Three Against the Dragon

No sooner do I say “gaming is on hold!” than a handful of players ask me to run a one-shot scenario, just for them.

“We want to fight a Dragon. Can you do that? Tonight? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease?”

How could I refuse?

What they wanted to do was fairly simple: see if a bunch of non-optimised characters could face off against a Dragon and win. In other words: did tactics matter more than having a cool uber-build? I checked over the heroes they’d made (here’s a zipfile with the sheets), and figured they’d have to play very, very well and be damned lucky with their dice rolls to stand a chance.

Each character was generated using the Standard Array with the optional Background rules to add a little more colour to each one.

Rhuryn Glaurung is a Human Fighter modelled loosely after Aragorn – a longsword wielding wildwoods hunter of noble birth displaced from his family home. The Occupation – Hunter Background allows him to train in the Nature skill for that “Ranger-who-is-not-a-Ranger” feel.

Lady Ramona the Eladrin Wizard is something of a mystery. Born in the Feywild itself, she’s as cool and ammoral as nature itself. With her Owl Familiar (who she used to scout ahead before the scenario began) and training in Thievery, there’s more to her than meets the eye……..

Finally we have Berrn Greataxe, a Greataxe-wielding (well, duh!) Dwarven Cleric of Moradin. One of the few surviving members of a clan that fell to Dragons decades ago, he’s more than eager to be able to claim vengeance on anything Draconic.

Incidentally, this is how we like our characters to be. Give me interesting backstories over “oh you should have taken this or that Power and have STR 20 and CHA 8” any day.

Here’s how it turned out.

YB Dragon in dah house!

The setup was straightforward. A Young Black Dragon has settled in the shell of an old farmhouse and has been terrorising pilgrims to a nearby temple. Our heroes have been despatched to deal with the beast once and for all. And…. that’s it. No wandering monsters, no traps, no preamble at the temple – this is straight into the action with the heroes stood at the door to the building.

The Dragon is curled on a small pile of trinkets, gold and baubles it’s claimed from the pilgrims. This counts as difficult terrain for our heroes, but as the Dragon can fly it doesn’t affect him.


Initiative is rolled – it’s Dragon (D), Rhuryn (R), Berrn (B) then Lady Ramona (L).

Round One
D: Move, Frightful Presence. R is Stunned then at -2 to attack. Nasty.
R: Stunned!
B: Moves toward the Dragon which gets an Opportunity Attack with its Claws (they miss). Avenging Flame – and it hits! A stonking 22 damage and a further 5 fire damage each round. Nice!
L: Moves next to R and casts Chill Strike which just beats the Dragon’s Fortitude. That’s 14 damage and the Dragon is Dazed. Phew!

The Dragon moves off the pile of “gold” to inflict dragonfear on Rhuryn. The other heroes aren’t affected, but it hits the Fighter hard. He’s frozen to the spot in awe and pretty shaken up for the rest of the encounter. This is a tactical error by the Dragon, intentionally by me – it’s young, overconfident and become careless because of the easy pickings it’s garnered.

Berrn pushes past wih a curse, something akin to bloodlust in his eyes. With a roar of “For my Fathers!” he charges in, deftly jumping over a Dragon claw. His Greataxe wreaths in flame that takes the form of his ghostly Dwarven ancestors, and he strikes! Our heroes have clearly done their homework – this is one Dragon NOT immune to fire. Ouchy.

Lady Ramona’s turn, and she enters the room and unleashes Chill Strike against the Dragon. They’ve got the tactics worked out ahead of time – hit it with attacks that keep it Dazed or do ongoing damage, and the battle should be theirs. That’s what I call A Good Plan.


Round Two
D: The Dragon is Dazed, and that means no Opportunity Attacks this round and everyone is at +2 to hit it. Unfortunately, it’s also time for him to use his Acid Breath! All three are hit. Both Berrn and Rhuryn are immediately Bloodied, and Lady Ramona is….. worse than Bloodied. Ouch ouch ouch.
R: No longer stunned, Rhuryn closes and hits with Villain’s Menace! That’s 17 damage, and more importantly Rhuryn gets some hefty bonuses to hit and damage for the rest of the encounter – if he survives.
B: A quick Healing Word gives Lady Ramona 10 hit points back, followed by Wrathful Thunder which hits thanks to the Dragon being Dazed. Another 16 hits off the Dragon, and it’s Dazed until the next turn again!
L: Lady Ramona scoots along so she’s not in blast area of another Acid Breath, and lobs off a Flaming Sphere against the Dragon. It hits, but only for 6 damage.

