Also called skull dragons (due to the general shape of their heads) and swamp dragons, black dragons are perhaps the most malicious chromatics. Reds might have greater tempers, greens more ambition to deceive and control, but few other dragons share the cruelty of black dragons. Black dragons hunt not merely to survive or to protect their territory, but also for the sheer joy of causing pain. They care not whether their victims are helpless or hazardous, weak or powerful. Violence brings satisfaction.
Black dragons are also among the most cowardly of chromatic dragons. Though quick to engage in combat, they also quickly retreat if opponents prove more dangerous than expected. Given black dragons’ propensity for laying ambushes and striking from hiding, however, would-be victims might find it impossible to distinguish a fleeing black dragon from one regrouping to attack from another angle.
When possible, black dragons prefer to feed on sentient beings, considering fey creatures particular delicacies. The bulk of their diet consists of swamp creatures such as snakes, alligators, small mammals, and birds. Like alligators, black dragons might let their prey rot in the mud at the bottoms of swamps because they prefer the texture and flavor of putrefied flesh.
Black dragons fight on land only when circumstances force them to do so. They prefer to fight either in the water or on the wing.
Lairs and Terrain
Black dragons favor swamps and bogs: anywhere with deep, murky water, thick trees, and fetid vegetation. The water gives them an advantage in combat, because the scents of growth and rot common to swamps help to cover the acidic tang of the dragons’ presence. Only a deep swamp in which a dragon can submerge serves the dragon’s purposes, so shallow marshes rarely harbor black dragon lairs.
When a black dragon cannot find a deep swamp, it settles for any area where freshwater and earth come together in great quantities. Jungles and rain forests might host black dragons, as might lakes in all but the coldest climes. Purported lake monsters might in fact be black dragons that have gone unrecognized outside their usual swamps.
Black dragons loathe salt water. Although salt water does not harm them, it irritates their flesh like a bad rash. Thus, although black dragons might dive into salt water to escape foes, they never make their homes in salt marshes.
For their lairs, black dragons favor systems of caves or hollows with multiple chambers, some partly submerged. A black dragon locates the main entrance underwater and hides the entrance either under thick layers of plant life or under a wall of mud through which the dragon can swim.
Black dragons favor coins over other sorts of treasure, because coins can survive long-term immersion better than fragile paintings or sculpture. Although coins tarnish, they do not rust as other metals do. Gems might survive even better, but gems show up in black dragons’ hoards less frequently than coins. One possible reason for this disparity is that, since coins are obviously manufactured rather than naturally occurring, black dragons view them as intrinsically more valuable to their (former) possessors than gems.
- Also see: Dragon Life Cycle
twelve of those months outside the female’s body. A typical clutch consists of five to ten eggs. Roughly half of the eggs hatch successfully under optimal conditions.
A black dragon remains a wyrmling for about four years. It reaches adulthood at approximately 125 years and becomes an elder around the age of 900. It becomes ancient at around 1,600 years and passes away by the age of 2,200.
When a deceased black dragon experiences environmental diffusion, the result is an area of abnormal humidity and foul soil. Few plants grow there, and those that do are poisonous. Any water that collects in the area becomes acidic and burns to the touch—not enough to cause real damage, but enough to hurt. It is not potable.
Black dragons appear abnormally slender in comparison to other chromatic dragons—wiry, but not gaunt. Although their forward-jutting horns look fearsome, the horns serve no offensive use. They simply protect the dragon’s head. The sunken eyes contribute to the head’s infamous skull-like appearance.
When a black dragon submerges, a number of muscular and nervous changes take place. The eyes bulge dramatically, pressed outward by the dragon’s facial muscles as the dragon’s vision adapts to the water and murkiness. After this happens, the dragon can discern fewer minute details but gains sensitivity to large shapes and movements.
A thin layer of webbing stretches between a black dragon’s toes, thicker on the rear feet than the fore. This webbing grants the dragon its impressive swimming speed. A swimming black dragon uses its tail both for propulsion and as a rudder.
