Dungeons & Dragons Online

A Nonviolent Combat: The Dwarf’s Dragon

So maybe you just want to have a high-level combat, but your party is stuck in a very boring area. Maybe your party is somewhere combat is not permitted at all, and they’re going insane.

When they get to a common area — it might be a tavern’s common room, it might be a plaza with a fountain — they will meet a dwarf in a wheelchair. A prim older woman sits nearby, embroidering. She is his nurse. She also was his babysitter when he was a child. Right now, she’s keeping him company.

“You adventurers!” the dwarf will start. “What monsters have you fought?” Let some RP happen as the players answer. “Aye, those are horrific. But worse than any tale was the time I fought the dragon. You’d never survive such a beast…”

Roll initiative. The party is now “fighting” a CR-appropriate dragon. The party’s skills and damage reflect what they would do if they were in combat. But they also will take damage against their total when the dwarf describes its attacks. This does not actually harm them, but if the story gets too demoralizing, they may lose the rest of the day while they go have a nice meal and a good long rest. Death saves are now morale saves. Healing spells now restore confidence. Use of a medicine kit is “you remind your friend that you’ve always got your healing kit on you. They’ll be fine.”

Even if they’ve spent spell slots or lost HP, start the combat assuming they’re fresh. This is an imaginary dragon, so they are fighting with what they are capable of. When the encounter is over, they have what they started with.

To complicate things, the nurse doesn’t want her patient building a battle wheelchair to return to adventuring life. She also doesn’t want him over-exciting himself. So periodically she’ll pour cold water over everything. Start with him describing its breath weapon as able to kill a man — no, kill two men — no, kill TWO HUNDRED MEN! Add dice to your handful if you’re at a tabletop, or just say, “this will add 2D6,” with each exaggeration.

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‘I don’t think it’s all that bad,’ the nurse will say. ‘It was a normal dragon, wasn’t it?’ and the dice pool clatters back to normal. You say “he reconsiders, while she frowns skeptically. It’s now a typical breath weapon. Roll DEX saves.”

This can also cut against the players. She doesn’t get a turn. She’ll say, ‘but aren’t dragons tougher than that?’ and grant the dragon resistance when damage is rolled. The first round, she gets to do this to each player, for free. After the first round, she only gets a reaction.

When she uses her reaction, players get to roll saves. Base the saves on the save DC of the dragon you chose. Since they’re saving for their confidence, use their class saves. The fighter gets to tell her that they trust their strength, the rogue gets to say they trust their accuracy… and if she does cut their damage, she doesn’t get to do it to them again on their next turn. She must pick a different target.

When the dragon is dead, the dwarf is convinced in their strength. He'll praise them to everyone he knows. He might even give them something he has no more use for, or donate to their next equipment purchase. If there’s a TPK, he just sighs morosely and reflects on the legendary monster he encountered.

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Maybe it was actually a wyrmling blown up huge in his mind. Or maybe the party will meet it out there…

OR, ALTERNATELY

If you have a lot of prep time and/or are good with adapting on the fly, give them a monster mash. They meet the dwarf, who is now in a combat wheelchair, and is just enjoying downtime between hunts. “What have you fought?” he asks.

Stat the story monster as a boss of their current CR. Give it two versions: one high DEX, one high STR. Look up the special attacks of the memorable things they have fought, and make yourself a quick cheat sheet of saves/damage types/damage dice. Or just use the current CR as your base.

When the party names a monster, use either the high DEX or high STR version, depending on what it was. The dwarf will then use its special attack against them. So: “Did it try to knock you down with its great huge club?” to get a save against knockdown, or “did it try to roast you all with its flame breath?” to get everyone to DEX save.

Then he’ll ask down the initiative order, “what did you do against it?” Take note of the damages, apply debuffs, etc. as normal. If they kill it in one turn, he’ll want to hear how they did it, and buy them all drinks.

Then, say: “eh, those are boring! What else’ve you fought?” The old special attack is now gone. Use a new one. If they name something with no attack, then he's never fought one of those and has to guess what it would do. "Did it throw you with its horns?" Borrow the rules for throwing an adventurer from giants. Or make up something.

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From here, you can play it by ear. If they’re not doing a lot of damage, then the original monster’s hit points carry over, but each new monster uses the same pool. If they’re hacking it down, each new monster gets new health. If they’re roleplaying their greatest hits, then let them roll with it, and play him up as their excited audience. If they aren’t enjoying it much, then just have the dwarf start telling them about a monster in the region as a quest hook.

End it after three rounds. Since a TPK has no meaning, you don't want to drag it out too long. But do use their success. If the dwarf has a lot of confidence in the party, he’ll use his connections to get them to meet someone important in the area, or let them use his old workshop as a base.

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