Dragons in Echelon, Part 4: First Cut at Red Dragons

I was thinking today about how different dragon types might be modeled. The original thought was that the cornerstone would cover the common abilities, the color-specific parts (spell-like abilities, other special abilities) might be a common talent, then the remaining common talents could be used to flesh out general abilities such as flight and breath weapons and the like.

A better way, I think, would be to model it something more like prestige classes or other archetypes. Keep the cornerstone, but use a capstone for the ‘type-specific’ elements, and common talents fill out the remaining prerequisites.

Red Dragon Capstone

The Pathfinder Red Dragon has the following as color-specific abilities.

  • Wyrmling: Fire subtype
  • Very Young: Smoke vision
  • Young: detect magic at will
  • Juvenile: pyrotechnics at will
  • Young Adult: nothing
  • Adult: Fire aura (1d6, 5′), suggestion at will
  • Mature Adult: nothing
  • Old: Fire aura (1d6, 10′), manipulate flames, wall of fire at will
  • Very Old: nothing
  • Ancient: Fire aura (2d6, 10′), melt stone (wicked fun!), find the path at will
  • Wyrm: nothing
  • Great Wyrm: Incinerate, discern location at will

First Pass

For my first pass, I’ll map the age categories above to Echelon tiers, starting with Expert for Wyrmling and Very Young (remember, this is only relevant for the mapping exercise, I can later define ‘wyrmling red dragon’ as a Heroic creature if I want, it will just be more powerful than an Expert-tier ‘wyrmling white dragon’).

It shows the Fire subtype, which according to core rules grants immunity to fire and cold vulnerability. I suppose I’ll have to to change the definition of Fire subtype, since I have changed how energy immunity works.

Tier Benefit Prerequisite
Basic
  • Fire subtype
  • Vulnerability to cold
  • Basic Dragon
  • Basic Fire Resistance
  • Basic Breath Weapon (fire)
Expert
  • Smoke Vision
  • Expert Dragon
  • Expert Fire Resistance
  • Expert Breath Weapon (fire)
Heroic
  • detect magic at will
  • pyrotechnics at will
  • Heroic Dragon
  • Heroic Fire Resistance
  • Heroic Breath Weapon (fire)
Master
  • Fire Aura (1d6, 5′)
  • suggestion at will
  • Master Dragon
  • Master Fire Resistance
  • Master Breath Weapon (fire)
Champion
  • Fire Aura (1d6, 10′)
  • Manipulate Flames
  • wall of fire at will
  • Champion Dragon
  • Champion Fire Resistance
  • Champion Breath Weapon (fire)
Legendary
  • Fire Aura (2d6, 10′)
  • Melt Stone
  • find the path at will
  • Legendary Dragon
  • Legendary Fire Resistance
  • Legendary Breath Weapon (fire)
Epic
  • Incinerate
  • discern location at will
  • Epic Breath Weapon (fire)
  • Epic Dragon
  • Epic Fire Resistance
  • Epic Breath Weapon (fire)

Fire Resistance and Breath Weapon (Fire) are obvious common talents to have as prerequisites, but I am not certain what to expand to. Red dragons are noted as powerful casters, perhaps a higher caster training bonus?

I am considering treating the capstone either a Caster Tradition or Spell Knowledge talent. Because it comes at the end of the tier, I think perhaps treating it as a Spell Knowledge talent (spells chosen from those shown above, and probably a few more appropriate to the dragon type) will work better. The red dragon will also benefit from having an actual Caster Tradition at a lower tier, which brings the casting ability into line with the core rules.

This may be getting a little rich for a capstone talent, so perhaps two more common talents as prerequisites.

Second Pass

Red dragons are powerful, but in some ways often relatively straightforward thinkers — “I am lord of all I survey, you will do as I command or die”. They are also some of the best draconic spell casters. Lacking other obvious options, for now I think I will add Intimidate (there are likely several Intimidate talents) and a Spell Knowledge (any) talent to the prerequisites. As mentioned above, they are likely to take a Caster Tradition anyway, and I don’t like forcing prerequisites to span tiers, so I think I’ll just mention it as a common choice.

Tier Benefit Prerequisite
Basic
  • Fire subtype
  • Vulnerability to cold
  • Basic Dragon
  • Basic Fire Resistance
  • Basic Breath Weapon (fire)
Expert
  • Smoke Vision
  • Expert Red Dragon Spell Knowledge
  • Expert Dragon
  • Expert Fire Resistance
  • Expert Breath Weapon (fire)
  • Expert Intimidate
  • Expert Spell Knowledge (any)
Heroic
  • Heroic Red Dragon Spell Knowledge
  • Heroic Dragon
  • Heroic Fire Resistance
  • Heroic Breath Weapon (fire)
  • Heroic Intimidate
  • Heroic Spell Knowledge (any)
Master
  • Fire Aura (1d6, 5′)
  • Master Red Dragon Spell Knowledge
  • Master Dragon
  • Master Fire Resistance
  • Master Breath Weapon (fire)
  • Master Intimidate
  • Master Spell Knowledge (any)
Champion
  • Fire Aura (1d6, 10′)
  • Manipulate Flames
  • Champion Red Dragon Spell Knowledge
  • Champion Dragon
  • Champion Fire Resistance
  • Champion Breath Weapon (fire)
  • Champion Intimidate
  • Champion Spell Knowledge (any)
Legendary
  • Fire Aura (2d6, 10′)
  • Melt Stone
  • Legendary Red Dragon Spell Knowledge
  • Legendary Dragon
  • Legendary Fire Resistance
  • Legendary Breath Weapon (fire)
  • Legendary Intimidate
  • Legendary Spell Knowledge (any)
Epic
  • Incinerate
  • Epic Red Dragon Spell Knowledge
  • Epic Dragon
  • Epic Fire Resistance
  • Epic Breath Weapon (fire)
  • Epic Intimidate
  • Epic Spell Knowledge (any)

