Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Dragon Nations, Conversion Updates, and Setting Discussion!

Before I started off this one, I wanted to re-link my conversion, which has received updates since version 1.0. A couple things changed since the original posting, specifically the following:

  • Harbinger edited it for me, because I have a serious problem with passive voice. The perils of writing spoken dialogue for much of my day job's writing needs. He probably still wants to kill me after a decade of never quite shaking the habit.
  • Sapphire dragon breath is now a combo of psychic and thunder damage; it was too samey to make amethyst, emerald, and sapphire dragons all do the same damage type, and I'm not comfortable using raw force damage for the amethyst dragon's lozenge-bomb. I might change my mind though.
  • Sly Talon fighting style got buffed up.
  • Dragon rogues treat all of their natural attacks as finesse weapons, so they can naturally make use of their primary Dexterity score. Since, you know, they can't take Sly Talon unless they multiclass, and I don't want to force that on them.
  • A couple natures received some upgrades. I'm still not completely satisfied with them all yet, so more changes may happen.
  • Dive was slightly reworked so you don't need to crater every time you use it if you're flying low.
Since that's out of the way, I can dive into some more customized setting conceits.

Get Your Alignment Checked

First off is the idea that alignment does not figure in as strongly; red dragons won't always be chaotic evil (though most are), silver dragons won't always be lawful good (though most are), and allies may be a bit fuzzy. Clans are less bound to the family of dragon to which they belong (that is, chromatic, gem, or metallic) and more to their clan-kin and the other clans of their nation.

Unlike some of my cohorts, I don't hate alignment as a tool in general (I like it being a rough guideline of a creature's expected societal behavior and quick-reference moral compass), but I do detest it being used as a cudgel to muscle players into behaving a certain way. Council of Wyrms was originally designed with the alignment system being very rigid, which is very much a product of its design era. Gold dragons must be lawful good, red dragons were always chaotic evil and thus unsuitable for player characters.

Well, I don't like that for a number of reasons, but mostly because sapient creatures don't work that way. While it's a fantastical setting where gods sometimes literally mold their followers in a particular image, that creates kind of a boring status quo. I like the idea of neutral evil bronze dragons, or lawful neutral red dragons playing politics on the Council without constantly trying to destroy it. I mean, how annoying would it be to constantly have to invite a guy to a party when you know he's going to try to knife you in the kitchen when no one's looking?

Anyway, this approach might not appeal to everyone, but alignment will be fluid without sacrificing what the dragons are deep down. Reds are still conquerors and tyrants, but they can work with the Council and the other clans even if the relationship is tenuous at best.

Draconian Politics

I've organized the dragon territories into discreet "nations" which all owe allegiance to the Council of Wyrms. The Council ostensibly has authority to influence the clans of these nations with edicts and proclamations, but each nation has its own form of governance and its own discreet laws which coexist with Council mandates. This isn't a sleek, uneventful arrangement; the Council chafes against the very existence of these nations, but knows that it cannot effectively govern dragonkind on anything but the macro level without them.

Some of the ideas I use are certainly more modern, and the dragons in my vision of the setting are more... civilized? That's not really the right word, but the clans are more like familial groups rather than political bodies. Each still has a representative on the Council, but this representative may (as in the case of the Fireshore Republic) have to pull double-duty in their own territory.

There's probably a lot wrong with my approach and I'm still ironing out some of the details. For consumption, I'd like to share one of my write-ups of the dragon nations, the Burning Isles. This nation is a collection of islands in the southern seas of the campaign setting; Bloodtide, Lightning, Eversand, Storm, and the Forbidden Isle.

The Burning Isles: An Example Nation

As the group of islands with the largest concentration of dragonkind, the Burning Isles are a constant hotbed of intrigue, proxy wars, and conspiracies that range from the mundane to the staggeringly complicated (in ways that only dragons can make things). Dragons of polar opposite breeds find themselves forced to work and conspire together against the other feudal domains of dragon lords with greater influence on the Council.

The undisputed master of the Burning Isles is the ancient and terrible Firebrand the Red of Clan Bloodtide. A domineering schemer, he holds most of the other clans in the Burning Isles under some manner of threat, blackmail, or largesse. Like most of his breed, Firebrand desires power above all else, but goes about it in a different manner than other, less-careful red dragons.

