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D&D(R) game dragons have their own rulers, too

by George Ziets

From the very start of a player's D&D(R) game experience, his ultimate foe is the dragon. Dragons have the greatest number of hit points, the most powerful combat abilities, and most important, the biggest treasure hoards.

Then there comes a time, as characters reach 20th level or so, when whomping a 160-hp huge red dragon in just five combat rounds isn't what it used to be. So the heroes go on to the next best thing: the dragon rulers. Using whatever methods are available to them, characters travel to the home plane of a dragon ruler and challenge it. Of course, they find themselves hopelessly outclassed. But no matter, think the players. Some of the heroes are bound to escape, and escape they do, especially since players like to take out the Lawful ruler, Diamond the Star Dragon, first. Not only is it the most powerful, it doesn't send 4,000 red dragons in pursuit of the fleeing party.

So the characters rest, recover, go on some more adventures, and maybe even take a side trip to the home of their favourite Immortal, who gets them started on a quest for Immortality. But inevitably, the greedy players look back toward their old nemesis, the dragon ruler. For if there is one creature less forgetful than the elephant, it is the D&D game player.

The characters will find some crafty way of luring the dragon ruler out of its home plane to an ambush point where a small army of compatriots await, along with several hundred magical items and whatever else the party can get its hands on. Needless to say, the dragon ruler will give them quite a fight anyway, and if the characters win, they will be a whole lot poorer (and angrier, when they discover that dragon rulers do not carry their treasure hoards with them when they travel).

The question remains: Why do players even bother to go through with this? Probably it is because they see something more powerful than themselves and so have that irrepressible urge to destroy it. And what does it accomplish? Nothing, other than to turn these interesting creatures into lists of statistics. But what if you told those same players that the dragon rulers could be allies as well as enemies?

"What?!" they would probably exclaim. "Dragons as allies? I'd sooner play strip poker with a kobold!" In doing so, they are falling right into the ancient trap that role-players always fall for. They have lost the old thrill of role-playing and only want treasure and experience out of adventures.

So how can these dragon rulers, the ultimate challenges but also excellent role-playing opportunities for players and DMs, be revived? First, something more must be known about these noble beasts and their home planes, known as the Draconian Cluster. The statistics for the dragon rulers are given in the Master DM's Book, pages 28-29, and in the DM's Guide to Immortals, page 39. The Draconian Cluster is detailed herein.

The Draconian Cluster

The home planes of the Dragons are part of the Outer Planes. They are four-dimensional Standard Planes. All have guardians near their edges so as to keep out all non-dragons. However, each is very different from the others.

Pearl: The Moon Dragon's plane is a nightmarish place--twisted, black, and evil, with no specific form. Grey towers rise up from the tops of craggy ebony mountains or lie in cold dark seas. There is no individualism, and a dragon spirit's desire to sacrifice itself for its leader is greater than ever here. Of all the rulers, Pearl could be termed the most evil, though even it yields to the Great One.

As the weakest of the dragon rulers, the Moon Dragon finds it necessary to surround itself with inhospitable conditions, ever suspicious--as is its nature--of the other dragon rulers. Characters on this Chaotic plane find their worst nightmares confronting them, for the plane feeds off of the minds of those who enter it. A warrior who lacks a magical weapon will find himself challenged by some beast that can be harmed by only such a weapon. A group whose cleric has died will be attacked by swarms of undead. The plane preys on party members' fears and acts on those fears. Many a brave adventurer has been reduced to a blubbering madman by the horrors encountered here. Only dragons are immune to these effects. Specifics of such encounters are left up to the DM, but as a general rule the guardians conjured up in the Moon Dragon's plane should not be impossible to defeat, as Pearl prefers to personally challenge especially formidable enemies (those able to survive the many perils of his plane). In any event, it should be a significantly difficult trek to the Moon Dragon's lair.

The Moon Dragon lives in a huge black tower at the centre of the Plane. Pearl usually does not receive guests and is guarded by thousands of dragon spirits. The spirits of this plane are more likely to attack all non-dragon or non-draeden visitors than those of any other plane.

