It’s the spooooopy season, and so it’s appropriate that my first post–Gamehole Con analysis should be of the ghost dragon, a wyrm with unfinished business—which is to say, one that’s not done having stuff yet. At first blush, it seems odd that the fact of the ghost dragon’s refusal to pass beyond the veil makes it less legendary than it was before, rather than more, but the absence of legendary and lair actions is deceiving. A ghost dragon is as challenging a foe as any other adult dragon, if not even more so.
Ghost dragons can no longer burrow, climb or swim, but they don’t need to: they’re incorporeal now, and they can fly just as swiftly as they ever did. As in life, they’re brutes, with extraordinary Strength, Constitution and Charisma, not to mention high Intelligence and Wisdom as well. They’re resistant to physical damage—even from magic weapons!—and outright immune to acid, cold, necrotic and poison damage, plus a host of debilitating conditions. They gain expertise in Stealth, good for popping out of apparently unattended treasure piles and going, “Boo!” (They shouldn’t actually hide in the treasure pile, though, because that would cause them to take force damage each turn they were in there.)
But here are the really brutal features: Bite and Terrifying Breath. What’s so brutal about a Bite attack? Seems pretty quotidian, right? Ah, but this Bite attack deals 23 percent more damage on average than the Bite of an adult red dragon and 52 percent more than that of an adult white … and it also slows the target down to half speed on a hit.
Terrifying Breath, meanwhile, deals cold damage in a 90-foot cone—the standard breath weapon area of effect for an ancient dragon, not an adult dragon, as the ghost dragon evidently used to be, based on its size—and causes the frightened condition in targets that failed their saves, à la Frightful Presence. But there’s one more thing: Creatures frightened by Terrifying Breath are also paralyzed. That’s the real killer, right there. In fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, paralyzed is about the worst thing you can be, next to unconscious or dead.