Dragon Tactics, Part 3: Gem Dragons

There are a lot of cool things in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. I don’t count gem dragons among them.

Gem dragons aren’t anything new. They were first mentioned in a 1980 issue of Dragon magazine, and they appeared in the pages of the second edition Monstrous Manual and the third edition Monster Manual II. Be that as it may, I can’t get over the hokeyness of the concept. I just can’t.

I mean, it’s already silly and simplistic to have five matte-colored evil dragons pairing off against five metallic-colored good dragons, each one with a monochromatic personality, but at least there’s a symmetry to that silly simplicity. Gem dragons are like, “What if neutral dragons and also there are five of them too and they look like something else valuable?” Oh, and they’re all psionic!

It’s running the conceit into the ground. It’s too much marzipan. What comes next? Air, earth, fire, water and void dragons? Hemp, linen, cotton, wool and silk? Bitter, sour, sweet, salty and umami?

Frankly, rather than incorporate gem dragons into a campaign of my own, I’d just as soon ditch the colors, metals and sparkly rocks altogether and make every dragon unique, so that you don’t know anything about a dragon just by looking at it. We’re supposed to be moving away from bioessentialism anyway, right? Aren’t lots of players condemning alignment as outdated? All right, then, let’s put our treasure hoards where our mouths are. No colors, metals, gems or anything else. Just dragons. Pick the personalities you want them to have, give them powers to match, and make them whos, not whats.

That’s not what you came here for, though. So here we go: gem dragons. Five kinds. Well, actually, sort of, six. But moonstone dragons don’t follow the same rules, so I’ll discuss the others first, then come back to them.

All five types of “true” gem dragons—crystal, topaz, emerald, sapphire and amethyst, in ascending order of challenge—are unabashed brute melee fighters, nearly all their ability contours peaking in Strength and Constitution. Sub-adult crystal dragons, with their higher Charismas, are exceptions, but except for the young crystal dragon’s ability to cast hypnotic pattern, they have no Charisma-based offensive actions to take in lieu of chomping. (Why no ruby dragons? Because there’s only one: Sardior, the Ruby Dragon, the gem dragons’ analogue to Bahamut and Tiamat, mentioned in passing in Fizban’s as a dragonborn progenitor. As for diamond dragons, there are none. Yet.)

In addition to the Legendary Resistance that all adult and ancient gem dragons possess, gem dragons have proficiency in all of the “big three” saving throws, plus Charisma, making them hard to hurt by means other than direct attacks. Compared with chromatic and metallic dragons, however, they’re on the brittle side, with lower Armor Classes and fewer hit dice. For instance, the ancient amethyst dragon, top of the gem dragon pecking order, has AC 20 and 24 hit dice, compared with AC 22 and 28 hit dice for both ancient red and ancient gold dragons. That doesn’t deter them from engaging in melee, but it does mean they’re relying more heavily on saving throw resistance and on the side effects of their breath weapons to make them dangerous.

Across the board, gem dragons are proficient in Perception and Stealth (that goes for the moonstone dragons, too). Usually, that combination of skill proficiencies means “ambush predator,” but in the case of gem dragons, it seems to have more to do with their being extremely reclusive and wanting to avoid notice. Each variety of gem dragon has resistance to two types of damage; the types differ, but one of the two is always the type dealt by the dragon’s breath weapon. And what would a dragon be without a breath weapon? Unlike chromatic and metallic dragons’ breath weapons, which are sometimes conical and sometimes linear, gem dragons’ breath weapons are always conical—and always come with some kind of rider in addition to the damage they deal.

Being neutral (or rather, “typically neutral”), gem dragons are indifferent by default, rather than hostile. To rile them up, you have to impinge on their peace of mind, most likely by treading too closely to their lair. Sometimes, though, one might find oneself in conflict with a gem dragon by competing for something it wants—or by working too closely with beings from the Far Realm, which they seem to universally despise.

