So commented Blueskreem on my last post. Right after he said, "screw balance."
I've got three or five blog posts on the tip of my fingertips that I've been trying to decide how to order (which to type first: the begging, the gushing, or the ranting?), and one dude comments and completely throws me into a tizzy.
Dragons should never be just another encounter.
Those words just keep ringing in my head, even as I need to get some sleep before the morrow. Ugh.
How often do YOU throw dragons into your game as an off-hand encounter? Me, I never did. Hell, I hardly ever saw a dragon in one of my games. Ever. Generally, if there was a dragon, then it WAS the adventure, i.e. the whole enchilada.
I can clearly recall getting together with my buddy, Matt, shortly after acquiring the Cook/Marsh Expert Set. Anxious to try out the high level characters. Finally, players could have PCs able to take on the dragons in Moldvay's basic! We rolled up a 9th level (or higher, I don't recall) cleric for Matt, outfitted him with a bunch of mercenary soldiers (those were new with the Expert set also), and sent him out into the desert to find...and fight...a blue dragon.
As far as I can recall, that was the first time I used a dragon in a game of D&D. I don't recall if Matt survived or not (though I almost certainly recall letting his cleric use a lance...those rules were new with the Expert set as well). Ha...even then I treated clerics like paladins.
The next time I recall putting a dragon into a game...hmmm...I think there may have been a green dragon in X1:Isle of Dread, but I'm not sure it was ever encountered. Later...much later (as in, AD&D later) I got ambitious after reading The Hobbit and made a knock-off of Smaug and Lonely Mountain. Again, the red dragon WAS the adventure...get to the mountain, kill the dragon, get the treasure.
I don't remember anyone ever making it that far.
Back when I was younger (before my "creative metabolism" started slowing down), I drew a LOT of maps, nearly all "dungeons" of one type or another. And almost none had a dragon. Frankly, there was always the odd question of how did a dragon get IN to the dungeon in the first place...especially a deep, nether level. Not to mention what did the thing do for food.
[good morning! I fell asleep in the middle of posting!]
But mainly I had a problem thinking up any dungeon where a dragon would be another cheap-o encounter. I mean, they have such incredible killing power. And their treasure hordes are so big. And, and...
I get a little intimidated at the prospect.
I know I've mentioned before, at least in passing, how few old TSR modules had dragons in them. The giant series (white in G2, red in G3). Old I2 had a great black dragon. Um...there was a gold dragon polymorphed into a goody-good humanoid in a couple (X2 and UK1)...but really, not all that many. I mean, considering the game is called Dungeons & Dragons.
But this was fine by me. I always wanted dragons to stay "special" and rare and powerful (and rich!). The idea that you could "scale down" (starting in 3rd edition and I'm sure continuing into 4th) was always...well, at first it seemed nice that low level characters could actually have a chance at confronting a dragon. Now it seems...well, a cop out. Like giving kids trophies for everything just so they feel like they accomplished something. I know, I know...that's a "generational thang." But it feels the same.
In my opinion, you SHOULD have to work hard (at playing a game...sheesh, is that really work?) to have the stuff you need to take on a legendary creature with any chance of survival. You know, back in the "old days" an ancient red dragon was right at the top of the food chain. 88 points of damage with a breath attack? That's instant barbecue to most 4th level "heroes" (or 8th level "superheroes" that fail their save). Non-fighter classes might as well toss their character sheets if they accidentally wake the wyrm.
But now, dragons seem like "just another monster." Oh, a big monster...a "boss" monster (or whatever the term is). But just a monster. Maybe one that talks.
I did throw some Ancient Wyrms into my B/X Companion...what I like to call "Smaug-class" critters...though I didn't devote nearly as much space to it as Mentzer's Companion with his "large" and "huge" dragons (would you like that super-sized, sir?)...just enough to keep 'em interesting up to the highest levels of play. Personally, I think they're fine and dandy as "big bads" and they definitely deserve to have whole adventure scenarios built around themselves alone.
Just wanted to say I agreed with Mr. Blue's sentiment. How could you dare to call a dragon "just another encounter?"