The material below is Open Game Content
Flattery is the only way to manipulate most dragons. Greed also works with chromatic dragons, and the metallics may respond to pleas for aid. There are several distinct modes of flattery and diplomacy, each of which is best employed at a particular time. The Dragon Conversation Matrix summarises this, below. Think of it as a game of snakes and ladders – the party begins in the lower reaches, where the dragon is Hostile or Unfriendly towards them. If they pick their words carefully, they can climb up to Indifferent or even Friendly. One mistake, though, and the attitude of the dragon plunges back down to more threatening levels.
There is a 25% that an Unfriendly Dragon lets the party go without a fight, and 50% when the dragon is Indifferent. A Hostile dragon attacks a retreating party if it thinks it can win, while Friendly or Helpful dragons automatically permits them to leave if they so desire.
The Dragon Conversation Matrix
This system allows the Games Master to track the current attitude of the dragon towards the player characters. The various actions the characters can take in conversation are listed along the top; the dragon’s current attitude is on the left-hand column. Cross-reference the two to discover firstly the Difficulty, the result of a failure, and the result of a success.
Add the Dragon’s Sense Motive skill to the Difficulty to work out the Difficulty Class for the action (essentially, the Difficulty is used as the dragon’s dice roll for its Sense Motive check). The longer the conversation drags out, the more irritated the dragon gets – apply a cumulative –2 penalty every round after the fifth round if the dragon’s attitude is still below Friendly.
|Attack||Dragon attacks (or retreats if it suspects it cannot win)|
|>Ho||Dragon becomes Hostile|
|>U||Dragon becomes Unfriendly|
|>I||Dragon becomes Indifferent|
|>F||Dragon becomes Friendly|
|>Hp||Dragon becomes Helpful|
|-x||Next check suffers a –x circumstance penalty|
|+xP||Add +x to the next Praise check|
|+xFl||Add +x to the next Flattery check|
|+xA||Add +x to the next Absurd Flattery check|
|+xD||Add +x to the next Deal check|
|Aid||Dragon aids the characters; see Helpful, below|
The Dragon’s Attitude
The initial attitude of the dragon is determined by how it encounters the party, and its alignment. Good dragons usually start at Indifferent to most races, while an evil dragon is Unfriendly if it recently fed, or Hostile if hungry or just in a bad mood. Most dragons will be Hostile if surprised in their lair. Especially powerful dragons may indulge themselves by starting at Friendly, showing that they are not only the strongest, most powerful, most magnificent, most witty and most glorious creatures around, they are also the most generous.
Hostile does not automatically imply that the dragon is attacking the party – it probably is, but it could also be preparing itself for battle by casting protective spells, calling its guards, or just contemplating whether to peel the plate mail off the paladin before roasting or cook him in braised armour jacket. There is a 50% chance that a Hostile dragon attacks, rising to 100% if it receives the slightest provocation.
‘I am the wyrm (Name), the great and the terrible. Tremble before me!’
‘Your bones will be playthings for my hatchlings.’
‘I..am a dragon. You…are lunch.’
‘You should not have come here, little thing.’
The only different between hostile and unfriendly is that the dragon is slightly more than a splitsecond away from attacking. The dragon considers the party a threat or an irritation, and has merely paused for a moment before destroying them. It has no particular desire to stay its hand, and will soon attack unless given a reason not to.
‘You dare beard me in my own lair? Are you insanely brave or merely insane?’
‘Behold, I shall grant all your wishes, so long as they are death wishes.’
‘If you throw down your weapons and worship me as your living god, then perhaps I shall make your deaths not quite so slow as they should be. I am not without mercy.’
‘Ah, little thief. You have stolen a sight of my hoard, but that is all. Not one coin of mine shall be yours, not even for a moment. You end here.’
Dragons bore quickly. If the characters have moved the dragon’s attitude to Indifferent, they have successfully convinced it that they are no threat to it, or to its hoard. They are almost nothing to it, just little insects buzzing about its head. If the insects keep buzzing and irritate the dragon, it will swat them and think nothing more about it. An Indifferent Dragon is at least not chewing on the characters this instant, but it will soon attack if they do not prove themselves…interesting.