Gem dragon wyrmlings begin with 10 feet of blindsight and either 60 or 120 feet of darkvision, a Bite attack, their breath weapon, and one or more psionic “spells.” These mostly nocturnal dragonets are cautious creatures with the Wisdom to avoid combat encounters that seem too risky, but they’ll fight in self-defense, leading with their breath weapons (if at least two of their enemies are within the cone-shaped area of effect), Biting until those breath weapons recharge, and using their alternative forms of movement (burrowing for emerald dragons, burrowing or climbing for crystal and sapphire dragons, swimming for amethyst and topaz dragons, flying for any of them) to skedaddle when reduced to 70 percent of their maximum hit points or fewer. They also use these alternative movement modes to establish themselves in hiding places—underground, underwater, or up in trees or on high ledges—and don’t fight on the ground if they can stay in the air, in the water or under the earth.

Instinctively, gem dragon wyrmlings focus their attacks against those foes who are dealing the most damage to them with weapon or spell attacks, since their saving throw proficiencies offer them great protection against other sources of damage, but not against these. Also, like other dragon wyrmlings, they don’t like to engage in melee with more than one opponent at a time, and they try to reposition when ganged up on so as not to be double- or triple-teamed.

When they grow into young gem dragons, the range of their blindsight expands to 30 feet, and their darkvision extends to 120 feet if it doesn’t reach that far already. They gain the ability to speak Common (as wyrmlings, they know only Draconic, although they have 120 feet of non-language-dependent telepathy!); they learn a few more psionic tricks (sometimes forgetting the ones they knew before); the range of their breath weapon doubles to 30 feet, making it too good to use against fewer than three opponents at a time; and a Multiattack action adds two Claw attacks to their Bite attack. At this age, they’re somewhat tougher, willing to fight two enemies in melee at once, but otherwise fight mostly as they did when they were wee oobits. Depending on their reasons for fighting, though, they may wait to withdraw until they’re seriously wounded (reduced to 40 percent of their maximum hit points or fewer). It depends a lot on whether or not it’s a fight they wanted to be in to begin with.

Also, like other young dragons, young gem dragons demonstrate adolescent versions of their adult personalities: Young amethyst dragons are awkward, repressed science nerds; young crystal dragons are stargazers and lovers of metaphysics, a bit on the daffy side; young emerald dragons are shy bookworms, suspicious of others’ intentions; young sapphire dragons are obsessive military history buffs; and young topaz dragons are emo edgelords.

Upon reaching majority, adult gem dragons gain Legendary Resistance, which makes them even harder to target with saving throw abilities; 60 feet of blindsight; even more psionic tricks; a larger area of effect for their breath weapon, now best used against all opponents at once, if possible; the bonus actions Change Shape and Psychic Step; and legendary and lair actions. Making a single additional Claw attack costs one legendary action; using Psychic Step, which is basically misty step but twice as far (and psychic) costs two; and each type of gem dragon gets a different damaging action that costs all three.

The adult crystal dragon’s Starlight Strike, the adult topaz dragon’s Essential Reduction, the adult emerald dragon’s Emerald Embers and the adult sapphire dragon’s Telekinetic Fling all target only one enemy each, but on failed saving throws, they deal respectable damage compared with these dragons’ Multiattacks; they also deal half damage on successes, so they’re certain to accomplish something. (Additionally, Essential Reduction disintegrates a target it reduces to 0 hp, which is super-nasty. You should make sure your players’ characters know the risk before they step to.) The adult amethyst dragon’s Explosive Crystal deals less damage to each target, but it has a spherical area of effect with a 20-foot radius, so it’s dealing that damage to at least four opponents at once (against fewer, it’s not worth the cost).

For the most part, adult gem dragons’ lair actions are as neatly systematic as those of chromatic dragons, but the categories are slightly different.

All adult gem dragons share the Beguiling Whisper lair action, which can charm a single target until initiative count 20 on the next round; the charmed target must follow the dragon’s commands, within reason, an effect more powerful than that of charm person but less powerful than that of dominate person. This lair action is best used on the PC with the lowest Wisdom in the party, and every type of adult gem dragon is smart enough to figure out who that is after no more than a few seconds of observation; adult amethyst dragons just know, intuitively and immediately.

