I read today something which surprised me from several different directions:
In previous editions, metallic dragons were good aligned, meaning that a DM would have to either create reasons that that the dragons were violently opposed to the PCs, or just ignore the “Always Lawful Good” and similar alignments. As we already knew from Monster Manual 2, this default assumption has changed a bit, tossing many of the metallic dragons squarely into the Unaligned category, giving some wiggle room to those playing it by the book. Draconomicon: Metallic Dragons takes it even further...Critical hits previewing Draconomicon: Metallic Dragons, how doth thee surprise me, let me count the ways:
- The trivial one: You're telling me metallic dragons weren't in the first 4e Monster Manual? I suppose that makes sense from a business point of view (don't blow your load of iconics on the first book, because nobody will be interested in the second) but still.
- More serious: It's amazing how combat-oriented this quote reveals 4e to be. The fanboys on rpg.net will say otherwise, but how else are we to interpret this radical rethink of "good" dragons, other than that it is geared to making them a more convenient enemy to fight? I'm particularly interested in this idea that in previous editions, DMs would either have to dream up reasons for metallic dragons being "violently opposed" to the PCs, or else just ignore the default alignment. It seems to imply that the only reason why you would want a monster to appear in a game is to have the PCs fight it. What happened to, you know, PCs just interacting with creatures, as opposed to fighting them?
- The third surprise: Where usually I read stuff about 4e and it makes me want to poke myself in the eye with a fork, I find myself conflicted about whether I think this is a bad development or a good one.
On the one hand, there is something in me that is repelled by the wimpiness of D&D dragons, and especially the good ones. The blame more or less lies with the Dragonlance books, which started off by building up dragons into terrifying demigods but wound up painting them as little more than big and talkative flying pets. Dragons should be in my opinion the most powerful and frightening D&D monsters; from The Bible to the legends of Tiamat to the works of William Blake to The Lord of the Rings, their most compelling portrayals have always been huge and mighty embodiments of malice, antagonism and cruelty. So doing away with good dragons is something I can get behind.
But on the other hand, I do think there is a place in the game for what you might call Old Testament Good - by which I mean the portrayal of God in those volumes as so Good he is to be feared. The stern, just, righteous kind of Good that sees wrongdoers turned into pillars of salt and smites the wicked. Good dragons play into that - as holy guardians and powerful fighters against evil everywhere. A bit like Batman, maybe.
So I view this development with mixed feelings. On the one hand, making Good dragons Neutral so that it's okay to fight them represents a kind of depressing banalism - yet more fodder for the Awesome Things Hitting Each Other routine that the 4e designers seem to want people to play. And yet on the other hand it represents a more-than-welcome step away from the odious Weis-and-Hicksian vision of Dragon-as-My-Little-Pony. A tough call, but I give the move a C+.