Giving into 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons (henceforth merely referred to as 4E) I’ve accepted the spirit of change and have decided this time around to be willing to make a few changes in my campaign styles myself. This is going to sound weird, but I’ve never really ran a campaign focussed on Dragons. I’ve used them once or twice….an AD&D campaign I ran for some friends of mine years ago involved them killing a single, young black dragon that was terrorizing the country side. It was the premise for an entire adventure, and afterwards deemed them heroes and Dragonslayers….but that would be the only wyrm they would actually encounter as they would go on to focus on a war effort against armies of Orks.
Probably the closest I’ve ran to a Dragon-centric campaign was many failed attempts at starting the Dragonlance Chronicles. And as a matter of fact, when I sat down to think up what I could run for a 4E campaign, I glanced over at the 25th Anniversary Edition of the Dragonlance Chronicles and honestly considered the conversion.
But it was decided I needed something fresh, something new (for me) and something that accommodated the 4E rules. So I decided, why not: run the campaigns you’ve always avoided running. Embrace the cliche’s and run with them, give them a go and don’t worry about whether it’s been done before or not.
It’s not that I have anything against Dragons; I’m actually pretty fond of them and there’s a small kid in me that likes to think that maybe they’re real but just choosing to remain hidden. My problem is just the fact of…well, let’s be honest: It’s Dungeons & Dragons. I’ve done the Dungeon thing many times; but I can’t count on my hand the number of times plot lines have suddenly been focused on the Draconic. They’re strange, ancient and powerful creatures…and I’m actually pretty particular of how they’re portrayed.
My Beef with the Wurm
The dragon at the end of the dungeon, sitting on his piles of gold and defending himself from the marauding adventurers is all fine and dandy, but not my preference. Again, they’re ancient beasts and powerful minds….why would he choose a life of hording the gold in solitude?
At the same time, I hate it when Dragons are rulers of everything and kind of serve as that high-level overlord of everything as a way of stating “Nobody argues with the king’s rule, HE’S A FUCKING DRAGON.” Along the same lines, I hate the “Deus Ex Draconic” where right when things couldn’t get any worst, and it looks like our heroes are done for, in on giant scaled wings flies the beast to save the day and give the players a ride to safety as well as some token/item/piece of advice that comes through and turns the tide of battles.
Dragonheart was a cool movie, but not in my campaign.
Instead, I like my Dragons savage, a lot of times Feral, but still smart and cunning. In many ways, I love my Dragons portrayed as wolves in mentality. They can be fierce, they can be ruthless, but they can also be proud and bound to their kin. They can be caring, and show affection to those they trust. They’re also territorial, regardless of nature or intellect. Gold and wealth means nothing to them; at least not on the same terms they mean to Men. Maybe that Red Dragon at the end of the dungeon IS hording gold in solitude….the hearts of men can’t resist the lure of riches, so the gold brings him a steady food source.
Giving into the change
So here’s what I’m working on so far, at least a summary of it. I’m already at about 20 pages and that’s just back history for the campaign:
The premise of the setting is life in the Dragonsbane Empire. Essentially, the empire was formed by nations of humans who served and followed the dragon god Bahamut, who was the lone protector of mankind in an age where Dragons flourished and ruled the lands of creation. After being betrayed by his sister, Tiamat, Bahamut was blessed with Godhood for caring “for the race that no Gods would claim.” Serving the races of man as soldiers and protectors, Bahamut would bless his most devout faithful with the gift of “Dragon Ascended” — the first lines of the Dragonborn race.
Dragonsbane is actually the scholarly and native term for the Dragonborn in this world, as they were a blessing from Bahamut to protect them from the rest of the vile dragons of the world, especially the servants of Tiamat. The Dragonborn do not actually serve as leaders of the Empire, however; their orders throughout the ages was to be that soley to the duty of protecting it. In a way, the presence of the Dragonborn is very similar to a sort of Spartan way of life and beliefs.
For all intents and purposes of this setting, The Empire (as well as the neighboring kingdoms of the other races who keep a constant, albeit shakey, alliance) claim a portion of the world known only as The West, standing vigil for over a thousand years with constant watch towards The East, also known as The Wastes as during the last great Draconic war, the retreating armies of Tiamat would scorch and destroy the lands to ensure man would not have an interest in returning.
Dragons play a huge role in this setting, although amazingly the last officially recorded sighting of a true Dragon hasn’t been in over a thousand years. There is little doubt to the denizens of the West that Dragons still exist; every year the fringe outpost and settlements in the Wastes are ransacked by hordes of horros bearing the mark of Tiamat. Cults devoted to worship of the Chromatic Wurms, the many faces of Tiamat, across the countrysides of the Empire. For centuries, the cities have been dealing with random kidnappings and assassinations linked to these cults.
It is legend that the Metallic dragons, the ones loyal to Bahamut, still exist in hiding amongst the lands of the Empire. According to the Myths, Bahamut ordered them to retreat from the savage conflicts and to cease interference with the ordeals of Man, since they were now his burden. Most are skeptical of these tales, viewing them as childhood faerie tales. Others believe strongly in them, and pursue the possibility of discovering them and pleading for their aid; while others feel that these beasts should not be dealt with, for if they were to have wanted to befriend mankind they would’ve done so by now.
Aside from the centuries of myth and rumor, there is plenty of physical evidence to suggest that Dragons continue to thrive in the world. Over the passing of the ages, more and more Sorcerors have began to tap into their Dragon-blooded abilities. Many fear that the growing numbers of those with draconic blood is evidence of true dragons infiltrating the imperial society. There has also been increasing reports of a Kobold infestation in the mountains on the borderlands between the West and the East, and rumors are flying from the fringe settlements of raids of Dragonborn armies beginning to appear — and these are obviously not of the same breeds as the Dragonsbane.
How’s that for a setup for a dragon-infested world?