Red Dragon Spell Knowledge

Moving the spell-like abilities into a Spell Knowledge talent has a couple of benefits. First, it allows me to treat the spell-like abilities much as any other spell casting. Second, it makes it easy for me to allow other characters or creatures to make use of it — such as a sorcerer with a red dragon bloodline.

It also suggests I will want to expand the amount of spell knowledge granted, perhaps to two or three spells per level. I am not going to do that tonight, but it will be something to consider when I get there.

  1. detect magic
  2. none
  3. pyrotechnics
  4. suggestion
  5. wall of fire
  6. none
  7. find the path
  8. none
  9. discern location
  10. none

As closer examination makes obvious, there are a lot of gaps here. I think I will want to populate them with something. Looking at the (really big) list of spells I have, I can see the following possibly being of interest. There are too many to be useful, of course, but this is really only a first pass for consideration.

  1. arcane mark, cauterize, detect magic, flare
  2. burning hands, cause fear, comprehend languages, dispel magic (lesser), flare burst, identify
  3. boiling blood, burning gaze, flaming sphere, locate object, pyrotechnics, see invisibility
  4. arcane sight, ash storm, blinding ash, dispel magic, explosive runes, invisibility purge, molten, suggestion
  5. fire shield, fire trap, wall of fire
  6. blessing of the salamander, brimstone storm, carpet of fire, enchanting flames, fire snake
  7. chains of fire, contagious flame, dispel magic (greater), energetic contingency, find the path, fire imps, incendiary cloud
  8. arcane sight (greater), delayed blast fireball, firebrand, pyroclastic vent
  9. discern location, fiery bombardment, fire storm, incendiary cloud, ring of fire, wall of lava
  10. elemental swarm (fire only),  fiery body (possibly, I’d have to look it up), heart of the volcano (“you shunt a creature into the heart of an active volcano” sounds like something a legendary red dragon might do)

I focused primarily on fire-related spells, mostly because they were easiest to pick out, and spells that seemed consistent with those already granted. I think I would prefer to have a mix, perhaps fire and another subject (curses? fear? arcane manipulation and scrying? something else?) so the dragon isn’t entire predictable and has options other than “burn it!”. That might be handled by the Spell Knowledge prerequisite, though — everyone knows red dragons are all about fire, but all of them will have some other tricks as well.

Even so, “burn it!” is not the worst option for a dragon.

On further consideration, and after quickly reviewing a couple thousand spells, I think it likely there will be a “Dragon Magic Tradition” cornerstone. I don’t know if it will be considered in parallel with the one presented yesterday (which is for a more physical dragon) or treated as something separate (which means it is likely to be lower for dragons that the Dragon Cornerstone. There were a number of spells that looked like they could be appropriate for most dragons, and since many dragons would want to be better casters than Spell Knowledge talents alone would make them, a shared cornerstone makes sense.

Note that the red dragon here will not get full access to the spell knowledge granted by the capstone unless it also has a Caster Tradition cornerstone. I expect almost all red dragons will have that… but they are not required to.

Closing Comments

It came as a bit of surprise to me that it looks like red dragons are expected to be one of the premier spell casters among dragons. The capstone abilities seem to focus primarily on spell knowledge and breath weapon tricks (a nice combination, actually), with a strong leaning toward fire magic, as might be expected. There will be strong impetus for red dragons to take a Caster Tradition cornerstone, and I may want to create a Draconic Caster cornerstone that can be taken in place of the more generic Dragon cornerstone I wrote yesterday.

It may seem a little odd that a red dragon gets fire magic from the capstone, rather than requiring it. I am considering this to be a combination of “fiery breath plus spell casting” working to give the dragon “fire magic” tricks that it might otherwise not have.

Even as heavy as I made the prerequisites for this capstone, parts of it are pretty safe to assume (breath weapon, fire resistance — being a dragon, it was really just a matter of which ones were taken) so it probably isn’t too onerous. Four of the common talents are spoken for, another is likely (but not required) to be used for increased size… or perhaps not, casters are not particularly helped by being larger. There is still some room in the top tier for other things (a combat style to improve attack bonus and hit points, and provide some combat tricks, perhaps some improved saving throws or natural armor), but these can also be taken at lower tiers without necessarily being too weak to consider.

I might want to soften the requirements at lower tiers, since the lower tiers don’t really offer much that is specific to the dragon type.

I need to explore this is some more detail, and some more examples. It certain needs some more polishing. I feel pretty good about how this is going overall, though.

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  1. on January 21, 2013 at 6:48 am