Sunday, September 16, 2012

Musings about Aquatic Dragons

Some of you may wonder why I skipped Aquas/Seashield in my relentless treatment of Alphatian realms.  I intend to detail the underwater kingdom when I’m comfortable making nice bubbles.  I started working on Bettellyn instead and got somewhat bogged down—you know, too much of a good thing.  My concepts need to age a bit before they develop this gamy, slightly spicy taste that begs washing down with a full-bodied, heart-warming Cabernet.  I shall pluck these ideas hanging in the back of my mind when they grow heavy enough that my nose points resolutely toward heaven, and inscribe them on the screen glaring before me.  As a thankful break from the mad dash to get through the entire mainland—the Grand Tour d’Alphatia if you will—I thought I’d stop and play with something else that crossed my mind. 

Blue Dragon
Nothing prevents air-breathing dragons from hiding underwater or swimming, especially if they enjoy water-breathing spells.  This isn’t their ideal realm, however.  It’s the water, you see.  It gets into their nostrils ands ruins their breathing.  There are sea-wyrms, which are comparable to surface breeds except they have no wings at all and their limbs are much shorter.  It is fortunate wyrms are incredibly agile and flexible, otherwise they’d never be able to scratch any part of their serpentine bodies.  On the other claw, they can breathe both air and water and may develop webbed digits, so they stand as the halfway breed.  Aside from these fearsome beasts, fully aquatic counterparts do exist.  In most ways, they are similar to the former, at least as far as physical attacks, hit dice, and armor class are concerned.  However, their appearances and “breath” weapons have adapted to a marine setting, and the alignments often differ from surface breeds.  For simplicity, let’s take the seahorse-like leafy seadragon or the blue dragon nudibranch as common “formats” for aquatic dragons.

The draconic version of these tiny sea animals features a cartilaginous skeleton relating to surface breeds to some degree.  Immense, fluid-like undulating fins replace the bat-like wings, akin to those of a manta ray, the blue dragon mentioned above, or a host of other nudibranch species.  The first challenge is to get past the morphology of traditional dragons as quadrupeds with a tail and two wings.  Effectively, waterborne dragons have what look like three pairs of fins (however elaborate and lace-like), a head, and a tail.  Although the skin appears soft and shiny, it is as tough as the corresponding surface dragons’ armor classes.

Seafaring dragons have no claws.  Instead, they use their fins to slap or whip prey, or create a shock wave that accomplishes the same result.  Their tails generally involve various types of stings causing a similar amount of damage (poison, barbs, electricity, etc.)  These dragons count on as many attacks as traditional breeds, including hover and swoop tactics described in the Rules Cyclopedia (the crushing tactic isn’t as effective underwater.)  Breath weapons are a different matter entirely and are handled separately below.

White Dragons: they spit a torpedo-shaped ice seed that bursts on impact or when reaching the edge of its range (100-200ft depending on the dragons’ sizes.)  All within 30ft of the burst (40ft for large or huge dragons) are frozen within a sphere of ice unless they save vs. breath weapon.  Those who succeed avoid being caught but still suffer half the appropriate amount of cold damage and are slowed, as the spell for 2d4+1 rounds.  AL Chaotic.

 Black Dragons: they produce large sepia-like clouds equivalent to darkness and confusion spells.  These clouds are highly corrosive and cause vicious burns (save vs. breath weapon for half-damage.)  Those who succeeded their saves avoid the confusion effect.  A cloud takes 2d4+1 rounds to dissipate; when it does or when its victims find a way out, their equipment requires saving throws at a -1 penalty per round during which they lingered within the cloud.  AL Neutral.

Green Dragons: they are able to generate a powerful current, cycling water through gills located on their bodies, and out through their mouths while secreting a chlorine-like solvent.  The cloud-shaped attack is similar to the traditional green dragon’s.  Those who failed to save suffer speech-preventing spasms of nausea for 2d4+1 rounds.  Hair, fur, and other organic material are subject to permanent bleaching.  AL Neutral.

Blue Dragons:
do not have breath weapons.  Instead, they emit electrical bursts like electric eels.  All within 15ft of the dragon (20ft for a large dragon, 25ft for a huge one) must save vs. breath weapon for half damage.  Those who fail are stunned for 2d4+1 rounds.  AL Lawful.

