Now, to start, this has nothing to do with Game of Thrones or House of the Dragon despite the ideas that ‘Dragon Games’ brings up. It is just one of myriad of old-school D&D lore that I dug up and found to be the perfect backdrop for an ongoing campaign.
Dragons live long lives and are known for collecting vast hoards. They are also, for the most part, highly intelligent beings. All of this can add up to a heap of boredom and a feeling of an unfulfilled life.
Dragons are also proud creatures. They hunger for the prestige to lord over other ‘lesser’ dragons. Outwitting ‘mortals’ of any species is an event to proud of, but to outwit a dragon, a peer, now that is an accomplishment. And, sadly, there are too few chances for them to earn the respect they feel they deserve. Add, on top of that, the lack of social interaction with ‘their kind’ at all and you see these highly motivated, highly intelligent creatures struggle. And, usually, when they struggle, they take it out on us mortals.
Enter something called XORVINTAAL
Xorvintaal is a game dragons play against each other. The stakes are high and the rewards are even grander. The rules are highly complicated and may take years to even understand. This is why only dragons participate. That, and the fact that few other beings attain the mass of wealth that Dragonkind doo. And, after that, it may even take centuries to master. ‘Meer Mortals’ could never grasp the complete nature of the game and some dragons broadcast confusing and conflicting info and rules for the ‘uninitiated’. At it’s basest concept, Xorvintaal is chess game played with living beings. The world is the playing board and the win-cons are the hoards of the dragons themselves.
To enter into the ‘grand game’ (which I believe is the translation of Xorvintaal from the Draconic to common), they agree to participate in a ritual that will diminish their own power, but allow them to pass this power along to various pawns they control in the game. Leaders of these ‘pawns’, called Exarchs, control the minute details of the game for the dragon. The ritual also makes the dragon participating incapable of cheating.
Manipulating adventurers through Exarchs and placing various monsters in the path of their opponents, each dragon attempts to find the other’s hoard, eliminate obstacles and fight their opponents pawns guaranteeing an exciting game that is never the same.
The dragons participating try to gather the best pawns possible and will tolerate no failure. This brings us to the Campaign Pitch!
Your party has found themselves, whether by choice or happenstance, caught up a rousing game of Xorvintaal! One of your party (or possibly a number of them or the whole party) are one of the pawns for one dragon and have drawn the others into the conflict, wetting their appetite with talk of dragon hoards. Greed is the simplest of motivations and dangling a big take in front of some hungry adventurers is just the ticket to adventure!
Even using the age old trope of ‘You meet in a Tavern’ could simply be pawn or pawns of the dragon gathering their players. The DM could even supply an Exarch aka a boss to approve the newcomers. Under a guise of ‘doing a job’, these would-be plunderers insert themselves in the game. And, once in the game, it is near impossible to get out. This is especially true for those who succeed. Because success in this game, means failure and humiliation for the losers. And, since failure isn’t an option, your opponents will not respond well to this set back. There is a great deal of revenge dealt out during Xorvintaal.
LET’S LOOK AT THE POSSIBILITIES AKA PAWNS
What drew me to this concept as a campaign pitch was definitely all of the possible types of characters that could be involved in such an endeavor. Once we at AOE Tabletop started discussing it, it became an unending COLD BREW session. If it wasn’t happening during our holiday celebration, we would have streamed it. We really should have streamed it. But, anyway, here are some the possible character creation ideas for this campaign.
(DRACONIC XORVINTAAL PARTICIPANT)
If you decide to run this as a campaign, I think it a necessity that one of your players play a warlock whose patron is the dragon in the game they are working for. It’s a simple set up. Warlock wants power. Dragon wants pawns. Dragon offers power to pawn for his help to win the game. I would think, if you are looking for a powerful, wealthy patron, a dragon is the perfect match.
I touched upon the idea of a Draconic Patron in my article concerning Psionic patrons dealing with Sardior or one of his psionic, Gem Dragon Thanes. Just flavor your Warlock with the abilities and themes of the type of dragon they serve.
There are three options for Patron here, actually:
- The dragon playing Xorvindaal
- There are also more powerful dragons who sponsor younger ones into the game; several sometimes. So, your Patron may well be a more powerful dragon giving aid and instruction.
- Gleaned from Fizbans Treasury of Dragons, the Hoard itself could be the Patron. It may have gained sentience or may possibly just be giving power and clues along the way!
DIMINISHED DRAGON WHO TRANSFORMS INTO A DRAGONBORN
The ritual that the dragon has to go through to participate in the game effects every dragon differently. So, possibly, to prepare the dragon (humble him even) for achieving the win, they have been transformed into a lesser being minus all of their magic and abilities.
This gives a player a chance to actually play the dragon itself. Unfortunately, it’s humbled and now has to start from scratch to gain back some that power. On top of that, they will need to align themselves with powerful allies in order to win the game and save their hoards. This will work better if the magic comes from the dragon’s mentor or the hoard.
