking at raw materials, and a very very long time to actually craft them into finished goods.

Something like DC30 for trying to quickly make that AC10 full plate, at a 3000gp price.. thats 30,000 silver in progress to make, and if you just make that DC30, that’s 900/week, or 34 weeks to finish this off. Jesus.

Time for a fabricate or minor creation spell. I’ve always wondered why it takes a month to create full plate, and a day to enchant it.

Nigel (October 23rd, 2007)

If I recall, that’s really close to how we did the price as well. It was very expensive to make, and took a very long time as well, rightfully so.

Jonathan Drain (October 23rd, 2007)

Dwarven beard rings, you say.

Craft works very poorly on expensive things. Masterwork full plate takes a skilled smith several months. At this rate there’s huge demand for wizard-blacksmiths who can craft any suit of armour instantly, for less than double the normal cost.

Nigel’s system is interesting. Dragonhide armour feels like it should be special, and I don’t see why being covered in red dragon’s hide wouldn’t confer you some protection against fire. It does strike me as something you ought to have to slay a dragon to earn, though - it’s not the sort of armour people tend to resell.

The implementation troubles me a little, though. A great gold wrym’s hide made into full plate armour offers you a +20 armour before enhancement, compared to the usual +8. In this case, you’re not only gaining an extra +12 to AC, but dragonhide because an automatic must for every high level character, and I think on a large scale this can cheapen the effect.

morhg (October 26th, 2007)

yea…my dm kicked that rule it only takes a 1 size catagory larger dragon and a good check to skin it + craft armour to make it if you dont fill like draging it back to a town :)

divisionbyzer0 (January 15th, 2008)

Thanks for this post. I’ve been looking for the rules on dragonhide. I’m playing 3.5 for the 1st time as a barbarian / ranger and was looking to fashion some hide or something out of a slain black dragon, but now unless the DM comes up with houserules for improving the armor, I don’t think it’s worth the time or effort of skinning, and hauling it back to a place where it can be crafted. I’d at least expect some weight reduction or check penalty reduction, so I could wear better armor and have it be treated as “light” and still be able to fight two weapon; but damn, I’ll just stick with my current studded leather +3.

beriukay (February 1st, 2009)

I googled a formula for surface area based on size, improvised a few numbers, and found that a 50’ tall human, according to the BMI calculation would weigh about 12,500 lbs. I converted the weight to kg, the height to cm, and found that the surface area of such a creature would be 982 (it did not provide units).

I did the same formula for a normal 6’4” person, and found the surface area to be 19.

So even if an armor smith were discard 75% of the skin and utterly ruin half of the rest of his creations (wouldn’t be a very good smith, would ‘e?) there would still be enough hide area to cover six such normal people from head to toe.

I’m just fighting the rule off of verisimilitude. On other grounds, as a novice metal smith, I can tell you that it is often very easy to salvage a failure. Usually it ends up with a completely different purpose, but there is no such thing as “utterly destroys the component”

Finally, if a glove made of asbestos can protect you from a fire, then a glove made of the skin of a fireproof beast should provide the same protection.

Quicksilver (August 28th, 2009)

Lol, selling a druid item for gold to a druid (or anyone expecting to get something from a druid) is like asking if you can pay with pork when you go to get your kid a circumcision at temple.

Against that argument that it should give you protection against said elements… a red dragon is hot and can become as hot as anything that heats it, that doesn’t prevent the heat from getting through the hide. The black dragons hide doesn’t stop things from seeping into the cracks (and there has to be a ton of cracks in armor to put it on as no plate or leather armor has ever been waterproof). The white dragon has the same story as the red, it gets as cold as it wants, the skin doesn’t block it, it just withstands it and survives/acts normally by transfering the heat/cold. Devils advocate sorry. Don’t make sense of magic though, it doesn’t make sense. So if its that way in your game, kudo’s if people are smiling because of it.

The surface area rule goes off of the reasoning in the book that you have to find pieces that perfectly fit together to make a suit, and they have to be in perfect shape (post mortum). I disagree with the book, and agree with you guys, that it should give you more than its giving. But a direct equation or reasoning isn’t going to come up with something that answers the question in an absolute way with a fantasy world.

Liam (April 25th, 2010)

i think ur misreading wat it says about the sizes. it states that 1 dragon makes one suit of armor 1 size smaller then the dragon its self, however by selecting choice pieces of scales and hide(meaning yes u would have leftover hide/scales depending on the amount gathered) an armorsmith can make one suit banded mail for a creature 2 sizes smaller, or masterwork half plate for 3 sizes smaller, or half or full plate for a 4 sizes smaller. this being said says that it doesnt have to be a collosous sized dragon it can still be in its growth. now if the dragon is large sized or larger, it states that a small or large masterwork sheild could also be made. Also factoring in the size of a dragon means the amount of scales or hide a dragon has, how many or how much of those were destroyed or made unusable after slaying the dragon.

David M (June 29th, 2010)

I personally like the 2nd Edition rules in the MM for making Dragon hide armor. When you get armor made from a dragon it is ALWAYS light scale mail [25 pounds] and the AC of the armor is 4 worse than the dragon you took it from. The Cost ranges 1000-10000gp ..which is Age category x 1000gp. The time required to make armor is equal to two weeks per level of AC below 10.
You can enchant the armor up to +5 as well as adding any other abilities following magic Item costs and time requirements. Simple and to the Point. Shields of any size can be made from the larger scales but they offer the same bonus as a standard shield of the same type, you can enchant as above. You also need a skinner to carve away the scales.Although, by the time a player kills a dragon they probably down to useless scraps anyway. Encyclopedia Magica states that any spell that gets through a dragons Magic resistance ruins it’s ability to add enchantments. Every cut made on a dragon’s body ruins 5% of the hide. So right there your players need to do called shots to the wings and head and turn the spell-casters into buffers for the battle duration. Then your skinner has a 30% chance to ruining the scales completely. To say you can only get 1 suit per dragon is someone who never took a math class with surface area -so I house ruled this. My house rule is 2 x age category for number of armors and 2 x age for number of 5lb medium shields. But the numbers above will severely limit what gets produced from the corpse. Subduing the dragon with blunt attacks will be the way to go which will make the encounter very tactical. Then your Armorer will need to pass the roll to even produce the suit. Could you make other types of armor besides scale? sure just subtract the supplies from the number of shields. [Plate mail would need 10 shields worth of material] The AC would still be the same as the scale mail though!

Comments for this article are closed.