The 5th edition Monster Manual has ten true dragons: five chromatics and five metallic. True dragons become more powerful as they get older. There are also ‘lesser dragons’, like faerie dragons, pseudodragons, and wyverns, but that’s a whole other topic.
How much do you know about the other true dragons? In this series, I’m going to go back through D&D lore and pull out some forgotten gems. I also provide a recipe for each dragon to show how you might convert them into 5th edition rules. In this part, I will look at the chromatic dragons. In the 5th edition Monster Manual, there are five: red, blue, green, black, and white (from most to least powerful). But in editions past, there have been others!
Brown dragons, also known as sand dragons or great desert dragons, first appeared in 2nd edition AD&D, in 1990’s Old Empires. They are wingless but can dig through sand very quickly. Their preferred tactic is to bury themselves in the dust and ambush their prey with a furious assault. They are usually Neutral Evil.
- Start with a blue dragon, but give it a Strength and Constitution boost (use the red dragon’s stats for this).
- Change the damage immunity from lightning to acid.
- Swap the breath weapon to that of a black dragon, and change the bonus lightning damage on the bite attack to acid damage.
- Remove the fly speed. Add the brass dragon’s burrow speed to make up for it.
- Add tremorsense (60 ft) to its senses.
- For adult brown dragons and older, reskin the wing attack legendary action to be slashing damage (call it ‘rend’, if you like).
- For lair actions, you could keep the blue dragon’s cloud of sand attack, and you could add in the red dragon’s tremor action or the copper dragon’s ‘ground to mud’ action.
- For innate spellcasting, you could include spells like haste, minor illusion, nondetection, and wall of sand (from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything) for young dragons, conjure elemental, hallucinatory terrain, stone shape, and seeming for adults, and disintegrate, mirage arcane, and move earth for ancient brown dragons.
Deep dragons, also called purple dragons, first appeared in 1991 in a Forgotten Realms appendix to the Monstrous Compendium Volume One. Deep dragons are slender and serpentine and live in the Underdark as their name suggests. They are consummate shapeshifters. In some editions, their breath weapon is a kind of psychic beam that dazes their opponents or even dominates them; in others, it’s a cone of corrosive gas. There are also references in some editions to their being harmed by direct sunlight. They are Chaotic Evil.
- Start with a green dragon, but change the poison damage of its bite and breath weapon to acid.
- Swap poison immunity for cold and fire resistance.
- Add a 20 ft burrow speed, and reduce the swim speed by 10 ft.
- Deep dragons have 120 ft truesight. As an option, you could give them sunlight sensitivity, like a drow.
- Like some of the metallic dragons, deep dragons can change shape, either into a humanoid form or into a snake form, to help it navigate tunnels. In snake form, the deep dragon cannot use its claws, and its fly speed drops to 10 ft, but it can constrict like a constrictor snake of its size.
- For innate spellcasting, you could include spells like detect magic for young dragons, and freedom of movement, passwall, and stone shape for older dragons.
The energy dragon (which, confusingly, is also called a purple dragon) is sadistically evil and perhaps the most intelligent of all dragons, second only to the red dragon in strength and size. They prefer to fly at night, and often find themselves ruling small kingdoms. Like blue and green dragons, they are Lawful Evil.
- Start with a red dragon, but give it a green dragon’s Intelligence score.
- Unlike red dragons, energy dragons have no damage immunities, and their bite attack does not deal extra fire damage.
- Uniquely, the energy dragon can choose between three breath weapons. Let’s go through them one at a time.
- The first is a cone of energy, which is the same as the red dragon’s breath weapon but deals force damage like eldritch blast or magic missile.
- The second is a blinding flash: all creatures within range must succeed on a Constitution save (same DC) or be blinded until the end of the dragon’s next turn. (Use the length of the red dragon’s cone and halve it to get the range of this effect.)
- Finally, the energy dragon can create a laser-like blade of energy. Use the blue dragon’s lightning breath for this, but change the damage type to force.
- The energy dragon has advantage on Stealth checks when flying at night.
- For innate spellcasting, you could include spells like gust of wind, heat metal, pyrotechnics (from Xanathar’s), and suggestion for young energy dragons, fire shield and wall of force for adults, and perhaps mass suggestion and prismatic spray for ancient dragons.
- As for lair actions, use the black dragon’s magical darkness effect or the blue dragon’s lightning arcs.
Fang dragons, also called grey dragons,* first appeared in 1989 in Monstrous Compendium Volume One. Every part of the body is sharp or spiky. They are poor flyers and have no breath weapon, but they make up for it with ferocious melee combat abilities. Their alignment is Chaotic Neutral.
* In some editions, grey dragons are a specific type of fang dragon that has been blessed with a breath weapon by Tiamat. The rules below presume a dragon with no breath weapon.
