Need helping making a Dragon Encounter Challenging / Terrifying. Please Help.


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I'm having trouble keeping things interesting for my group of experienced players.

Context: Group will be preparing to attack a dragon whom is red-ish in color at quick glance. They know where it resides (in a cave on the side of a mountain), and will likely significantly buff in preparation. Fire resistance, Stoneskin, Mirror Image, Bane, Fly or Air Walk for everyone ... among other things.

This party fears nothing. They crushed a CR 16 encounter with the chapter end boss. They are a very well rounded party, mature experienced players, I am a learning DM still (2 years, but still learning, and still with flaws).

Party Composition (5 Characters, level 12 each):

- Halfling Bard
- Half Elf Inquisitor
- Halfling Slayer
- Elven Cleric
- Gnome Sorcerer

My thoughts: They only saw the dragon at quick glance. I have flexibility over chromatic, metallic, outer, imperial, primal ... if need be, as long as it is vaguely the right colour. I initially thought I could use the mountain side terrain to other disadvantage ... but they will likely fly. I was also thinking not to allow the dragon a chance to sense that they are coming for him, so that they do not catch him off guard and cornered in his lair. I also thought maybe I can give it the Ravener Template.

I need help. As much as I think heroes should be heroic, and feel heroic, they've already laid waste to a dragon before this one with a well placed dazing spell and 2 full attacks. This new dragon is related to the one they slaughtered and is near the end of the chapter and should rightfully feel more difficult. Maybe I should have sibling dragons to the one they killed.

  • Do you have any ideas what kind of encounter I can prepare?
  • How do I properly play a dragon so that it is appropriately terrifying?
  • Is action economy going to be an issue?
  • How do I use the air to the dragons advantage?

Edit: I understand and appreciate the validity of being well prepared against something you are aware of. I think what I need help with most is a surprise element they have not considered (battlefield, additional enemies, maybe a gimmick if the dragon himself is prepared), and proper tactics for playing a dragon the way they were meant to be played.


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How is your party's ranged game? And perhaps more importantly, can they retreat if things go wrong? A truly intelligent dragon would fly around making staffing runs with his breath weapon. The problem is that such tactics tend to obliterate most parties. Especially as a truly intelligent dragon would focus on the biggest threats first.


The only class in that party that can Fly is the Sorcerer and maybe the Cleric. Unless they're really well prepared, have Winged Boots, or can stop into town and restock, they won't really do particularly well against airborne battles unless they're Range-specialized. Additionally, it may not be particularly wise to engage one such as a Dragon in melee combat unless you're extremely buffed to the teeth. I don't see a top-tier Martial in your party, the only one that can possibly fit the bill is the Slayer, and he won't do too well by himself.

Dragons are very damn smart, and have outrageous kinds of perception skills. They can see and understand crap that basic humanoids could only hope to accomplish with Magic Items that utilize their own power. With that said, it's okay to rig the Dragon some in your favor; metagaming a Dragon for a little bit isn't particularly wrong, especially if it's related, as I'm sure the Dragon would have knowledge of his relation's passing from powerful adventurers. Seeing spells being cast by a person, with the proper Spellcraft, means he'll know what the big threats are, and can swoop down and take them out without hesitation or issue.

Also, just because they saw a Red-looking Dragon doesn't mean that Dragons aren't unfamiliar with the means of disguise. Half-Dragon (and standard Dragon) entities exist because Dragons are absolutely great masters of disguise and intermingling with species for their own reproductive purposes. I'm sure a quick Disguise Self or some sort of Glamer effect would allow you to change it to whatever color or type you want. Dragons aren't stupid, and they're extremely cautious.

Don't forget to utilize Magic Items to your advantage too. Dragons have hoards of gold and treasure, and they aren't stupid enough to not use Magic Items in their hoard, especially if they think they're elegant and intelligently designed. Think of Dragons as a bunch of stuck-up rich-kid prep-jocks in terms of personality and availability. Also, if he's related, I'm sure he has a couple mementos of the related Dragon as keepsakes, which also serve as powerful aids to his Dragonhood.

Hit-and-Run tactics are also a favorite of Dragons, using big powerful Bite attacks, or Breath Weapons if they're off cooldown. It whittles down enemies, and when a particularly threatening enemy is on the verge of death (i.e. Spellcaster), you swoop in for the kill. Once all threats are cleaned up, swoop down one last time and clean up the fodder with your natural attacks. Very simple and elegant system, and requires the Players to play on your terms.


Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Dragons are intelligent. Hit and run tactics work in their favor, so if it spots fully buffed pc's coming have it fly off and wait until their spells wear off.
Then hit and run attacks with breath weapons, and flyby bite attacks using its bite from beyond the reach of their melee weapons. Dragons fly speed is sufficiently high that they can end their turns beyond the pc's melee range. A lot of them can also do tricks with weather and seeing through poor visibility which helps a lot with hit and run


icantfallasleep wrote:
  • Do you have any ideas what kind of encounter I can prepare?
  • How do I properly play a dragon so that it is appropriately terrifying?
  • Is action economy going to be an issue?
  • How do I use the air to the dragons advantage?

Dragons suck. Sorry, that's all there is to say, more or less. At least, they suck as a combat encounter. Dragons can make excellent BBEGs if you use them as a power behind the throne kind of idea. They can be sneaky and brutal and manipulative and cause all kinds of trouble. But when it comes down to fighting them, it's rarely every a "good" encounter.

If you make the dragon too powerful, it kills PCs quickly, maybe even a TPK. But if you make it even just a little less powerful than that, it gets killed with a Dazing spell and two full attacks.

If you want a memorable dragon encounter, treat him like the genius he is supposed to be and make him smart enough to NOT engage a party of heroes one-on-five. That's suicide. Have him send wave after wave of minions to consume the heroes' resources. Big, powerful, deadly minions - the kind that the sorcerer and cleric use ALL their best spells to defeat. Then, after the PCs are sufficiently worn out and retreat to a safe place to rest, that's when the dragon hits them. The PCs are sleeping, out of spells, definitely not buffed up. But the dragon IS buffed up to the max. He even paid good cash to some high level spellcaster to drop a few extra buffs on him for this fight - he's knows he'll get that money back, 10x that money back, in PC loot when he wins. Maybe he even made a deal with a second dragon to team upon these heroes and then split the loot after they win.

This could kill the PCs in a fast and furious TPK. Oh well. They'll at least respect dragons after that. But if you do it right, the PCs still win, maybe with a few casualties and everyone else on the brink of death. Tough to beat a dragon when all you have is a couple swords and a few magic items and maybe a few low-level spells still prepared, but it's doable. And the best part is they'll respect dragons after that, too.


Nohwear wrote:
A truly intelligent dragon would fly around making staffing runs with his breath weapon. The problem is that such tactics tend to obliterate most parties.

This probably fails to a well-prepared level 12 party that is also flying, scattered enough to not all get caught in one breath weapon blast, and readying devastating spells and ranged attacks - ultimately the party hits the dragon far more often than the dragon hits the party.

Action economy wins every time.


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Use the legendary monster and lair rules from 5e. Cannot recommend this highly enough.


DM_Blake wrote:
Then, after the PCs are sufficiently worn out and retreat to a safe place to rest, that's when the dragon hits them. The PCs are sleeping, out of spells, definitely not buffed up. But the dragon IS buffed up to the max.

