Table of Contents - A handy way to check out my articles by topic
Follow me on Twitter
Check out the Power Score RPG Youtube Channel here.
You can reach me at

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Dungeons & Dragons - Famous Dragon Lairs

This is one of my favorite D&D paintings
After running the big dragon fight at the end of Hoard of the Dragon Queen, one of my players was telling me about a very cool idea - a black and gold dragon. I immediately had a vision of a black dragon with veins of gold spread out all over it's body, like cracks in molten rock.

That got me thinking about dragon encounters. I really like the 5e concept of lair actions. Attacking a dragon in it's lair is a big deal. The lair itself can harm the invaders!

I noticed that the dragon in Hoard doesn't have lair actions, and neither does Arauthator in The Rise of Tiamat. I wonder if that is because the adventures were written before lair actions became an official thing?

I decided to read up on some "famous" Dungeons & Dragons dragon lairs to get a feel for how they're done and to satisfy my curiosity. I'll stick to stuff from 3rd edition and back, though I implore you to check out the 4e Draconomicon books. They are full of cool lairs, treasure advice and fantastic maps!

This article will contain major spoilers for some pretty prominent adventures. As it turns out, almost all of the dragons in this article are red dragons.

Flame (Dungeon Magazine #1: "Into the Fire")

I am going to start with Flame, a red dragon that first appeared in Dungeon Magazine #1. I believe Flame has appeared in 2 or 3 more Dungeon Magazine adventures as well. We're just going to look at the original as written by Grant and David Boucher

A prince vanished 15 years ago (his ship.. the entire ship!.. was stolen by the red dragon known as Flame). The prince's necklace was recently found in some snowy mountains. The heroes are to head there and find out what happened to the prince

Flame's lair is protected against scrying by an amulet of proof against detection and location.

Random Encounters: Along the way the heroes might have the misfortune of running into 20 ogres led by an ogre mage, or a lone grey elf looking for shelter and "some companionship" (well!). There's fire giants out there too, and an avalanche, and a volcano has a 10% chance of erupting. There's even a wolfwere that tries to join the party to steal their magic items.
The Fallen Tower: The dragon lives in a crater at the top of a long-dormant volcano. The crater contains a lake filled with magma-heated water rising from old lava vents. Long ago a wizard had built a tower in the crater, with the lake acting as a moat. Flame tipped it over and killed the wizard!

Flame's Trap: Flame is ready for interlopers. As PCs wander down his hallucinatory corridor, it hits the fan:
  • A portcullis drops, possibly splitting the party and impaling someone on the sharp gate as it plummets.
  • A pit opens up under the feet of the rear of the party, which drops them about 20 feet.
  • Flame breathes down the corridor. The fire hits everyone in it, though the people in the pit take half damage (the corridor was designed for this effect).
  • The idea here is that only the PCs in the front of the portcullis can fight the dragon. Flame hovers over a huge open cavern. The PCs will have to either walk out onto a side ledge or jump down 30 feet to engage Flame.
  • Flame casts haste on himself!

Flame can see invisible, polymorph other, has a necklace of frost resistance and an ioun stone which allows Flame to not need to breathe!

Flame's Escape Plan: Flame will flee if he has to. There's this cool note that he'll probably fly right through the party to get out, giving each PC a free attack at +2 to hit.

Once Flame is dead, the heroes get to search his lair for his mighty horde

Flame's Sleeping Chamber: Great flavor for his sleeping chamber: "You enter the chamber to see what was obviously the sleeping chamber for the great dragon. Tons of assorted clothes, furs, and cloth lie heaped on the ground, fully 20 feet thick at its deepest point. You can't help but think about all the beings that have been slain just to make this beast's bed. A large headboard, that appears to be made from the outer wall of a house, has the word "Flame" crudely burned into it."

The Treasure Hoard: This is the perfect flavor text for a dragon hoard:

"At last, you see the treasure of treasures, the dragon's hoard. The ransom of a king pales in comparison. The incredible might and ancient age of the dragon becomes apparent as you try to drink in the hundreds of contrasting period pieces. An imperial coach rests atop a massive pile of coins, its strong box precariously balanced on the roof. Even from this distance, you can see a pile of jewelry within. 

