Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Council of Wyrms: Class Considerations for Magic Flying Reptiles

In this entry, I'll be talking about my ideas for how the classes in the Player's Handbook interface with dragon player characters. I don't feel that completely new, specialized classes were necessary. Most work pretty nicely as-is, though there are some caveats.

The biggest challenges I faced were making the call to outright restrict things (monks) while allowing others (rogues). I believe a restriction was the right call where I did make it though. Whether by a complete physiological conundrum or a complete overshadowing of an archetype's shtick, some things just didn't make sense to allow.

The claws of dragons, while fairly dexterous, cannot hold weapons or tools in any useful manner. Likewise, their natural defenses render armor moot. As such, any class’s weapon, armor, and tool proficiencies are ignored for dragons. They do gain the class’s saving throw and skill proficiencies, however.

The dragon’s natural attacks (be they bite, claw, tail, or wing) count for any situation in which a class ability references a melee weapon attack. For example, a barbarian’s Reckless Attack ability can be performed with a dragon’s bite attack.

Dragons do not benefit from extra attacks in the same way that standard player characters do. On any level at which the dragon would receive this ability, they instead select one dragon fighting style of their choice.

Any class that affords a dragon fighting styles does not allow them access to the standard array of styles (Great Weapon Fighting, etc.). Instead, the dragon uses styles to gain additional natural attacks and augments to its already-formidable combat prowess. A list of dragon fighting styles is provided below.

Aerial Superiority 
If you have moved any portion of your fly speed on your turn, you gain a +2 bonus to attacks made against opponents who are smaller than you, and your AC is increased by 2 against opponents larger than you until the end of your next turn. 
Battering Wing 
Requirement: You must be of adult or ancient age to take this style. 
Whenever you are struck by a melee attack, you may use your reaction to perform a special wing buffet attack. Make a melee attack against all enemies within 10 feet of you. If this attack hits, they suffer damage equal to your claw attack and must make a saving throw with a DC equal to 8 + your Strength modifier + your proficiency bonus. If they fail, they are knocked prone. You may immediately fly up to half of your fly speed. 
Brutal Impact 
If you end your turn adjacent to an enemy after moving at least half of your fly speed, you can crash into them as a reaction. You may make a single melee attack that deals bludgeoning damage equal to your bite attack. Regardless of whether or not you hit, melee attacks made against you have advantage until the end of your next turn. 
Elemental Jaws 
Whenever you make a bite attack, you deal additional damage of a type that is the same as your damaging breath weapon, of a value based on your age.
  • Wyrmling: 1d6
  • Young and Adult: 1d10
  • Ancient: 2d10
Fang and Claw 
You gain the ability to make two claw attacks as a bonus action whenever you make a bite attack. These claws deal slashing damage and have reach according to your age. You add your Strength modifier to the damage of these attacks.
  • Wyrmling: 1d4, 5 foot reach
  • Young: 1d6, 5 foot reach
  • Adult: 1d8, 10 foot reach
  • Ancient: 1d10, 10 foot reach
Frightful Presence
Requirement: You must be of adult or ancient age to take this style.
Whenever you make a melee attack, you cause all creatures within 120 feet to make a Wisdom saving throw or become frightened for one minute. The victim can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns. If it succeeds on any saving throw, it is immune to your frightful presence for 24 hours. The DC for the saving throw is 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier.
Other dragons are immune to your frightful presence ability. 
Ironscale Defense
Your AC increases by 2 under all circumstances, such as barbarian armored defense or the mage armor spell. You become immune to the energy type or effect associated with your breed’s resistances.
Lashing Tail 
You gain a tail attack that can be made as a bonus action on your turn. This attack gains your Strength modifier to damage. The base damage and reach are determined by your age. This attack deals bludgeoning damage.
  • Wyrmling: 1d6, 10 foot reach
  • Young: 1d8, 10 foot reach
  • Adult: 2d8, 15 foot reach
  • Ancient: 2d8, 20 foot reach
Lunging Tooth 
Your bite attack always has at least 10 foot reach regardless of your age. When biting opponents that are not within 5 feet of you, you deal an additional 1d8 piercing damage.
Sly Talon 
Your bite, claw, tail, and wing attacks gain the finesse quality, allowing you to use your Dexterity modifier for attack and damage bonuses instead of Strength.

