I will be taking over as DM of our group in a few weeks. Our party right now has a large number of magic items, and while I don't have a problem balancing that, I would rather replace lesser ones with greater ones. The plot device I have chosen to do this, as part of the Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure, is to have a dragon wyrmling attack the group as part of a medium challenge encounter. When the wyrmling is killed, an ancient dragon appears to demand reparations from the group in the form of relinquishing one of each of their magic items.

What I want NOT to happen is for the group to decide they can kill the ancient dragon - because they can't. The ancient dragon I plan to use is the Silver, and mainly because it can paralyze with its breath attack.

The party being a band of murderous heathens makes this problematic — I honestly believe they would attack almost any foe and ask questions later. How do I ensure that the party doesn't go kamikaze on the ancient dragon?

If it makes a difference, the group is composed of six 7th-level characters. Only one of them is a melee attacker.


The standard answer to your question is to make the character obviously too powerful to touch. If the players and characters know this is an Ancient Silver Dragon, and know in advance what its breath weapon can do, and still attack like unruly children, then let the Ancient Silver Dragon overpower them with his breath and, while they're paralyzed (conscious but unable to act), explain to them what one of his lesser kin might have done in his place, then use magical means to coerce their cooperation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, once paralyzed, the dragon can take ALL their magic and leave... After all, if they had listen... \$\endgroup\$ – Alexis Wilke Feb 13 '15 at 5:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am only avoiding giving this a +1 because it doesn't cover a decent way to ensure that they know that the dragon is more powerful, and instead basically states that meta-gaming, then using an alpha strike control ability is the way to go about it. The overall answer is sound, it just feels like it's missing some meat. \$\endgroup\$ – Aviose Feb 13 '15 at 17:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would like to note why I am accepting this answer. Like most of the 5e rules, it leaves a lot to the imagination while at the same time illustrates the ultimate point: if the players act like children, let the dragon treat them like children \$\endgroup\$ – David Wilkins Feb 16 '15 at 3:14

The Silver Dragons tend to be good. This ancient Dragon might quickly overpower them even almost killing one of the characters and then say: "Choose! Let your friend die and keep fighting or stop this non sense and accept who the superior being is for you are no more to me than a mosquito is to an elf" or something like that.

This is supposed to be a humbling experience and the Dragon won't just kill them if she's good and has something to say. I would even make the dragon cast a few spells to make them sleep or to paralyze them one way or the other, just to prove how supperior she is and how weak they are as a party.

If they decide to keep fighting the Dragon, I'd kill them one by one always saying things like: "One less creature whose name I will not remember"

  • \$\begingroup\$ Dragons are supposed to be the epitome of power, magnificence, and hubris, so this seems very well up their ally. \$\endgroup\$ – Aviose Feb 13 '15 at 17:46

In recent editions of Dungeons & Dragons, players virtually always won every encounter they joined. This is has been a trope of the game. Fifth edition is developing a different playstyle, and it's important to get your players on the same page about this. It sounds as though you intend to play a game more in line with older editions, where there is a genuine risk of encounters way above the PCs' level.

It would be best to warn them about this explicitly, at the beginning of the first session. Let them know that you will be periodically inserting encounters they cannot possibly win. You may wish to inflate the threat, for example by promising to roll randomly for Encounter Level. This would add a fun degree of tension to the game, draining players' complacence and restoring the sensation of genuine success when tough monsters are defeated.

It would help if this encounter with the Silver Dragon didn't follow immediately after the warning, to keep the players in suspense. When's the DM going to spring it on us? they'll wonder.

When it's time for an actual deadly encounter, if the players do decide to attack, hyperbolic narration would help drive the point home. When describing the effect of their attacks on it, emphasize how effortlessly it deflects them, or how little damage it seems to take. It would help to know the PCs' hit points going into this encounter; if you're not above fudging rolls, one hit that knocks a PC down to 1hp should get the message across.

An explicit warning ahead of time, coupled with narration that emphasizes the creature's power and presence, should communicate the fruitlessness of attack. Even so, if you do this, you're unavoidably running the risk of a TPK. Players are like that.