Round two, and the Dragon is stunned at the ferocity of the opening attack. Unfortunately all the heroes are bunched together meaning their in prime position for a blast of Acid Breath. This takes ’em all down to Bloodied or worse – another blast of that, and it’ll be over.

As the Dragon is Dazed it can’t make Opportunity Attacks so Rhuryn can close without fear of being smacked with a claw. He does just that, utters a prayer to a long forgotten god, and hits with Villain’s Menace. This is a decider strike for the Fighter – hit with that, and he’s at +2 to hit and +4 damage for the rest of the encounter. Miss, and he might as well kick his chances goodbye. Thankfully, it hits home!

Berrn heals Lady Ramona (with hindsight he should have healed Rhuryn first, but ce la vie) then unleashes Wrathful Thunder, keeping the Dragon Dazed. Lady Ramona makes sure she won’t be hit by another Acid Breath if it’s targeted at the boys, then fires off a Flaming Sphere. This doesn’t do a ton of damage but it’s a fun one to use as it’s just a minor action to keep it moving and doing damage to adjacent foes. A slow burner, if you will.

Round Three
The players have been rolling really well and the Dragon is down to 139 hit points, is Dazed and they’ve survived both Frightful Presence and the Acid Breath.

That’s when things start to go downhill.

D: The Dragon is Dazed. Worse than that, it’s pissed. Time for Cloud of Darkness.
R: Heroically ignoring the fact that he is, essentially, screwed, Rhuryn uses a Covering Attack to help Berrn get the heck out of there – and rolls a 20! That’s 24 damage and (thanks to the Flaming Sphere and ongoing Fire damage), our Dragon is down to 98hp. He’s Bloodied!
B: Berrn is out of the darkness zone. Time for business. Divine Fortune, Lance of Faith – then Berrn spends an Action Point for another Lance of Faith. Both hit, and both Rhuryn and Lady Ramona are at +2 to hit next turn.
L: Her Flaming Sphere burns the Dragon’s ass some more, and she lobs a Magic Missile into the fray. It misses.

Cloud of Darkness is nasty. Pitch blackness descends around the Dragon. Berrn and Rhuryn are effectively blind and at -5 to attack. To repeat – they’re surrounded by pitch blackness, and they’re stood right next to a Dragon. NOT a good place to be.

Rhuryn’s player is convinced that he’s gonna die next round, but wants to make sure the others have a chance of survival. With a shout of “Save yourself my friend!” he attacks, giving Berrn chance to escape the blackness. It’s a critical hit as his longsword lunges into the Dragon’s chest!

Technically, the Dragon *could* use his Acid Breath right now; it’s Blooded and could get an attack off as an immediate reaction. I decide he doesn’t though as he’s still Dazed – if he’s only got a single action each round and can’t make opportunity attacks I reckon he shouldn’t be in a fit state to make immediate attacks either. But next turn……

Berrn is out of the darkness. This means he’s too far away to use his awesome Greataxe, but our Dwarven Cleric has another trick up up his sleeve. He utters a prayer of Divine Fortune to make sure his hits strike true, then lobs off a Lance of Faith, spends an Action Point and fires a second one too! It’s an excellent tactic as it does decent damage and puts both Rhuryn and Lady Ramona at +2 to hit on their next attack.

It doesn’t help though – Lady Ramona’s Magic Missile misses, badly.


Round Four
D: No longer Dazed, the dragon roars and unleashes another Acid Breath. Rhuryn takes another 5 damage and Berrn, just on the edge of the blast, makes the save. Oh, and he maintains the Cloud of Darkness. He likes it in there.
R: Now down to just 9hp, Rhuryn’s days are clearly numbered. Even his Sure Strike misses.
B: Second Wind, then Lance of Faith. That Cloud of Darkness means Berrn hasn’t got a chance of hitting up close with his Greataxe!
L: Flaming Sphere burns the Dragon some more, then one Magic Missile followed by another thanks to an Action Point. One hits, and the other crits!

Time for another Acid Breath from within the blackness. It hits Rhuryn but thankfully it’s a low damage roll. He’s still standing.

Even with the +2 from the Lance of Faith, Rhuryn is at a -5 penalty to hit, and not even a Sure Strike lands a telling blow. He should have got out of there and used Second Wind to heal himself up a little instead. The fool!

That’s what Berrn does, using a Second Wind followed by another Lance of Faith to give Lady Ramona another +2 to hit.

Taking a trick from Berrn she spends an Action Point to unleash two Magic Missiles for a shedload of damage. Wow!