Along with Beguiling Whisper, four out of five adult gem dragons have a direct damage lair action that includes a debilitating side effect and a defensive lair action that enhances the dragon’s movement rather than limiting its opponents’. The exception, again, is the adult amethyst dragon: Its damaging lair action is replaced by Imprisoning Force, which lets it cast forcecage without using a spell slot or material components, and its defensive movement lair action is replaced by Spatial Projection, an ability similar, though not identical, to Trickery clerics’ Invoke Duplicity feature. Like most of their lair-action-having peers, gem dragons can’t use the same lair action two rounds in a row. In most cases, these dragons will alternate between Beguiling Whisper and their direct damage option, saving their defensive movement lair action for when they need to withdraw, but adult amethyst dragons will generally use Imprisoning Force only once, to deal with their biggest problem, and otherwise alternate between Beguiling Whisper and Spatial Projection.

On its own turn, as with younger dragons, an adult gem dragon’s preferred attack is its breath weapon, as long as it’s available. Before using its breath weapon, the dragon repositions to catch as many opponents as possible in the blast; it may provoke one or more opportunity attacks in the process, but that can’t be helped. If its breath weapon isn’t available, it uses its Multiattack to deliver a Claw/Claw/Bite combo. In between turns, it uses its damaging legendary action to punish its most troublesome enemy or enemies; Psionics to use one of its psionic abilities, which it generally doesn’t have time to do on its own turn, or to relocate after a miscalculation; and Claw when all it really wants to do is claw.

It’s worth noting, incidentally, what’s not among gem dragons’ legendary actions: Detect, Tail Attack or Wing Attack. All adult chromatic and metallic dragons have those. Adult gem dragons have none of them. Nor does any adult gem dragon have the Frightful Presence trait. Among other things, these differences mean that an adult gem dragon’s foes can get away with mobbing it more easily than they can a chromatic or metallic dragon of equivalent age. It’s wise, therefore, for adult gem dragons to get a read on how their opponents fight and keep a couple of lair actions in reserve just in case they need to Psychic Step away from an offensive blitz. Also, while adult gem dragons all have excellent blindsight and passive Perception, their lack of a Detect legendary action means that exceptionally sneaky rogues have a better chance of getting around them without being spotted, although getting right up to them is still mostly out of the question.

Unless it’s in its lair, an adult gem dragon usually reconsiders its options when it’s moderately wounded (reduced to 70 percent of its maximum hit points or fewer). An adult crystal dragon burrows, climbs or flies away, depending on what’s fastest or safest, but other gem dragons pause to parley. Amethyst and sapphire dragons do so in good faith, emerald dragons try to bamboozle their way out of the situation, and topaz dragons start talking creepy smack. If talking doesn’t resolve the situation, these dragons withdraw for real once they’re seriously wounded (reduced to 40 percent of their maximum hit points or fewer), using their defensive lair actions to facilitate their successful escape. Once out of sight, they Change Shape to disguise themselves as someone or something else.

When they become ancient gem dragons, they get better at everything they do, but only one of the changes they undergo is qualitatively significant: Their psionic “spellcasting” evolves, giving them new, more powerful abilities. Ancient crystal dragons’ lesser restoration becomes greater restoration, and they pick up invisibility as well. Ancient topaz dragons gain antilife shell, ancient emerald dragons learn etherealness and mislead, and ancient sapphire dragons become able to teleport. Ancient amethyst dragons hit the jackpot, acquiring freedom of movement, globe of invulnerability and plane shift. Aside from acquiring these new “spells,” an ancient gem dragon fights the same way as an adult of the same type.

Moonstone dragons are a breed apart. Native to the Feywild, they favor their magical abilities over brute force, having Charisma that supersedes Strength as their primary offensive ability. They still don’t mind getting close to their enemies, but they do so to position themselves for the best use of their breath weapons and spells. And, incidentally, their spells are spells; moonstone dragons aren’t psions.

They lack proficiency in Dexterity and Constitution saves, but they have proficiency in Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma saves. (Fizban’s gives young moonstone dragons, and no other moonstone dragon, proficiency in Con saves; I think it must be a mistake. Why would they gain it as young dragons only to lose it as adults?) Unlike all other gem dragons, they have no damage resistance, but they’re immune to the charmed condition. Their senses improve on the same schedule as those of other dragons, except that when they grow to be ancient, they gain 120 feet of truesight. Although wyrmling, young and adult moonstone dragons lack telepathy, they acquire languages like Pokémons, and ancient moonstone dragons not only do have telepathy but can speak and understand any language at all.

