Formalized Rules for Dragon Priests

I’ve completed a set of formal rules for handling specialty priests for dragons. These rules are compatible with the Council of Wyrms Dragon-Priest kit and can be used with PCs. They are also usable outside of that setting, and replace the rules in the Cult of the Dragon for draconic specialty priests. These rules will be familiar to those who are familiar with the previous post I made on draconic specialty priests, as well as my entry on Tiamat, although they are now more detailed.

Dragon Priests

Dragons have specialty priests, just humans, demihumans, and humanoids do. Such dragons often feel an especially strong calling at a young age, drawing them to a specific deity’s worship. Many then seek out another priest to learn from, while some receive their instruction from the deity or his agents directly, through visions and divine inspiration. Very rarely, a dragon will feel this calling at a later stage of life or come to the decision entirely on their own; such dragons generally cannot achieve the same level of power as other priests, however.

In the Council of Wyrms setting, draconic specialty priests can be used as PCs with the Dragon-Priest kit, and that kit can be used when creating NPC priestly dragons (specialty or otherwise) in other settings. The ability requirements of any individual specialty priests supersede the kit’s requirements, and the required and bonus proficiencies are in addition to or replace those of the kit, at the DM’s discretion. Outside of the Council of Wyrms setting, most of the rules can still be used, but it can be assumed that any NPC dragon encountered has mastered the combat skills of his race as normal. Bonded hoards are also not necessary outside of the Council of Wyrms setting for NPC dragons, but DMs may want to reroll treasure results to increase the percentage of clerical items available to the dragon in its hoard.

Spellcasting Abilities: Dragons who choose to devote their lives to the gods lose the access to spells that normally occurs over a dragon’s lifespan. Their intense study and contemplation of the tenets, duties, and philosophies of the gods precludes the haphazard magical ponderings that normally causes spells to coalesce in their minds. An adult or older draconic specialty priest can create magic items, scrolls, or potions as any high level priest. The effective spellcasting level of a draconic specialty priest is calculated by adding the dragon’s Hit Dice (base Hit Dice plus age modifier) to their combat modifier. For example, a very young blue dragon casts his spells as if he were a 12th level priest (14 [base Hit Dice] − 4 [Hit Die modifier] + 2 [Combat Modifier]), while a great wyrm blue would cast spells as if he were 34th level (14+8+12). Those priests able to turn undead do so at half their effective spellcasting level, and any modifiers applied to the class are applied after halving their effecting spellcasting level. The dragons in the examples above would turn undead as if they were 6th level and 17th level priests, respectively. If they were specialty priests who turned as if two levels lower, they would turn undead as if they were 4th level and 15th level.

Spell Advancement: In the Council of Wyrms setting, dragons are drawn to serve the gods as dragon-priests while still hatchlings. This holds true for specialty priests in that setting as well. In the Cult of the Dragon accessory, specialty priests were presented as a function of a dragon’s natural priestly spellcasting abilities. However, many dragons, particularly the chromatic dragons, gain only minor priestly spellcasting abilities and such dragons would not particularly stand out from their non-priestly peers. The following rules are intended to replace the rules presented in Cult of the Dragon for those dragons who come to their priestly duties later in life than Council of Wyrms dragon-priests. A dragon can choose to become a specialty priest at any age category up to and including the age category at which they first gain priestly spells. Starting at that age category, they are effectively level 1 according to the spell advancement table below, gaining a level with each new age category they achieve; note that spells and other priestly abilities are still handled as detailed above, regardless of when a dragon joins a faith. Dragons who become specialty priests when they are Very Old (age category 9) or older gain double the normal priest spells of each level as an added boon from the draconic deities. Dragons keep any wizardly spellcasting powers they’ve gained up to (but not including) the age category at which they become a specialty priest, but forfeit all future wizardly magic they might otherwise have gained. All dragon-priests gain bonus spells for a high Wisdom score.

