One of the many ways that Dark Sun differs from your traditional Dungeons & Dragons setting is that there are no native Dragons. Oh, there are Athasian Drakes, but those are basically giant feral reptiles with innate elemental psychic powers - the Fire Drake, for example, is basically a T-Rex with pyrokinesis. In fact, there is supposedly only one Dragon in Athas - the Dragon of Tyr.
But that's not quite accurate. See, Athasian Dragons are epic-leveled multiclassed psionicist-defilers who have turned their combined magical powers towards transforming into a superior state. The Dragon of Tyr is the just first psion/defiler to complete the transition, and his former compatriots, the Sorcerer-Kings, are all at some level along the transformation themselves.
Athasian Dragons, needless to say, are nasty, nasty creatures, with immense physical, arcane and psionic power at their command. In their appearances prior to 4th edition, this was somewhat counterbalanced by the extreme requirements needed to progress through the levels to become a full-fledged dragon, and by the fact that most of those levels allowed the Dungeon Master to take control of your character whenever they felt like it. On the other hand, achieving even the lowest level of Athasian Dragonhood meant that your character became ageless, as well as gaining increasingly strong combat abilities, the ability to speak any language, along with eventually gaining a devastating breath weapon of superheated sand.
The ritual that creates the Athasian Dragon inspired the only Sorcerer-King to almost complete it, the Lich (or pseudo-Dracolich) Dregoth, to believe it was humanity's ultimate destiny to transform into dragons as a species. His experiments in bringing this about led to the creation of the Dray race.
The Preserver counterpart for this creature is the Avangion.
AD&D Athasian Dragons
The ability for players to become an Athasian Dragon first appeared in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons splatbook "Defilers and Preservers: The Wizards of Athas", before being tweaked and appearing again in "Dragon Kings" - a splatbook dedicated to the "epic classes" of Dark Sun as a whole. The benign counterpart to the Athasian Dragon (Or "Dragon King" as it's called in the books) was also introduced in the latter book; the Avangion.
Assuming you qualify, advancing requires a two-part process; gain the amount of XP, as indicated in the table below, and then, when you have enough XP to gain a level, you gotta successfully cast the spell Defiler Metamorphosis. This gets harder and harder to cast as you gain in levels, requiring you to engage in various acts to grandiose consumption and destruction, channeling the lives of plants and animals along with elemental power into your own body to bring about the metamorphosis. Defiler Metamorphosis is a 10th level spell; this means it affects a defiling area equivalent to a 9th level spell, but also affecting living creatures within it (1d6/spell level damage, save vs. spell for half) - this is in addition to any living creatures required as spell components, which are guaranteed to be consumed as part of the casting. This is, obviously, extremely dangerous: if the spell is interrupted or disrupted, it kills the caster, no saves or take-backs. Even if cast successfully, the caster needs to pass a system shock test or die.
Athasian Dragons require Obsidian Orbs to cast their Psionic Enchantments (10th level spells) - no orb, no 10th level magic (although psionics and 9th or lower level spells still work fine). An obsidian orb is 1d20 inches across and costs at least 1,000 gold pieces to make. Once forged, it must be activated by being swallowed by the dragon, passing through their system after absorbing the requisite energies in 1d3 days. A dragon can have as many of these orbs as they like; there's no bonuses for multiples, but it does give them back ups. There's a catch, though; an athasian dragon doesn't need any orbs to first begin the metamorphosis (though preparing one may be done as part of the ritual to ascend to level 21), for all subsequent levels, it has to re-swallow all of its currently activated orbs as part of the casting of Defiler Metamorphosis. If it doesn't do this? The spell won't work.
Because AD&D was full of bullshit rules, Athasian Dragon PCs are taken out of their players' hands from levels 25 to 29, because "the transformation is so painful they fly into a destructive rampage". That's right, you spend more than half this class as a DMPC.
Regardless of level, an athasian dragon saves as a 21st level wizard. Additionally, each time it gains a level in this class, it gains a new psionic science, a new psionic discipline, and a new level's worth of psionic strength points - in addition to whatever psionic powers it had before. So, yeah, you're basically gaining a free level in psionicist each time you level up in addition to the other goodies.
Upon becoming an athasian dragon, a character becomes eternal - they will never die of old age - and they gain the ability to speak any language, as per a permanent Tongues spell.
- Dragon King Experience Levels
|Character level||Dragon XP Required||Hit Dice|
Points rolled on Hit Dice are rolled add directly to the dragon king's hit point total; Constitution modifiers are added per die rolled.
