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I'm plotting an adventure where the PCs are carried by a dragon from one place to another and I've no idea how long it will take/how far they can go as they're being pursued by the villains and I don't want them to get too far ahead.

What are the top and 'cruising' speeds of a dragon in mph?

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You ask, what is the cruising speed of a dragon?

All dragons older than wyrmlings fly at 80ft. That works out to about 9 mph. If they dash, they can get to about 18 mph.

The DMG gives very specific daily travel distances for flying on griffons, which have the same flying speed as dragons (p. 119).

Flying by spell or magic item works the same as travel on foot, as described in the Player's Handbook. A creature that serves as a flying mount must rest 1 hour for every 3 hours it flies, and it can't fly for more than 9 hours per day. Thus, characters mounted on griffons (which have a flying speed of 80 feet) can travel at 8 miles per hour, covering 72 miles over 9 hours with two 1-hour-long rests over the course of the day. Mounts that don't tire (such as a flying construct) aren't subject to this limitation.

So 72 miles a day.

I think there's plenty of room for interpretation here without breaking the game. It's reasonable that a dragon could push the envelope a bit and spend a bit more time in the air.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Not to mention, dragons have a hoard, and may have cool magic items to help them get places faster. Dragons should be able to move at the speed of plot. \$\endgroup\$ – Marshall Tigerus Oct 7 '16 at 17:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ A new term is coined. "Plot Speed". It will rest alongside Plot Armor, Plot Firepower and other brothers and sisters =P \$\endgroup\$ – Lucas Famelli Apr 25 '17 at 17:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ So are dragons starfuries? \$\endgroup\$ – Garret Gang Aug 28 at 13:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ European silver dragon or African silver dragon? :p \$\endgroup\$ – JohnP Sep 5 at 16:50
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In the DMG pg 242 daily travel for humanoids would be 24 miles per day "normal" pace, 30 miles a day fast pace.

If you assume humanoids average speed is 30ft per round and an adult dragons flying speed is listed at 80 ft per round. You could calculate a ratio for "normal" pace by 80ft/30ft * 24 miles/day = 64 miles/day.

If the dragon does not need sleep perhaps add half again more distance, assuming a humanoid travels 16 hrs in a day. So dragon "normal" pace, no sleep 64 miles/day x 1.5 = 96 miles/day. If you assume humanoids only travel 12hrs per day then you would double the number for a sleepless dragon, so 64 m/day x 2 = 128 miles/day.

To get MPH you just divide the distance by number of hour not sleeping. So since, 24 hrs flying with no sleep gets you 128 miles. Then 128 miles/ 24 hrs = 5.3 miles per hour.

If you throw in the DASH action for every round then you can double the above numbers calculated. So max miles per day no sleep 256 miles and speed = 10.7 MPH.

Actually there were a lot of variables, no description on what was considered when calculating the humanoid travel times. Was it flat straight travel or in the mountains, certainly flying would be straighter. Loss of time for up and down hills around obstacles .vs. flying as the 'crow flies' straight line flat travel.

How do head wind or tail winds effect them? Some arguments indicate that dragons are too heavy for the wind size to fly unassisted by magic. So the do the normal rest, eating and drinking breaks apply that would for normal animals.

A top speed is probably different than a speed that can be maintained for hours on end. I just tried to give you a starting point to work with for long term travel times. Lots of room to throw in other assumptions and change the values.

As Dan B noted, if you go only on the rated speed listed for Dragons 80ft per round (assuming a round includes both movement and action then if you are only moving and effectively are using a "Dash" action, you might double that for short distances at least, so 160 ft per round. 600 rounds in an hour so 160 x 600 = 96000 ft per hour = 96000 / 5280 ft per mile = 18 mile per hour.

Here is a link to bird speeds, but even for them, the range vary from 15 mph seagull cruise speeds to 200 mph for a falcon diving on prey. If dragons use magical assistance for flight normal bird speeds do not have to apply.

https://web.stanford.edu/group/stanfordbirds/text/essays/How_Fast.html

You might argue that dragons could be pseudo-levitating behemoths that only move a few miles per hour. That a small sail boat can move much more quickly than a huge cargo ship. Certainly turning for a dragon would take much longer than for a sparrow.

Dragons at the least could have developed slower moving modes like maybe hover, so they can land safely and pluck prey from the ground without crashing in to trees or over flying prey or they would only be able to hunt in flat open areas.