I like this a lot. It will catch them off guard. The PCs buff to the nines. Have the PCs approach the lair and the dragon is out. They can think what they want. There is some gold left behind (whatever the dragon cannot hold on his own) and the PCs think they've won some easy loot. Meanwhile, it is stalking them in revenge, using spells, scrying maybe. And one night as they are particularly low on spells, during their open world travels, he swoops in with a breath weapon surprise round.

If they are sleeping in a town, he is stalking them with his amazing disguise. And then rips one out of his room while he sleeps and flys off and drops him from a certain height.

I think this is more tactical and I appreciate the idea. they will not expect it. Especially since it is unlike me as a DM to do this. I'm unfortunately much more of a instance-encounter centric DM as opposed to an ongoing/stalking/event based DM. This will be refreshing.


Like all single BBEG, they'll die to action economy.

The way to change that is to use terrain and circumstances heavily. If it's a white dragon, make the combat happen in a totally slippery ice surface, surrounded by a blizzard, that blocks the party vision, but not the dragon's. Make cave ins, or make weather bad for flying, forcing rolls to stay flying (sometimes the party full plated frontliners can't fly so easy). Make him cast defensive spells like Mage Armor, Shield, Dispkacement, and resist energy. Grab people and fly with them, then throw them from high altitude.

Grand Lodge

Have them fight elemantals and things immune to fear. Little minions to widdle them and draw thier attention from.....

Dive bomb them with a bumped up fear aura and breath weapon.... When one breaks from the group you scoop them up and drop them from 400ft up. If they fly/float then full round them. Then bolt....come back later and fight them after thier buffs wear off. Keep attacking them in like manner till they are all dead.

Lantern Lodge

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What everyone else has said, with a couple of extra items ...

Dragons are very long lived, intelligent, magical, and typically wealthy.

They will / should have minions: They will have a network of spies to inform them of various powers entering their domain. I had a dragon who had the local thieves guilds on retainer. They often have tribes of minions worshiping them (think kobolds, lizardmen, etc.) These minions, while not usually a problem for PCs, provide an area of notification for the dragon. Plus, a dragon is egotistical enough not to value these minions and through them away just to drain the PCs of resources.

They are magical, and use magic: They know remote viewing spells, and use them. They have magical items, and use them. They have had the time to hire spellcasters to make defensive spells permanent.

They are / should be ABSOLUTE masters of their lair: They have had YEARS to prepare. All the terrain should be designed in their favor. Appropriate protections should be in place to protect them: dimensional anchors, anti-magic, magic traps, squeeze points for breath weapons, lead-lines walls and doors, finishes which prevent movement through them, etc.

They are patient and devious. They have no issue with picking off players one by one. If a plan of theirs doesn't work, they have years to take revenge.

The party I ran against a dragon BBEG was unable to kill him in the initial encounter before he teleported out. The dragon seethed, and he harassed them for MANY adventures before finally taking his opportunity for revenge. He took pleasure in making their life hell. Sent assassins after them. Contracted hags to send them nightmares. Plagued them with illusions that made them questions of what was real vs. not.

The fear and respect for the dragon came as they became afraid to take on a challenges because he might show up to mess with them. It was great!

If I had run this as a 5-on-1 encounter, they would have destroyed him without the resulting fear and loathing.


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I had a GM a lot time ago that loved to give Iron Golems to Red Dragons. They make for a fine combo, as fire heal the golem


So lets start with the offerings for dragons. These are the True Dragons.

Red is clearly the standard option. Best strategy for them (since you won't get high enough to melt stone) is to make the mountain an active volcano, with constant smoke filling every cave. Or any other way to generate constant, room-filling smoke. Smoke the dragon can see through and the players cannot (generally). Eversmoking bottle if necessary.

Solar is a nice second choice, and comes with a Frightful Presence that blinds instead of fears and the ability to ignore a certain amount of fire resistance (and immunity).

Sovereign works color-wise, but it's really more of a social monster than anything else.

Crystal actually works pretty well, especially if you make some traps for the lair that use some of its spells. I'm specifically thinking rainbow pattern, color spray, and various other "blinded by the light" spells.

Magma is great thematically but it doesn't get any of the good stuff until CR 17, so it's probably not much use here.

Umbral only barely meets the description (specifically "its eyes glowing as if lit from within by crimson embers") but would be a hell of a gotcha for the players (negative energy, negative levels, possible shadows). Same probably as Magma though, most of the good abilities are much higher level. For good reason, this thing's a monster if you're not expecting it. 1d4 Str drain on a successful save? Brutal.

Then the dragons who are not Dragons.

Tor Linnorm would be great but it's too high level (CR 21).

Same problem with the Jabberwock. Even the Lesser version is CR 20.

Kongamato is about the right level and certainly interesting, but it's even more of a hit-and-run skirmisher than other dragons. It would need a lot of room to fly freely. It could be lairing at the top of the mountain though, or you could make it a hollowed out volcano, something to give it room to move.

Spine Dragon is a nice fit, it's a little more purple than red but it explicitly gets its color from reflected light. Also comes with sonic attacks, ranged attacks, and some useful SLAs for a cave.

As for actual tactics, as others have said, single villain = dogpile murder. So give the dragon a cult (kobolds are classic but anything will do), set up a bunch of traps, and never ever have them fight fair. Anything big enough to be worth hunting for the party has lived longer than the entire party combined. Maybe even by a factor of 10. You don't live that long and be a complete idiot.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Necro Dot!


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Develop the Dragon as if you would a character.

Use the Dragon's hoard to equip the Dragon/capitalize the Dragon's monstrous organization of minions.

The party goes to the library and are greeted by a kindly, blue-haired old lady with a yellow cardigan and wing-tipped glasses on a chain around her neck helps them find just the book they need about the group of mind flayers they are hunting, but the Mind Flayers capture them, after languishing in their dungeon for days, just as they are taken out to have their brains eaten, the crowd of Mind Flayers part and they cringe diffidently as the librarian marches right up to the party members, grabs them by their ears and marches them right out of the cavern because they borrowed a library book: it's past due, and each of them will be paying a fine of 5 silver pieces. That's their first clue that the lady is actually a Polymorphed Gold Dragon and the library is her hoard.

A Blue Dragon? Probably running Bank of America, foreclosing on peoples houses and farms. Occasionally accepting virgins as interest payments, sometimes eating them, sometimes using them to sire or bear generations of Dragon-blooded Sorcerer-offspring to serve as officers of the Bank.

The head of the chemistry department at the magical university is a Black Dragon named Professor Acerbus. All the freshman have to take him. His lab practical exams are infamous!


Want to make a Dragon encounter terrifying? 3 options.

First one is to give the dragon a Class. Dragons fit well with Fighter so any levels of that you add should directly stack with the dragon's CR. So don't add fighter/melee class levels. Instead add wizard levels, or cleric levels, or some other caster. The CR of the dragon will only increase 1 until you add more class levels than the dragon's base CR.

Second option: Throw a dragon that is too high of a CR for the party to fight. Have the dragon fly overhead. Have it reveal its lair. Have the party do KS checks to identify what age category the dragon is. See if the party takes it on when they have no legit method to win. Don't give the party a real reason to fight it. They know where it is, it isn't causing trouble. Will they attempt to slay a dragon that is 8 CR over their current level? See if they remember to come back when they do get more powerful. Or if they try to negotiate with the dragon.

