Dragonflesh Grafter and Abomination Tactics

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As far as I can tell, dragonflesh grafters and dragonflesh abominations are newly introduced in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons, and I think they’re one of the more interesting additions to be found in this book, at least concept-wise. When you have access to (a) magic and (b) dragon parts, why wouldn’t you experiment with whether you could make yourself more powerful by combining the two? (I mean, aside from basic common sense.)

The dragonflesh grafter is the unfinished version, still recognizably humanoid in origin, though enlarged by draconic magic and incorporating pieces of dragon anatomy, which grant it several Armor Class points’ worth of natural armor. It’s a brute, with very high Strength and high Constitution; its Charisma is low, owing to its repugnant, unnatural fusion of incompatible biologies. (Given its origin, I feel like it ought to have a higher Intelligence and a lower Wisdom: It had to be smart enough to figure out how to graft dragon flesh onto itself and foolish enough to actually do it.)

Tactically, it’s not complicated. It has a weapon attack (as written, a greatclub, but you could swap in anything you wanted to) and a natural weapon (Claw), and its Multiattack lets it attack once with each per turn. These have a 10-foot reach, so it doesn’t approach any nearer before attacking, although its opponents may choose to move in closer in order to return the favor. It also has a quasi–breath weapon, Acid Retch, which affects a 30-foot cone and recharges as dragons’ breath weapons do. The application of this ability is the same: The dragonflesh grafter uses it whenever it’s available, provided it can target at least three enemies in the area of effect (per the Targets in Area of Effect table, Dungeon Master’s Guide, chapter 8). The grafter can’t fly, nor does it have any easy way to avoid opportunity attacks, so unlike dragons, which optimize their positioning before using their breath weapons, it has to decide whether or not to use Acid Retch based on whom it can affect from where it is.

As written, its average Wisdom lets it retain a normal self-preservation instinct, and it flees when seriously injured (reduced to 20 hp or fewer), Dashing as it retreats and potentially provoking one or more opportunity attacks in the process. A dragonflesh grafter with a lower Wisdom, however, might be driven slightly berserk by its transformation and fight to the death.

The dragonflesh abomination is the result of pushing the transformation as far as it will go. Its wings allow it to fly, not as fast as a dragon—or even a humanoid under a fly spell—but enough to make attacks from the air. Combined with the 10-foot reach of its Claw attack and the 15-foot reach of its Tail, it can remain airborne between turns, out of its enemies’ melee reach. It descends to earth only if forced, e.g., by being knocked prone. Even then, its Cloying Miasma punishes melee opponents for getting close enough to hit it.

The abomination’s Acid Belch is functionally identical to the grafter’s Acid Retch, aside from the greater damage it deals. Why change the name? I think the idea here is to imply that the abomination has become more dragonlike than the grafter: The grafter could spew only bile, but the abomination can actually expel a gas, something much more akin to, say, the Poison Breath of a green dragon. In addition, the abomination can target opponents who refuse to get within 15 feet of it with a ranged attack, Acidic Spit.

Thus, we have three basic attack modes, two of which can be combined as parts of a Multiattack:

  • Acid Belch against three or more suitably arranged opponents (the most preferred mode).
  • Melee: Claw and/or Tail against opponents within reach (the second-choice mode).
  • Acidic Spit against an opponent who’s out of reach even after the abomination uses its full movement to fly toward them (the last-choice mode, chosen only if provoked—see below).

The stat block of the dragonflesh abomination gives it very low Intelligence but above-average Wisdom—frankly, the opposite of what I’d expect from someone capable of conducting this kind of experiment. The transformation into a monstrous humanoid-dragon hybrid must have had some sort of horribly traumatic and damaging effect on its brain function yet somehow also increased its perceptiveness and will to live. Working from that premise, the dragonflesh abomination must be driven purely by instinct, unable to assess the situation it’s in and adapt accordingly, yet simultaneously choose its targets carefully and avoid losing battles.

What targets does it favor? Well, its hit points are solid, and its melee attacks are potent, so tanky fighter types don’t scare it much. It can’t be charmed or frightened, so it’s not especially afraid of mental manipulation, and its Dexterity is adequate to avoid much damaging magic. Its Achilles’ heels are its Intelligence and Charisma, two abilities that aren’t targeted often. Maybe it becomes enraged when it realizes it’s been duped by an illusion or tripped up by a bane spell, or maybe it simply lashes out at whoever manages to inflict a moderate wound (i.e., 20 damage or greater from a single attack or effect) on it first.

