This encounter is intended for 5 PCs of 8th level
Like all kids who watched television ads in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I was creeped out and intrigued by the commercials for Time-Life’s Mysteries series. Eventually, I found these books at my local library and read the everloving crap out of them. In particular I was in love with he artwork featured at the begging of Mysterious Creatures. The book opened with a spread depicting some classical monsters of mythology: a kraken, the hydra, manticore – and of course a dragon. In a book full of more bizarre monsters, it was easy to page of the entry for the dragon, but what always stuck out in my mind was this weird bit at the end of its description:
“…and its teeth, planted in the earth, sprang up overnight as armed men.” (Page 9 – Mysterious Creatures)
Yeah, I had never heard that kind of legend before. So for a while now I’ve had it in mind to play with that idea in creature design for D&D. Like most 4e DMs I’ve found that often solo creatures don’t quite serve to be the epic “boss fights” they are intended to be, but often adding a handful of minions can go a long way to extending a solo’s life and increasing the threat of facing one. So the idea of a solo that can constantly produce minions to support it during a battle really appealed to me. Granted, this business about burying teeth and waiting overnight was a bit impractical, so I’ve taken some liberties with the inspiration for this creature for the sake of practicality. In place of teeth, its the dragons armored body scales which come off and transform into an armed and able fighting force. And thus I give you: The Legion Dragon
Arcana DC 15: Little is known of the Legion Dragon. Green of scale and glassy of eye, it is said to breathe fire like some of its kind, and to travel with groups of automaton like creatures made out of a dragonscale material.
Arcana DC 20: The legion dragon is a rare kind of its breed, brought about when Tiamat was fashioning her children at the dawn of the world. She desired a follower who was an army unto itself, capable of spawning loyal servants to lock down the masses of foot soldiers present during the climactic battles of the dawn war. The Legion Dragon was her answer. When a solid scale drops from the Legion Dragon’s hide – either by shedding during its growth or through damage from attack – the scale slips beneath the ground and quickly transforms into a humanoid construct composed of dragonscale. These constructs come armed with shield and sword and sometimes bow, and fight relentlessly for the Legion Dragon without thought of their own safety. Though humanoid in form, these “scalespawn” have no faces.
Arcana DC 25: The scalespawn is not an independent creature but a fragment of the Legion Dragon. They have a supernatural sense of sight and sound and share what they see with the Legion Dragon that spawned them. They have no thoughts or opinions, and are essentially disembodied limbs of the Legion Dragon who has complete control of his spawns. Part of their magical nature is the ability to manipulate their bodies in a way that allows them to “create” weapons out of their own scale bodies. Often these soldiers can switch effortlessly between melee and ranged combat by “morphing” a blade into a bow and a shield into a quiver of sharp arrows.
Like all dragons, the Legion Dragon is covetous and conniving, collecting a hoard of treasure for its own delight. This Legion Dragon in particular has an ongoing five year racket, where he threatens to destroy a town if a virgin is not delivered to him for sacrifice. He demands the most attractive woman available to be the sacrifice. Usually he waits for a few gallants to attempt her rescue, intent on robbing any would-be heroes of their valuables once they are burned to a crisp.Later, once the villagers have abandoned the girl for dead or worse, the dragon ransoms the girl to slavers, or noblemen looking for some lovely thing to marry.
Usually the dragon rests in its lair – a large underground cavern beneath the bluff. The cavern is accessed through a flooded tunnel on the surface. It is not natural but a carved chamber that was originally the home of a demon of one sort or another, who tended to a cult of followers in far gone days. Both sets of standing stones were erected for the demon: the older set to make sacrifice and pay homage to the monster, the second set as a focus for a ritual to banish it. The Legion Dragon uses the newer stones simply because it intimidates the townsfolk, and because the lingering sense of evil left in the area from long ago unnerves the already startled peasants.
Of course they mention it happening all the time in the tales; but since you began adventuring, you have never once heard of a dragon ACTUALLY demanding that a town ransom a virgin girl. But the rich merchant who hired you to rescue his young daughter from the townspeople’s “madness” is taking this very seriously. It seems that every five years a dragon threatens the town with obliteration if they fail to deliver a virgin sacrifice to a ring of standing stones many miles out in the wilderness. But this time the girl picked belonged to a man with money – the man who hired you to slay the dragon and bring her back. Other parties have tried to bring the beast down over the years, though none have been heard from since setting out after the monster.
Approaching the standing stones from the south and west you see mere feet away a second set of stones, much older and cruder in their construction. What their original purpose was is hard to say. Beyond the stones is a high bluff where you can make out the sleeping form of the dragon. Though green scaled, it looks dissimilar to dragons of the usual variety.
Your attention is drawn back to the stone circle by the hoarse sobbing of the girl you were sent to rescue. She is bound by iron chains laying face up on a podium erected atop a low hill amidst the stones. As you approach, two figures step around the northeastern stones. They are bizarre things, in humanoid shape but made out of a scale carapace and devoid of a face. They bear sword and shield and brandish their weapons as the dragon rises up on the rocky bluff above you.
