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For the group I am GMing I am in need of a blue dragon which should be defeatable by a group of six PCs having levels 3-4. The classes of my PCs are barbarian, bard, cleric, fighter, rogue and witch.

The background story of one player included that s/he was held captive by this blue dragon (no details about it given yet) but managed to escape. Now it's time for revenge.

I tried to create a "Young blue dragon" with PCGen, but it has a CR 9 which is much too deadly for the party.

How do I create a dragon which can be defeated by this group? Or if there is no way of creating such a weak (very young?) dragon, at what level(s) could this party of 6 face this foe?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you set on the encounter bring withnthe dragon itself? How about matching them with one of the dragon's servants or underlings, and keeping the dragon for later as a long-term villain? \$\endgroup\$ – lisardggY Oct 29 '14 at 15:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ As I wrote, there is no immediate need to let the players face the dragon right now, although it would give them a great confidence boost, if they manage to slay the dragon soon. I can wait a while, so therefore my second question: at what level could they defeat a very weak (yet still, for mere mortals, impressive looking) dragon? \$\endgroup\$ – mawimawi Oct 29 '14 at 15:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ I read this as "easily deflatable dragon". I pictured a balloon dragon terrorizing the countryside, capturing PCs, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Cthos Oct 29 '14 at 17:14

11 Answers 11

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The Dragon Needn't Be a True Dragon

As Aaron's answer indicates, dragons that have appropriate CRs for the party will be at most Medium. Although that means the dragon could be, potentially, the size of a professional wrestler, for a dragon that's sort of... unimpressive.

I suggest the following.

Use a creature that could be mistaken for a dragon

Were the character held captive by this blue dragon in his background, it's likely he was low level. I suggest that he misidentified the creature that held him captive as a blue dragon and, in fact, it was a creature with the template half-dragon (blue) or something like a blue dragon and the character, having never seen a dragon before, assumed was a dragon.

The template half-dragon increases a creature's CR by +2, so according to Designing Encounters, such a creature could be between CR 4 and 8 depending on the size and levels of your party. It sounds like you want this fight to be epic, so I suggest a chimera with a blue dragon head, a half-dragon (blue) hieracosphinx, or a half-dragon (blue) manticore.

Use a dragon impersonator

A shapechanger or illusionist--with some effort--could masquerade as a dragon. If the character only saw the distant form of the dragon, the dragon needn't even exist. A careful, skilled Wiz5 who prepares the spells lightning bolt and major image can do a credible dragon impersonation.

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Put the dragon in a bad situation

The dragon doesn't need to be able to lose in a fair fight if it doesn't get a fair fight. There are a few ways circumstances could conspire to give the PCs a significant edge:

  • Have the dragon already be fighting something else when the players show up (something it would be able to defeat if not for the players' interference)
  • Have the dragon be caught unawares in an environment that is easily used against it (perhaps a cave that can be made to cave in, dealing heavy damage and trapping it for a few minutes)

If the players scry on the dragon in advance, you can even telegraph the fact that the dragon gets in such risky situations frequently, so that the players can plan ahead and strike when it's most vulnerable, rather than getting the jump on it by sheer chance.

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You Just Nerf Them

Adventures do this all the time. Take the creature you want and then weaken it. This can be via templates like Young or Drunk as @Aaron suggests. It can also be done simply by wounding it or messing it up.

Take as an example the feared Crag Linnorm. Well, in the Jade Regent AP there was this variant "wounded" crag linnorm with missing tail that's 1 CR lower. Fewer hit points, one less attack. Not a formal template per se, just a change.

Or you can put on debilitating conditions. Maybe that dragon got poisoned, or cursed, or diseased, or ate a wight and got a negative level for his trouble. It's even better if this is somehow thematically related to the backstory in play. "He also captured a witch and she cursed him!"

