The Catastrophic Dragons are a family of dragon native to Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition. Entirely unique to that edition, their existence was mentioned in the two Draconomicons published for that edition, but they didn't receive statistics until the Monster Manual 3 and Issues #424 and #425 of Dragon Magazine.
Catastrophic Dragons split from the more common Chromatic Dragon and Metallic Dragon families during the Dawn War. The most common story recounts that, after Io was slain by Erek-Hus, a significant band of dragons was so shaken up by the death of their divine creator, and so contemptuous of both Tiamat and Bahamut as lackluster pretenders to his throne, that they decided that the Primordials were going to win the Dawn War. So, they approached different Primordials and offered them service - not being idiots, the lords of the Elemental Chaos eagerly embraced them, transforming them into entities that were not quite dragon, not quite elemental, but something greater than both.
Their kinsfolk, perhaps understandably, saw the Catastrophic Dragons as traitors, and fought bitterly against them. When the Dawn War ended with the Primordials defeated, the surviving Catastrophic Dragons scattered to lick their wounds and pursue their own goals, many falling into madness as a result of their tempestuous nature. Most remain with the Elemental Chaos, but they can be found in some Astral Sea Dominions or even on the World itself.
As you can probably guess, Catastrophic Dragons have the general shape of draconic beings, and even experience the standard draconic aging to power states (wyrmling, young, adult, elder, ancient), but are much more elemental than anything physical. They are made of elemental matter rather than flesh and blood, and don't even reproduce in the conventional sense any more; instead, they reproduce by metaphysically "imprinting" onto their environment, with their eggs spontaneously forming in the wake of an appropriate elemental disaster - sometimes even without the presence of an adult dragon to kindle them into being. Incidentally, Catastrophic Dragon eggs are actually pretty valuable, as until they hatch, they're a powerful repository of raw elemental energy that can be tapped for various magical purposes - or just used as mega-dangerous magical bombs. Of course, since these can have serious side effects on their surroundings, not least of which being turning into ticked off elemental dragon-monsters if you leave them too long.
Catastrophic Dragons don't eat, as such, although lingering draconic instincts do sometimes cause them to devour victims or magical items. They feed by stirring up the elemental energies around them - making earthquakes, freezing the place, setting things on fire... essentially, the trail of destruction they wreak is literally how they feed. They even go in and out of dormancy, similar to how other dragons can often spend centuries snoozing on their hoards. Unlike normal dragons, Catastrophic Dragons don't have breath weapons. Instead, they have various magical auras and area-of-effect attacks, as well as usually being able to deliver enchanted melee attacks.
There are seven breeds of Catastrophic Dragon known to exist; Blizzard, Earthquake and Volcanic Dragons are detailed in the Monster Manual 3; Avalanche and Typhoon Dragons are detailed in Dragon Magazine #424, and Tornado and Wildfire Dragons are Detailed in Dragon Magazine #425.
"I’ve seen plenty of rock slides down this pass, but one I won’t ever forget. I saw something dance in the crushing boulders. I saw a dragon with wings of stone, coming for me. It haunts my dreams."
- – Jak Ironwheel, caravan guard
The elementals of 4th edition were not as clear-cut as those of the Great Wheel. Thus, the existence of the Avalanche Dragons, born of equal parts dragon, earth and air. These dragons have are among the more "ambiguously featured" Catastrophics, appearing more as a draconic outline within a fast-descending cloud of dust and flying boulders than as anything as solid as their Earthquake Dragon cousins. The dragons who became the children of the avalanche were a unique splinter-faction of those dragons disheartened by Io's death. Implicitly driven insane by the experience, they came to despise death itself, and during their wanderings, they fell into the company of Athuam the Falling Sky. Having himself recently been bested by Nerull, the Primordial saw useful tools in these pitiful wretches, and filled their heads with the idea that if death itself could be destroyed, than that would revive Io. Feasting on Athuam's muddy blood, the transformed Avalanche Dragons swore to destroy Nerull. Though most of them perished or were imprisoned alongside Athuam when they fought Nerull in Pluton, enough escaped to propagate the breed. It perhaps goes without saying that Avalanche Dragons have developed a deep, abiding, near-instinctual hatred for undead and the necromancers who create them.