Third Option: well informed dragon. This dragon knows about the party. The dragon knows about major tactics they use often. Part of the dragon's treasure is in items to protect from the most common magical attacks. This dragon doesn't attack immediately. It attempts to reveal personal information about the party (such as the town/village they base themselves out of) and attempts to pull a protection racket on the adventurers. If they agree to deliver a regular tribute (100gp worth of goods a month) the dragon will make sure no dragons attack the village. If they don't pay, a dragon WILL attack the village when they aren't around.

If the players want to attack, the dragon just leaves and then burns down a farm near the village. Then attempts to talk to the PCs again.

If the players can make a series of negotiations (any social skill) they might be able to pay the dragon to work for them. Probably once the players are 1 level higher than the dragon's CR it would be willing to join them for an equal share of treasure.


icantfallasleep wrote:
DM_Blake wrote:
Then, after the PCs are sufficiently worn out and retreat to a safe place to rest, that's when the dragon hits them. The PCs are sleeping, out of spells, definitely not buffed up. But the dragon IS buffed up to the max.

I like this a lot. It will catch them off guard. The PCs buff to the nines. Have the PCs approach the lair and the dragon is out. They can think what they want. There is some gold left behind (whatever the dragon cannot hold on his own) and the PCs think they've won some easy loot. Meanwhile, it is stalking them in revenge, using spells, scrying maybe. And one night as they are particularly low on spells, during their open world travels, he swoops in with a breath weapon surprise round.

If they are sleeping in a town, he is stalking them with his amazing disguise. And then rips one out of his room while he sleeps and flys off and drops him from a certain height.

I think this is more tactical and I appreciate the idea. they will not expect it. Especially since it is unlike me as a DM to do this. I'm unfortunately much more of a instance-encounter centric DM as opposed to an ongoing/stalking/event based DM. This will be refreshing.

Don't attack your PC's in their sleep out of the blue like this. You're opening a can of worms that you won't be able to close.

Grand Lodge

Given that this was posted nearly 4 years ago that particular session might have already passed :)

But since the topic has been necro'd, a favorite way of mine is to give the dragon sorcerer levels and have it cast major image of itself sleeping, then lie in wait out of sight. The players think they can get the jump on it, maybe even be given a surprise round, and will let their guard down.

Then the real dragon appears from hiding and hits their fast and hard.


Syries wrote:

Given that this was posted nearly 4 years ago that particular session might have already passed :)

But since the topic has been necro'd, a favorite way of mine is to give the dragon sorcerer levels and have it cast major image of itself sleeping, then lie in wait out of sight. The players think they can get the jump on it, maybe even be given a surprise round, and will let their guard down.

Then the real dragon appears from hiding and hits their fast and hard.

Yeah, I saw it was necroed, but I don't really have a problem with that. That just means we are posting for the Necromancer, KingGramJohnson instead of the OP.

So, Necromancer-King, I hope you are reading this and are finding it fun and educational.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Scott Wilhelm wrote:

Yeah, I saw it was necroed, but I don't really have a problem with that. That just means we are posting for the Necromancer, KingGramJohnson instead of the OP.

So, Necromancer-King, I hope you are reading this and are finding it fun and educational.

Indeed! I was looking on advice on dragon encounters and found this thread and dotted it so I could find it again.

My party kind of decided out of the blue that they needed money and the fastest way to get a lot of money really quick is to kill and dragon and take its hoard. I'm sitting there like...Uhhh, okay.

So, here's the situation. I'm running a custom campaign, and my party needs to travel to the Underdark into one of the Vaults of Orv to retrieve a powerful magic item. They want to hire a guide to them them there and get some goggles of night for each of them. So, they need a decent amount of cash to pay for the guide and the wondrous items. A few days prior, as they were traveling, I rolled a random encounter (a dragon). At the time, I didn't feel like running a full dragon attack. So I had an adult red dragon fly over, and the party hid.

The party is 10th level, an adult red dragon is CR 14. The encounter was meant to be a little bump in the road to remind them that travel can be dangerous at times rather than a right. It worked well.

So now, they're like, we need money. There's a dragon that lives nearby (they learned that he's been around for a while from some of the local villagers), probably with a lair with treasure. Let's kill him and take it.

So, I told them if they were sure they wanted to try that, I would set something up, but know that's foolhardy.

So with tips I've picked up from this thread and a few others, I've built, what I could consider, a fairly realistic dragon lair for a dragon of that color and CR with traps to boot.

I've built dragon encounters before, but all of them were with the mindset that the party had the ability to win, even if it was difficult. This is the first time where I've ever built a dragon encounter that is 4 levels above them that they were going to go toe to toe with knowing full and well this will TPK if they get a few bad rolls. I've had parties face powerful dragons before, but that's usually with dialogue or scare tactics rather than a real fight. This dragon, however, is prepared to protect his treasure and will not hold back. And the party is fully aware that this is a very bad idea. They want to do it anyway and are spending what little money they have on ways to protect themselves and get things to help them kill the dragon.

So, yeah, this may end in TPK, but that is their choice by purposefully going after a dragon they know is 4 levels higher than them just because they want to try to get its hoard.

Sorry for the long winded explanation. I have most of the encounter built, but I'll welcome any tips people may have. I'm pretty sure if they fight him in his lair, they will either TPK or run away mostly dead. But they want to try and bait it to come out to them, so I'm trying to think of a way to make it a fun fight out in the open (other than fly around and breathe fire, that is). So, I welcome tips . :-D

Grand Lodge

If you're looking for a way to reduce the CR of an adult red dragon you can say the dragon reappears and fights with another dragon way off in the distance- it wins (killing the 2nd dragon) but appears to be fairly wounded from the fight, encouraging the players to jump on the encounter quickly before it can fully recover. This lets you give it the fatigued condition and reduce HP, and exhaust some of its resources like spells/day.


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( 1 ) It Isn't Really a Red Dragon:
Disguise Self: . . . You cannot change your creature type (although you can appear as another subtype). Otherwise, the extent of the apparent change is up to you. You could add or obscure a minor feature or look like an entirely different person or gender . . .

And the duration is 10 minutes/level. Your adult red dragon could very well, as SOP, cast this spell when it leaves its lair as a precaution against just this sort of thing. Your group prepares its defenses against a red dragon and, whoops, its actually a crystal dragon.

( 2 ) Minions:
A usual red dragon lair has lava. Give this one lava . . . and iron golems. The dragon swims around under the lava while the group fights the golems. Whenever the golems are seriously wounded, have the dragon surface and breathe its fiery hot breath . . . on the golems (recall that fire heals iron golems). Repeat until dead, thus preserving all that juicy, juicy cheddar to add to the dragon's horde instead of melting into slag.

( 3 ) General Tips; A Well-Played Dragon . . .
ALWAYS looks out for number one and
NEVER loses a game of chess.
ALWAYS uses the home field advantage and
NEVER knowingly shows weakness.
ALWAYS acts like royalty and
NEVER wastes its breath weapon.
ALWAYS has an ace up its sleeve and
NEVER makes stupid decisions.
ALWAYS speaks many languages and
NEVER trusts anyone.
ALWAYS uses its wings and
NEVER forgets a slight.
ALWAYS looks for the hidden meaning and
NEVER acts predictably.
ALWAYS overestimates itself and
NEVER fears a human threat.
ALWAYS has an escape route and
NEVER takes meaningless tasks.
ALWAYS is awesome to behold and
NEVER acts on a whim.


