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    Default Dragon vs melee party

    Hiho playground.
    I'm DMing for my group again and I'm thinking of pitting my party against a dragon. The problem is that the party is melee heavy and low op so I'm not sure what tactics to use against them. If I get the dragon flying, they will not be able to hurt it seriously, if I let it cast with at least spark of inteligence, they will most likely die since they do not use any tactics at all really, and if I let it stay on ground, it will be just a bit bigger pile of HPs, which is boring.

    So, what to do, to make the combat a bit challenging for party that usualy charges everything it sees, but still give them some fair chance of surviving the encounter? I plan them to meet the dragon around lvl13, and their fight should be against red dragon.

    BTW, party consists of:
    Half-orc barbarian (using orc double axe)
    Dwarf figter (shield and axe)
    Halfling rogue (twf with kukri, likes to bluff a lot)
    Dwarf cleric (shield and hammer, not very good at using spells despite my efforts to help him)

    Thanks for any advice.
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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    You might want to check the Xorvital (I think that is spelled like that) from MM V, it trades away spell casting for some different abilities. It is generally consider to be a trade down in terms of power.

    Other option is using a less powerful Dragon and giving him the Half Red Dragon template (be aware that this gives a serious strength boost though)
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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    That smells a bit like TPK for me, except as you said, you just stay on the ground and do the full attack routine - and even that could be deadly. But if you do that, you could easily substitute dragon for just another big HD monster, so that wouldn't make much sense.
    If you play the dragon intelligently as it should be that will be a hard one for this group. And keep in mind that the CR for dragons assumes the group is planning in advance for the encounter - so tell them very explicitly what they will be up against, they need every bit of preparation they can get for their money.
    Maybe it would be a good idea to playtest the encounter beforehand, you should know the stats of your players to make a test run for yourself. Oh, and give them some possibilty to run away if the feces hit the fan - that can be very important.

    gr,
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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    Quote Originally Posted by GeriSch View Post
    That smells a bit like TPK for me, except as you said, you just stay on the ground and do the full attack routine - and even that could be deadly. But if you do that, you could easily substitute dragon for just another big HD monster, so that wouldn't make much sense.
    If you play the dragon intelligently as it should be that will be a hard one for this group. And keep in mind that the CR for dragons assumes the group is planning in advance for the encounter - so tell them very explicitly what they will be up against, they need every bit of preparation they can get for their money.
    Maybe it would be a good idea to playtest the encounter beforehand, you should know the stats of your players to make a test run for yourself. Oh, and give them some possibilty to run away if the feces hit the fan - that can be very important.

    gr,
    Geri
    Bolded/Italicized the interesting part. Where are you getting that information from? This basically means that a dragon could not/should not ever be a random encounter and that seems fairly...unintuitive.

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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    It is not stated anywhere; but any dragon played to their strengths and intelligently is actually Under-Cr'd and personally I don't think True Dragons should be a random encounter, Wyverns? sure; but a True Dragon? No, they are supposed to be the biggest, baddest creatures in the game, battles against them should be awesome fights and not by random chance. This is my personal opinion though.

    And frankly this party will get slaughtered if they don't prepare accordingly.
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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    I would throw the party up against a full-power dragon anyways. However, I would do it in a way that encourages the PCs to be smart about how they fight it. This can be accomplished by doing any number of the following:

    • Have the PCs be in a burning village as the dragon does fly-overs while loudly demanding the townsfolk offer it a virgin or gold or gems. Make sure the PCs have plenty of intact cellars to hide in when they do something stupid.
    • Have the PCs meet a group of amateur dragon-slayers, all with swords, polearms, shields, and excellent steel armor. Have the PCs run across them later, all burned to a crisp with nary a claw mark upon them.
    • Same as above, except a few of them come back to town dominated to demand virgins or gold or gems on the dragon's behalf. When questioned they explain that the dragon was able to kill half of them before it even came within a hundred yards of them.
    • Have the PCs encounter a wizard low on spells. He expresses exasperation that a dragon would be good at counterspelling, and if pressed he reveals that he had to exchange his spellbook for his life. If the party gives him some scrolls he will gladly give them a scrap of paper listing half of the dragon's spells known.