Moonstone dragon wyrmlings are airborne skirmishers, keeping their distance to use their breath weapons, then zipping in to nip at their foes while waiting for their breath weapons to recharge. They lead with their Dream Breath, which has a preposterous area of effect for a wyrmling’s breath weapon; its save DC is low, but on a failure, a target conks out for 10 minutes, unless they’re shaken awake or injured, so if its foes are unlucky, Dream Breath can make a moonstone dragon wyrmling’s situation much easier. After that, they Bite their foes who are up and about until their breath weapon recharges, then flit around to where they can zot two targets at a time with their linear Moonlight Breath. They don’t have much appetite for combat, though, and generally fly away when only moderately wounded (reduced to 27 hp or fewer).

Young moonstone dragons also lead with Dream Breath, but before they do anything more, they want to land a good faerie fire spell on at least four opponents, preferably those who are likely to try to engage them in melee. If it takes, they favor limned targets when Multiattacking, in order to gain advantage on their attacks, and use their Moonlight Breath to pick off any others. Alternatively, a young moonstone dragon that wants to avoid a fight altogether may try to use calm emotions to turn its foes’ hostility into indifference, giving it time to negotiate a mutually satisfactory outcome or, barring that, bug out.

Adult moonstone dragons similarly use their spellcasting to facilitate their weapon attacks, to the extent that they won’t make an attack roll that they don’t have advantage on from either faerie fire or invisibility—although, since they can cast it only once per day, they’re likely to save invisibility for when they need to fly away. Dream Breath is still the go-to opening play (unless it seems likely that calm emotions will do the trick), followed by faerie fire, followed by mayhem. With a save DC of 18, Dream Breath is getting harder to resist, even for higher-level PCs, and by targeting Dex instead of Con, faerie fire has an excellent chance of nailing those who aren’t felled by Dream Breath.

Unlike the rest of the gem dragon family, adult moonstone dragons do have a Tail attack among their legendary actions. Moreover, it has a reach of 15 feet, so it’s great for smacking opponents who are playing coy about whether or not to get into melee. Casting a spell costs two legendary actions, and it’s not usually going to be worth it unless a dragon needs to re-up faerie fire after it wears off or it’s taken enough damage that it’s thinking of fleeing and wants to turn invisible. In the event that an adult moonstone dragon is fighting alongside a group of PCs, however, that legendary action can allow a clutch revivify.

Moonstone dragons don’t have access to the Beguiling Whispers lair action. Instead, they have Banish Into Dream, which sends a single target to the penalty box for one round; Compulsive Dance, which has more or less the same effect but targets Intelligence rather than Charisma and leaves the irresistibly dancing creature on the battlefield, albeit incapacitated and immobile; and Disorienting Visions, which sandbags ability checks. Only the first two are broadly applicable during combat. The third can be used to foil Stealth checks, but by the time they’re encountering adult dragons, rogues will have Reliable Talent, not to mention Expertise in Stealth, so even imposing disadvantage on the roll is unlikely to drag their total down below an adult moonstone dragon’s passive Perception of 20. A stronger application is to use it to cover the dragon’s escape, foiling Perception checks to track it while it’s invisible.

Adult moonstone dragons’ mental saving throw modifiers are spectacular, so when they use their Legendary Resistance, it’s usually to clean up a whiffed Dex or Con save.

Usually, an adult moonstone dragon will give parley a try before starting a fight. If talk doesn’t bear fruit, then fight it will, until it’s seriously wounded (reduced to 78 hp or fewer). If, on the other hand, it’s attacked when it’s not looking for a fight, it attempts parley when moderately wounded (reduced to 136 hp or fewer), then flees if and when negotiation fails.

