Thursday, April 20, 2023

Aerial Bombing

 Someone asked about bombardment mechanics to hit a ground target from a skyship or a flying creature. Here’s my take. 

Using Mechanical Devices

            The first consideration is whether the device relies on slingshot-style mechanics, like a catapult or a trebuchet. Mortar-like firearms (fire pots and such) should also fit in this category. Projectiles arc upward before falling straight down. The height of their flight curves is equal to the chosen horizontal range, after which the projectiles fall vertically. The maximum damage potential of these weapons comes from the density and hardness of their projectiles.

            Other siege weapons rely on torque to propel a projectile on a flatter trajectory, such as scorpions and ballistae. Cannons (culverins and such) also fit in this category. These aren’t ideal for conventional bombardment from a flying platform, be it a skyship, a levitating castle, or a large flying creature. Their flight curves’ apogees are about half the weapons’ chosen horizontal ranges after which the projectiles arc a bit more below the horizontal line of sight, about half the chosen horizontal range, before falling vertically. The maximum damage potential of these weapons (usually from a large metal dart or a javelin) is highest at or above the direct line of sight. This makes them less effective as bombardment weapons: halve damage unless they can be pointed straight down.


Manual Drop

            Projectiles can otherwise be pushed overboard, dropped from a dedicated bomb bay, or released from the clutches of a flying mount. The projectiles then fall vertically. The advantage of this method is that the point of impact is easier to estimate (see Odds, next). The drawback is that aiming manual drops requires positioning or moving the launch platform itself (skyship, levitating castle, or flying mount), compared with mechanical devices that can be aimed independently.


Odds of Hitting a Target

            Movement: Bombarding from a moving platform (skyship, levitating castle, or flying mount) incurs a –2 penalty to hit. Add a penalty to hit if the target is moving in a different direction: –1 for ever 60 degrees or fraction thereof. For example, if a target flies in the exact opposite direction as the attacker, the penalty to hit would be –3. If the target moves in the same direction and at the same speed, cancel all movement penalties.

            Dive Attack: Dropping a projectile when diving at maximum speed at a target (like from a dragon or wyvern): +2 bonus to hit (ignore the initial –2 movement penalty).

            Manual Drop: +2 bonus to hit (combined dive attack + manual drop = +4 bonus).

            Altitude: –1 penalty to hit above 1,000 ft. (roughly 300 m). Increase the penalty for each 3,000 ft. of extra altitude (thus –2 at 4,000 ft., –3 at 7,000 ft., –4 at 10,000 ft., etc.)

            Wind: Calm-to-light breeze—nil, moderate-to-strong breeze –1, high wind –2, and gale –3. If any wind shear is involved (DM’s call): add another –2 penalty to hit.

            Clouds or Fog: The time to acquire a clear line of sight to target varies accordingly: clear weather 1 round, light cover 1d4+1 rounds, moderate cover 2d4+1 rounds, and heavy cover 3d4+1 rounds. The time available to aim while a clear line of sight has been acquired varies accordingly: clear weather (no limit), light cover 3d4 rounds, moderate 2d4 rounds, and heavy 1d4 rounds. Heavy catapults, trebuchets, and firepots are the slowest to aim and shoot (6 rounds), or 5 rounds for light catapults and culverins, depending on the game system. Ballistae and scorpions only take 2 rounds to arm, aim, and shoot. Therefore, clouds can prevent using heavier siege weapons.


Convenient Magic

            Accuracy can be improved with the use of magic items. An artillerist scope can be fitted to weapons like a ballista or a scorpion, which involve a relatively flat line of fire, or to a bomb bay beneath a skyship. The optical scope grants a +1 bonus to hit, plus any magical bonuses due to enchantment. A level-2 magic-user spell, Norden’s Uncanny Sight, improves one’s aim with siege weapons or when performing manual drops. The spell grants a +1 bonus to hit up to +6 for every 3 experience levels above 3The spell lasts 4 rounds +1 for every 3 experience levels above 3.


