How to Role-Play a Red Dragon in D&D
Dragons are serpentine, legendary creatures that permeate folklore from around the world. It’s hard to pinpoint where dragon mythology originated, but it is clear that dragons have captured the imagination and hearts of people across the world; so much so that they’ve become the representative creature of the world’s greatest tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons.
Red dragons are one of the most fearsome chromatic dragons, embodying the blind greed and evil nature that classic dragons are known for. They’re formidable enemies in battle, using their intelligence and powerful blows to challenge even the most seasoned parties.
Each type of chromatic dragon is closely tied to one of the elements. Red dragons embody fire, with their scales and wings colored a fiery red and their breath weapon comprising of pure elemental flame. Red dragons are the largest of the chromatic dragons and are well known for their vanity. Their claws and teeth are fastidiously filed to sharp points, and their scales are polished to a brilliant shine.
The exact coloration of red dragons varies per individual, with some red dragons having a pale or cream underbelly. Red dragons sport long, sharp horns, in addition to a ridge of wickedly sharp spines along their backs.
Red dragons are solitary creatures and are highly territorial towards other dragons. They are known to fight to the death with any dragon that enters their territory, and actively seek out aging red dragons, whom they kill to claim their hoard. Silver dragons are hated by red dragons above all others.
Red dragons are known to use a literal “scorched earth” policy to mark their territory and chase away competitors. They value their treasure and personal beauty above all else, often choosing to stay secluded in their lairs, basking in their own wealth and company.
With a tendency towards chaotic-evil, red dragons take great joy in torturing and devouring humanoids. Because red dragons tend to have low wisdom, they often fail to notice larger plans and traps that others have in place. This causes them to fail in understanding any long-term strategy, focusing solely on instant gratification instead.
Because red dragons value treasure so highly, they can often be placated with great gifts of wealth. However, their chaotic evil nature makes them unlikely allies and will likely only be able to be bargained with for the short-term.
While investigating a red dragon lair, characters may discover the bones of long-dead adventurers and the remains of cattle, hogs, and sheep from the dragon’s recent meals. They will also find piles of treasure, often arranged into a bed for the dragon to sleep on. Especially unique or interesting pieces of treasure are displayed prominently on top of these heaps so that the dragon can more easily admire them.
Red dragons consist of several different CR monsters: wyrmling (CR 4), young red dragon (CR 10), adult red dragon (CR 17) and ancient red dragon (CR 24). Here, we will discuss the tactics of an adult red dragon, which will be similarly used by red dragons of various CRs.
Generally intelligent, red dragons will focus on spellcasters or high-damage dealers. However, they may be distracted by adventurers holding particularly valuable magic items, or by adventurers who come too close to their hoard.
Red dragons utilize their Frightful Presence on enemies within 120 ft, usually on the first round of combat. It then opens with its Fire Breath, provided that it can hit at least two characters in its cone. It uses its Fire Breath as often as possible, using Bite, Claw, and Tail attacks when the Fire Breath is recharging or as Legendary Actions. It uses its Legendary Resistance to succeed against mind-altering spells or other spells that would put it at a sizable tactical disadvantage, rather than using it against damage spells.
The red dragon will also utilize its Wing Attack when it is in a vulnerable position, as it can damage nearby creatures and fly up to 30 ft to reposition itself. Despite its low wisdom, red dragons are highly perceptive. If a creature manages to beat its passive Perception (23), the dragon can still use a Detect legendary action to locate hidden creatures. While red dragons aren’t highly intelligent, they are intelligent enough (16) to fight tactically and are likely more intelligent than most party members.
In battle, red dragons enter a blind rage and will fight to the death, too proud to flee and live after being defeated.
Creating Red Dragon NPCs
While red dragons tend to be solitary in nature, they may also rule dragon-worshipping societies, where they act as especially potent enemies. A young red dragon may command the worship of a kobold society, who tends to its every whim. Kobolds are instructed to gather treasure and food for the dragon, who relaxes in its mountaintop lair.
Larger red dragons are known to ally with mining communities, where they provide the heat needed for their forges. Dragon-forged metals are especially rare, and can possess powerful magical traits. Larger red dragons require more treasure, care, and worship to remain complacent. Mining cities are ideal for this, as miners can continuously supply the dragon with supplies of precious metal.
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