[Let's Read] Council of Wyrms

mediapig

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I had this boxed set... It actually was very well done. I never used it, because, in the end, the idea of Dragon PC's didn't really appeal, but I thought they did a really good job of creating a setting where such characters would make sense. I also really dug the gem dragons (for some reason, I had never seen them before) and I thought the included adventure was a really good intro to the setting.
 

an_idol_mind

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Personally, I preferred silver dragons to gold. And I rolled randomly the first time I made a character for Council of Wyrms, landing an amethyst dragon, which I thought was pretty cool.

Anyway, on with the show...

Chapter 1: Creating Characters (continued)

The next section goes into player character races. Metallic and gem dragons are allowed to players, as are half-dragons and elf, dwarf, and gnome kindred, while chromatic dragons are not.

Information is provided concerning the chromatic dragons, though these creatures cannot be used as player characters.
The word "cannot" doesn't often fit into an RPG, in my opinion - especially not when you present all the rules for player chromatic dragons in the PC creation section. "Is not recommended" would fit better, but even then I think it's a bit on the weak side. I don't know why dragons should be so pigeonholed alignment-wise, anyway. By this point in AD&D, players could play pegasus-riding drow rangers, but in a setting designed for PCs to play dragons, they weren't supposed to touch the concept of a chaotic neutral red dragon.

As in normal AD&D, dragons have racial minimums and maximums, so if you roll an 8 Strength you cannot be a gold dragon. I guess if you use the random dragon race table later on in this chapter, you will have to reroll if you don't meet the racial minimums.

Also as per AD&D rules, level limits exist. The text is very explicit that dragons may never exceed their level limits, but since all dragons have a limit of 12 in every class, which coincides with their age category, that's really a moot point. For half-dragons and kindred, Council of Wyrms assumes the use of the optional rule that allows a character to exceed his level limits with a high prime requisite ability. Making optional rules not optional was a thing 2nd edition did quite often. The "modular" approach of 5e seems similar in concept to the 2e core books, which had many optional rules, and I'm left wondering if the next edition will follow AD&D's model of telling DMs what optional rules are no longer optional when certain supplements come into play.

Speaking of optional rules that are not really optional, proficiencies are assumed to be used in this supplement. But then, I think they were assumed to be used in every AD&D supplement. This comes into play when considering languages. For dragons, the languages are metallic dragon, gem dragon, chromatic dragon, and the common tongue of High Draconic. All dragons begin play with their family tongue, but not High Draconic. It must suck to sit in on the Council of Wyrms if you didn't spend a proficiency slot to learn the language spoken there.

Most of the rest of the chapter is a discussion of the different Council of Wyrms races:

Gold Dragons: The goodiest of the goody two shoes dragon races. They eat pearls and small gems as delicacies. In fact a lot of dragons seem to have an appetite for treasure, which will come up again when we look at bonded treasure. It always bugged me that gold dragons are uber powerful but never fight. It makes sense as campaign flavor, but the munchkin in me sees them as a waste of really good stats.

Silver Dragons: They form close relationships with their kindred and demihuman servants, spending a lot of time in demihuman form. (Would they still call them demihumans in Io's Blood Isles? Considering that humans are the great evil, isn't that a huge insult?) For that reason, most half-dragons are half-silvers.

Bronze Dragons: The most cheerful of dragons. They also form close relationships with their kindred, but don't do icky things like invite them into their homes.

Copper Dragons: Pranksters. They also eat giant scorpions, and are immune to their poison. Injected poisons do hurt them, though. I guess it's something with their digestive tract that renders them immune to poison.

Brass Dragons: A very social breed of desert-dwelling dragons. The best way to insult them is to pass through their territory without stopping to chat.

Amethyst Dragons: What gold dragons are to metallics, amethysts are to gems. I remember these guys being lawful neutral in the Monstrous Manual, but the flavor text makes them seem lawful good: "Being honorable and noble, these dragons never hide or attempt to ambush foes. To them, even retreating is a dishonorable action, but they will flee if faced with certain death."

Sapphire Dragons: Militaristic dragons that live underground. They don't like elves, since the elves remind them of drow, and they fought a war with dwarves long ago and treat them as little more than slaves. For the most part, only gnomes are allowed to become their kindred.

Emerald Dragons: A very seclusive breed. They are one of the few dragon subraces that get along with sapphires, and their favorite foods include giants.

