Gen Con has wrapped. I took my first vacation since 2015. Now I’m back, ready to talk about Spelljammer erm, well, I thought that everyone was going to expect me to jump right into Spelljammer, but it turns out that what folks really want is for me to keep going with Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons! Very well, then. Let’s get a couple of easy ones out of the way: dragonnels and liondrakes (a.k.a. dragonnes).
Dragonnes actually came first: They were originally published in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (with a David A. Trampier illustration, always a mark of honor!). Dragonnels came later, debuting in the third-edition Draconomicon. According to this article, dragonnes were renamed “liondrakes” in the fourth edition, and the name change was kept in order to avoid having two nearly identical names appearing on facing pages in Fizban’s.
Which, OK, as a former editor, I understand that impulse entirely. But as a longtime D&D player, I wish the dragonne had gotten to keep its name. It was there first.
For readers of this blog, the tactics of the dragonnel will be immediately obvious, thanks to one standout trait: Flyby. Whenever you see that trait, you know that a flying creature’s modus operandi will be to stay out of reach between turns, then use its turn to strafe its target with melee attacks before heading right back into the air. That’s nearly all there is to say about the dragonnel from a purely tactical perspective.
However, to jazz it up a little, we can do some reading between the lines elsewhere in the stat block. For instance, it’s got Wisdom 13, so its target selection sense is not too shabby, and it knows not to pick fights with tougher creatures. As a predator, it will instead focus on targets it can bring down fast, pick up in its talons and fly away with to finish eating elsewhere. That means nothing over 240 pounds, nothing with friends that will rush to defend it, and nothing that’s going to take it more than one round, maybe two, to knock out (it’s a shock attacker, not a brute). We’re looking at targets with AC 12 or lower and around 36 hp or fewer for a two-thirds chance of success.
Also, being dragons (of a sort), dragonnels want treasure and dominance, not just food, even if their desire for those things is dimmed by their distant relationship with their more fearsome kin. Thus, given a choice between easy pickings and a higher-effort morsel that happens also to be wearing something shiny, the dragonnel is going to heed the call of its draconic nature and try to get a meal and a prize. Similarly, when one has managed to establish a territory where it can hunt unchallenged by rivals, the arrival of a competing predator will spur it to pick fights, creating an interesting pretext for a three-way battle.
Finally, its 120-foot darkvision radius, along with its blindsight, means it’s a mainly nocturnal hunter, and its draconic arrogance means it fights a little longer than might be truly wise for a predator, waiting to flee until it’s seriously wounded (reduced to 23 hp or fewer) instead of taking the L more quickly. It flees by Dashing.
The dragonne, a.k.a. the liondrake, is a brute. Lacking the Flyby trait, when it sets its sights on a meal, it dives down and mauls its prey until either the prey stops moving or the liondrake itself is seriously wounded. Before it stoops, however, it leads with a Blood-Chilling Roar. This roar is a crucial element in its hunting pattern for two reasons: First, if the roar paralyzes a creature, the liondrake has an easier time making a meal of it and chooses it over other potential prey. Second, even merely frightened creatures have a hard time fighting back and are unable to aid in the prey’s defense, since they can’t approach the source of their fear.
There’s a hitch, though: Like the Frightful Presence of true dragons, the Blood-Chilling Roar doesn’t work anymore once it wears off (or is successfully resisted in the first place). Also, a frightened creature gets a new saving throw against the condition each turn. In short, the liondrake has a limited window of opportunity in which to capitalize on this action’s effects.
