Not every town has a party of adventurer's ready to take on big monsters. What methods are expected to be feasible in the combination of system (as of fifth edition) and setting (northern regions of Forgotten Realms), that towns employed to protect themselves against dragons?

I'm most interested in ways to ground (immobilise) a Dragon as part of such a defence. The reason for that is because a dragon's ability to make ranged attacks from the air allows it to invalidate many other traditional town defences. So solutions to the kiting problem take highest priority. Are perhaps harpoons and/or nets launched from light siege weaponry? Or some other equipment-based solutions?

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    \$\begingroup\$ In before someone else points out that "take away their car keys" is the usual answer to "how to ground a dragon?" 😊 \$\endgroup\$ Oct 1, 2021 at 18:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ In before "They didn't" \$\endgroup\$ Oct 1, 2021 at 18:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Aim for the spot where the Jewel is missing. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 2, 2021 at 12:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question has a gotten a few unsupported answers, so I would ask that anyone looking to contribute another answer please first review our guidance for supporting answers: What are the citation expectations of answers on RPG Stack Exchange? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 4, 2021 at 13:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AntiDragonCommunitySelfDefense I was looking for what were the more viable standard operating procedures against such encounters across the setting (similar to how it's SOP for cities to have AA emplacements and bomb shelters in the real world). Mobility+range seemed like a very strategically important combination, so I was wondering what options existed that could counter or mitigate that. PHB gear/tactics seemed not helpful for that, but PHB is, of course, is focused on exceptional small-party topics, not general whole-army ones. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 11, 2021 at 9:05

5 Answers 5


Hope the dragon doesn't come

I'm being a little facetious obviously, but in the fiction of Forgotten Realms for most towns (as opposed to a large city) without nearby adventurers the plan for a dragon defense is to hope they never need to worry about it and evacuate if they see it coming.

And lest you think this is unrealistic and that a town would try to prepare better, take a look at the plans in place for most towns in the path of a major hurricane. In the industrialized west, there are things in place like FEMA or an equivalent and insurance, but those are mostly for cleanup afterwards. There is no plan to try to stop a hurricane and most towns as opposed to large cities don't even have real resources available to try to mitigate or really allow people to reasonably ride it out in place. For most towns that are in hurricane paths, the plan is to hope it doesn't come, and evacuate if one does come.

A large city is likely to have adventurers available, or at least a standing army with a couple of higher level people in the army. But a small town is not likely to have a standing army or high level citizens. If they know the dragon is coming well ahead of time, they will probably try to either hire a band of adventurers or hire mercenaries (and the line between those two is very thin). A town that sees it coming well in advance that is underneath a higher level of government or has larger allies might call for help from them. But if they have little notice, likely all a town without adventurers nearby can do is evacuate and rebuild after. If they have very little notice, the evacuation will probably look like panicked people running all over the place.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Or towns near volcanos. Or towns near the coast during climate change. Or every town and cities preparedness for a nuclear strike. Or an asteroid strike. At least you can negotiate with a dragon. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Oct 1, 2021 at 20:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ The original grey book Forgotten Realms books had examples of what happened in Year of the Worm (1356). From memory most of the dragons were brought down by powerful wizards including Manshoon in the case of Zhentil Keep. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 1, 2021 at 20:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ FR is absolutely lousy with adventurers, as well, so even if a given town doesn't have a local group, any given dragon that goes around burninating peasants excessively is liable to attract the ire of a band of wandering do-gooders who can kill them, which acts as something of a deterrent to wanton destruction. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Oct 1, 2021 at 21:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's worth mentioning that the "evacuation" might not be all that orderly. In many cases, it's likely to be more of a "run for the hills" sort of thing. Then again, when the alternative is destruction, "a maiden every month and all of your gold" starts to sound like a pretty good terms... \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Oct 1, 2021 at 22:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ This definitely seems like the right answer. Given that, in several published adventures, towns are overrun by a small clan of bandits, some cultists, or other threats that are not anywhere near the weight class of a dragon....yeah. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 2, 2021 at 0:31

Even large militias are basically useless against dragons.