But That's Weak (Pun Intended)

But to weaken a non-juvenile, honest to god dragon to where level 3-4's can take it somewhat degrades the concept of dragons. Even a young adult blue is CR12, and messing it up enough to get it down to CR7 would result in a sad, syphilitic wreck of a dragon they may not feel good about killing. If you ever want them to be afraid of a dragon again, you'll have trouble as you've clearly signalled they are wusses.

Instead consider making the PCs work for it. Maybe over several levels so that when they're ready to take it they are higher level. Or combining working for it with nerfing, perhaps that dragon has a specific weakness they can research and then come in with weapons it has Vulnerability against. Or less rulesy and more story, use something the character learned about it in captivity against it... "It can't resist eating sheep, let's fill one with poison, and then it'll be weak enough we can take it!" Or committing to a mission for a wizard in exchange for a heaping helping of electricity resistance and dragon-bane arrows. Or they go get allies from other people that escaped the dragon or who had loved ones captured.

I could see putting together a "lowbies vs the dragon" adventure but I'd expect it to not be just A Combat Encounter (tm) but something the party really needs to plan for and work towards.

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    \$\begingroup\$ On the contrary, I think there is something very appealing about a narrative where a group defeats an underwhelming, sick, dying dragon (perhaps the dragon even wants to be defeated), and then having to live with the dilemma of playing along with the farce of being great dragonslayers, or coming clean and losing all their credibility and reputation. Though, perhaps that's not what the OP has in mind. \$\endgroup\$ – Superbest Oct 30 '14 at 4:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ What if the dragon was weak because it had just defeated a very dangerous foe? This could lead into your next plotline - perhaps there are a legion of lawful evil Mage Knights (or something) who are collecting magical artifacts. Let the PCs witness the last few rounds of the epic fight, and you can establish that Dragons are terrifying at full power, do some worldbuilding on the Mage Knights (or whatever), and still let them have a level-appropriate encounter. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeKozar Oct 30 '14 at 23:29
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There is a Wyrmling Blue Dragon that is only a CR 5 encounter that might suit what you are after more than redesigning a creature, though that is a very young, Small sized dragon that might not fit the backstory.

If you need to design a monster that is meant to be a weaker/younger version of a monster you can also use templates such as the Young Template to decrease the abilities of the creature.

Weakening or strengthening a creature is simple with some of the basic templates. Most of them only increase or decrease the CR by one or two though. If you want to change the CR more than that I would suggest finding a creature that is the level you want and has similar abilities and simply using those stats but tell the party it is what you want.

A good example for the dragon would be using a drake's stats or one of the other Wyrmling dragons but changing the element of the attacks to the color appropriate element.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would disencourage people from applying age-changing templates to creatures with aging so detailed as PC races and dtragons. The templates were meant as crutches for creatures that are lacking exactly that level of detail dragons have. \$\endgroup\$ – Mindwin Oct 31 '14 at 2:53
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I'd probably go with a back story about the prisoners escape, how they were able to injure or poison the dragon ( poison neutralizing fire breath ability? ) as they were escaping, or which lead to their ability to escape.

Perhaps they were able to collapse a portion of the roof onto the dragon, badly injuring it, or simply damaging its scales, creating a weak spot.

Either way, I wouldn't use a baby dragon, I'd use a compromised adult dragon.

If they are attacking it in its home, I'd say the dragon has the advantage of familiarity of its surroundings, so they should lure it away to their advantage.

I'd start it out at maybe 30% life and minus points on attack rolls due to injuries.

The big question here is... if you escaped a dragon that took you captive... why are you going BACK?!? :D

Did they leave behind their pocket watch?

EDIT

I would like to append this to my original answer, after giving it more thought.

If I were GM, I'd make it so the weakened dragon is "beatable", insomuch as they THINK they've killed it, as it has a shallow pulse and breath. Maybe when they get it down to 10% health, the dragon tells them that if he is going to die, they are going to die with him, so he turns from attacking them and attacks the walls, causing the entire place to start to crumble. The adventurers need to stop the fight to escape before they are trapped forever inside with the dragon. They are sure he is dead once they escape, and feel better knowing he wont be kidnapping any more people / or they retrieved whatever items they needed from his lair ( whatever their goal is )...