The hide of a black dragon functions like the skin of amphibians: It extracts oxygen from the water and feeds the oxygen directly into the bloodstream, without the need for gills. This process is less efficient than breathing with lungs, so although black dragons are technically amphibious and can remain underwater for hours or days, they must surface and spend a few hours breathing air at least once or twice a week.
Black dragons have a strong, acrid scent.
Deep in the swamps of a marshy isthmus the size of a small continent, a self-proclaimed god who calls herself the Lizard Queen demands worship from the native lizardfolk and tribute from all others.
This ponderous beast is unlike any black dragon known to adventurers or sages. Others of her kind are sinuous and slender, with low-slung bodies, but Gulgol is a massive, corpulent creature. Leathery flesh bulges between scales that never grew sufficiently to cover her astonishing bulk. It hangs in rolls from her tail, from her neck, and beneath her squinting, porcine eyes. She breathes heavily with exertion, her legs bent beneath her heavy body, and her voice is a deep rasp punctuated by sharp inhalations.
Do not mistake her corpulence and pumping breath for a sign of weakness, or assume that her inherent laziness makes her an easy target. Those who do rarely survive to appreciate the magnitude of their error.
Gulgol is a great black dragon that dwells in the depths of the Fenreach. Gulgol has dwelt in the swamp for several centuries. She eventually grew to dominance over the rest of her clutch, and rumor has it she consumed her siblings.
The swamp’s lizardfolk and other tribes consider Gulgol a god, serving her fanatically. Communities of the swamp must send her tribute or be raided by her followers, and travelers who grow lost in the Fenreach must choose whether to be enslaved or eaten, unless they are rich enough to buy their freedom. She insists on being addressed as “Queen Gulgol” or “Your Majesty.” Anything less is an insult, and those who offend Gulgol become her next meal. Gulgol’s zealous followers include a coven of bog hags—named Zunuris, Ilbotha, and Shenvush— and their servitor trolls; a tribe of savage humans and their clutch of semitrained fen hydras; and a tribe of blackscale lizardfolk whose name translates loosely as “Broken Fang Tears Violently.” Her vizier is a guardian naga named Alhashna, and her other three closest advisors are a trio of yuan-ti malison incanters who believe Gulgol to be favored by the serpent-god Zehir.
Gulgol is known as lazy and gluttonous, not only to those who have studied her but to other dragons as well. She is amazingly obese for a dragon and refuses to expend any unnecessary effort; her worshipers’ duties include delivering all her meals and comforts. She is less agile than other black dragons but is nevertheless powerful, and she can exert herself if need be.
Through centuries of practice and the study of draconic magic, the Lizard Queen has altered her innate abilities. She has acquired the power to force a measure of obedience from all around her.
The distant Fenreach is an isthmus that connects two great landmasses. It is nearly the size of a small continent and is covered by deep swamp and marshy forest. Several rivers run through it, allowing merchant vessels to travel across the Fenreach rather than circumnavigating the continents, but these waterways are tricky, hidden, and impassable without the services of native guides whose services do not come cheap. The humanoid inhabitants of the Fenreach dwell in small villages built on hummocks, or in trading stations constructed in the wrecks of ships. Life here is hard: sweltering, vermin-ridden, waterlogged, and beset by hunger and plague. Further, the people here must deal constantly with lizardfolk, yuanti, hideous reptiles, and even undead. And worse than them all, spoken of only in hushed whispers and bedtime tales meant to frighten children, is Queen Gulgol, selfproclaimed god of the swamp and all who dwell within.
Encounters with Gulgol take place in her court: a cave in the side of an overgrown and mossy hill that overlooks a bowl-shaped depression in the swamp. Even if adventurers manage to find the spot, they must either fight or talk their way through an army of blackscale lizardfolk and a hydra guardian, plus at least one of the yuan-ti. Even if Gulgol deigns to grant an audience, she does not allow outsiders into her cave, but heaves her great bulk out to the opening, looking down upon petitioners in the hollow.
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