Please feel free to skip ahead of my insane ramblings and dumb pictures if you just need the fifth edition stat blocks for an ancient brown dragon.
It’s mid 2015, and the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons is still relatively young; 5e will officially turn one year old in about a month in July. I personally love it; the various new mechanics like advantage and disadvantage, backgrounds, the magic system, and classes that aren’t just fluffy copies of each other. There is some loss of customization for classes that was a hallmark of v3.5 and, to a certain extent, 4e, but overall I think the new system is a great improvement. And as I said, it’s still quite young; right now we have a starter set, the Player’s Handbook, the Monster Manual, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and a couple of adventures. Hopefully future supplements will expand player options.
But this isn’t supposed to be an article about my personal thoughts on 5e. This is an article about monsters and converting them. In particular, dragons.
With 5e being so young it’s natural that the game has fewer options than past editions, both in terms of player options and options for the dungeon master. The Monster Manual has a wealth of interesting creatures to throw at your adventurers, and draws from both iconic D&D monsters as well as more novel ones. Naturally, chromatic dragons are included. Also naturally, the chromatic dragons included are the standard breeds; black, blue, green, red, and white.
But there are other breeds besides that. Back in fourth edition, when I was first developing my homebrew setting of Aeramis, I discovered a few 4e supplements called “Draconomicons”. There are two; one for chromatic dragons and one for metallic dragons. These supplements gave DMs (and players) more draconic options, both in monsters to fight and adventures to undertake. Interestingly, Wizards choose to include a few of those new metallic dragons in the 5e Monster Manual; the brass dragon and the bronze dragon. (This does make sense to me; bronze in particular is a natural companion to gold and silver, so it makes sense to include it.) A particularly greedy brown dragon is a large part of the history of my world, and while I don’t think my players would end up fighting him (as he died a couple hundred years ago) there’s always room for something interesting to happen. And for that to occur I need a 5e stat block for him.
Unfortunately, Wizards does not have an easy-to-follow guide on converting 4e monsters to 5e (nor, as far as I can tell, do they have a difficult-to-follow one). And while I have stumbled upon one or two sites or forum posts that make an attempt, I ultimately found them lacking. My forays into the experience quickly explain why; I just don’t think there is any easy way to convert them. 5e combat is very different from 4e; in the latter, monster AC, health, and stats increased exponentially as the player character’s did, meaning that the oldest red dragon ran around with almost 1,400 HP and an AC of 48. In 5e that would literally be an impossible beast to fight; stats are much more subdued and even a +1 is meant to be a major boon. A 5e ancient red dragon has only (by comparison) 546 HP and an AC of 22. Monsters are seemingly designed to be less powerful than their 4e counterparts; combat is quick in fifth edition, and the members of the party are supposed to be particularly powerful and special badasses. This doesn’t make a red dragon a pushover within the scope of 5e; it’s actually extremely strong. But compared to 4e; well if the two of them actually fought I’m pretty certain I’d know the outcome.
I started my quest by looking at various monsters that existed in both editions, hoping to find some sort of simple method for altering the stats of a 4e monster without a 5e equivalent. Something like “subtract 10 from the ability score” would have been grand. Some things seemed relatively simple; for example, taking a 4e monster’s bloodied value usually put it close to the average hit points of the comparable 5e monster, at least at lower levels. But this wouldn’t work well for higher-difficulty monsters, and very quickly I found that even this simple rule wasn’t always accurate. Unfortunately, I encountered three other problems very quickly. One; fourth edition made extensive use of “monster variations.” If you wanted to throw an ogre at the party you had the choice between an ogre thug, an ogre bludgeoneer, an ogre savage, an ogre skirmisher, or an ogre warhulk. And even then, you’d probably not send one of them but a few. So, which one compares more appropriately to the “ogre” stat block in 5e? Believe it or not, it gets confusing pretty quick. Two; 4e had 30 levels for a PC to climb through, while 5e has only 20. Worse; monsters in 4e didn’t go beyond lvl 30 (unless the goddamn Tarrasque did, but I can’t seem to actually find its stat block anywhere amongst my books), the max level of a party, while in 5e a monster’s CR can go above 20. An ancient red dragon in 4e has a lvl of 30, but a CR of 24 in 5e, making it “stronger” than a party of lvl 20 adventurers while, theoretically, the same strength as a party of lvl 30 adventurers in 4e. Conversion, thus, could be difficult when you aren’t really sure exactly where the appropriate power level is supposed to be. Three; sometimes a 5e monster would have very different stats from it’s 4e counterpart. For example, the Nightmare in fourth edition is a lvl 13 monster, large, with AC 27, 138 HP, and a bloodied value of 69. It’s Strength score is 23 (with +12 modifier, because fourth edition), Dex is 19 (+10), and Int is 5 (+3; yes really). In 5e that same monster is CR 3 (…okay), AC 13 (that’s not even close) has 69 HP (oh, well that’s almost exactly the same as the bloodied value so that’s go-), and a Strength score of 18 (ouch), Dex of 15 (oh) and Int of 10 (good for him!). None of this can be readily converted. Str and Dex went down, but its intelligence went up! You might think that at the very least we could use bloodied values to determine hit points with relative accuracy, but then we literally flip the page backwards once for both editions and find the Bone Naga. In 4e: lvl 16, 328 HP (that’s bloodied 164, btw), and AC 33. In 5e: CR 4, 58 HP, and AC 15. It’s practically a different monster!