The entire premise of chapter 4 of Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden is about this question. A dragon (technically a construct, not even as strong as an adult dragon) assails the Ten Towns of Icewind Dale, raining destruction upon them. The module conveniently gives us the numbers on how the Towns' militias fare against the dragon without the player characters intervening. I've put the rest of the answer behind a spoiler tag, as it gives extensive details about the chapter.

Our Chardalyn Dragon has 147 hit points when it sets off to destroy the Ten Towns. Let's review the damage done by each militia that actually puts up a fight.

Dougan's Hole

Militia. Dougan’s Hole can muster up to 12 soldiers (use the tribal warrior stat block) and 1 veteran.

Dragon Damage. The dragon takes no damage.

Not off to a great start, but obviously 12 soldiers and their one commander isn't much.

Good Mead

Militia. Good Mead can muster up to 20 soldiers (use the tribal warrior stat block) and 2 veterans.

Dragon Damage. The dragon takes no damage.

With a militia nearly twice the size of Dougan's Hole, the militia of Good Mead fails to even scratch the dragon.


Militia. Easthaven can muster up to 150 soldiers (use the tribal warrior stat block) and 12 veterans.

Dragon Damage. The attack on Easthaven reduces the dragon’s hit points by 10.

A militia of 162 soldiers manages to deal 10 damage to the dragon in 8 hours.


Militia. Termalaine can muster up to 50 soldiers (use the tribal warrior stat block) and 4 veterans.

Dragon Damage. The attack on Termalaine reduces the dragon’s hit points by 5.

Termaline's militia actually does pretty good, compared to Easthaven. 54 soldiers and they deal a whopping 5 points of damage in 6 hours.


Militia. Bremen can muster up to 25 soldiers (use the tribal warrior stat block) and 2 veterans.

Dragon Damage. Bremen’s militia puts up a good fight, reducing the dragon’s hit points by 5.

We're making good progress except not really. The dragon has, at this point, destroyed 8 towns, thousands of civilians, and hundreds of soldiers, and is sitting at a comfortable 127/147 hit points.


Militia. Targos can muster up to 200 soldiers (use the tribal warrior stat block) and 16 veterans.

Dragon Damage. The Targos militia, the toughest opposition the dragon has faced, reduces the dragon’s hit points by 15.

The 216 soldiers of the Targos militia suffer a total party kill after 8 hours, taking only another 15 hit points off the dragon's total.

Bryn Shander

Militia. Bryn Shander can muster up to 250 soldiers (use the tribal warrior stat block) and 20 veterans.

Dragon Damage. Bryn Shander benefits from strong leadership, a tested militia, and helpful spellcasters. In the first 6 hours, the dragon’s hit points decrease by 10. Once the dragon lands and begins searching through wreckage, its hit points decrease at a rate of 5 per hour.

The dragon hangs around in Bryn Shander for a total of 12 hours, taking a total of 40 points of damage from a 270 strong militia that includes spellcasters.

After facing off with 3 militias of 150, 200, and 250, and killing all of them plus thousands of civilians, our dragon is sitting at 72/147 hit points, or just under half. And this dragon is weaker than even the weakest proper adult dragon, the brass dragon.

So what did towns do about dragon attacks? They died.

Bryn Shander had 2700 people in it when the dragon attacked. Their militia of over 250 soldiers was destroyed, and 2400 people died in 12 hours, and the dragon only suffered about a quarter of its hit points in damage. So Timothy Wiseman's answer gets it right:

in the fiction of Forgotten Realms for most towns (as opposed to a large city) without nearby adventurers the plan for a dragon defense is to hope they never need to worry about it and evacuate if they see it coming.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Would you be able to explain why the events of the Icewind Dale, and the battle against the superweapon construct, is representative of how towns would normally interact with dragons? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 11, 2021 at 4:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AntiDragonCommunitySelfDefense “Normally interact with” isnt a claim I made, so no. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 12, 2021 at 10:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you don't think this is representative of how towns interact with dragons, I'm struggling to see the relevancy to the question. I can see you are trying to draw a parallel between the chardalyn construct and a dragon, but you don't explain at all in why you think this is a valid comparison to make. There's huge differences between the construct and a normal dragon, so I think your answer would benefit from explaining your assumptions as to why this should be considered a good comparison! \$\endgroup\$ Oct 13, 2021 at 4:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ It would be good to know why long bows and heavy crossbows did not damage the creature, or did very little damage... As such, this answer raises more questions than it answers, at least in my mind. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 13, 2021 at 11:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AntiDragonCommunitySelfDefense Yeah, I can add a bit there, thanks. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 14, 2021 at 13:21