‘Ah, so you are little monkey-things, not true men. Excellent. A knight I must perforce respect before eating, but you spineless little things I can safely ignore! Rejoice! You are not worth even my scorn.’
‘I can see why they sent you. Your fellow mortals must be as tired of your prattling as I am.’
‘You are small, and weak, and slow. No sport at all. Tell me, do you burn well? As you as flammable as, say, a thornbush? Or does that fat make you into more of a candle?’
The definition of terms is important here. ‘Friendly’ does not mean that the dragon considers the party to be its allies, or even worthy or respect. It merely means that it now amuses the dragon to adopt courtesy and civility towards them. It is friendly in the same way that a well-fed cat is friendly with a mouse – they are being fattened up, and may soon be invited to dinner.
‘Ah, but I have been an ungracious host! Please, sit. Relax. Lay down your arms – no harm shall come to you while I am your friend. In the shadow of my wings there is naught but peace and warmth.’
‘You speak with rare perspicacity. Surely you are a scholar of legendary prowess and considerable i insight to have recognised the true depth of my greatness. I would bow my head to you, sir, if only it were fitting – but you of all people know that it is not. Still, you have my honest respect as a thing that
knows its place. Kudos, sir, kudos.’
‘My, but are we not the most eloquent gang of vagabond thieves and lair-crashers that has graced my humble cavern in many a long century. Your deaths are still as certain as the stars – make no mistake about that – but be assured I shall greatly enjoy eating you if your meat is half as sweet as your tongues.’
‘Fascinating. You have a rare gift to speaking the honest and plain truth, and I do respect that. Come, sit here before me while I measure you for a gilded cage, that you may continue to amuse me.’
Again, helpful does not automatically mean ‘the dragon helps the party’ (although good dragons might aid the party on some important quest). It is more that the dragon now suspects the party could be of help to it. It might merely let them go freely (or let them go after extracting a small tribute, which they shall surely give happily), or employ them to carry out some mission. The dragon might even gift them with a few coins or trinkets from its hoard, as a reward for their honest and wholehearted recognition of its glory. If the dragon is a guard, it might allow the characters to pass by.
‘Verily, you are princes among mortals. You may leave with my blessing – but return, and I may not be so generous.’
‘I see… I see. You have hidden merits, little one. I shall be…lenient.’
‘Rejoice, little creatures that tremble in my presence like leaves in the wake of the hurricane of my passage! Your lives take on new meaning and new glories, for you, despite your obvious and unfortunate deficiencies, shall be allowed the singularly great and unquestionably glorious honour of doing my good self some small service…’
‘Well done. You get to live.’
The various actions mentioned in the Conversation Matrix each take one round to perform. One member of the party should be designated the spokesman, and actually makes the Bluff or Diplomacy checks (see below) to perform the action. However, the other characters in the party must either follow the spokesman lead (for example, when grovelling, it is not very effective if only one person throws himself at the dragon’s feet while the other six members of the party keep their bows trained on the dragon’s throat), or do nothing.
Characters other than the spokesman may perform actions, but must hide them from the dragon’s attention. Spell-casting requires both Bluff and Sleight of Hand checks (unless the character has the Silent or Still Spell feats respectively), drawing a weapon or item needs a Sleight of Hand check, etc. All these checks are opposed by the Dragon’s Spot check. Depending on their positions, characters may hide behind other characters while performing actions, using their Hide skill instead of Bluff or Sleight of Hand. Especially stealthy characters may make Hide checks to get out of the dragon’s line of sight (-10 to the Hide check). If the dragon sees other party members acting suspiciously, its attitude drops one level (if Hostile, it attacks).
Grovelling is simple. The characters prostrate themselves in front of the dragon, drop their weapons, avert their faces from the beast’s awesome glory, and whimper as best they can. Grovelling should involve a complete collapse of the party’s offensive and defensive capacity – concentration should fail, readied weapons should fall, concealed characters should stumble out of the shadows begging for forgiveness. The dragon wins, the party surrender.
Grovelling requires a Bluff, Diplomacy or Perform check (opposed by the dragon’s Sense Motive plus the difficulty determined from the Dragon Conversation Matrix, above). Grovelling is less plausible if the party are a close match to the dragon – subtract the dragon’s Challenge Rating from the average party level +5. If the result is greater than zero, apply it as an Insight penalty to the grovelling check.