Red Dragon: they shoot cone-shaped jets of blistering steam, cycling massive amounts of water through their gills as green dragons would.  The damage is the same as a fire breath.  Those who failed to save are carried away by the bubbling current at the rate of 30ft per round, up to 120ft away from a small dragon, 165ft from a large one, or 210ft from a huge one.  Ships caught in the area of effect immediately lose buoyancy and maneuverability (dragon breathing from below, for example.)  If a vessel had open hatches below its gunnels (a galleon with cannons exposed, a ship with a damaged hull, or a galley,) it takes on water for 2d4+1 rounds at the rate of 10 Hull Points per round for a small dragon—20 for a large one, or 30 for a huge one.  It sinks entirely if the amount of water taken on exceeds its Hull Point rating.  If a ship did not have opened ports in its hull, it sinks only if the dragon’s hit points exceed by at least 50% the ship’s Hull Points and the duration is at least 7 rounds.  A surviving ship regains its maneuverability at the end of the duration.  AL Neutral.

Gold Dragons: they resemble leafy seadragons and always surprise their opponents within a forest of giant algae (unless an AD&D-style ranger is present and is looking for hidden creatures.)  Remember that aquatic dragons cannot leave footprints underwater.  Seafaring gold dragons rely on alternate breath weapons.  The first emit sound within a cone-shaped area much like modern sonar would.  Those who failed to save are deafened and suffer a –3 penalty to Dexterity for the remainder of the encounter, in addition to incurring the appropriate amount of damage.  The alternate attack produces an entangle effect within a cone-shaped area, lasting 2d4+1 rounds.  Those who failed to save are immobilized and suffer full damage.  Those who succeed only take half the normal breath weapon damage from whipping seaweed, but may move at half speed.  In shallow seas, ships caught in an entangled area are immobilized (no save).  Seaweed hardens at the contact of air (AC3) and requires hacking and slashing equivalent to the dragon’s hit points to clear.  Surface entanglement for ships is therefore permanent until cleared.  The dragon’s algae then begins pulling down a trapped ship (see red dragon for the effect.)  AL Lawful.

Abyssal Dragons: inhabit oceans’ darkest and most remote layers.  They are entirely black, except for phosphorescent patches inside their disproportionately large mouths.  The more intelligent dragons can manipulate these glows to create shadow plays of interest to their victims.  Abyssal dragons rely on mass-charm spell effects to attract prey and have them swim toward the light.  Their breath weapons produce large bubbles trapping all those within the cloud-shaped area of effect, whether they saved or not.  Bubbles immediately shoot upward at 100ft per round, inflicting decompression damage upon the victims.  Saving throws determine how much damage victims incur before their bubbles disintegrate and release them.  Internal damage is equal to 6 points per round, up to the dragon’s total hit points for those who failed to save, or up to half the dragon’s hit points for those who succeeded.  While suffering decompression, victims writhe in agony, unable to take any other action, such as pulling free of their bubbles.  Survivors must return to the depth at which they encountered the abyssal dragon within the next 24 hours or die.  Until then, survivors suffer a number of cumulative impairments depending on how much damage they incurred relative to their own maximum hit points, including:

Up to 25%—skin rashes and dry coughs (-2 Charisma penalty)
Up to 40%—pain and fatigue (-3 Strength penalty)
Up to 55%—hearing loss and dizziness (-4 Dexterity penalty)
Up to 70%—amnesia and hallucinations (-5 Intelligence penalty)
Up to 85%—irrational behavior and headaches (-6 Wisdom penalty)
86% and up—seizures, loss of all motor functions, unconsciousness

Abyssal dragons are equivalent to gold dragons as far as Hit Dice and combat abilities are concerned.  They are wholly chaotic creatures.  They generally confine themselves to unlit depths and will never willingly emerge.  If they do, lack of extreme pressure and direct sunlight each would inflict upon abyssal dragons 3d6 points of damage per round of exposure, and trigger decompression symptoms described earlier.  Such symptoms end when the abyssal dragon returns to its preferred environment.

There are no gemstone dragons (as of yet.)  A coral species might very well be in order at some point.  As regards the AD&D game, metallic breeds do not have marine equivalents, except for gold dragons.  Herein lies an opportunity to tweak alignments and cover the “uncommon” dragon alignments.  For example, black dragons could be CN, while green ones could occupy the LN slot.  Blue dragons could enjoy the NG ethos, while their abyssal cousins remained thoroughly NE.  Reds could either prove of the CN or LN persuasions to keep players guessing.

Aquatic dragons may come to the surface of their aquatic world for a limited duration (1 Turn per HD,) unless they enjoy air-breathing spells.  When out of their element, as long as their gills are still immersed, all dragons can shoot globs of water (frozen for a white dragon,) using them like cannonballs. A roll to hit is needed, and inflicted damage is comparable to a bite attack’s.  The only melee attacks available at the surface are otherwise bites and tail whips.  The movement of aquatic dragons on the ground is halved and they may not fly of course.