    Make sure you give the players at least three hints about anything important. It makes them feel smart, even though you're hand-feeding them most of the time.
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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    Give them a near-miss. The encounter happens outdoors by chance, the dragon is in the air, and it roughs the party up a bit, but a more important concern surfaces (perhaps a rival dragon) shows up and they both take the battle elsewhere.

    The party then knows it isn't up for the task, and can begin to prepare accordingly. If you can get the party's pride involved, you could get a series of adventures out of it as they research & get proper resources for the task.

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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    Let them get a hold on some flight items. Then proceed to fly and breathe fire everywhere. Focus on support spells and debuffs, stuff where their lack of tactics won't make much difference.
    If you're winning, drop and do a full attack. If you're losing, fire off a big spell.
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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    @Diarmuid: I can't recall where i have read about that, its been some years since that, but i recall someone stating that encountering a dragon without any preparation should be about CR+4 (beats me who it was, but i think it was one of WotC's designers). And i have to say thats about correct from my experiences, because if i send an "appropriate CR" dragon against a group not knowing about it, they're toast. Literally.

    gr,
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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    A Dragon that doesn't fly and breathe isn't much of a Dragon. So you definitely can't cut those out. Which lets us turn to the other topic at hands: The party.


    Surely the melees have some ranged capability, backup bows or the like? If not, it's gonna bite them in the ass sooner or later anyways; might as well have the Dragon engage them in the open from range by just strafe breathing but eventually growing bored 'cause they aren't dying fast enough and just flying away or maybe in anticipation of some aid or something.

    Or maybe give them access to flying mounts they need anyways to reach some important place beforehand or some such. They could also find out beforehand they need to engage a dragon through some NPCs or whatever and what that entails.
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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    An important question in my mind is this: Did they go looking for a dragon or are you springing one on them?

    If they went looking for it, trash 'em. Then taunt them as you fly away leaving them barely alive. Everyone that doesn't know already needs to be taught you don't pick fights with dragons without a mountain of prep and a damn good reason.

    If the dragon was your idea and they don't know about it yet, pick another critter. Dragons are a nightmare to a reasonably prep'ed, mid-op party. I get the impression you're not dealing with one of those.

    If it's your idea and they already know a dragon is coming up. Maybe use a lesser dragon, or a fake dragon. The real thing will eat them alive unless you play it way too dumb for a dragon.

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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    I don't recall if it was said to be CR+4, but otherwise Geri is correct. One of the designers did say essentially what he's repeating here: that the CR of dragons makes the assumption the party knows they'll be encountering a dragon of that color.

    As for the actual topic... if you insist on a true dragon, and you want to play it intelligently, then your players are going to have a rough go of it. What you need is to have some sort of "escape plan" built into the encounter. Thomar's got some terrific ideas. You could even take it a step further and have the dragon beat them to within 1 hp of death and then send the PCs back to town, proverbial tail between their legs, demanding proper tribute within 48 hours, "or else."

    If your fight is going to take place in a cavern instead of open area, the simple solution is to have a small crevice / crack / cave entrance that the players can squeeze through to make their get-away after taking a thorough beating.

    And as an alternative to the whole plan... instead of having them face the dragon now instead use some foreshadowing so that they know about the dragon, and know they're gonna have to do something about it in the near future. Give them every opportunity to do research - about dragons in general and this specifc one. Maybe with a bit of time to prepare, the cleric will pick better spells, they'll pick up some ranged attacks, maybe even hire a wizard.
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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    The easiest way to handle a dragon fight is have them fight a non-true dragon. A classic that I like to use is a Half-Dragon Centaur with some sorcerer levels. With 6 levels in sorcerer it comes out to about CR 8, has a 1-shot breath weapon, good spells that you can optimize for buffs and melee fight, and decent hit points if you equip it properly. Plus it is a melee beast and intelligent. Maybe give it some regular Centaur minions and followers if you want to up the CR and make it a more flavorful battle.

    I really like what Thomar_of_Uointer said, though-- you should do your best to let the party know what's coming and give them ways to escape, hide, and anticipate a True Dragon encounter.
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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    1. Masterwork Nets. Even with the nonproficiency penalty, it's extremely likely to still hit a dragon's touch AC. This is mostly to keep it from flying so they can get a good surround on it. They'll have to ready an action to throw it when the dragon swoops close enough.