This will set up another encounter later when they level up, they will fight the fully healed dragon again... doot doo doom!!!

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Go with the 16 HP dragon

In Dungeon World, a dragon has only 16 HP. This may actually be less than that of a really tough starting character. The dragon is still a terrifying creature, though, because it's hard to hurt, it can fly, breathe fire, and lay waste to the entire countryside.

Keep in mind that Smaug, the most famous dragon in fiction who dominated a significant part of Middle Earth, wiped out a wealthy dwarven kingdom, and had people trembling hundreds of miles away, was killed by a single arrow. A well-placed arrow that took advantage of the knowledge about a missing scale.

So instead of making your dragon a standard Pathfinder monster and being faced with the need to make it as small and harmless a dragon as possible, you could instead make it an epic plot device that may be very easily defeated once the PCs acquire the right circumstances. Maybe they need special knowledge, a special weapon, a clever trap or ambush, a place from which they can hit the dragon without being fried. Maybe you want to give it a bit more than 16 HP, because 16 HP is really very little in Pathfinder, and maybe you might not even want it to get killed by a single critical hit.

Some suggestions:

  • Give it low HP but high DR, and a special weapon (I always like lances against dragons) might bypass its DR.
  • Give it low HP and high AC. The PCs need to stack up lots of to-hit bonuses to hit it at all, but once they do, it goes down fairly easily.
  • Its fire breath is a davastating ranged attack. They need to find a way to avoid it while getting close, but once there, it goes down fairly quickly.

Basically, make simply being able to hit the dragon the adventure. Once they're there, they can kill the dragon and win.

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Part of the core issue in an RPG is to maintain an illusion of the game world being real.

Making a "real dragon" be something that your party of six level 3-4 characters can defeat has impact on the world game fiction. It means that a "real dragon" is only as dangerous as other things a party of six level 3-4 characters can defeat.

Mechanically modifying a dragon and making it defeatable is easy. Doing so while still making it "feel like a dragon" is a bit harder (especially in a game like D&D/Pathfinder), but still doable. Doing so without making dragons into wusses is the really hard part.

We could go with "the players got help from another combatant" -- they ally with another powerful being (an adventurer, or maybe another dragon) and fight it in a team. Problem is the PCs power level is so low that they may not be a significant help against said dragon. Watching two monsters fight each other isn't all that fun.

We could go with "dragon is crippled through some method" -- poison, bad habits, wound from an earlier fight. Making this enough that your party can reasonably win is going to stretch credibility. (Sample plot: they research, and discover the dragon drinks from a particular spring every week. They then poison said spring, and ambush the dragon.)

We could simply boost the player's power level. Give then 2-3 more character levels and a "real dragon" is quite fightable. A downside is that this sort of freebe power boost can cheapen other power boosts, it phase changes your game in D&D (spellcasters at level 6 are at the cusp of changing how the game plays, and stories you could tell before no longer make sense).

We could go with "the players have some situational bonus that makes it doable". For example, they quest for/are given dragon-slaying tools. An interesting problem becomes "why are they not useful against non-dragons?", and if they are, they can change the power dynamic of the game (see above). However, you could try to make the power upgrade be in a way that doesn't cause as much of a phase change: if it simply increases player's toughness and damage output without a massive utility boost (access to higher level spells) it could work.

As an example of this, the players find ancient magical battle armor. This armor boosts the player's size to large, boosts their stats, ups their weapon sizes, overcharges their spells (higher Damage/DC), boosts their saves/defences, doubles their HP and doubles the amount they are healed by magic, and counts as armor. The armor also comes with other things -- some of them have weapons, others have recharging wands, etc, one of them can fly for short stretches, etc. Basically, they gain mecha to fight in.

And mecha is awesome.

