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This is it, the one you’ve been waiting for. The most hyped variant of the most hyped monster in the entire game. Red dragons have made it to the cover of the core books in multiple editions, and they’re the ones you think about when you read the words “lays waste to the countryside”.
Part of this increased mystique comes from the fact that D&D red dragons breathe fire, which means they get to take a ride on every classical myth or fantasy novel that features fire-breathing dragons. Personality wise, the book describes them as doubling up on greed. Red dragons pursue treasure much more vigorously than their weaker kin, which ironically means they’re much harder to buy off with tribute. Why wait for you to give them your money a little at a time when they can just raid you and take it all at once? Their preference for mountain or volcanic lairs means a large enough red in search of a new lair might just be strong enough to clear out a dwarf kingdom and make its lair in the treasure vault.
The fiery breath of an older red dragon has an additional trick in this edition: it can strip the fire resistance of those it hits. This means they’re equipped to pull the Dark Schneider Maneuver and kill something like an efreet or fire archon with fire. Or your party’s fire sorcerer.
Red Dragons fill the Soldier role, which means they fight up close and are smart about it. We’ll look at them by book.
Red Dragon (Monster Manual)
MM Red Dragons have trained Bluff, Insight, Intimidade and Perception. Like all dragons they have Darkvision and an age-dependent amount of resistance to their signature element (fire). They move fairly fast on land and fly well enough to hover.
At all ages their basic attack is a bite that does physical and fire damage. They can instead perform two claw attacks if they want. As a reaction, they can use a Tail Strike against an enemy that moves to flank them. This targets Reflex and on a hit does some damage and pushes the target 1 square.
The famous fire breath is a Close Blast 5 that targets Reflex and does a bundle of fire damage, half on a miss. It recharhes on a 5-6. Bloodied Breath and Frightful Presence round out the universal red dragon kit.
Young reds are Large Level 7 Solo Soldiers with 332 HP and fire resistance 15. Their land speed is 6, their flight speed 8 (hover) with Overland Flight 12, and their melee reach 2.
Adult reds are Large Level 15 Solo Soldiers with 750 HP and fire resistance 20. Their numbers are bigger, but they otherwise have the same set of abilities as the young dragon.
Elder Reds are Huge Level 22 Solo Soldiers with 1050 HP, Fire Resistance 25, and melee Reach 3. Their land speed is 8 and their flight speed 10 (hover). To the standard suite of abilities they add Immolate Foe, a Ranged 20 attack that does slightly less damage than the breath weapon plus ongoing 10 fire damage. It targets Reflex and recharges on a 5-6.
An Ancient Red Dragon is a Gargantuan Level 30 Solo Soldier with 1390 HP, Fire Resistance 40 and Melee Reach 4. This puts it on par with the Tarrasque, and makes it a good case for this being the Ancient Red Dragon.
In addition to everything the elder can do, the Ancient has an Inferno aura that extends to 5 squares and does 20 fire damage to anything that enters it or starts its turn there. It also gives everyone inside (including the dragon) concealment against ranged attacks. Its breath weapon gains a secondary attack against Fortitude on a hit, and if that hits it strips all fire resistance from the target until the end of the encounter. This had been hinted at in the lore, but I honestly thought it would kick in earlier in the dragon’s life cycle.
Red Dragon (Monster Vault)
MV Red Dragons have the same senses and movement as their MM counterparts, though they lose training in Intimidate for some reason. As usual for MV dragons, they lose Frightful Presence, retain Bloodied Breath, and gain Action Recovery and an instinctive action. In this case it’s Instinctive Assault, which allows them to bite once or claw twice at 10+rolled initiative.
The basic bite attack got powered up - on a hit it does physical damage and grabs the target with an age-dependent escape DC. Until the grab ends, the target takes ongoing fire damage (which increases if the dragon is bloodied).
The claw attack also grabs the target on a hit, with a slightly easier escape DC. I think the dragon can have up to three grabbed victims - one from the bite and two from the claws. This can be useful to split the party up.
The breath weapon works the same: fire damage on a close blast 5, half on a miss. Tail Strike remains, with a reach 1 greater than the dragon’s basic reach.
The Young Red Dragon is a Large Level 7 Solo Soldier with 332 HP and fire resistance 15. Its melee reach is 2 (3 for the tail strike). Its breath weapon does additional damage if the dragon is bloodied.
The Elder Red Dragon is a Huge Level 22 Solo Soldier with 832 HP and fire resistance 20. Its land speed is 8, with flight 10. Its melee reach is 3 (4 for the tail). In addition to all of the young red’s abilities, the elder can use Immolate Foe, which works much like its MM counterpart.
The MM has two, both fairly beefy.
Level 18: 1 adult red dragon, and a trio of githyanki. Yes, for some reason red dragons and githyanki get along well. I guess they have a lot in common, since they’re both grasping conquerors and all.
Level 24: 1 elder red dragon, 2 fire archon ash disciples, and 2 fire giants. Burn, baby burn! I would probably rewrite the ash disciple stats though.
Ironically, despite being the strongest and most famous of dragons, reds are somewhat lacking in interesting powers compared to the other chromatics. Their breath is straight damage, and their instinctive action doesn’t grant movement. The ability to strip fire resistance is pretty awesome, but only the MM Ancient has it. If I brought it back I’d at least also give it to the Elder.
The Monster Vault version is better at expressing the monster’s Soldier role. Their grabby attacks allow them to split the party up, and maybe carry a PC or two off if they can’t escape in time.