July 6, 2013
Iconic Antagonists: Dragons
Ask someone to name something related to fantasy and you are likely to hear them mention dragons pretty quickly. Dragons have been a part of our myths and our history for thousands of years. From Beowulf to Journey to the West and even the Bible, dragons are everywhere. In fantasy role-playing games, dragons are one of those creatures that will often strike both fear and excitement in the hearts of players. Gamemasters enjoy describing these beasts in epic detail and relish creating encounters that pit their players against these mighty wyrms. As such, when looking at what monster to discuss for the first “Iconic Antagonists” article, there was no debate; dragons are the most iconic gaming antagonist.
So, what makes dragons so wonderful? Well, for starters, dragons can be just about anything you want them to be. They can be of any size, from as small as a house cat to the size of a mountain. They can be ravaging beasts or cunning intellectuals. They often possess both immense physical and mystical powers. They are ascetically stimulating. They can be found in any terrain from atop a mountain to the deepest depths of the oceans. In short, dragons can be whatever sort of creature you want them to be, even if they often share many traits. While often depicted as lizard-like, dragons can easily be defined as hot or cold blooded, as the story sees fit. They can be as swift as a leopard or as ponderous as a brontosaurs. This variety within a single creature makes them ideal for Gamemasters to use them as antagonists for a party. Need a lumbering, savage monster? Dragon. Need a flying terror that rules its domain through fear and brutality? Dragon. For just about any situation in which you need a good monster, a dragon can fit the bill.
Ever since J.R.R. Tolkien’s the Hobbit, dragons have had a place in fantasy that no other creature can ever hope to usurp. The dragon Smaug the Golden has inspired countless writers and storytellers to weave their own stories of these great beasts, and the image of such an enormous monster lying upon great piles of gold and riches have enticed many adventures to brave their dangerous lairs. This is another reason that dragons make great antagonists for Gamemaster’s to throw against their players. Loot. For a lot of games, such as the classic Dungeons & Dragons (heck, “dragons” are even in the name of the game) facing a dragon means laying claim to the ever-popular dragon hoard. Few other creatures seem to guarantee such a bountiful reward waiting for the characters once their foe is felled. For many monsters, it becomes difficult to explain why they have treasure for the players to claim after they defeat it. “Why does this tentacled horror have 1d4x100 gems and 1d4 magic items? It has no use for them.” Meanwhile, it is understood that dragons adore their treasures, even if they do not make use of their items personally. Dragons are known to be greedy creatures, after all (again, according to the Hobbit, but that is good enough for fantasy role-playing).
I adore using dragons in my games, and my players always seem to get a kick out of facing these powerful and imposing beasts. Be they some savage monster to slay or some powerful tyrant they must negotiate with, dragons are never creatures to take lightly. Ask any veteran player and you will likely hear some wonderful tales of encountering dragons, and if that player has been fortunate, most of those stories won’t end with “and that is how my character met their end to the beast’s claws/fangs/flame.”
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