30 Ways to Use Dragons
Because, really, can we ever get enough of them?
Dragons are truly awesome creatures. Too awesome in a lot of ways, really. Because of their power, their magnificence and their near-immortal lifespans, a GM might hesitate to include one in a campaign as anything other than an end boss. As a long-time dragon lover, I found this to be a real shame and strove to come up with ways that even low-level parties can encounter and experience dragons for themselves. Here, then, are 30 non-traditional ways to bring these wonderful beasts into your own campaign. Please feel free to add your own, and let the dragons rise again!
1. Dangerous Tenant: A local official suspects that the resident sorceress is a dragon in disguise. Though she has lived in the town for several years, the locals have become uncomfortable in her presence -- attributing all sorts of misfortunes to her. These include a recent drought, several attacks by an unidentified wild animal, and a burglary from the local manor. The official would like to see her evicted quietly before things come to a boil, but is too much of a coward to bring it up with her himself.
2. The Beggar: Sometime during the PCs' travels, they come across a beggar, ship-wrecked sailor, old blind woman, starving child, etc. who asks for their help. Of course, this person is really a good dragon in disguise, and is judging the party by their actions. If they act charitably, the dragon will remember the deed and possibly reward them later. If not . . . well, the dragon will remember that, too.
3. Battle in the Skies: The party is travelling through an open field when an ear-splitting roar shakes the earth. Looking up, they see two dragons in the sky engaged in deadly combat. They are both too focused on their enemy to pay any heed to lesser creatures like the PCs. After a few minutes, one of the dragons gets the upper hand and deals what appears to be a death blow to the other. The loser falls to the earth somewhere in the forest near the party while the other flies off. Do the PCs go to investigate?
4. Roadblock: The players have been tasked with retrieving an archaeological treasure for a wealthy patron. They are given a map to the location, supplies and the best intelligence available about the hazards they will face. Unfortunately, the intelligence is a little out-dated and they arrive to find a dragon curled up for a snooze around (or simply near) the entrance. They will either have to fight the dragon (unlikely), sneak around it without waking it up, or find another way in. Variation: have the dragon lying across the road through some dangerous terrain (mountain pass, best road through the swamp, etc). Going back to find a different road will add weeks to their traveling time, but sneaking around will probably involve climbing or braving some other hazardous terrain.
5. Cat and Mouse: With a loud crack of its wings, a dragon that had been hiding in the clouds descends upon the unsuspecting village. It's a young beast, though still powerful, and is intent on chasing the villagers and their livestock for a bit of sport. Within a few minutes, any villager that has been foolish enough to run has been killed, and all that remain have hidden inside their houses. The dragon will then go to work on the livestock near town, having a long, leisurely meal while watching the town with one eye. Anyone who emerges from their hiding place will be set upon instantly. The dragon will leave only when its hunger has been sated and the village has begun to bore him. The focus for the PCs will probably be to remain hidden, though you can put extra pressure on the party by assigning them some time-critical mission outside the village. Alternatively, the dragon could begin torching random houses if it gets bored enough.
6. Dragon, RUN! The PCs have either royally pissed a dragon off, or happen to be in exactly the wrong place when a dragon makes its monthly hunting foray into the woods. If hunting, the beast will chase any game large enough to provide at least a mouthful or two of nourishment, including the party members. The PCs will have to do everything it takes to survive -- distracting the hungry beast with other prey (possibly the party horses), hiding in the brush and splitting up are some things they might try. The dragon may respond to diplomacy, but it is very hungry and therefore more inclined to eat any captured prey.
7. Impending Doom: While sharing a drink in the local inn, a terrified farm boy bursts through the door, babbling hysterically about a dragon that is walking up the road towards the village. The dragon is intent on a bit of sport, and is flaming a house here or there as he makes his leisurely way towards the village. The innkeeper and several of the other men stand up, and declare that they will try to draw the dragon off. They will press the PCs for help with either distracting the dragon long enough for the people to evacuate, or diverting the dragon from the village entirely. If the PCs refused, they will be asked to at least remain behind and help with the evacuation.