This answer is an attempt to talk about the question on a purely mechanical level. Other answers have talked about how towns have fared against attacks by other monsters in official adventures, or speculated about how they think towns would consider the threat of dragons. But I don't think any have talked about how much of an actual threat dragons are to towns.

Towns are dangerous places for dragons

In 5e dragons are dangerous creatures for parties of adventurers. However, towns are large enough that they can seriously harm dragons through sheer numbers. I would expect dragons, who are quite intelligent, to be aware of this and keep their distance unless they were motivated to spend significant effort in sieging the town over a long term period.

In 5e an attack deals damage if it "hits" the target. To hit a target you must meet or beat the target's AC with a d20 roll, plus your hit bonuses. If a character managed to hide then they can get a bonus to this hit roll called "advantage" which lets you roll 2 d20s and select the highest. You can also get several bonuses to hiding if you can break line of sight, hide in the dark, try to hide when it's noisy, etc.

Then you roll damage, and add any damage bonuses. This is damage value is then subtracted from the enemy's hit points. Hit points are an abstract value representing a combination of luck, moral, will to fight, and physical durability. When a character's hit points reaches zero, the are knocked on conscious and could die.

However, a town wouldn't have to actually kill a dragon. When the dragon attacks the town, it's making a cost-benefit analysis: it wants something from the town, and it is willing to sacrifice something to get that. If the dragon is just hungry for a snack, it won't risk its life. If it's recovering a stolen dragon egg, then it will have a lot more on the line - but still it won't want to die. Generally speaking, I'm going to be talking about "unprovoked" dragon attacks, so I think hurting them by a quarter is going to be plenty; "what stops dragons from wantonly attacking random towns whenever they want?"

Historical Precedence

Raj points out in their answer that we actually have a lore example of a dragon interacting with Elturel - a city at least twice the size of a normal town. Here is the description of the interaction:

Years before the Companion appeared in the sky, a young red dragon made life miserable for the residents of Elturel. It ate livestock, burned crops, and demanded tribute.

It's interesting to note that the dragon did not attack the city directly, instead preferring to cause mischief in order to extract tribute. I suspect that this interaction is quite stereotypical of what we can expect. Dragons don't attack towns because they could die, instead they can safely harass the town from a distance. Of course even that isn't without its risks, a hero could show up, which unfortunately (for the dragon) is what happened here;

Then one day, a scruffy-looking, unarmored woman wielding a greatsword marched up to the dragon and hacked at the beast with mighty swings. Before the stunned creature could fly away, she slew it.

This is similar to the plot of Dragon of Icespire Peak. A dragon shows up, is a general nuisance, and is eventually slain by adventurers. Such is life in Faerûn.

The Mechanics of Attacking a Dragon

An adult red dragon is the archetypal dragon - big, red, breathes fire, flaps around on enormous wings. It has an Armor Class (AC) of 19, which is the measure of its defense. It has 256 Hit Points (HP) on average. It has a passive perception of 23, which means its rather good at spotting hiding people. Not only can it see in the dark up to 120 feet, it can also see-without-seeing up to 60 feet.

A commoner is a normal peasant. An average town in 5e has a few thousand inhabitants, most of whom are commoners.

A commoner has 10 in all stats, and a +2 proficiency bonus. For this example, the commoner will be armed with a sling (an extremely cheap, easy to make, weapon - ideal and accessible for a peasant) to enable them to make ranged attacks. Slings deal 1d4 damage, and can attack up to 120 feet - but anything over 30 feet will be at a penalty.

To calculate the odds of a commoner hitting the dragon, we can calculate like so;

  • Odds of hitting = (21 - dragon's AC + attack bonus) / 20
  • = (21 - 19 + 2) / 20
  • = 4 / 20
  • = 0.2
  • = 20%

Not great odds to start off with. The sling deals 1d4 damage, so the average is (1 + 4) / 2 = 2.5. Multiplying it through, the sling will deal an average of 20% * 2.5 = 0.5 damage per turn.

