Irreverent Reading: D&D 5E Monster Manual from Dragon (Brass) to Dragon (Silver) – The Macroeconomics of Treasure Eating

Thanks for dropping by my weekly feature, Irreverent Reading! It’s where my son and I read every word of the Monster Manual digging for nuggets, looking for oddities, and musing on possibilities.

It’s our first week of school at home and we are feeling the burn of reading so many Dragon listings in a row. If you’re going to do your own read through, I’d urge you to check out a few dragons at a time and then skip to somewhere else in the book for awhile. (We plowed straight through so you don’t have to!) As we’ve gone on, we can tell there’s some serious cut-and-paste going on in the stat blocks; the narrative bits are still, for the most part, very fresh.

Come along and we’ll check out all the dragons that play for Team Good!

Metallic Dragons. Ah, yes, I see… just a little whiff of the Eastern tradition of dragon lore in these. A yin to balance the Chromatic Dragon yang.

It’s also interesting to think of the campaign uses for Metallics. They’re the dragons you can trust, so most parties won’t be fighting them… so what to do? Of course, any powerful force in a game can be the source of a lot of headaches (I mean exciting plot developments!) for the PCs. Just take the problems your typical high-level Lawful Good paladin can cause and multiple those by a factor of 100.

I find their Change Shape ability fascinating. The role-playing angle of shape-shifted dragons walking around just to explore humanoid culture is excellent. Hell, it’s a great premise for an Indie RPG, so somebody go make that. (Let me know if somebody already made that!) There’s a million ways to play this.

Oh, man, I want to see the Henry V version of Metallic Dragon culture right now! Standing in for Henry, we have a young dragon living it up as a human, partying day and night at the local pub… and then there’s the King, an Ancient, who wants his son to grow f*** up. Hell, maybe Falstaff could be a frivolous shape-changed Copper Dragon frittering away its life as a barfly. They could have entire arguments in human form, and then when tempers finally flare they could go at it as (surprise!) dragons.

Now that would add some intrigue to your usual barroom brawl! I really like this because: (a.) the barroom brawl is just the hoariest old D&D trope since “No, really, I rolled all 18s,” and (b.) it’s usually a low stakes filler encounter. I love the image of the PCs scurrying between the legs of a pair of squabbling dragons that are threatening to tear up the whole town. What do your intrepid PCs do with that one?

Dragon (Brass). This was the first listing where I felt some serious dragon fatigue. While there’s still some juice in the narrative sections, there’s little intrigue left in the Stat blocks. (This was the exact listing where Xander could recite the headings of the Legendary Actions section with his eyes closed. Literally.)

The Metallics are at least built from a slightly different mold than the Chromatics. They have their rather story-fantastic ability to change shape as mentioned above. And they each have a dual breath weapon option. They trade power for flexibility, though. Their Chromatic cousins get a single powerful breath weapon that comes out in a cone, where many of the metallics get a lesser attack that comes out in a line. Still, the Brass Dragon does get some nifty sleep breath… a totally appropriate weapon for their more forgiving nature.

The difference in character between the Chromatics and Metallics is also very apparent in the narrative sections. Here’s a great example of something in a gentler, though still ominous, key. Apparently the Brass Dragon is the guy at the party that won’t leave you alone…
If an intelligent creature tries to leave a brass dragon’s presence without engaging in conversation, the dragon follows it. If the creature attempts to escape by magic or force, the dragon might respond with a fit of pique, using its sleep gas to incapacitate the creature. When it wakes, the creature finds itself pinned to the ground by giant claws…

Dragon (Bronze). The Bronze is another nice write-up, but I think it gets somewhat shafted when we’re talking mechanics. They get a fire breath weapon, notably much less powerful than a Red Dragon, and Repulsion. The Gold Dragon (below) is the opposite number of the Red Dragon so the difference in raw power is understandable, but the Repulsion breath seems to be particularly limited.

It does no damage and the big payoff is that it knocks the target prone. I can see its utility for knocking opponents of off high places… but if you want to see that happen at the table, then as the DM you need to frame your encounter with falling hazards. Also, the Repulsion breath is a “get off my lawn” power, I suppose, but if someone is ready to go after a dragon, I suspect they are all in for a fight to the death and will not easily be dissuaded.

On the other hand there’s some great implicit guidance for playing a Bronze. Even though they aren’t “tricksters” like Copper dragons, there’s a definite feeling of playfulness about them. With their aquatic life-style, I envision them as very dolphin-like. (Of course, they can easily shape change into such a creature.) And their habit of sneaking on board ships to look for good treasure is downright impish. Still, they are good creatures and are happy to barter with a ship’s captain if they want something. (Now there’s a way to spice up your boring old fantasy journey from A to B!)