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    \$\begingroup\$ animal powered transportation is not like driving a ship or plane. Part of the travel time should be reserved for resting. So speed is not as simple as taking the distance traveled per day and dividing by non sleeping time. \$\endgroup\$ – Nibelung Oct 31 '15 at 10:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ The 24 miles per day for humanoids is assuming humanoids travel 8 hours per day. (30 feet per 6 seconds is a bit more than 3 miles per hour.) There's some good description of this at d20srd.org/srd/movement.htm#overlandWalk, but that's for 3.5e; I don't know if there's an equivalent 5e reference. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Oct 31 '15 at 13:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nibelung Dragons are known to fly days on end, but past a few hours, you could reasonably assume a slower speed. rpg.stackexchange.com/a/70494/2057 So, at least if we count Draconomicon as a reliable source for 5e, a dragon flying all day would not do 128 miles, and would require favorable conditions to even stay aloft for days on end (and explicitly could not dash for more than a few minutes). But, it is not as bad as it seems, pretty much nothing in 3.5 goes over 50 miles in a day. \$\endgroup\$ – Jonathon Oct 31 '15 at 15:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ You might want to change your last comparison, since while an airship is slower than an aeroplane, a small sailing boat is always slower than a large ship, and a small fish than a large shark. \$\endgroup\$ – TimLymington Oct 31 '15 at 16:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimLymington is 100% correct. Longer sea ships are capable of more speed than shorter ones. My 23 ft sailboat with a length at waterline of about 16ft has a maximum hull speed of around 5 miles per hour. A small sailing ship of 65ft, with a waterline of say 50ft has a speed somewhere around 9-10 mph. And the USCG Eagle which is 191 ft long (I don't know the LWL cruises around 16-20 mph. HOWEVER, a smaller vessel is more agile, while the mass of a great ship means it may take a whole mile or more before it can come to a full stop. \$\endgroup\$ – Escoce Nov 2 '15 at 17:03
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I think it would be unreasonable to say that dragons top flying speed is less than 2o miles per hour. An average horse can run not full speed in the real world at speeds of 30-40. So does that mean I should be able to out run a dragon on a horse? These measurements were obviously for in battle to create proportions and show who / what was faster than who / what without making battle maps MASSIVE.

It's apparent they're not actually judging the max speed they can travel. Like a swallow can fly 30-40 mph in the real world, so should most birds be able to fly faster than a dragon at full speed?? I understand the calculations, and you should make a creatures overall speed proportional to that, but come on a dragon should be able to fly faster than the speed limit in a school zone.

Like for those who drive, next time you are in your car go 20 miles per hour, and then imagine a dragon traveling at that pitiful speed. 8 mph is like a slightly faster than average jog, or less than an average jog for a man, and a 16 mph is like a higher than average sprint, but still doable for an average person who runs a lot and yet a dash for a barbarian being usually around 100 feet per 6 seconds is only about 11 mph. The average person can run 11 mph with little issue, that's not even typically considered a sprint (dash) for most people.

What I'm saying is that the math here is correct but logically the answers don't make sense to apply to out of battle travel. So its really up to the DM to figure out if a dragon should really be slower than a real world squirrel. (Their top speed is 20 mph)

EDIT: To clarify what I'm saying is that it is up to each DM to decide, as it is for all of the rules. You alter the out of battle movement you should still be using the speeds given in the guide. I'm just suggesting to increase them proportionally if you're trying to say chase down a dragon traveling across the continent. You should be doing it so you're 'not really' changing anything in terms of compared speed as everyone / thing should be getting say a x3 speed increase (for a bad example) it just makes the pacing more realistic while also following the book. I'm just the type of DM that personally thinks while the book is great only ever doing what it says is at times a mistake. Dm's just coming up with your own entirely new systems for most anything often makes things unbalanced but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take the given rules and make something more of them rather than never straying at all. The creators have done a fantastic job being so detailed and great with so many things but with stuff like this it seems clear at least to me that they almost meant for us to build off of what they gave us. To me it seems like they created a simplified system for people who like a system but in a way that's easy to change for those who want to make something more of it. I am NOT saying ignore given speeds just to build off of them. (PROPORTIONALLY to keep things fair)

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    \$\begingroup\$ You are correct that the in-game speeds of many creatures, especially flying creatures, are substantially slower than the real-life speeds of those creatures. However, the DMG does actually say to use a creature's in-game speed statistic to determine its travel pace (Chapter 8, Special Travel Pace). So while it's not unreasonable to ignore that for the sake of the plot or realism, you should make it clear that what you are suggesting goes against the travel pace rules outlined in the DMG. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan Thompson Aug 27 at 20:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 28 at 2:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ To clarify I was saying that it is up to each DM to decide, which is how it is for every rule as a DM can alter the rules in what ever way they like. You should still be using the speeds given in the guide. I'm just suggesting to increase them proportionally. So you're 'not really' changing anything as everyone / thing will be getting say a x3 speed increase (a bad example) it just makes the pacing more realistic while also following the book. I personally think while the book is great only ever doing what it says is at times a mistake. I'm not saying ignore given speeds just build off of them \$\endgroup\$ – Colin Mooney Sep 5 at 17:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ You don't need to signal edits and it's better to bake your update directly into your answer to make it a cohesive whole (edit history is tracked for those wanting to see it.) Having said that, what this answer is missing is examples that you've done or seen where you've overridden the speeds of creatures and how it went. You've chosen to kind of challenge the question by answering it this way which is fine, but it still needs to be supported. My big concern is when do you opt to change speeds? THis is one example, but probably every creature has a similar issue with their speed/top speed. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 5 at 17:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ I know I don't I just felt like I should idk why. This is a simple solution to a complicated issue I know but I don't want to try and rework the whole thing at least not yet. Hopefully this will be fixed in later editions or updates. \$\endgroup\$ – Colin Mooney Sep 5 at 20:07

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