Now your eye catches a silver-tipped beam of wood jutting away from you. You follow it back to its source and see the entire hull of a merchants' ship on one side of the cave. Scarred and battered, it lies tilted toward you with its masts broken off. Out of the ruptured hull spill the jewels of a thousand royal houses. Hundreds of similarly interesting artifacts duel for your attention. For a few moments, the sheer immensity of wealth holds you in a trance."

There's some awesome loot:
  • A pot of gold with a pile of little bones (yes, Flame killed a leprechaun and stole his pot of gold)
  • A large platinum chess set. The pieces are shaped in the forms of various creatures of good and evil.
  • A royal carriage made of oak with a tiara in it (maybe he killed Cinderella?!).
  • The boat! A "slightly crushed" merchant ship.
  • Chunks of adamantite stolen from a dwarven mine.
To me, this is a perfect "classic" dragon lair. It's unique, the dragon has a plan, the dragon is dangerous, and the treasure hoard is awesome.

Utreshimon  (Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil)

This is pretty interesting. This adventure is a sort of sequel to the Gary Gygax/Frank Mentzer classic adventure "Temple of Elemental Evil" written by the great Monte Cook himself! There's more trouble afoot and so our heroes go to the moathouse (the site of the dungeon in Village of Hommlet, the prequel to the Temple).

In the original Village of Hommlet adventure, there's a bunch of giant frogs outside the moathouse and a dude named Lareth the Beautiful lurking in the dungeons below.

This time, yeah there's a cult down below, but a young blue dragon showed up and decided to live in the moathouse, and it's eating cultists and heroes alike.

Utreshimon's Plan: He lives in the courtyard. When a fight breaks out, he uses his wings to fill the air with dust, blinding the party and making spellcasting difficult. He flies up onto a tower and breathes lightning.

This is an encounter for 4th level characters, so this is a young dragon with very little treasure. It's just setting up shop, so to speak. I can imagine this being quite shocking. I haven't seen too many adventures that actually start off with a dragon fight.

Farcluun (Greyhawk Ruins) 

I wrote so much about the actual Castle Greyhawk that I thought it would be cool to check out the dragon in "Greyhawk Ruins", a version of Castle Greyhawk published after Gary Gygax left TSR. This dragon's lair isn't exactly given the deluxe treatment.

Tricky Entrance: You get to Farcluun's lair through a sinkhole in an underground river. It's a large cavern with stalactites and stalagmites and a huge pit full of treasure.

Sometimes He's a Bird: Farcluun is an ancient red dragon  who sometimes turns himself into a wren so he can fly around incognito.

His Clever Scheme: Here's how he deals with adventurers: He pretends to be asleep and then breathes fire on them. It's a classic trope, I guess.

The Hoard: His treasure hoard is gigantic (120,000 gp plus a slew of magic items). None of the magic items have any fun gimmicks. There is a wand of fireballs and a shield +5 among many other things. Not too shabby.

This is by far the worst of the dragon lairs that I have read. Not awe-inspiring or creative in the least.

Dragotha (Dungeon Magazine #134: "Into the Wormcrawl Fissure")

Fabulous Riches!
Dragotha was originally just a little drawing by the great Erol Otus on the map of the classic d&d adventure "White Plume Mountain". Back when Paizo was completely on fire pumping out awesome issues of Dungeon magazine, they created an adventure path that featured all sorts of D&D stuff that had been mentioned in passing in old products but never given the spotlight. These things included the Wind Dukes of Aaqa, Kyuss the worm god, and Dragotha the undead dragon!

Greyhawk With Some Serial Numbers Filed Off: Dragotha is a big part of the Age of Worms adventure path. This path is very highly regarded. It was set in Greyhawk, but due to certain legal issues, certain characters had to be re-named. I believe Tenser was code-named "Manzorian" and the City of Greyhawk was referred to as "The Free City".

Why doesn't Eva Widermann do more D&D art?
The Phylactery: The heroes had found and destroyed Dragotha's phylactery in the previous adventure, "Citadel of the Weeping Dragon". Now, in issue 134 of Dungeon Magazine, your 19th level characters can go into the Wormcrawl fissure and find the three parts of the soul of Balakarde (Bucknard - of "Bucknard's everfull purse" fame). Bucknard will help give the PCs power to defeat Dragotha.

