Posts Tagged ‘Dragon’

Return of the Dragon King

November 30, 2018

Back in the days of AD&D 2nd Edition, the Dark Sun campaign setting was the campaign world that epitomized what we’d now think of as “epic-level gaming.”

Of course, if you knew where to look, you’d find plenty of epic-level material elsewhere. The Player’s Option books had rules for True Dweomers and characters of up to 30th level, after all. Not to mention how the Forgotten Realms had plenty of level 20+ wizards running around, Greyhawk had evil demigods that needed to be fought (Iuz being the most famous, but there were also such notables as Vecna or Kyuss), and if you were playing in Mystara then you might be on the road to becoming a god yourself!

Even so, Dark Sun was perhaps the only campaign that really made its epic-level characters into a fundamental part of the setting, rather than an adjunct. The Sorcerer-Kings set the tone for the game world, serving as background elements and aspects of the setting’s meta-plot. Being able to grow powerful enough to defeat them was the ultimate lure for characters that adventured in Athas, even if very few ever actually succeeded.

For those that wanted to become one, however, a different path was open.

When you don’t need no “Council of Wyrms” to rule.

The Dragon Kings book detailed the mechanics behind the process of fusing arcane magic and psionic powers to become an immortal dragon, as the Sorcerer-Kings were in the process of doing. While stat blocks for the Sorcerer-Kings themselves were printed elsewhere (such as in Beyond the Prism Pentad), this was the book that let you be like them. (Though it still flat-out denied you the ability to grant spells to templars of your own the way they could.)

Spread across ten levels, from 21st to 30th, the power of a dragon was difficult to attain, requiring numerous preparations and special circumstances. Ironically, these were so esoteric that they didn’t translate well into fiction written for the game world; in every single novel that dealt with the Sorcerer-Kings in any great detail, the discussion as to how they were progressing through their transformations disagreed with what was written in Dragon Kings. Fortunately, the powers that they gained as a result were more notable, and were far easier to put “on screen,” as it were. Having awesome natural defenses and potent physical, magical, and psionic powers tended to be the part that grabbed most readers’ and gamers’ attention anyway.

Unfortunately, Athasian dragons didn’t translate well into D&D Third Edition. Not only had the Dark Sun world been shelved (getting only a few brief articles Dragon magazine and one adventure in Dungeon), but the rules for becoming a dragon were unbalanced under the d20 System, even by the rather poor standards of epic-level games. Despite that, while an official version of an Athasian dragon progression would never be seen again (notwithstanding as an epic destiny in the D&D 4th Edition version of Dark Sun), numerous fan-sites would write up their own versions, typically as an epic-level prestige class.

In that vein, today’s post is my take on how such a write-up would look using Eclipse: The Codex Persona.

The Eldritch Dragon (10-level progression)

Available Character Points: 240 (10 character levels) +20 (restrictions) = 260 CPs.

There is, strictly speaking, no need for this “prestige class” to be taken at epic levels. As written, it could be taken virtually anytime, even starting at 1st-level! That said, most characters will want to progress in both a magic progression and a psionic progression – at the very least – before delving too deeply into what’s here.

An eldritch dragon has a restriction against wearing armor of any sort (which their metamorphosed bodies can’t really wear anyway). Their second restriction is actually a variant rule: they take a cumulative -1 penalty per level to saves against pain-based spells and effects (including spells with the [pain] descriptor in Pathfinder), to a maximum of -10. This approximates how the continuing metamorphosis is described as increasingly painful, without the rather unwieldy “animalistic period” described in Dragon Kings, which presented the transforming dragon as being in too much pain to think straight, even as further progression required them to build ziggurats and make bargains with elemental powers.

Defiling Magic

If you want to make a character that practices defiling magic – the practice of draining the local plant life to death to power your spellcasting – in Eclipse, my recommendation is as follows: defiling magic is taken as a variation of the Restrained limitation on a magic progression (Eclipse, p. 11). Rather than restricting what sort of spells you can learn, it restricts your ability to gather the necessary energy to cast your spells.

