In a recent Tribality article, I mentioned that dragons in Aurikesh are (usually) a combination of a chromatic and a metallic dragon type. For instance, there is copper-green dragon that the PCs recently met, fought, killed, negotiated with, and raised, in that order. Anyway, one of my readers asked about it, so I said I’d write a bit more about how it works.
The idea originated with Kainenchen, as so many good ideas do. In her campaign, she described a dragon as “the Silver-White.” I was intrigued with the idea, so I imagined what that might mean for my campaign. I still have no more than a guess what it means for her game. We do, at least, share the core goal of discarding the idea that you can know whether a dragon is good or evil at first sight.
For my players – if you want to strenuously avoid spoilers, skip this article, but I won’t put anything in here that I regard as an important secret.
The Origins of Dragonkind
In the beginning, the one who made Aurikesh created the first draconic forms, along with many other primal creatures. They were dark and strange creatures, sharing much of their maker’s obsessive, controlling nature. To it, they added an overwhelming desire for gems and precious metals. Any of these first dragons that yet live are imprisoned within the earth or exiled from time’s passing.
At that time, the sentient creatures of the world were dragons, giants, and the Eldest fey who came from the Hidden World. Among these peoples, some were driven to conquest, others to cooperation and exploration. The dragons had not yet received any gift of magic, for their creator reserved that gift for the fey, and many of them burned with envy. Others gave their service to the Eldest, and the Hidden World became their true home.
When the three peoples of Aurikesh joined with one another, new kinds of creatures were born: humans were those who most favored giants, while kagandi were those who most favored dragons. (I’m not answering right now where beruch and veytikka came from; it’s an important story, but one I haven’t yet answered to my own satisfaction. When I do, that may change parts of the story of dragonkind, or not.)
There was a state that called itself “the Dragon Empire.” Its emperor and royal family were dragons, but much of its populace – including high nobility – were giants, fey, humans, or kagandi. Nor were all dragons part of the Dragon Empire – or even welcome within its borders. It held more wealth than territory.
Then came the five gods and the war for control of the Living World. The Five offered magic, first to dragons and later to giants, to lure them away from the service of the creator-god. There were ten who accepted, bringing precious gifts with them in exchange. Five were metals: gold, silver, bronze (no one said dragons didn’t understand metalworking), copper, and iron (not brass – for my money, copper and brass dragons have always been the forgettable low-end metallics, and I don’t need two of those). The rest brought gems, and became chromatic (not gem dragons, sorry): rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and both clear and black diamonds.
(The Five Gods probably align creatively with one chromatic and one metallic each; I haven’t worked that out yet, and I’m having a hard time thinking of how I’d make that matter in the game.)
The gods exalted these ten individual dragons above the rest and wove the empyreal fire of magic into their blood. Only one of these has been mentioned in the campaign: Ghezode, the red dragon, whose flame could never be extinguished. But there was no second red dragon, no concept that what he was might pass to a second generation. The dragons mated with one another, and with dragons that the gods had not exalted. Their progeny were blended in color, and their abilities reflected that mingling.
What I envision for the appearance of these dragons is that the face of each scale is one color, while the visible edge of each scale is their other color. There aren’t a lot of ways to pair a jewel tone and those metallic colors that look anything other than amazing in my imagination. For their other major features, like the prominent nasal horn of the blue dragon, it’s a grab bag between their two colors – just whatever sounds cool at the time I describe it, if I even get down to that level of detail.
When they saw what the first ten had become, more dragons wished to join the cause of the gods. They brought other gifts, and they too were changed – but these aftercomers received far less power. Thus were the lesser dragons created, such as the ash dragons (from Tome of Beasts),
Today there are relatively few dragons; it is not a given that all twenty-five kinds of true dragon (the 5×5 grid of chromatic x metallic pairing) have even one dragon currently living, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be one in the future. Draconic “genetics” are stranger than ever: because there have been so many generations of them, a silver-red and a gold-red could plausibly produce a silver-green egg. As a result, dragons have an interest in dragonkind collectively and in the gifts of individual dragons, but any assumptions about personality based on scale pattern are seen as bizarre.
What is common are dragons that form strong bonds with humanoids, particularly draconic sorcerers. The odd thing about draconic sorcery is that it does retain the form of the first ten who received empyreal fire. Sorcerers who become closely associated with a dragon often share one of its colors, and adopt the other as an aesthetic affectation.
The original dragons had the same range of personalities as any powerful being – some good, some bad, many wanting nothing more than solitude or companionship on their own terms. The ten who first joined the Gods were… not monsters, but they were exalted for the purpose of war against those they had once loved, and it scarred them deeply. In the present day, coloration is no statement whatsoever of a dragon’s personality. Some still harbor dreams of expanding their hoards and holdings into an empire, such as they imagine dragons held at the dawning time.
