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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to Flame

Today I'm going to write about a D&D villain who has been the focus of four published adventures and yet has a fairly low profile in the D&D world: Flame, the red dragon.

Flame was the subject of the iconic image that is the cover of the very first issue of Dungeon Magazine. Over the years, Flame kept being brought back in weirder ways. By 4th edition, he was actually the subject of a time travel adventure!

Here's some quick general notes:
  • Flame does things on a big scale. He likes to steal sailing ships and buildings. 
  • Tiamat becomes fond of Flame as these adventures progress.
  • Flame has a number of awesome lairs, including one inside a giant floating diamond.
  • We learn how mortal Vecna died! Seriously. I don't know if this is still canon.
  • Flame made babies with kobolds, giants and crocodiles.
  • There's a Flame clone, a Skeletal flame, and a demilich Flame!
Dungeon Magazine #1: "Into the Fire"

Written by Grant and David Boucher, this adventure is a classic assault on a dragon's lair. The group will have to deal with a number of random encounters o the approach and, once inside, the group must overcome the dragon's clever trap. If they survive, Flame has an absolutely massive dragon hoard ripe for the pillaging!

Backstory: 15 years ago, a prince vanished. Nobody knows it, but the prince's ship.. the entire ship!.. was pulled out of the sea by the red dragon known as Flame. Everyone on board died. That ship is now in Flame's treasure hoard.

The prince's necklace was recently found in some snowy mountains. The heroes are asked to head there and find out what happened to the prince.

Random Encounters: Along the way the heroes might have the misfortune of running into:
  • 20 ogres led by an ogre mage
  • A lone grey elf looking for shelter and "some companionship" (well!). 
  • Fire giants
  • An avalanche
  • A volcanic eruption
  • 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 actually tipped the tower over and killed the wizard.

Flame's Trap: This is pretty rough. As the adventurers wander down a hallucinatory corridor:
  1.  A portcullis drops and possibly impales a character. The portcullis likely splits the party.
  2.  A pit opens up under the feet of the rear of the party, which drops them about 20 feet.
  3.  Flame breathes down the corridor. The fire fills the corridor and hits everyone in it, though the people who fell in the pit take half damage.
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 Has Magic: Flame can see invisible, polymorph other, wears a necklace of frost resistance and has an ioun stone that frees him from the need to breathe.

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

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.

Dungeon Magazine #17 - Out of the Ashes

The sequel! This one is for characters 8th to 12th level.

Backstory: The city of Justiminium is home to merchants, adventurers, and thieves guilds. Near it is the forest of Nograheim, a monster refuge. The law states: "Do not eliminate any cultures, clear section of the forest, or set up permanent fortifications." Awesome idea!

This adventure assumes that Flame was slain. We learn that, before he died, Flame had used a wish spell that would allow him to return to life were he to be slain. Tiamat granted the wish!

Tiamat: It is said that a dragon who dies of old age takes their treasure with them to Tiamat's lair, where the size of their "donation" determines their place in Tiamat's court. That might not work out so well with the looting that took place in the first adventure.

When slain, Flame returned to the material plane stripped of all spellcasting powers and treasures.

The Valley of Diamonds: Flame took refuge in a forest ruled by kobolds. The kobolds led Flame through the Valley of Diamonds to the Ring of Flame, a circle of volcanic mountains. At the center was a collapsed volcanic crater full of uncut diamonds. Flame touched the diamonds, and somehow regained his spells and some of his treasure.

In the center of the crater is a massive crystalline palace shaped like a huge diamond made of frozen fire magically suspended over a pool of lava. This is some crazy crap, right?
This was the home of Opikus the Dark, an evil mage. Flame killed him and claimed the place as his new lair. There's a vault inside that flame can't open. Supposedly there is a giant diamond in the vault worth 1 million gold!

Disguising himself as Opikus, Flame decided to hire adventurers to break the vault open.

Opikus: An old man with long graying red hair, a full beard and a bushy mustache. His black silk robes are embroidered in gold and silver. In life, Opikus was obsessed with obtaining the hand and eye of Vecna. He has a library dedicated to books and scrolls on the subject.

Vecna: As a reward, Opikus offers the group the hand and eye of Vecna!!

We learn more. According to this adventure, Vecna died in a mage-war that took place near the Ring of Flame. His corpse was flung into the great pool of lava in the crater, which triggered a huge eruption that destroyed all of the other wizards who took part in the mage war. The eruption brought forth a fountain of diamonds that rained down on the valley.

One of Vecna's minions survived and escaped with the eye and hand of Vecna.

Elemental Evil: When Vecna was thrown into the central volcano, the immortal forces of evil took revenge by sending the entire region into flame. Ogremoch caused a huge eruption that left a massive crater.