Or maybe someone actually tampered with the game itself or just the ritual; causing this unfortunate event to take place. That’s a harder one to explain, it can’t be a direct participant since they can NOT cheat. But that doesn’t mean an outside party, maybe a totally different opponent aka antagonist, couldn’t have interfered.
You can make use of the Draconic Feats and Gifts listed in Fizbans or take into account the info on a dragons hoard and its power.
HOARD AWAKENED CONSTRUCT
With the Hoard being a powerbroker in the game now, you could totally play a construct that has been awakened by its power. It could be a Shield Guardian or a Golem. Anything with the construct descriptor will fill the bill. Your character’s backstory would begin with the Hoard. And your story should end with the Hoard. You have been given life aka Awakened to, not only protect the Hoard, but to aid the other Exarchs and Pawns in winning the game for the dragon.
This could also develop a story arch concerning the independent nature of the construct as it struggles with ‘life’.
CLERIC OR PALADIN OF A DRAGON GOD
One of the obvious choices to represent the dragon in this vicious game of Hoards is the Cleric. First of all, the DM will have to develop the type of dragon this group of pawns serve. For evil, the character is a Cleric of Tiamet. For good, they serve Bahamut. And, if neutral, they could serve Sardior or one of his thralls.
The Cleric would be one of the more loyal to the cause. Representing their Draconic God, they will do so without fail. But, it doesn’t mean you couldn’t work in some soul searching and conflicts of faith along the way.
Or possibly, one of the team isn’t who he seems to be. Enter a creature highlighted in Fizbans Treasury of Dragons: DRACONIANS!
Draconians are born from corrupted dragon eggs. Warped by powerful magic, these creatures could be mistaken for Dragonborn although Draconians have wings. So, either this poor infiltrator has been clipped of his wings to fit in or possibly give the PC or NPC the ability SHAPE THEFT.
Taken from a CR4 Draconian Dreadnought, this ability allows them to take the form of a medium or smaller humanoid that it KILLS. That’s right, this dirty bastard may have inserted himself into the crew under the guise of one of their own! This allows for a wee bit of intrigue and deception. Maybe a rogue or bard would be best. High charisma might keep them alive a little longer. (Limit the shapeshifting to one instance at the beginning and save one till later because, once it takes the shape, it keeps it for a while! They’re not a changeling)
If this spy is one of the PCs, maybe there will come a time when the character will have to chose sides. Drama at its best! But the character could always be a neutral party hiding from pursuers; maybe even forces of the opposing dragon!
A DRAGON THAT WON’T STAY DEAD!
Xorvindaal is a viscous and dangerous game. Deaths occur all the time. Even the dragons themselves may find themselves divested of their very life essence. But dragons are strong spirited creatures. And more than one dragon has been known to refuse to pass on beyond the veil.
Part of the party (maybe the warlock) could possess a piece of the dragon’s hoard that contains the spirit of the dragon itself. Trapped in the item, the Dragon leads the expedition to win the game. What item the dragon’s spirit is trapped in is up to the DM and could be a multitude of things.
A PACT OF THE BLADE Warlock could possess a weapon carrying the power of the dragon. It will have to, of course, be tempered according to level, but it will give flair to the relationship between a warlock and their blade! Same for all of the other PACTS. Whether it’s a blade, a chain, a tome or a talisman. You will have the dragon right there with you and it may give you a boost against the others who think maybe the dragon’s dead.
Of course, you could make this item ANY weapon or object. And any class could carry said weapon.
A caveat of the ritual and sharing power with pawns and exarchs is that the dragon will know if he loses a piece! So, if a substitution is needed, the dragon knows and fills the position. This gives the players a chance to advance as their higher ups get eliminated.
Also, be careful about throwing the dragon’s name around too much. There’s a chance it will know and be alerted to your position!
THE CAMPAIGN IS THE THING
The first thing that drew me to this pitch was, no doubt, all of the great connections, backstories and character development inherent in the idea of a massive game of big brain dragons trying to out do their competitors. But the story itself screams fun and a full plate of ideas just awaiting the Dm’s attention.
There is so much you can do with this and it can be used in levels as you progress the game as pawns of either a powerful or upstart dragon.
CAMPAIGN SEEDS THAT CAN KEEP THE STORY FRESH!
- Finding the Hoard or Hoards may not be as easy as one would think. Just the simple act of locating your target can spawn many ideas.
- You may have to find magical items or legendary relics to point you in the right direction.
- Some items may be in several pieces, each of which will lead you to minor hoards, but, when put together points you to the big score!
- The secrets of the Hoard may be guarded by dungeons, individuals (maybe Extarchs), within ancient libraries or vaults or behind walled castles guarded by troops, monsters or possibly a whole city!
- An NPC may be needed to get close to the enemy to actually spy on the enemy to see how far along they are getting. Stealing info and items from them may be as important as finding your own!
- And don’t think the shoe can’t be on the other foot. Eyes may be upon you, ready to steal from YOU or to set ambushes along the way.
