I've been working more on the Council of Wyrms stuff and have one final article for presentation before I wrap it up into PDF package. Well, that's a lie; I already made one and distributed it to a small audience for feedback, and as such I have some erratas to talk about first.
One of my old MMO buddies whose systems knowledge is sublime determined that the ability score bonus for each age category might not be enough; a dragon would need to pump four, maybe all five ability score increases throughout their career if they ever wanted to hit that 30 ability score cap at ancient age, and that felt excessive. To that point, the ability score increase at each age category is raised to two, rather than one (that is, all ability scores increase by two).
This is already a pretty high-powered conversion, so I feel like that's okay.
Secondly, the breath weapons were all out of whack. In my effort to try to cleave too closely to the power caps in the Monster Manual, some breath weapons just sucked (i.e. never getting particularly good or being nerfed by never reaching its MM value). So, endeavoring to close the gaps a bit and let some of the dragons reach their previous glory, I reworked each breed's breath weapon damages.
It'd take up a lot of space to talk about each breed, but here's good ol' red dragon for you.
Fire Breath. You can exhale a 15 foot cone of fire as your breath weapon. This attack deals 4d6 fire damage and increases by 1d6 per level. At young age, the range increases to 30 feet. At adult age, it increases to 60 feet. At ancient age, your fire breath has a 90 foot range.
So now it starts out a bit more powerful and hits a 23d6 cap at level 20. It's still not quite the 26d6 that they have in the Monster Manual, but I've got an answer for that too in the form of the Deep Breath fighting style.
Your breath weapon is more fearsome. You deal additional dice of damage with your damaging breath weapon equal to your Constitution modifier, based on its die type. If your breath weapon uses a d4 or d6 as its damage die, you add two dice per point of Constitution modifier. If it uses a d8 or d10, you add one die per point of Constitution modifier.
For example, a 15th level black dragon (16d8 acid damage) with a Constitution of 21 (+5 modifier) has a 21d8 acid damage breath weapon.
If you go out of your way to focus on your breath weapon, you get something pretty gnarly. Still, it might be too much, and I can always do a bit more work on it.
I talked a bit about making lair building rules, but I wasn't happy with any implementation I tried. They ended up feeling cumbersome and bolted-on, bogging down gameplay in undesirable ways. To wit, I am (wisely, I think), backing down from that idea for now unless something better occurs to me.
Finally, I wanted to introduce Natures. I spent a lot of time thinking about Backgrounds and how they really don't work for dragons as much as I would like. Dragons differ in that you generally start playing them not long after they hatch, so there's really not much time to develop a background for them what with connections, features, et cetera that are usually provided via backgrounds.
To that end, I've created a bunch of draconic natures that are innate for dragons. They provide similar roleplaying fodder, a general implied path of action for them as they grow, two supplementary proficiencies, and a tangible benefit that is in some cases slightly stronger than the features that some backgrounds provided (to help account for the fact that they won't get tool proficiencies and the like).
Here are some examples:
Dragons with this nature are primed for ascension into the ranks of clan politics when they come of age. They understand that to attain power, one must be willing to seize opportunities and hold them with an iron claw. While not all ambitious dragons are deceitful or belligerent, they know when to apply those two qualities to get what they want.
Bonus Proficiencies: Deception, Intimidation
Objectives and Features: Power and Influence
When interacting with individuals of station, you instinctively sense their pecking order and can deftly navigate the troubled waters of their power relationships. You can determine whether a particular creature is worth negotiating with or whether your time would be best served finding their superior. Your Dungeon Master should advise you to make appropriate skill or ability checks accordingly in order to make this determination, if the situation calls for it.
Furthermore, you can acquit yourself in such a way that clan dominates or Council representatives recognize your savvy and treat you as befits your ambition, though this rarely manifests in such a way that you gain anything more than a token audience with such individuals.
Whenever you acquire titles or accolades that bestow titles upon you, specifically those recognized by another body of influence such as a vassal tribal government or appointment as a clan dominate, you have advantage on Charisma checks made to influence individuals to which those titles apply.
For example, Scorchfang the red dragon adult is appointed as a clan dominate, after years of maneuvering and assassinating his superiors. Such devious activity earns him the grudging respect of his lord, and the unending spite of his subordinates and those who failed to climb to the same position. Nevertheless, they know not to cross him. Scorchfang has advantage on Charisma checks when dealing with his clan, up to and including his lord -- though the lord will be watching Scorchfang carefully for signs that the ambitious dragon seeks to replace him one day.