Topaz Dragons: These guys are the Dark Sun elves of this setting - untrusting and generally mean toward other dragons, but diehard allies once somebody has become a true friend. They don't generally like brass dragons, though, and oppose them on general principle.

Crystal Dragons: The weakest of dragons, these guys are capricious and tend to let their demihuman vassals run their domains. They are hunted by white dragons and enslaved by frost giants. Oddly, I believe that 3rd edition revised crystal dragons to become the most powerful of the gem dragons instead of the weakest. I think I generally prefer having them be weaker - it's not like they're pushovers, and not all dragons of myth are god-like in power.

Red Dragons: The bad guys. I've always loved red dragons as villains. They're even greedier than most dragons, able to recite the inventory of their hoard to a single copper piece. They're big, bad, and incredibly vain. Their demihuman vassals often sacrifice maidens to them, because you can't have a dragon-oriented setting without a maiden being sacrificed.

Blue Dragons: The blues are a bit of a contradiction, as they are plotters and thinkers but leap into battle without hesitation and rarely take the time to parlay.

Green Dragons: Big meanies who build their lairs out of warped forests. They love eating elves, and I think there should have been an entry in The Complete Book of the Elves that expounds about how of course the green dragons view elfmeat as a delicacy, as elves have the most tender flesh and are naturally delicious - far better than smelly dwarves and ugly humans.

Black Dragons: Sneaky little bastards who are the only ones to get their alignment (chaotic evil) mentioned in their flavor text.

White Dragons: Whites are sort of the inbred hillbillies of dragons. They're tougher than most creatures, sure, but among dragons they're weak and stupid. They leave the running of their domains to their demihuman vassals, caring more about the crafting of their ice lairs than anything else.

Kindred: While all demihumans exist in Io's Blood Isles, only dwarves, gnomes, and elves are long-lived enough to become kindred. These are your standard AD&D demihumans, although it's worth noting that the gnomes here are dwarf-kin and not the tinker gnome knockoffs that the race later became as the game evolved.

Half-Dragons: "Three species of metallic dragons have the natural ability to polymorph into demihuman form: gold, silver, and bronze dragons. Sometimes while in these polymorphed forms, the dragons enjoy the company of their demihuman vassals."

If you know what I mean. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Half-dragons are only born to demihuman females, and initially appear to be normal humanoids. When they reach adolescence, they start showing their draconic features. Fully mature, they all look like big elves with dragon features, even if they were born to a dwarf or a gnome.

I think it's noteworthy that the half-dragon description uses the female pronoun, which is unusual for this time period, I believe.

Next up: the odds and ends of character creation as we finish out Chapter 1.
 

Tequila Sunrise

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The "modular" approach of 5e seems similar in concept to the 2e core books, which had many optional rules, and I'm left wondering if the next edition will follow AD&D's model of telling DMs what optional rules are no longer optional when certain supplements come into play.
My suspicion is that most optional rules will either go the 2e route and become assumed, or will be largely overlooked and unused.

Speaking of optional rules that are not really optional, proficiencies are assumed to be used in this supplement. But then, I think they were assumed to be used in every AD&D supplement. This comes into play when considering languages. For dragons, the languages are metallic dragon, gem dragon, chromatic dragon, and the common tongue of High Draconic. All dragons begin play with their family tongue, but not High Draconic. It must suck to sit in on the Council of Wyrms if you didn't spend a proficiency slot to learn the language spoken there.
Of course, by the time you're a wyrm you've probably made your permanent "speak with any intelligent creature" check and are regretting that nwp you blew on High Draconic a few age categories ago. :/

Gold Dragons: The goodiest of the goody two shoes dragon races. They eat pearls and small gems as delicacies. In fact a lot of dragons seem to have an appetite for treasure, which will come up again when we look at bonded treasure. It always bugged me that gold dragons are uber powerful but never fight. It makes sense as campaign flavor, but the munchkin in me sees them as a waste of really good stats.
I don't remember cleaving too closely to the gold dragon attitude, myself. ;)

Crystal Dragons: The weakest of dragons, these guys are capricious and tend to let their demihuman vassals run their domains. They are hunted by white dragons and enslaved by frost giants. Oddly, I believe that 3rd edition revised crystal dragons to become the most powerful of the gem dragons instead of the weakest. I think I generally prefer having them be weaker - it's not like they're pushovers, and not all dragons of myth are god-like in power.
What's mildly annoyed me about dragons of any edition -- since I stopped playing my gold PC, that is -- is that the different age categories apparently don't create enough power difference. I guess Gygax and Arneson felt that different breeds had to be inherently better or weaker than each other, and nobody since then has seen fit to just put them all on an equal footing. It's not a big deal, and easily house ruled anyway, but I guess it offends my sense of human...I mean, dragon rights.