But then, Avalanche Dragons hate pretty much everyone. See, although their elemental nature makes them the one Catastrophic Dragon with some semblance of a sense of serenity, giving them a love for long periods of resting equalling their wrath, their immensely long memories are matched by equally intense vindictiveness. Avalanche Dragons can hold grudges to a level that even dwarves marvel at, and have no problems with transferring a grudge against one creature to include any and all of that creature's allies, companions or descendants. As such, efforts to form alliances of convenience to defeat the undead by other races invariably end in failure; all too often, the dragon's rage blinds it and causes it to lash out against friends and foes alike. Avalanche Dragons most readily ally with beasts of the high mountain peaks that they are drawn to, but find sufficient common ground with Earthquake and Volcanic Dragons to readily ally with them.
These Catastrophic Dragons are swift and agile fliers, thanks to their airy attunement. Surrounded by constantly swirling stony shards and debris, anyone who gets too close is certain to be pummelled mercilessly. Their fluid nature also makes them resistant to effects that would normally slow them, but prevents them from using bite attacks. Instead, powerful sweeping claw attacks are combined with smothering, crushing trample attacks. They can create swirling clouds of dust to blind their foes, and intensify their auras to crush and scatter those who get too close with flying boulders. The most ancient of their breed can even launch boulders from their mass as projectile weapons, making them one of a small number who have something approaching the draconic breath weapon.
The dragons that became the Blizzard Dragons sought the aid of Umboras, Lord of the Rimefire. Imprisoning them in icy tombs in the deepest, coldest parts of the Elemental Chaos, Umboras held them in thrall for a year and a day, finally allowing them to claw their way free transformed into creatures as cold as himself. The Blizzard Dragons served their master loyally, until the Raven Queen claimed the mantle of Goddess of Winter from Khala. Incensed that a mortal-turned-goddess was daring to claim dominion over what he saw as his own possession, Umboras led them in an assault on Letherna, only to be duped and led by the Raven Queen to Pandemonium. There, she separated him from his draconic allies and ultimately imprisoned him. Whilst some Blizzard Dragons still search the endless wind-chilled tunnels of Pandemonium for their master, most have scattered across the planes. They are surprisingly common in the Feywild, where they are often allies of convenience with fey of the Winter Court. In fact, Blizzard Dragons are actually amongst the most sociable of their kind, and readily form alliances with those whose hearts are similarly cold and tyrannical.
All Blizzard Dragons by an aura of freezing cold, gale-force winds, which can sweep would-be attackers away or mislead them, giving them a tactical edge. Their claw and bite attacks are freezing cold, with their bite attacks temporarily entombing victims in a shell of ice. Their "Rising Winds" attack lets them temporarily strengthen the blizzard that swirls around them to create a wide-reaching pulse of cold damage and other nasty effects. When first Bloodied, they can unleash a "Chill Rebuke" in the form of a blast of cold damage, whilst anyone stupid enough to hit them with a cold attack will generate a blinding flurry that will mess with the vision of anyone in the dragon's aura.
The Earthquake Dragon is a predator of cities, favoring going after urban environments. They pick off mortals for sport and food, causing subsidences and collapses, before ultimately rising for the feast and devastating the entire city with their command over earth and stone. They like to lounge around in the ruins for a while, but inevitably they grow bored and move on, seeking a new city to crush to the ground. Earthquake Dragons sought aid from the Primordial Balcoth, also known as the Groaning King, master of stone and magma. The titanic lava-creature responded by devouring his supplicants whole, vomiting forth those who remained loyal after they finished petrifying in the burning furnace of his stomach, with the remainders escaping after Bane chopped off his head.