Though all dragons hoard treasure and can be said to have an avaricious nature, these dragons are particularly greedy. While their own moral compass may discourage them from theft or manipulating their fellow dragons, they usually feel no compunction about doing so to vassal races or humanoid tribes.
Avaricious dragons are instinctively able to sense the approximate worth of valuable objects and can determine when an object is a forgery or otherwise replicated from an original piece that they know about. These makes them shrewd customers when dealing with merchants, be they dragon or otherwise, and oft sought after for identifying the qualities of rare items.
Bonus Proficiencies: Deception, Sleight of Hand
Objectives and Features: It’s Mine!
The accrual of material wealth is tied with whatever your other goals may be, and you will rarely agree to perform a task without some form of compensation. The growth of your hoard goes beyond mere necessity -- it is the only thing that brings you true peace.
You can determine the approximate value (in gold pieces) of any object you spend an action to study. Additionally, whenever your accumulating hoard is greater than the value of your bonded hoard, you may use the identify spell up to three times before requiring a long rest.
For example, the obsessive amethyst dragon, Malvistryl, is an avaricious worm that counts his hoard daily. As the rest of his comrades acquire treasure, they bring magical items to Malvistryl in order to determine their approximate value and their mystical properties. Of course, Malvistryl then tries to negotiate a trade that will benefit him.
When Malvistryl achieves a new level, his bonded hoard subsumes a value from his accumulating hoard in order to keep him from deteriorating, and so he immediately rallies his fellow dragons to embark on another adventure, this time to sack an orcish kingdom said to be particularly fat on the riches of their plunder. That they are also decimating nearby vassal villages is simply the impetus to convince them to go.
Even dragons can have a competitive streak, and those with this nature are particularly prone to undertake challenges for which they might not be ready. While this nature does not supply the dragon with a death wish, it is likely the wyrm will seek to confront dangers rather than circumvent them -- unless, of course, the challenge is to do just that.
Bonus Proficiencies: Athletics, Intimidation
Objectives and Features: Challenge Accepted
Whenever you are presented with a task that might be deemed difficult, you are usually eager to chance it, especially if someone uses the age-old phrase, “That’s impossible!” When you do triumph, it only goads you on to try more risky endeavors. Succeeding on skill or ability checks with a DC of 20 or higher, or being part of a group that defeats an encounter with a CR equivalent to a Hard encounter or greater grants you the ability to use the guidance cantrip until you take a long rest.
Particularly among crystal dragons, inquisitive wyrms have a habit of unearthing tidbits of information in such a way as to draw the ire of those who would rather see secrets buried. Driven by more than simple curiosity, dragons with this nature are almost obsessive with their need to poke their snouts where they don’t belong.
Bonus Proficiencies: Investigation, Perception
Objectives and Features: What’s This?
Whenever you are told that a place is forbidden, you simply have to know why. Your elders won’t ever fully understand or support your need to dig into abandoned ruins, seek out dragon graveyards, or unearth peculiar mysteries. As such, you should always try to spur discovery or encourage a venture to a place left yet unexplored. The Io’s Blood Isles are huge, and even its masters do not know every corner of the land.
Discovering new places or secrets is of great interest to you, and your natural inclinations give you a sense of where secrets might hide. You may use one of the following spells once: detect evil and good, detect magic, or detect poison and disease. You regain the use of this ability after completing a short rest.
If you are directly involved in any effort that uncovers a lost location or unearths some great secret, you operate under the effects of the bless spell until you complete a short or long rest.
Dragons don’t exclusively hoard and dominate, but few are driven to actually seek out a group or place to actively protect. Those with the guardian nature are among those few, who are compelled to shepherd a small flock or watch over a particular place. The nature of that which the dragon guards may manifest as a small tribe of vassals, a natural landmark, or a precious bauble of some unknown purpose.
Players who choose the guardian nature should work with the Dungeon Master to determine the nature of that which they protect. People will not generally accompany you on endeavors, and they should never be used as cannon fodder. A bauble is typically non-magical, though throughout your adventures secret qualities may be revealed. All is up to the Dungeon Master.
Bonus Proficiencies: Perception, Survival
Objectives and Features: Protectorate
Your protectorate is deeply important to you, and anything that puts it at risk incurs your wrath. While in active defense of object, location, or people of your protectorate, you are at advantage on skill checks, saving throws, and attack rolls against aggressors. You do not gain this bonus if you are willingly putting your protectorate at risk, such as using a village as bait for a raid or placing your prized heirloom in the midst of a battlefield to draw attention.