    2. Tanglefoot Bags. They have better range than a net, and provide some redundancy in case it breaks free of a net.

    3. Mass Resist Energy, Spell Compendium. The Cleric will be able to cast it by the time this encounter happens, and they'll get Resistance 30 to the energy type that the dragon uses.

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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    Quote Originally Posted by Zherog View Post
    I don't recall if it was said to be CR+4, but otherwise Geri is correct. One of the designers did say essentially what he's repeating here: that the CR of dragons makes the assumption the party knows they'll be encountering a dragon of that color.

    As for the actual topic... if you insist on a true dragon, and you want to play it intelligently, then your players are going to have a rough go of it. What you need is to have some sort of "escape plan" built into the encounter. Thomar's got some terrific ideas. You could even take it a step further and have the dragon beat them to within 1 hp of death and then send the PCs back to town, proverbial tail between their legs, demanding proper tribute within 48 hours, "or else."

    If your fight is going to take place in a cavern instead of open area, the simple solution is to have a small crevice / crack / cave entrance that the players can squeeze through to make their get-away after taking a thorough beating.

    And as an alternative to the whole plan... instead of having them face the dragon now instead use some foreshadowing so that they know about the dragon, and know they're gonna have to do something about it in the near future. Give them every opportunity to do research - about dragons in general and this specifc one. Maybe with a bit of time to prepare, the cleric will pick better spells, they'll pick up some ranged attacks, maybe even hire a wizard.
    just a quick note, there is a True dragon who is effective, doesnt have a full attack capable of wrecking a small continent worth of soldiers, can fly, has some decent spellcasting, and has pitiful health

    a Venerable Dragonwrought Kobold Sorcerer


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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    I can't recall where i saw it but it was suggested that you could take away spell casting levels from a dragon and give it martial Initiator levels on a 1 to 1 ratio. I don't remember if it was something i read here or in a book, but it could be something worth considering.

    you could also change the dragon to another type more suited to melee than a red, a fang dragon for example which has no breath weapon but can do con damage on bites.

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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    This will sound harsh, but sometimes you need a tpk to teach the PCs that they need to use tactics and planning. They might not appreciate it immediately, but after they start planning and thinking about what they're doing they're going to enjoy the game more.

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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    Quote Originally Posted by LTwerewolf View Post
    This will sound harsh, but sometimes you need a tpk to teach the PCs that they need to use tactics and planning. They might not appreciate it immediately, but after they start planning and thinking about what they're doing they're going to enjoy the game more.
    I strongly disagree with this. It's not too unreasonable that a party would be more focused on melee than ranged, and as the OP noted, their cleric is still a beginner and hasn't learned how to fully utilize his spell list. How will the newbie cleric player learn anything from getting stomped by a dragon? It'll just frustrate him and make him probably not like D&D.

    If you want to teach a party, you don't do it via TPK, you do it via the methods Thomar outlined.
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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    Burn them to a crisp without ever entering melee range and let them roll up some better characters.

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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    I would recommend that you give the party plenty of warning of what they are facing, plenty of time to plan, then let them face the dragon. Let some of them live to demand tribute or somesuch and kill the rest (unless they win).
    Harsh but the only other option is to save the dragon until the party are much higher level.
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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    Quote Originally Posted by Malroth View Post
    Burn them to a crisp without ever entering melee range and let them roll up some better characters.
    I once punished a similar party with a Dragonkin Sorcerer 8 and a Dragonkin Fighter 4 dual-wielding javelins. That happens to be only an EL 10 encounter, and they were not at all happy with the outcome.