8. Dance For Me: So the worst has happened: the party has been cornered by an old, powerful dragon that could rend them limb from limb. However, the dragon announces that killing them would be a 'waste' as it would only provide him with a few moments of entertainment at best. Instead, the dragon promises to spare their lives if they can entertain him instead for a time. Just about anything will do -- riddles from the wizard, a gladiatorial match between the fighters, songs from the bard -- almost any craft or hobby that the PCs possess can be used as a performance. If the party fails to perform or does so horribly, the dragon can pick off the offending party members (a bad fate for an NPC or two). Too many poor performances could result in a total party kill.
9. A Last Request: The PCs have come across a dragon that is gravely injured, and will die soon if not helped. Depending on the personality of the dragon, it may try to beg, threaten or bargain with them for healing. Or, it may ask them to complete one last, important task in the dragon's stead. This could be carrying out the dragon's revenge, completing a quest that the dragon had been sworn to do, returning something to its mate, caring for its now-orphaned young, etc.
10. Babysitting: The players have found themselves entrusted with the big responsibility of caring for a clutch of dragon wyrmlings. This could be a temporary arrangement, perhaps as a favor to a good dragon parent whose presence is in dire need elsewhere. The PCs will have to provide sufficient food, entertainment and protection for the wyrmlings while the dragon is gone. If things get out of hand, the younglings could go on a rampage or get into all sorts of mischief -- perhaps trashing the PCs' digs while they are at it. When momma dragon returns, she will want a full account of everything that happened, and will be very upset if her young were mistreated. If this is a permanent arrangement, however, the PCs will have to find some way to accommodate the orphaned wyrmlings while they adventure (and keep them from being speared by overly-nervous townsfolk).
11. The Enemy of My Enemy: The PCs come across a dragon and a hero engaged in mortal combat. Do they jump in on either side to help? Run away? Watch for awhile before continuing on their way? If the player characters stand around to watch for too long, the combatants may notice them and start competing with each other to get the heroes to join their cause: 'Puny humans! Help me kill this miserable man and I will reward you with one thing from my hoard.' 'You there! Help me slay this dragon and I shall introduce you to the Duke!'
12. Natural Disaster: The players have arrived at their destination only to find it in smoking ruins. The dragon responsible for the devastation can be seen high in the sky, flying away to the East. Any survivors will be desperate for help in the rebuilding, and worried about the fate of a town a day's ride away -- the dragon looked like it was heading in that direction, after all. This can be treated as a natural disaster; watch out for looters, rioting, shortages of all kinds of goods, the spread of disease, and possible arrival of peacekeeping troops by His Majesty's order. The fate of the PCs' patron or original quest objective (if any) is left up to the GM.
13. Treasure Map: A man in the local tavern is showing off a map that leads to an abandoned or unguarded dragon's hoard (or so he claims). If pressed, he will admit that he got the map from another chap but was too frightened or superstitious to go and claim the treasure for himself. No one else in the tavern is interested in buying a map to the 'cursed' or 'fool's' gold, but he will gladly sell it to the PCs for the right price.
14. Stolen Goods: What a deal! While shopping for magic items in the big city, the PCs find a vendor who will sell them several unique or powerful items at bargain-basement prices. The merchant has a habit of nervously scanning the sky. If asked, he'll mutter something about bad weather ruining his stock. The merchant will be almost too willing to negotiate on the price of some of the treasure. If the PCs eventually cave into their greed and buy his stock, they will wake the next day to find the merchant gone (left town as soon as they were out of sight). And no wonder: the characters have come into possession of items recently stolen from a dragon's hoard -- and the dragon will want them back.
15. Horrid Gossip: During their travels, the PCs come upon a dragon sunbathing on a nearby rock. The dragon is feeling either bored or lonely this morning, and will attempt to engage the PCs in small talk. Should the PCs refuse, the dragon will react with anger and attempt to knock them out in one way or another (possibly with a breath weapon or spell), and the PCs that succumb to the attack will wake to find themselves buried up to the neck in soil, gravel, sand. There they shall remain until rescue comes, or until the dragon's taste for gossip is sated. Weather they talk to it willingly or not, the PCs may be able to get a lot of valuable information out of the dragon, if they are clever. After all, one never can predict what a dragon knows.