Instead of immolating cities and dominating lesser dragons through brute force, Firebrand has constructed a vast network of trade routes, treaties, and blackmail with the other clans of the Burning Isles. Exotic goods of all kinds flow in and out of the streets of the other cities in the region, from delectable jungle fruits desired by vassal races to highly addictive narcotics that even dragons crave.

Whenever a clan falls out of line of the red dragon lord’s plans, Firebrand merely lifts one claw holding down another clan that would just as soon battle its rival for better status in the region. The problem typically corrects itself in short order, as all of the clans are interested in maintaining the status quo, at least on the surface.

For all that everyone in the Burning Isles feuds with each other, they hate Firebrand more, but the dragon and his ilk are so powerful that it would take the concerted efforts of three or more clans to stand a chance against Clan Bloodtide’s fearsome power. In particular, the red clan maintains an order of powerful elementalist wizards, the Cabal of the Unquiet Earth, comprised of both dragons and favored kindred with impressive magical aptitude. A small army of elementals is at the Cabal’s command; primarily to hold back the fury of the active volcano upon which Malice, Clan Bloodtide’s capital, resides in all of its terrible majesty. It would be trivial to turn these elementals against would-be invaders, or unleash the full destructive power of the volcano on would-be invaders.

The other clans of this region function in a manner similar to the baronies and duchies of medieval societies; the dragon lord is the autocratic ruling body, who empowers a select few dragons as its dominates to mete out justice, supply it with tribute, and oversee the vassals that populate clan territory. Alliances with other clans are common, but often short-lived as Firebrand’s machinations do not allow them to remain allies for long before a scandal or small-scale raid (blamed on the other party, of course) drives them apart.

Unique within these domains is the black dragon clan of Darkmoon, a small and winnowing family of dragons numbering no more than seventy or eighty individuals and their few thousand oppressed vassals. The clan’s lord, Deathstream, is a wyrm recently accorded the status of ancient whose responsibility it is to bring the clan back to greatness.

Unfortunately, Firebrand knows that Deathstream is a weak and vacillating ruler, and so does his part to sabotage the ambitions of Clan Darkmoon. What Firebrand does not know (and indeed, very few of even Deathstreams court know) is that Deathstream has acquired a new, secret ally -- the red dracolich bearing the moniker “Infernus”.

This eldritch, undead warlock was slain at the claws of Baraster, the gold dragon founder of Clan Baraster, many thousands of years ago. The insidious dragon had a contingency plan, as well as a small cult of followers, which enabled him to rise again in lich form. Infernus is a powerful infernal pact warlock who has curried the favor of vile demon lords in exchange for his sorcerous might, and has designs of conquest over the isles.

First, he will use Darkmoon to broaden his power-base; already, a majority of the Darkmoon vassal populace has taken up worship of myriad minor gods that are, in fact, demonic generals. In time, Infernus hopes to open gateways to bring through a demonic army of conquest and march across the face of the world.

What I've Done Differently

In "canon" Council of Wyrms, Firebrand is indirectly billed as one of the biggest draconic dangers in the setting. He's got eyes on dominance and hates the Council and everything it stands for, but I like to think of him as a cunning manipulator rather than a rampaging force of nature. He dominates the isles through a combination of blackmail and a horrendously complicated web of influence. It's closer to lawful evil than chaotic evil, technically, but I've always found that to be the more interesting evil.

On the other hand, I've retooled Deathstream and Infernus, who have the same relationship in "canon" Council of Wyrms but with slightly different dark secrets in my version. Here, Infernus is a dracolich warlock, rather than a dracolich wizard, and has designs of conquest by using his demonic benefactors and their Abyssal legions.

As it pertains to the nation and its politics, I guess I made it a bit more grimdark. Which is kind of overdone these days, so I might scale it back a teensy bit -- the idea of drug-addicted dragons who have to go to Firebrand's contacts for their fix is possibly a little too modern of a concept for this setting.

Anyway, there's my example nation! I've got most of the others written up and ready for some polish, but I'll put them up in future entries. Happy gaming until then!


  1. Replies
    1. Apologies, had to correct that link. It was from back when I hosted it on Google Drive, but I've since moved stuff over to Homebrewery. The link there should work now, as well as the links bar above it. Thanks for calling out the issue!