As their name suggests, Earthquake Dragons are surrounded by eternal ground tremors that make them hard to approach, especially if your attention is divided. These quakes spike dramatically if someone hits the dragon with an attack that knocks it off balance, and they can slowly intensify those quakes for sudden attacks as well. They're slow and clumsy fliers, preferring to burrow. And they can deliver petrifying bites, naturally. Earthquake Dragons don't really care much for company, especially city-building races. They will occasionally form hordes alongside other earthen elemental creatures, and can be bribed with their love of gemstones.
"Friend, there ain’t no reason to go to Gallowston. It’s gone. Something tore a hole in the sky, and the wound bled dark, angry clouds. As the winds howled, a demon rode that storm. It danced in the lightning, and where it flew, death followed it."
- – Renard, wilderness scout
The supreme aerial predators of dragon-kind, Tornado Dragons descend from renegade dragons who made the mistake of falling into the clutches of Yan-C-Bin, who manipulated and dominated them until they became creatures of living storm-cloud, weapons he hoped to use to defeat his foes and free his master, Mual-Tar the Thunder Serpent. That plan was ended when a mighty horde of metallic dragons, led by Bahamut and his seven exarches, shattered Yan-C-Bin's army and scattered its survivors across the wilderness regions of the world.
In the modern era, Tornado Dragons are divided between those who remain loyal to Yan-C-Bin and those who seek freedom from his influence, although all are quite contemptuous of most mortal life - especially non-Catastrophic dragons. Many find kinship with other aerial elementals or sky-based creatures, whilst others serve air primordials, or are captured as slaves for Demon Princes with an interest in the skies, such as Pazuzu. Like the spring storms they resemble, Tornado Dragons are creatures of open wilderness, preferring prairies, savannas and forests, and with an intense wanderlust. Although they do form some semblance of the traditional draconic lair, their need to roam prevents them from settling down; Tornado Dragons build multiple lairs at a time, scattering them seemingly randomly across a chosen territory and flitting between them as the whim takes them.
Amazingly, if left to themselves, tornado dragons are often quite docile, preferring to spend most of their time lazily drifting amongst clouds on currents of wind. Unfortunately, they have hair trigger tempers, and once roused to wrath, turn brutally violent, whipping up terrible storms and devastating whatever angered them, and everything around it for some distance. Whirling winds make hitting these semi-solid dragons even more difficult, whilst the Tornado Dragon itself can lash out with claws of lightning and a freezing-cold bite attack. They can literally ride upon lightning or thunder attacks directed against them, and can turn themselves into howling twisters that shake off movement-impeding magics and allow them to scatter foes like ninepins. The most ancient of their kind can even use a sort of breath weapon; a blinding wind so strong it can shatter bone and so cold it can freeze a man solid.
"Typhoon dragon? Pshaw. I’ve faced down fire-breathers, poison-spitters, beasts of the frozen tundra. What’s a little rain going to-"
- – Last words of Kaltho Vadarris, dragon slayer
Unique amongst their kin, Typhoon Dragons are born of elemental water and lightning, taking the form of dragon-shaped waves of water, surrounded by storm clouds and violent winds. Unlike most Catastrophic Dragons, these ones did not deliberately seek out the allegiance of a Primordial - at least, not at first. Initially, these dragons were renegades, who claimed dominion over the oceans and attacked whoever they saw fit, reveling in the freedom they felt after the death of their creator. When Melora began to exert dominance over the ocean, they panicked and sought power to repel her. One Primordial, Solkara the Crushing Wave, took advantage of them; she dragged them beneath the waves, until even draconic flesh and bone were crushed to powder, then hurled their souls aloft to catch in the storm-wracked skies above the seas.
And thus were unleashed the Typhoon Dragons, creatures that even many other Catastrophic Dragons regard as insane. Embodiments of the storm and the worst ravages of the sea, these dragons are wantonly destructive, mercurial engines of annihilation hindered only by their insatiable and unpredictable curiosity. This alone allows them to form some semblance of allegiance with creatures of storm and sea - in fact, they've even forgotten their enmity for Melora and her minions, and so have been known to form pledges with them. But such alliances are always short-lived, as the Typhoon Dragon is a creature whose emotions outweighs its intelligence. Inevitably, the need to destroy will shatter whatever patience or instinct is making it stay its hand. Surrounded by an aura of grasping wind, it is very difficult to either approach or flee from a Typhoon Dragon - and using lightning or thunder attacks on the creature merely triggers a reciprocal storm outburst, shattering the assailant's body with thunder or striking them down with lightning. Typhoon Dragons can deliver electrified bites, or kindle a powerful and violent outburst of thunder and lightning from their personal storms.
