Dragon tactics.

Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

Hey all. I am running a custom game with the mythic system. And I need help with an encounter. The characters are LVL 7 with 1 mythic tier. We have an Antipaladin/hellknight, Dave the barbarian, a pacifist Oracle with the life mystery, and warpriest who worships Iomedae.
I do a system where the players can roll their encounters during travel to keep the game interesting and fun. So the characters rolled a really hard encounter and I thought a black dragon would be fun and appropriate. The dragon is large, trying to make a swamp instead of find one, and I actually want my players to find it's hoard. So I am looking for tactics for a large size black dragon, before and during combat

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Basic dragon tactics: never close with a group of adventurers.

You'll find that your dragon's lifespan is disappointingly short.

Strafing runs with that nasty breath weapon are a good start, espcially since you don't seem to have any specialist archers or (shudder) gunslingers.

Flyby attacks are good, or anything that can separate the PCs from each other. But when you go for a grapple or for a full attack, you've got to be very, very desperate, because action economy will make it so that group of 4 PCs just dices you to bits.

Don't forget that black dragons are great underwater. They should use that strength in any encounter, since a water environment is likely to hinder the PCs.

Lastly, don 't forget to use *all* of the dragon's abilities. Its fightening presence could catch one or more PCs in its thrall, separating them. Its at-will darkness and 6x day obscuring mist could be key to victory.

Have it use illusions and certain spells or magic items to appear like it's a different color. If the party sees a big blue dragon with a lightning breath (plain ol' Lightning Bolt) they probably won't prepare to resist acid, and you will only have to protect yourself against fire and cold.

Remember that if the dragon is underwater, it shouldn't have its size penalty to Stealth. Give it some rogue levels and have it sneak attack the first character in a Snatch as its taking to the air. *munch munch munch*

Once the dragon is above the dense foliage of the swamp, the group won't have line-of-sight, so the dragon won't be subject to most things and will be able to Stealth again. Dive back into the water thousands of feet away (-1 to Perception for every 10 feet) and Stealth swim back up to the group, picking them off one at a time.

I like Bjørn Røyrvik's suggestion. Keep in mind what terrain the black dragon is trying to turn into a swamp. If it is a desert, the disguise as blue is fine, but that eliminates the water strategy. I suggest a forest (easier to swampify) and disguise as a green.

Minions! The dragon should have a small tribe of lizardfolk, kobolds, goblins, ulat-kini, something. They should recklessly throw their bodies upon the swords of the group.

I've seen some sources suggest that Black Dragons like using traps. Litter the battlefield with them. The battle gets much more tense if a the ground collapses under a heavily armored character and they get entangled in a mess of aquatic vegetation. Now your party is split between saving a character from drowning and fending off a dragon's assault.

Two words: Hit and Run. Unless they somehow stumble into it's lair the dragon can, should, and would enjoy harassing them a couple of flybys at a time then disappearing for minutes or even hours on end. It should feel like it's toying with them, because it is. When their nerves are shot, resources and bodies are exhausted, that's when the deaths will begin.

If the party does somehow stumble into its lair, this shortens the timeframe but should not change the overall tactics. For a black dragon, the lair should be at least half flooded, and usually to a depth the dragon can easily completely submerge itself. This gives it full cover from land and drastically hinders anyone foolish enough to try to come in after it. The dragon has the option of merely poking its head out the surface (9/10 cover) and unleashing its breath weapon. Be prepared for the party to only fall for that a couple times before readying actions to hit it when it surfaces. Let them. Change up your tactics. Cast some spells while you're down there, you've got water breathing. Mirror Image then charging from underwater should keep you alive for a round or two before you withdraw and head back into the water. Don't underestimate the longevity increase a simple combination of mage armor and shield provide.

If you're rolling up the dragon's hoard ahead of time (something I recommend as it lets you get flavorful with it) then consider having the dragon equip any useful items that generated. I'm NOT saying take it's hoard value and shop for items. But, if you happen to roll something neat like a ring of fire resistance or even a basic cloak of resistance, have the dragon wear it. Dragons are prideful, but they are not stupid. They have an almost spiritual reverence/connection to their hoard. The hoard grants a dragon power, and if some of the pieces can do that more directly/immediately than others, that's a good situation to be in. Once again, I'm NOT saying shop for items, only use what's rolled.

