(Fair warning, this post is deeply geeky, and probably useless if you’re not a gamer or at least a fan of LotR.)
One of my players in the game I’m running was talking to me the other day about dragons. He says there are way too many of them in the games he plays in and that they are hopelessly out of step with the source material. (Tolkien and such.) I pointed out to him that the name of the game is Dungeons and Dragons and notDungeons and the Very Occasional and Extremely Rare Dragon, and that there had only been one dragon in the game so far anyway, but it did get me to thinking. It’s not like I feel any particular obligation to anyone, even Tolkien, to establish a numeric threshold on dragons in my game, but still, I don’t want to so disconcert my players that I lift them entirely out of the game and break their collective suspensions of disbelief. That would be the point where they aren’t having fun anymore, and we definitely don’t want to go there.
So I did a little research. Tolkien was the dude specifically being referenced as the source material in question, and that’s where I went. My player was telling me that Smaug was the only dragon in four books worth of story, so having worlds where there are hundreds of them, or even just one per adventuring party, was going a bit over the top. But reading, I found that Smaug is listed as being the last of the great dragons, leaving the impression that not only were there more, but that there were lesser dragons as well. Hey, is D&D saved? Will we not have to change the name?
In fact, there are four dragons in Middle Earth that were important enough to the story to get names, (looking in The Book of Lost Tales I and II and The Simarillion, also Middle Earth books by Tolkien) dozens of references to other dragons of assorted sized and types, and one war that included a massive fleet of dragons!
Clearly I was on firmer ground than I had thought.
Still, I feel like dragons should be used as campaign-trembling boss villains rather than mere monster-of-the-week fill-ins. They really are special in their aura of mystery, power, and ability to command the attention of a pack of PCs. Dragons should come at you like a bunker-buster, not like a spray of machine-gun bullets. I imagine there might be a situation that could call for a fleet of dragons blackening the sky overhead as they race to war on heaven… but I’m not seeing it for my third level party. They’re going to have to be content with the colossal red that’s waiting for them at the end of the next session.
No, there are really just too many dragons in Middle Earth. I’m going to have to tone that down a bit. After all, Tolkien may have been the man when it came to spinning the yarns, but did you ever see him with a d20 in his hand?
Yeah, that’s what I thought.