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Dragons are solitary creatures by nature. While there are nests or cities where several wyrms dwell, these places are very much the exception. Most dragons establish their lair in some cavern or dwarfhold, then claim the surrounding territory as their domain. These domains bear little resemblance to the geographic or political borders of the region.
The size of a domain is determined by the strength and size of its ruler. Obviously, especially strong dragons, or those with access to powerful magical items can safely claim a larger domain. The basic radius of a domain (centred on the dragon’s lair) is the dragon’s age category squared in miles, modified as follows:
Dragon Domain Size
|Dragon Status||Domain Size Modifier|
|Spellcasting||+1 mile per level of spellcaster|
|Vassal Dragons||+1/2 size of vassal’s domain|
|Mated Pair of Dragons||Increase domain size by 50%|
|Strength above 25||+1 mile per point above 25|
|Intelligence above 25||+1 mile per point above 25|
|Charisma above 25||+1 mile per point above 25|
For example, the average Adult Red Dragon has a domain 51 miles in radius (36 miles due to age,
+7 for being a 7th level sorcerer, +8 miles for a Strength of 33). The dragon can reach anywhere in its domain within two hours if it hustles, but it takes around two days at best for grounded travellers to reach the dragon’s lair – and at any point during that frightful march, the dragon could swoop down and incinerate them if their presence is discovered.
Benefits of Domain
The size of a dragon’s domain determines how far its control extends. All dragons are paranoid to some extent, and with good reason. As a dragon ages, it must sleep more and more, so it requires a strong defensive perimeter to protect its slumbering form. Assassinations, sudden strikes and assault by dragon slayers kill far more dragons than disease or hunger. Dragons have an innate magical tie to the land around the lair, their essence bleeds into the earth and senses the approach of enemies. By claiming a domain and infusing it with the dragon’s essence, as well as establishing a defensive network of watchers and servitors, the dragon is well prepared for attack.
This magical tie to the land does not extend to the sky above, so dragons are most vulnerable to other flyers and other dragons. Furthermore, grievous injury to the land can disrupt this tie. By wreaking havoc and destruction as it goes, an advancing dragon can ‘blind’ the defending wyrm and allow ground forces to approach undetected by the magical link. This tactic works best on dragons who lack servants and guards, such as most white dragons. A dragon’s own injuries to the land will also blind it, so one of the best times to attack a dragon is just after it has gone on an orgy of fire and destruction. However, doing so means attacking at a time when the dragon is definitely awake and active.
The other major benefit of maintaining a domain is food. When a dragon hungers, it must eat voraciously for days. Having a domain well stocked with cattle, deer or humans means that the dragon is assured of having plenty to eat whenever it awakens. (For more details, see Dragon Lifecycle).
Younger dragons that are too weak to establish their own domains often willingly submit to an elder wyrm, becoming vassals protected by their master’s domain. Should invaders enter the domain of the elder dragon, it can warn the younger wyrms of the approach of danger (although in some cases, an elder wyrm that has drawn the wrath of some powerful enemy may sacrifice one or more vassals to save itself). Other young dragons establish lairs in the most isolated and desolate regions, preferring security over a ready meal.
A dragon does not have to establish a formal domain. Some prefer to hide in human society, shapeshifted into mortal guise and staying awake for years at a time. These dragons are often pariahs in draconic society, where status is founded partly on domain. As a dragon ages, it must sleep more and more, so it requires a strong defensive perimeter to protect its slumbering form. Dragon defences are dealt with in the following chapters.
The Desolation of the Dragon
When land is claimed as a domain by a dragon, it quickly becomes tainted and ruined. The fire and hunger of the beast consume the health of the land, while the dragon’s magical presence warps and infects the soil. Life in the shadow of a dragon’s lair, even that of a good dragon, is never safe.