  • In lush, natural surroundings (such as jungles, prairies, forests, etc.) you have to spend a swift action in order to gather enough power to cast a spell. This does not provoke an attack of opportunity. Gathered power lasts for 1 round before dissipating.
  • In areas of restrained plant life (such as in urban areas, caverns, areas of water where the seafloor is less than 200 meters deep, etc.), you have to spend a move action (which provokes an attack of opportunity) gathering power before you can cast a spell. Gathered power lasts for 1 round before dissipating.
  • In areas of severely restrained plant life (such as deserts, arctic tundras, places of extreme devastation, etc.) you must spend a full-round action gathering enough energy to cast a spell, which provokes an attack of opportunity. Gathered power lasts for 1 round before dissipating.
  • In areas of no plant life whatsoever (such as the areas of water where the seafloor is more than 200 meters deep, outer space, the Elemental Planes, etc.) you cannot cast spells at all, unless you have an alternate power source, such as Body Fuel or Mana.

Defiling magic scars the soil where it’s used, to a radius of 10 feet per spell level (5 feet for 0-level spells), requiring generations before it can be restored to the point where it can support vegetation again (if it ever can). Naturally, those who use defiling magic find that it makes druids, fey, sapient plant creatures, and numerous other entities automatically hostile toward the them (outside of special circumstances, at the GM’s discretion).

This is a variant on the original rules about defiling in order to make the mechanics match the original idea more closely. Defiling magic was always presented as “the easy path to power” in comparison to preserving magic, which was taking enough life energy from the surrounding vegetation that you did no permanent damage to it. In this case, that’s presented as being the CPs that the user saves by having an additional limitation on their magic progression.

If you want to play a character that utilizes preserving magic instead, take this variation of the Restrained limitation, but corrupted for two-thirds benefit (that is, they only receive two-thirds of the CPs they’d otherwise save from applying it to their magic progression; you can’t usually corrupt a limitation this way, but this is an exception). Such characters are still required to spend extra actions to cast spells as outlined above, but do not kill the soil around them and do not automatically earn the hatred of numerous ecologically-minded people and creatures.

Draconic Form (90 CP)

  • 10d4 Hit Dice (0 CP).
  • Int. bonus x 10 skill points (0 CP).
  • +0 Fort, +7 Ref, +5 Will (36 CP).
  • Three levels of Growth, specialized and corrupted for reduced cost/treated as a dragon for all effects related to type (e.g. Favored Foe, arrows of slaying, etc.), worn magic items do not function unless upgraded to “slotless” items (i.e. pay double their market cost if they aren’t slotless already) or are built into the body (e.g. Innate Enchantment, Siddhisyoga, etc.) (48 CP).
  • Extra Limb/tail, specialized for one-half cost/cannot function as prehensile limb (3 CP).
  • Extra Limb/jaws, specialized for one-half cost/does not gain extra limb; only functions as a prerequisite to use a bite attack (3 CP).

A few things here deserve explanation. While the Hit Dice and skill points are part-and-parcel of gaining 10 levels, the save bonuses are here to represent that gaining ten levels should modify your saving throws appropriately. While that should, at epic levels, result in each of your saves going up by +5, the modified totals there represent the adjustments by your size: you’ll gain a +6 to your Fortitude save just from your modified Constitution score, and so there’s no need to purchase anything there. Likewise, Reflex is overbought to compensate for your Dexterity adjustment.

The full list of the changes made on account of your size (presuming that you start off as being Medium) are as follows: Strength +24, Dex -8 (treat as Dex -4 for modifying AC, initiative, Reflex saves, and ranged attack rolls), Con +12, -4 to attacks/AC, 20-foot space, 20-foot reach, -12 to Hide/Stealth, +9 natural armor bonus, and base 60-foot speed.

While it’s not portrayed as such in the source material, requiring a dragon character to upgrade body slot-based magic items in order to utilize them is thematically consistent. The character has so much raw power flowing through them now that they have no “slots” open on them anymore for typical magic items to interface with. It also helps explain why we don’t really see the Sorcerer-Kings as being draped with magic items the way most d20 characters are.

Engine of Destruction (56 CP)

  • Celerity with the Additional modifier and five instances of Improved, corrupted for increased effect/flight is based on being able to bring wings to bear, 120-foot fly speed (perfect) (33 CP).
  • Martial Arts for 2d10 damage, specialized for one-half cost/cannot utilized manufactured weapons (10 CP).
  • Persistent metamagic theorem, specialized for one-half cost and corrupted for increased effect/only to use the Sacrifice option on a single 9th-level spell slot, requires waiting 1d4 rounds between uses. May use 6th-level spell sand blast, which causes 1d10 points of damage per caster level (25d10 maximum), Reflex save for half (DC 10 + ½ Hit Dice + Con modifier), despite it being of instantaneous duration (3 CP).
  • +5 BAB, specialized for one-half cost/only for use with natural weapons, touch attacks, or ranged touch attacks, corrupted for two-thirds cost/does not contribute to iterative attacks (10 CP).