The thing is, as much as it might want to choose its targets carefully, it’s not smart enough to assess each target’s threat accurately. Maybe instead it has a decent gut-level sense of the overall threat presented by an enemy group and doesn’t attack first if the encounter wouldn’t be Deadly for the group (per the encounter building guidelines in chapter 3 of the DMG). But that’s a little unsatisfying. Plus, this creature has no way to parley: it still understands speech, but it can no longer speak itself. Maybe, in a pathetic display, it tries to speak, becoming increasingly frustrated, agitated and eventually infuriated, until it finally attacks against its own better judgment—but still tries to escape when it’s seriously wounded (reduced to 26 hp or fewer), Dashing as it flies off.

What if it were the other way around—if it had above-average Intelligence and very low Wisdom instead? Then it would be able to plan ahead a bit and adapt to changing circumstances, but would also be indiscriminate in its targeting and lack the sense to flee when it was losing. That rings true to the concept, doesn’t it? On the other hand, it would also be much more susceptible to mind-control magic, which feels off. I’m not sure I’d want to make this change ad hoc without exploring the repercussions more thoroughly.

There’s one other quibble I have with the dragonflesh grafter and abomination as they’re presented in Fizban’s, and that’s the flavor text verbiage that describes their obsessions with treasure. This obsession is core to the personality of dragons, of course, and should certainly be part of these monsters’ personalities as well. But they’re both categorized as monstrosities, and there’s presumably something of the humanoid left in them as well. So while they should definitely be obsessed with treasure, that shouldn’t be their sole driving motivation.

As monstrosities, they should care about food and territory, and these urges should be powerful. They should be not only hungry but ravenous, not only territorial but paranoid and aggressive toward trespassers. Meanwhile, the humanoid part of them should still long to be part of society, to care about the things that groups of humanoids care about, and to crave interaction with other humanoids. Of course, they have no proficiency in social skills, and the dragonflesh abomination can’t even talk anymore. This loss of connection with other humanoids should generate anguish. Plus, the more the dragonish side takes over, the more that longing for social connection should turn into an urge to dominate.

These clashing motivations produce a deranged set of behaviors in the dragonflesh grafter, and even more so in the dragonflesh abomination. The grafter is torn between the urge to drive others from its hunting grounds on the one hand and the desire for humanoid contact on the other—for the company of others, but also for the treasures they carry. Its loathsomeness drives others away, yet it believes to its core that it’s made itself into something superior to the rest of its kind. The same behaviors exist in the dragonflesh abomination, further intensified. The desire for fellowship recedes into the background, almost entirely supplanted by the will to rule—but how can it rule others when it can’t even make itself understood? It tries to dominate the humanoids it comes into contact with through body language and acts of aggression, plundering settlements, trying to set itself up in places of honor and power, but ultimately driving away all its “subjects” with its savagery and belligerence. It then shuffles off into sour solitude, avoiding all contact with humanoid society until its nagging craving for treasure builds back up to a level it can no longer resist. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Next: gem stalkers.

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5 responses to “Dragonflesh Grafter and Abomination Tactics”

  1. David Avatar
    David

    Great work Keith, I always check my email for your next post!
    About the high wisdom but low intelligence, I feel like the dragon magic would wrack the crafter’s mind(kind of like a boneclaw) and the high wisdom is more representing a bestial awareness like an owlbear.

  2. WaserWifle Avatar
    WaserWifle

    Regarding the low intelligence. If I was running a grafter or abomination that had devised and conducted this transformation upon itself, I would likely increase its intelligence, and give it an appropriate skill or spell if it had one while humanoid, unless I felt that in this situation I wanted it to be such that the transformation had permanently corrupted its mind. However, there’s nothing to say that a grafter conducted this transformation upon itself or was even a willing participant. If the grafter used to be a cultist that volunteered for an experiment/ritual but was not the mastermind, or was simply a kidnapped commoner, there’s no particular reason for it to be intelligent. If the grafter was created to be a servant by someone else, then there’s actually good reason why it might have been intentionally lobotomized.

  3. Alex Avatar
    Alex

    Good point.

  4. shikomekidomi Avatar
    shikomekidomi

    Fun analysis of their motivations and thought patterns here.

    Grafting was a thing in 3.5, but I don’t remember them exploring this particular form, so I believe you are correct and these are new monsters for Fizban’s. In a way they remind me of the Half-Golems from the Monster Manual II.

  5. Michael Avatar
    Michael

    In regards to the low intelligence, I think that’s explained in the flavor text:
    “Their minds become twisted by magical malevolence, with only a Shadow of their former selves remaining. In the most extreme cases, the resulting abomination holds no remnant of the person it once was and is utterly ruled by a dragon’s lust for Treasure.”

    Honestly, it seems like these rituals are experimental, imperfect attempts at transforming into dragons, which is why they lose their intelligence and are still weaker than true dragons. So a more intelligent grafter would reflect someone whose managed to refine these techniques (probably after experimenting on a lot of unfortunate people).

    Also, these things really remind me of the From Software games, where a number of monsters/characters try to become dragons, which often results in them becoming insane monsters in the process.

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