- Start with a white dragon, but halve the fly speed and take away the swim and burrow speeds.
- Swap the mental ability scores for those of a black dragon of the same age.
- Swap the immunity to cold damage for resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical attacks.
- Instead of a breath weapon, give the fang dragon a Life Drain attack like that of a wight or wraith: the target must succeed on a Constitution save (use the same DC as the white dragon’s breath weapon) or its hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the damage taken. (This reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest, and the target dies if this effect reduces its hit point maximum to 0.)
- For added ferocity, increase the damage of all melee attacks by one damage die (1d6 to 1d8, 1d8 to 1d10, etc).
- Reskin the ‘wing attack’ legendary action as a trip attack (with no speed boost), and swap the ‘tail attack’ legendary action for a bite attack.
- For lair actions, steal the copper dragon’s spike growth action or the red dragon’s tremor shake.
- For innate spellcasting, you could include spells like counterspell, dispel magic, and shield for young fang dragons, or globe of invulnerability, regenerate and telekinesis for ancients.
Orange dragons, sometimes called sodium dragons, are a crossbreed of red and yellow dragons. (Yellow dragons, you say? Keep reading.) Orange dragons first appeared in an issue of Dragon magazine in 1982. They live in tropical swamps and rainforests and walk low to the ground like an alligator. Their breath weapon is a sticky stream of saliva which then explodes like napalm or white phosphorous. They are Neutral Evil.
- Start with a black dragon.
- Change the damage immunity from acid to poison. Orange dragons are also immune to the poisoned condition.
- The biggest change is the breath weapon. Each creature caught in the line must make a Dexterity saving throw or be covered in the dragon’s saliva (creatures who succeed are unaffected). The saliva explodes two rounds later in a 15ft radius burst, dealing fire damage. Other creatures in the burst area must make a Dexterity saving throw, taking the full damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
- For innate spellcasting, you could include spells like heat metal, pass without trace, or suggestion for young orange dragons, control water or hallucinatory terrain for adults, or mass suggestion for ancient orange dragons.
- For lair actions, swap the black dragon’s darkness ability for the green dragon’s grasping roots and vines, or the copper dragon’s mud effect.
The pink dragon was introduced as a bit of a joke in Dragon 156 (1989). I’m almost tempted not to bother with rules for this one . . .
Its breath weapon is (checks notes) a cloud of soapy bubbles.
Look, this is basically the My Little Pony of dragons. April Fool’s is coming up, so go nuts with it.
With its delicate pink colouration and its slightly dopey appearance, the pink dragon is utterly unintimidating, and even ancient pink dragons have no frightful presence action. Despite this, they are carnivorous, and while not evil (their alignment is Chaotic Neutral) they will still gobble up happle adventurers if they intrude upon a pink dragon’s lair.
- Start with a white dragon.
- Remove the burrow and swim speeds and the icewalk ability.
- The breath weapon no longer deals damage, but creatures who fail their Constitution save are blinded for one minute. Creatures can repeat their Constitution save at the end of their turn.
- Pink dragons have no frightful presence ability.
- Innate spellcasting? How about this: detect thoughts, invisibility, sleep, and Tasha‘s hideous laughter for young pink dragons, confusion, hypnotic pattern, and polymorph for adult pink dragons, and Otto’s irresistible dance and prismatic spray for ancient pink dragons.
- Do you really want lair actions? Fine. Reskin the copper dragon’s mud action as some kind of sticky bubblegum effect, and reskin the green dragon’s magical fog as some kind of sparkle effect.
Lastly, yellow dragons, also called salt dragons. Like orange dragons, these first appeared in 1982. These serpentine dragons live by the coast, and their breath weapon is a cone of salt. Despite being wingless, they have links to the element of air, making them superb fliers.
- Start with a white dragon. Remove the cold immunity and the bonus cold damage that comes with its bite.
- Remove the ice walk ability, but increase their fly speed by 70 ft.
- Yellow dragons have no wings, so cannot make wing attacks as a legendary action. You could add the option of bite or claw attacks as legendary actions instead.
- I would treat the corrosive breath weapon as acid damage. The saving throw becomes Dexterity instead of Constitution. Perhaps there is no damage on a success but failure applies the Restrained (or Blinded) condition for one round?
- For innate spellcasting, you could include spells like gaesous form, gust of wind, pass without trace, and wind wall for young yellow dragons, control water or hallucinatory terrain for adults, and wind walk for ancient yellow dragons.
- For lair actions, use the brass dragon’s wind attack and perhaps the bronze dragon’s fog attack.
That’s it for part one. If you enjoyed this article, let me know! In future articles, I hope to look at gemstone dragons, metallic dragons, and planar dragons, among others. If you end up using my reskin, let me know how you got on.
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