“Took you long enough to get here,” he grumbles, stretching his great leathery wings. “Come to claim the girl then? Well I hope you brought the best equipment money can buy to slay a dragon. I do so have an eye for expensive arms and armor.” The dragon chuckles, and launches forward!
-Evergreens: Standing in one of the trees squares grants partial concealment
-Tree: The trees trunk is blocking terrain that could be used to grant cover. The tree can be climbed with an Athletics DC 12 and once a creature is perched in the branches, it grants partial concealment
-Standing Stones: All of the standing stones are blocking terrain that can be used as cover. It should be noted that they are big enough that creatures cannot move diagonally past them but must “corner around” the same as a wall. The newer stones (Rectangular black top) are 3 squares high (fifteen feet) and inscribed with runes and glyphs. The older stones (Brown stone) are 2 squares high (ten feet) and are carved with foreboding runes and images of demons and humanoids suffering. A Religion DC 15 check reveals these stones were used long ago for the worship of Azmodeus(or a campaign appropriate entity). Grooves in either set of stones aren’t very deep and require an Athletics DC 20 to climb.
If the Legion Dragon perches atop the newer standing stones, he can make reach attacks at creatures on the ground who would be unable to attack from melee in turn (without a reach weapon), however with such precarious footing, he grants combat advantage when doing so.
-Bluff: This steep cliff can be climbed with an Athletics DC 17 check, and due to its steepness, requires 4 squares of movement.
-Pond: This pond is not natural, and in fact, is a flooded passage to the chamber below the bluff that contains the dragon’s hoard as well as the resting place of the long since banished demon. A PC gazing into the water can see stone steps leading down.
An Athletics DC 15 check is required to swim down through the tunnel to the grotto below without incident. If the PC fails the roll they will have to turn back, or else risk an Endurance DC 20 check or lose 1 healing surge due to near suffocation.
-Virgin: Blond, pretty, scantily clad, and helpless, this poor girl is chained to a stone pedestal. She has 20 HP and all her defenses are 11. While chained up she is considered restrained. She will not fight, but will obey the PC’s commands. To unlock her chains requires a Thievery DC 17 check. The hill upon which the pedestal sits is not sufficiently steep to cause movement penalties
Being a brute, the Legion Dragon isn’t afraid to wade in and start pounding the heroes. After all, taking damage only lets him add to the number of allies he has on hand. At first he might fly in and hover at a distance of 3 squares, attacking any melee combatants from the safety of the air using his reach. At least two scalespawn soldiers will stay near the dragon if possible to serve as body guards and permit the use of the dragon’s immediate attack. Spare scalespawn will likely chase down any ranged attackers in an attempt to lock them down, seeing as how they are the best threat to a dragon on the wing.
The dragon has no interest in the captive virgin whatsoever – she’s a means to an end, a lure for rich PC’s and desperate or devious men with coin to buy her safety. While it will not go out of its way to harm her, it has no qualms about letting the poor girl cook in its flame breath. After all, once he’s killed the PC’s he has all their gear and coin to pile on his hoard, and the purpose of the girl has been fulfilled.
If your players are wise, they’ll use the standing stones as cover against the dragon’s breath weapon. They are wide enough to completely protect a PC against such an attack, assuming the dragon has no line-of-effect to the PC.
Seeing as how this is a dragon fight, you’d be remiss to forget about the dragon’s hoard. I’m personally a traditionalist, and see this as a good a time as any to give your players three monetary only parcels worth of gold coins. Or, if you want him to be a glutton with flair for the aesthetic, all silver coins (so that his coin pile is bigger. If you’d like a more precise measure of a dragon’s wealth, Forbes has crunched the numbers for you. As such, the dragon’s hoard is in the underground chamber – the sole entrance to which is flooded. The chamber needs no additional mapping lest you aim to make it the site of further challenges or the entrance to a bigger dungeon.
— Seeing as how those standing stones are at the perfect height to allow (likely a halfling or gnome) PC to jump onto the dragon’s back, I figured it might speed things along to add some impromptu rules for mounting beasts that would prefer not to be mounted.
A player attempting to leap on the dragon’s back makes an Athletics vs. Dragon’s Reflex Defense roll (This roll must also meet the DC required to make a long jump into one of the dragon’s squares. The PC is considered to be in that same square as the dragon, and as such is subject to burst attacks that target that particular square. Being on the dragon’s back provides combat advantage against the dragon. If the character does not move, they stay atop the dragon.
As a part of any move action the dragon makes, it can attempt an Athletics vs. Reflex Defense roll against the mounted PC (You might elect to let the PC forgo any immediate actions this round to “hold on tight!” and raise their defense by +2). If the dragon succeeds the PC falls to the ground and is prone. While the dragon is on the ground the PC takes no damage, but if this occurs while the dragon is in flight, the PC may have to contend with some falling damage as well. I’d recommend using the rules outlined for falling during a climb, and give the PC one last shot to grab hold of the dragon’s tail before plummeting to the ground.
–PC’s might attempt to avoid the dragon’s fire by diving under the water. It’s not a bad thought, but dragonfire is hot, and will cook the water. Still, some cover is better than none, and you may elect to grant the PC resist 5 fire while submerged in water.