For example, a red dragon may be able to become a specialty priest at any age category up to and including Venerable (category 10). At that age, they would keep their previously acquired wizard spells (2 of each spell level from first through third), but gain no more, and instead gaining priestly spells as listed on the chart below, starting at Level 1. As they are Very Old or older, they would get double the spell allotment, but stop at Level 3. If they had become a specialty priest as a Juvenile, they would gain the standard spell allotment up to the maximum at Level 9, but gain no wizardly spells. A red dragon wyrm or great wyrm has already passed the point where they can become a specialty priest.

Non-Standard Priests: Very rarely, a dragon holds such fervent faith in a deity that they far outstrip their brethren in the speed of their advancement. Such dragons gain priestly levels just as humans do, using the spell advancement chart in the Player’s Handbook. Priestly spells, turning, and class powers are used at their priest class’s level. They must abide by all the restrictions placed on their class, although they gain no Hit Dice for the class and get no hit point adjustments due to high Constitution, and they still use their normal THAC0. Dragons who follow non-draconic gods typically become priests of this sort and gain granted powers based on their class level, while priests of this sort who follow draconic gods gain granted powers based on their age category. These specialty priests retain their standard wizardly magic, but lose any priest spells they’d normally gain for a dragon of their species.

Spell Level
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1 1 — — — — — —
2 2 1 — — — — —
3 2 2 1 — — — —
4 3 2 2 — — — —
5 3 3 2 1 — — —
6 4 3 3 2 — — —
7 4 4 3 2 1 — —
8 5 4 4 3 2 — —
9 5 5 4 3 2 1 —
10 6 5 5 4 3 2 —
11 6 6 5 4 3 2 1
12 7 6 6 5 4 3 2

I’ve also made a PDF Version for those who wish to have it.

14 Responses to Formalized Rules for Dragon Priests

  1. Barastir says:

    First, a little text correction, if you must: In the very first phrase, it says “Dragons have specialty priests, just humans, demihumans, and humanoids do.” Wouldn’t it be “just AS humans…”, or something like that?

    As for the rules, there are some things I didn’t get, maybe because English is not my mother language. Here are my questions:

    – this “dragon priest” kit substitutes the Council of Wyrms’ one, or this one would be a base for specialty priests, and the other for “dragon clerics”? Or should I read that the spell advancement section is only for dragon-priests that accept priestly duties later on life? If so, why there is a progression until level 12?
    – as for non-standard priests, you said that they gain spells as human priests, what does it exactly mean? Is their level advancement different, or are they still restricted by their age advancement? If so, which is the big advantage of being like human(oid) priests?
    – and just as a curio, is this rule of dragons becoming priests before manifesting priestly powers something new, or have you seen it in another source. It is a cool rule!

    • AuldDragon says:

      Yeah, I noticed the error after posting.

      Dragon-Priest is a kit in Council of Wyrms for playing a priestly dragon PC; the specialty priest rules here can be used with that kit. In Council of Wyrms, you choose to be a standard dragon, a dragon-mage, a dragon-priest, a dragon-psionicist, or a dragon-sage at the hatchling age category, and every “level” corresponds to an age category (PCs only adventure once every few years and the interval increases as they age, so it’s not like they’re aging faster than normal or anything). Coming to the priesthood later in life draws from the rules in Cult of the Dragon, and allows for a dragon to age some before choosing the priesthood. Note my spell advancement chart replaces the one in Council of Wyrms.

      Non-standard priests would have normal human levels. They would gain experience and levels as described in the Player’s Handbook. They would be described as “Mature Adult Red Dragon (Cleric 15)” or something similar. The advantages are quicker advancement, being able to become a priest any time, and more spells at high levels, but the downside is that they do not apply their combat bonus to their spellcasting level. A dragon who is the equivalent of a 5th level priest casts spells as a 5th level priest, even if they are a great wyrm.

      Council of Wyrms had dragons who are either priests from the virtual beginning of their life, or never become priests. Cult of the Dragon had dragons becoming priests based on their priestly powers (although it talks about rare individuals who gain more/become priestly earlier, which I’m pretty sure corresponds to what I described as non-standard priests). Neither was a very satisfactory method to me, although I like the Council of Wyrms approach far better. The rule allowing a dragon to become a priest at any point up to the first age category was my own creation splitting the difference.