These were designed to give players access to some of the tricks that dragons from the Monster Manual had up their sleeves, and give them a more complete combat package. Since dragons don't benefit from Extra Attack, these contribute toward equalizing their damage output versus spellcaster dragons of equivalent level (though I haven't run simulations to compare the two in play yet; I'll do that toward the tail end of this series and present the results).

Class-wise, it was fairly easy to come up with my list of restrictions and guidelines for playing dragon versions of a given role.

There are no restrictions or further considerations for dragon barbarians save those listed above. The class most appeals to the brutal chromatics, whites and reds most of all. A raging dragon can destroy entire villages with ease.

While they are incapable of playing instruments, dragons can and often do sing well if they apply themselves to it. They may be bards without restriction, though most dragon bards are crystal and copper dragons.

The dragons have a small pantheon of gods to which they give homage, with Great Io chief among them. The major gods have domains in accordance with their spheres of influence. Any dragon may be a cleric.

The dragon pantheon is actually downright tiny as originally presented. There are two demigods I left off this short list, because demigods don't generally grant spells to followers.
  • Io: Knowledge, Nature
  • Chronepsis: Life, Knowledge
  • Aasterinian: Trickery
  • Bahamut: Light, War
  • Tiamat: Tempest, War
  • Faluzure: Death

Dragons rarely belong to any official druidic societies; their natural impulses and commanding presences complicate such structures. Nevertheless, dragons can be druids, though they rarely bother to assume wild shape unless the shape grants them a mode of movement or other adaptation they would not otherwise possess.

Although dragons lack prowess with wielded weapons, they excel at the fighter class and can be champions, battle masters, and eldritch knights without concern. Silver, blue, and sapphire dragons are most commonly fighters. They learn a number of draconic combat styles throughout their lives and are formidable opponents even among dragons.

Dragons cannot be monks. While they may possess the mental and physical fortitude to accomplish the same goals, they utterly lack the ability to focus ki energy like kindred races might.

Psionic powers are extremely rare among any dragons except gem dragons, and even for their family, they are sometimes an afterthought. Amethyst dragons are most commonly mystics. For a “proper” old-fashioned game, the mystic class (and all psionic classes that may splinter from it) should be restricted to gem dragons only. If the Dungeon Master is less strict about such things, then other psionic dragons are possible, albeit very rare.

Yeah, yeah. They haven't officially put out a sourcebook for psionics yet. I'm pre-empting the inevitability and basing this off what Wizards did in their UA: Psionics.

While not exclusively limited to the family, most paladins are metallic dragons. The Oaths are flavored for the Council of Wyrms setting; Devotion is to the Council and its mandates (which appeals to gem dragons), Vengeance to vanquish its enemies (popular among chromatics), and Ancients to general goodness and light (where metallics gravitate). Gold dragons are often paladins.

Dragon rangers can belong only to the Hunter archetype. Their natural combat capabilities render the assistance of an animal companion moot, nor would they find it fitting to bond with such base beasts (kindred races are a different matter, at least to most dragons). Hunter dragons cannot choose the Volley ability at 11th level, for obvious reasons. Bronze and green dragons make good rangers.

I'm using the PHB ranger for this example, as opposed to my variant ranger.

The idea of a dragon rogue may be hilarious to most as they imagine an enormous wyrm picking the pocket of an unsuspecting elf in a shadowed alley. While this situation is unlikely, dragons can make good rogues, and often command criminal enterprises within kindred settlements. They are particularly adroit and cunning wyrms, inflicting savage bite attacks against the unwary and dismantling mechanisms with a flick of their talons. Crystal, brass, and black dragons make good rogues.