If you roughly double each character's effectiveness, that is worth about +2 character power level.


I like the mecha solution.

Armor of the Ancients

An ancient empire built magical battle armor its nobles fought in wars with. Most of this armor was destroyed, but the PCs have found a cache. The armor binds itself to the wearer and their blood kin: unless 40 years pass, no one else but a near relative can use a suit of the armor after it has been worn. The Armor comes in various different styles, with different effects.

All Armor of the Ancients has the following properties:

  • It has a maximum of 1 charge per character level of the wearer.
  • Your size is large when you are wearing the Armor.
  • You gain a +2 enhancement bonus to all attributes in the Armor.
  • You gain a +2 enhancement bonus to all saves in the armor, increasing by +1 every 3 levels beyond 1.
  • It counts as a suit of enchanted armor with a +1 enhancement bonus for every 2 character levels of the wearer. The kind of armor varies by type.
  • For 1 charge you can summon the armor as a standard action. It immediately provides defensive bonuses, but does not provide offensive bonuses until the end of your next turn.
  • Your current and max HP is doubled when you have it equipped, and halved when you remove it (round down). If you remove the armor at negative HP, you are set to -1 HP. If you are reduced to -max HP (undoubled) while in the armor, you are removed from the armor by the damage.
  • you can put the armor on in 1 minute
  • every hour you wear the armor, or part thereof, costs 1 charge
  • They recharge 1d4+level/2 charges at dawn, and at some other times determined by the armor

Armor of Night

  • The DCs of the abilities of this armor are Dex based.
  • It recharges at midnight
  • As a standard action you can change the size of the armor to medium or large. For 1 charge you can do it as an immediate action. Weapons you carry are also resized by this.
  • It grants a +5+Level circumstance bonus to hiding and moving silently
  • The wielder can cast Knock, Invisibility, and Silence 15' radius as spell like abilities using 1 charge per level of the spell.
  • You have true sight out to 5' per character level.
  • You have a +character level enhancement bonus to initiative
  • You gain a +4 enhancement bonus to dex in the armor, increasing by another +2 at level 5, 10, 15 and 20.
  • Any precision damage dice you deal is doubled against targets normally vulnerable to precision damage. Against targets immune to precision damage, ignore the immunity and apply the damage without doubling.
  • You can expend any number of charges to add +2 per charge to a skill roll after you know you have failed. The bonus cannot exceed your character level.
  • If you roll a natural 20 on a skill roll in a life threatening situation, the armor recharges
  • Counts as a Mithral Shirt

That should be enough to double a rogue-types power level. At higher levels more spell like abilities might be a good idea.

Other armor type suggestions:

Armor of Day

Fighter-types, with melee and taunting

Can create 1 magic weapon per character level.

Left hand makes force damage variant.

Right hand makes brilliant energy variants.

Charges can be burned to turn misses into hits.

Bonuses to jump type athletics.

Leadership effects.

Recharges at noon, and on critical hits in life-threatening situations

Armor of Moon

Spellcaster types.

Metamagic boosts.

Spell recovery.

Burn spell slots to power features of the armor.

Boosts DCs of spells.

Recharges at moonrise

Provides little armor, unless you burn charges/spell slots

Provides enhancement bonuses to mental stats and knowledge skills

Armor of Sun

For priest-types

Empowers healing effects (maybe lets you cast some faster while making other attacks?)

