Take the 2-minute tour ×
Role-playing Games Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for gamemasters and players of tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games. It's 100% free, no registration required.

So I'm DMing a very Dragon-Heavy campaign that my friend gave me, but I seem to have trouble roleplaying dragons. I don't want to stop the campaign and find a new one because I'm having difficulty getting into character, but at the same time I feel that the PC's are growing tired of every dragon acting like any other high-class or noble NPC. Are there any personality traits of dragon types that are listed? Are there any guides on roleplaying them that I can be directed to?

So far there are four dragons that I have to roleplay: a male Copper Dragon who is just finding out he has a half-dragon daughter, a female Red dragon and a female Silver dragon that are playing against each other in the Great Game (MMV), and a male Green dragon that is currently trying to overthrow the Red dragon as most powerful dragon in the region.

Any suggestions?

share|improve this question
1  
Doesn't the MM mention personality traits associated with each colour? I'm away from my books, but I would have sworn they did until I read this. –  SevenSidedDie Jul 21 at 1:05
    
For a few of them yes, but even then it is limited to a line or two. –  ltab Jul 21 at 1:52
1  
@SevenSidedDie I think the Draconomicon covers personality traits and in detail. In fact, Rhys, if you can get your hands of that it'll be very useful for a dragon-centric campaign. –  G0BLiN Jul 21 at 14:04
3  
Have a dragon that thinks the PCs are just the cutest little creatures! After all, they're small, weak, short-lived, and kinda furry. Being challenged by humans is like us being challenged by hamsters -- even if their tiny little teeth could kill us after a thousand bites, they're just so darn cute! –  Joe Aug 6 at 19:10
1  
@Joe Now I have to make dragon with a cage with humans and a running wheel –  MrJinPengyou Aug 8 at 13:11

6 Answers 6

up vote 28 down vote accepted

As intelligent NPCs, dragons will have a range of personalities and motivations; however, since your trouble is with separating them from ordinary humanoid NPCs, I would recommend playing up the stereotypes a bit to add some distinction.

I will draw mostly from Draconomicon here, since the specified system is 3.5. It has some advice on roleplaying dragons, though a lot more on habitat and things like that.

Firstly, dragons have time. Unless they are acting in immediate defence of their hoard or offspring, there is hardly ever a reason to hurry, and it is better to do something right then to rush. To fill the time between, they will entertain their minds with puzzles, whether benign pursuits or malicious scheming as well as the accumulation of knowledge and treasure.

This also leads to their vanity and arrogance. This might vary a bit more, and some dragons are diplomatic enough to hide this from the creatures they interact with, but when one's life is an order of magnitude longer than a human's, it is easy to consider them lesser. An idea could be to try thinking of ants, or some other insect, compared to yourself. This is probably more prevalent with the ones playing the great game than the copper from the description.

They also will seek fortune and fame from the moment of their hatching until their deaths, unlike most humanoids who would do most of this in the adult/middle aged period of their lives. A dragon's hoard (in terms of monetary value) is it's indicator of status (along with age), and a dragon with a small holding will find itself looked down upon.

Additionally, you can add something more species specific to add a bit of personality between the dragons you do have. I can summarize a few of the canon ones for the types you listed, which you can add to taste.

Copper dragons are pranksters and riddlers, and very appreciative of humour. They are generally good-natured, but can be covetous and miserly, as well as very annoyed with anyone who does not laugh at their jokes.

Green dragons are belligerent masters of intrigue and back-biting. As well as treasure, they have insatiable lust for power and victory.

Red dragons are rapacious, greedy, and vain. So like normal dragons, but taken up to 11. They are the most obsessive treasure collectors, and will know the value and origin of every item in their hoard.

Silver dragons enjoy the company of the lesser races, and will protect those in need, though they are generally fairly hand-off unless there is some genuine need for action. They spend a lot of time in humanoid form, usually as either old men or youthful elves. They are probably closest psychologically to the lesser lived races with regard to time.

I'd suggest using these traits to help distinguish your dragons a bit more, at least until you get to having many dragon NPCs that are interacted with frequently. If you want some additional little things, you could do something like accent your speech (draconic puts the stress at the beginning of words, which could carry over into their Common speech) or adopt a mannerism or two.