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My suggestion is to always rebuild a dragon's feats, especially if you're using a Bestiary (first one) dragon. There are so many amazing feats available now that didn't exist in the beginning of Pathfinder, and a lot of the feats on the Bestiary dragon entries kind of suck for utility.

Consider a combination of Fly By Attack, Snatch, and Snatch and Drop.

Also, redo their spells, especially defensive spells. Consider adding a combination of Displacement and Mirror Image.

Consider the above combination in the following scenario:

Dragon prepares for fight by buffing with defensive spells including Mirror Image and Displacement.

Dragon ends first round flying 40' or so away and casts an offensive spell or a control spell. Maybe something like a create pit or wall spell to get the party split from each other. Dragon takes round of attacks in return using defensive buffs to (hopefully) survive the round.

Round two, dragon targets a character, preferably a caster (since they cause the most problems) for a Fly By Attack bite. If successful, free Grapple attempt, then continue flying another 80' (most dragons have 200' of Fly) before making a forced landing, doing a bit of extra damage to both dragon and grappled character. Party hustles to get closer, and a few should be able to make attacks. Defenses should still be up and mitigating a lot of the damage.

Round three, dragon uses breath weapon, denying the grappled character any saving throw due to the effect of the Snatch feat. Free action to drop the character (who might very well now be out of the fight) and fly away 200'.

Rinse, repeat. Teleport or cast Invisibility and fly away if things start to go sideways. Come back later for revenge, if necessary.

The biggest mistake you can ever make is allowing your party to fight a dragon in a "lair" where the dragon just has to sit there and get melee'd to death. If a lair fight is on the table, make darn sure the dragon has Teleport of Dimension Door to be able to get outside if necessary, where the dragon can then wait on the party to attack them when they come out.

I've been running D&D/Pathfinder for 35 years. I've never had a party ever tell me that dragons are easy after encountering one I've run. Usually, dragons end up being the most hated creatures by all my players. They about throw a party when they finally manage to kill one.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Saldiven wrote:

My suggestion is to always rebuild a dragon's feats, especially if you're using a Bestiary (first one) dragon. There are so many amazing feats available now that didn't exist in the beginning of Pathfinder, and a lot of the feats on the Bestiary dragon entries kind of suck for utility.

Consider a combination of Fly By Attack, Snatch, and Snatch and Drop.

That's a great idea.

Saldiven wrote:
Also, redo their spells, especially defensive spells. Consider adding a combination of Displacement and Mirror Image.

I've actually rebuilt his spell list and did put displacement on there.

Saldiven wrote:
The biggest mistake you can ever make is allowing your party to fight a dragon in a "lair" where the dragon just has to sit there and get melee'd to death. If a lair fight is on the table, make darn sure the dragon has Teleport of Dimension Door to be able to get outside if necessary,...

They are going to attempt to bait it, but if they fail at doing so (in my mind that's if they don't use the right kind of bait, or if the dragon senses that he's being baited rather than it being a reckless party) he'll wait for them in his lair.

The lair I built is a large volcano. There's enough room for him too fly around in there and he can enter/exit though the mouth of the volcano, so he can come and go as he pleases. The lair also has a fer traps I've planned out that should be unexpected.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Mykull wrote:

General Tips; A Well-Played Dragon . . .

ALWAYS looks out for number one and
NEVER loses a game of chess.
ALWAYS uses the home field advantage and
NEVER knowingly shows weakness.
ALWAYS acts like royalty and
NEVER wastes its breath weapon.
ALWAYS has an ace up its sleeve and
NEVER makes stupid decisions.
ALWAYS speaks many languages and
NEVER trusts anyone.
ALWAYS uses its wings and
NEVER forgets a slight.
ALWAYS looks for the hidden meaning and
NEVER acts predictably.
ALWAYS overestimates itself and
NEVER fears a human threat.
ALWAYS has an escape route and
NEVER takes meaningless tasks.
ALWAYS is awesome to behold and
NEVER acts on a whim.

I love this!


KingGramJohnson wrote:
Saldiven wrote:

My suggestion is to always rebuild a dragon's feats, especially if you're using a Bestiary (first one) dragon. There are so many amazing feats available now that didn't exist in the beginning of Pathfinder, and a lot of the feats on the Bestiary dragon entries kind of suck for utility.

Consider a combination of Fly By Attack, Snatch, and Snatch and Drop.

That's a great idea.

Keep in mind that by doing this you're effectively changing the CR of the creature.

Why does a Grizzly Bear have Endurance, Run, and Skill Focus (Survival) as its feats rather than Improved Natural Armor for another 3 AC?

Because the designers already gave it all the natural armor it needed (6 to be precise) for the bear to hit the AC they wanted it to have. Some of the "useless" feats are for flavor because the dragon ALREADY has the stats and options it's supposed to have.

KingGramJohnson wrote:
Saldiven wrote:
Also, redo their spells, especially defensive spells. Consider adding a combination of Displacement and Mirror Image.
I've actually rebuilt his spell list and did put displacement on there

Again, be careful with this.

Dragons have thematic spell lists (sometimes based on elemental type but also compare a Gold Dragon to a Red Dragon -- the Gold dragon has more defensive and restorative spells like the Red dragon has more selfish and offensive spells).

If you give all dragons the optimal spells you'll reduce the differentiation between them.


Have the dragon lead them on a merry chase using their fly spells and then have it use greater dispelling once they're way up.


KingGramJohnson wrote:
Saldiven wrote:

My suggestion is to always rebuild a dragon's feats, especially if you're using a Bestiary (first one) dragon. There are so many amazing feats available now that didn't exist in the beginning of Pathfinder, and a lot of the feats on the Bestiary dragon entries kind of suck for utility.

Consider a combination of Fly By Attack, Snatch, and Snatch and Drop.

That's a great idea.

Saldiven wrote:
Also, redo their spells, especially defensive spells. Consider adding a combination of Displacement and Mirror Image.

I've actually rebuilt his spell list and did put displacement on there.

Saldiven wrote:
The biggest mistake you can ever make is allowing your party to fight a dragon in a "lair" where the dragon just has to sit there and get melee'd to death. If a lair fight is on the table, make darn sure the dragon has Teleport of Dimension Door to be able to get outside if necessary,...

They are going to attempt to bait it, but if they fail at doing so (in my mind that's if they don't use the right kind of bait, or if the dragon senses that he's being baited rather than it being a reckless party) he'll wait for them in his lair.

The lair I built is a large volcano. There's enough room for him too fly around in there and he can enter/exit though the mouth of the volcano, so he can come and go as he pleases. The lair also has a fer traps I've planned out that should be unexpected.

My advice earlier was to play the dragon as if it were an NPC, fully capitalizing its hoard to maximum utility and advantage.

I was envisioning the dragon as using its hoard to gain economic and political power over the region. The kingdom isn't beset by the dragon: the dragon is the king! Or at least the king owes the dragon so much money, that the dragon might as well be king.