Opal: It is never day or night on the plane of Opal, lord of the neutral dragons. This plane is a dark cave network stretching through tunnel after tunnel, and only the Sun Dragon knows all the secret ways of this home. Here independence is stressed, but all dragons obey the mighty will of Opal.

In the cave networks of the Sun Dragon's home plane, characters quickly become lost unless they have a dragon guide or some magical means of finding their way. Dragon spirits met will be on business of their own and will usually have no interest in attacking or even speaking to intruders. The Sun Dragon passes the time in the centre of this maze of caverns and tunnels, pondering mysteries and speaking with subordinates about the ever-important Balance. Should characters interrupt Opal, there is a 50% chance he will respond favourably to his visitors (but if he doesn't...) Even if the Sun Dragon agrees to speak with adventurers, there is no guarantee he will help them or speak to them again, for Opal has an extremely changeable personality.

Diamond: In the vast palace of Diamond, the Star Dragon, pure order and good hold sway, with every dragon spirit having a job to do. There are always guests in Diamond's shining palace, be they powerful Immortals or Archons. The Star Dragon itself sits on a huge throne of platinum and receives all visitors civilly, though Chaos is not tolerated and those who oppose Law are kindly, but forcefully, made to leave.

The Star Dragon's plane is the most welcoming to visitors. Dragon spirits here exist to serve the guests of Diamond. When characters arrive, they will inevitably be discovered by one of the many dragon spirit guards in the citadel and observed to determine their dispositions. Should the visitors prove hostile, hundreds of Lawful dragon spirits descend on them, more to drive them out than to kill them. However, if trespassers do nothing to arouse suspicion, the spirits greet them and provide an escort to the throne room of Diamond, where they are asked their business. Though the Star Dragon rarely grants requests personally, he is glad to send a servant to aid in the forwarding of a Lawful cause, should it prove to be significant. Outside the palace are vast golden fields where other dragon spirits live when they are awaiting their turns to serve Diamond in his palace.

The Great Dragon: None dare oppose the Great One in its seemingly infinite home, a boundless waste that can form itself into any arrangement according to the whims of its ruler. The Great Dragon's servants are the most noble of all dragons, the mightiest and the most feared. It is an unparalleled honour to be called to serve this being. None may enter this plane without the Great One's bidding, and none may find the Great One unless it wishes to be found.

It is nearly impossible to gain access to the home plane of the Great Dragon. Unlike most Outer Planes, entrance into it is only possible through one of the other three planes of the Draconian Cluster. Of course, the Great One itself may enter its realm wherever and whenever it wishes. The plane is a strange grey land, with relatively few encounters with dragon spirits. Those that are met are the most powerful of their kind, however, and they attack those who are not expected by the Great Dragon. Draedens (DM's Guide to Immortals, pages 38-39) may also be encountered here, coming or going from audiences with the Great One. Such an audience for a mortal creature is a great honour, given only to the most powerful adventurers. The description given of the Great One by those who have seen it varies greatly. It seems that it can change its appearance at will, becoming any type of dragon as well as a human, demihuman, or any other creature.

The Cluster: The Draconian Cluster is arranged so that the three lesser planes surround the Great One's home plane, making it inaccessible from the Astral Plane. In order to reach the Great Dragon's plane, one must simply continue to travel in one specific direction through one of the lesser planes until the landscape inevitably changes into dull waste. This is difficult to do from the Sun Dragon's plane of ever-twisting tunnels, but on Pearl's or Diamond's planes it is marginally easier. There is no set border between the lesser planes and the greater one.

Magic (both clerical and magic-user) functions strangely in the Draconian Cluster. On the lesser planes, magic of the first level does not function at all, probably because these planes are so ancient that they repel such weak enchantments. The same is true for second- and third-level clerical spells and second-, third-, and fourth-level magic-user spells on the Great One's plane. Also, any magic that changes the nature of an area, such as earthquake or summon weather, simply will not work in the Cluster, as the enchantments that created these planes are too powerful to be so altered.

All of the dragon rulers have treasure, of course. These vast hoards of gold and magical items are kept in extremely safe locations, guarded almost as carefully as the rulers themselves by traps and dragon spirits. Should greedy adventurers somehow steal this treasure, they will find themselves pursued to the ends of the Multiverse, especially if the treasure was stolen from the covetous Moon Dragon.