For books, you can try Draconomicon, which is where most of the info above is drawn from. The monster manual has a tiny bit, though I'm assuming you've read that. There are a few third party books that also deal with dragons, though they might have some differing views compared to official Wizards products (though as DM, you can change whatever you like). For more general information, I'd look into the characterization of very long lived characters in fiction.

share|improve this answer
1  
Also look at dragons in fiction - Dragonlance Chronicles, The Hobbit, Liveship Traders, etc –  Adeptus Jul 21 at 1:53
1  
+1 for recommendation of the Draconomicon. Pretty mush a one stop shop for understanding and role-playing dragons in D&D. –  Vality Jul 21 at 12:10
    
Side question arising from silver dragons being generally hands-off: Can a dragon be properly said to have hands, paws, or what? –  Codes with Hammer Jul 21 at 15:45
    
@CodeswithHammer Much like cats, Dragons have either paws or claws. –  Martin Epsz Jul 21 at 18:06

Here's a very simple way to give dragons unique personalities:

You have creatures that live thousands of years, or, depending on your setting, forever. What does a highly intelligent creature do, with itself, during that time? What curiosities does it have? What hobbies?

I've had a Green Dragon in one campaign, who dwelled next to a forest, to the point where the whole forest was becoming poisonous. The dragon loved plants... he allied with a druid to perfect hyperintense wines made of the most exotic, poisonous plants.

There was another dragon with "sound" as his breath weapon. He carved the mountain ranges he lived in, so that they would provide perfect acoustics for the song he had been working on for centuries.

What I do is basically find out something the dragon idealizes - and then that becomes a value system. It provides something for dragons to seek (beyond gold, magic items and damsels in distress) and a way in which they have something to protect, and potentially players might find ways to negotiate or deal with dragons in some kind of social or bargaining fashion.

"What's that? Is that a Black Orchid Plant from the Demi-Plane of Shadow?!? I haven't seen one of those in over four centuries! Take as much gold as the lot of you can carry, but leave me that flower! With it I will brew a wine unlike any other!"

share|improve this answer
    
Neat answer...but isn't Shadow a plane of its own in 3.5? :P –  Arkhaic Jul 21 at 6:11
1  
Lovely creative ideas - more inspiration for creatures with a lot of time on their hands can come from material about elves and the fey (for creative / artistic projects) or liches (for centuries long schemes and machinations...) –  G0BLiN Jul 21 at 14:17
    
Yeah, I use it for a lot of creatures, though I try to bend it to their nature a bit. Dragons are super intelligent, so I see them having pet projects that basically alter their local environment a bit. Fey creatures might deal with the mind/illusions/sub dimensions, Vampires might obsessively hound the last thing they saw as good in life, etc. –  Bankuei Jul 21 at 16:35

Dragons may be as intelligent a being as any you may find, but the chief differences would have to include their longevity, which should give them a patience not generally practised by shorter-lived species.

This patience, combined with their intelligence should lead to dragons having many projects in progress, few of which are likely to be completed any time soon unless a happy coincidence (that they can afford to wait for) occurs - consider this to be plots that they are hatching, with many complicated steps to complete prior to completion. Figure that a PC being a pawn in such an NPC's schemes would be hard-put to understand just what end he was actually advancing unless involved in the end-game, so don't feel that you have to keep the plots simple (or even work them all out in advance).

The second factor is their alignment, which is generally fixed for dragons. The third factor is their magical abilities. The fourth factor is their love of treasure. The fifth is their love of puzzles, riddles and conversation.

While a dragon can be simply a terrible combat opponent, and may be so if the dragon is the sole occupier of a large range unbounded by other foes of similar CR, where other high CR foes exist in close proximity, a dragon is smart enough to know that it cannot afford to simply eat every party of adventurers who happens by, when they could enlist them instead. There is little point in laying waste to a region populated by lesser species (and even to a silver dragon, lesser species will be lesser than dragon kind, it is just that a silver dragon is more willing to overlook that point at times) when threats to - or aid to - those lesser species can lead to tribute or payment.

GMs should also look for the most inventive uses of the dragon's magical abilities. The evil dragons would not hesitate to use magic to coerce or dominate lesser beings if it would further their aims.

While a dragon's base aim would be to accumulate loot - and lots of it, they would also seek to eliminate their rivals, whether draconic or otherwise - ultimately so that they can take their loot too. This may not be easy to achieve in outright combat, so their longevity and intelligence leads naturally to convoluted plots.

A chaotic good Copper dragon should generally be pretty well disposed toward the typical adventuring party (unless they are evil and lacking in humorous potential), but unpredictable and not much concerned about rules and laws, just the end-result of his plots. Given that dragons must have a low birth-rate or else they would populate the whole world, any offspring would be highly valued, no less so for being of irregular birth (which wouldn't matter to a Chaotic individual). As stated in the documentation, a green dragon would be something of a humourist or practical joker.

