Dragons in Echelon, Part 2: Common Abilities

In Dragons of Echelon, Part 1: Introduction I decided that my easiest path forward for now is to model, with some changes, how dragons are currently implemented in Pathfinder.

Dragon Creature Type

The Dragon creature type has:

  • d12 Hit Die. Irrelevant, hit points are derived from level, tier, and Martial Training Bonus, and modified by the Great Fortitude talent. Dragons are tough, so likely crank most of these.
  • Base Attack Bonus equal to Hit Dice (fast progression). I am prepared to treat this as “dragons are natural predators and violent”. The Dragon Cornerstone can be treated as a Martial Tradition. Not all dragons will have a combat style, but most likely will.
  • Good Fortitude, Reflex, and Will saves. Dragons are likely to take Great Fortitude, Iron Will, and Lightning Reflexes, since that is how these things are modeled.
  • Skill points are irrelevant, but individual dragon types can be expected to have particular skill talents.
  • Darkvision 60′ and low-light vision. I usually split these, but since True Dragons get ‘Dragon Senses’ at Expert tier I’ll keep them together this time.
  • Immune to magic sleep and paralysis effects… I’m not sure how I want to handle this. I don’t like outright immunity, but since they often have better than average saves perhaps a specific bonus that stacks with that will suffice.
  • Natural attacks (ignore ‘proficiency with simple weapons and weapons mentioned in its entry).
  • Proficient with no armor, but may have natural armor.
  • Dragons breathe, eat, and sleep.

I notice that breath weapons and the like are not included in the Dragon creature type.

Dragon Age Categories

Looking over the dragon descriptions in the Pathfinder bestiaries (for reasons described in Finding a New Path and in Dragons in Echelon, Part 3: Comparing RSRD to Pathfinder) I see that there are some abilities common to dragons by age category.

This is awkward. Age categories are not derived from Challenge Rating or Hit Dice, making it a little harder to judge when the abilities should become available. Challenge Rating and Hit Dice are both modified by the age category from the base value, and the base Challenge Ratings are as much as five points apart (White base value is CR 2, Gold base value is CR 7).

Looking over the age categories, I see the following common elements.

  • Wyrmling: dragon senses, immunity to sleep and paralysis, immunity to one or two other things
  • Very Young: nothing
  • Young: nothing
  • Juvenile: nothing
  • Young Adult: DR 5/magic, spell resistance (11+CR)
  • Adult: Frightful Presence
  • Mature Adult: DR 10/magic
  • Old: nothing
  • Very Old: DR 15/magic
  • Ancient: nothing
  • Wyrm: DR 20/magic
  • Great Wyrm: nothing

Wyrmling, per Pathfinder rules, is as “CR +0” (so CR 2..CR 7 depending on color), and Great Wyrm is “CR +16” (so CR 18..CR 23 depending on color). I’d like to normalize this a little, especially since each age category spans two Hit Dice.

I will mostly ignore the age categories for design purposes, except to grab the abilities from them to apply them here. Age categories are misleading as presented in the Pathfinder core rules, since ‘wyrmling’ is only meaningful within the particular color of dragon and has nothing to do with CR. For my purposes, a Heroic dragon is a Heroic dragon… that it is either a Wyrmling Red Dragon or a Young or Juvenile White Dragon is not important to me for design purposes. They have similar common abilities.

White Dragons start at CR 2, which is clearly in Expert territory (and fits fairly well with the definition — significant threat to common soldiers, elite soldiers and adventurers might be expected to deal with them).

  • Expert Dragon is the baseline and gets the Wyrmling and Very Young common benefits. This will need some adjustment, and might be backed off a little to create a ‘Basic Dragon’ tier.
  • Heroic Dragon would get the Young and Juvenile common benefits, but there aren’t any shown here. I’ll have to come back to that — or, more likely, spread some of the wealth currently described for Expert to this tier.
  • Master Dragon gets the effects of Young Adult and Adult: DR 5/magic, spell resistance (which works different in Echelon), and Frightful Presence.
  • Champion Dragon gets the effects of Mature Adult and Old: DR 10/magic.
  • Legendary Dragon gets the effects of Very Old and Ancient: DR 15/magic.
  • Epic Dragon gets the effects of Wyrm and Great Wyrm: DR 20/magic.