16. Captive Dragon: While walking through the city, the PCs come upon an impressively large carnival that is drawing a huge crowd of onlookers. The main attraction is a young adult dragon that has been chained to the massive center post of the tent. Muzzled, wings clipped, and de-clawed, it is thoroughly incapacitated. The Master of Ceremonies is showing off by walking up and down the dragon's back, while spinning a tale of the dragon's heinous deeds and subsequent capture by a hero of the realm. A hawker is selling tomatoes and other rotten fruit to throw at the beast, though some of the crowd has taken to throwing stones.
17. Juvenile Delinquent: About a day's ride outside of the nearest town, the party witnesses a young dragon wyrmling (about the size of a horse) preying on a shepherd's flock. Those with keen eyes will notice the poor boy cowering under a large boulder near the side of the road. The dragon is obviously too young to have left the nest on its own, though there is no sign of it's mother anywhere nearby. Do the PCs kill or drive the wyrmling off, and risk possible retribution from its mother at a later date? Do they try to help the shepherd escape, or just stand by to observe?
18. Best Laid Plans: A dragon's schemes are often elaborate and can take centuries to come to fruition. Unfortunately, the meddling PCs have unwittingly disrupted the well-laid plans of a (now-angry) adult dragon. They must find a way to appease the beast before earning it's eternal enmity. Depending on how paranoid the dragon is, it may even believe that the PCs are spies or mercenaries acting on the behalf of its most hated enemy. It's likely to send it's goons after the PCs long before trying to approach them itself.
19. Family History: Though many dragons are schemers or hoarders, this particular wyrm is a watcher. It has been clandestinely following the deeds of a particular bloodline of mortals for centuries, and has decided to get in contact with the current generation for reasons of its own. Unfortunately for the PCs, the current heir to the bloodline is a party member and the dragon is demanding an audience. It won't take no for an answer. While the dragon will avoid harming the targeted PC at all costs, it cares very little for the rest of the party and won't hesitate to brush them out of the way if necessary. On the bright side, the dragon is very happy to answer any questions that the PC has about his/her ancestry in exchange for a highly intimate interview about his/her life. It may answer other story-related questions as well.
20. A Clutch of Trouble: During their adventures, the PCs come across an abandoned or untended clutch of dragon eggs. Those versed in dragon lore recognize that they belong to a species that often leaves its young to fend for themselves. As they watch, the first of the eggs start rocking, and sharp little reptilian beaks begin to shatter the shells with loud popping sounds. If the PCs stick around to watch, the young wyrmlings will stumble out of the shells and take a few minutes to steady themselves (and wait for a few of their fellows to hatch) before immediately setting upon the PCs as the nearest source of food. The PCs will have to fend off additional hungry wyrmlings until the whole clutch is either destroyed or driven off. For harder combat, have the characters discover the clutch after all of the wyrmlings are already out of their shell, so that all of them can attack simultaneously.
21. 'Dragon' Bandits: While passing through a small village, the party is approached by a desperate group of villagers, who plead with the party to rid them of a dragon in the hills. It has been terrorizing them for months, demanding tributes of food and drink, pretty girls and treasure be placed on a nearby hillside every month on the night of the new moon. If the party investigates, they will find that the dragon first came in the night several months ago with great noise and fire, and burnt down several houses. The next morning a note of demands was found tacked to the town well. There's just one suspicious part: none of the villagers have every actually *seen* the dragon in question. Eventually, the party will discover that the whole thing is an elaborate ruse pulled by a group of bandits camped out in the hills. Their leader is a wizard who is capable of creating lots of smoke, fire and several illusory effects. The group has been living comfortably off the tributes of food and drink, and the kidnapped village girls are held in a central tent for the pleasure of all.