That would be a nasty surprise for the party: as they equip themselves for their dragon hunt, wagging their mouths about what they mean to do, they are arrested for treason, or the local guides they hire lead them into a trap.

It sounds like you are playing the dragon more straight: as a dangerous, powerful beast. I would still have you capitalize the dragon's treasure for maximum advantage with lots of magic items and nasty surprises.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Balkoth wrote:
KingGramJohnson wrote:
Saldiven wrote:

My suggestion is to always rebuild a dragon's feats, especially if you're using a Bestiary (first one) dragon. There are so many amazing feats available now that didn't exist in the beginning of Pathfinder, and a lot of the feats on the Bestiary dragon entries kind of suck for utility.

Consider a combination of Fly By Attack, Snatch, and Snatch and Drop.

That's a great idea.

Keep in mind that by doing this you're effectively changing the CR of the creature.

Why does a Grizzly Bear have Endurance, Run, and Skill Focus (Survival) as its feats rather than Improved Natural Armor for another 3 AC?

Because the designers already gave it all the natural armor it needed (6 to be precise) for the bear to hit the AC they wanted it to have. Some of the "useless" feats are for flavor because the dragon ALREADY has the stats and options it's supposed to have.

KingGramJohnson wrote:
Saldiven wrote:
Also, redo their spells, especially defensive spells. Consider adding a combination of Displacement and Mirror Image.
I've actually rebuilt his spell list and did put displacement on there

Again, be careful with this.

Dragons have thematic spell lists (sometimes based on elemental type but also compare a Gold Dragon to a Red Dragon -- the Gold dragon has more defensive and restorative spells like the Red dragon has more selfish and offensive spells).

If you give all dragons the optimal spells you'll reduce the differentiation between them.

I mostly agree with you on feats, I would choose which ones to swap out carefully. However, on spells I have to respectfully disagree.

I do agree that the bestiaries give the baseline for monsters, but they can be rebuilt to fit the adventure's needs. In fact, I find this better because it adds spice and a little unknown to the fights.

For example, if you're playing in a campaign with a lot of one particular type of monster, the fights become boring because it's the same fight over and over again, just in different environments and quantities. I've had a GM who reskins and tweaks monsters all the time, and it's a blast because even though we're fighting a gelatinous cube, this one may be made of napalm and fire damage of any kind made it more dangerous (this actually happened in a game once, and we still talk about that session). We may know what kind of monster we're fighting, but we don't know what's different about it.

Dragons, in my opinion, are a lot more flexible in their stat blocks (obviously not in their main abilities, it'd be silly to have a red dragon with an ice breath weapon, just use a white dragon for that). Most true dragons are hyper intelligent, egotistical, and protective of what they treasure (whether it's loot like a red dragon, or a city like a silver dragon). I also firmly believe each dragon, regardless of color, will have their own desires, goals, plans, and personalities. Red dragons are known for being violent and angry. There's bound to be a few who are a little more peaceful (within reason, they still have nature to fight against). Why wouldn't they tailor their feats and spells to make them better at want they want out of life?

I haven't gone into details here about what this dragon my party is about to try to kill is all about; his plans, why he is where he is, why he does what he does, and I won't because I don't want to fill up this thread with that. But if he wants to do as he pleases (and he's a dragon, so he will), he needs to swap out the standard spell list for one more viable for his life.

Personally, I find the adult red dragon spell list to be pitiful, and not very helpful in most cases (with a few exceptions that I have left on his list, like haste). But I've swapped the ones I find useless with ones (of the same spell level, naturally) I think he can use to defend himself and his treasure, as well as attack intruders a little better.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Scott Wilhelm wrote:

My advice earlier was to play the dragon as if it were an NPC, fully capitalizing its hoard to maximum utility and advantage.

I was envisioning the dragon as using its hoard to gain economic and political power over the region. The kingdom isn't beset by the dragon: the dragon is the king! Or at least the king owes the dragon so much money, that the dragon might as well be king.

That would be a nasty surprise for the party: as they equip themselves for their dragon hunt, wagging their mouths about what they mean to do, they...

Yes, this is more of a straight dragon fight rather than tieing it into a bigger plot, it just wouldn't fit the main story at the moment. However, if I were, I would weave in a similar way as you've suggested, because that sounds like fun.

And yes, I am planning on him utilizing his hoard's wealth to protect his lair.


KingGramJohnson wrote:
Mykull wrote:

General Tips; A Well-Played Dragon . . .

ALWAYS . . . NEVER
I love this!

I wish I could take credit for this, but it comes from page 41 of Dragon Issue 284 (June 2001, Volume XXVI, Number 1); the 25th Anniversary Issue.


Of the top of my head...
- Dragons can have minions of any kind, so it's possible to exhaust PCs with them first.
- If not, dragons often set traps in their lairs. Missing a Disable Device check can be costly. Scrying/spying on a dragon is also as risky.
- Dragons are terrifying in wide open spaces. They can fly, rain down with their breath weapons and spells.
- You can always capture your PCs, strip them of their gears... and then escape the dragon :P


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I too have been using Dragons to terrifying effect for about the same amount of time. The best thing I find is to create a theme for the dragon, breath weapon is awesome, flight is its dominant arena for fighting, etc. and go to town making a player character for the DM that will give the PCs hell. It does little to research for hints on this because all dragons fly, or use breath weapons, etc. What the PCs cannot gather is how much of something a dragon is optimized for until they encounter it at least once. Always try to think out of the box too, just like PCs. Pump up an intimidate skill once or twice and make them cower not from fear, but from respect in the dragons presence, even though they are trying to fight it and take its loot. how many times have PCs tried to use skills to their advantage against unoptimized NPCs?

If you make a mistake and the PCs are having too easy a time of it, run away. Maybe they just found your fake lair and there is not much there to loot and while they spent valuable time searching for it, the dragon escaped to the real lair and is recuperating and thinking about how to improve its dismal performance before taking them on again. There are so many things to make them challenging without using Dbag tricks or using stuff to make them better which the PCs will get to keep after they defeat one. I am always open to assist rookie DMs, so send a message with you plea for help and I will be happy to assist...


JiCi wrote:
<snip>Scrying/spying on a dragon is also as risky.<snip>

A dragons acute senses (in part represented by high Perception skills) should make this extremely difficult if not impossible. The d20 check needed to perceive a Scrying sensor is 20+spell level and most chromatic dragons are hitting a total bonus of the low to mid twenties by the time they are adults. Add in magic usage and "Dragon senses" and scrying sensors aren't going to remain undetected long. An adult Red for example has a +23 Perception. Without other modifiers that's an auto success against the base DC of 24 for a literal Scry (4th level spell) sensor.

-Boiling water/steam could be an unexpected threat found in and around a volcano or cauldera lair of a Red Dragon.
-Even if protected against fire they could still be submerged in lava and effectively drown/suffocate if held under by the dragon.
-Maybe the Dragon has learned to throw "lavaballs". Make it a ranged touch attack for 2d6 fire damage followed by 1d3 rounds of 1d6 fire damage. And if you want to play extra nasty the magma/lava hardens and acts like a tanglefoot bag and/or adds a Dex penalty until the target spends a full round knocking solidifying lava off their bodies.
-Use Pyrotechnics to create plenty of smoke which also generates potential Str and Dex penalties. Should be an essentially endless supply for his at will SLA.
-Maybe his inner lair is situated much like a Beaver Lodge ... you have to go down and through a lava filled tunnel to reach the area (or somehow figure out where to use Disintegrate or similar to get in)
-Part of using his environment is the intense heat throughout much of the lair. Any failure against the heat results in fatigue and the associated penalties. Note the penalties to the save for those wearing heavy clothing or armor of any kind.

