When legends, fairy tales, and fables speak of dragons without specifying a color—when they tell of kingdoms laid waste, virtuous maidens sacrificed, and valiant heroes sent home as charred corpses— odds are that they speak of the mighty red dragons. Also called flame dragons, fire wyrms, and mountain dragons, these horrific beasts epitomize the iconic dragon traits. All dragons are predators, but reds are the most voracious, consuming far more than they require. All dragons are greedy, but reds are avaricious beyond any point of reason, for they fully believe that all wealth belongs to those strong enough to take it (and no amount of wealth is ever enough). All dragons are prideful, but reds are arrogant in the extreme. They see themselves as the pinnacle of draconic perfection.
Red dragons never forgive even the smallest slights. They kill over territorial intrusion, over the tiniest theft from their hoard, over an insult, or because they want to. These great beasts take satisfaction wherever and however they can get it. A red dragon unable to slay a person who offends it will go on a rampage, wreaking havoc and destruction upon any nearby communities. Only enormous monetary tributes can sate the legendary rage of a red dragon; only blood can cool and drown that rage.
Red dragons are not mindlessly violent, however. Accomplished strategists, they spend their time developing vast arrays of tactics for use in every conceivable combat scenario. They recognize the hazards in attacking more potent foes—rare though such foes might be. They back down from fights they do not believe they can win, though doing so wounds their pride to the bone.
A humanoid community that borders on a red dragon’s territory can sometimes forestall the beast’s wrath by offering frequent tribute in the form of treasure and tasty young adults. Some red dragons enjoy the power in ruling communities of lesser creatures, but unlike green dragons, who do so by subtlety and intrigue, reds demand obedience and slaughter all who fail to comply. Red dragons take interest in news of the world beyond their territories, in part so they know how their status compares to that of other reds. They might threaten homes and families in order to force humanoids to travel into the wild and obtain news. Most such unwilling messengers do not survive to return, but red dragons have no qualms about that turn of events. Humanoids are a renewable resource. Like most dragons, reds can survive on almost anything but prefer meat. More than any other variety of dragon, though, red dragons hate to eat anything else. Some starve themselves nearly to death rather than consume plants or inorganic matter. They eat any animals: humanoids, wild beasts, and even other dragons—the younger, the better. Their preference for tender meats gave rise to legends of dragons kidnapping young people.
Reds fight equally well on land or in the air. They relish melee combat as an opportunity to showcase their superior strength. A red dragon never hesitates to use its breath weapon, though, when the need presents itself. It would rather reduce any possible treasure or magic items to ash than allow the bearers of those items to best it in combat: The dragon’s pride overpowers its avarice.
Although red dragons might refrain from attacking enemies that seem too strong, reds never retreat from combat once any combatant sheds blood. Due to their hubris, red dragons fight to the death more than any other kind of chromatic dragon, even when they have the option to escape.
Lairs and Terrain
Although a red dragon’s first terrain choice is somewhere elevated and especially hot, such as a volcano or a sulfurous geyser, a red does not require such a location. It might take residence in a normal mountain peak, in rocky badlands, or on a desert mesa: any location where it can perch high and survey its domain for miles around. Red dragons loathe the cold, but cold does not harm them any more than it does other creatures. A few reds even make their homes among snow-capped peaks, because altitude matters to them more than temperature. A red that can boast a lair combining altitude and temperature, such as one atop a volcanic peak, considers itself fortunate indeed.
Red dragons prefer large caves or complexes of caves, with access both to high vantage points and to the depths of the earth. Though they seek high ground for surveying their territory, they feel safer sleeping and storing their treasure beneath layers of rock. Because such complexes rarely occur naturally, red dragons frequently take over caverns dug by other races, or they enslave people to construct or modify their lairs. Red dragons looking for homes scour out and claim many an underground or partially underground community, such as dwarven cities and drow access tunnels. Because of this behavior, and despite their preference for high perches, red dragons occasionally come into conflict with purple dragons.
Red dragons’ favorite treasure is everything in their hoards, everything of value in other dragons’ hoards, and everything of value possessed by anyone else. So unabashedly and indiscriminately greedy are reds that no common preferences, habits, or patterns in treasure acquisition emerge. Although individuals might have specific preferences, the average red dragon does not care what form its treasure takes.
- Also see: Dragon Life Cycle
A red dragon lays its eggs roughly five and a half months into the incubation time of twenty-two months. A clutch numbers two to four eggs, and all prove viable under optimal conditions. A red dragon is a wyrmling until the age of eight or so, and young until about 200. It attains elder status at around 950 and becomes an ancient around 1,900. The oldest known red dragon reached approximately 2,500 years.