The commoner will also score a critical strike if they roll a 20 to hit, so we can add a bonus 2.5 damage 1 in 20 attacks, so 2.5 / 20 + 0.5 = .625 damage per turn.

However if the dragon is more than 30ft away, then the commoner will be at a disadvantage, and have to roll 2 d20s and select the lowest dice. That means they essentially need both dice to hit to score a hit, lowering the odds to 20% of 20% = 4%, and the damage per turn to 0.106 per turn.

The commoner could try and hide behind something so they could attack when the dragon isn't paying attention. If they can do so then they roll 2 d20s and pick the highest, so the odds goes up to 36% to hit. To do so they would have to make a stealth roll that beats the dragon's passive perception. Unfortunately the commoner has a stealth bonus of 0, so it would be impossible for them to beat the dragon's 23 passive perception on a d20 roll.

However, there are ways for the commoner to lower that passive perception. If the circumstances are unfavorable to spotting the commoner then the passive perception is at disadvantage, which means it takes a -5 penalty. That would lower it to 18, which is beatable. Note that even though we talk about beating the passive perception, technically the passive perception is trying to beat the stealth check (which is a bit backwards by 5e's standards!), so you actually need to roll higher than 18, ie a 19 or 20. Some common unfavorable situations are breaking line of sight (so you have to rely on your hearing), being far away (it's much harder to spot someone hiding 100ft away from you!), being in the dark, being in a noisy area, general distracting circumstances, etc.

With this in mind, the odds of beating the dragon's passive perception is:

  • Odds of hiding = (20 + Dragon's passive perception - stealth bonus) / 20
  • = (20 - 18 + 0) / 20
  • = 2 / 20
  • = 10%

The commoner could also hide in circumstances which are favorable to being stealthy, in which case they get to roll 2 d20s and pick the highest. There's a lot of overlap between these and the circumstances in which it's hard to spot someone. If they can do it, then the odds increase from 10% to 19%.

Now we can calculate the damage per turn in each situation:

Hiding? Dragon is far away Dragon is within 30 feet
Not hiding 0.11 0.63
Hiding in a spot that's hard to see 0.17 0.68
Hiding in a spot that's easy to hide in and hard to see .23 .72

Now keep in mind, in a normal sized town, 20% are children, 10% are elderly, half of what's left are women, and the other ~2000 people are men of fighting age. Some of those men are out of town, some of them are in the fields, some of them are sleeping, some of them are on the john, some of them are blind drunk, some of them lost their slings, some of them are out of range of the dragon, some of them don't have line of sight, some of them are just too far away. Let's say that by the time the town alarm has been raised and the dragon has approached, 5% of those men are in range, armed, and sober. That's 100 men. Remember, as the fight goes on more and more will turn up.

They will deal between 10 and 70 damage per turn depending on best or worst case. As I talked about above, the average dragon is going to think twice when they are a quarter dead (personally I think twice the first time I take a hit in a fight, but dragons are made of sturdier stuff). 256 (a dragon's average HP) divided by 4 is 64. That means between 6 and 1 turn depending on if the commoners are in the worst possible position, or the best possible position - if there's a mix of all 6 possibilities then it's 1.5 turns.

The dragon has between 6 and 30 seconds to realize they are in peril and get out of there.

Who else can live in the town besides commoners?

Commoners are just the lowest of the low. Practically any town will have all kinds of guards, thugs, archers, knights, etc.

I will talk about the situation from a purely mechanical standpoint. FR is a 5e setting, and you will find that the 5e rules apply. It's not clear to me if the events of Icewind Dale are suppose to be reverse-engineered to calculate the strength of dragons by using a super-weapon construct made of magical diamonds and infused with demon energy as an analogue for how normal towns interact with normal dragons, just because it superficially resembles a dragon. Instead, we are provided with stat blocks for various common people, and for the dragons themselves - therefore we will construct the situation forward instead of in reverse.