But even dragons die

In their might and glory, even the mighty dragon rulers sometimes fall victim to some party of adventurers or Immortals. In such a rare occasion, some sages have compiled what they know to form a theory about what the dragons do when their leaders die. Of course, much of this theory is based on speculation, but some are beginning to believe that the rulers are not offspring of the Great One, but were once average dragons themselves!

From what has been seen and heard following the alleged death of the Sun Dragon several centuries ago, it is said that thousands of neutral dragons fought in the presence of the Great One for Opal's position. Supposedly these battles lasted for an entire year, but they were subduing battles, so that no candidate was killed. It is true that the sightings of neutral dragons were decreased that year, but this could well be luck or coincidence. After this time, sages believe a new Sun Dragon was chosen, though nothing is known about how the winner of the contests was given the power of his predecessor.

A similar circumstance was recorded in ancient scrolls of nearly 2,000 years ago. This time, however, it was the Moon Dragon's position that was fought for. The scrolls say that the former Moon Dragon had not died, but had lost favour with the Great One or had somehow forfeited its position, which seems to suggest that the Great One has something to do with the vesting of power in prospective dragon rulers.

In an even more unclear story, handed down for centuries by certain Alphatian sages and hinted at in the writings of the dracologists of Glantri, the Great Dragon himself was killed in some sort of dispute with Immortals of Entropy. It is said that the three dragon rulers competed for the Great One's position during this time. While there was no Great Dragon, there was no order on the planes of the dragons; open war raged across the Draconian Cluster for a century, with the only rule being that the survivor would win. In the end, no one knows which of the dragons actually became the new Great One, but some of the most ancient Immortals say that there was a ceremony near the Dimensional Vortex for the winner. In this little-known meeting, draedens were also said to have attended. However, even the Immortals know nothing more of this ceremony, except that the Great Dragon never showed any alignment tendencies after coming to power, so that whatever goes on during the ceremony must somehow affect the dragon ruler's mind.

Campaign involvement

Entire campaigns may be created using the information given here. It is up to the individual DM to flesh out the specifics of each dragon ruler's culture and personality, as well as its plans and goals (and how the characters fit in).

The best way to get a group of players interested in a campaign is to involve them in a large-scale struggle from the game's beginning. A 1st-level party may stumble into a dragon ruler's plans in their first adventure, unwittingly committing themselves to an action-filled campaign in which they could easily remain embroiled until they reach immortality.

The dragon rulers themselves rarely go forth from their planes, as it is generally against their code of ethics. The Moon Dragon is the most likely ruler to involve itself in world affairs. But the rulers may leave their planes on occasion, sometimes to seek help from powerful characters or Immortals against some enemy to dragonkind. Conflict is not permitted against another dragon ruler, for the Great One prohibits open fighting among them (unless, of course, the Great One dies). The Great Dragon himself has never been known to leave his plane or seek help from any being, but depending on the nature of the threat, this could change.

The dragon rulers are especially interested in extraordinarily powerful characters. Those seeking Immortality for the first (or second) time may find the attention of powerful beings focused on them. The rulers may have any reason for this, but the most likely one is that since dragons existed at the beginning of the Multiverse, they are curious about what the "great experiment" will yield. Curiosity is, after all, at the heart of dragons' natures.

Adventurers may also stumble upon a secret ceremony conducted by a dragon ruler. Should the adventurers be so indiscrete and also be discovered, you can be assured that some dragons will not rest until the characters are silenced. As for what a curious party may discover, the inventive DM could think of any number of secrets that dragons believe sacred (and far too important, in the dragons' eyes, for insignificant humans to know about). For example, perhaps the power that the dragons receive when they are elevated to ruler status comes not from the Great One but from the magic and wealth that the dragon itself has accumulated over the years (hence the dragons' desire for treasure). If the dragons sprang from the original matter of the Multiverse, they might gain power from earthly materials such as gold and gems. Such information, leaked out to a party of loud and boisterous humans, could be disastrous to the mysterious and awe-inspiring image that dragons project. Everyone knows that dragons keep treasure, but to think that such treasure could make one a god is another matter entirely. It would spell the end to any kind of privacy dragons might enjoy, as anyone who could pick up a sword races off to slay the mighty beasts and get a share of the dragons' hard-earned wealth ignorantly hoping for godhood.