‘Oh . We surrender!’
‘Run away! Run away!’
‘I have soiled myself.’
‘Spare us! Oh please spare us!’
Praise is fundamentally honest. Even when ego and hyperbole are ignored, dragons are singularly powerful and magnificent creatures, worthy of respect in many ways. Praising these qualities is a good way to win the dragon’s respect while retaining one’s own dignity.
Praise requires a Diplomacy check (opposed by the dragon’s Sense Motive plus the difficulty determined from the Dragon Conversation Matrix, above). While praising, a character can still converse with the dragon; praise affects how the dragon is addressed, but the character can still ask questions and so on.
‘If you would but hold back your wrath for a moment, sire…’
Flattery is praise with bells on. Every second word out of the character’s mouth is some compliment to the dragon. A character using flattery can only communicate at half the normal rate – it takes several of the baroque, even labyrinthine sentences of flattery to actually say anything at all.
Flattery requires a Diplomacy or Perform check (opposed by the dragon’s Sense Motive plus the difficulty determined from the Dragon Conversation Matrix, above).
‘O chiefest of calamities…’
‘Your claws are thunderbolts, your wings are stormclouds, your voice is thunder, and your breath breaks the sky.’
‘Your hoard is the ransom of ten kings, and the ruin often nations.’
‘O most gracious and glorious serpentine lord…’
‘Greatest of wyrms, lord of disasters, most cunning conspirator, the living fire that brings all enemies to ash…’
Abject Flattery is basically pathetic. It is the verbal equivalent of grovelling; the character is saying absolutely nothing except how wonderful the dragon is. The problem with Abject Flattery is that is can be perceived as insulting mockery if the character goes too far. Luckily, the egos of most dragons are so vast that ‘too far’ is very very distant indeed. Unlike Praise or Flattery, the character does not truly believe in what he is saying; it is simply too outrageous. While using Abject Flattery, no information can really be transferred – it is a pleasant noise made by empty vessels.
Abject Flattery requires a Bluff or Perform check (opposed by the dragon’s Sense Motive plus the difficulty determined from the Dragon Conversation Matrix, above).
‘Most magnificent and dire serpent, we poor misguided fools were foolishly misguided and misguidedly fooled into daring to brave the dire dangers of the lair of the magnificent serpent which is of course incarnate in your unquestionable great and quite exceptional glorious, not to mention most magnificent and dreadfully dire self.’
‘Spare us, o lord, from your breath, which burns crops and brings famine, which burns churches and bring sorrows, which burns castles and brings chaos, and which, burning us, would bring certain death. Let us not become ash blown on your whirlwind exhalations; let not our flesh bubble and boil, our bones not blacken and crack, our armour not melt and sear, in the face of your fiery gouts. Do not gouge us with your claws, which even now in repose are more deadly and piercing than a legion of spearmen, nor hammer us with your tail, which shatters rock more surely than any siege engine. Do not throw spells as us, which would blast our minds and bind our bodies or turn us into something quite unpleasant. In short, o lord, we ask – nay, entreat – nay, beg, yes, beg on bended knee and on pain of most ghastly death to spare us.’
‘O most terrible and divine wyrm, we abjure our humanity. We are but dogs before your might, mongrel curs yipping nonsensically and scrabbling for scraps, unaware and uncomprehending of the lofty nature of your plans. Did I say dogs! Pah! We are insects before you, insects that crawl pitifully in the dirt and cower in the shadows, fearing that our cobweb castles and blind antcities should be burned away with but a thought from your magnificent self! Ah! Insects! Did I dare to compare myself to an insect before you, oh lord? In truth, we are nothings, less than nothings, infinitesimal fractions of the least portion of the smallest nothing that can not even be conceived of, for it is far too small for anyone to even think of conceiving of such an infinitely irrelevant thing of nothing such as we are lord, only we are not even that!’
If a dragon is interested in a character, it is less likely to kill the character. Intrigue is the careful art of dropping hints and riddles to keep the dragon interested and amusing, and to convince the dragon that the character is worth more alive than dead. Common intrigue tactics include riddles, vague allusions to the character’s abilities, allies, or secrets, and sentences that seem to offer insight or important information, but then just trail off…
Intrigue requires a Bluff or Diplomacy check (opposed by the dragon’s Sense Motive plus the difficulty determined from the Dragon Conversation Matrix, above).