Heat Dangers:
Heat Dangers
Heat deals nonlethal damage that cannot be recovered from until the character gets cooled off (reaches shade, survives until nightfall, gets doused in water, is targeted by endure elements, and so forth). Once a character has taken an amount of nonlethal damage equal to her total hit points, any further damage from a hot environment is lethal damage.

A character in very hot conditions (above 90° F) must make a Fortitude saving throw each hour (DC 15, +1 for each previous check) or take 1d4 points of nonlethal damage. Characters wearing heavy clothing or armor of any sort take a –4 penalty on their saves. A character with the Survival skill may receive a bonus on this saving throw and might be able to apply this bonus to other characters as well (see the skill description). Characters reduced to unconsciousness begin taking lethal damage (1d4 points per hour).

In severe heat (above 110° F), a character must make a Fortitude save once every 10 minutes (DC 15, +1 for each previous check) or take 1d4 points of nonlethal damage. Characters wearing heavy clothing or armor of any sort take a –4 penalty on their saves. A character with the Survival skill may receive a bonus on this saving throw and might be able to apply this bonus to other characters as well (see the Survival skill in Using Skills). Characters reduced to unconsciousness begin taking lethal damage (1d4 points per each 10-minute period).

A character who takes any nonlethal damage from heat exposure now suffers from heatstroke and is fatigued. These penalties end when the character recovers from the nonlethal damage she took from the heat.

Extreme heat (air temperature over 140° F, fire, boiling water, lava) deals lethal damage. Breathing air in these temperatures deals 1d6 points of fire damage per minute (no save). In addition, a character must make a Fortitude save every 5 minutes (DC 15, +1 per previous check) or take 1d4 points of nonlethal damage. Those wearing heavy clothing or any sort of armor take a –4 penalty on their saves.

Boiling water deals 1d6 points of scalding damage, unless the character is fully immersed, in which case it deals 10d6 points of damage per round of exposure.

I'd even consider increasing the frequency of the extreme heat checks. The heat within the any volcanic caverns goes well beyond "extreme". Dispel Magic could be game changing in this environment, especially if the PC's find themselves 10's of minutes inside those caverns when or if their protections go away.


A dragon that knows the party is coming should be able to wipe that party (or at least cause significant levels of damage) before that party is even aware they are under attack or manages to get close enough to threaten the dragon.

Party is camped, preparing to invade the lair the next day. Party knows the dragon is a red (let's just go with that) and has brought all sorts of anti-fire protection.

Middle of the night, the dragon grabs a pair of huge rocks and does a flyover of the camp, gliding silently, dropping the rocks on whoever it can hit. Then does a flyby pass breathing fire at everyone before flying back to it's lair...burning down tents, supplies, etc. You don't sleep while wearing your backpack, so the wizard's pack full of scrolls might count as an unattended object...and go up in flames. You can't wear armor while sleeping w/o a feat, so no feat? Fighter's uber-strong full plate of badassery just got melted. Rest disrupted for any spellcasters, delaying the invasion of the lair.

Dragon summons a host of minions to it, and orders them to invade the camp while the party sleeps at random times, disrupting all of their rest all night long.

Party finally manages to get into the lair. They're prepared for fire, but first they have to navigate the maze of tunnels leading up to the lair...tunnels filled with ice, acid, poison, electric...basically everything EXCEPT fire traps.


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Tha at said a dragon should still have to go through all the necessary checks and balances required to do any of that.

Knowing a party is coming is not the same as knowing when the party is at your doorstep. Knowing their exact location, finding their probably hidden camp. Hitting them with boulders dropped from a great height.

There can be a temptation as a DM to just “for narrative reasons” let the dragon have all that. But to do so invalidates a lot of what your players are probably doing and effectively inflates the Cr of a dragon whose Cr is alreasybinflated probably if you’re gaming his hoard and spell list to the limits already.


gustavo iglesias wrote:
I had a GM a lot time ago that loved to give Iron Golems to Red Dragons. They make for a fine combo, as fire heal the golem

Maybe the Dragon operates a foudry, forging Iron and Adamantine Golems with his Breath Weapon, and sends them out into the mountains to mine more ore for her to smelt and make more and more horrible weapons.


It is minor at that high a level, but powdered glass is an easy wing buffet from range to blind and damage the PC's and can speedbump the action economy for a spellcaster as they cast to remove it.


I know Mythic doesn't have a lot of love - but for something like a Dragon, even 1 or 2 Mythic ranks could help even the odds.

I'm thinking that with even a single rank, you can add Dual Initiative to the critter - which would make for a nasty surprise even for a seasoned group of players (if they weren't expecting it).

At 2nd rank: Dual Initiative (feat) + Amazing Initiative (2nd rank ability) (plus rebuild the Dragon with Improved Initiative (regular feat) and Mythic Improved Initiative (mythic feat)) and suddenly, you've got yourself quite a powered up Dragon.


Well, if you want to make a dragon encounter difficult, but keep it more like a standard encounter then don't forget to spend 1/4th of the treasure on gear the dragon can actually use.

My number 1 recommendation is a Ring of Delayed Doom. Many dragons die to a single failed save. With this the dragon has 10 rounds to escape and get enough distance the party can't find them before suffering from whatever save or suck spell the party has thrown.

Dragons should be more concerned with their own survival than their horde. While the horde is part of their pride, its more practical to gain revenge than it is to die defending it. Also being hunted by a powerful long lived creature that can shapechange into a humanoid and set a trap for you isn't exactly fun either.

Imagine out heroes manage to drive off the dragon and loot its lair. Now our pissed off dragon takes a week to heal and then begins the process of gathering information on the heroes. He finds they are going into the underdark. Is the dragon willing to follow them before they waste his entire horde? Or will he bide his time and set up a trap on the surface? Maybe a plot to ambush them in their lair whey they aren't prepared. And by lair I mean breaking into an inn room and slaying them when they feel safe.

And our vengeful dragon might even copy the adventurer's methods. He'll find some monsters to cooperate to take them down and form a party that can infiltrate a town. And they will look for traps before they rush the sleeping party. And they will attempt to take each encounter separately. Maybe using Silence to ensure spellcasters are at maximum disadvantage and the noise doesn't alert the other heroes.

Well, that probably is going too far. That would be GM vs Players, not really a good game for all to enjoy, unless your players are big George R.R. Martin fans.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Kayerloth wrote:


-Boiling water/steam could be an unexpected threat found in and around a volcano or cauldera lair of a Red Dragon.
-Even if protected against fire they could still be submerged in lava and effectively drown/suffocate if held under by the dragon.
-Maybe the Dragon has learned to throw "lavaballs". Make it a ranged touch attack for 2d6 fire damage followed by 1d3 rounds of 1d6 fire damage. And if you want to play extra nasty the magma/lava hardens and acts like a tanglefoot bag and/or adds a Dex penalty until the target spends a full round knocking solidifying lava off their bodies.
-Use Pyrotechnics to create plenty of smoke which also generates potential Str and Dex penalties. Should be an essentially endless supply for his at will SLA.
-Maybe his inner lair is situated much like a Beaver Lodge ... you have to go down and through a lava filled tunnel to reach the area (or somehow figure out where to use Disintegrate or similar to get in)
-Part of using his environment is the intense heat throughout much of the lair. Any failure against the heat results in fatigue and the associated penalties. Note the penalties to the save for those wearing heavy clothing or armor of any kind.