  2. Barastir says:

    Nice answers, and good solutions. I just still don’t understand why have you changed the spell progression chart, any thoughts on game balance, or comparisons with usual priestly powers from Monstrous Compendium/Manual dragons?

    • AuldDragon says:

      The spell progression I created makes high level dragon priests have a better spell selection compared to the Council of Wyrms chart, and makes them more comparable to a high level humanoid priest. It also lightly speeds up access to lower level spells, making it substantially better than most dragons’ normal priest spell progressions if they become a priest around the time they gain access to priest spells normally. The main reason I use this over the natural spell progressions is that the natural spell progressions for most dragons PCs are likely to encounter as foes is crap. A Great Wyrm Red Dragon priest who has 4 1st-level spells and 2 2nd-level spells and a few extra powers (as they would be using the rules from Cult of the Dragon) is really not any more scary than a normal dragon. Some dragons would have some advantages with that system, but it is far too inconsistent, and the dragons that would be better tend to be the ones who were created in miscellaneous supplements and seemed to try and “outdo” the standard dragons (except for the non-spellcasting dragons, virtually all later dragons are substantially better spellcasters than the chromatics).

  3. Barastir says:

    Don’t you think non-standard draconic priests should have a level limit, just like humanoid priests?

  4. Barastir says:

    But don’t you think this makes them potentially powerful beyond any limit? See, as they live for more than a thousand years, they could reach inimagineable levels as priests. Besides, elves are highly magical, and even then they have limits, maybe BECAUSE of that – they lose interest to clerical progression or to their younger, more mortal endeavors. Or maybe the deities themselves would impose a limit to them, I don’t know. maybe as much level as they have HD, or the level limit of their avatars? This would be more than high enough… See, humans have virtually unlimited levels, but their lifespan is a good limit, and even the rare archliches or priests with life-extending magic rarely – if so – go beyond 25th level.

    • AuldDragon says:

      Not really. They can only be NPCs, so their levels are fixed by a DM, and they will only be as powerful as the DM wants/needs. There are still hard limits on levels, and a dragon isn’t any more likely to get super high level than a human or a lich or an elven specialty priest. Dragons *are* very magical after all.

      • Barastir says:

        Anyway, elven specialty priests DO have level limits, even if they are highly magical and live for centuries. Of course, in extremely rare cases priests go over this cap in the slow advancement rules, so I was thinking if this would be not the case with dragons, but maybe the rarity of elven priests would be enough.

        One can argue that dragons are MORE magical than elves (I particularly don’t think it should be so, but since elves are a PC race, I think they have less inherent powers not to overpower the game).

        And maybe one could consider dragons as magical like powerful outer planar creatures and they could be like angelic or demonic spellcasters, which have no limits in spellcasting classes (as far as I remember)… Although they are not planar creatures, whose magic power possibly comes from their extradimensional (heavenly or hellish) nature. What do you think?

        • Barastir says:

          The rarity of DRACONIC priests, I mean. If draconic priests are so rare, and a non-standard dragon priest even more, a draconic priest who surpassed usual levels to go to the slow advancement rules would be practically unique, if so, that’s what I meant. (And I particularly like to explain things following some logic, not only by “the DM said so”… Shame on me, looking for logic in fantasy!) :)

        • Barastir says:

          Just checked “Warriors of heaven” and “Hellbound: the blood war”, and there are limits for the extraplanar races (celestials and fiends), even if some level limits are quite high. Just to register, for my memory failed me, after all. :P

        • AuldDragon says:

          Level Limits are effectively meaningless for NPCs since they could always be an exceptional individual who has exceeded them, and the non-standard priests are already exceptional individuals who are bucking the normal trends. Also, extraplanar creatures don’t get their magical or clerical power from any source other than those from the prime material, in general at least. As NPCs, level limits don’t matter, because they’re primarily designed as a balancing tool for PCs; if a player can’t play them, what’s the point, other than to say that a specific race is not terribly proficient in the class? Anyway, the non-standard priest rule exists primarily to allow all sorts of dragon priests a DM could want, and not invalidate any that have been created before.

          Note that Warriors of Heaven has level limits for the creatures as PCs, and the product has some… balance issues. I’d treat a lot of the material in it with a grain of salt.

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