Draedens, too, may appear in campaigns involving dragons. Draedens, the ancient kin of the dragons, appeared at the same time as dragons (and probably from the same source). Their constant ties with the dragons have bewildered sages for centuries. If indeed these stories of the origins of the dragon rulers are true, where do the draedens fit in? Are they, as some wise men suspect, the descendants of the beings that created the entire Multiverse? Perhaps the dracologists of Glantri are closer to the truth with their theory that the draedens, having been created along with dragons and having changed very little if at all since then, are the eyes and ears of their creators, observing the progress and development of the dragons. If this is true, it would seem to indicate that the focus of the creators' "great experiment" concerns not only humans and demihumans, but dragons as well!

Characters may work for or against dragons in any campaign, but working for dragons may prove to be the most profitable and longest-lived system. Dragons, as the infamous hoarders of treasure, could offer rewards greater than any king--and would offer it without fighting the party, too! Of course, the characters must undertake dangerous missions of the dragon's choosing to gain such riches. Mission hooks involving dragons are present in many of the Gazetteers, such as GAZ3 The Principalities of Glantri (see the notes on Prince Jaggar on page 24, the school of dracology on page 71, and the adventure "Apocalypse Then" on pages 88-89).

Dragon rulers should not be statistics. They should be vibrant parts of a challenging D&D game campaign for characters of every level.

Dragon Spirit

Armour Class: 2 or as original form
Hit Dice: 10**
Move: 100' (40')
Flying: 260' (100')
Attacks: 2 claws and 1 bite
Damage: See text
No. Appearing: 1-4
Save As: Fighter 10
Morale: 12
Treasure Type: Nil
Alignment: As per plane of residence
XP Value: 2,500

Dragon spirits are the souls of dead dragons that have gone to the Draconian Cluster after their demise. They are the most common inhabitants of the planes of the dragons and serve their rulers faithfully. Once every 10,000 years, they are reincarnated into dragon form on one of the Inner or Outer Planes. Usually, this reincarnation will be into the same form they once used (a white dragon will remain a white dragon). However, if a lesser dragon was especially prominent in its past life, it may be elevated to a mightier form of the same alignment (blue to jade, gold to ruby, etc.).

Like most Outer Planar creatures, dragon spirits can be killed permanently only if they are killed on their appropriate home plane. If they are killed outside the Draconian Cluster, they reform on their respective planes in one to four weeks. These spirits are fanatically loyal to their rulers and never surrender in the service of those rulers.

Dragon spirits are not truly undead and so cannot be turned by clerics. However, like undead, they are immune to sleep, charm, and other mind-affecting spells.

These beings have transparent, incorporeal forms that can be harmed by only magical weapons or spells. However, once every 20 hours while on the Outer Planes, a dragon spirit can assume its original mortal form for one turn (see the DM's Guide to Immortals, page 39). At other times, a dragon spirit may attack using its claws and bite, draining 1-4 strength points for each hit. When a character's strength reaches zero, he dies without any transformation to undead status. In their ghostly forms, dragon spirits all have the same breath weapon ability: an 80' x 40' cone of a hazy material that has the effect of a fear spell on all those in range. Dragon spirits cannot be subdued, as they consider their duty to their ruler more important than personal honour.

After death, dragon spirits retain their intelligence, but their memories of previous lives tend to be hazy... hazy, that is, until those memories are jarred back to life by the arrival of beings known in their past, such as the group of adventurers that killed them! A dragon spirit may be quite surprised to see its former enemies, but it holds no grudges for past misdeeds. Indeed, a dragon that was friendly with the characters may offer them extra information or aid. Dragon spirits are able to speak in any tongue, a power granted them by their rulers as necessary. Because of their loss of memory after death, spells they knew in life are not available to them, so dragon spirits cannot cast spells unless specifically enabled by their ruler. The Great One often gives his personal bodyguards major spell-casting powers, but the other rulers do not do so unless absolutely necessary, for doing so drains their magical energies.

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