Mykull wrote:

I like Bjørn Røyrvik's suggestion. Keep in mind what terrain the black dragon is trying to turn into a swamp. If it is a desert, the disguise as blue is fine, but that eliminates the water strategy. I suggest a forest (easier to swampify) and disguise as a green.

The problem with black and green disguising themselves as the other is that both are acid based, so the main benefit - getting PCs to prep for the wrong energy type - is gone in this case.

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Monster Manual, page 33, copywrite 1977 wrote:
A green dragon can attack by a claw/claw/bite routine or by breathing a cloud of poisonous chlorine gas.

And while chlorine gas is acidic, I always focused on the poisonous part. I even required players to make a Paralyzation/Poison/Death Ray save instead of a Breath Weapon save.

But as I look in the Bestiary, I see that it is now an explicitly acid breath weapon for the greens. Huh, old habits die hard.

I suppose one could go with an arctic swamp and make it a white dragon instead.

Yeah, that change annoys me too.

On topic:
The big question is, even if the characters know that black dragons prefer swamps and blue (or red or white) prefer arid/mountainous/cold, would they assume this blue/red/white they see is another color dragon masquerading or just think it's whatever color it's pretending to be and prep accordingly?

This tactic worked well when I used it in a game, a blue pretending to be a black. The look on the magus' player's face when he stepped up, overcame SR and crit'ed with his intensified empowered shocking grasp and was told his spell had no effect. Then the look on the rest of them when they were bathed in acid instead of electricity.

It warms a GM's heart.

Remember that dragons are very intelligent. They can and should be prepared to deal with a pack of intruders. On their home turf, this means using traps, minions, and the terrain to their advantage. Outside their lair, this means hit-and-run guerrilla tactics.

A dragon should never resort to direct melee unless they truly believe they're in no danger and want to make a point of how powerless their prey is, or if they have no other choice. Avoid the latter if you can, and avoid the former if dealing with obvious adventurers.

If a dragon is seriously facing the possibility of death, it should run, using any means necessary and making any sacrifices required.

In the Golarion it is in the Veridium Forest on the river heading east. He is going to damn the river and lure the water off to form a bog a ways off the river banks. He is to young to use illusion spells, but I made him a mythic encounter so everytime the PCs cut him they will get sprayed with acid :) and a few other nasty abilities.

If you guys want a list of his abilities I'll be happy to list them.

Sovereign Court

Dragons may be intelligent, but also very proud. Letting the PCs believe they are a different color through misdirection, some scales from a different dragon left about.. sure. Actually disguising itself as a lesser color (to an evil dragon ALL other colors are lesser) ... I’m not sure about that.

But absolutely litter the ground with scales from a previous fight with another dragon of a different color!

Fought a mythic dragon last night in Wrath of the Righteous. I don't want to the spoil the adventure for anyone reading, but suffice it to say that for most of the fight it remained hidden and used its spells. Once we'd located it, it used its enormous fly speed to keep us at a distance. The fight ran for the best part of 10 rounds (and pretty much the entire session), which is a long time for our group. The dragon didn't even use its breath weapon once.

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I also support the suggestions for hit-and-run attacks. Posting more info will be helpful, like its exact Age Category, as well as whatever Mythic abilities you've given it, but just assuming it's an Adult Black Dragon based on the fact that you said it was Large, it has Improved Vital Strike, Power Attack, 10'-reach with Bite, Obscuring Mist, At-will Darkness, and a 200' Fly speed. Put it all together, and you've got a squishy-seeking creature that can approach from any direction, nail the party Wizard for 6d6+18 from 10' away, and fly away to pick its next attack. That may not seem like a lot of damage, but if this Dragon is smart and patient, he can wear down the group's healer without too much trouble, while making the rest of the group need to deal with Darkness and Obscuring Mist, and on rounds that you need to re-position (or if they get wise to your hit-and-run tactics and decide to group up), break out that 12d6 Acid damage breath weapon. Even if you can only get one person in the area, it's OK because you'll never run out of charges and you have all day :)

Oh, and don't forget to throw on Mage Armor! And definitely don't forget about your Frightful Presence. Black Dragons have a lot of great abilities that give it a nice home-field advantage in swamps, so keep those in mind as well.