The Tie to the Land
If using the Alert Level system, inflicting serious damage on the land immediately adds between 10 and 40 to the Alert Level, but also removes the following condition:
|More than 8 characters in the party||+1 per character above 8|
This region is referred to as the Desolation of the Dragon by its few inhabitants. This term can often by something of a misnomer, as some domains are anything but desolate. Green dragons, for example, create regions of unnatural fertility and twisted life that bloom vividly even in the depths of winter, while the domains of blues crackle with energy and light. There is always, however, an oppression in the air of such places, drawn from the constant threat of attack from the skies and the constant feeling of terrible draconic power lurking in the heart of the region. The domains of good dragons may also be referred to as Desolations if the wyrm pays little heed to the lesser inhabitants of the domain. If the dragon attempts to foster good relationships with its neighbours, the domain is called the Sanction of the Dragon.
Domains are divided into four sections; Borderlands, Outer Desolation, Inner Desolation and Heartland.
The borderlands are comprised of the outer half (or outer third, in the case of especially young or active dragons) of the domain. From the point of view of most people, the borderlands are indistinguishable from the land outside the domain. Dragons rarely range this far out into their domain on hunting trips, and fly too high to be seen clearly from the ground. The borderlands are also unaffected by the dragon’s magical emanations, so there is no supernatural sign of the dragon’s claim on the region. The borderlands seem entirely free of draconic influence, except to those who know what to look for.
Most borderlands have some markers, like the wyrmgild, to show that the land beyond is claimed. The landscape may bear the scars of ancient battles, fought when the dragon first claimed its domain. Towns and villages in the borderlands are often infiltrated by agents of the dragon, but by and large life in the borderlands is peaceful and untroubled by wyrms for decades or even centuries. Communities in the borderlands may have defences and troops designed to fend off the dragon’s attacks, but these are often neglected and left to rot in the long gaps between sightings of the dragon.
While inhabitants of the borderlands may laugh at the idea that a dragon claims their homes as its property, the folk living in the outer desolation are well aware of their draconic overlord. They may only see the shadow of the dragon once every few years, but it looms large in the stories and rumours they tell each other.
The outer desolation is often surprisingly healthy and wellstocked despite having a dragon nearby, but that is because the outer desolation is the dragon’s larder. It may feed on the inhabitants of the inner desolation every few months, but the outer desolation has years of peace and growth broken by sudden bouts of gorging and utter devastation.
Most communities here have well-trained troops and defences for use against the dragon, but these are aimed at convincing the dragon to devour somewhere else instead of actually attempting to kill the beast. The outer desolation has much clearer signs of draconic presence. High peaks and overhanging rocks have claw-marks on them, showing that a dragon once perched there. Burns or acid scars in the ground are much less overgrown, and animal carcasses dropped from a great height can be found. The dragon’s magical influence is much stronger here, contributing to the fear that oppresses everyone in the outer desolation.
The outer desolation covers the ground between the inner desolation and the borderlands.
The inner desolation covers a number of miles equal to the dragon’s age category, stretching between the Heartland and the outer desolation. When the dragon is active, the inner desolation is the first place to suffer. The land is scorched and scarred almost to the point of death. Only a few creatures manage to scratch a poor existence from the ruined soil. There is no shelter here, no places to hide from the keen senses of the wyrm. The only people living here are those in service to the dragon, or those who tend – or are – the flocks of food animals. The folk of the inner desolation live with the constant threat of destruction. Some stay because it is their home, and they cling to it as fiercely as the dragon claims it. Some stay because they know that trying to leave will only draw the dragon’s wrath sooner. Other stay because they are in league with the dragon, or have learned how to placate the beast with suitable sacrifices.
The heartland is the region immediately around the dragon’s lair, usually stretching a number of miles equal to half the dragon’s age category. It is colloquially referred to as the dragon’s doorstep, or the killing field. The heartland is filled with traps and watchtowers, and anything that might give shelter or protection to invaders is methodically burnt away.
There are safe paths through the heartland, but they are known only to the dragon’s trusted servants. Anyone daring to enter the heartland is seen as an enemy, and dealt with accordingly.