I also just love this bit, the mega-scale ship in a bottle…
A bronze dragon lairs in coastal caves. It might salvage a wrecked ship, reconstruct it within the confines of its lair, and use it as a treasure vault or nest of eggs.

Xander also made a cool discovery with this listing. He noticed that none of the Wyrmlings have a claw attack. (Something I hand’t noticed.) And he was all ready with an explanation. “Dad, it’s because their claws haven’t hardened yet!” He’ll be a great DM one day if he wants to be.

Dragon (Copper). Copper Dragons love bards. That’s all you need to know.

Dragon_gold_blogDragon (Gold). Golds aren’t cheated on the combat front. Unlike some of the other Metallics. Oh, no, a bushel basket of hit points, and a solid “A” breath weapon… conical fire, and then an excellent “B” breath weapon, too, a blast of Weakening. (So if you just must go toe-to-toe with one of these beasts, leave Conan at home. His strength will not avail him, by Crom.)

Golds seem as if they’d be likable companions, just a decent sort of creature trying to do the right thing in the world, and they have some crazy unusual abilities…
Devourer of Wealth. Gold dragons can eat just about anything, but their preferred diet consists of pearls and gems. Thankfully, a gold dragon doesn’t need to gorge itself on such wealth to feel satisfied.

It amuses me to think of this as some sort of macroeconomic balancing tool for fantasy campaigns. Did your party make a big score? Just add more hongry Gold Dragons to prevent a deflationary spiral!

In their Lair a Gold Dragon has a “glimpse the future” ability which is pretty awesome. Clever GMs will find ways of adding this to the character of the Gold. Maybe they’re good in general about knowing what’s coming… making them a powerful ally and a deadly foe.

Also, it’s ability to banish someone to a “dream plane” is just the stuff fantasy gaming is made of! If you’re going to bother with it, really dig in here. Remember how dreams can compress time enormously for the dreamer? You could describe a character that’s been sent off to this dream realm having an enter lifetime’s worth of experiences, ideally leading a very different existence, only to plop back into reality a turn or two later. Man, now I just want to figure out a way to use this effect in a game, Gold Dragon or not!

Dragon (Silver). If you want to plant an NPC with a big secret in your campaign, slide a shape-changed Silver into your mix of local townies. It’ll work a treat in your zero-to-hero campaign where you start at first level. (OR take a peddler or someone that wanders in and out of your main game location and decide later if you want them to be a Silver Dragon. It’s called cheating, but it can be fun if you do it well.) Either way you’ll get a great reveal when the time is right.

As the “friendliest and most social of metallic dragons” a sleeper agent Silver should have a good relationship with the characters. Someone that’s always there for them when they’re low, maybe a scarcely glimpsed mentor or a powerful wizard that gives them good things to do in the world. Ideally you’ll work in your reveal as the rising action of an epic quest starts to crest… or maybe the Silver knows it’s dying of old age, and has one last (brutal!) mission for the party.

In general the Silver is just plot hooks all the way down. Take a glimpse at this snippet of the Hoarding History part of its write-up:
Other treasures that make up their hoards can include intact ships, the remains of kings and queens, thrones, the crown jewels of ancient empires, inventions and contraptions, and monoliths carried from the ruins of fallen cities.

If you don’t see eleventy million plot hooks here, then I haven’t been doing my job! The scenarios practically write themselves.

And lest I forget, I’ve left the most unusual bit for last! Within one mile of a Silver Dragon’s lair:
… winds buoy non-evil creatures that fall due to no act of the dragon’s or its allies. Such creatures descend at a rate of 60 feet per round and take no falling damage.

So, go full Free Solo out there and have a blast. Better yet, take someone sketchy along with you and show them how they don’t have to worry about falling. You’ll know soon enough whether they’re naughty or nice…

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Alrighty! We got through the dragon section. Woot, woot!

For those of you playing at home, we are about 120 pages, and a nice round 20 hours, into our project. With our Shelter in Place order in California, we didn’t always feel like doing it, but we did, dammit. You, Dear Reader, are always deserving of content while I still have life to give.

It’ll be interesting to see how far we get this week now that a healthy variety of creatures is back on the menu…

2 thoughts on “Irreverent Reading: D&D 5E Monster Manual from Dragon (Brass) to Dragon (Silver) – The Macroeconomics of Treasure Eating

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