Fighting Red Dragons
It's the Year of Dragons! As a part of this celebration, we're going to be taking a closer look at these iconic beasts, their abilities, and some of the best ways to fight them . . . and come back alive. Over the course of this series, we'll focus on the true dragons described in the Monster Manual, and although we'll touch on the tactics and abilities that all dragons possess, the purpose of these articles is to explore their unique powers and their temperament, plus show how they use their lairs to their advantage.
Next up, we put the spotlight on the dreaded red dragon, bane of adventurers everywhere! The red dragon's size, ferocity, and iconic blast of fiery breath make it a truly formidable opponent.
The Dragon's Side
The red dragon's formidable abilities, defenses, and attacks can be made even scarier with the inclusion of feats and spells from Sandstorm, which emphasize heat and fire. A party prepared for fighting a red dragon's fiery attacks may not expect a desiccate, flaywind burst, or parching touch spell.
Red dragons in sandier areas may harness the power of drift magic (see page 105 of Sandstorm). Older red dragons may possess the Searing Spell feat, making their fire spells deadly even against opponents that have buffed up with protective spells and magic items.
Red dragons are smart enough to avoid equipping their minions with fire-related magic items, knowing that adventurers would be prepared against those sorts of attacks. Be wary of minions carrying shocking or even frost weapons to bypass fire-resistant defenses.
Red dragons live in mountainous terrain, preferably with large caves formed from volcanic activity and boasting tall cliffs from which they can survey their domain. This rocky terrain is typically treacherous for the ill-prepared -- watch out for rockslides (natural and traps), pits, and sheer cliffs that the dragon can bull rush you over.
Because they cannot burrow and like to have wide-open spaces in which to see everything coming, the cavern lairs of red dragons are twisty, but broad -- meaning that the lair has few places for rogues or other stealthy types to find enough cover to avoid being seen as they approach.
Like other dragons, reds typically have two or more entrances into their lair. Avoid, at all costs, entering through the obvious entrance. If you know where the lair is, look for the highest point and climb up to it to see if the dragon has a second entrance, away from prying eyes on the ground below.
Covetous and greedy in the extreme, the red dragon's special abilities are designed to find treasure, then steal it -- suggestion, locate object, find the path, and discern location. They rely on their formidable physical prowess and fearsome breath weapons for combat. Juvenile and older dragons use locate object to both keep track of their hoard and to become aware of new items that enter their domain. If they suspect that someone is prowling their lairs, they cast this spell, picking an object such as "sword" to detect any new objects (held by adventurers) that come into range.
Old and older dragons make extensive use of suggestion on "allies" to keep them compliant and to coax potential attackers to drop their weapons or walk into the many traps that line their lair. As with the green dragon, if you're talking with a red dragon (a bad idea all around), watch out for odd behavior in your companions.
Ancient red dragons use find the path to both discern the location of the stashes of their enemies (including the adventurers if they incur the dragon's wrath) and to navigate their way through any potential traps laid out by their opponents. If a red dragon senses such treachery, it will use this before leaving the safety of its lair first.
The oldest dragons possess discern location, meaning that no one is truly safe from them once they know who you are. On a strategic level, they find the location of their enemies, then dispatch minions to that location, following up with a show of force themselves. On a tactical level, they use this in the rare instances where they cannot locate a nearby opponent with their extremely heightened senses. If you're at this level, make sure that everyone in your group has a mind blank cast on them beforehand.
Red dragons can cast cleric spells from the Chaos, Evil, and Fire domains as if they were arcane spells, so if you're facing a dragon of sufficient age to cast spells, don't be shocked if you're subjected to these kinds of attacks.
Dealing with a Red Dragon's Breath Weapon
The red dragon's breath weapon is a cone of fire, so make sure that if you attack one, you try to surround it from all sides to minimize the number of people in your group affected by this attack. The same armor, scrolls, and spells that help against black dragons apply to red dragons as well.
Obviously, if you're facing a red dragon, prepare for fire. However, as mentioned above, most older red dragons are savvy enough to know that anyone daring enough to come attack them is prepared to resist it. Watch out for unusual spells (if the dragon is old enough to cast them) or nonfire related attacks.
Also, realize that red dragons might own and wear magic items that provide cold resistance, so hitting it with dispel magic or Mordenkainen's disjunction during battle is a wise idea to (hopefully) take these out of the equation.
Game Resources: To use the material in this article to its fullest, check out the following resources: Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual , Player's Handbook , Draconomicon.
About the Author
Eric Cagle cut his teeth at Wizards of the Coast, but now lives the extravagant freelancer lifestyle. Look for his name on D&D, d20 Modern, and Star Wars books. Recent credits include d20 Apocalypse, Races of Destiny, and Monster Manual III. He is also a contributor to the Game Mechanics, Green Ronin Publishing, Dragon Magazine, and this lovely website. Eric lives in Seattle where the coffee is dark and bitter like his goddesses.