When it occurs, a red dragon’s environmental diffusion takes one of two forms, depending on its surroundings. In a mountainous or rocky area, the spot where the dragon dies breaks open, revealing one or more large, sulfurous geysers or small volcanic vents that emit foul-smelling and acrid smoke even when not erupting. In less stony and more flammable areas, a permanent wildfire results, never spreading beyond the boundaries of the diffusion and never burning out, regardless of fuel or weather.
Red dragons are the largest of chromatic dragons. Their wings are vast in proportion to their bodies, making red dragons easily identifiable even from a great distance. Unlike the scales of other chromatic dragons, red dragons’ scales rarely blend in with their backgrounds—with the possible exception of backgrounds of raging fire. Conspicuousness suits these beasts just fine. They have no interest in hiding from lesser creatures.
Two of the frills on the sides of a red dragon’s head aid in its hearing ability. Though not external ears— red dragons, like all chromatic dragons, have internal ears only—these frills help the dragon pick up sounds and determine directionality.
Red dragons smell of smoke and sulfur. The air around them sometimes shimmers, as though viewed through a heat mirage.
A traditional song called The Coming of Ashardalon describes the depredations of this red dragon of immense power and self-importance. Ashardalon is well known for his tenacious clasp on life, no matter his injuries and setbacks. When he was struck a mortal blow, the dragon bound a demon into his breast as a second heart. But when that too threatened to fail him, Ashardalon left the world to find the sustenance he required to live forever.
Ashardalon resembles an ancient red dragon in its prime, but certain odd features stand out. He has a demonic visage, and on his chest is a gruesome scar in the shape of a large winged humanoid—a balor. The dragon’s eyes are twin beams of burning fire, and tiny bolts of lightning constantly play between his claws and fangs.
Ashardalon’s rampages brought sorrow and misery to the land. The red dragon was worshiped by a cult that built a citadel for the great wyrm to serve as his lair. But foes sunk the dragon’s citadel to sunless depths beneath the earth, destroying the cult and dealing Ashardalon a mortal injury. Remnants of the cult survived this disaster, and it reconstituted itself around a relic of its dragon liege: Ashardalon’s heart. With a magic born of equal parts skill, faith, and desperation, the cultists rekindled the heart—but not to life. The ritual infused it with the energy of the Shadowfell and transformed it, reborn in undead darkness, into the center of faith and necromantic power for the cult. The cultists hoped to call back Ashardalon, but the dragon never answered their summons. Some sages and adventurers are aware of Nightfang Spire, where the remnant of Ashardalon’s cult yet keeps its faith alive, worshiping the undead heart of Ashardalon. Stories paint a picture of a tower overrun by undead, former cultists that linger despite their dragon lord’s departure. The cultists are led by a vampire named Gulthias, whose single-minded dedication to the memory of Ashardalon keeps the residents of the tower—including the heart— animate and instilled with a sense of purpose. Gulthias, growing more and more desperate, has initiated the mass sacrifice of nearby villages and cities to attract the attention of Ashardalon. No matter what atrocities Gulthias commits, though, Ashardalon is unlikely to return to his undead heart and his followers.
Ashardalon received a blow so grievous that his heart was damaged beyond repair. The dragon, calling on all his craft and knowledge of ancient rituals, managed to replace his heart with a magically bound demon—no less than a balor, named Ammet. But so terrible was Ashardalon’s wound that even Ammet’s enchanted labor began to fail the dragon’s body. Ashardalon began to search for a source of life energy so pure that nothing could ever again threaten to kill him.
Ashardalon’s lair is a mysterious domain in the Astral Sea called the Bastion of Unborn Souls. Claims that the Bastion is a font of preincarnate souls are derided as improbable. Still, the Bastion’s crystalline trees sprout soullike manifestations like brilliant points of light. When “ripe,” they fall from the trees and flow away, possibly to incarnate as living creatures. Whatever the truth, each point of light is a source of life and energy to a creature that consumes it. Ashardalon has ensconced himself in the center of the Bastion, bathed in a stream of raw soulstuff to keep his faltering life steady. Like a boulder in a stream, the dragon’s body interrupts the flow, which beads across him like water. Creatures who stay within the confines of the Bastion of Unborn Souls do not noticeably age—the raw soulstuff keeps them young and vibrant. Ashardalon could conceivably live forever here. If indeed its points of light are preincarnate souls, creatures of the world might be born as soulless husks, shambling vestiges of what they might otherwise be, and open to malign influence.