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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    personally, i say drop a Dragonwrought White Gold Kobold on them with total sorc optimization.

    sure, its over twice their CR, but they deserve it


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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    Quote Originally Posted by toapat View Post
    personally, i say drop a Dragonwrought White Gold Kobold on them with total sorc optimization.

    sure, its over twice their CR, but they deserve it
    Woah, slow your roll. They might not be the most optimized party, but that's not cause for a TPK. I would suggest milder methods of teaching them tactics, first. Perhaps the wildly novel idea of actually, uhm, teaching them. Not every group treats the Playground as Gospel.
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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    Quote Originally Posted by RFLS View Post
    Woah, slow your roll. They might not be the most optimized party, but that's not cause for a TPK. I would suggest milder methods of teaching them tactics, first. Perhaps the wildly novel idea of actually, uhm, teaching them. Not every group treats the Playground as Gospel.
    Or more precisely: not everyone has taken the time yet to familiarize themselves with higher op principles, which is not a crime, or deserving of random double-CR TPK.
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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    Doesn't have to be Double their CR, Hell a CR-2 Juvinile played smart could and should wipe the floor with them,

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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    Quote Originally Posted by RFLS View Post
    Woah, slow your roll. They might not be the most optimized party, but that's not cause for a TPK. I would suggest milder methods of teaching them tactics, first. Perhaps the wildly novel idea of actually, uhm, teaching them. Not every group treats the Playground as Gospel.
    im taking the dragon assumptions for CR, which is 1Sorc lvl=2CR.

    granted, Sorcs have 1/3rd the hit die of dragons.

    hell, the Doombold would have even less then his hitdice, he would instead have +4 Sorcerer level from optimization


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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    No battle can be fought effectively without first paying due consideration to terrain. There have been plenty of real-world battles between air and ground units that did not go as the air units could have wished.

    A battle with a dragon fought on an open plain is a recipe for disaster from the PC point of view. On the other hand, mountainous terrain with narrow passages, forest terrain with trees and overhead cover, cavernous terrain and tunnels, aquatic terrain, or even some combination of these all give the PCs options that may reduce the dragon's advantage.

    So even if you do nothing else to nerf the dragon or boost the party, you may help the party considerably by setting the battle in terrain favorable to them.

    Another major consideration in combat and one important when choosing terrain is the relative objectives of the two forces. If the PCs are in a situation where they must go after the dragon, then they have to go where it goes in order to fight it. The dragon can hang back and wait for them to come to it.

    On the other hand, if it is strongly motivated to attack them - they have something it wants or are blocking its path to somewhere it needs to go - then it will have to fight them on their terms.
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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    Quote Originally Posted by Malroth View Post
    Doesn't have to be Double their CR, Hell a CR-2 Juvinile played smart could and should wipe the floor with them,
    I'm going to spell it out for you, and then give up in disgust. Not. Everyone. Optimizes. This is fine. Not. Everyone. Plays. Smart. This is also fine.

    If what you you said is your honest opinion, I pray that I never end up at your table, because that would be horrible DMing.

    Quote Originally Posted by toapat View Post
    im taking the dragon assumptions for CR, which is 1Sorc lvl=2CR.

    granted, Sorcs have 1/3rd the hit die of dragons.

    hell, the Doombold would have even less then his hitdice, he would instead have +4 Sorcerer level from optimization
    That....doesn't address what I said in any way, shape, or form.
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    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    Quote Originally Posted by DarkestKnight View Post
    I can't recall where i saw it but it was suggested that you could take away spell casting levels from a dragon and give it martial Initiator levels on a 1 to 1 ratio. I don't remember if it was something i read here or in a book, but it could be something worth considering.

    you could also change the dragon to another type more suited to melee than a red, a fang dragon for example which has no breath weapon but can do con damage on bites.
    Dragons of Eberron (DoE) presents a number of different draconic Archetypes. The one that you're referring to is Wyrm of War, and it lets him trade out his spellcasting for access to the Tiger Claw discipline.

  30. Top - End - #30
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    EvilClericGuy

    Join Date
    May 2007
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    Male

    Default Re: Dragon vs melee party

    Not everyone optimizes this is fine
    Very true but the optimizers and the DM should at least speak to them to help them create characters who are as cool in system as they are in the players heads

    Not. Everyone. Plays. Smart. This is also fine.
    I disagree with this one, If a group of 4 uberchargers starts wandering around the countryside sucessfully killing anything it can get in melee and becoming rich and famous for doing so, I'm fairly certian anything with an INT score greater than 6 would do everything within its abilities to make sure that it doesn't engage in melee with them. If the players want to be able to utilize their stregnths as they become increasingly well known they need to become increasingly well prepared against countermeasures or finding locations where those countermeasures are moot.
    Last edited by Malroth; 2012-10-02 at 10:15 PM.

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