Black Dragons: Sneaky little bastards who are the only ones to get their alignment (chaotic evil) mentioned in their flavor text.
From a DM's point of view, blacks are my favorite. They've got the raw power, intellect (eventually) and magic of dragonkind, plus they sneak.

It's like one of those giant croc B-flicks, where someone's strapped a laser to its toothy maw and transplanted some psycho ex-Delta Force guy's brain into the beast. That's some creepy scary shit, is what that is.
 

Blackwingedheaven

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From a DM's point of view, blacks are my favorite. They've got the raw power, intellect (eventually) and magic of dragonkind, plus they sneak.

It's like one of those giant croc B-flicks, where someone's strapped a laser to its toothy maw and transplanted some psycho ex-Delta Force guy's brain into the beast. That's some creepy scary shit, is what that is.
Blue dragons are my favorite because they fucking breathe lightning. How metal is that? XD

On the other hand, I love running black dragons as antagonists. They lend a hint of "fantasy Vietnam" to any campaign. =3
 

an_idol_mind

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Chapter 1: Creating Characters, continued

With the long section of descriptions of the different dragons over, the rest of the chapter is just odds and ends about the stats part of character creation.

Most dragons use d8s for hit dice, except for dragon-mages and dragon-psionicists, which use d6s. This is just a reminder of how much smaller hit point totals used to be in the game – a juvenile gold dragon would average only 72 hit points. By 3rd edition, that was almost the same number of hit points that a gold dragon had fresh out of the egg.

There’s also the random hatchling selection table, where players roll 1d20 to see what kind of dragon they are playing. Dragons listed as very rare in the Monstrous Manual are less likely than dragons that are only listed as rare. In general, the chances seem to be 2 in 20 to land a specific rare dragon type, while landing a specific very rare dragon are 1 in 20. There’s a separate table for NPCs, since players aren’t supposed to play chromatics. And in answer to my previous question, dragons randomly rolled that do not meet their minimum ability score requirements should have their stats adjusted upward to fit.

The table mentions that the introductory adventure for the campaign works best if players roll on the random hatchling tables. I’m not sure why that is exactly. It probably has something to do with the AD&D philosophy that players are dirty little sneaks who are always looking to powergame and get an advantage, so not forcing them to randomly roll for their starting PCs will result in them all playing as gold dragons. Based on the comments here, that thinking isn’t out of line when it comes to at least one group. :p

Next up are saving throws and kits. Dragons save as warriors unless they are dragon-clerics, dragon-mages, or dragon-psionicists, which get the saving throws of that respective class. Dragons can choose to specialize as dragon-mages or dragon-clerics unless they are whites or blacks, in which case they can’t be dragon-clerics for some reason. Gem dragons can also be dragon-psionicists. Rather than be listed as classes, these are called kits for some reason, and are described in detail later.

Alignment gets a mention, and PCs must choose the alignment that corresponds with their dragon type – no good red dragons or neutral golds here. I personally think that’s bunk and the alignment spectrum should be opened up, especially for PCs. That’s the equivalent of a standard AD&D setting saying that all elf PCs must be chaotic good.

Finally there is experience and advancement. Dragons begin at Hatchling level, which is basically the equivalent of 0-level for standard PCs except that 0-level dragons can kill an ogre the moment they pop out of the egg. Based on the experience tables, dragons require a ton of XP to advance early on, but at the 750,000 mark things level out, requiring a flat 250,000 XP per level. This is an oddity about the AD&D experience tables that I never understood – considering that tougher foes will yield more XP, leveling out the tables just means that it’s easier to level up the higher you get. In the base AD&D game, I can see that being explained away as progression flattening out after 9th level (except in the case of spellcasters, who get massive amounts of power after that point yet advance faster than fighters in some cases), but that explanation doesn’t hold up much when you’re talking about going from wyrm to great wyrm – that’s a pretty big jump in power.

What I do like about the experience progression, though, is the flavor that goes along with it. To go up a level, a dragon needs three things. First, it needs to be old enough in years. Second, it needs to have enough XP. Third, it needs to have a hoard equal in gp value to the amount of experience needed. Once a dragon has all those things, it sleeps atop its hoard for a number of months equal to its new level. During this time, it grows closer to its treasure, and all dragons have a flat 35% chance to recognize missing items from their hoard, +5% per level.