Ashardalon was a creature of great fury and power even before he achieved his legendary status or gathered a cult following. Indeed, at least a century prior to the wound that ultimately paved the way for his demonic heart, he and his red dragon mate hunted a lush green land called the Golden Plain. The Golden Plain was ruled by a human king who dwelt in a many-towered fortress. As Ashardalon grew more reckless with his power, he came into direct conflict with the kingdom and its king. Thinking to show the dragon a monarch’s true might, the king sent a secret force of his knights to slay Ashardalon’s mate. Upon learning of his mate’s death, Ashardalon went on a rampage so fierce and so extended that the land itself finally buckled, pulling the king’s fortress beneath the ground. The once-lush region was renamed the Ashen Plain, and the fortress was rechristened the Sunless Citadel. In this sunken castle, Ashardalon’s first followers came to revere him.
In the shadow of fable White Plume Mountain lies a dismal land, a blighted place of gnarled trees, bone fields, and roaming, hungry undead. The foul taint staining this region originates in the lair of a loathsome creature whose name inspires terror in even the boldest of heroes: Dragotha, the Death Dragon.
Little remains of Dragotha’s flesh to indicate that this undead horror was once a red dragon. Twin horns snake from the back of its skull; smaller ones are blackened by flame, cracked, splintered, or missing altogether, leaving dark holes that now hold only burrowing parasites. Tattered membranes clothe its wings while mummified tissue clings to its tail and massive rib cage. Webs hang from its frame while bright green maggots squirm in its joints. If the presence of this massive skeletal dragon were not enough, Dragotha’s baleful blue stare radiates all the malice and evil that fuels this undead monstrosity. To behold it is to see death.
Dragotha embodies the perfect fusion of dragon and undead,. Such is Dragotha’s reputation that this dracolich has acquired misguided cultists who erect shrines in the wreckage of its domain. Since the undead dragon rarely has use for living servants, these feckless acolytes receive the curse of undeath as their reward for constant service.
Ages ago, Dragotha was a celebrated consort of Tiamat, a mighty red dragon chosen for his strength and cunning, as well as unswerving loyalty to his mistress. He was dutiful and felt an earnest affection for the god, sparing him her wrath far longer than any other consort. For all the Dark Lady doted on Dragotha, though, he had little protection from ambitious dragons that craved his vaunted position. Through his long years, he squared off against numerous dragon ascendants, each more powerful than the last. Dragotha’s fall came when a vicious dragon challenged him. He dealt with the upstart as he had others, tearing out its throat and devouring its heart. Unknown to him, his rival was the son of Tiamat, whose death enraged his mistress. Realizing his doom was at hand, Dragotha fled Tiamat’s realm to find refuge in the mortal world. Even far from cruel talons of his former lover, he knew her servants would find him—and when they did, they would kill him. Dragotha sought out a powerful priest of the death god, a vile human named Kyuss, who promised immortality in exchange for the dragon’s service. Dragotha agreed, and not long afterward, Tiamat’s spawn descended on him and killed him. As the dragon lay, broken and dying, Kyuss made good on his vow. Instead of restoring him to life, however, Kyuss transformed Dragotha into a terrifying dracolich. After this final betrayal, Dragotha withdrew to a hidden cave, contaminating the lands around. Hoarding treasures in the endless depths, the great monster rarely stirs these days. Rumor holds that the dracolich was drawn out of its lair once when adventurers breached the dungeons of White Plume Mountain, and again when Kyuss’s cultists sought to elevate the undead priest to godhood.
As powerful as Dragotha is, its most hated enemies are even more so. If there are two beings in the world—nay, all the worlds—whom Dragotha can be said to despise above all others, they would be Tiamat, the Queen of Dragons, and Kyuss, the Worm That Walks. The former is a goddess; the latter an undead priest of horrific might, not a god yet but very nearly as potent. Both granted Dragotha great power, great authority—and both ultimately betrayed him, leading him to his current, abhorrent state. Many of Dragotha’s current schemes are devoted to wreaking horrible vengeance upon those who turned on him—and yet the undead dragon is nothing if not cunning and oh, so patient. At times the dracolich has masqueraded as a loyal servant to both entities, most recently taking part in a convoluted scheme intended to grant Kyuss true godhood. Though it led the Worm that Walks to believe that its service was genuine, Dragotha sought only to grow close enough to Kyuss to slay the vile priest. It hopes for the opportunity to commit deicide against Tiamat as well, though it is unsure how. Some sages speculate that it seeks to usurp her place as a god of dragons, but Dragotha—though ambitious—currently shows no signs of any such objective. Lately, Dragotha has contemplated turning the followers of Tiamat and Kyuss against each other, but as yet hasn’t come up with a viable way of going about it. Because of this burning hatred it holds for two beings of ultimate evil, Dragotha could potentially wind up allied even with good-aligned PCs, if their objectives overlap with its own. Anyone who proves worthy, and demonstrates the willingness to take on either the worshipers of Tiamat or the mad cults of Kyuss, attracts Dragotha’s interest.
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