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You're a Dragon? Really?


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#1 Michael Hopcroft

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Posted 01 February 2014 - 11:47 PM

One of the tropes of some of the fantasy I've read or watched is intelligent (sometimes hyper-intelligent) is dragons who can, through learned magic or innate ability, assume human form and live a good portion of their lives that way. The Golden and Ancient Dragons of the anime series Slayers are an example: a Golden Dragon is a major character in the third series and when interacting with the other characters usually does it as human (although sometimes her tail sticks out of her skirt when she's upset, she otherwise looks very human). Taking a human form does make dealing with humans easier (if nothing else they aren't as likely to flee in terror or attack at first sight of you) and enables many activities that dragons who are only dragon-formed would find more difficult (like using their hoard for investment banking -- sooner or later everyone important will owe you money and/or favors, and woe to the King or merchant prince who tries to default!).

What would such a character look like in BRP? And is there a way to build a somewhat less experienced one (like the dragon mentioned above, who was young, inexperienced and naive to a fault) as a player-character (an older one would probably overwhelm the rest of the party in terms of spotlight time, and is better as an NPC adversary or patron)?

#2 auyl

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Posted 01 February 2014 - 11:51 PM

This would be interesting for sure. I would think you'd have to house-rule a spell or natural ability that allows dragons to do so. Maybe make a specific kind of dragon that is capable of such transformations while others are not.
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#3 Michael Hopcroft

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Posted 02 February 2014 - 12:30 AM

This would be interesting for sure. I would think you'd have to house-rule a spell or natural ability that allows dragons to do so. Maybe make a specific kind of dragon that is capable of such transformations while others are not.


Perhaps the hyper-intelligent variety of dragon (in Slayers dragons, depending on species, can by hyper-intelligent near-angels or animalistic beasts -- the beasts are wild animals who generally don't collect treasure but are sometimes used to guard it -- they're still powerful, can make a lot of trouble, and need to be slain every so often) has their own style of magic. In such cases, many things associated with dragons (like breathing fire) are actually spells -- albeit spells that could be innate to an extent that they might as well be inherent. They might be able to teach especially favored humans a few of their spells, including how to breathe fire to a limited extent, but their most potent magics they reserve for themselves.

And in some campaigns that type of dragon might indeed have an inherent link to the divine (or the infernal) -- even being the source of certain types of human magic.

#4 threedeesix

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Posted 02 February 2014 - 12:45 AM

Both the gold and silver dragons of D&D often assume human form, especially when dealing with humans.
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#5 Lord Sephleon

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Posted 02 February 2014 - 01:04 AM

Both the gold and silver dragons of D&D often assume human form, especially when dealing with humans.


Bronze can change shape too, but I think they prefer animals shapes over humanoids. :)

#6 seneschal

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Posted 02 February 2014 - 01:05 AM

Another pop cultural instance is the independent comic book Southern Knights, in which one of the superheroes is actually a dragon who somehow forgot who he really was while in human form. The Slayers, Southern Knights, and D&D aside, dragons assuming human form is common in Eastern mythology. Like fairies in Western mythology who have palaces underground or in a grove of trees, it isn't uncommon for dragons to have a sumptuous palace beneath a sacred lake or among the clouds, where they assume human form and occasionally entertain respectful human guests in high style.

We already have other werebeasts in the rules. Doing a dragon would follow similar guidelines, with the dragon form being the "real" one. Human-form dragons would be long-lived like elves but not necessarily invulnerable. They'd tend to be richly dressed aristocratic sorts with fine manners, highly developed skills (from centuries of experience), not trying to hide anything but perfectly comfortable in either guise.

Edited by seneschal, 02 February 2014 - 03:41 AM.


#7 Michael Hopcroft

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Posted 02 February 2014 - 04:21 AM

Another pop cultural instance is the independent comic book Southern Knights, in which one of the superheroes is actually a dragon who somehow forgot who he really was while in human form. The Slayers, Southern Knights, and D&D aside, dragons assuming human form is common in Eastern mythology. Like fairies in Western mythology who have palaces underground or in a grove of trees, it isn't uncommon for dragons to have a sumptuous palace beneath a sacred lake or among the clouds, where they assume human form and occasionally entertain respectful human guests in high style.