Note that their natural attacks causing 2d10 points of damage goes for their bite, tail, and two claw attacks. Moreover, this is before their size modifier is taken into account. While it’s not exactly clear how to bump up 2d10 damage dice even further, I’d recommend adding another d10 per size category, for a total of 5d10! This should help drive home just how dangerous a foe eldritch dragons are, even before they start utilizing their magical or psionic abilities!

The use of the Persistent metamagic theorem gives us the eldritch dragon’s signature breath weapon: a cone of super-heated sand. The cone is 70 feet long, and the damage is considered to be half fire damage, half slashing damage (representing abrasion). The slashing portion is subject to damage reduction, but is treated as a magic weapon (an epic weapon at caster level 21+).

Living Fortification (48 CP)

  • Augmented Bonus with the Improved and Advanced modifiers/add Strength modifier to Armor Class as natural armor (18 CP).
  • Defender/dodge bonus, specialized for double effect/may not be used while wearing armor (6 CP).
  • Damage Reduction 5, specialized for double effect/only applies against physical damage, corrupted for increased effect/does not apply against magic weapons (12 CP).
  • Improved Spell Resistance (12 CP).

In the Dragon Kings book, a 30th-level dragon has an AC of -10, whereas they start out with (in their natural state) the same AC of 10 as everyone else. That’s an improvement of +20 over ten levels. While their +9 natural armor from being Gargantuan size helps, it’s offset by taking a -4 size penalty to AC. Hence the use of Augmented Bonus and Defender here (the latter set to being a dodge bonus to help bolster their terrible touch AC). Similarly, DR 15/magic seems to be a fairly decent equivalent for “requires +2 or better weapons to hit.” Improved Spell Resistance isn’t quite as good as 80% magic resistance, but the two mechanics are dissimilar enough that it’s an acceptable translation on its own.

Magical Juggernaut (54 CP)

  • +10 caster levels, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only for one arcane spellcasting class and one psionic class (40 CP).
  • Mighty Invocation, specialized for double effect and corrupted for two-thirds cost/can only be utilized with specially-prepared foci of ten obsidian orbs, causes 10d6 damage to all living creatures within 100 feet of you (Fort save for half, DC 20 + spellcasting modifier) (8 CP).
  • Augmented Bonus/add Strength score to one mental ability score for determining bonus spells/psionic power points (6 CP).

The additional caster levels, and the use of Augmented Bonus, cover a lot of the magical and psionic strength that a fully-transformed dragon has. In Dragon Kings, a dragon gains one psionic science and one psionic devotion, along with the standard PSP gain, per level. They also gain additional spell slots for each spell level they can cast (and four 10th level spell slots by 30th level). In this case, we’re utilizing the increased caster levels in conjunction with their Augmented Bonus to approximate that, since together those increase their bonus spells per level through the roof; it’s taken as a given that the same mental ability score, typically Intelligence, will be the one that affects spellcasting and psionics both. (Though this brings up the question of whether or not it’s possible to gain bonus spells for a 10th level spell slot, like the one gained by Mighty Invocation. If the GM says that they don’t, then the dragon character will need to look into purchasing it a second time, or taking an Immunity, etc. if they want to be able to cast four 10th-level spells per day.)

The more controversial aspect of what’s here, however, is likely to be the damage inflicted by casting those 10th-level slots. At first that’s likely going to look like an advantage, rather than a limitation. The salient point to remember is that it affects ALL living creatures other than the caster, without exception. So your party members, their familiars and animal companions, non-hostile NPCs, summoned creatures, etc. are all going to take the damage every time you cast a high-level spell, unless they get far away from you. (For those of them that want to try and mitigate this, treat the damage as being caused by negative energy.)

Beneficial Side Effects (12 CP)

  • Immunity/aging (common/minor/major) (6 CP).
  • Immunity/having to speak a language to be able to communicate with it (common/minor/major), specialized for one-half cost/does not allow for reading and writing; only speech (3 CP).
  • Imbuement, specialized for one-half cost/only to allow natural weapons to overcome magic-based damage reduction (3 CP).

While their agelessness was a salient feature of dragon characters, their ability to speak any language was an oft-overlooked benefit. Likewise, while it wasn’t expressly spelled out, the AD&D 2nd Edition game rules implied that a dragon could hit creatures that needed magical weapons to damage, at least to a certain degree. Hence, they have Imbuement here.