Round Five
The Dragon is down to 47 Hit Points. Rhuryn is down to 9hp but the others are going strong, albeit out of Daily powers and almost out of Encounter ones too. We’re just 4 rounds into the combat and it’s been a brutal affair. The Dragon has used it’s Frightful Presence, Acid Breath (twice!) and Cloud of Darkness, swiping with a claw just once for an Opportunity Attack. The overall feeling is that even the youngest Dragons have a whole range of ways to make you dead. I like.

Even so, this one knows it’s fighting a losing battle. Our heroes have been tactically brilliant, using carefully planned attacks to keep the Dragon Dazed almost every round. And a Dazed Dragon is one that can’t use it’s reach to make Opportunity Attacks, is easier to hit and can only make a single action each round. Between the ongoing damage and the Cleric’s ability to keep the rest of the party’s Hit Points up, the tide of battle wasn’t in his favour.

The Dragon halts and draws back, releasing the cloud of darkness.

“Parley?”, it asks.

Time for a Skill Challenge. If they make 5 successes before 3 fails, the Dragon departs. Whether he leaves with the treasure he’s collected or not depends on the players’ actions.

…and I’ll save what happens next, for another time!

7 Comments on “Three Against the Dragon”

  1. I’m suprised that they were able to do it to be honest. I would have thought the Dragon had them in for sure considering that they were down 2 players from what they should have in order to fight a solo creature off, but i guess that was made up for in part by ACTUALLY ROLEPLAYING THE DRAGON! good work. i loved that you took into consideration what the monsters are thinking and the way they act rather than just reading off what they can do and doing it whenever possible. I’d love to get in a game with you somehow, i think it would probably be a really fun experience having a DM that thinks the way i do.

    But i will say that powergaming has its advantages, like letting the DM powergame too. No more silly encounters with just a couple of monsters. I throw the whole book at my powergamers.

    shinobicows last blog post..XDMC #10 – The Power of Magnetism

  2. I’m not usually a big fan of the “let me tell you about my game” type of articles, but this one was great. I was amazed that a party of 3 was able to hold their own against a Dragon. I think this illustrates the importance of working together and sound tactics. I love that the dragon was smart enough to realize fighting to the death was not his best option. Great encounter and great write-up.

    I see that the PCs were only 1st level, but what level was the dragon? I assume this encounter was balanced according to 4e D&D rules?

    Amerons last blog post..Is The DDI Now A Must Have?

  3. @shinobicow Thanks! I’d much rather role-play the encounters with the monsters acting, thinking and behaving just as (I believe) they would in life. If that means the Dragon is going to be rash, then so be it.

    Similarly, a more cunning foe will plan in advance and prepare well.

    That is, after all, what role-playing is all about. You can’t quantify that in a statblock.

    @Ameron Me neither. Write-ups generally leave me cold, but as enough folks showed interest on Twitter when I posted about this, I thought it worth sharing. I was impressed that they’d thought about how to work as a team and actually managed to pull it off. Kudos to them for that.

    The Dragon itself was a stock Young Black Dragon straight out of the Monster Manual, a Level 4 Solo Lurker. It’s now one of my favourite critters in the book.

  4. Good Stuff. I love this style of breaking down an encounter. I post a semi-regular campaign log over on my site, and I think I may supplement it with a similar breakdown of the most exciting encounter.

    Kind of gives it that old D&D feel, when the books had the actual play in the first few pages.

    The Last Rogues last blog post..Session 5.3 – Punchdrunk Wizard

  5. Love the writeup, but talk about lowballing the combat! The dragon had two action points, used neither as far as I can tell, never used flight to advantage, and apparently a combination of terrible dragon saving rolls and great player attack rolls made this seem a lot more even then it should have been.

  6. @The Last Rogue That’s pretty much the style I was aiming for when I transcribed my gawd-awful notes. Thanks for noticing :D

    @Imp The Dragon spent a lot of the time Dazed, and we decided that a Dazed monster (or PC) can’t spend an Action Point to gain another action – it defeats the point of being Dazed in the first place, otherwise. I’d allow a Dazed PC to use one in a life-or-death situation for dramatic effect, but that’s about it. In other words: the Dragon didn’t really get much of a chance to use his Action Points at all :D

    That also put paid to his Flight – a Dazed monster only gets one action per round, so that meant fight, or fly. This young, inexperienced and overconfident Dragon chose to fight. More fool him.

    Also, this was just 4 short, nasty and brutal combat rounds with both sides rolling well, at least at the start. I think the main difference was in the tactics the players employed. The poor Dragon didn’t really stand a chance.

  7. @Imp & Greywulf
    During a D&D Seminar at last summer’s GenCon, the minds behind 4e D&D were asked flat out if a dazed creature can use an action point and the answer was no. My group has been playing this way since day 1.

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