I have already thought of using the steam/smoke in the volcano to be an issue for them to deal with. The heat is a great idea too.

Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:

Tha at said a dragon should still have to go through all the necessary checks and balances required to do any of that.

Knowing a party is coming is not the same as knowing when the party is at your doorstep. Knowing their exact location, finding their probably hidden camp. Hitting them with boulders dropped from a great height.

There can be a temptation as a DM to just “for narrative reasons” let the dragon have all that. But to do so invalidates a lot of what your players are probably doing and effectively inflates the Cr of a dragon whose Cr is alreasybinflated probably if you’re gaming his hoard and spell list to the limits already.

I agree with you completely. I've adjusted its spells and feats to reflect the personality of this particular dragon, but I've been keeping its CR in mind as well. Also, this dragon is not aware of the party at all. He flew by one night, but they hid and he didn't see them. The party has a name for themselves, but nothing this dragon would have ever heard before. So, he had no reason to prepare for a party he knows about. So when I'm planning out his defenses, they're more generalized. His lair is pretty well protected and trapped. If they attack him there, it will be harder than if he were in the open. But they would have to bait him real good for him not to sense that he's being baited and attack them outright. If he realizes he's being baited, he will try to turn the tides and lure them to him.

I don't want to make it so that the party doesn't have a chance, only a really small chance. I would rather them realize they've gotten in way over their heads and leave than TPK. But if the fight is too tough and they choose to keep fighting anyway, I am willing to TPK.

I'm also willing to rejoice with them if they get lucky and defeat him because that would be an epic story.

Dracovar wrote:
I know Mythic doesn't have a lot of love - but for something like a Dragon, even 1 or 2 Mythic ranks could help even the odds.

If the players aren't Mythic or involved in a game that will go Mythic (which it's not), then I'm not willing to throw mythic monsters at them. That doesn't seem fair to me. Not when they're level 10.

We play again next week, so we'll see how things go.


Question: if you are hoping they realise they need to flee and thus flee

do they have a way to do that?


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:

Question: if you are hoping they realise they need to flee and thus flee

do they have a way to do that?

That's assuming things go south, there's a chance they will think of something I haven't and beat the dragon. However, if things go poorly, they are capable of getting away if they need to, yes.


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Thats important.

I've seen a lot of GMs on here complain they made an encounter they thought their players would need to run away from. For it then to turn out they did need to run away and then complain that said players didn't run away. Only for it to later turn out there was no way for the players to run away.

If you design an encounter with the idea in mind that players might need to run away from it. Make sure its they have a way to do that. And a way they know about. Not something only you happen to know about.

Scarab Sages Contributor, RPG Superstar 2008 Top 4, Legendary Games

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You should definitely consider checking out Path of Dragons. It uses the structure of the mythic rules to provide a specialized dragon mythic path with over 70 special abilities, plus 7 dragon archetypes like the Tyrant (specializing in fear and intimidation), Skylord (aerial combat), Arcanius (magic), Miser (special hoard-related powers), etc. Even if you're not running a mythic game, you can use the same basic structure to build up dragons in a systematic way to make them more able to embody all the awesomeness of what a dragon should be able to do and to counter things the PCs do - including the simple fact of the action economy imbalance.

If the idea of just giving the dragon limitless information and perfect surveillance feels a little too much like GM fiat, using the structured system of the mythic rules gives you a systematic way to enhance what the dragon can do that follows its own consistent internal rules and logic and interfaces with the CR system. It's the kind of dragon enhancement you can use and feel like you're still playing fair... or you can just load up the dragon with awesome and unexpected abilities and let the PCs have it. It's up to you!

From Endzeitgeist's review (read it in full here):

Know those instances, when sometimes, just reading a rule sets your imagination ablaze, makes you go “Heck yeah, THAT’S how it ought to have been in the first place!”? Well, this pdf is just such a file. While not all abilities breathe this level of awesomeness, the matter of fact remains that the dragon-enhancers herein are simply glorious. To a point where I’d argue for their inclusion even in non-mythic builds. We *ALL* want dragons to face off alone versus groups of PCs without them mopping the floor with our beloved royal reptiles, don’t we? We want this level of awe, the fear, the sense of accomplishment that should accompany every draconic encounter. This book brings that back. It elevates the most iconic monster back to the peak of the food chain. I’d honestly recommend this pdf to any DM looking for abilities that bring the challenge back to their dragons. I love this pdf – it is utterly and totally glorious and oozes passion, while providing more than solid rules-design. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, given without any hesitation.

Scarab Sages Contributor, RPG Superstar 2008 Top 4, Legendary Games

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Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:

Thats important.

I've seen a lot of GMs on here complain they made an encounter they thought their players would need to run away from. For it then to turn out they did need to run away and then complain that said players didn't run away. Only for it to later turn out there was no way for the players to run away.

If you design an encounter with the idea in mind that players might need to run away from it. Make sure its they have a way to do that. And a way they know about. Not something only you happen to know about.

I agree that this is a very important and often-overlooked point:

IF you want the PCs to do something other than charge forward and attack and then stand and fight to the bitter end, you need to make sure that alternatives are clearly available and feasible. If they think flight is useless or negotiation is pointless, they won't bother with either. Sometimes you've got to put big road signs up, and occasionally flashing neon. That doesn't mean PCs won't still make dumb choices, but they have to understand that there is a choice to be made, or they'll never even look for it.

Faced with what looks like unavoidable doom, it's only natural for PCs to shrug and say, "Today is a good day to die."


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Chromantic Durgon <3 wrote:

Thats important.

I've seen a lot of GMs on here complain they made an encounter they thought their players would need to run away from. For it then to turn out they did need to run away and then complain that said players didn't run away. Only for it to later turn out there was no way for the players to run away.

If you design an encounter with the idea in mind that players might need to run away from it. Make sure its they have a way to do that. And a way they know about. Not something only you happen to know about.

Yes I agree. They will have a way out if they need to get out, the only thing they won't be able to do is teleport out.

Jason Nelson wrote:
You should definitely consider checking out Path of Dragons.

The book looks interesting, and I may consider it for future campaigns or dragon encounters, but for this encounter, I don't want to stray too far from what the CRB says an adult red dragon can do (with the exception being spell and some feats being altered), all of it's main abilities I'm not touching for this fight.

Jason Nelson wrote:

I agree that this is a very important and often-overlooked point:

IF you want the PCs to do something other than charge forward and attack and then stand and fight to the bitter end, you need to make sure that alternatives are clearly available and feasible. If they think flight is useless or negotiation is pointless, they won't bother with either. Sometimes you've got to put big road signs up, and occasionally flashing neon. That doesn't mean PCs won't still make dumb choices, but they have to understand that there is a choice to be made, or they'll never even look for it.