Bucknard's soul can bounce from PC to PC and give them stuff like:
  • Immunity to fire
  • The ability to overcome spell resistance
  • A +10 to attack rolls (!)
Dragotha's Lair: Dragotha lurks in the Tabernacle of Worms, a temple of Kyuss deep in a dungeon. The green walls can actually heal themselves if damaged and will spew a spray of Kyuss worms, infesting the PC's body with worms! The doors are writhing sheets of Kyuss worms. A knock spell will discorporate the worms and allow heroes to pass through.

Dragotha's lair is inside, past a mini-dungeon
If you die in this place, your body is immediately infested with ghostly green worms that consume your mortal shell in a single round.

The room that Dragotha resides in is a "vast cavern lit by the undulant green glow of a huge ziggurat built of worm-infested stone." There's a hole in the top of the ziggurat. Green liquid gushes from it, "cascading down the front stairs of the ziggurat in a chain of miniature waterfalls."

There's two ledges, one of which has massive piles of treasure.

Each round a PC spends in here, they take 2d6+6 damage (undead heal this amount). Bucknard's soul protects the bonded PC.

Dragotha is Arrogant: When the PCs arrive, Dragotha is atop the ziggurat. He roars. He mocks the PCs, calling them "lapdogs".

Dragotha's Many, Many Powers: Dragotha is ridiculously powerful. He has an AC of 58! He can cast spells of up to 8th level, including dominate person and forcecage.

He has two breath weapons. One does fire, and the other is a "death wind". He has a paralyzing gaze, paralyzing all within 40 feet, and all of his physical attacks paralyze as well.

Dragotha's Treasure: Dragotha's Hoard takes up a full page.
  • He has 2.5 million copper pieces.
  • A dinosaur skull inscribed with brand new druid spells of your own making.
  • 7 paintings of deities being tortured and dismembered.
  • A "scandalous dress of scarlet silk" worth 3,500 gp.
  • Then there's a pile of magic items that includes a sun blade, a folding boat, Daern's instant fortress, a staff of the magi and an apparatus of Kwalish (I believe in 5th edition, there is only one apparatus in existence).
This lair is fantastic. Paizo is so great. Is there any chance they could start making Dungeon and Dragon magazines for 5th edition? How do we make that happen?

Dragotha's Lair

It turns out that the great Bruce Cordell wrote an adventure about Dragotha meant to be run at conventions for AD&D 2nd Edition. This adventure is meant for character of 6th to 8th level. This adventure is available for FREE here.

This version of Dragotha's Lair is completely undead-themed. There was a cult down there protecting Dragotha's remains. They all died, but continue to inhabit the place as undead.

There's traps, some undead cultists, a crazy amoeba-thing with eggs in it, and the cult leader, who sits on a throne in a room with massive skeletal dragon sculptures. There's one really nasty trap where the heroes might be hit by a bone yellow beam and be transformed into ghouls.

The Bone Pit: It turns out that Dragotha is just a pile of bones, and will continue to be so while someone sits in the room wearing a magic "crown of mortality". When the heroes enter Dragotha's room, the crown falls into the pit of Dragotha's bones. The heroes will have ten rounds to avoid getting killed by dragotha and don the crown, or else Dragotha will live again.

One PC will have to make the ultimate sacrifice, agreeing to wear the crown and remain in the room eternally. The adventure does give the option of having an NPC who has accompanied make the sacrifice, but the heroes lose out on a lot of XP.

Dragotha's Breath Weapon: Once per hour, Dragotha can breathe a dark cloud of negative energy in a cone 60 feet long that does 10d6+6 damage. "Those killed through loss of hit points are completely melted, save for clothing, possessions, heart and exposed bones." The bones then rise up as skeletons who obey Dragotha.

Treasure: There's treasure there, too. PCs could snatch up all sorts of stuff during the encounter with Dragotha, including ioun stones, a pearl of power, or heward's handy haversack.

Infyrana (Dragon Mountain)

Dragon Mountain was a boxed set adventure made for AD&D 2nd edition. Yes, it is an entire boxed set devoted to a dragon's lair! The red dragon known as Infyrana lives in Dragon Mountain with her kobold army. The mountain shifts to a different plane every two months.

So the set-up is simple. Dragon Mountain appears in your world. Cue adventure music.