All dragons gain the ability to take on a humanoid form, usually once they’re no longer hatchlings. All “true” dragons have some facility with spellcasting.
In the course of my campaign, the PCs have met two two-color dragons, one ash drake, and three Draconic sorcerers. The first dragon was set to guard a location by the Immortal Emperor. It was a bronze-and-something – the lighting conditions were such that the PCs couldn’t tell for sure. (This was me playing with color ambiguity early on, and starting to make the point that scale coloration wasn’t a good basis for guessing a dragon’s personality.)
The second dragon was Lazare. He showed up in humanoid form, offering his and his three brothers’ services as mercenaries, just in case the PCs wanted to pay handsomely to have something or someone burned to ash. They declined, so he looked elsewhere for employment, winding up taking a job with their main enemy. A session or two go by.
Then he got made while spying on them (again, in humanoid form), and fled. They gave chase, and I had to appreciate just what an unbeatable speedster the party’s monk had become. They attacked him and started doing some real damage, so he cut loose with some bigger spells… like disintegrate. I’m just as happy that the PC made his save, but the ray still hit the building behind him and destroyed a huge section of load-bearing corner. He escaped in the confusion as the building came down around them. They also saw him use a legendary action at this point, and I think he used a claw attack (essentially materializing his claw around his human-like hand, dealing normal damage). At this point they knew something was up, but still weren’t sure what.
The next day, they’re in a meeting that their main enemy is supposed to be attending (because they had their arms twisted into putting him on the city’s constitutional council). Several members of the council haven’t shown up yet. Then one of them falls out of the rafters, Braveheart-style, and a robed figure flees, dimension dooring through the roof. Little does he know that the PCs have some extraordinary capabilities when it comes to giving chase.
This leads in short order to a fight ranging across the roof of what’s basically City Hall. (It’s called the Reeve’s Hall, and it’s sized for people several feet taller than any player race. Anyway.) Lazar’s mixing spells and claw attacks, using legendary actions and legendary resistances, but staying in his humanoid form. By this point, though, the PCs are starting to figure out that he’s a dragon, or something like it. One PC gets thrown off the roof, but haste gets him back in the fight the next round; some others get held, and the one who got thrown off the roof narrowly avoids the second disintegrate of the session. Finally they kill him, and he dramatically reverts to his full draconic form.
A veytikka character starts talking to the dragon’s ghost, because they do that. This is where the whole thing takes a turn – he explains that it was just a job, he needed the money to rebuild a lost hoard, no hard feelings, sorry about the building I brought down. Yes, I’ll pay damages. Yes, I can give you evidence against my boss. All I want is to get raised and sent on my way. The dragon’s ghost creates an oath rod (like a contract, but for marking with claws) and it becomes material when he puts it in the veytikka’s hands.
They find a cleric powerful enough to bring Lazar back. It doesn’t go well (this is normal for Aurikesh with raise dead and resurrection); the Nightwalker intervenes and demands a price. The PCs decide to fight the Nightwalker for it, or more precisely fight a bunch of the Nightwalker’s minions while he watches in dracolich form. When they finish the fight, Lazar comes back to life and delivers the evidence that he promised. He winds up parting with the PCs on fairly friendly terms. He leaves, planning to establish a new lair and hoard in the mountains north of the city. His “brothers” – three Draconic sorcerers – haven’t gotten out of their contract with the PCs’ enemy… but that’s another story.
As for the ash drake, there’s an alchemical guild in the city. The PCs get involved in stopping a monarchist counter-revolutionary attack on the guild, which meant they were joining a fight already in progress. This is how they discovered that the guild was keeping ash drakes in reinforced vault-lairs in their basement. The paladin fell through the floor into the ash drake’s chamber and hit it once in a panic. Then she realized it was supposed to be here and also this was a fight she didn’t want, and got the party to pull her back up.
It turns out that the guild was breeding ash drakes, keeping a bed of coals heated to incubate their eggs. The counter-revolutionaries had killed most of the people tending the eggs, as well as smashing many of the eggs, and the party (or at least several members) were heartbroken. The guild’s longer-term plans for the ash drakes are still an open question.
Anyway, that’s the story of dragons in Aurikesh. It’s an excuse to use them in all kinds of weird ways and treat various dragon stat blocks as an a la carte menu. Most of all it’s a hard rejection of draconic alignments, in favor of dragons as individuals with agendas. It’s not impossible that they could encounter a dragon, in dragon form, in its lair… but it’s not a default state here.
I’m not especially concerned with CR calculation, but if I were, these would generally be around the same CR as other dragons – maybe trading a few hit points or other defenses for spellcasting, and (in their humanoid form) sacrificing many of their physical advantages, such as flight and wing or tail attacks.