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    \$\begingroup\$ First paragraph: you may want to check assumptions. This is true in 4e, somewhat in 3.x, and absolutely untrue in earlier editions. ...And 5e is based on a blend of 3e and those earlier editions. 5e is built to be that "different kind of game" that this answer implies it's not. However, getting on the same page with the players (who may be operating on similar mistaken assumptions) is always good advice. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 12 '15 at 23:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have to agree with SevenSidedDie. My players already met several foe that would have killed them easy (Cloud giant against 5 level 1... a weretiger when they had no magic weapon and little to not spells...) Both were good and part of the campaign at large. \$\endgroup\$ – Alexis Wilke Feb 13 '15 at 6:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with previous fellow commenters. Even current modules like 'Hoard of the Dragon Queen' feature encounters that are too difficult for players and not designed to be won or engaged in in the first place. \$\endgroup\$ – Eric Feb 13 '15 at 10:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Edited in light of consensus in comments. \$\endgroup\$ – Bailey Feb 13 '15 at 15:41

You don't need a reason for the party not to kill the dragon. What you need is some motivation for the dragon not to kill the party. After all, based on what you've described, you've got an angry ancient dragon that could just squash the PCs like bugs if it wanted — there has to be some pretty good reason for it to hold back from doing so.

Once you figure out why the dragon wants to keep the PCs alive, everything else falls into place. Sure, if your players are such total murderhobos as you describe, the may well decide to attack the dragon — but if the dragon is also as powerful as you describe, it really makes no difference. The worst they could do is piss off the dragon — but in the scenario you describe, the dragon is already pissed off anyway, and only holding back because it wants something else from the PCs than their lives.

The way I see this encounter going, the players will most likely attack the dragon, or at least try to. The dragon will then use its breath attack to paralyze the PCs, or disable them by some other means. Once the PCs are properly subdued, the dragon will then patiently explain to the PCs what a bunch of idiots they are (feel free to roleplay this part — you know you want to) and that they should all be dead at this point, but for one thing...

Of course, the tricky part is coming up with a good reason for the dragon to actually need the PCs alive for some purpose. Of course, an obvious (and therefore somewhat cliché) reason is that the dragon wants the players to perform some service (quest!) for itself, but ideally, it really should be something that the dragon cannot just as easily a) do itself, or b) get a smarter and/or more obedient bunch of adventurers to do equally well.

Here, I would like to draw your attention to the expressions "cat's paw" and "plausible deniability". Whatever the dragon wants the PCs to do, it could be something that the dragon does not want to be personally involved in, and ideally something that is reasonably in character for the PCs to do on their own (i.e. probably killing something and stealing its loot). It also makes perfect sense for the reason (and possibly the entire mission) told to the PCs to be something more or less completely different from the actual reason the dragon wants the PCs to be involved — most likely to their detriment. But that's for the players to find out later (all in the name of fun and a good adventure, of course).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Dragons are also alien intelligences with alien motives. It might just be degrading to the Silver to resort to killing helpless children such as the PCs. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 13 '15 at 18:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Silvers are also the most friendly toward humanoids. \$\endgroup\$ – David Wilkins Feb 13 '15 at 19:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ That too. But +1 anyway, since this took the words out of my mouth. Er, keyboard. Something. +1. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 13 '15 at 20:54

I can tell you what I have done in the past.

First of all I always made sure that players knew that there are things in the world that they can't fight, at least now. Hence my job in this case was easier.

Secondly Evil doesn't mean necessarily kill on sight. Often Evil can mean someone who has bad intentions, wants bad results, but will kill when/if needed (as opposed to enjoying killing).

So here are a few things that you can do. First of all you can have that dragon attack something first that party knows is way more powerful than they are, and destroy it. Then it turns its attention on the party, basically saying "NOW IT'S YOUR TURN", while taking a deep breath. It's then up to your players to think fast as to what to say before they get fried.

Secondly you can have the dragon fly in, breathe around the party, land, and yell/threaten. If anybody does anything stupid, like attack, have the dragon in one turn knock that character down (remember you are the DM, do what is good for the story even if rules don't allow it). This way you establish the power of the Dragon without actually killing anybody.

Ultimately though remember that this is up to your players. If they insist on doing something stupid, kill them. Next time your game will be more enjoyable as your players will know that TPK is a possibility. In my experience when players know that there is a good chance of death they pay attention far more to what they do.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Up voting because no one previously mention a "display of power" like this before \$\endgroup\$ – David Wilkins Dec 4 '15 at 23:25

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