Therefore, even though it can be heard from up to 300 feet away, if the liondrake uses it at that distance, its prey is going to shake off its fear before the liondrake ever shows up. Did I say there was a hitch? Turns out there are two. Blood-Chilling Roar is an action, which means the liondrake can’t use it and Dash in the same turn. Its maximum safe distance to target is therefore 120 feet: Blood-Chilling Roar/move, then move/Multiattack. Using it from any farther away risks blowing the opportunity. This fact raises an interesting question: Where can a liondrake hunt most effectively? Ideally, it doesn’t want to be seen until after it’s let out its roar. That means an encounter distance of less than 120 feet. According to the Encounter Distance table on the Dungeon Master’s Screen Reincarnated and Wilderness Kit DM screen (which doesn’t appear in any published D&D 5E book and I will harp on this fact until I DIE), arctic, desert, farm and grassland terrain make poor hunting territory for liondrakes, since their prey will see them coming before they can let out their roar 99 percent of the time (literally, not figuratively). In contrast, forests and swamps are very good liondrake hunting grounds: 77 percent of the time, a liondrake will get to roar before it’s seen. Jungle is even better, since 120 feet is the maximum possible encounter distance. Hills and wastelands are in between, with a just-slightly-better-than-half chance of roaring before being spotted, while mountains are also very much subpar. Canonically, dragonnes have favored jungles—but also hills and deserts. How can we square this lore with the reality of encounter distance? Well, first of all, by noting that tasty herd animals generally don’t carry ranged weapons with which to shoot at airborne predators. Confronted with a mortal threat, all they can do is run like heck. It’s only peoply types that shoot at flying liondrakes. So let’s refine this encounter distance theory: Liondrakes are happy to hunt in deserts, hills and even grasslands—if, and only if, those areas are sparsely populated by humanoids. In contrast, they hunt in forests and jungles whether those lands are inhabited by bow-wielding humanoids or not. OK, so we have a liondrake cruising along, scanning for prey. When it finds it, it closes to a distance of 120 feet, if it’s not closer than that already. It lets out its Blood-Chilling Roar and looks around to see whether any creature is paralyzed by it.
ETA: OK, clearly my head isn’t in the game yet. As reader Jelly correctly points out, I completely flaked on my reading of Blood-Chilling Roar. Although it can be heard at a distance of 300 feet, its effect extends only 30 feet. I could say I was subconsciously trying to make the liondrake more tactically interesting than it actually is, in contrast to the dragonnel, but honestly, the more straightforward explanation is that it was just an inattentive screwup.
In any event, you can throw all that stuff about terrain and encounter distance out the window: No matter what, a liondrake’s prey will see it coming before it can get any effective use out of its Blood-Chilling Roar. It has no reason to take this action until it’s within 30 feet of its targets. At that point, it looks around to see whether any creature is paralyzed by it.
If so, it zeroes in on that creature; if not, it satisfies itself by attacking any creature that looks like it would have made good prey to begin with, the weaker-looking and more isolated and oblivious, the better. When a non-paralyzed creature runs, the liondrake must generally use its next turn’s action to Dash in order to keep up. With a 60-foot flying speed, the liondrake will win the chase
, but whether it can do so before the target’s fright wears off is an open question.
In any event, when it
can finally reach its prey using its flying movement alone reaches its prey (since it’s not using Blood-Chilling Roar until it’s within 30 feet already, this is a foregone conclusion—it’s not going to chase after something that can outrun its flight speed), it Multiattacks, and it keeps Multiattacking until that creature is unconscious. Notice that, while the dragonnel has talons it can use to carry off prey (a difference from its third edition depiction—it used to have hooves!), the liondrake has the paws of a lion, which are no good for carrying anything. It has to eat its meal on the spot, which it does, Biting the unconscious creature until it’s not merely unconscious but dead. However, it pauses in its meal to fight off any other creature that comes over to interfere. Non-frightened creatures are a problem that must be dealt with conclusively before the meal can resume. If the interloper manages to seriously wound the liondrake (reduce it to 47 hp or fewer), the defeated predator flies off with a parting snarl.
Incidentally, by creature type, the liondrake is not a dragon but rather a monstrosity. The prospect of treasure doesn’t entice it. It just wants territory and food.
Also, even though it’s tougher than the dragonnel, the liondrake isn’t as smart. It never deviates from the attack pattern I describe above; it lacks the Intelligence to adapt. While it does have the Wisdom to pick its battles and won’t attack a creature with more than about 46 hp even if it’s running away, if a target is paralyzed, the liondrake’s instinct takes over, however well-armored it may be.
Note that neither the dragonnel nor the liondrake is capable of determining how many hit points a potential prey creature has simply by looking at it. These hunters have to go by instinct and experience, which tell them that Large or smaller beasts and humanoids of up to CR 1 (for the dragonnel) or CR 2 (for the liondrake) are consumable more often than not. They know just enough about armor to recognize that it’s harder to bite through, and while this knowledge will deter a dragonnel, a liondrake hesitates only if the creature wearing it is moving.
Finally, since both creatures have been identified as occasionally being ridden as mounts (the dragonnel in Fizban’s, the dragonne in other sources), I’ll point out that they also meet both of my criteria for determining whether a creature is “intelligent”—having Intelligence 6 or higher and understanding spoken language—and therefore always act independently when ridden.
Next: dragonborn champions.