I am sure many a sage have spent their lives trying to answer the title question, but that isn’t why you are here. You are here to get some more examples of re-skinning monsters, this time using dragons as the base creatures. This idea came about in the form of a spearmint dragon, initially. I thought, what kind of dragons would live in an area where basic plants and animals have been enhanced, extensively, through natural magics. A primordial (not in the elemental, but historical sense) forest touched by the Feywild. Somehow, my mind alighted on the idea of a spearmint dragon with a frost breath, for what should be obvious reasons. Today I want to expand upon the idea and create a number of similar creatures, but how to start?
The best way we can start, I think, is with the spearmint dragon and deciding on an edition to use. I am going to be using 5th Edition D&D, but the method should hold for Pathfinder and systems with the chromatic and metallic dragon types, though you may have to tweak something on your own. So, the spearmint dragon is going to have a nice cool, minty breath. A nice cool, minty, deadly breath of course. From here we have two choices: the white dragon or the silver dragon.
Before we get any further let’s address something that could raise some question or cause some decision making. Dragon alignment is deeply rooted in D&D with the two types being divided between good and evil. For the purposes of this article we are going to ignore the base dragons’ alignments. Personally I like the idea of a good chromatic dragon or an evil metallic dragon, but let’s not assign anything to these new ones. I’ll leave that up to you for now.
Oh, and I don’t know abut you guys but I give all the older dragons change shape in my games so let’s ignore whether or not they’ll have that too.
Back to the spearmint dragon. What are the main differences between white and silver? Silver has a higher CR and can utilize it’s breath weapon to paralyze instead of dealing cold damage. This lies a bit beyond the scope of a spearmint dragon, I think, so lets go with the white dragon. The question now becomes what we need to change to make this idea a reality. Honestly, we don’t need to do anything. The only difference that exists is in describing the creature to your players.
Let’s move on to creating some more by addressing the different breaths the dragons have. When it comes down to mechanics, the most significant difference between all the dragons are their breath weapons. Some of them have a number of wielders and the metallic dragons have extra capabilities, so there are more than enough options. We can look at the possibilities below.
Fire – Gold, Brass, Red
Acid – Copper, Black
Lightning – Bronze, Blue
Poison – Green
Slowing – Copper
Weakening – Gold
Repulsion – Bronze
Sleep – Brass
Paralyzing – Silver
While I would love to work out an example for all of these, there isn’t the time today. Instead I will go over two more choices. First let’s make a plant dragon that can breath fire. Fire is the classic weapon of dragons, so we have to do that one. I also think it to be one of the easiest to work out. If you don’t know where I am going with this I may be a little disappointed. Maybe you never watched cartoons though. The answer for fire breathing plant dragons is peppers, what else?
The real question is, what kind of peppers? There are so many hot peppers out there, all of which with warning of the dangers of skin contact, eye contact, and eating. If you have ever made hot sauce and accidentally got some in your eye, or even just enjoy eating it, you know why the cartoons depict the reaction as literally breathing fire. Luckily for us, we have three fire breathing dragons to choose from! Let’s go with three commonly used hot peppers:
Those are in order from weakest to strongest heat. To keep with this, we should go in the same direction with challenge rating. This will make brass dragons the base stats for the jalapeno dragons. We do come into a problem here, utilizing this dragon though. Brass dragons also get a sleep breath, but spicy food is not a good way to get sleep. In order to rectify this, we’re going to do something crazy. Throw out the sleep breath. Get rid of it. It’s an option that shares a cool down with the fire breath, so not having it should do very little in the way of changing CR. All it does is make the creature a little more damage based.
So, which dragon do we use for habanero and which do we use for ghost? The problem here is that the red and gold dragons have the same CR. What is the difference between the two? Red dragons deal more damage with their fire breath, but gold dragons can use their breath to weaken the enemy. This could create a tough choice in design. The best thing to do is to follow our crazy line of thought and through out the weaken ability, unless it means a lot to you. In the end, if you use this, it’s up to you. By doing this we can use gold dragons for habanero dragons and red dragon stats for the ghost pepper dragon.
Ok let’s get down to our last dragon. The choice here is easy for me, because I have had a great idea. Let’s go with acid breath. What plants have something akin to acid? There are a few I can think of off the top of my head and they are all carnivorous. From here we have to pick a plant and a dragon. My idea is to use the copper dragon stats but take some cues from the black dragon. Why? Because many carnivorous plants can be found in wet, warm, and swampy areas.
That’s the black dragon influence but why the copper? The additional use of breath to slow. The pitcher plant is where I am going with this. For those who don’t know what a pitcher plant is, they are plants that create little pitchers full of sweet smelling fluid that attracts insects. These insects get stuck in the somewhat thick fluid and are slowly digested by that fluid. In that we have the use of breath in both ways. We also have a plant dragon that could hide within a swamp, mouth askew and agape waiting for giant insects to fall into its maw.
Your party has been travelling through the deep woods trying to find your way to its eastern edge. Following the sun is difficult, but you long lost the path through. Occasionally you come across a grove, devoid of trees but full of lower growth. Your druid warns you of some of the fey that may make their home in such groves and prove to be dangerous to encounter. Each time your ranger looks for signs left by others of his kind before you make camp. This time the grove is full of low growing spearmint, providing a lovely and relaxing smell. Looking for danger, you find an incredibly large hole in the center of the grove. Dropping a torch the dark hole begins to shimmer and sparkle with the light of a giant pile of coins and gems. As you look down the scent of spearmint grows and the chill wind of night begins. Before you can begin contemplating what this all means, you hear a roar. Turning you a frozen in place as the icy cold breath of a dragon washes over you, the green plant-like form descending from the canopy.
Some of you may have noticed that there are a few problems with today’s re-skins, especially if you are completionist or focused on the details. First the habanero and the ghost pepper dragons are the same CR, but perhaps they shouldn’t be with the loss of the weakening breath. The second thing is that I have completely ignored all of the lair actions of the dragons that are a key feature of major 5th Edition monsters. These things were done on purpose, because this article is about the basic forms of re-skinning. It was made to represent a more abstract version of what we did with the chimera. The next article of re-skinning will get into deeper adjustments of creatures that have been re-skinned and I will then use these examples to illustrate those point, not to worry!