At least one Draconic Order (see the post labeled Alphatian Province of Randel) has managed to establish a toehold beneath the Sea of Esterhold’s surface.  A few commanderies may therefore be encountered within approximately 48 miles of Randel’s shores, mostly tritons who joined in the past few decades.  These forces aren’t counted in Randel’s present military stats as they concern an exclusively marine theater.  They may, however, be involved at the mouth of the Randel River or near Dmiliburg’s harbor in times of war.

The selection of chosen equipment varies as described below.

White Sm. harpoon white coral bracers
Black Poison darts black shell skullcap
Lg. harpoon
woven mail of green algae
Blue Light net blue algae cloak
Red Heavy net red coral shoulder armor
Gold Gold trident mother-of-pearl chest plate
Abyssal Black trident black algae cloak

Small Harpoon: this weapon is equivalent to a light crossbow fitted with a small fishing harpoon rather than a quarrel (1d4 damage.)  A barb-headed harpoon may be attached to a line allowing an attacker to drag a victim closer or at least impair the latter’s ability to fight (-1 to hit per line, no spellcasting while attached.)  A line can be cut or a harpoon broken (one per round, taking a full action.)  Certain aquatic vines provide the tension needed to propel projectiles with enough velocity to be effective underwater.  They cannot be used above the surface.

Poison Darts: these rely on very small, single-hand crossbows to shoot them.  As with small harpoons (see above,) these weapons cannot be used above the surface.  Treat as small blowguns for mechanics and range, with one attack per round.  If hit, a defender must save vs. poison.  If the save succeeds, the effect is comparable to a slow spell.  If the save fails, the effect is paralysis (as a ghoul’s attack.)

Large Harpoon: this weapon can be thrown or used as a melee weapon.  It comes closest to a javelin in this respect.

Light Net: is another light crossbow-style weapon (see small harpoon listed earlier.)  The device launches a tube that splits open and releases a 6’x6’ net on impact.  The range is that of a light crossbow.  As with the small harpoon, the device cannot be used above the surface.

Heavy Net: is similar to the light net, relying instead on a heavy crossbow and a 12’x12’ net.

Trident: functions as described in the Rules Cyclopedia for tridents, except it is slightly larger and better balanced for underwater use.  When used two-handed, the weapon inflicts an additional d4 damage.

As far as armor is concerned, they function the same way as described earlier for mage-knights (see earlier post,) including the cloaks.  The latter act as a camouflage whose wide swirls confuse a foe as to the exact position of the cloak’s owner.  As a result, it confers AC bonuses similar to other pieces of armor.  Fluid-laden vesicles in the algae soften the blow of an attack and can therefore provide protection.  Algae weaves do not function above the surface.


  1. This post makes me think about "funny" side effects of some dragon breath.

    Let's take the Red warms the water...what if this hot water becomes vapour? A Character caught within it loses temporary the effect of "breath water" spell; moreover the different density of water makes him fall down without control XD...

    ...similarly the ice of white dragons makes people go up...LOL....just LOL ^_^

    1. I did have my tongue in my cheek while putting this together. Glad you enjoyed it.

    2. Love the adaptations. Love even more the way you've taken existing monsters and given them even more variety and utility without the need to simply add more entries. Getting more mileage out of my expensive and cherished rulebooks is always a bonus. Plus, I can't help but appreciate the morphology.

    3. I can't help but think Dave Arneson would've loved this.

    4. Dave and Gary are probably riding their own dragons, somewhere out there in the forever-world of gamers, and having a good laugh about all this.

    5. Nice ideas!! I just love abyssal dragons!
      If the aquatic dragons claim their own territories like their aerial counterparts, there could be an interesting 3D undersea stratification of territories varying with depth.
      Do you think it could be possible to extend to aquatic dragons the also the meeting points concept described in AC10 module?

      (in short: each dragon subspecies has a meeting point somewhere on Mystara - the most ancient swamp for black dragons, the innermost part of the largest desert for blue dragons, and so on - where they seldom meet to discuss critical matters).

    6. Thanks.

      Yeah, there could meeting points, except perhaps for the abyssals who are just too weird. Part of the reason I wrote up these dragons is to start fleshing out (at least in the back of my head) Aquas itself, and the dynamics of a marine setting. I need to get my hands on a copy PC3. No idea where mine went.

  2. PC3 can be downloaded for free at 4shared. maybe that'll help.