Generally if a dragon attacks a town, I would assume the defense would consist of everyone grabbing ranged weapons, and trying to drive the beast off. Generally people would try to hide behind whatever cover they could, and then pop out to throw rocks, use a sling, or maybe a bow.

The makeup of a town is highly variable, and there's no standard. But I'll talk about several common types of people in the towns. I'll spare you the math but I ran the odds vs an adult red dragon to see their hit chances with/without hiding, and how many hits it would take for them to kill a dragon.

Keep in mind, the goal is NOT to kill the dragon - if the dragon is taken to bloody (50%) or even 75% hp, it's going to have to seriously think twice about attacking the town.

I've also multiplied each "person count" by 10, because a town will have quite a few people, and I wanted to make sure it was obvious that we aren't talking about 1 knight fighting a dragon here. What I mean by this is that instead of just a single person, there's 10 people all attacking the dragon. The names listed in this column are the names of characters in D&D which are common to urban environments.

The weapon column is what weapon that character is armed with, for example archers have long bows. That's the weapon they will be using to attack with.

People x10 Weapon Stealth* Rounds to bloody**
Commoner sling 28% 21
Guard short bow 36% 8
Thug heavy crossbow 28% 6
Archer longbow 58% 1
Knight heavy crossbow 28% 6
Veteran heavy crossbow 36% 5

*Stealth is the best odds to hide, assuming they can get advantage on stealth and impose disadvantage on the dragon's passive perception (e.g. by being both far away and hiding behind an object). Also remember to think about when the DM would rule that they simply cannot be detected by the dragon - e.g. breaking line of sight plus the sounds of battle are too much for the dragon to use hearing, plus they are too far for blindsight.

** The number of rounds it takes 10 people to reduce the dragon to 50% hp, if they can hide a proportion of rounds based on the Stealth column. The people need to be in range for this total number of rounds.


I had to make quite a few assumptions to come up with these numbers, so make sure you think about them in context.

  • There was 10 of each respective type of person. Most towns will contain a combination, maybe one veteran, a few archers, a handful of thugs, and a lot of commoners. I think it's fair to assume that there is a mix of people in a town of thousands.
  • I armed the commoners with slings, but realistically many would have short bows for hunting if not for times of war. Slings are the weakest ranged weapon, and considering they are incredibly cheap I think it's reasonable to assume.
  • I assumed they would be able to find advantage + disadvantage opportunities to hide. This may or may not be possible due to their distance from the dragon, the layout, the time of day, etc. They almost may suffer disadvantage if the dragon attacks at night and flies high in the sky.
  • Ideally the people will be spread out around the town, so the dragon can't kill them in one hit. Usually people will be going about their lives when the dragon attacks, so although some may be clustered at taverns or markets most will be all over.
  • The dragon will have to be in range for those number of rounds, if it managed to move out of range that lowers the damage output - but keep in mind that archers attacking from hiding will be able to hit at 600ft without disadvantage, so it's essentially impossible to escape without breaking line of sight. In a town of many thousands I think it's likely that the dragon will be within range to at least some people some of the time.
  • The dragon is a genius and will have their own tactics, but so will the towns folk. In a world where dragon attacks are possible and devastating, knowledge of how to defend against them will spread fast - I would guess that "everyone throw rocks at it" is the baseline, which is effective for even relatively small towns of normal commoners.
  • When the dragon will run from the fight depends on the circumstances. If 20 commoners with slings bring the dragon down to 90% hp in 6 seconds, is that enough to make the dragon fly away? Certainly if I got the impression I would die in a minute if I hung around I'd be inclined to back off. The dragon's risk vs reward calculations are unknown, if it's just looking for a feed it may go elsewhere, if it's trying to recover a stolen egg it will commit despite the injuries.
  • Theoretically a dragon could commit to a siege if motivated enough. Attacking and destroying a building, but escaping before they are killed. After sleeping for the night, they can return the next day and destroy another building. If the town doesn't organize a defense this could lead to the town being destroyed over a long period of time. If the dragon is motivated enough to spend weeks or months attacking like this, there's little a town could do besides ask for outside help.
  • A dragon could attempt to set the town on fire to try and stop people from hiding, but this would take significant time and leave the dragon vulnerable. The dragon can only breath a 60ft cone approximately once every 3 turns, enough to set part of 1 house on fire roughly every 20 seconds.
  • I assume that anyone's first response when seeing a dragon is to hide. If not, it takes an action to hide. The dragon can also use its legendary detect, but it's up to the DM if the dragon can detect everyone at once or has to search for each person or each area separately. If the dragon doesn't spot you, then you can freely continue to attack, as even if the dragon learns your location, so long as they can't detect you, you can continue to attack as much as you want. The dragon will be overwhelmed with targets so it can't fly up and attack everyone individually!
  • The question was asked: why would a dragon be worried about being beaten half to death? Well, the answer is that the dragon doesn't know the makeup of the town. You may be inclined to think "well if it takes 15 seconds to beat the dragon half to death, the second half will take another 15 so there's plenty of time to escape", however what if at that point a party of adventurers reveal themselves? What if a rival dragon flies past? What if the dragon's lair is sieged? It's incredibly risky to routinely reduce your hit points to half. Remember that hit points in 5e are not just mechanics, they represent a character's luck, morale, as well as physical durability. Monsters should react to their HP depleting, because they have to live it. A dragon with half its morale and luck gone, is a dragon that is not going to want to stick around in the first place!