The bond between you and your protectorate energizes you and regenerates your wounds. While resting in the presence of your protectorate, you double the amount of hit points regained by expending hit dice for a short rest and regain all of your hit dice expended after a long rest.
Should your protectorate ever be stolen, you operate under the effects of the bestow curse spell unless you are in direct pursuit of retrieving it. If your protectorate is destroyed (such as your village of vassals being completely slaughtered), you suffer the same effect until you replace it with a new protectorate after a period of mourning no less than one month.
Dragons are creatures that quickly master any pursuit they put their mind to, and as such are notoriously adept at disagreeing with one another. The various dragon wars throughout the millennia are proof enough of this, and it takes a strong leader skilled at mediation to keep the clans from killing one another.
A wyrm with the mediator nature is one such dragon. While they may not necessarily be leaders as such, they have a knack and a desire to keep the peace between entities and prevent conflict from erupting.
Bonus Proficiencies: Insight, Persuasion
Objectives and Features: Adept Negotiator
Dragons with this nature are frequently sought out to adjudicate disputes or act as advocates on a party’s behalf. Mediators may find themselves representing a vassal village’s petition to secede from their own clan, or act as the judge in a Challenge of Claw and Wing. Regardless of their breed, a mediator dragon will be seen as an impartial party until their actions prove otherwise.
You will always be treated at least neutrally by dragons belonging to any Council-affiliated clan (that is to say, every clan that is not on the outs with the Council for some reason or another) and may be asked to intervene in some matter or other. Even when dealing with breeds at odds with your own, they will give you the respect due -- at least, until your back is turned.
If you successfully mediate a dispute that would have resulted in conflict had you not intervened, you gain advantage on saving throws and skill checks until you complete a short or long rest.
Particularly among the brutal chromatic breeds, hunting and dispatching prey is one of the greatest joys a dragon can experience. Whether it is a white dragon dragging a slain whale to shore to gorge upon it, or a copper dragon pouncing upon and outfoxing a giant scorpion, all wyrms feel this instinct.
For some, however, it goes beyond just instinct, and is woven into their very nature. These dragons are truly apex predators, and their ability to strike first is uncanny.
Bonus Proficiencies: Stealth, Survival
Objectives and Features: First Strike
The cohorts of a dragon with this nature may find their ally wandering off to chase small prey or toying with helpless creatures, even if they never deal a killing stroke. In some this can manifest as tormenting the poor victim, but in others it is simply harmless play that belies a pinnacle predator instinct. These wyrms are cat-like in their actions, which may seem precocious when they are young, but is terrifying when they are massive and can shred steel as easily as paper.
Predator dragons are adept at getting the drop on enemies. They have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks made to avoid surprise, and they may roll twice when determining initiative and choose either result.
Furthermore, when a dragon with the predator nature successfully attacks a target that is surprised or does not otherwise detect their presence (such as when hidden or invisible), that target suffers disadvantage when attacking the dragon until the end of the dragon’s next turn.
While the vassal races establish academies of learning and institutions of magic, dragons rarely bother with such organizations. Most are naturally intelligent and have superb memories that are as sharp and long as their claws, but sophont dragons harken more to the sages and scholars of the vassal races than they do the rest of their aloof kind.
Eagerly devouring (at least, in the figurative sense) books, art, poetry, and music, sophonts spring at the opportunity to learn new things and experience new sensations. To them, the greatest wisdom is not in being the master, but being the student.
Bonus Proficiencies: Insight, Perception
Objectives and Features: Broad Knowledge
Sophont dragons eagerly seek out new experiences and are diligent learners. They rarely turn down the opportunity to try something they have not tried before, and practically never call something they do not understand “stupid” or “pointless” regardless of its absurdity. Sophonts prefer to determine that for themselves after they try.
The innate willingness to learn makes a sophont dragon pick up secrets from its handlers while still in the shell, more than that imparted by simple care and racial memory. You may pick one spellcasting class that uses cantrips, and select three cantrips from its spell list. You may use these cantrips innately, without the use of spellbooks, prayer, or material components.
Am I done? I think so. I hope so! I keep waffling more than a particular American diner chain and finding more things I want to work on! It's probably best if I gather one last round of feedback, make final changes, and then tie this off for the year. Thank you all for following along so far!