Even amongst the Catastropic Dragons, Volcanic Dragons are considered some of the nastiest. Foul-tempered, cruel, hateful and ambitious, they share an appetite for destruction equal to that of the Earthquake Dragons, and although they try to come up with excuses of pursuing loftier goals, in the end, it all boils down to one truth:
All things burn. And nothing burns more sweetly than flesh.
The Volcanic Dragons attempted to seek power through an alliance with Vezzuvu, the Burning Mountain, who bade them to bathe in the white-hot lava of his domain. Many of them perished, but those who survived arose more powerful than ever, cleansed of weak flesh, just as he had promised. Except... they weren't satisfied with this. More and more, they became obsessed with the idea that the gift they had been given was not as great as either they had been promised or as they deserved. So, they turned traitor, fighting with gods and primordials alike under the banner of each in turn. To this day, Volcanic Dragons are regarded by the power-brokers of the multiverse as the most dangerous and untrustworthy mercenaries available. Use them only if you dare, because although they have one-track minds that make them loyal for a time, invariably, the betrayal is coming. Their appetite for destruction is unshakable. Only similarly malevolent elemental creatures of flame can hope to have anything resembling a stable alliance with these creatures.
Swift if clumsy fliers, Volcanic Dragons produce endless billowing clouds of noxious fumes and toxic gasses - which are also highly flammable, so keep the fire attacks away from them! Their bites can set their victims on fire, and their claw attacks can temporarily suppress magics that shield victims against flames. In addition to expanding their gaseous auras and causing them to flash-detonate, they can also conjure sudden magma eruptions below their foes.
"Fire lives but briefly. The dragon is its reincarnation."
- – Ang-tur, high shaman of Imix
In a way, Wildfire Dragons may be the most pitiable of their kind, for they did not seek to become what they are now. When Io perished, many Red and Gold Dragons flew into an insane rage and pursued Erek-Hus in vengeance. Afraid that these powerful, fiery drakes would eventually be the end of him, Erek-Hus forged an allegiance with Imix, who had long yearned for authority over all dragons of flame. Blinded by their hate, the vengeful dragons followed Erek-Hus into a portal to Imix's realm. Trapped there, the Fire Lord turned their own fire against them, burning away their flesh until only serpentine forms of smoke, cinder and flame remained. However, even this could not bend them to his will, and so the outraged Imix flung them back into the mortal world.
Wildfire Dragons represent fire as a purifying force. They are the most territorial of the Catastrophics, and jealously hold their dominions as their own, because in their minds, they alone have the right to burn these lands. Some, commonly accepted as having descended from Red Dragons, simply relish the destruction of life. Others, more goodly and generally believed to be of Gold Dragon descent, view their fire as a sacred element, necessary to the cycle of birth, death and regrowth. This makes Wildfire Dragons impossible to truly ally with. They care only about burning everything around them, and whilst many cults or fiery elementals seek to exploit their power, it's always whilst acknowledging that they will probably turn on them as soon as there's nothing else to burn.
Wildfire Dragons are surrounded by an aura of withering heat intense enough to kill, and certainly enough to make the unwise withdraw. Wielding fiery claws and bites, they can move with the speed of flash fire, allowing them to flow around opponents with almost fluid grace. Targeting them with fire damage is a fool's effort, because it allows them to not only move, but to carry the flames with it and burn whoever they touch. By concentrating their aura, they can explode in a burst of motion, leaping from victim to victim in a whirl of hungry flames. The eldest of their kind can even launch fireballs at choice targets, a crude semblance of a breath weapon.