- Intermittent scheduled battles may occur where an Exarch or whole team of pawns may be called in to battle one-on-one, in teams or against monsters. I’m sure these competitions are pure spectacle for outsiders and can really pack the seats. OR maybe they are done in secret? Your choice!
- Of course, the main attraction is Hoard Incursions where you either fight pawns, monsters or even the dragon itself with the prize just within sight!
So many things can go wrong also. Players die. Possible Total Party Kills. Your players could end up playing multiple characters in the pursuit of riches beyond their mortal imagination. There are always chances to loose a hoard either because you were there, but not able to protect it. OR maybe you weren’t there and you get word that you have lost part of the game. Opportunity for setbacks abound, but that sets the stage to see what your players and/or the dragon will do.
Maybe gaining the hoard gains you valuable information that will lead to the other hoards and, then, on to the ultimate prize; the dragon’s main hoard. There are many things that your players could achieve along the way that can play into the advancement of the character themselves as they rise in levels!
- A magic weapon that not only gives a +1-+3 on attacks, but may give special magical abilities. On top of that, once place on the ground, the sword points to the next hoard. It could also be a legacy weapon that raise in rank, power and abilities as the player does!
- For the magic users, possibly a spell focus of similar power. Maybe a crystal globe that scrys on the enemy or stores certain spells.
- There could be magical vessels containing elaborate and rare potions that give power ups, cast spells or gives the imbiber inside knowledge or scrying abilities to aid them against their enemies!
- Your players could possibly attain pieces of a set of something that keeps them on track and leads them to their final destination: fame, wealth and glory. It could be a chess set or pieces of any gaming set. Maybe a set of dice for those dice goblins in your group where you actually give them dice in a set along the way! But use your imagination. You could use statuettes, books, pieces of armor or ingredients for a final spell to lead to the big hoard.
THE HOARD AS A PIECE ON THE DRAGON’S BOARD
Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons gave us a new perspective on the role of the hoard in the life and power of dragons. Sure the size of the hoard shows prestige, but I’ve never heard anyone allude to the size adding to the magical might and power of the dragon. This a secondary reason the hoard is so important to them. Therefore, losing in the game of Xorvindaal not only makes them poorer and less important in stature and ranking among their kind, but it also takes power from them. Once a dragon starts loosing hoards, they have to go to more and more drastic measures to gain back part of the power they lost.
Not only for the game, but strategic advantage period, dragons will split hoards into pieces to extend their reach into the world. It’s sort of a ‘it takes money to make money’ idea. Split the hoard to extend reach. Grow the hoard in those areas and split/extend again. This begs the question as to how does a dragon move that much wealth without raising attention. Do they carry it a piece at a time? Do they have a caravan they use? Or is there a mechanism within the game to help them? I don’t think the game helping them with this makes sense, but it is a way they can set the game up and keep equity until the game begins. This would insure no shenanigans unless, of course, the ritual against cheating forbids this.
But the lair, although hidden, sometimes has powerful effects on the area around it. According to Fizbans, Creatures in the area may breed children that acquire half-dragon traits or coloration. Even mortals in the area may show signs of abilities or traits of the dragon. The danger in keeping too big a hoard close to civilizations and habitats filled with life is that they will give clues that will lead to an incursion.
Some Hoard magic is so powerful that portals to other dimensions will occur. In fact, the hoard itself could rest inside the portal it produces.
RANDOM ENCOUNTERS ARE WELCOME
Lastly, there are outside forces that exist that have the same goals as the participants and their minions. Hoard hunting is a constant pastime among adventurers. In fact, your player’s party could start as a party that happens into the game just looking for riches. They could be offered an entry level position since they just took out the dragon’s underlings. OR they can simply hoover outside the game and snipe wealth without getting too deep. It’s more fun all around if they are part of the game, but, if they don’t want to commit, this is one way they could still be involved. But, if they interfere too much, they will gain an arch nemesis to end all arch nemesis!
Then, there are Dragon Hunters! What bigger prize for a hunter than a dragon? Your party may find themselves at odds with, not only, the opposing dragon’s pawns, but a band of those who hunt dragonkind for their parts! This will only happen if your patron dragon is present, but they may interfere in the game to gain the items and info to find the final hoard! Because where the final hoard is, the dragon is!
And CULTISTS! The ultimate telemarketers of draconic insanity of all time! A cult leader wants to find the dragon to either serve it or bind it to their will and goals. Maybe the cultist need to sacrifice a dragon for a powerful rite? OR possibly they want to be there at their death to transform them into undeath as a Dracolich! Whatever their purpose, nothing is more annoying than cultists. They can’t be reasoned with or deterred. They won’t take no for an answer and they won’t stop until they get what they want. Could totally make an annoying element of the game. Especially, if the cult works for the opposing dragon!
WHOAH! That was a lot! What are some of your ideas? We may do a COLD BREW session on stream to hash some of this out and YOUR ideas may be considered!