Is This Dragon Encounter Too Deadly?

A couple of years ago I came up with an idea for a particularly unfair combat encounter involving a dragon who takes every advantage of his terrain and abilities. I never inflicted it on my players, but other Dungeon Masters may not be so merciful.

Using the D&D 3.5 rules, take a young red dragon, CR7. Red dragons are described as preparing multiple strategies ahead of time, and taking great care to avoid damaging their enemy’s items so they can loot them later. This one is no exception.

The dragon lures his enemy to a chosen spot: a beach, at night. With +17 to Bluff, setting up a ruse like this is no problem. Bluff is a class skill for red dragons, and they have a lot of hit dice.

He begins the battle by reading a scroll of resist energy for cold resistance 10, which he can do since he casts spells as a first level sorcerer. It costs 150 gp, but 7th level characters have about 19,000 gp worth of equipment each, so it’s a sound investment. The dragon uses his own spellcasting ability to cast mage armor and resistance, for +4 to AC and a brief +1 to saves before swooping in for the attack.

This is where the beach terrain is important. The dragon swoops in from 150 feet away (30 squares) and uses the Hover feat to make a whirlwind of sand. The sandstorm extinguishes all torches, gives the dragon full concealment if he’s 25 feet away or more, and forces casters to make a Concentration check (DC 16) to cast a spell. The dragon can hover at a height of up to twenty feet, out of the range of melee attackers.

The PCs will have to move into 10 feet range of the dragon to attack without penalty. This means archers can’t make a full attack and spellcasters must move into melee range. A PC at the very edge of the dust cloud must move 45 feet to attack without penalty. Area spells work normally, but the red dragon is immune to the usual fireball and resists the first 10 of a cold based attack before its cold weakness is applied.

Now, lets say we scale this encounter up to a young adult red dragon, CR13. We have even more frustrating tactic to use here. Remember that we’re on a beach.

At Huge size, the dragon qualifies for the Snatch feat, giving him the ability to pick up anyone he hits with a bite or claw, provided he can succeed at a grapple (at a whopping +37). He then flies over the ocean at full fly speed of 150ft and drops the grabbed character into the ocean.

To get back, the dropped character must swim 150 feet. Assuming he passes a Swim check each around (DC 10), the character moves at one-quarter speed: half speed for swimming (even as a full round action), and half that again due to the little-known effect that you move half speed in darkness. The average character will be out of combat for twenty rounds.

This snatch attack assumes the dragon hits with his bite attack and flies off in the same round. If it misses, the dragon continues his full attack (two claws, one tail slap), choosing to grapple with the claws at a -20 penalty to hold without penalty to himself (still grappling at +17). If the target fails to escape, he begins the next round by dropping the target in the ocean as usual.

Once there’s only one character left on the beach, the dragon can do even worse. Hovering at 10 feet, he snatches the target with his bite and flies up diagonally at a 45 degree angle at half speed (the maximum allowed by his fly movement category), moving 35 feet forward and 35 feet up. If the target breaks free on its turn, it falls 45 feet. If not, the dragon flies another 35 feet diagonally up, blasts the target with his breath weapon allowing no save for 10d10 fire damage, then drops him 80 feet for 8d6 falling damage. On average, this is 83 damage in one round.

What do you think? Too much?

Comments (12)

Bsus (February 12th, 2012)

That depends on your feeling towards your players. Do you like them? Are you tired of your current campaign? Do you have a TPK addiction?

Seriously though, that’s a really tough battle. Dragon combat is hard anyway and once you add the fact that the dragon has prepared both the place, the time and cast prep spells, it doubles the difficulty.

That said, the players will probably go into this with some prep (unless they are caught totally unawares). That might even the playing field - especially with spells like wingbind and other anti-fly spells to negate the dragon’s flight.

It really comes down to the type of players. If they are smart and experienced players, they will find this a challenging and deadly encounter but not nessessarily

Bsus (February 12th, 2012)

(sorry hit the wrong button….continued)

….not necessarily a TPK. However, a less experienced group will get their asses handed to them to wear as hats.

Great use of terrain and tactics btw.


Anonymous (February 12th, 2012)

Perfectly fair if the PCs new the the dragon likes to attach this beach at night (and that’s why they are there!)

DnDGuy (February 12th, 2012)

Dragons are highly intelligent magical creatures and will use every advantage that they can to obtain hoard treasure. Its perfectly fine and Not to deadly not at all. after all it is only a game and if the PCs die they can always make new characters.

Matthew (February 12th, 2012)

How to make it even worse: Have the dragon use Disguise Self to make its skin appear white every time it appears in public, including during this attack. Now the characters, having done due diligence and asked around, are loaded for bear with utterly useless resist cold and fire-based attacks. Doh!

Jonathan Drain (February 12th, 2012)

@Matthew: I thought of that, but figured a red dragon would be too proud to disguise itself as a lesser colour of dragon.

Dudley (February 13th, 2012)

"…and taking great care to avoid damaging their enemy’s items so they can loot them later."

I’m not sure dropping PCs in the ocean is taking care to not damage(or lose) items…

Sian (February 13th, 2012)

This is why you Never. Ever. Fight a dragon at a time and place of the dragon’s choosing. PCs should pop their own concealment and break for it.

Cam (February 17th, 2012)

Remind me to never let you DM for me Jon…!! I like this encounter alot - I come from the other end of the spectrum through a DM’s eyes this would be an awesome ENC to run… but not with my player group. They are all pretty fresh on the scene, and I can guarentee the only knowledge of dragons these guys would have would be that you can kill one if you’re Christian Bale, but you can’t if you’re Matthew McConaughey

JeffHudson (September 25th, 2012)

Hmm, I would get my tail handed to me in this scenario. I am new to the scene, but would love to watch a DM unleash this on some unwary players. If I ever start DMing, I will definetly keep this in mind. Love your articles. Oh, and I second Cam, remind me to never let you DM for me. :)

Tommy (October 17th, 2012)

I know my group has a thing for “interesting” races, so we usually have at least a couple people can see in the dark. Right now, we also have 2 players who can fly, so we should be able to at least make things difficult for the dragon offensively, but I’m not sure what could be done defensively. It seams like the only option would be stealth, but not everyone can manage that (especially on a beach, which wouldn’t have too much cover to start with).

It’s probably not really a fair encounter, and most groups would be wise to retreat, but it would be perfectly acceptable as a punishment to any group that doesn’t treat dragons with due diligence.

Joshua (November 18th, 2012)

I like it, but, as a DM myself, I would make a few changes… namely, beaches aren’t a red’s typical terrain. Now a blue in just a desert would have a lot of the same, just not the water, which is easily replaced with lots of jagged and cruel rocks (adding in some bonus damage at the end of the fall for unfortunate PCs). When I run a game, PCs are warned LONG in advance- the purpose of a dragon encountering people is for the dragon to fill his belly and gain treasure. But then, dragons in my games don’t just “appear”. The PCs may know about one all the way from level one.. they just don’t know what age category it is… they go after it when they THINK they’re ready (they usually aren’t)

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