# Why would anyone kill a dragon rather than subdue it in OD&D?

The rule for subdual in OD&D says (Monsters & Treasure, p. 12/13):

Subduing Dragons: Any attack may be to subdue rather than to kill, but this intent must be announced before melee begins. When intent to subdue is announced, hits scored upon the Dragon are counted as subduing rather than killing points. Each round of melee the number of points scored in hits is ratioed over the total number the Dragon has (hit point total), the hits obtained being stated as a percentile of the total possible, i.e. 12%, 67%, etc. The percentile dice are then rolled to determine if the Dragon has been subdued. A roll equal to or less than the percentage of hits already obtained means the Dragon is subdued. For example:
A “Very Old” 11 Hit Dice Red Dragon is encountered asleep in its cavernous lair. Three fighters creep in and strike to subdue. All three hit, scoring respectively 2,3, and 6 points, or 11 points total. 11 ratioed over 66 (the number of hit points the Dragon can absorb before being killed or in this case subdued) is 1/6th or 17%. The referee checks to determine if the Dragon is subdued and rolls over 17 on the percentile dice. The Dragon is not subdued, and a check is then made to see whether he will bite or use his breath weapon during the second melee round. The result indicates he will breathe. The attackers strike again and once more all hit for a total of 12 points. The Dragon breathes and as none make their saving throws the attackers are all killed for they take 66 points of damage from Dragon fire. Subsequently, the referee rolls 01 on the percentile dice (any roll up to 34 would have indicated success) indicating that had the attackers survived, they would have subdued the Red Dragon that turn.

As I read this, subdual damage is cumulated just like normal damage would. The fighters deal 11 points of it in the first round, and 12 points of it in the second, together 23 points in the second, for a 23/66 or 34% (rounded down) chance of subduing it.

So, it will take as long to kill the dragon with normal damage, as it would take to assuredly subdue it (when he has received 66 subdual damage, your chance to subdue it is 100%). But on the way there, you have multiple opportunities to end the fight early by subduing the dragon, so the fight is a lot less dangerous.

On top of that, a subdued dragon is worth 500 to 1,000 gp per hit it can take, so in the example above at least 33,000 gp, and the character can opt to keep it in his service, and you get a free dragon out that easier fight. Dragons are great -- Mordenkainen had a pair of Red ones, and Robilar had a pair of Green ones, and they loved having them.

I would think it should be harder and more dangerous to subdue the dragon to get those benefits, not easier and less dangerous. Given these rules, why would anyone in their right mind ever opt to not subdue the dragon?

• Which OD&D system is this (Moldvay, etc.)? In the one I remember, subduing made you only do 1 point of damage with a successful hit, but I can't recall which books that was (possibly the red "basic" rulebook). Commented Jun 25 at 19:37
• This is OD&D - Brown Box / White Box / Three Little Booklets. The ones you name I think are called Basic D&D etc. The Red Box is Mentzner. They are not OD&D. Commented Jun 25 at 19:49
• Ok, thanks for the reply. Commented Jun 25 at 19:49
• @DaniO'Shea: The graphic here is helpful, I find. Commented Jun 26 at 15:18

Several reasons spring to mind:

• In OD&D, fighters did a lot less damage than in more recent editions. The magic-users had the most killing power, but didn't have any spells suitable for subduing dragons. Subduing a dragon was definitely more dangerous than trying to kill it, because you were reducing your damage output.

• At least in the circles in which I played, dragons were smart and devious. They might pretend to be subdued and then catch you off-guard.

• The demand for subdued dragons could not be that large, and you couldn't be sure they weren't being bought up by potential enemies.

• E.g., hitting it with disintegrate to one-shot kill it is taken off the table. Commented Jun 26 at 7:17
• the whole point of subduing dragons is that they will honor it. there's no magic binding the dragon into servitude. Commented Jun 26 at 14:06
• @MindwinRememberMonica: Nothing keeps a dragon from pretending to be subdued after you've started trying to do so, but before you've succeeded. Then it can turn on you. Commented Jun 26 at 15:44
• "This dragon's alignment is chaotic evil, unless you slap the living crap out of it without inflicting any actual damage. Then it will enter into a lifelong, binding agreement to be your slave, which it will honor with impeccable loyalty." Commented Jun 27 at 14:28
• "A subdued Dragon will remain in that state until such time as an opportunity presents itself to escape or kill its master presents itself, ..." Commented Jun 27 at 15:35

One issue is that the players may not know that subduing is an option.

Generally at the outset players had much less access to the rules and books than we expect now. Of course, dragon subdual rules are in the monster book (OD&D Volume II), and it was expected that players wouldn't read that. So by default it wouldn't be a known option.

For what it's worth, I'm pretty sure my current OD&D players haven't read the books and don't know about that option. If at some point they fight a dragon and call for some way to get it to surrender, then those rules can kick in. But to date they have a much simpler method in the charm monster spell.

In OD&D, a dragon's breath weapon inflicts damage equal to its remaining hit points, and subdual "damage" doesn't reduce this. In the example scenario, had the fighters been striking to kill rather than subdue, the breath would have done 43 (66-23) damage, and it's possible that the fighters could have survived this.

Therefore, a party may choose to slay a dragon rather than subdue it because doing so reduces the odds it will kill the party.

• Hi Acacia, you problably cannot see deleted answers, but this idea has been suggested before. I thought so too intially, (I think I remember that rule from Basic) but could find the rules text for it. There is a table on p. 11 that says "Value of the Hit Dice and Breath Weapon" and for very old just says "6 per die", so that seems to be based on hit dice here, not on actual hit points. But entirely possible I missed it somewhere. Might be good to let this answer stand however, even if it is wrong, so the next person does not also step into that trap. Commented Jun 27 at 7:45
• Ah, my mistake. Thanks. Commented Jun 27 at 7:56
• Yep, I've found the rule in Moldvay and Mentzer, but don't have access to anything earlier. Thanks for pointing that out. Will leave the answer up, as you suggest. Commented Jun 27 at 8:09
• When I've surveyed O/AD&D players on this issue in the past, 84% (out of N = 142) voted "No", dragon breath damage is not reduced from the dragon taking damage. My own best reading of the OD&D text is also that the damage should not be reduced in that way. Commented Jun 27 at 20:54