Dragon Tactics, Part 2

“Metallic” dragons are the good complements to the evil “chromatic” dragons. Looking just at their statistics, they’re identical in most ways: Their physical abilities follow the high-Strength, high-Constitution “brute” profile. They have proficiency bonuses on all of the “big three” saving throws, plus Charisma. They have blindsight, darkvision, flying movement and one alternative movement mode (burrowing, swimming or climbing)—although I have to put an asterisk by this last one, because the editors of the fifth-edition Monster Manual seem to have forgotten to give silver dragons an alternative movement mode. Adult and ancient metallic dragons have the same legendary actions as chromatic dragons of those ages, and they share the chromatic dragons’ Legendary Resistance and Frightful Presence features. In addition, young, adult and ancient metallic dragons have the same Claw/Claw/Bite Multiattack. And, of course, they all have breath weapons.

Metallic dragons differ from chromatic dragons in four ways:

  • Young, adult and ancient metallic dragons all have social skill proficiencies in addition to Perception and Stealth.
  • Ancient brass and copper dragons, and adult and ancient bronze, gold and silver dragons, can Change Shape.
  • Adult and ancient metallic dragons have only two lair actions available to them, rather than three.
  • Each metallic dragon has two types of breath weapon, one of which is nonlethal and can be used to subdue without injury.

Given that these are good creatures—most of the monsters we’ve looked at so far are either evil creatures or unaligned predators—an encounter with a metallic dragon is going to play out very differently from an encounter with a chromatic dragon. Rarely will it begin with the dragon attacking the player characters—or, for that matter, with the PCs attacking the dragon.

Metallic wyrmlings will generally be friendly and gentle, if aloof. A brass, copper or silver wyrmling might even walk right up to a party of adventurers and try talking to them in Draconic; a bronze or gold wyrmling will hide itself and observe them watchfully but not flee if approached, unless they seem belligerent. If a fight breaks out, a wyrmling’s first action will be to use its nonlethal breath weapon once in an effort to repel its attackers, then fly, burrow or swim away at maximum speed. Only if attacked and damaged will it fight back with its damaging breath, and only if cornered will it engage in melee and bite.

Young dragons of the metallic varieties show adolescent versions of their adult personalities: young brass dragons are prattling blabbermouths, young bronze dragons are shy observers, young copper dragons are clowns and comedians, young gold dragons are aloof and a bit stuck-up, and young silver dragons are sweethearts. Young brass, copper and silver dragons will initiate social interaction; young bronze and gold dragons generally won’t, unless approached with clearly nonhostile intentions.

The type of social interaction young dragons engage in is indicated by their social skill proficiencies. Young brass dragons will enjoy conversation, exchanges of compliments and bargaining; so will young gold dragons, although they’ll be quicker to pick up on insincerity and mixed motives in the PCs. Young bronze dragons are more guarded, trying to get a read on what the PCs want before engaging on a deeper level. Young copper dragons like to bluff and brag, to see who can put the more outrageous story over on the other. Silver dragons are interested in exchanging knowledge.

If it looks like an encounter is about to turn hostile, young bronze and gold dragons won’t waste time—they’ll fly away immediately. Young copper dragons will use Deception to try to misdirect the PCs or trick them into dropping their guard, then hit them with Slowing Breath before flying away. Young brass dragons will try to talk their way out of the situation before resorting to their Sleep Breath and fleeing, and good-natured young Silver Dragons may not even realize they’re in danger unless and until combat actually breaks out, whereupon they’ll use their Paralyzing Breath, then fly away. Like wyrmlings, young dragons use their nonlethal breath weapons as a harmless but effective sucker punch before retreating, use their damaging breath weapons only if they’re already hurt themselves, and use their melee Multiattacks only when cornered.

Like chromatic dragons, metallic dragons past the wyrmling stage will reposition themselves before using their breath weapons, potentially incurring one or more opportunity attacks, in order to catch as many targets as possible in the cone-shaped area of effect. This holds whether they’re using their nonlethal breath weapons or their damaging ones.

Metallic adult dragons and ancient dragons have access to their lair actions, which don’t follow quite as consistent a pattern as chromatic adult dragons’ lair actions do. Roughly speaking, they can be divided into nonlethal “cloud actions” and more aggressive “push actions.” Cloud actions include the brass dragon’s Cloud of Sand, the bronze and silver dragons’ Fog Cloud and the copper dragon’s Mud (which stretches the definition of the category). Push actions include the brass dragon’s Strong Wind, the bronze dragon’s Thunderclap, the copper dragon’s Spike Growth and the silver dragon’s Cold Wind; all but the first do damage, and all but the last inhibit movement.