The passage of time is one thing that always threw me when running Council of Wyrms. While I love the idea of dragons sleeping for months and then awakening more powerful than before, when you get to higher levels you’re talking about a span of decades or centuries between each level. If you hit 6th level at 101 years old, you’ve got another 99 years minimum before you can reach 7th level. It seems to me that even in a dragon-ruled society, things should change pretty dramatically during the course of a dragon’s life. Instead, the boxed set seems to assume a more or less static world, where things look the same at 1,200 than they did when your character was 12.

On the other hand, I think playing up the length of time between levels could be pretty cool if done well. I could see an interesting campaign being formed around humans encroaching on dragon territory and conquering more and more as the campaign goes on. A dragon PC might fall asleep to level up, only to wake up six months later and find that an island once controlled by white dragons is now the base of operations of a group of human dragon slayers. It would leave dragons almost afraid of falling asleep, because those little human bastards move so quickly that they might have overthrown the Council of Wyrms while you were napping.

The chapter ends with a note about dragon PCs and their demihuman kindred. They are meant to be played as pairs, with kindred functioning like normal PCs and dragons being brought out for the big epic stuff that only dragons can do. Because of the psychic bond between them, the active PC only gets 75% of his normal earned XP, with the remaining 25% going to the inactive character. That doesn’t mean much for dragons, but kindred might get bumped up in level while sitting at home and waiting for their master to finish up their latest epic quest.

That’s it for Chapter 1. Next up is proficiencies and abilities.
 

Armchair Gamer

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Chapter 1: Creating Characters, continued

Next up are saving throws and kits. Dragons save as warriors unless they are dragon-clerics, dragon-mages, or dragon-psionicists, which get the saving throws of that respective class. Dragons can choose to specialize as dragon-mages or dragon-clerics unless they are whites or blacks, in which case they can’t be dragon-clerics for some reason.
According to the Monstrous Manual, white and black dragons never get clerical spells, while all metallics, gem, reds and blues do. The fly in the ointment is green dragons, who also don't get priest spells but are eligible for this kit. However, I think there's something of an evolution that's taken place in green dragons over the course of D&D--from somewhat brutish (1E MM?) to subtle schemers (started by Dragonlance, continued into 4E)--that I think we might be in the midpoint of here. In addition, while whites and blacks only get 1st level spells, greens at least advance to 2nd level in magical ability.

Alignment gets a mention, and PCs must choose the alignment that corresponds with their dragon type – no good red dragons or neutral golds here. I personally think that’s bunk and the alignment spectrum should be opened up, especially for PCs. That’s the equivalent of a standard AD&D setting saying that all elf PCs must be chaotic good.
Dragons aren't humanoid. :) I've long favored dragons as representatives of primal/elemental Good and Evil, myself, and considerably less free in choosing alignments than mortal races. But that's a personal opinion, even if it was somewhat canonical for Dragonlance for a year. :)

Finally there is experience and advancement. Dragons begin at Hatchling level, which is basically the equivalent of 0-level for standard PCs except that 0-level dragons can kill an ogre the moment they pop out of the egg. Based on the experience tables, dragons require a ton of XP to advance early on, but at the 750,000 mark things level out, requiring a flat 250,000 XP per level. This is an oddity about the AD&D experience tables that I never understood – considering that tougher foes will yield more XP, leveling out the tables just means that it’s easier to level up the higher you get. In the base AD&D game, I can see that being explained away as progression flattening out after 9th level (except in the case of spellcasters, who get massive amounts of power after that point yet advance faster than fighters in some cases), but that explanation doesn’t hold up much when you’re talking about going from wyrm to great wyrm – that’s a pretty big jump in power.
There's a bit of legacy design lurking in the tables, I think. That flat advancement rates kicks in whenever a dragon type hits 9 HD--i.e., '9th level'. It's somewhat because several dragon types start at or near that point, and a lot of the advancement is in 2-HD clumps until some point ranging from 10 to 16 HD depending on dragon type.
 

Scarik

You die as you live.
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You're a better gamer than I. My friends and I looked over the rules, and said "Why be anything but gold?" :D
That was the thinking that lead me to go on a tear and make my own dragon stats for my all-dragon games. Basically I divided them up based on size category when hatched so you had 3 total categories (gold, red, amethyst), (silver, bronze, blue, green, sapphire, emerald) and (brass, copper, black, white, topaz, crystal).
 
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