- Epic Level AD&D Wizard Spell Progression
|Character level||Spell Level 1||Spell Level 2||Spell Level 3||Spell Level 4||Spell Level 5||Spell Level 6||Spell Level 7||Spell Level 8||Spell Level 9||Spell Level 10|
21st-level dragon: A dragon character who reaches 21st level makes the first in a series of ten alterations to its physical form. When completed, the humanoid form of the dragon doubles in mass to 350 pounds. The dragon may retain its original height and simply gain bulk, may grow as tall as 8 feet, or may simply grow more dense. Physical changes are uncontrollable and unpredictable. Though it still retains humanoid characteristics, the dragon's face elongates slightly and its nostrils lengthen. The dragon's spine becomes more pronounced, and rudimentary scales appear on the shoulders and back. THAC0 remains 11.
22nd-level dragon: Here the dragon's physical form changes still further, increasing to around 450 pounds and as tall as 10 feet. Its face elongates further and the first hints of scales appear on its lengthened snout. The dragon's spine becomes still more pronounced, and the stub of a tail appears. The dragon's THAC0 improves to 10.
23rd-level dragon: The dragon grows to around 650 pounds and gains another foot in height. All limbs lengthen drastically, including fingers and toes. The dragon's neck also lengthens, lifting its now reptilian head and face far above its shoulders; all hair vanishes by this level. THAC0 becomes 9.
24th-level dragon: The dragon's humanoid origins can hardly be recognized. Its weight increases to nearly 900 pounds and it can be as much as 12 feet long. Tough scales, now everywhere but the underbelly and the underside of its limbs, grant a natural Armor Class of 4. The legs become strikingly inhuman, developing huge thighs and a hard angled, bony calf and taloned foot. At this level the dragon may also hunch severely at shoulder and waist, and can move either upright or on all four limbs at a rate of 15. Its wicked claws give two attacks per round (2d10 damage). THAC0 drops to an 8.
25th-level dragon: Now fully 12 feet long from snout to growing tail, the dragon weighs around 1,600 pounds. Its scales give AC 0 and now have a magical enchantment that allows only weapons of +1 or better magic to hit. The dragon's jaws protrude remarkably, allowing a bite attack that inflicts 4d12 damage. The dragon enters a period of uncontrolled savagery known as its "animalistic period". THAC0 falls to 7.
26th-level dragon: By this time, the 2,000-pound form is completely hunched but can still stand erect at its full 16-foot height at times. Its scales have improved to AC -2. The hind legs have strengthened, allowing a jump of 5' per round. Also, its great claws now inflict 2d10 + 5 points of damage, with a THAC0 of 5.
27th-level dragon: With this new level, the dragon nearly doubles its weight to 4,000 pounds (2 tons) and a length of 20 feet. Its armor improves to AC -4. With the progressing metamorphosis, it can now use its breath weapon, a cone of superheated sand 5' wide at its base, 50' long, and 100' in diameter at the far end, inflicting 10d12 damage, with a THAC0 of 3.
28th-level dragon: The dragon's weight increases to 10,000 pounds (5 tons), and its length reaches to 25 feet, mostly due to its full-grown tail. The tail can attack (5d10 damage). Also, the dragon's claws now inflict 2d10 + 10 damage each. Hide and scales lend it AC -6 and immunity to weapons of less than +2 magical enchantment. Also, the dragon has a natural magic resistance of 20% at this level. THAC0 drops to 1.
29th-level dragon: The dragon is 30 feet long and 20,000 pounds (10 tons). Wings sprout at this level, but only give 18 (C) flying speed. Armor improves to AC -8 and magic resistance to 40% . The breath weapon inflicts 20d12 damage. At the end of this experience level, the dragon's animalistic period draws to a close, and cold cunning and reason once again take control. At 29th level, the dragon's THAC0 becomes -1 .
30th-level dragon: This final stage of the metamorphosis leaves the humanoid form completely behind in favor of a pure dragon, 40 feet long and 50,000 pounds (25 tons). Its wings are fully developed, allowing 45 (A) flying movement. Scales give AC -10 and magic resistance of 80%. Attacks improve to 2d10 + 15 damage each; breath weapon reaches its maximum 25d12 damage. THAC0 is -3 .
Defiler Metamorphosis Requirements
Low (21st - 23rd level): The Defiler is merely beginning the metamorphosis. The preparation for casting at these levels requires access to ancient documents, tablets, and scrolls that have never been studied by another defiler. Each of the lower-level steps requires that such materials must be studied for at least eight hours every day for an entire year. The material components must include vast riches (at least 10,000 gp worth of jewels, gems, coins, or artistic treasures), a huge structure where the transformation might take place (which can be reused for all transformations of this group), and no fewer than 1,000 Hit Dice of living creatures for the life-leeching process (this last and similar requirements along the way might be one of the major reasons that most of the Sorcerer-Kings rule over large city-states, so as to have a sufficient stock of "volunteers" no one might miss). The riches vanish and the living creatures are slain one heartbeat after the defiler begins casting. The spell is cast from the deep interior of the structure where the caster will actually transform. No other beings may be present at the instant of casting.