‘My lord, have you perhaps heard of…’
‘Hold back your breath but a moment, o dragon, I would parlay with you.’
‘I was unaware that you had mastered the necromantic arts – for that is the only way you shall learn more if you kill us. If you cannot call up the dead, then you should listen.’
‘Walk with me, my liege.’
‘Never deal with a dragon’ says the proverb, but it can be beneficial if the characters are willing to give way. Dealing involves offering the dragon services, help or even a tribute of treasure. The best deals require the dragon to give almost as much as the player characters.
Dealing requires a Diplomacy check (opposed by the dragon’s Sense Motive plus the difficulty determined from the Dragon Conversation Matrix, above). For every (100gp per age category of the dragon) worth of treasure or items given to the dragon, the character gets a +1 bonus to the check. If the character’s check exceeds the dragon’s Sense Motive by 10, he may ask for a minor service from the dragon. If he exceeds the dragon by more than 20, he may ask for a major service from the dragon.
‘Consider this gift a small token of my esteem.’
‘My lord, we may be of service to you.’
‘Let us discuss this like civilised folk, and not ravening monster and cowering adventurer.’
Roleplaying and Ruleplaying
Wherever two or more gamers gather together in one place, the debate about social rules arises. The OGL rules includes skills like Diplomacy and Bluff, which measure a character’s conversational skills – but while a player can’t swing a sword or cast a spell at the gaming table, he can talk to the Games Master ‘in-character’. Should a player’s own real-world charisma take precedence over the character’s abilities?
Resolving situations through pure roleplaying, without recourse to dice or rules, is the smoothest and most ‘immersive’ style of play, but it does penalise players who simply are not as quick-witted or eloquent as their characters. Also, it allows a player whose character is only average at social situations to gain a high ‘virtual’ Charisma – in game, Osric the Half-Orc may be only charisma 9, but if Osric’s player is naturally good at talking, he will able to bluff and cajole the Games Master’s NPCs using real-life charisma instead of Osric’s mediocre score. (Pushed too far, this simply becomes bad roleplaying; a Charisma 6 character should end up annoying or angering non-player characters, not charming them.)
At the other extreme, reducing conversations and negotiation to dice-rolling and abstract tactics makes the game seem very flat, but does ensure that everyone is on an equal footing, and allows a tongue-tied player to play the suave elven bard just as the combat system allows someone who doesn’t know one end of a sword from the other in real life to be a swashbuckling, death-dealing machine in the game.
Finding a middle ground between these two extremes is usually the best solution. Perhaps give a +1 bonus to Charisma-based skill checks if the player’s roleplaying impresses the Games Master, rising to +2 or +3 if he even impresses the other players. Alternatively, let the player choose on a case-by-case basis whether to resolve a social situation by roleplaying or through Charisma and skill checks, or work out the average result of the player’s roleplaying and skill check.
Social situations in role-playing games are tricky. Unlike combat, exploring a ruin, or crafting an item (no-one is going to alchemically craft the Philosopher’s Stone or swing a great-axe at the gaming table*),
they can be performed by the character or the player. (Riddles, puzzles and tactical problems are similar to social situations in this respect; a balance has to be found between the player’s own abilities and the
in-game abilities of his character).
*: Yeah, yeah, ok, in live action roleplaying the player can swing the axe. You still can’t craft the Philosopher’s Stone though.
A good riddle can occupy a dragon’s mind for some time. To ask a riddle, the character must make a Intrigue action (see above). Riddles are resolved as an opposed Intelligence check between the dragon and the riddler – if the character wins, the dragon will pause and ponder the riddle for one round per point of success (i.e., if the character beats the dragon’s check by 5 points, it will take 5 rounds to work out the riddle). While pondering the riddle, the dragon continues to watch the characters, but the conversation is essentially ‘paused’ – the dragon concentrates on the riddle instead of talking. The characters may act secretly, using Bluff and Sleight of Hand, while the dragon is pondering the riddle. The dragon suffers a –4 penalty to its Spot checks while pondering as it is distracted – but if it notices that the characters are violating the sacred riddle game by using riddles as a delaying tactic, it drops two attitude levels.