22. Sacrificial Lambs: After a night of drinking and carousing in the local tavern, the whole party wakes to find themselves tied to a stake in a field. The villagers that drugged them plan to use them as the annual sacrifice to a dragon that has been terrorizing the village for a decade. The PCs have until sunset to figure out a way to escape. Introducing them to the young village maids that would have been offered up (if the PCs hadn't come along) would be a nice touch. They could hang garlands around the characters' necks in thanks.
23. A Dangerous Secret: The party has discovered that a prominent political figure is a dragon in disguise -- a secret that the dragon would very much like to keep. The dragon may bribe or threaten them to keep her secret safe, and will become their eternal enemy if she is exposed. Will the PCs blackmail her into doing something for them (garnering her anger), pledge to keep her secret freely to avoid her displeasure, or attempt to report her to the authorities? What happens if her secret is exposed and the PCs had nothing to do with it?
24. Draconian Heist: One evening, the PCs spot a dragon perched on the roof of a large manor house, obviously trying to remain incognito. It's concentrating very hard on something within the house, and doesn't notice them. If the PCs choose to investigate, they risk angering the dragon but will likely foil its plans. If not, the next day will bring tidings of a cunning robbery at the manor that involved several valuable works of art. The owner of the manor will be very interested in retrieving said pieces and bringing the thief to justice.
25. Gotta Catch 'Em All: The party has developed a reputation for handling dangerous beasts, and has been hired by a rich patron to retrieve a dragon wyrmling for his private collection. The wyrmling must arrive subdued and relatively undamaged for the party to receive their award. He will provide them with tips on where the desired species of dragon may be found, and will outfit them for the mission as best he can. The GM may either have them find a clutch of unhatched dragon eggs (risky, because you can't be sure what species they are unless they are guarded), or a real, live wyrmling several months/years out of the shell (knock it out, DON'T kill it).
26. Dragon's Tears: The PCs have been tasked with retrieving a difficult spell component -- a dragon's tear. They must track down a dragon, find some way to make it cry, then collect the tear. Some dragons may cry freely for the party after they have performed a task or quest for it in turn, but others feel no grief at all. Tears of laughter, or tears elicited by onions may be the only recourse in these cases.
27. Substitute Kids: A dragon mother lost her hatchlings in a recent accident, and has become delirious with grief. To cope, she has kidnapped several village children and is raising them as 'her' children in her lair. Of course, this does not sit well with the townsfolk. They have pooled together their limited resources and are seeking a group of professionals to conduct a rescue mission.
28. Deal With The Devil: One of the PC's ancestors owed a dragon a debt (or so the dragon claims), and that dragon has come to collect. The dragon will expect the PC to know all about his great-great-great-great grandfather King Reginald the II, and will react with disbelief and/or outrage if the PC claims no knowledge. He will pompously display the original contract (signed in blood), that clearly shows that the dragon is entitled to a king's ransom in gold and jewels every 500 years for past services rendered by the dragon. Close inspection of the document will reveal one or several loopholes, however (the debt is only owed as long as the King's descendants remained on the throne, the debt actually belongs to whomever holds the throne currently, the dragon hasn't exactly upheld his end of the deal faithfully, the contract is a forgery, etc, etc)
29. You Touched My Prize Whatzit! During their travels, the PCs have unwittingly disturbed a dragon hoard. Dragons often have very unusual tastes, so be creative with the hoard -- a great library full of rare texts; an ancient forest, carefully tended by the beast for centuries; a beach blanketed in sands gathered from every corner of the world; a secluded village of 'lesser' creatures that have been hand-picked (read: kidnapped) by the dragon for some desired trait (town of lost nobles, anyone?). Now that the PCs have blundered across the hoard, the dragon will seek to either drive them away or demand compensation for any damage that they have caused.
30. A Dragon in Debt: The party has discovered evidence that one of the PC's ancestors performed a great service to a dragon in need, which left the dragon beholden to that PC's family line until the debt was repaid. The dragon could be of great service to the party on exactly one occasion if the PC decides to call in the old debt, though pissing it off by asking too much would be most unwise. If it is an evil dragon, perhaps the PC should think twice before entrusting it with any sensitive task. Alternatively, the party could discover that one of the PC's relatives is trying to call in the debt for himself.