Terminal Velocity

            Projectiles reach their highest falling speed after 12 seconds, moving 90m (300 ft.) per second. For example, freefall bombardment from 12,000 ft. altitude takes about 40 seconds. Add another 10 seconds if the projectile was shot horizontally. A B/X-BECMI round lasts 10 seconds, therefore impact should occur 4-5 rounds after releasing the projectile. An AD&D round lasts 1 minute, so time to impact should be measured in 6-second segments, therefore 7-8 segments (or at the end of a round for the sake of simplicity).


Bombs away!

Monday, April 10, 2023

D&D Class: The Dragon Rider

Dragon Rider by DeivCalviz on Deviantart

There is a difference between anyone who happens to be riding a dragon as described in Dragon Steeds Pt. 2, and a professional dragon rider—the character class. The latter requires a career starting at a young age within an order of dragon riders to assist handlers or cultists in raising and training dragons. To become part of such a highly-regimented order, a child must bear a sign indicating a natural connection with dragons, usually a birthmark in the shape of a draconic rune or actual dragon ancestry. 
            Someone who engendered a bond with a dragon incurs a bloodline alteration occasionally resulting in progeny inheriting the precious birthmark. Occurrence may skip several generations but more frequently manifests itself in the son or daughter of a dragon rider. Offspring without the sign become handlers or cultists, or they leave the order to pursue different life goals. The rune corresponds to the breed of the progenitor’s dragon companion. Use the dragon listing in Dragon Steeds Pt. 3 for a random choice. While assisting a handler or a cultist and learning necessary skills, a young squire trains as a classic fighter before reverting to the dragon rider character class with all its related benefits.
            Orders are always on the lookout for children with such birthmarks. Depending on its ideology, an order may induct a child with the parents’ approval usually sealed with a negotiated compensation, or by force. Tales have been told of spies snatching marked newborns from royal or aristocratic families, but the truth is that any abductions would have been performed covertly to protect the instigators, so these stories are usually fictitious. Family members who happen to be disciples or supporters of a dragon cult could just as easily commit the kidnappings, especially if it meant affecting the line of succession.
            Adventure plots abound. In one case, a royal heir was taken soon after her birth. After failing as a dragon rider, she left the order and became a wandering cultist, still unaware of her birthright amidst a raging war of succession. Another story tells of a different abduction with the intent to protect a royal heir from an imminent assassination. Decades later, the order revealed the heir’s true identity, by then a high-ranking and steadfastly loyal dragon rider, to reclaim the throne.
            In all cases, squires with a birthmark or dragon ancestry automatically succeed their very first reaction check when the time comes to fly their mounts. If a cultist was the original handler, then the dragon and its rider immediately form a bond (see Training Dragons, Reaction Checks, and Bonds in Dragon Steeds Pt. 2). Once bonds come into effect, dragons sense the identities and backstories of their riders’ marked forebears and their companions, and may choose to reveal them at any time.
            An assumption is made here that a cult or a military order raises dragons and maintains a stable of juveniles to pair with squires. If this isn’t the case, a squire coming of age may have to go out on a quest to acquire a dragon egg and remit it to the order before being granted the right to bond with a dragon. Handlers and young squires are indoctrinated to resist the dragons’ auras of fear (if any). The time to first fly a mount (or first dive with an aquatic dragon) is when it has grown large enough to carry its rider. The load a dragon can fly with is equal to 20% of its body weight. In most cases, a dragon with a medium body size should be able to take off with a human-sized rider (see Dragon Categories vs. Body Sizes in Dragon Steeds Pt. 1). The breed’s category dictates how many years are needed to reach an adequate body size, from 16 to 51 years. Make sure the rider’s equipment doesn’t exceed the mount’s load limit (see Encumbrance in Pt. 2).