Rogue dragons cannot be proficient in thieves tools, as their claws do not allow for such fine manipulation even at wyrmling age. However, they may employ kindred servants to do this for them, or simply elect to trigger the trap without harm to themselves by using the Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) skill.

Naturally, logic and reason dictate if a dragon can remain hidden by using Dexterity (Stealth). A Dungeon Master should never allow a Gargantuan dragon rogue to hide in a basket in an open field to avoid detection.

I waffled on this for a while but decided to encourage dragon rogues for amusement's sake. I feel like you could create a devious guildmaster dragon that uses Harbinger's Mastermind rogue archetype, or the one of the same name presented by Wizards themselves. Thief ones are less likely. Dragon assassins are... okay, maybe a *little* weird.

Dragon sorcerers may not select the Draconic Bloodline origin for redundancy reasons. They may be Wild Mages without restriction.

I mean, maybe you could do a dragon that is descended somehow from another dragon. There'd be questions. The Council would want to see your birth certificate. I don't know.

While rare, dragon warlocks can and do exist. Chromatic dragon warlocks are especially fearsome, with black and green dragon warlocks most common of all. Emerald and topaz dragons might also be drawn to the power and insight that otherworldly entities can provide.

Dragon warlocks may not select Pact of the Blade, as they cannot make use of a summoned weapon of any sort.
This possibility makes me giggle with delight. I love the idea of dragon warlocks. Horrible, insidious chromatic dragon warlocks that make deals with fiendish powers or alien gods to manipulate Council society. Invoking monstrous curses to wrack and ruin their foes. Muahahahaha-- ahem.

Magic comes as easily to dragons as swimming does to fish, and so many dragons become wizards. Their grimoires tend to be much larger and more sturdy than a human or elf wizard’s spellbook, and are often inscribed on lacquered wood plates, stone tablets, or pages enchanted to avoid tearing as they peruse the volume with their talons.

A bunch of low level spells may be mediocre compared to the dragon's natural attacks, but they do provide dragon wizards with safe ranged attacks that they otherwise completely lack, as well as a toolkit of elemental energy types that they would not otherwise possess. Wyrmling dragons aren't that tough compared to monsters of equivalent strength, after all. A couple smacks by an ogre and down you go, like anyone else.

So that's my thinking on the dragon classes. Extra Attacks being taken out is the most controversial idea on the table (if not the most absurd; that goes to dragon rogues). The fighting styles need some obvious balancing, as a few seem like outright taxes for any given dragon with fighting styles to take (why wouldn't you take Fang and Claw if you get a fighting style?).

As always, feedback welcome, et cetera. Next time I'll go over some feats and some ideas for completely new ancillary systems, such as lair building and such to give players access to lair actions if they're caught on their own turf.


  1. I'm a booger and forgot Assassin rogues get bonus tool proficiencies that dragons could never use! Try this replacement on for size:

    Dragons who pick the Assassin archetype replace the proficiency with disguise kits and poisoners kits with the following trait:

    -Toxic Bite-

    You become inured to ingested poisons and are no longer subject to their deleterious effects. As an action, you can consume a number of doses of poisons equal to 1 + your Constitution modifier. Whenever you deal damage with your bite attack, you may force the victim to make a poison saving throw for one of the poisons you have consumed or be subject to its effects.

  2. Actually a dragon sorcerer totally works for me if you're descended from a particularly awesome bloodline of dragons. Like you're the dragon chosen one of blowing stuff up.

    1. Brandes and I talked about this for a bit too and I think I'll probably allow it in the final draft. The idea of being the chosen one in a line of dragons (or somehow invested with the power of another breed's bloodline) does have some interesting roleplaying implications.

      Consider the ban revoked! :D