Faced with what looks like unavoidable doom, it's only natural for PCs to shrug and say, "Today is a good day to die."

I also agree with this. This is a side fight. I never intended for my party to fight a dragon of this level, at least, not yet. I do have planned for them to fight a crystal dragon in the Underdark, but that one is more geared to their level. However, this fight was something they just decided to do to gain a lot of money really fast. So this whole situation, them fighting a dragon they know is much more powerful than them in or around it's lair, is completely their own choice.

I just want to give them a fight they'll never forget, win or lose. I want this to be epic.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Long story ahead as an update on how things went with my party and their attack on the dragon's lair. Things went bottom up, but not how I, as the GM, expected.

TL:DR: They thought things were going well until suddenly they weren't. People died, more people may still die, revenge may be had, and now they want to use a wish spell to fix it all, which may or may not include time travel.

Full story:
First of all, for all their talk of trying to bait the dragon to come to them so they could fight it in the open, they only tried it once...from 70 miles away, when the dragon wasn't around. I told them that they were very far and might have better results if they moved in closer.

Move in closer they did, up into the mountains closer to the volcano the red dragon calls his home and rules from. They found a nice clearing, I made it a perfect spot for them to try to signal the dragon and get it's attention. And they just made camp to sleep. I even asked them if they were going to build a signal fire, and they said nope. I was like, "Ooooookay." The next day they found the entrance to the cave system that leads into the volcano, where the kobolds that serve the dragon live.

They then proceed to kill one of the kobolds, say "oops, sorry, can we talk?" When they finally convince the kobolds to talk, they speak with one of their priests. I'm thinking they're going to deal with him so they can get in to the lair with ease. Wrong again!

The (only partially) paraphrased conversation went as follows:

Party: "We want to see the dragon."

Kobold Priest: "Oh, you have a request or you want to make a sacrifice?"

P: "No, we want to kill him."

KP: "You want to kill our master?"

P: "And take his treasure."

KP: "...I see...Wait here, I will see if our chief will agree to speak to the master and tell him that fools are here to challenge him."

2 hours later.

KP: "Our master is angry that fools would dare to challenge him and threaten him. If you insist on trying to kill him, you must face him where he is strongest, inside his lair itself. He will not come out to you. Also, we cannot allow you to just come in and kill our master, so we will be waiting for you."

P: "Cool, we're a coming."

KP: *Walks away*

They make preparations, and raid the kobold caverns, slaughtering them with ease as they do their best to stop the party.

Now, here's the thing. I had placed several clues and bits of information in the caverns. A long history of the lair, as it wasn't just one dragon's hoard and lair, but a five thousand year old draconic dynasty. There was going to be info and clues as to the nature of the lair, some of the traps that are in there, and how to avoid them. My party always loots bodies and thoroughly checks all rooms before moving on. Except this time!

They ran from cavern to cavern, killing kobolds and looting nothing, looking at no information I had laying around for them. I even suggested they take time to read the history and loot the bodies. But they insisted on not doing it and looting the bodies on their way back. They didn't want their buffs to run out before meeting the dragon.

They finally made it past the kobolds and the surprise drake attack, into the lair of the dragon himself, who is buffed and ready for them. In the center of the volcano, below the cone's hole surrounded by a ring of lava is a 100 ft. tall pile of treasure, a dynasty's worth of loot. The fight begins.

Side note: I told my players not to tell me what their plan was, so I could not accidentally directly counter it. This dragon does not know the party and thus only protected his lair how I thought he would for general attackers. Some magical traps and a teleport trap. I reworked the dragons feats and spell list, but that's about it. I added a lair action at the top of each round for added flavor. But because the party uncharacteristically ignored all of that, they had no idea about any of it.

The fight with the dragon went relatively well for the party They have an alchemist who uses cold bombs, so he was the MVP of damage dealing. The sorcerer was able to (by sheer luck) dispel the dragon's displacement, the druid summoned 2 rocs to help them fight and try to bring the dragon to the ground (which failed, despite the rocs' awesome bonuses to grapple, luck was on my side there). The dragon was able to drop the paladin unto unconsciousness. And when the dragon realized it was about to lose and die, he decided to save himself. So he activated one of his negative energy skull traps he had. The burst killed the paladin. On his next turn, the dragon defensively cast invisibility and flew out of the volcano to fight another day.

The party is excited, because they believe they won, but also freaked out because the dragon is gone, but alive and will want revenge.

This is when things went oh so wrong.

The hear from far off the dragon make some noise as it flies away. One thing they learned was that the dragon had a level of control over the volcano and had calmed them. This time, the dragon was commanding it to erupt. They feel a rumble and the lava starts to rise. They make knowledge rolls to know they have less than a minute before the volcano erupts. They rush over (all of them under the effects of fly at this point), and start grabbing as much treasure as they can get their hands on and shove it into anything they can carry it in; bags of holding, back backs, handy haversacks, etc. all the while hanging on to the body of the dead paladin.

Now they're playing a game of risk. They don't know how many rounds the lava will rise until the volcano blows. So they collect treasure until they feel like they don't want to risk it anymore. The magus and the alchemist go invisible and fly out the volcano's hole. The sorcerer grabs the druid, his animal companion, and the body of the dead paladin, and teleports out. Activating the teleport trap. The sorcerer failed his will save and they teleported into the lava. Now, the party was prepared, they had fire resistance 30 for the fight, they helped a little. But 20d6 points of damage was still enough to kill the sorcerer outright, and nearly kill the druid. His animal companion dropped unconscious with the residual damage taken the next round. The dead paladin melted away along with their quest related items (which are artifacts) sinking to the bottom. They were able to save one of the artifacts, and keep the hand of the paladin. They flew out.

They regrouped. The alchemist took his share of the loot and split (his player left the group, but their plan relied on him to work, so I allowed one of the other players to play him until the fight was over). They were able to get 100k gp, so about 66k between the remaining party members, more than enough for what they wanted to do, but not enough to raise two party members (one of which they would need True Resurrection for) and buy new gear for him, and do what they wanted to do So, they're at a net loss. Also, two party members are dead, the four volcanoes in the area are erupting and people may die due to that, and the dragon lived and lost his treasure so will likely kill people in vengeance and come after the party.

This sent the magus into a depression. He and the druid wandered back to a city, which took several days and discussed their options. They effectively failed. They didn't kill the dragon, several people died, they didn't get enough to make the attempt worth it, and they doomed many, many people to die in the dragon's wrath.

The conclusion they came to, with no help or prodding from me: Use the money we got, pay for wish, and fix this. I'm sitting there like...What?! They have connections to a 20th level wizard NPC who might help them do that (for a price that is not calculated in gold, silver, or copper).

They came up with three options (just sitting there, I thought of at least 10 ways better than what they came up with, and I may hint some of them to the party).

1. Wish the dragon dead.

2. Travel through time and stop ourselves from going after the dragon in the first place.

3. Travel though time and fight the dragon again knowing what we know now about the lair.

I swiftly informed them that if they used wish to travel though time there would be cosmic consequences (I'm thinking a corruption, and maybe some other things,and may have angry aeons on their butts).

So, yeah, they're going to inform me of their final decision on what they want to do to fix things. So yes, this spiraled downward faster and in ways I never considered. This will be fun to deal with.

I love RPGs!


It sounds like they were well-smited for their foolishness!

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