A lawful good silver dragon would likely be a bit more predictable, and reluctant to break rules, and also generally well-disposed to non-evil members of other species. Her plots should be long and convoluted, and she should generally be a few steps ahead of her CE red dragon opponent. She might appear at times to have disadvantaged some unrelated group, but never for any great amount of time (as dragons understand time), and will ultimately leave those she temporarily disadvantages better off.

A chaotic evil red dragon would not necessarily be ill-disposed toward even good PCs unless she is just really hungry or happens to be in a foul mood, but certainly wouldn't be above resorting to blackmail and intimidation to get her own way if offers of payment didn't work. Offering payment would be a first option, to suck the PCs in, then she could start threatening their loved ones or the PCs good name (if they have one) if they don't continue their servitude. Also, even if such a dragon offered payment for service, the PCs shouldn't know if she will pay less, more or even anything at all compared to whatever she promised - it would all depend on her mood when it came time to pay, which could depend on not only the PCs performance, but unrelated factors. The PCs could also find themselves ordered by such a dragon to cooperate with creatures that are of the antithesis to their alignments, or to perform tasks that they are not by their alignment inclined to perform, particularly when being threatened rather than bought. On the other hand, any plots such a dragon might generate would of necessity be simpler than those of lawful dragons, due to their (relatively) lower attention span - which would still be on the order of any human attention span.

A lawful evil green dragon would likely have the most convoluted and self-centred plots of all of these dragons. He would be punctilious about keeping to the letter of his bargains (but would make them with a forked tongue), so what he seems to be offering may not actually be what he is really offering. For example, he might offer the party in exchange for some service "As much gold as you can carry", and then deliver payment in the form of a golden statue that only a flying being that can lift as much as the whole party combined could carry away (but not through the tunnel they use to access the dragon's lair unless broken down) - and then tell them, "I grow irritable, leave instantly before I turn you all into puddles of bubbling fat", giving them no time to actually break down the statue into manageable pieces. "I promised to give you the gold, and this I have done, but I did not promise to move it for you, nor will I allow you to disturb me with your brute gruntings, hammerings and chantings. Leave with the gold, now or not at all." If they come back later with the means to move the statue, he might then claim "You abandoned the statue, and I have reclaimed it. It is no longer yours"...

share|improve this answer

Introduce Xorvintaal

Xorvintaal is a draconic game described in Monster Manual V. It is awesome and fantastic and perfect for PCs interacting with dragons.

In many ways, Xorvintaal is like chess, very much about grand strategy, long-term planning, and using all the pieces on the board, from the lowliest pawn to the great queen. But it’s not played with pieces, it’s played with minions. Xorvintaal players are forbidden from acting directly in their own benefit, and are limited in how much they can empower their minions. Each gets a single exarch, a lesser race who is highly empowered, but can also sponsor others.

Enormous amounts of wealth and prestige is gambled on the outcomes of Xorvintaal gambits, and the game can continue for centuries or millenia. Xorvintaal puts a lot more on the line than dragons typically have: it gives them a reason to be invested, active, and possibly even quirky, idiosyncratic, dynamic, or distinctive. They are trying to surprise and outsmart beings of massive intellect and millenia of experience, after all.

I have found that Xorvintaal massively spices up interactions with dragons in games I’ve played.

share|improve this answer

Dragon's are intelligent creatures. That means they're subject to the same range of personalities as people. As you've indirectly noted yourself, some of them pass for years among other races.

Falling back on dragon stereotypes when there's one or two in the game as enemies or occasional NPCs makes sense, but when they're a regular occurrence in your game I would recommend treating them the way you might a human NPC.

share|improve this answer

I think your problem is not personality - any noble can have the same fiery, haughty personality that a dragon can, albiet they won't actually know everything that has happened in the last 500 years. You need to emphasize the one major difference that a dragon has over your average haughty noble, something that is very, very easy to notice about dragons.

They are in the body of a dragon

Roleplaying as a monstrous creature, in-person, can be somewhat daunting, but you are the DM, and therefore you have the unique advantage of setting the scene. So use that to your advantage. Bring your players to the dragon's dark smoky lair glistening with gold and jewels. Have your dragons thrash their tails, blow smoke (or whatever elemental essence you favor), and even roar at the players when upset. Have them grit their claws against the floor.

In short, don't just use the personality of a dragon, but try to act like one too. Make it clear that you are a gigantic, powerful lizard being that could devour this handful of monkeys in one gulp.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.