The gold dragon’s lair actions, however, don’t fit the pattern at all. Its two lair actions are Glimpse of the Future, which gives it advantage on attack rolls, ability checks and saving throws for the entire round, and Banishment, which works like the spell of the same name, though only for one round. It will rely on Glimpse of the Future as long as no blood has been drawn; afterward, it will use Banishment to suspend its most threatening opponent’s fighting privileges whenever it can.

Adult and ancient metallic dragons, like young metallic dragons, would rather talk than fight, although their personalities are more mature and fully developed. Unlike young metallic dragons, they will start a fight themselves if they get the sense that the PCs they’re dealing with have evil intent. However, they’ll still do so by nonlethal means—their “cloud” lair action and nondamaging breath weapon—as long as this appears workable. Unlike chromatic dragons, they’ll use their melee Multiattacks before their damaging breath weapons, because their Multiattacks include Frightful Presence, which may be effective at keeping opponents at bay. Their damaging breath weapons are a last-ditch trump card to play when it’s obvious that the PCs are evil and not to be deterred otherwise.

Unless they’re defending their lairs, adult and ancient metallic dragons won’t fight past the point of being moderately wounded (reduced to 70 percent of their maximum hit points or fewer): any creatures that can harm them that badly can probably do worse as well, and are therefore to be evaded. A retreating metallic dragon Disengages (action), then flies away at maximum speed—or burrows, swims or climbs away if and only if its attackers can’t follow it that way.

Like their chromatic counterparts, adult and ancient metallic dragons will use their Legendary Resistance whenever they fail a saving throw.

Finally, any adult or ancient metallic dragon with the Change Shape feature will prefer to go about in disguise when it’s outside its lair, especially when venturing into civilized lands. They do their best to blend in with their surroundings, taking human form among humans, elven form among elves, beast or bird form in the wilderness, possibly even a genie form in the desert. If threatened in its disguised form, it will do its level best to talk its way out of any situation, even surrendering if necessary to avoid a fight, in order to avoid revealing its true nature. As soon as eyes are off it, however, it will either revert to dragon form or assume a different form that allows it to escape.

Next: Shadow dragons and dracoliches.

9 thoughts on “Dragon Tactics, Part 2

  1. If I’m not mistaken, silver dragons have the innate ability to walk on clouds- that’s probably why they don’t get an extra movement mode like the other metallics. It’s pretty useful :3

      1. I haven’t played the game that much and the only official D&D book I’ve read is the 5E DM’s Guide, so don’t consider me anything close to an expert on the game. I am, however a huge fan of dragon lore and avidly consume it whenever I get the chance. 😀

        I’m pretty sure I heard that silvers can walk on clouds as if they were solid surfaces from several different videos on D&D dragon lore.
        Here’s a link to the youtube video made by MrRhexx (I’m pretty sure Runesmith and TheDungeonDudes also made similar videos)

        (Not the video title- what the monster manual doesn’t tell you about silver dragons)

        Whether it’s canon or not I still think that giving silvers the ability to cloudwalk is a great for making them stand out next to all the other metallics- it makes sense considering they live at high altitudes and gives them unmatched mobility when combating any chromatics encroachments on their home turf!

        I definitely plan on using it (should the opportunity arise) in any campaigns that I might run in the future just because I think it’s cool!

        (P.S. thanks for making all of these awesome monster strategy references and making them freely accessible for DMs and newby players like myself! Looking forward to getting your book when school isn’t such a hassle ;P )

        1. Pretty sure Cloudwalk was introduced for Silver Dragons in the Council of Wyrms box set supplement (AD&D 2nd Edition).

  2. Oh snap!
    The other night I had a thought and had to check just to be safe. It turns out that Cloudwalk is an ability available to silver dragons in PATHFINDER and not D&D 5E.
    I still like the concept as an idea, but I realize that the dragons in each game are very different creatures with distinctly different stat blocks despite sharing the same name. My apologies for wasting your time with this nonsense… ^-^’

  3. Great information as always! Maybe you should rename this article as “Metallic Dragon Tactics” for easier searching.

  4. If Change Shape is available without limitations (none listed that I saw) then why wouldn’t metallic dragons employ this tactic as a primary or at least secondary staple like archdruids with wild shape? It would make them even harder to defeat if they continue to change shape and pick up those hit points every time they get knocked back to dragon form.

    1. They don’t get extra hit points. It is not the Wild Shape ability; their hit points are unaffected. Additionally, there aren’t any humanoids or beasts with better physical attributes than a dragon’s, and without being able to use class features, there’s approximately zero draw to using Shape Change in a fight. It’s usage is primarily to let the dragon pass unnoticed.

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