The god of good stepped in and made it so that the only way Ogremoch could get the diamonds back was to have someone summon the elemental prince of evil there, or to sacrifice the diamonds to him.

Opikus had been taking advantage of this. He'd been sending diamonds to Ogremoch in exchange for favors.

Tiamat wants to use the huge diamond to make a gem-topped staff to rival the powerful scepter of Asmodeus.

The Living Pass: This pass has animated frescoes that depict the mage-war. There are two frescoes:
  • One begins with the forces of good heading toward the ring of flame, and it ends with the death of Vecna. 
  • The other depicts the forces of evil triumphing over the slayers of Vecna. This scene ends depicting one of Vecna's minions fleeing with hand and eye.

There are a number of encounters in the valley:
  • A geyser that is a portal to the Elemental Plane of Water.
  • A band of frost giants led by Shegor the Strong and his pet dragon, Gerk (gerk means 'stupid' in giant). They were partying heavily when Flame showed up.
  • There's a monolith that, if touched, causes a djinn named Aradullah to appear. She wears flowing green silk and holds a silver goblet full of ruby red wine. She has been commanded to help good travelers only. Drinking from her goblet imparts knowledge.
  • There's a second monolith. This one is linked to Flame. Once you get within 50 feet of it, a magic mouth yells, "You're getting hotter!" and a fairly nasty trap goes off.

Inside the lair is all sorts of wackiness:
  • A gallery of cages holding a vampire, a medusa, and a beholder!!!
  • A maze of crystal-clear walls.
  • A frozen library that preserves books from decay.
  • Zagyg's flowing flagon: A magic item that will get you really, really drunk.
  • Giant golden balls that chase specific characters.
  • Guarding the vault is Geldoran, a type VI demon (I think that's a balor).
Dungeon Magazine #100 - Old Embers Never Die

Now we enter 3rd edition! Flame has been killed twice, now. We learn that, as an adult red dragon, Flame entrusted a githyanki wizard with a small chunk of his flesh, to be used to clone him should he meet an untimely end.

In addition to that, Flame's skeleton has become animated! A bunch of kobolds worship it in a swamp. So this adventure features two Flames.

Here is the description of skeletal flame: "A truly gigantic skeletal creature, the red pinpoint gleams in its eyesockets betray its animate nature... Bony wings creak and flap uselessly as it moves to attack."

The githyanki-raised Flame traveled to the western mountains, and found that fire giants had taken up residence in his lair from Into the Fire. He took control of the fire giant clan and "...fathered a half-dragon child with a comely fire giant maiden."

Underlings: Here are some of Flame's minions and offspring:
  • Skreebo, a half-red dragon/kobold who wields a red dragonfang greatsword. He's got two dire weasels.
  • Vermilona, a "dracolyte", which is a cultist who worships the dragon.
  • Dragonthralls: Creatures who pledge their life to the service of chromatic dragons.
  • 2 Ettins and a pack of hellhounds.
  • Pyrathax, half-red dragon, half fire giant.
  • A half-red dragon/giant crocodile. 

In case you're wondering where the draconic crocodiles came from, the adventure has you covered:
"One night about thirty years ago, after consuming an entire wagon of strong dwarven ale, the dragon polymorphed into a giant crocodile and frolicked with the crocodile denizens of the lake. By morning, Flame had forgotten all about the night before - but one particular female giant crocodile hadn't."

Battling the raised Flame actually involves returning to the original lair! It has been altered quite a bit. Pretty awesome.

Dungeon #200 - Flame's Last Flicker


Flame's been slain at least three times! Now what?

Well, Tiamat took Flame's soul and transformed him into one of her exalted - a trusted servant with designs on becoming an exarch. Technically, she turned him into a dragon demilich.

Flame has concocted a scheme to siphon off Bahamut's power and transfer it to Tiamat. She can use that power to drive Zehir from Tytherion (in 4e, Tiamat shares a plane with a snake god. They're at war).

Flame uses a stolen relic of Bahamut to divert souls to an area in the astral sea.

The heroes must find and destroy Flame's phylactery. Flame has multiple phylacteries, and hid them in the past.

Flame created a crystal island in the astral plane to divert the souls of Bahamut's faithful from their final rest.

From there, the heroes use an artifact sword called Justice's Edge to travel back in time. They're got to find and destroy three different phylacteries. Maybe I'm blind, but I don't see the first one anywhere in this adventure. I hit ctrl + f and everything.

The final battle is against Flame in his demilich form. Yes, he really is a giant, floating dragon skull!

What Comes After Demilich?

Could you make a 5th adventure? A ghost Flame? A planar dragon Flame?

Maybe the son or daughter of Flame?

Why not, right? Flame's whole gimmick is that he keeps coming back in different ways.

Pretty awesome! There's tons and tons of ideas to mine from these adventures, so definitely check them out!

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