Dragons in 5e aren't invulnerable gods. 100 commoners slinging rocks can bloody an adult dragon in 12 seconds. A city like medieval London with 100,000 people? Forget about it, that would be certain death. This is something that any dragon will be aware of. They will likely not attack a town without good reason to do so, and not without being careful.

But for small hamlets, there's nothing they can do but offer tribute and hope there's no reason for the dragon to attack. Dragons, for their part, would know that if they wantonly attack villages then a few towns could easily send a raiding party to the dragon's nest.

The nitty gritty

I initially wanted to avoid posting too many numbers, as it will bog down the answer. However I have had a request to thoroughly explain the answer in depth so those who are less familiar with 5e can follow along. Apologies for the "broken" links, I don't have enough rep to post many links.

Here are the statistics for an adult red dragon.

I have evaluated several different types of NPCs common to the Urban environment:

  1. Commoner
  2. Guard
  3. Thug
  4. Archer
  5. Knight
  6. Veteran:

I then calculated the chance of hiding for each type of person. As per the rules for hiding we should calculate the dragon's passive perception as 10 + their perception, in this case 13, giving a total of 23 passive perception.

Anyone who tries to hide must be able to roll a stealth check in excess of this number. I don't want to assume the townsfolk are being excessively tactical, but I think it's reasonable to assume that the townsfolk are capable of basic actions like ducking around a corner. The rules for advantage/disadvantage state the DM can decide to apply either as appropriate. As per the vision and light rules dim light imposes disadvantage on perception checks. We can also hide behind corners to impose disadvantage, and most DMs would probably rule that being completely out of sight is advantageous to stealth. It does depend on the DM (which I presume is you) so think about what situations would make stealth easier. Also note that according to the rules for passive checks, a passive check at disadvantage is at a flat -5.

Chance to pass a check can be calculated as follows: 1 - (DC - 1 - bonuses) / 20, this value should be bounded between 0% and 100%. You can find more info here.

  1. Commoner: Stealth +0, chance to hide 0%, chance to hide if dragon has disadvantage 10%, chance to hide of dragon has disadvantage and the commoner has advantage 19%
  2. Guard: +1 stealth, 0%, 20%, 36%
  3. Archer: +4 stealth, 10%, 35%, 58%
  4. Knight: +0 stealth, same as commoner
  5. Thug: +0 stealth, same as commoner
  6. Veteran: +1 stealth, same as guard

Next is to make the attack, that requires an attack roll and then a damage roll if it hits (scroll down a bit). Thanks to hiding, you can also gain advantage (see also here) which will increase your chance of hitting.

Now we can use these values to calculate average damage; (chance to hide * odds of hitting with advantage + (1 - chance to hide) * odds of hitting without advantage) * damage

The dragon has AC 19 so that's what we are rolling against. The average damage of a weapon can be calculated as (min value + max value) / 2 + bonuses

For simplicity's sake, when calculating the odds of hitting, we can set the minimum value to be 10%, and add 5% to all other values to represent the chance of a critical hit - which deals roughly double damage (if you consult the stat sheets for each NPC you will see that they have low bonuses, so this will save us from having to double all our damage calculations, which is fine because the numbers are just indicative in the first place).