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The King In Yellow wrote:

Dragons may be intelligent, but also very proud. Letting the PCs believe they are a different color through misdirection, some scales from a different dragon left about.. sure. Actually disguising itself as a lesser color (to an evil dragon ALL other colors are lesser) ... I’m not sure about that.

Maybe some take pride in fooling lesser beings.

OK, first step would be to find out what the intruders are capable of. Use minions and traps to see what they are like while watching them. Second step would be to nerf them as much as possible, sneak up on them and use corrupt water to destroy some of their potions, use minions to target some of their more capable members, use traps to separate members, finally use hit and run to finish them off. Blacks are sneaky and sly and very intelligent. They have swimming and flying, can see farther in the dark than the party ever will, and will use these capabilities to the full.

Paizo Employee Design Manager

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Have as much of the fight take place underwater as possible. That's a slew of debuffs the party will have to face and the black dragon's preferred environment. I've run black dragon fights before where the dragon had hollowed out underwater tunnels to move quickly from one area of the swamp to another, popping up to strafe the party with its breath weapon before diving back down and leading them on a chase. If run right, the party will have to burn through quite a bit of resource to catch up with the dragon and deal significant damage, which can make the fight very memorable as it pushes them to find the best tactics and use of their resources.

Never give up the attack exchange advantage. If you let the dragon rush in to attack them first, you'll end up exchanging a single attack for one or more full attacks from the party, which is an exchange the dragon doesn't want to make. Only full attack when the party member is already in reach, and generally when it's unlikely that another party member will be able to get into range successfully. Save overly aggressive tactics for when one or more party members are unconscious and the dragon can avoid allowing the action economy advantage to swing too far in the party's favor.

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I'd actually have avenues of attack in both air and water. Hollowed out water tunnels are good, but what about massive caverns that the dragon can fly in. A few roosts connected by tunnels at a height beyond what PCs can normally see with dark vision, and place them near the water tunnels. When they are scanning the water expecting an attack, come from above. When they are scanning the skies, attack from the water.

Two things I've found that help greatly. The first is to use mooks and minions. They don't have to be individually challenging to the party, just annoyances. It makes for a good, fun encounter for a player when they get to contribute. If you have them all fight one dragon, only one player lands the killing blow. If you have 10-12 minions as well, the others also feel good about their characters.

Secondly, and this is more experimental. One of my GMs tried messing around with mythic rules, and it was surprisingly fun. Give your boss monster a second turn each round. This helps even up the action economy, and really sells the whole 'boss encounter' thing. It's a difficult fight, this creature is blindingly fast and seems to act twice for every movement the party makes.

Just my 2cp.

As an alternative (not entirely mutually exclusive) to strafing runs that will put emphasis on the water you could build the dragon as a fly-by grappler. Start in water, snatch a PC with a quick flyby, retreat into water. Once in water, dive deep so the PC must deal with the penalties for being underwater and darkness when it tries to fight the grapple (Note the dragon, as an amphibious creature with darkvision, doesn't take most of them) while the other PCs struggle to find the victim. With a +18 stealth you don't even let them know they're fighting a dragon until it's too late. As an intelligent creature it should aim for the squishiest looking character first.

Ideally you'd want a way to increase size for a grapple build, though that's a bit tricky without Enlarge Person (doesn't work on dragons) or a high degree of casting. One solution if you're OK with DSP stuff is to give it a psicrown (Psionic staff) with Expansion that it activates via UMD. This has the added benefit of being a notable feature for the dragon if the party gets a good look at it ("this dragon has a shiny crown on its head"). 3600 GP gets you a ML9 psicrown of Expansion. If the party is obviously adventurers near its power level (they don't disguise all their bling) the dragon fully augments Expansion (9 points for 2 size increases and lasts 90 minutes). If they don't look too tough the dragon instead only uses 3 points (one size increase that lasts 90 minutes) so it will be at full charge tomorrow.

If one of the party needs a headband of a mental stats (except maybe the Oracle. The rest all seem like melee guys), you can make it double as one (add the standard price) and make it look blinged out. They'll care more about the blinging crown they looted from a dragon that makes them grow huge than any random treasure.