Armor of Mountains

Melee-types, with aoe rumbling and toughness

Armor of Winter

Ice effects, riders on attacks

Armor of Spring

Self and Group Healing, mobility

Basically have fun, make some cool armor. Only reveal some powers on each suit, have them learn more as they gain levels. Characters are now adventurers who can "power up" and fight in cool mecha armor.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As unique as this situation is... I don't particularly like it. Feels munchkiny/powergamingy. Why not magically give everyone a 3 level boost to fight the dragon at this point? If such armor exists, how can a party of lvl 3 get their hands on it? How do you "balance out" what they will get further up. If you give this kind of magical items to lvl 3-4s... when they are lvl 20, they'll get swords to chop moutains? I really like the armors btw. I just don't think it would be a good idea for lvls 3-4 to have \$\endgroup\$ – Patrice Oct 30 '14 at 14:44
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To add some ideas I haven't seen mentioned here yet:

  1. Illusory dragon; some spellcaster is running it from behind-the-scenes (I do see someone mentioned this idea)
  2. Sick dragon - I recently ran the Legacy of the Savage Kings adventure, which is for level 5-ish characters, but includes an adult black dragon which is afflicted by a disease which blinds it and weakens its scales (reduced AC)
  3. Timely discovery of an appropriate arrow of dragon slaying (too The Hobbit-ish?)
  4. Assistance from a rival (good or evil dragon, or some sort of dragon hunter NPC), weaker than the enemy dragon such that party + rival is roughly as powerful as the Big Bad Dragon. This could steal some glory from the PCs, though.
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    \$\begingroup\$ AFAIK, the arrow was first put into D&D precisely because of that part of The Hobbit. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 29 '14 at 18:58
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All the other answers are suggesting that to defeat the dragon the PC's need to hack it to pieces by themselves. There are many other ways of 'defeating' an opponent.

  • The shapeshifted dragon is plotting in the courtly circles, trying to seduce the king's daughter.

  • A nearby town wants to drive the dragon away, rescue the slaves and steal the treasure. But they don't know the whereabouts of Dragon's lair.

  • There's a camp of kobolds which worships the dragon, and harasses the local villages. Dragon would be really annoyed if something happened to them.

Create something Dragon obviously cares about, and trust your players to find a way of setting it on fire.

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The only thing I have to add to this that Hey I Can Chan and Aaron have not already said (edit: looks like Brilliand and I made this suggestion at the same time) is that you could do a "special" encounter. By which I mean there might be extenuating circumstances that make the fight easier. If you want, you could have a CR 9 blue dragon fight the party. You'll just need NPCs to help (Fighters or other classes with low potential to instantly kill the dragon on accident or something else that would make the players feel "cheated"). It doesn't need to be NPCs either; maybe allow the players to prepare a powerful trap, or some sort of consumable magic item that levels the playing field considerably (scroll of Enervation, for instance, although I have seen a wizard instantly kill a juvenile black dragon by rolling a crit on a cast of Enervation. Risks always apply)

Something else I would consider as a GM in this situation is making this into more than one encounter, although that dodges the question. I might make this into a full-fledged quest or mini-campaign in which the players set out to hunt the dragon, and by the time they get there, they're at a high enough level to take it on toe-to-toe. It would also make the player whose character mentioned the blue dragon in their backstory feel nicer, and as long as it's not a quest in which literally everything revolves around that character, the other players won't mind.

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As you are playing pathfinder one additional option would be present if you have access to the book "In the company of dragons" by rite publishing. It is a book that allows for dragons as being normal player characters with them having comparative starting values to a typical normal species and having the chance to gain draconic powers by leveling in special archetypes or in a "dragon" class.

Thus the option would be with that book to create a lvl 4-5 dragon (if you use the archetypes it should be lvl 5 at least). The reason for the minimum level is that at level 4 in the "dragon class" itself or level 5 in other classes the dragon becomes a medium sized creature (it starts as a small creature). The higher they are levelwise the more their size increases. Also if they are leveling in the dragon class they can gain additional defenses and traits,.... which they can choose from special lists.

As a remark: The dragons in that book are cousins to the normal dragons and are called Taininim. These playable dragons still look like their cousins and can be as fearsome at the same CR/Level as them. Also they gain the opportunity to have more than 1 breathe weapon which can surprise heroes who prepare for a lightning breathing blue dragon but then find out that he also can breathe pure coldness.

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protected by Brian Ballsun-Stanton Oct 31 '14 at 0:02

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