  1. Commoner: (chance to hide 28% * odds of hitting with advantage 28% + (1 - 28%) * odds of hitting 15%) * average damage 2.5 = ~0.5 damage per round
  2. Guard: 1.3
  3. Archer: 5
  4. Knight: 1.7
  5. Thug: 1.7
  6. Veteran: 2

Since we aren't talking about a 1v1 fight here, I multiplied all the values by 10 to represent 10 people attacking for a round:

  1. Commoner: 0.5 damage per round * 10 people = 5 damage per round collectively
  2. Guard: 13
  3. Archer: 50
  4. Knight: 17
  5. Thug: 17
  6. Veteran: 20

Now you can take those values and decide when the dragon will have second thoughts. I think that a dragon that is randomly attacking a town will probably think twice fairly quickly, so I think 1/4 hp is a good metric. Imagine if you randomly decide to do something, and become severely injured within seconds - I would think twice!

So the dragon has 256 hp on average, 256 / 4 is (come on, you know your binary!) 64. So now we divide that through by the number:

  1. Commoner: 64 hp to think twice / 5 damage per round = 12.8 rounds until the dragon thinks twice
  2. Guard: 5 rounds
  3. Archer: 1 round
  4. Knight: 4 rounds
  5. Thug: 4 rounds
  6. Veteran: 3 rounds

Aren't people afraid of Dragons?

Adult dragons have an action called Frightful Presence.

Each creature of the dragon's choice that is within 120 feet of the dragon and aware of it must succeed on a DC 19 Wisdom saving throw or become frightened for 1 minute. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a creature's saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the creature is immune to the dragon's Frightful Presence for the next 24 hours.

We can calculate the odds of a commoner beating this DC 19 check by (21 - DC 19) / 20 = 2/20 = 10%. However the save can be repeated each turn, so on the second turn there's another 10% chance for them to make the save. We can calculate the total chance that a commoner makes the save by the first turn by adding the 10% from the initial save, to the chance of failing the initial save (90%) multiplied by the chance to save on the first turn: so 10% + 90% * 10% = 19%. We can continue this pattern:

Turn Cumulative odds of resisting frightful presence
Initial 10%
Turn 1 19%
Turn 2 27%
Turn 3 34%
Turn 4 41%
Turn 5 47%
Turn 6 52%
Turn 7 57%
Turn 8 61%
Turn 9 65%

So on average, the dragon buys itself ~30 seconds on average by using Frightful Presence. For those who are affected, the fear effect doesn't inhibit their ability to hide (since it only works if they are in line of sight, and they will likely break line of sight to hide), and the effect will be neutralized by the advantage for bonus. Worst case, they run away for 30 seconds.

This ability is very strong in fights against adventurers, but against a town it's weak. The radius is small, and the dragon will have to be close to the ground to maximize that radius. There's nothing stopping people from simply hiding until they resist the save. It uses the entire action of the dragon, and best case only lasts 10 turns.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I have created a meta post about this answer please see that post for discussion related to the deletion status. \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Oct 6, 2021 at 0:58
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    – Someone_Evil
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  • \$\begingroup\$ While this answer focused more on the 'DPS race' than on solving the kiting problem (for this reason, no green checkmark). Still, it seems like the closest thing to finding (or in this case trying to 'invent') a general approach that would be effective (to a degree!) on a town/army/militia scale. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 14, 2021 at 20:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @vicky_molokh-unsilenceMonica Thanks for the feedback, I don't think the kiting problem is truly a problem. Townsfolk would be spread throughout the town on a normal day, if the dragon wants to harm the town it needs to come within range. The high risk of coming within range is a massive deterrent to any dragon, so I think that it's not necessary for the town to immobilize and kill the dragon, it will quickly decide that attacking the town isn't worth it and move on. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 14, 2021 at 23:44

What are towns in 5e?

