Obsidian Portal asked an interesting question a few days ago: who would win, an ancient red dragon or the legendary Tarrasque? It points out some issues I’ve had (both thinking about and saying) for a while about D&D.
In a pure cage match, it’s hands-down the Tarrasque. It has amazing regeneration, is immune to fire, has mondo spell and damage resistance (36 and 15/Epic); as soon as it gets a hold of the dragon, that dragon will be mauled to death in a couple of rounds. If it went like standard D&D combat—run up to each other, stand relatively adjacent, and whale away with attacks—the dragon doesn’t have a chance. Its stats are nowhere near as good.
Of course, that also overlooks the dragon’s amazing tactical advantages, and is looking at this challenge from a really short-sighted angle. Because if played right, there’s no way the dragon can lose. First off, it has several amazing advantages that the Tarrasque can never overcome.
- Smarts. The average person’s intelligence is 10. If I remember my D&D stat examples, a really smart person (Einstein, Napoleon, etc.) would have around a 16-18. An ancient red dragon has an intelligence of 20 and a wisdom of 21. It exists on such a higher plane of thinking that it could do complex calculus and trig in its head, and could poke holes in Einsteinian physics. The Tarrasque is on par with a crow or a wolf. Both of those are cunning, but such animal cunning is limited against lateral thinking and tactical planning. The dragon is about on par with Rommel—tactically brilliant, yet prone to overconfidence and hubris.
- Flight. You know how players first beat the “unkillable” Tarrasque? They flew up where the damn thing couldn’t reach them and pelted it with powerful effects and abilities, dropping rocks on Big T and relying on that nat 20 critical hit on ranged weapons. A dragon gets flight as a natural ability: it can just fly up and drop spells and stuff on the Tarrasque. (You know the Tarrasque’s +43 to jump? Using RAW, that means it can jump 13 feet in the air if it Took 10 on the roll. You’ll be fine with the flying.)
- Spells and Abilities. Yes, the value of wall of fire or firebreath is pretty nil against something immune to everything. But that spellcasting means it can cast scrolls, and maybe even brush up on some spell choices of its own. Because of its…
- Hoard. The last few times I dealt with dragons were in Pathfinder, where I note they’ve tricked out dragons with cool magical artifacts. Take Legacy of Fire for example; the PCs had this dragon tailing them for most of the City of Brass sessions. Said dragon was printed with an insane amount of bling: rings of protection, belt of strength, amulet of natural armor. It had around 60k gp worth of items on, and had stats way better than it should have for CR 15—its AC was 36, meaning the PCs had to roll upwards of 15-17 to hit. That’s before getting to its stoneskin, periapt of wound closure, or ring of invisibility The point is, dragons have a hoard of stuff, and it’s always kind of confused me why the damn things don’t walk around wearing thousands of gold worth of stuff. They should, and it’s nice to find modules where they do.
Now, that’s not even looking at how the dragon could use its powerful abilities. But sit back, think about it. If you had those advantages, what would you do to kill the Tarrasque? I know what I’d do if I were the dragon in that situation.
- Go recruit an army to help deal with it. Those fifty billion kobolds might not do that much, but a nat 20 is still a hit, and it’ll give the Tarrasque something to focus on. An army of lizardfolk or dragonborn or something would be better. Maybe easily cowed orcs.
- Or bribe/intimidate some dragons which might also be affected by the Tarrasque, who have abilities it’s not immune to—Cold being the obvious one.
- Or summon a balor, bind it, and task it to get rid of the Tarrasque. How? I don’t care, that’s why I summoned you. Summon some more evil outsiders or something after I fly away.
- Better yet, Polymorph, go into town, and set some of those pesky humans after the damn thing. When they’re off defending their crops, I can polymorph back and raze their town for valuables.
- Go home, look through my stash, sigh at the thought of losing one of my wish scrolls, and chuck the Tarrasque somewhere else that way.
- Lure it to an ocean or volcano or something, cast grease, and let it drown.
- If that’s too far away, knock it out and do whatever you want with it. If it’s unconscious, it’s considered willing for greater teleport, which a lot cheaper than a wish scroll. Drop it at the bottom of the ocean, so it drowns. Send it to Krynn or Faerun, just to be a dick. Bury it deep under a mountain and worry about it later—bonus if it’s a volcano, which will slow that regen down (25d6 lava damage per round equals to 60 average post-DR).
- Leave an open bag of holding at its feet, and telekinesis a portable hole into that. Let the gods sort ’em out. If an ancient red dragon doesn’t have/can’t afford those, it’s not a real dragon (hoardless! hoardless!)
- It may have fire immunity, but last I checked, it wasn’t immune to the choking ash of having the countryside around it set alight. Just set fire to everything, dropping spells as available while flying outside of the Tarrasque’s reach, and let it choke to death.
- Hell, if I were the dragon and wanted to just go through bog-standard combat, I’d just circle-strafe Flyby Attacks using Greater Vital Strike (that’s 16d6+21 right there, crits on 19-20) until it was knocked out. On average, 16d6 deals 48 damage; plus 21 and minus the DR 15/Epic leaves you with 54 damage per round per average. Not including gear bonuses. When it’s unconscious, beat on it every few rounds while you prep to drop it into a live volcano to balance out the regen and let the two forces of nature fight it out.
The same things adventurers did in 3.0, really. But but, you say dragons aren’t as cool as people? It’s an ancient red dragon with stats statistically smarter than most people in the real world. Saying these are outside its scope or are impossible is downplaying just how powerful the dragons are. This is also based on my experiences with 3.x/Pathfinder; from what I can tell it’d be a slightly easier win for the Dragon in 4e.
For those of you saying “But the dragon had to fly away/couldn’t kill it in one round, that’s not winning!” Bullshit. If the Tarrasque ends up dead, the dragon has just won. Using its intelligence for long-term tactical planning and magical stash for an edge, to overcome a unique, legendary obstacle… that’s loving sensible, especially for a cold, cunning, logical dragon. It’s not a cheat, it’s using its Gygax-given abilities.
I feel kind of bad because I’m gaming the metagame here; many people who look at this see a clear victory for the Tarrasque, and the only way I can see that thing winning is if combat played out like the normal D&D slugfests.