From Fighter to Dragon Rider

            By the time they form bonds, squires might already have progressed beyond level 1. Their training as conventional fighters ends at this point. They retain their current hit points, saving throws, and attack rolls, although they become level 1 dragon riders. All previously earned experience points reset to zero. Though still considered fighter types, neophyte dragon riders begin advancing with the base Hit Dice, hit rolls, and saving throws of the cleric character class. Combat abilities, therefore, do not improve until they exceed those already acquired as fighters. For the sake of game balance, a level 1 dragon rider should not join a party of normal level 1 adventurers, but rather one whose average experience level is at least half the dragon’s HD. DMs must adjust combat encounters to compensate for the dragon’s presence.
            As regards BECMI game mechanics in particular, PCs retain the ability to use combat maneuvers and fighter combat options learned before switching to the rider class (RC pp. 104). Weapon proficiencies are those of the fighter class initially; after switching to the dragon rider class, new slots fall under the “All Others” column (RC pp. 75). No new weapon proficiency slots are available until those listed in the “All Others” column exceed the ones already acquired. Weapon Mastery mechanics are otherwise unaffected.
            For AD&D game mechanics specifically, PCs retain weapon proficiency slots and specializations earned before switching to the dragon rider class (PHB, Chapter 8). After the switch, new weapon proficiency slots become available every 4 additional experience levels, and new weapon specializations are no longer available.
            Practical Consideration: Strictly from a game mechanics' point of view, a PC isn’t going to wait until it is 60 years old to get a dragon. The backstory is that the dragon was close to growing large enough when the squire PC was assigned to it. Nonetheless, the squire spent much of its youth (as a “normal person”) assisting the dragon’s handler and acquiring needed skills before leveling up as a fighter. In practice, the player decides at what fighter level first flight should happen. It may be worth waiting until fighter levels 3-4 to maximize combat scores, saves, and hit points before adopting the dragon rider character class. A switch happening at level 3+ also helps balance out the presence of a dragon in the party, possibly 6+ with AD&D 2nd Edition, given how tough dragons got with this system. The DM otherwise controls when the dragon comes of age.

Prerequisites & Reaction Checks

            As a level 1 fighter, the initial prerequisite is Strength. However, to qualify as a dragon rider later on, Intelligence and Wisdom must either be among the top three attributes or at least 13 in any order or combination. For example, a dragon rider with 14 Str, 12 Wis, and 11 Int is acceptable if all other attributes are 11 or lower.
            The squire’s race is not an issue provided prerequisites are respected. B/X-BECMI demi-humans retain racial abilities they acquired before becoming dragon riders, however, these abilities cease to improve from this point onward; PCs also revert to the dragon rider’s experience progression. For example, a Basic-D&D elf retains its previously acquired spellcasting abilities, but they no longer improve and no new spells can be acquired since the dragon rider’s focus now lies elsewhere entirely. Halflings will likely be able to ride smaller dragons.
            Alignments are not required to match; apply normal modifiers (as listed in Pt. 1) to future reaction checks. If the rider’s birthmark or ancestry corresponds exactly to the dragon’s breed, reaction checks incur an extra +1 bonus. AD&D 2nd Edition dragons possess many more HD compared to those in the other two game editions. For 2e only, I’d suggest toning down the penalty related to riders with fewer hit points than their dragons as follows: –1 penalty for every 10 hit points or fraction thereof (this does not apply to other character classes riding dragons). See Dragon Steeds Pt. 3 about when to roll riding and reaction checks, and the consequences of failure.



            Riders must conform to their orders’ code of conduct, one that is likely appealing to a specific breed. Some orders focus on a single breed, while others may accommodate different races of dragons. Riders feel obligated to treat their companions with the respect and admiration such august creatures command. Riders must make reasonable efforts to protect their mounts and avoid putting them at risk for frivolous ends. For many, their own deaths are more desirable than losing their companions and facing disgrace among their peers. Neglecting or mistreating mounts is entirely unthinkable. Riders do not steal from their mounts and will gladly share with their companions anything they own when requested, above and beyond what they remit to their orders (the latter generally cover basic treasure-sharing requirements as well as the cost of housing and feeding—see Pt. 3).
            While on missions for their orders, riders and their mounts seldom depart without a retinue of spare NPC handlers or cultists, unassigned squires, and a baggage train carrying supplies, arms, and other equipment. Spouses, bards, specialists, and other camp followers might be tolerated provided they aren’t subject to the dragons’ auras of fear (if any). Horses in the baggage train have been attuned to the presence of dragons. The order maintains sworn-in guards (possibly geased or charmed) or preferably fighting monks wherever dragons are housed. They are honor-bound to protect the hoards of dragons dispatched on away missions.
            Any eggs from dragons outside the order must be handed over to a commander or a prelate. Based on past experiences, dragons of the order generally do not object to leaving their eggs and hatchlings in the care of the order’s handlers or its cultists. However, should mounts come to disagree with the order, riders have no choice but to side with their companions, regardless of consequences (which may include banishment or death warrants for all involved). Squabbles aren’t all that rare. Riders are expected to do their utmost to resolve quarrels between dragons or with their order. Good persuasion skills (Cha) can prove invaluable to seasoned dragon riders.