We already have other werebeasts in the rules. Doing a dragon would follow similar guidelines, with the dragon form being the "real" one. Human-form dragons would be long-lived like elves but not necessarily invulnerable. They'd tend to be richly dressed aristocratic sorts with fine manners, highly developed skills (from centuries of experience), not trying to hide anything but perfectly comfortable in either guise.

Given that Slayers is Japanese that shouldn't be too surprising. Although it's clearly meant to be a spoof/riff on D&D (I remember someone joking that the heroine actually has an alignment -- "homicidal kelptomanic" -- in common with most D&D player characters....) there are Eastern elements too (Gourry comes from a long tradition of "sword-saints", his lack of intelligence concerning just about everything else turning the trope on its ear). The insertion of the Golden Dragons was a surprise, but in a way it made perfect sense, along with their backstory as semi-angelic figures who had fought (and mostly lost) a thousand-year war with a race of demons called the Mazoku.

Of course, the most subversive thing about Slayers from a gaming perspective is that the creator of their universe wasn't benevolent but, for the most part, bored -- she made gods and devils, put humans in the middle, and set them in motion and contention essentially so she would be amused by their antics. If that's not a gamemaster's calling, I don't know what is. :)

Can anyone give me a page reference for werebeasts in the BRP core rules, or are those rules world-specific and found in supplements?

#8 Lord Sephleon

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Posted 02 February 2014 - 05:27 AM

Can anyone give me a page reference for werebeasts in the BRP core rules, or are those rules world-specific and found in supplements?


Page 350 in the BGB (hard-copy page number, not PDF page number). It's what I used as a base for my werewolf, altered a little with 2nd Ed. Ravenloft "Van Richten's Guide to Werebeasts."

#9 Michael Hopcroft

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Posted 02 February 2014 - 06:00 AM

Thanks. Looking at the Dragon listing in the BGB (Page 341 for those playing at home) I noticed that the raw ability scores give it a steady-state INT of 10. That's about average human. I think that for my purposes an improvement is in order.

3d6+6 would give an average of 16-17. That would be a genius-level human, but not so overwhelmingly intelligent that it is completely beyond mortal affairs. The book suggests 4D6, which also provides a maximum of 24, but ironically probably produces a lower average (and you can always roll four ones, resulting in an alarmingly stupid but powerful dragon!).

I think for this purpose I would use roll dragon stats (he wouldn't need to be in dragon form very often), make new human stats keeping the INT and POW, and then figure out the skills and magic. The dragon form and the human form both have the same skills; he knows all the stuff he knows in both forms, though he can't use every skill in both forms (most things that require human hands, for example, simply don't work with dragon claws). The draconic merchant banker, for example, knows all about finance whether he's a dragon or a man, but if he's trying to renegotiate your contract while being a dragon you'd probably better do what he asks!

#10 auyl

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Posted 02 February 2014 - 06:29 AM

Another game that does metamorphing dragons is the Palladium system. Not a great system I know, but if you're looking for examples, trying looking there. In that system, dragons can change into almost any shape for an average of 2-4 hours per level of experience. Of course BRP doesn't use levels or classes so you can adjust it that way and change the any form part into just human. You'll have to houserule the ability as it is so here's another option to consider if you want to widen your scope.
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#11 Atgxtg

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Posted 02 February 2014 - 06:50 AM

RQ3 had a few options. I think Land of hte Ninja had some hengeyoki (shape shifting animals) that could assume human form. If I recall correctly it was pretty easy, something like spending a MP to assume human form. It lasted something like until dropped, dispelled, or maybe 1 hour per point of POW (It's been awhile).

So if you wanted to add shapeshifting dragons you could.
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#12 rogerd

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Posted 02 February 2014 - 09:46 AM

hyper-intelligent


There is another RPG where you can amp up your intelligence called Alpha Omega, trouble is with things like this is that you end up with Sherlock Holmes and it becomes virtually impossible for a GM to run due to description and the amount of information that they would being able to deduce in instants. You'd be better having dragons like this sherlock Holmes as a dragon type character. It could be run, albeit with difficulty for you. So that they do not know everything about the person and can interact and be outwitted and beaten in human form.

#13 fmitchell

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Posted 02 February 2014 - 01:55 PM

RQ3 had a few options. I think Land of hte Ninja had some hengeyoki (shape shifting animals) that could assume human form. If I recall correctly it was pretty easy, something like spending a MP to assume human form. It lasted something like until dropped, dispelled, or maybe 1 hour per point of POW (It's been awhile).