Ancient moonstone dragons mostly fight the same way as adult moonstone dragons, but they have a couple more magic tricks up their sleeve. First, they can cast calm emotions, invisibility and revivify twice per day rather than once. That means that they can try calm emotions a second time, after a fight’s been going on for a while, especially at a moment when cooler heads might be able to see the benefit of nonviolent conflict management. They can also use invisibility for a single sucker punch and still have a use of it left to cover their withdrawal. Second, in addition to these, they also get two castings of dispel magic. The best part of this is that it can be cast using the Cast a Spell Legendary action, meaning that it can take an enemy spell down as soon as it’s cast. The drawback? It’s cast at its base level, so it can only dependably snuff out spells of 3rd level or lower. However, with a Charisma modifier of +8, ancient moonstone dragons’ chances of dispelling 4th- and 5th-level spells are good enough to take a stab at. Above that, it’s a desperation move; ancient moonstone dragons are better off falling back on their sky-high mental saving throw modifiers and Legendary Resistance. They’re moderately wounded at 231 hp or fewer and seriously wounded at 132 hp or fewer.

Next: greatwyrms.

11 thoughts on “Dragon Tactics, Part 3: Gem Dragons”

  1. Well you teased some upcoming opinions in your opening line there. What could “cool things” be referring to? I do hope its Deep Dragons. Also I do agree with your opinion there, Gem Dragons are… fine, I suppose, but I lack hype for them and since I wasn’t sticking strongly to alignments for the existing dragons anyway, I’m not in need for another family of dragons just to fill out slots on the chart.

    As for my thoughts on the less cool things, I suppose I’d have to go with Liondrakes, I’d rank them below Gem Dragons easily. Maybe its just me, but I really don’t feel like they bring anything new to the table. Just feel like its ground already covered in that CR range by Chimeras, Wyverns, and Young Dragons. Too many mechanically similar monsters of similar CR isn’t good in my opinion (looking at you, Hill Giants and Cyclopes), and personally if I needed a flying monster with the intelligence of a wild animal I’d use a wyvern. Dragonnels are much more basic again, but they’re supposed to be used as part of a spell so it makes sense.

  2. Fully agreed on the “make every dragon unique”-point! I never really liked the various dragons as different species, and in my setting, dragons don’t even exist as a species – instead, they are other creatures mutated by “draconic essence”, with Kobolds naturally attracting the stuff, causing some of them to hatch as dragon wyrmlings or randomly turn into dragons later in life.

  3. “What comes next? Air, earth, fire, water and void dragons? Hemp, linen, cotton, wool and silk? Bitter, sour, sweet, salty and umami?”

    Actually, you just got me inspired for a feywild campaign. Thank you!

  4. Very good as always. I can’t believe I’ve never thought about just introducing rumors about a dragon as just “a dragon.” I’ve always focused on what color it is, but I think it’d be awesome to have a nondescript tawny dragon and you only know its breath weapon once it attacks you for the first time.

  5. You say elemental dragons as a joke, but they already existed lol. I believe they were called catastrophe dragons (iirc) and they were a 4th edition thing. Imagine living avalanches and other natural disasters but dragon shaped.

  6. Interestingly, or at least oddly, I feel like Deep Dragons have more in common with your standard Gemstone dragons than Moonstone Dragons do, nomenclature and alignment aside.

  7. At least they didn’t bring back the really bizarre, pointless dragons.

    I mean, force and prismatic dragons were silly…

    But “battle dragon”? “cobra dragons”? fang, song, sun, mist and brown dragons?

    The 5 gem dragons seem a tame concept in comparison.

  8. Another Moonstone Dragon Tactic: they make their layers across the Feywild, Material, and Ethereal planes. Optimally, the dragon engages attackers in the Feywild and retreats to the Ethereal plane or the Material plane. When a creature without Fey Ancestry leaves the Feywild, there’s an optional rule in the DMG where they have to make a Wisdom save or completely forget what happened in the Feywild. Although this may only affect part of the party (it’s only a DC 13 Wisdom save I think), a Moonstone dragon would always retreat FROM the Feywild hoping that its attackers forget what they’re even supposed to be attacking.

    Also, when players leave the Feywild, there’s another optional (?) rule about time moving faster or slower. This means the party could leave the Feywild 2 years after they went to the plane (even though they were in the Feywild for only 2 hours), giving the moonstone dragon the opportunity to completely pack up and move their lair somewhere else. Alternatively, the moonstone dragon might take 2 years to even show up out of the Feywild.

    So Fey portals are pretty useful escape tools.

    P.S. just bought your first MKWTAD book and that’s how I found this!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.