Dragon Scale Armor

Running a 1e campaign now featuring a dragon (a few, actually, but one main dragon). So dragonparts will be on the treasure menu eventually.

If the PCs get hold of discarded scales, I wouldn’t give the remnants any magical value. Too shabby, like cooking and eating the dry outer layer of an onion. Also from a game perspective the players might have believed they were taking a big risk exploring the cave but actually there was no risk – so there should be little reward.
Dragonscale armor is incredible mainly because Druids can use it. Depending on the rules you use, it can also be very powerful. Any players would of course prefer to skin the dragon and produce as many suits of armor as possible, at least one per PC and perhaps a few to throw at favored henchmen, and several for immediate sale to supplement the inevitably disappointing dragon hoard. 
The Dragon Magazine / Encyclopedia Magicka way is to make it poor-AC but give energy resistance.
The white-bound Monstrous Manual 2e method is no special energy resistance but amazing AC value rivaling even magical platemail, but as light and non-bulky as leather armor – clearly desirable for 1e Barbarians, Thieves, etc. 
In both above examples you could get at least a full suit, maybe more, and some shields, out of one dragon carcass. But heavy use of slashing weapons and energy spells like Fireball or Lightning Bolt would destroy the hide and make it impossible to get armor out of it. Up to the DM how much damage that takes.
DDO lets the player pick whether the armor will end up light, medium, or heavy, and gives good AC and energy resistance, but you have to kill 20 dragons to get the scales needed for one suit. I think we can chalk that up to the typical MMO grind. But it’s certainly not 1 dragon = 10 suits!
I want the players to have to make a decision regarding the hide. They shouldn’t get everything they want. The hide shouldn’t be worth more than the hoard. Here’s my take on it: 
The armor must be made from certain specific scales, so any dragon can provide only enough hide for one primary purpose. That purpose could be one suit of armor OR three shields. If the dragon is smaller than average, there’s a 50% chance of one armor, OR you can always get one shield. If bigger than average, you can for sure get 1 armor, with a 50% chance of a second suit of armor, OR you can get 5 shields. You need to decide whether to go for armor or shields and then make your rolls, and then the pieces are already cut up and you can’t switch. Even with a big dragon you can’t get both armor and shield. All the extra hide and small scales left over can be used for decorative things without any bonus. This is how you end up with treasure like a bronze coffer laminated on the outside with dragonhide. 
Secondly, the armor must be made by a team of expert hirelings. Because the material is so rare and strange, a normal hireling won’t be enough: roll d% for each hireling to determine his ability to work with exceptional materials. The player can discover what the 10s place for his hireling is, after a full year of employment, but knowing the exact skill is impossible. You’ll need an armorer, alchemist, and leatherworker.
Third, the armor will take 1 year to complete. Historically it wasn’t unheard-of for really elaborate armor to take that long. Dragonscale should be the armor of heroes and emperors.
Fourth, the armor will not always come out perfectly. The armor will normally be equivalent to chainmail with a magic bonus equal to the age category of the dragon. But, skip categories 3 and 6. At each of these points, instead of an AC bonus, the armor grants the wearer +2 to save and -1 HP/die of damage (to attacks of the dragon’s breath type). So, armor made from an Ancient (8) Red Dragon will be Chainmail +6 with Fire Resistance. BUT, the armor could drop in age-category-equivalent if the hirelings are low-skill. For each of the three, roll d% trying to get under the “exceptional material” percentage. Each of them who fails will reduce the age-category of the armor by 1 place.

I rather prefer the armor being “fairly bulky” because it prevents Thieves from getting access to truly incredible AC values. But the magic armor will offer MV 12″ so it’s desirable for anyone who can use it. 

Use the same process for PCs trying to get dragon-horn bows, dragon-claw daggers, dragon-tooth spear heads, etc.
So, here’s how it works out in play: the PCs slay the dragon, HUZZAH! They begin carving pieces off the dragon immediately while its eyelids are still drooping. But they quickly realize the Fireballs and Lightning Bolts they fired during the battle not only fused the hoard into a mass of precious metals they’ll need to chisel apart to transport, and ruined half or more of the magic items in it, but the many sword wounds they inflicted ruined all the dragonparts. No armor for them because they took the easy route in the battle. I’ll make them roll (because it’s more painful that way) a % chance of ruined hide based on what percentage of the dragon’s HP were cut or burned vs. hammered. 
Next dragon, these players are more cautious and clever. They resort to maces and flails, Magic Missiles, etc. to end up with an undamaged hoard and pristine dragon hide.
They can’t make the armor themselves, clearly. So they go around trying to find expert hirelings. They won’t know the hirelings’ skill level, unless they hire a bunch and work them for a year to discover it. So maybe they employ their contacts as high-level adventurers and pay heavily to borrow some NPC lord’s expert hireling, because he would know the worker’s potential.

After securing three hirelings with good percentages, work begins, and the party must employ them for a year without any other benefit from them. Finally, the work is done, and they end up with armor that’s probably better than the best armor found in the hoard. But if you had to make a choice between getting the hoard or the hide, you’d probably choose the hoard. 

Unless you’re a Druid.

Separately, it’ll be interesting if the PCs decide to drink or bathe in the dragon’s blood …

2 Responses to “Dragon Scale Armor”

  1. Bongo Frenzy Says:

    big animal = lots of hide = more than a few suits of decent armor. Stop bending reality too much and it will sit nidely with the fact that dragons aren’t easy to snuf.

    • 1d30 Says:

      You could have a good game with easy dragonhide. There’s always something else to strive for after all. So what I’m talking about is just what I wanted for my game.

      Dragon hoards are stereotypically the main source of dragon treasure, and people like wallowing in piles of loot. If the dragon’s body is also a source of massive piles of high-quality magic armor, why even bother with a hoard? Mostly a monster has loot or trophies / eggs / young, but not commonly both.

      I describe the armor as made from the choicest bits of hide. I thought I outlined how that works pretty well. A cow has a lot of hide too but there are lots of edge cuts you can’t use for a breastplate. And a lizard has lots of scales but maybe the belly scales are no good for armor, etc.

      For me it’s less about realism, more about gamefun. Killing a dragon ought to whet their appetite for future dragonslaying. But if there’s so much hide everyone gets three suits with some left to sell, there’s less incentive.

      As for difficulty, 1e dragon are actually extremely weak and worth almost no XP compared to how large they loom in players’ imaginations. But they have a massive breath attack that rivals level-equivalent Fireballs and comes in lots of varieties (not many magical protections against acid in the PHB and DMG). So they’re this weird glass cannon that generally either destroys the party or gets slammed down in 1 round. And that’s ignoring dragon subdual (which I think weakens them too much).

      So, I suggest using dragons frequently, without powering them up, and throwing on hoards as-written. If you don’t bring out the china and silverware for dinner once in a while it’ll never get used! That said, the endgame of this campaign is a dragon that breaks the rules pretty badly, but the party searched and worked hard to acquire tons of dragon-fighting hardware to prep for it.

      Interesting you brought this up just now, because two sessions ago they slaughtered a few white dragons and didn’t bother skinning them … :/

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