Friday, 1 February 2013

World Building: Dealing with Dragons (The Long Game)

Dominic Matte
Dragons are troublesome. Not just to the player characters, but to dungeon masters too. They're not only extremely powerful, but highly intelligent as well. As a DM preparing a game, I feel that I have to make an effort to explain precisely what role dragons have in the world. Or, if dragons don't have a major presence or influence, I need an explanation as to why. 

In my current game, dragons have very little presence in the world. There are only two known dragons, both ancient and very powerful. One is a brown that lives in the desert and just doesn't care about the rest of the world, so it's mostly ignored (though no one visits the desert). One is a cobalt which is significantly more troublesome - it's raiding towns and forts in the north and has gathered a following of barbarian tribes.

But why are there only two dragons? Here's a quick bit of history that incorporates and builds on the default 4e lore of ancient extinct empires: 

 A thousand years ago there were four great empires: Nerath (human), Arkhosia (dragonborn), Bael Turath (tiefling), and Demenor (dwarf). Demenor was fairly isolationist, but the three surface empires had been at war for decades. Nerath's strengths were its adaptability and its horses - the entire army was mounted. Bael Turath had powerful magic and had bound demons to its will. Arkhosia, though, was strongest by far and looked nearly ready to win the war. Arkhosia had dragons. 
But on the eve of what was to be the final battle between the armies of all three nations, the Arkhosian general called a parlay. She saw how the battle would end: unimaginable bloodshed and devastation, regardless of the victor. The generals agreed to stand down and a peace treaty was negotiated between the empires. 
Then came the Great Betrayal. 
To this day no one knows why it happened. The dragons turned against Arkhosia and burned its capital to the ground, and within hours did the same to Nerath and Bael Turath. Demenor sealed its doors and refused to provide aid to anyone. 
In the most destructive war in history, the armies of the three empires joined forces to fight the dragons. The battle lasted years and caused the complete annihilation of the empires, but in the end the dragons were defeated, and every one hunted down and destroyed, save a handful that escaped. Many heirlooms and artifacts passed down within powerful families are made of dragonbone – symbols of bittersweet victory and marks of honour. 
The surface world plunged into a new dark period. The dwarves of Demenor kept themselves hidden away, fearful of the spread of ruthless violence and greed as families and former organizations and guilds warred against each other. 
But then came Demenor's turn. According to the dwarves, a vast swarm of mind flayers rose from the deep, kidnapping the thousands they could dominate and killing those they couldn't. The dwarves fled the underground and begged for help, but the elves and eladrin, with their long memories, reminded the others of the dwarves' refusal to assist in the Great Betrayal, and the dwarves received no aid.

Those few who were willing to help returned to the cities of Demenor with raiding parties, but found no evidence of illithid – simply of violence. In the end no one believed the dwarves that they were attacked by mind flayers, and instead think the dwarves had a violent civil war (or that living underground for so long drove them crazy). The dwarves are now mostly surface dwellers spread across Cyfandir, but they constantly watch for signs of the mind flayers, and occasionally send parties into the ruins in a futile search for evidence of their presence. Many dwarves worry that the illithid will some day invade the surface, as they (allegedly) did with Demenor. 
Two survivors of the Great Betrayal are currently known: the Dragon of the West, an ancient brown living in the Dragon's Waste; and Rime, the Dragon of the North, a cobalt that was thought to be dead, but was really dormant under a glacier in the north.
With the dragons dealt with, I felt free to move on and start building the rest of the world. Check back in a few days for an overview of my current campaign world.

As a DM, how do you handle dragons? How big of a role do they play in your campaign world?

No comments:

Post a Comment