Not So Great: We sat down to play this in high school and It was a major let-down. I had visions of all sorts of exciting dragon encounters, but it turns out that this dungeon is all about kobolds. We quit after one or two sessions because the adventure was such a disappointment - and we almost never quit any module (except Vecna Lives, but that is because of the stupidest inter-party squabbles of all time).
Infyrana by DiTerlizzi
One of my favorite artists, Tony DiTerlizzi, did all of the interior art in this adventure. He did an excellent black and white depiction of the dragon, and from what I can tell some of this art ended up in the Monstrous Compendium Annual.

The Encounters: After braving endless waves of kobolds (there's something like 12 different clans) through three 64-page booklets, you finally fight the dragon.

Along the way there is a trapped room that fills with boiling water. There's almost no way to escape this one. The water does 6d6! But mostly your heroes will spend many hours coming upon lots and lots of thrilling storage rooms, studies, chambers and multiple barns (?).

Infyrana's Lair: Her lair in Dragon Mountain is in a cavern that glows red. Treasure is piled into huge hills. "Atop this sea of wonders, this desert of valuables amid the dunes of minted treasure, lies a beast."

Portion of a 2e poster map of Infyrana's lair
Infyrana's Really Messed Up Plan: This is brutal. Again, major spoiler warning. This is one of the most devious plans I've ever seen in a published module. Your players are in big trouble.

When the heroes enter, they see a red dragon sleeping. They think it's Infyrana, but it's not Infyrana. It's a kobold who drank a potion of polymorph self and a potion of invulnerability (immune to non-magic weapons). Seriously.

The actual dragon has polymorphed herself into a kobold. Her plan is to have the PCs waste resources on the polymorphed kobold/dragon. She has some items on her, including a potion of human control and a wand of paralyzation. Those poor, poor PCs. Clan Wyrmguard, elite kobolds, will be firing arrows at our heroes, too.

These are just the potions!
Infyrana's Treasure: Her hoard is epic! The list of potions alone is a meaty paragraph in and of itself.
  • There's a magic elven sword +3 called Anduvar.
  • There's a melted pile of steel - the remains of a dragon slaying sword! What a great detail.
That is one nasty final encounter. It is certainly a worthy dragon lair.

When researching this article, I found a few good inspiring stuff on dragons and dragon lairs that I thought I'd share:

The Magic Tree has a list of famous dragons from Dragonlance, Greyhawk and The Forgotten Realms.

There was a great thread on a few years ago where people shared their crazy stories about fighting dragons in their lairs. Some really awesome, funny stuff.


Alphastream said...

Great write-up! Any big fan of the famous Flame should check out "Flame's Last Flicker" in Dungeon #200. It is an incredible adventure, using a very cool concept to take the PCs (and players) back through Flame's different appearances.

Dragotha's lair would also make my list, though I would note that the Age of Worms path was written back when Paizo wrote the adventures under license from WotC, and could use Greyhawk terms. They actually do a great job of using canon and also of enriching it. But, as they explain in issue 124, they do try to keep things flexible. They use general terms when they can so that DMs can more easily use the material. I love the adventure path!

Sean said...

Alphastream: I should look up the other Flame adventures. That first one was really cool.

I will have to read up on the Age of Worms/Greyhawk name issue. It seems crazy to me to NOT use Tenser when you have the option.

Thanks! I appreciate the comments.

Unknown said...

Quick note. Arauthator while his lair actions were not written down in his stat block in the supplement. Is stated in the adventure itself that he takes advantage of his lair actions as often as he can once he is aware of the party. He is also stated to be smarter and more charismatic then the standard Adult white dragon but the supplement stats don't actually change anything about him.

Along with giving him the spellcasting variant and some sorcerer levels, Complete with his unique spells. I would also buff his charisma and intelligence. Arauthator has killed a powerful red and blue dragon in the past and in the past he was stated to be stronger then his mate despite her being older and larger.

However he has been known to spare adventuring parties that impress him with their guile.

Sean said...

Unknown: Thanks for the tips! I prepared the lair a few weeks back but I can't recall all the details.

There's been a lot of talk online about how deadly the white dragon is at the end of hoard, so I'm feeling a little worried that Arauthator is going to be too deadly.