Equipment & Promotions

            Dragon riders can use any equipment available to fighter types. In general, they favor weapons embedded with dragon fangs or claws lost over the years, and bows strung with dragon sinew. Boots, gauntlets, and armor often include discarded scales and molted skins treated and sewn together into lightweight and tight-fitting garments. Some orders prefer their riders to wear face-covering helms adorned with dragon spines and horns for best effect. The goal of their style and appearance is for the riders to cultivate an aura of awe about themselves.
            The order rewards valiant riders with special pieces of equipment in the sequence listed below when the beneficiary levels up. The order may replace any single item with another bearing additional enchantment to reward conduct above and beyond the call of duty, at the DM’s discretion. These grants help offset the fact that dragon riders are often short on cash as a result of their dues to the order and their mounts’ occasionally extravagant demands. The order produces such equipment and will demand it back in the event of grave misdeeds. Wearing or using these items in preference to others is a requirement of the character class. The riders are responsible for recovering lost equipment. Their dragons will not request any of these nine elements.

·  Ceremonial Fang: Although non-magical, this dagger-size weapon can hit foes immune to non-magical attacks. It is normally awarded after performing first flight.

·  Boots of the Drake: Bestow a +2 bonus to dragon riding checks.

·  War Blade: Fitted with fangs or claws, serrated, or wavy-bladed, and tempered in dragon blood, these weapons are equivalent to bastard swords with half the weight; like Ceremonial Fangs, they can hit foes immune to non-magical attacks. They inflict an extra d6 damage against large foes when the riders are mounted.

·  Gauntlets of the Riders: Bestow the ability to throw or shoot projectiles without a penalty for riding a mount.

·  War Bow: Strung with dragon sinew, these weapons are equivalent to longbows although their range is 50% greater when riders are mounted. Arrowheads treated in the same manner as War Blades inflict an extra d6 damage against large foes.

·  Shield of the Order: Made from dragon scales fused together, this shield carries the order’s symbol conferring the leadership skill when worn ostensibly, or a +2 bonus to this skill if the rider already possesses it.

·  Lance of the Dragon: Longer than a normal cavalry lance for half the weight, this weapon inflicts an extra d8 damage against large foes when the rider is mounted; like the Ceremonial Fang, it can hit foes immune to non-magical attacks. It can be fitted with a pennon giving the rider the rank of Lance Commander. A “lance” is the battlefield term designating a group of 3 dragons and their riders (including the Lance Commander).

·  Armor of the Serpent: Essentially scale mail, it grants an AC comparable to plate mail but with the weight of leather armor. When riders are mounted, this armor grants them a +1 AC bonus for each 4 experience levels with B/X/BECMI, or 3 levels with AD&D. This type of armor draws its arcane powers from the dragon’s innate magic.

·  Helm of the Great Wyrm: The final piece of the rider’s complete kit (referred to as The Full Nine) is an enchanted item that protects the rider from all mind-affecting attacks. It also confers its bearer the rank of Captain of the Swarm with authority to command three lances. The helm grants its bearer a telepathic link with the three reporting Lance Commanders (the latter will sense if an impostor wears the helm).