On the FR wiki, you can read about current and former editions that list settlements categorised as towns. For this answer, I will look at 5e towns. Some feature descriptions that give us an insight into the power level of these settlements.

The Ten-Towns from the adventure Icewind Dale - Rime of the Frostmaiden, described in Chapter 1: Ten-Towns and explained in detail in their specific sections, pay attention to the "In a Nutshell" sections, make for a good example. These towns can muster a force depending on their population size 50-1200, the smallest town can muster 12 tribal warriors, and the biggest town can muster 270 (which includes 20 Veterans and 250 tribal warriors). Generally, a population of villages and towns has a fighting force of about up to 25% of the population and 2% on top that use better stat blocks such as Veterans, priests and acolytes, druids and rarely mages. This threshold is consistent throughout most adventures that mention population numbers, but most adventures do not mention exact population levels.

A Town (DMG) has a population of up to 6000. Any more numerous population would venture into cities, which would warrant a whole different question and considerations.

Most of the armed forces that a town can muster with ranged weapons are spear users (who would only be able to attack the flying dragon once it comes into reach for its breath attack). The largest towns might have up to 120 people (usually veterans) who would have proficiency in weapons such as crossbows or magic that would be useful against dragons. The magic that mages, priests, and acolytes have at their disposal cannot restrain a dragon. Druids have access to the entangle spell, which could momentarily restrain a landing dragon, and there is very little reason for a dragon to land. Even the most sprawling towns have no resources that could reasonably impede, stop or oppose a flying dragon even when coordinated by a brilliant strategist that would unreasonably manage the morale of their troops. At best, they could hurt a dragon or even force a wyrmling with its relatively low armour class of 17 to retreat.

Dragons are to a town in a Forgotten Realms setting a force of nature. Townsfolk will be unable to deal with dragons unless the dragon desires them to be around, so they are in the dragon's sphere of dominion - depending on the dragon, some dragons will not care much about the town. So instead of asking yourself what the townsfolk will do, you should ask yourself:

What does the dragon want from the town? Are there adventurers or McGuffins around that could stop a dragon?

  • \$\begingroup\$ "what would a dragon want with a town?" Dragons eat livestock. That said people would probably just hide, the dragon would eat their cows and sheep and fly off. Would make for a hungry town, so said town might employee adventurers or call for aid from a large army to deal with the issue \$\endgroup\$ Oct 5, 2021 at 11:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AndrewADeMarco It would be much easier to find large herds of livestock outside of towns. There may be a decent number in a market somewhere, but there will be lots of cover so they will be hard to get at. Dragons are intelligent, so they would almost surely rather just poach the cows/sheep/etc. from a wide open field. \$\endgroup\$
    – TylerH
    Oct 5, 2021 at 14:36

Basically what TimothyAWiseman said: they didn't, or they waited for adventurers to take on the monster. For one example of a town being terrorized by a dragon, we can can look at page 63 of Descent into Avernus. Sometime before 1444 DR, the city of Elturel faced repeated attacks and threats from a young red dragon. They were apparently able to do nothing in defence, until an unknown woman slew the dragon.

a young red dragon made life miserable for the residents of Elturel. It ate livestock, burned crops, and demanded tribute. [...] she slew it. A startled and overwhelmed populace rushed toward the woman to thank and reward her

I think it's worth pointing out that this was a young dragon, not even an adult. Also Elturel was not a town or village, but a proper city. It was the capitol of Elturgard and had its own armed forces, including the Hellriders, that couldn't (or wouldn't?) deal with the dragon themselves.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Even though it doesn't change your answer, "slew" is the past tense of "slay" ; the clause "an unknown woman slayed the dragon" is more correctly "an unknown woman slew the dragon" - Warmest Regards, your kindly blue pencil wielding editor 😊 \$\endgroup\$ Oct 5, 2021 at 20:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast good catch. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Oct 5, 2021 at 21:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Interesting to note the dragon was only a threat to the livestock and crops, not to the town itself. Doubly interesting to note that paying tribute essentially solved the problem. I think this answer is the most relevant lore wise, it just needs some expansion to explain how this situation can be seen as an archetype of interaction with dragons! \$\endgroup\$ Oct 14, 2021 at 23:54

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