Sample Desolations by Type
Borderlands: Blacks dislike leaving clear markers on their borders. Where they can, they use borders that are fluid, such as rivers that flood and recede as the seasons change. While black dragons dwell in swamps, they tend to claim territory outside the swamps too, to give them a varied diet.
Outer Desolation: The outer desolation is a dense swamp choked with creepers and fungi. The few settlements here are on stilts or built in one of the rare clearings. There are surprisingly deep rivers flowing through the swamp, their beds clawed deeper by the passage of the dragon, but most waterways are filled with slimes, sandbars and drifting logs. Adult black dragons often maintain ‘dead zones’ of stagnant water created using their corrupt water ability. Locals and wildlife know to avoid such places, as nothing can grow or live in those waterways. Anyone entering a dead zone must therefore be a stranger, and may be noticed by watchers.
Inner Desolation: The inner desolation of the black dragon is a section of the swamp where the trees and undergrowth twine together to form an almost impassable barrier. Travel time through the swamp is doubled due to the dense vegetation. Travelling above the trees, or in the deepwater channels that feed into a network of lakes and ponds is a far faster option, but both avenues of approach are watched by the dragon or its agents.
Heartlands: Black dragons and their servants create a great deal of waste and carrion, so the passage into the heartlands is marked by a great increase in the number of insects, parasites and foul creatures. The waters, especially the rain that falls in the heartlands sears the eyes and skin of those it touches – characters submerged in the water or caught in a downpour must make a Fortitude save (DC 10) every ten minutes or suffer 1d3 points of subdual damage.
Borderlands: Silver dragons do not mark the borders of their domain with any physical mark or item. Instead, at the height of midsummer, the dragon flies up above its lair and lets the summer sun reflect off its silver scales. Beams of bright light shine from the dragon, and momentarily illuminate every inch of the domain. This leaves a mystical brand on the region that other dragons can sense. Young, enthusiastic silvers perform this ritual every year, but older dragons mark their lands only when they choose to increase their holdings.
Outer Sanction: The outer sanction of the silver dragon is truly a blessed region. The presence of the creature enhances the spirit and good nature of every living thing in its realm. The silver light awakens and illuminates the soul. Paladins and other true heroes are common in such places.
Inner Sanction: The inner sanction of the silver dragon is cloaked with mist. While silvers love to secretly wander among humans and other races in polymorphed disguise, they prefer to keep their privacy while in dragon form. The paths through the inner sanction lead through a confusing and everychanging veil of thick fog that glimmers with its own eerie light. Survival checks to avoid getting lost have their Difficult Class increased by 5.
Heartlands: The exalted heartlands of the silver dragon are always in the clouds – either on mountains so tall that their peaks pierce the sky, or else physically on the clouds themselves. Flying is the only way to approach a dragon’s lair, although the silvers often build halls of audience where the worthy can attract the dragon’s attention.
A Draconic Language Primer
Although the draconic language is notoriously complex and intransigent, a smattering of draconic is a must for most adventurers. Therefore, a handful of useful draconic phrases are scattered throughout this book Draconic is primarily a language of names. In the common tongue, we might say ‘the wind is blowing’. The closest translation in draconic is s’kris’s, literally ‘the wind’s movement aspect’. Each noun has several commonly associated actions – the wind can be blowing, cold, warm, making flight difficult or easy and so on. The precise action being taken by the noun is indicated by subtle stresses on different syllables. Noun and verb are almost always combined in a single word. Draconic, in its High form, is a magically potent tongue. Saying ‘skris’s’ does not merely describe the blowing wind, it can create it. The act of description can cause it to occur, summoning up a breeze – or an air elemental.
The sacred true name of a dragon is always in the High Draconic tongue that is kept secret from all others. A dragon will have at least one common name in Low Draconic. This common name is derived from the true name, but magically neutered so it cannot be used to directly affect the dragon. Most dragons also acquire dozens of other names in the tongues of elves and men, as well as a host of descriptive titles and epigrams.