Class Abilities

            The dragon rider possesses an aura of fear, weak at first but growing with each experience level. When the rider hits a foe of the same or lower level (or HD) while engaged in melee, the foe must save vs. spell (or roll a morale check, whichever is best for the foe). The roll incurs a –2 penalty if the rider bears the Shield of the Order, or a –4 penalty when wearing the Helm of the Great Wyrm as well. If the roll fails, the foe must turn and flee in panic for 4-24 (4d6) minutes. If the roll succeeds, the foe negates the fear effect for the remainder of the encounter. At higher levels (as shown in the Advancement Table), riders earn special senses and other benefits.

·  Smell: The rider’s olfactory sense reveals what types of creatures or character races are present within 60’ or were in the last hour. A successful Int check unveils the identities of specific creatures or characters the rider knows personally unless they disguised their odors.

·  Hearing: The rider can hear noise as a thief of the same level.

·  Eyesight: The rider can see through fog, clouds, and non-magical darkness up to 60’. The eyesight also is as sharp as that of an eagle (rated 20/5). Riders also gain the infravision ability 60’ radius; if they already possess the ability, increase its range to 90’. An invisible foe can be spotted if within 60’ (smell) and the hear noise roll succeeds.

·  Shared Senses: The dragon and the rider share their senses, each being able to smell, hear, and see what the other does regardless of how far apart they are. For some game editions, senses include darkvision, blindsight, ultravision, etc. This results in a +1 bonus to Initiative to both when the rider is mounted.

·  Tight Turns: When mounted, the rider can help the dragon perform 120˚ turns (dragons are normally limited to 90˚ turns). The attempt requires a riding check if the rider is doing nothing else but guiding the mount and looking out for surrounding threats. If the check succeeds, another can be attempted no earlier than 6 rounds later (subtract the dragon’s Dex bonus, if any). Tight turns result in a 30’ loss of altitude.

·  Spot Thermals: Should the dragon fail to locate an updraft, the rider is entitled to an Int check to spot one (see Dragon Steeds Pt. 3).

·  Far-Riding: The rider withstands ambient conditions when the mount flies at its highest ceiling or dives to its maximum water depth. The mount’s innate magic enables the rider to breathe normally in either condition.



            The table below shows two experience tracks. One is for B/X-BECMI, the other for AD&D 1st and 2nd editions. Above level 9, the rider receives +1 hit point per additional level (with B/X-BECMI) or +2 (with other OSR game mechanics).

Dragon Rider Advancement Table

Experience Levels & XP

Class Benefits







Ceremonial Fang






Boots of the Drake





War Blade










War Bow





War Bow























Shared Senses












Tight Turns











Spot Thermals



























































Non-Combat Skills

            Before and during their careers, dragon riders must acquire the following skills:

·  Knowledge of Dragons: (Int) This crucial skill covers the feeding and basic care of dragons and their kin, the ecology and behaviors of common breeds, as well as understanding their treasure-sharing requirements. It is required before first flight.

·  Dragon Speak: (Int) This includes specifically the spoken languages of the assigned dragon breeds. It is required before first flight.

·  Dragon Riding: (Dex) At least one skill slot must be kept open for this skill. It is earned as the result of the riders’ first flight experiences and bonding with their dragons.

·  Military Tactics: (Int) This skill is required before being granted the Shield of the Order. When carried ostensibly, the shield bestows a leadership skill or a bonus to this skill.

·  Navigation: (Int) It covers navigation by the stars and knowledge of local winds (or sea currents). This skill is required to attain the rank of Lance Commander.

·  Persuasion, Dragon Script: These two skills (Cha and Int respectively) are required before being promoted to Captain of the Swarm.

·  Elucidating Clues: (Int) This skill is described in the cultist article. Although not required, it is available to riders with open skill slots at any time.

·  Rule of Cool: This skill reflects the rider’s swagger and posturing, the silent brooding stares, and the dragon-themed outfit creaking softly with subtle gestures. The skill is largely meant for color, however, it does grant a bonus to Charisma checks and all Charisma-based skill checks. The bonus is +1 for each of the following items: Boots of the Drake, Gauntlets of the Rider, and Armor of the Serpent. Once a day, the bonus of cool can apply to any other attribute or acquired skill check. Although not required, the Rule of Cool is available to riders with open skill slots and when wearing appropriate attire.

Allez, en avant!

Next Stop?

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