This seem kind of boring, but it’s generic, so it’s not really out of line.

Full immunity to an energy type and a couple types of attacks is really nice for an Expert tier ability. I need to digress a little here.

A couple of years ago on my other blog, I explored energy resistance in Echelon and while the details are a little out of date, the conclusions probably still suit. Change ‘immunity to fire’ to ‘resistance to fire equal to 15 points per tier’ and you will quickly find that even on a failed save the target creature will take little damage, and never on a successful save. It can be treated as functional immunity proportionate to the tier of the ability. Because energy resistance is actually a common talent (a very boring one, too) I think I’ll remove it from the base Dragon cornerstone. It will likely be part of the prerequisites for the capstones later.

Combined Cornerstone Talent

My first cut at a combined cornerstone ‘Dragon Warrior’ talent.

Tier Benefits
  • Martial Tradition: Dragon +1
  • Darkvision 60′
  • Low-Light Vision
  • +1 to saves vs. magical sleep and paralysis
  • Martial Tradition: Dragon +2
  • Dragon Senses (doubled ranges)
  • +2 to saves vs. magical sleep and paralysis
  • Martial Tradition: Dragon +3
  • +3 to saves vs. magical sleep and paralysis
  • Martial Tradition: Dragon +4
  • DR 5/magic
  • +4 to saves vs. magical sleep and paralysis
  • Martial Tradition: Dragon +5
  • DR 10/magic
  • +5 to saves vs. magical sleep and paralysis
  • Martial Tradition: Dragon +6
  • DR 15/magic
  • +6 to saves vs. magical sleep and paralysis
  • Martial Tradition: Dragon +7
  • DR 20/magic
  • +7 to saves vs. magical sleep and paralysis

Dragons often take Size (most older dragons are larger than Medium size, and this affects their natural attacks and breath weapon sizes), ‘Saving Throw’ talents (Great Fortitude, Iron Will, Lightning Reflexes), a combat style (the Martial Tradition provides a baseline that is higher than most creatures, but not on par with a dedicated fighter), Natural Armor (which can afford to be much lower than in Pathfinder core rules because Armor Class is increased by the Level Bonus and Martial Training Bonus), Flight, and Breath Weapon.

The Dragon Martial Tradition improves the creatures Martial Training Bonus, as usual, and doubles any Natural Armor and Breath Weapon talents (up to the tier of the Martial Tradition). That is, a creature with the Heroic Dragon talent that takes Heroic Natural Armor and Heroic Breath Weapon would have +3 Martial Training Bonus, +6 Natural Armor bonus, and a 6d6 Breath Weapon (size determined by creature size).

This seems like it’s somewhat rich right now, it gives some significant powers. Then again, ‘everything else’ has to be paid for, and some of the additional benefits gained here (especially doubling the benefits of Natural Armor) are specifically to make up for physical inabilities (dragons cannot, as a rule, wear armor).

Closing Comments

To fully model everything dragons get will likely take all the talent slots available. This is probably correct, since dragons are basically a “monster wins” creature type. By building them as I am here, it is possible to still model them. Taking a Draconic combat style, spending three talents for Saving Throw talents, and taking Natural Armor and Breath Weapon will use the six top-tier slots on the top-tier abilities. Flight and magic use are, per Pathfinder core rules, actually below the top tier.  The biggest dragons are clumsy fliers; if they used higher-tier talent slots for Flight they could be much better at it. Similarly, their casting ability is somewhat lower than their Challenge Rating, let alone their Hit Dice. That could also be brought up, at the cost of some of the other draconic benefits.

The capstone talents can fill in the gaps for the various ‘dragon types’ (colors), and I’ll start digging into that after my next article.

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