Some variations:
  • Perhaps dragons can hold one form indefinitely but changing form may require significant MP, enough so that it's not a combat tactic so much as a last resort.
  • Depending on genre and the nature of magic, dragon form actually costs MP to maintain, at least in the human world.
  • Dragons in human form might have access to draconic powers, which effectively act as themed magic spells (much like the Draconic Mysticism in one of the Mongoose RQ books).
The second idea reminds me of a novel I read ages ago, Tea with the Black Dragon, which IIRC veers between urban fantasy and magical realism at a time when neither were explicit genres. I'm also reminded of the Dragons in the RPG Castle Falkenstein.

Edited by fmitchell, 02 February 2014 - 01:58 PM.

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#14 soltakss

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Posted 02 February 2014 - 03:14 PM

One of the tropes of some of the fantasy I've read or watched is intelligent (sometimes hyper-intelligent) is dragons who can, through learned magic or innate ability, assume human form and live a good portion of their lives that way. The Golden and Ancient Dragons of the anime series Slayers are an example: a Golden Dragon is a major character in the third series and when interacting with the other characters usually does it as human (although sometimes her tail sticks out of her skirt when she's upset, she otherwise looks very human). Taking a human form does make dealing with humans easier (if nothing else they aren't as likely to flee in terror or attack at first sight of you) and enables many activities that dragons who are only dragon-formed would find more difficult (like using their hoard for investment banking -- sooner or later everyone important will owe you money and/or favors, and woe to the King or merchant prince who tries to default!).


Many Chinese dragons could assume human form, I think, often appearing as mandarins or sages.

What would such a character look like in BRP? And is there a way to build a somewhat less experienced one (like the dragon mentioned above, who was young, inexperienced and naive to a fault) as a player-character (an older one would probably overwhelm the rest of the party in terms of spotlight time, and is better as an NPC adversary or patron)?


I would give them a specific character trait that outweighs all others. So, one could be wise, cheerful, cheeky, angry, lustful, greedy, devious or whatever. Over the course of a conversation, that trait would manifest itself in some way. Although hyper-intelligent, they would be easy tricked by taking advantage of that particular character trait.

Also, give them certain traits of appearance, so they wear clothes of a certain colour or style, wear they hair in a certain way, use particular weapons and so on. Maybe there are different tribes of dragons that have different styles.

Finally, each dragon should have something about them that doesn't transform quite right. One might have long fingernails, sibilant speech, slightly coloured skin, hidden scales, cast a draconic shadow/reflection or whatever.
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#15 Michael Hopcroft

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Posted 02 February 2014 - 03:50 PM

Many Chinese dragons could assume human form, I think, often appearing as mandarins or sages.


Filia (the dragon in Slayers) might be an example (or counter-example) of this. She's a very young dragon -- late adolescent actually. Her "mission", so to speak, was to get the protagonists into contact with her superiors in the priestly order she was an initiate in, presumably because they thought she would be easier for them to deal with. Her lack of experience tripped her up on many occasions, though. She was easily flustered, lacked tact, and would sometimes do unwise things in fits of pique. She may have been on her way to sage status, but she wasn't there yet -- and, as it turned out, wasn't going to get there as her people were eventually almost exterminated. Much of the story is about her learning to deal with humans, discovering their good traits as well as their bad, and eventually discovering she had as much in common with them as with her own kind.

This could be a model for a PC dragon character. Filia's raw power was impressive: her human form was at least STR 25. Her dragon form (in which she spent less and less time as the story went on the more time she spent among people) wasn't that impressive by dragon standards but could still lay waste to a large human fleet.

I would give them a specific character trait that outweighs all others. So, one could be wise, cheerful, cheeky, angry, lustful, greedy, devious or whatever. Over the course of a conversation, that trait would manifest itself in some way. Although hyper-intelligent, they would be easy tricked by taking advantage of that particular character trait.


Filia's "Specific Trait" was her mostly-unfounded pride. Dragons are wonderful. She didn't understand why humans were needed for the task at hand. Mazoku are horrible. Their very presence is humiliating. The universe took great pleasure in putting Filia into embarrassing positions.