Lots of folks have mentioned minions, but do not forget potential ally's i.e. more powerful than minions but with their own agendas. The Dragon has to have someone to double cross/throw to the wolves after all. It's damming a river and rivers tend to be a favored trade route for many towns and cities. Damming the river will be problematic to towns used to sending trade up and down the river. But maybe our dragon and the local baddies have some sort of deal worked out. He can use both these "allies" and some of his minions to spy giving him advanced warning of the PC's and perhaps some details of their abilities and a heads up if/when they head his way. Heck maybe he's made a deal with the local Lord who knows about the dragon but is himself using the dam as a way to further his own agenda and status while pretending not to know anything about the dragon perhaps even sending meddling, annoying (and magic rich) do-gooders to their, he hopes, doom or at least out of his hair.

Attack, if possible, at night (i.e. dusk or dawns dim light) especially any above water/aerial attacks. Makes his dragon senses even more notable and dangerous.

Breaking the dam - Two possibilities here that immediately come to mind. First a large surge of water down river could be a very serious threat to the town(s) and population down stream. Just how evil does your dragon need to be to hold those folks hostage and threaten to wipe out the population by unleashing the water. Second even if the town(s) or population overall isn't seriously threatened by a wall of water surging down stream it might still be quite a threat to PCs directly depending on where they're camped (just how well do you swim?), or to some structures of importance (bridges, mills, etc.) to the locals.

Rather than pretending to be a "ho hum" chromatic dragon like a blue or green maybe he plays at being slightly more exotic and hence unknown type like an Umbral Dragon. The more unknown to the players something is the scarier it tends to be regardless of the actual threat.

Why would there be people living downstream if it was dammed within the last few months?

I'm enamored of the idea of a mythic blue dragon's Desert Thirst doing this. But I'm occasionally a bastard GM. : D

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deuxhero wrote:
Why would there be people living downstream if it was dammed within the last few months?


Maybe because it is their home. Maybe because 200 or 300 people never mind 2000 or 3000 (or more) might want to find out why the water died out to a trickle or less before deciding to abandon their homes they've lived in for generations leaving behind crops to die and many possessions to rot while becoming refugees. Maybe because the Lord/King/folks in charge don't want the trade route to die out and want to continue to ship furs, gold, gems etc. along either the river or roads passing thru the settlement. I'm not particularly familiar with Golarion or the Veridium Forest or the rivers of the area but if all it takes is damming a river to get the local ruler to pack up and go leaving his castle then to heck with laying siege :P

There could be people downstream, but I doubt a significant number would be living there.

I actually participated as a player in a similar encounter. We had three trolls guarding what looked like a dragon egg while the dragon was submerged in the lake. What was also not apparent were the six water elementals that served the dragon. We dispatched the trolls and snatched the egg, then had the bright idea to cross the lake with the boat conveniently provided. The elementals knocked it over and almost destroyed the party in the water. We had to use diplomacy with the dragon as a game saving technique when he presented himself. We were similar level and mythically ranked at the time.
Spells do not interact with their watery environment the same as they do in the open air (line of sight issues and line of effect crossing the water boundary). With both the dragon and the elementals in their (rolls eyes) element, we never defeated them in combat, even after we finished the entire area of the adventure. The dragon never had to demonstrate its aerial abilities either.
Smart tactics by the dragon and judicious use of its resources alone will provide a memorable encounter. Add a couple of watery minions to support and it will be a very challenging encounter.

Premake the terrain map and work around it. The dragon is making a swamp, ok, make on, lots of water, sinkholes or quicksand pits, harsh terrain all over, maybe some outcrops of vegetation for cover. Maybe height tier the map, outer area drops 10-20' to a swampier area, maybe following a river flow, with a small waterfall on one side. Waterfall could be an entrance to lair or a distraction/trap, use the lower area to control movement, streams splitting off from pool at bottom of waterfall, makes for good areas for dragon to fly out of and into for flyby tactics. Again, harsh terrain, limit mobility is key if it is a single mob.

Maybe add a class level or two, Anti Paladin would make it truly evil and add some juice to offset the mythics a bit. Not really sure how the party works with the mix, the warpriest and antipaly should not even be in the same party, but maybe can play off that. Have the dragon use some form of ranged communication to bribe a player, desecrate the area, add in a possible dragon ally, even if it an environmental ally, like plant creatures or something corrupt to throw off the players.