From Dragon to Dragon-King

As originally written, PC dragons could gain the power of the Sorcerer-Kings in every way except for granting spells to templars that worshiped them. Hence, that particular ability has not been written into the above progression. If you want to create a character with that ability, try the following:

  • Dominion with the Manipulation ability, specialized for one-half cost/only as prerequisites (6 CP).
  • Sphere of Influence, specialized and corrupted for triple effect/you do not sense events related to your portfolio, you do not pay a reduced cost for using magic related to your portfolio, your ability to grant spells does not increase when you’re on a plane that’s otherwise appropriate for doing so, and you cannot elect to merge with your sphere of influence (6 CP).

This grants you the ability to grant divine spells of up to 9th level, along with up to three domains (traditionally, these will include domains that match the non-neutral portions of your alignment), to those who worship you. Since this costs only 12 CP to achieve, you could conceivably take this as a package deal if you want to say that it was gained due to some circumstance that you weren’t aware of at the time (as it was for the original Sorcerer-Kings). Most characters will want to quickly scrounge up another 6 CP so that they can use Dominion and Manipulation once they decide to begin formally establishing a seat of power for their burgeoning clergy.


The eldritch dragon progression recreates the Athasian dragon almost perfectly. While a few figures are slightly off from the original, the sum total is so close that it’s functionally the same. The one thing it doesn’t have is the major requirements to progress through each successive level, but that’s probably for the best.

If you do want to make gaining each level of eldritch dragon into a quest in its own right, consider requiring that the dragon character take Occult Ritual (Eclipse, p. 96), and having each level require that a successful ritual be cast. Alternatively, you can say that becoming an eldritch dragon is a form of mythic progression (the ten levels make it perfect for that), requiring various epic deeds to advance. Either way will make the character be a source of adventures unto themselves.

Just remember that sleeping on a big pile of treasure is optional.

The DragonStrike Connection

April 26, 2014

I’ve come to the realization that I’ve been limiting myself too much with regards to this blog. When I started Intelligence Check, I had in mind that it would be dedicated solely to Pathfinder. This was supposed to serve as a tight focus that would serve to keep me on target with regards to what I wrote about. Everything that wasn’t Pathfinder was off the table for this space.

In hindsight, this was an easy promise to make to myself, since back in early 2010 I was still very enthusiastic about Pathfinder, and couldn’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t be so. Alas, such a time eventually came to pass, and that’s a large part of the reason that my posting here has waned over the last several months. (The other reason is that I feel I need to post large, involved articles, which is a habit I have less energy for these days.)

So I’ve decided to relax my own rule regarding posting content. This doesn’t mean I’ll suddenly start talking about anime or video games, though – I’m not completely dismantling this blog’s theme. Instead, I’m going to open it up to more generalized tabletop RPG topics. So if I feel like talking about D&D or BESM or some other game, you can expect to see that here.

Having said that, I’m going to exercise this new-found freedom to post on a particularly niche subject: TSR’s old DragonStrike game.


DragonStrike was, as Wikipedia calls it, an “adventure board game” that was pretty clearly meant to be a gateway to Dungeons & Dragons. It came with large boards that were maps, some pre-made character sheets, dice, a very large number of plastic miniatures, and a 30 minute “hyper reality” video.

The video was the game’s big hook, as it showed a fantasy adventure using a mixture of live-action actors and computer graphics that were fairly cutting-edge for the early 90’s, but now look hysterically bad. Intercut with these were shots of a Dungeon Master (or, as he called himself, the “Dragon Master”) talking with some faceless players, all of them playing the characters we see in the adventure.

The game was fairly low-impact (I suspect that even back in then, few people were very impressed with it), but it did get a bit more support from TSR than a lot of people knew at the time…the people who cared, I mean.

For instance, there were four DragonStrike short novels released, one about each of the adventurers. There were also two DragonStrike Endless Quest novels (which were Choose Your Own Adventure novels, but they couldn’t use that name), and a single-issue comic book adaptation of the video. There was even a two-page expansion for the game in issue #196 of Dragon magazine, consisting of a map and an alternative adventure outline.

Even more arcane was the knowledge that a sequel game, called WildSpace, came very close to being released. WildSpace introduced Spelljammer concepts into DragonStrike, using the same cast of characters and presumably the same game rules. The game was going to have several support products as well; there were some four novels written, and of course another terrible video was produced. There were even rumors they were trying to make that video into a TV series. Man were we lucky that deal fell through.