Also, give them certain traits of appearance, so they wear clothes of a certain colour or style, wear they hair in a certain way, use particular weapons and so on. Maybe there are different tribes of dragons that have different styles.


Filia wore the all-concealing robes of her order all the time. Although they were presumably real cloth, they went away and came back when she transformed. Presumably she could make other clothing if she wanted to, but that was her preference. She had a large and ridiculously heavy spiked mace strapped to her leg, concealed by her robes, which she could whip out and attack with effortlessly.

Finally, each dragon should have something about them that doesn't transform quite right. One might have long fingernails, sibilant speech, slightly coloured skin, hidden scales, cast a draconic shadow/reflection or whatever.


Filia's transformation usually worked pretty well. You couldn't tell she was a dragon with a casual glance. When she got flustered, though, her tail would appear (with a pink ribbon tied around it), which is one of the reasons her robes went almost to the floor. Her human form would have a very high APP score, though she didn't flaunt her appearance or try to use it to her advantage much (and if someone were to hit on her she tended to hit on them -- with the mace....)

Edited by Michael Hopcroft, 02 February 2014 - 03:53 PM.


#16 Atgxtg

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Posted 02 February 2014 - 04:24 PM

Some variations:

  • Perhaps dragons can hold one form indefinitely but changing form may require significant MP, enough so that it's not a combat tactic so much as a last resort.
  • Depending on genre and the nature of magic, dragon form actually costs MP to maintain, at least in the human world.
  • Dragons in human form might have access to draconic powers, which effectively act as themed magic spells (much like the Draconic Mysticism in one of the Mongoose RQ books).
The second idea reminds me of a novel I read ages ago, Tea with the Black Dragon, which IIRC veers between urban fantasy and magical realism at a time when neither were explicit genres. I'm also reminded of the Dragons in the RPG Castle Falkenstein.


Another possibility might be to swipe from Castle Falkenstien. In that game Dragons (actually Pteradons) can change in human form, but the process is very tiring. So they limit how often a dragon can shapeshift. In BERP terms it could eat up fatigue or require Stamina rolls to avoid getting tired out.

CF dragons are also considerably weaker than most RPG dragons. They are powerful, but not so overpowering as say an RQ Dream Dragon. It is possible for players to play dragons, but they also tend to draw more eney fire than other characters. An armored, walking and flying natural magician with built in napalm tends to do that.
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#17 seneschal

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Posted 02 February 2014 - 06:51 PM

"Of course, the most subversive thing about Slayers from a gaming perspective is that the creator of their universe wasn't benevolent but, for the most part, bored -- she made gods and devils, put humans in the middle, and set them in motion and contention essentially so she would be amused by their antics. If that's not a game master's calling, I don't know what is."

Heh. Record of Lodoss War is how high fantasy is supposed to be role-played. The Slayers is how it is actually played. ;D

#18 Simlasa

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Posted 03 February 2014 - 03:01 AM

The dragons in World of Warcraft are often seen in human form... and at least one often shows up as a gnome. Sometimes it's a surprise but often you can figure it out because they're alone in a place that no sane human would be... and they usually keep their dragon name which have a unique feel to them.
Talking to them they come off as demi-gods... with concerns and missions that fit into a much larger picture.
The dragons have a hierarchy so I can see some younger, less experienced character trying to make his mark... dealing with the labyrinthine politics of dragonkind and the sorts of duties given to a young princeling... ceremonies, traditions and whatever the dragon equivalent of 'noblesse oblige' is.

#19 Michael Hopcroft

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Posted 03 February 2014 - 09:05 PM

"Of course, the most subversive thing about Slayers from a gaming perspective is that the creator of their universe wasn't benevolent but, for the most part, bored -- she made gods and devils, put humans in the middle, and set them in motion and contention essentially so she would be amused by their antics. If that's not a game master's calling, I don't know what is."

Heh. Record of Lodoss War is how high fantasy is supposed to be role-played. The Slayers is how it is actually played. ;D


Slayers is one of the few media properties that really worked in d20. PCs would generally be at such high level, even from the start of the campaign, that they can do a lot of really fun things.

Slayers in BRP, where PCs are much more fragile, could have issues. Especially since the typical adventuring sorcerer knows literally dozens of "the big and little spells", ranging from the somewhat useful Here Fishy, Fishy, Fishy to sorcerous tacnukes. It's hard for even a very experienced BRP character to know that many.




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