I’ve talked a lot about dragons, and why I like their 4e implementation, over the course of these book readings. Sometimes it feels like no big D&D bestiary is complete without introducing a new dragon subtype.
The Monster Manual talked about the classic chromatics, which were then updated on the Monster Vault. You can see what I wrote about them here.
The Monster Manual 2 talked about the equally classic metallics, and you can read what I wrote about them here.
The Monster Manual 3 introduces the much less famous and much newer Catastrophic Dragons. I believe they are new to 4e, though they might also have shown up in some late supplement for a previous edition. You might already have noticed I’m a bit lazy when it comes to researching monster publication histories.
What I’m sure about is that these are the first 4e dragons that have the “correct” math from the start. They’re also notable for being generally weaker than chromatics and metallics despite the impressive name. Your typical catastrophic dragon is an Elite monster rather than a Solo.
As we saw in previous articles about dragons, when the god Io was split in two during the Dawn War his followers also split along ideological lines based on which of the two new deities they preferred: Tiamat the greedy or Bahamut the just. I imagine the initial decision was easy for most of them.
For most, but not for all. Some of Io’s orphaned followers were gripped by fear when they saw how easily their lord had been slain, and they decided that the best way to survive would be to beseech the Primordials for protection and join their side of the Dawn War. These turncoats were transformed by the “blessings” of the Primordials into the first catastrophic dragons.
When the Primordials were defeated most surviving catastrophics scattered across the multiverse and turned to their own selfish purposes. The typical catastrophic in the present day is somewhat less formidable than a chromatic, but more outwardly destructive. They tend to live in extremely hostile environments that befit their individual natures, and from the point of view of surrounding civilians their behavior looks a lot like that of a natural disaster: they occasionally emerge to wreak havoc and destruction on people and their environment, and then return to their lairs for an unknown amount of time.
Legends and myths dating back to the Dawn War tell of catastrophic dragons of immense size and power, capable of sinking continents and destroying entire astral domains. No one knows whether these stories are true, and even the gods refuse to tell.
This entry is structured a lot like previous dragon entries, with each type of dragon presented getting stat blocks for all of its age categories. That’s about where it stops, though. Catastrophic dragons are more like personified natural disasters than like the traditional dragons we saw in previous books.
The ones we see here are clumsy fliers, and even lack the traditional breath weapon! Instead, they’re surrounded by an aura that’s like a miniature version of the disaster they embody. During a fight, this aura grows in size as time passes and then explodes in a, well, catastrophic manner before returning to its initial size and beginning the cycle anew.
Despite having bodies largely made up of elemental matter, these dragons lack any elemental resistances. Instead, damage of their associated type triggers a reaction ability that punishes the attacker in some form. I would however say that they are immune to environmental damage of their associated type even though that’s not made explicit in their stat blocks, because it just wouldn’t do for a blizzard dragon to die of frostbite.
The last major mechanical difference between these dragons and their predecessors is that catastrophics are Elites instead of Solos. Whether this is just bad luck or a punishment from the gods, it means that fights against them will include a bigger supporting cast of other monsters.
There are more age categories here than in the previous books: Wyrmling, Young, Adult, Elder and Ancient. Wyrmlings are Medium in size, and are regular monsters instead of Elites. Young’uns and Adults are Large, and the last two are Huge. I guess a wyrmling isn’t quite a “baby dragon”, but I’d still be a bit wary of placing them as enemies, as I commented earlier.
Despite their thematic link to natural disasters and their destructive demeanor, catastrophic dragons are typically Unaligned, which says interesting things about their mindset.