As it was, all of WildSpace was canceled just before being released, save for a single Endless Quest novel, which somehow made it out the door just in time.

This is all an interesting bit of TSR history, of course, but beyond the Spelljammer connection – which is iffy, since the cosmology is different (having no crystal spheres or spelljamming helms, for instance, and having the Phlogiston be a magical wind that the space-faring ships can sail via) – it has no real connection to the classic D&D multiverse.

Or does it? Would you be surprised to learn that there’s evidence to suggest that the game world in which DragonStrike is set is actually the Forgotten Realms?

The Realms Connection

The first point of evidence here is that the WildSpace Endless Quest novel, cosmological problems aside, is set on the Rock of Bral, which is the default “hub” point for PCs in Spelljammer. While the Spelljammer products never give the Rock a definitive location, the Forgotten Realms product Faiths & Avatars (in the entry for Tyr) places it within the Tears of Selune, the asteroids that follow Toril’s moon around.

Now, there’s a strong argument to be made that this isn’t actually the case, and that that entry is more likely mistakenly identifying a similar asteroid-city, but it’s still noteworthy. It’s also not the primary point of evidence.

More central to our case is a certain D&D trading cards. D&D trading cards were produced in 1991-1993, with a new set coming out each year. Made for AD&D Second Edition, each card featured a character, monster, or item, with a picture on the front and a description on the back. It’s notable that some characters that received stats nowhere else got them here (such as Teldin Moore, the main character of the six-part Spelljammer series of novels).

One of the characters from the 1991 set (card #411) is King Halvor II – a character with the same name as the king in the DragonStrike video. Labeled as being in the Forgotten Realms, the card denotes that he’s a 15th-level warrior (that is, a fighter), is Lawful Good, and is described as follows:

Halvor is king of a large country. He has great plans to control all the lands between the sea to the west and the sea to the east. He believes the gods favor him in this goal.

Now, obviously this 1991 card came out before the 1993 release of DragonStrike, and this might be a coincidence. After all, the two characters are clearly nothing alike. Even the picture that’s used on the card is very different from how the bumbling king in the video looks. But there’s still another card to play…

King Halvor II

The same picture on both cards. Coincidence? Or conspiracy?

That card is from Spellfire. I’ve talked about this game before, but as a quick overview, Spellfire was a CCG based on Dungeons & Dragons. It was TSR’s answer to Magic: the Gathering, but ultimately failed to dethrone it. However, it did produce some interesting materials, not the least of which was card number 64 from the First Edition set…King Halvor II.

The card uses the same artwork as the 1991 trading card, listing King Halvor II as being a level 5 hero card, with the Forgotten Realms logo, but no other special powers or abilities. By itself that tells us nothing new, but for the Spellfire Reference Guide Vol. 1. This guidebook for the first several sets of cards reviews each of them in terms of how best to use them, or not use them, in the game. But for some cards, it also has a few sentences discussing the subject of the card in further detail. King Halvor II is one of the cards that receives this treatment, saying the following:

This king is best known as the bumbling ruler in the DRAGON STRIKE videotape adventure. What is not so well known is that the bumbler is actually an imposter. The real king Halvor II, shown here, was a noble and good king of fiery temper. He carried a magical sword of unknown powers. His current whereabouts are unknown.

That seems to settle it, as that description explicitly connects the character on the card with the one in the video, which along with this card’s world logo (and that of the character with the same picture on the earlier trading card) clearly denote his origin as being in the Realms.

(As a note, the bit about the magical sword is slightly odd. The trading card says that it’s a longsword +4 defender, and in the Fourth Edition of Spellfire, the card is revised to have a +5 flaming sword which can’t be removed from him. Maybe people simply didn’t know what the original sword did? After all, the defender power isn’t flashy like a flaming sword would be.)

Now, it’s likely that this entry (written in 1995) was written to patch up the discrepancy, but I think that’s a great way of reconciling these sorts of errors; turning what’s otherwise a puzzling contradiction into an opportunity for intrigue in your game. What happened to the real king? Who is that imposter really? Who else is in on the plot? An enterprising GM could have a lot of fun with these questions.

These sorts of connections – small cross-references that are easy to miss, but fascinating when noticed – are part of what I’ve always loved about the wider setting of D&D, and why I was sad to see it go away come Third Edition. Still, what’s already out there can’t be taken away, and I plan on writing about more of these in the future. Stay tuned for more D&D – and Pathfinder! – goodness.