Do they know the encounter? Add some element to throw them off, if they know what they are facing they will have acid resistance and fear saves handled, toss in some fire or poison. Modify the mob, give the dragon some "mixed" blood, maybe a sorc bloodline and then add a second Breath Weapon on a separate rotation. Or really confuse them, mix the Breath Weapon...Acid/Poison mix so damage+stinking cloud...2 save means more miss chances instead of all save and or resist the Breath.

Just please don't post back....Dragon attacks, party does x.y.z...dragon melees....dragon dies in 2 rounds. Been a player for those fights and they are lame.

deuxhero wrote:
There could be people downstream, but I doubt a significant number would be living there.

You and I seem to be talking about different scenarios. I am envisioning this particular scenario and tactic on the assumption the village, town, city, fort, bridge, ford, or trade route/road is already there when the Dragon chooses the particular section of river to dam and flood the nearby forest region for his lair. The people are already living there and have a vested interest in the river flowing freely. It's not a case of "well this looks like a fine area to settle except for that dam so lets look elsewhere" situation. Now maybe the entirety of the river until it empties into the ocean is nearly devoid of settlements and is wilderness but that is largely in the GM's hands and unknown to me at least.

Seems to me, you should start by assessing capabilities. Given that the party is 8th level, a Young adult black dragon would make a tough encounter (CR10), or for a more casual encounter, juvenile (CR8) or Young (CR 7).

All have Water Breathing, Immunity to acid, Swamp stride and speak with reptiles. Juveniles also have darkness at will and Young adults get DR 5/magic and spell resistance.

Of these, speak with reptiles provides a strategic option; while they will not automatically do their will it does mean that he can have reptile allies to act as minions. This includes snakes and dinosaurs, giving lots of options for minions/guardians.

Also very useful would be a humanoid tribe willing to help. This could be e.g. kobolds, lizardmen, troglodytes or Yuan-ti (if going with the reptilian theme) or trolls or ogres (if not). As well as providing additional muscles, they could be digging out pools, diverting water etc. to help spread the marsh/swamp under the dragons direction. Alternatively the dragon/humanoids could hold captive a bunch of slaves to do this. Making the humanoid leader a half-dragon would give a much needed boost and unique flavoring to the group.

As to tactics, to some extent it would be dependant on the humanoids of choice and their capabilities. Kobolds would provide lots of traps while lizardmen would prefer mass attacks from the water. Also remember that the dragon is "building" the swamp so there is the suggestion of things being half finished.

That said, a black dragon in its home environment has a lot of tricks at its disposal. Water Breathing and attacking from water have been mentioned, but what about using swamp stride? swamps are naturally hazardous terrain, slowing pcs down to a crawl; but the dragon is able to run in, attack and run out with no problems. Give it spring attack, and you're golden. And then there is flying; fly-by attacks automatically suggest themselves so that whether by land sea (swamp) or air, it can hit and run. darkness can be used to supplement the hit and run (throw darkness at the pcs, then hit them and run before they see whats hitting them), and the rest of the abilities are just icing on the cake.

Generally speaking, I prefer to keep random encounters simple. The swamp idea is easy to work in, just have there be a crudely made and leaky dam that slows the river more than stops it. You might even have a slave camp set up near the dam and the dragon is harassing travelers to increase its minions for making the dam before he kills them all to keep his lair a secret. (This is also a good reason to discover his lair)

For the fight itself, circle the party until breath is available. Somewhere around 200 feet away. Almost nobody is going to be able to reach the dragon. Only close to breathe and fly away. That gives the party 1 round to strike and buffs between 2-5 rounds to tick down between attacks. Once the dragon gets to half health have it leave and the party needs to track it somehow. If the party gives up let them hear rumors about the dragon attacks, the river drying up, and lots of missing travelers and farmers in the area.

Make the dragon's lair be a decent sized cave with an obvious trail between the dam and the cave. The dragon sleeps on his horde near the entrance and he keeps the workers in the back of the cave while he sleeps. During the day his frequent patrols keep the workers too frightened to attempt to escape. So do the heads of those that tried and failed.

One thing to mention, Dragons are very fast, but poor maneuverability. Have them take multiple rounds between attacks unless they are forced out of the sky.

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