The internets are ablaze with discussions of why Dungeons & Dragons focuses mainly on the former and rarely on the latter. (Two posts counts as ablaze, right?) This site, of course, is all about the first D. But I had a random thought about the second D that I thought I’d share.
At the Aeons & Augauries post, he opines as to how younger, weaker dragons should be more common than old, demigod-like ones, and includes this sentence: “A young (and relatively weak) dragon has to aggressively seek treasure and as such will be founds [sic] causing trouble.”
A young and relatively weak dragon has to aggressively seek treasure. Remind you of anyone you know? Like, say, young and relatively weak PCs? Forgive me if this has been done before, though I’ve never seen it anywhere, but what if like PCs, dragons gain XP based on how much gold and treasure they collect?
It would explain so much.
- Why do dragons obsessively, aggressively covet treasure? Because the bigger their hoard, the more power they gain.
- Why do old, powerful dragons always have huge treasure hoards? Because they wouldn’t be powerful without them, so by definition a powerful dragon is a rich one.
- Why do dragons guard their treasure so jealously? Because if the treasure is stolen, the dragon’s power diminishes accordingly.
- Why don’t dragons ever spend their money? Same reason as above.
- Why are old, powerful dragons so rare? Because dragons grow old and die just like the rest of us unless they amass huge hoards in order level up.
I imagine a system in which dragons have to actually possess the gold to gain its associated xp. This is in contrast to PCs, who gain xp either by finding treasure or by spending it (my preferred house rule). This means that stealing treasure can be an effective means of weakening a dragon, perhaps before slaying it, or perhaps in lieu of a fight at all. (Imagine a century-long plan, perhaps even a monastic order or paladinic brotherhood, designed to destroy an ancient wyrm by slowly leaching off its treasure coin by coin over the years so it doesn’t notice its loss of power.) Naturally a dragon will turn extremely aggressive once it realizes its treasure is being stolen, and it starts to revert to a less powerful form as it begins to feel its old age like Bilbo without the Ring.
This also means that you couldn’t really have a superwizard with a cohort of ten mighty dragons as pets*, but that isn’t really the sort of situation you run into in megadungeons anyway. We more often come upon the ancient dragon asleep upon its hoard. Maybe that’s not just a coincidence.
*Unless the superwizard had control of each dragon’s hoard, and thus forced each into servitude. Clever adventurers could exploit such a situation in any number of ways, including stealing from the superwizard’s storerooms to defeat the dragons or even returning the treasure to each dragon and letting it take out its long-brewing anger on its former master…
UPDATE: Chris from Grognardling points out in the comments that I plainly haven’t done my homework, and this idea is briefly addressed by Gygax himself in the AD&D DMG. The man writes of dragon PCs that “only time and accumulation and retention of great masses of wealth will allow any increase in level (age).” The key word here, of course, is retention. Chris quotes the relevant bits and then explicates on dragon PCs. Also see the comments on this post for a bit more.