Middle (24th - 26th level): The preparation time extends to two years. During this time, the caster visits a powerful creature on an elemental plane for three days of every 15. The material components include fewer riches (at least 5,000 gp) but more(!) living creatures (no fewer than 2,000 Hit Dice). A new structure must be built, which can be used for all three middle level transformations.
High (27th, 28th, and 29th level): The high levels of Dragon Metamorphosis must take place on either an Elemental or the Astral Plane. No structure or riches are required, but the caster must travel to the plane of choice with no fewer than 200 Hit Dice of living creatures from the Prime Material plane. The living creatures must be no fewer than 10 Hit Dice each and must willingly travel to the plane and participate (i.e., die) in the casting. Casting time is 24 hours, and at least three powerful beings from that plane must cooperate for that time.
Final (30th level): This stage requires no preparation time and but a single material component; the slain body of a good creature defeated in single combat. The victim must be intelligent, have at least 20 Hit Dice, and be capable of casting 9th-level wizard spells or 7th-level priest spells, all of which means that if one of the PCs is high-level enough, s/he could even become a target for a Dragon looking for this final component in its transformation. The spell must be cast over the fallen victim within one hour of the defeat; the casting time is one turn.
In 3rd edition, the Athasian dragon appeared as an epic level prestige class in Dragon Magazine #339, cutting out most of the stuff that made AD&D's Dragon progression a real pain in the ass. Instead of casting spells with a flat chance of killing you just to level up, you could level up normally. You still had to put up with the bullshit of the DM taking control of your character at certain levels, though.
Like in AD&D, characters can gain draconic traits slowly, adding more bulk and power with each level. In addition, at every level other than 1st, 4th, 7th and 10th, you gain spellcasting abilities as if you had gained a level in an arcane or manifester (psionic) class. By the end, an Athasian dragon is Huge size, can burrow and fly, can use all a normal dragon's melee attacks and Frightful Presence, and can breath a cone of sand dealing 10d12 points of damage. And that's on top of the character's spellcasting abilities and epic feats. They can also drain hit points from the creatures around them to protect them from the backlash of epic level spells.
What's the catch? Simple: prestige class bullshit. To join the epic prestige class, you have to have 24 points in both Knowledge (Arcana) and Knowledge (Psionics), have the Epic Spellcasting and Great Fortitude feats along with two metamagic and -psionic feats (each), and be able to cast both 9th-level spells and 6th-level psionic powers. Short of taking a god-awful PrC like cerebremancer, it was extremely difficult to enter as any kind of effective character in most scenarios. Unless you're playing with gestalt rules, in which case this is a piece of cake to enter...provided you sacrifice no less than 1,000 HD of living creatures and 50,000 gp.
So while having the option was nice, the finagling required to get it working in a normal game meant that it wasn't really worth the trouble.
A fan-created, semi-officially endorsed conversion of Dark Sun to 3.5e, Athas.org created its own version of the Athasian Dragon rules found in the Legends of Athas sourcebook. It serves as a middle ground between the zero-consequences Dragon rules and the horribly punishing 2nd Edition ruleset.
Like in the Dragon rules, the Athas.org Athasian Dragon is an epic level prestige class. To enter it, the character must be able to cast 9th-level spells and manifest 6th-level powers, which sucks, but should be expected at this point. The character needs the Body Fuel and Psionic Body feats, the former letting you regain power points by taking ability damage and the latter a shitty boost to your total HP based on your total number of psionic feats. The character must also be a defiler.
The Athas.org class returns to metamorphosis spells as a necessary part of advancement. In this case, the spells use the 3.5e epic spell rules. Each spell needs to be either found or developed, costing gold and XP to do so. Interestingly, you do not need to cast any one of the metamorphosis spells after defiler metamorphosis I to advance in this class: instead, each level of advancement from I to X increases the potency of the class's special abilities. In addition, at 5th and 10th levels, the caster learns the next spell in their transformation process without having to spend gold or XP.
Ideally, then, an Athasian Dragon using these rules would cast one metamorphosis spell per level, culminating in their final advancement at level 10. It's not a perfect system, but it's interesting, and certainly truer to the spirit of Dark Sun.
The Prestige Class
Hit Die: d6
Spellcasting/Manifesting Advancement: The Athasian Dragon improves their spellcasting abilities on every even level, as if they were advancing in one of their arcane spellcasting classes. Vice versa for manifesting, except that at 1st, 5th, and 9th levels, the Athasian Dragon gains no advancement. Effectively the PrC adds +5 to your arcane caster level and +2 to your manifester level through normal advancement.
In addition, the class grants +1 bonuses to ML and CL at certain levels: 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th for caster level, and 4th, 6th, 8th and 10th for manifester level. In the end, these bonuses mean the class adds +9 to your arcane caster level and +6 to your manifester level.
Dragon Magic: Athasian Dragons are such powerful defilers that they can drain from animals instead of plants (though they then cast as if they were in desolate terrain). If they drain from both animals and plants at the same time, the effective terrain condition (which determines how powerful defiler spells are) increases by one, up to "abundant." This condition modifier increases by 1 per two metamorphosis spells the dragon has cast, up to 5, meaning a full-power dragon with animals nearby can cast powerful spells anywhere.
Draining from animals forces them to make a Fortitude save or take 1 point of Con damage. This damage is the same as the condition modifier, meaning it increases as the dragon progresses its metamorphosis.
Bonus Feat: At 1st level, the Athasian Dragon gains Quicken Spell as a bonus feat, or Multispell if they already have it. At 4th and 8th levels, they gain a bonus feat from the Athasian Dragon bonus feat list, which includes feats ranging from the okay (Master Staff, Armor Skin) to the broken (Permanent Emanation, Improved Metamagic). You only get two of them, but that's on top of epic feat progression.
Psionic Enchantment: At every even level, the Athasian Dragon can take a Psionic Enchantment option. These are special abilities that combine psionic and arcane powers. These are very similar to the Archmage's High Arcana abilities, but without the need to trade a spell slot for them. They're also way more powerful. Particularly of note are the two metamagic options Metamixture and Metapotency. The former lets you apply a metapsionic feat to a spell as a free action, and the latter rewards you for taking a metamagic and metapsionic feat of the same type by multiplying their bonuses by 150%; i.e. if you have both Empower Spell and Empower Power, their bonuses increase to 75% rather than 50%. Another fantastic one for going nova against psions is Psionic Raze, which causes your defiling spells to drain power points from creatures stuck in the aura if you use this ability while casting a spell.
Defiler Metamorphosis Epic Spells
In an improvement from 2nd Edition, casting the defiler metamorphosis spells no longer has a chance of killing you outright. Instead, they use the "backlash damage" mechanic, which is less swingy and gives the defiler a better chance of surviving. Higher-level spells in the chain also require other casters to contribute high-level spell slots, and the final spell requires the dragon to personally kill a 20+HD creature that could cast 9th-level spells.
The bonuses here are similar to the bonuses in 2nd Edition. The dragon increases in size, gains bonuses to its physical ability scores, and gains natural armor bonuses. Eventually, it increases in size, first to Large and finally to Gargantuan (if the original creature was Medium). Along the way it gains dragon abilities like Frightful Presence, damage reduction, Spell/Psionics Resistance, appendage attacks, and finally a breath weapon of superheated sand.
At defiler metamorphosis V and onward, except for X, when the dragon successfully casts the spell, it enters a period of animalistic rage lasting a number of months "equal to the backlash roll of the spell." (The final spell in the rage section of the chain has a backlash of 34d6, meaning on average a dragon at this stage will be rampaging for ten years. Better keep that demiplane handy.) Thankfully, the rulebook only "suggests" that DMs "may" want to make your character an NPC for these parts of the game.
Once the dragon has metamorphosed for the last time, it is able to swallow obsidian power orbs and use them as normal, effectively giving maxed-out Athasian Dragons an unlimited supply of power points and spells. But at this point, you've already beaten Athas, so who cares?
In 4th edition, of course, the Dragon King was brought back as an Epic Destiny. This version cut out all the bullshit; you just need to get an Arcane character to 21st level and take it. At 21st level it grants the features Draconian Defilement (arcane defiling grants +2 to attack roll or +6 damage) and Skin of the Dragon (you gain low-light vision, +2 to Intimidate, and +5 maximum hitpoints, as well as adding your Constitution modifier to your healing surge value). At level 24, it grants the feature Draconic Transformation (you gain a fly speed of 8, the ability to speak Draconic, and a +2 to any two of Intelligence, Strength, and/or Constitution). At level 26, you gain the Daily utility "Draconic Rampage", which lets you transform into a Large sized dragon and wreck shit for the rest of the encounter. At level 30, you gain the final feature of Draconic Terror, which grants a new Encounter Attack in "Scathing Breath" (close blast 5 of fire damage that can blind enemies) as well as the ability to transform into a dragon for 1 turn as an Encounter version of the aforementioned Draconic Rampage.
Becoming a dragon full-time is left for your post-31st level epilogue in this version.
Because of course there's a monstergirl version