I’m not faulting Wizards or fifth edition; as I said I like it a lot. But clearly we can’t just plug a couple of numbers into a calculator and get our shiny updated monster like one online calculator tried to do. So what was I going to do about the chromatic dragons that I really wanted to incorporate (or at least have some stats sitting around for just in case). Fortunately, I had two tools at my disposal. First, 5e does have absolutely fantastic rules for creating your own monster, including determining monster CR and modifying existing monsters. Second, I had a bunch of true dragons already converted for me and sitting very pretty in the Monster Manual. So I did what I felt was the only logical thing to do; compare the 4e dragon to its 4e cousins, see how they compare, and then base the 5e dragon on a similar comparison to its 5e cousins.
I will walk through my process for the ancient brown dragon and then drop the stat block I’ve calculated, completely free to use by all of course. Hopefully I will have come to a logical (and fair) stat block for these majestic creatures that you agree with, and maybe one that you’d be interested in using in your own games. Should it be well received, I will later do the same for the other brown dragons (young, adult, etc.) as well as the gray and purple dragons. And maybe a few other things if I think I can make them work.
Let’s begin. And fair warning, I get very technical here. So again, if you really don’t care or really hate math, please skip ahead until you find the stat block.
Hit Points seemed to be the natural starting point; they represent how long a monster can stay in the fight and how much damage it can take. In 4e an ancient brown dragon has 1,160 HP. Big boy, there. But then an ancient red dragon has 1,390 HP, while a white has 1,145 HP. Let’s list out the brown dragon’s HP amongst the other five chromatic breeds’ HP (from smallest to largest) and see where it lies.
White (1,145) – Brown (1,160) – Black (1,190) – Green (1250) – Blue (1290) – Red (1,390)
So as far as HP goes, the brown dragon’s lies somewhere between a white dragon and a black dragon, and has the second-lowest HP overall. Alright, let’s look at fifth edition now, and for simplicity we’ll look at the average hit points for each dragon type.
White (333) – Black (367) – Green (385) – Blue (481) – Red (546)
Ah, perfect! The standard breeds all fall along the same gradient in terms of HP as they do in 4e. That makes it easy. So we’ll want to slip the 5e brown dragon somewhere between the white dragon and the black dragon. Since that’s what we care about most, let’s look at the white and black dragons’ hit dice to determine what our brown dragon’s average HP will look like. A white dragon has 18d20 + 144 HP, while a black dragon has 21d20 +147 HP. In 5e, a monster’s average HP is based on the average roll for their hit dice plus the result of a calculation based on the monster’s Constitution modifier. So for the white dragon we multiply the number of base dice (18) by the die type divided by two, plus 1/2. So, we multiply 18 by 10.5 (20 ÷ 2 = 10, 10 + .5 = 10.5). That’s 189; the average of its hit dice. To find the Con-based aspect we take the monster’s Con modifier and multiply it by the number of hit dice we have. The white dragon has a Con score of 26; that means it’s modifier is +8. We now simply multiply 8 by 18 (the number of its hit dice), which results in 144. Look familiar? 189 + 144 = 333, exactly the average as listed in the book. Isn’t math fun?!
Okay, so let’s start off with a nice even 20d20 hit dice for the brown dragon. That gives us an average of 210. Before we continue though, we need to figure out its Con score.
We do that the exact same way that we figured out what the HP should be; comparing it to other dragons. Here are the Con scores of the dragons in 4e listed out.
Black (22) – Brown (24) – Blue (26) – Green (26) – White (29) – Red (30)
And here are the Con scores of the standard breeds in 5e.
Black (25) – Green (25) – White (26) – Blue (27) – Red (29)
Well, this is a bit frustrating. The scores aren’t equal across both editions; seems blue dragons suddenly got a good deal beefier while the white dragons forgot to drink their milk between editions. But fortunately we still have a good concept of what our brown dragon should look like. In 4e the brown has a higher score than the black, but a lower score than the green, blue, and white (and red, but since it’s at the extreme end in both cases we don’t really have to consider it). In 5e the white and blue have a score of 26 and 27, respectively. So we’d expect our brown dragon to have a 24 or a 25 for its Con score. A 24 is too low; the black is at a 25 and we can’t go lower than it. If we give the brown dragon a 25 Con that would tie it with the black and the green. It’s not perfect, but because in 4e the white dragon is a whooping 5 points higher than the brown, while the black and green are only two points different, I think taking the 25 is the safer bet. Let’s give our brown dragon a Con score of 25.
Now we can calculate the final HP of our brown dragon. We already have 210. With a Con score of 25 our dragon has a +7 Con modifier. Seven times 20 is 140, so our final hit point total is 350. That’s right between the black and white dragons; exactly where we need it! (So you know, if we had gone with 19d20 for our brown dragon’s hit dice instead of 20d20 we would have ended up with a total of 332.5 HP (so 332). That’s even less than the white dragon, which we don’t want. So 20d20 it is. Had we gone with a 26 in Con our HP would be 210 + 160, or 370. That’s higher than the black, which again we don’t want, so 25 seems like the smart choice after all!)
I did the exact same thing for the AC and other ability scores of the brown dragon; compared the six breeds in 4e, compared the five base breeds in 5e, and then saw where the brown dragon should fit between them. If I was stuck between two possible choices, or there was discrepancy between the editions for the standard breeds, I tried to choose the option that would respect the biggest differences between stats just like I did for the Con score above. It’s Intelligence is 22; in 4e the brown dragon had a massively better Int stat compared to the other breeds. In 5e the green dragon has an Int of 20, the highest of the standard breeds, and as the brown dragon was so much higher I think raising the ability score to the next modifier is fair. The same goes for its Wisdom score; it was higher than the other breeds, and in 5e the highest score is the green dragon at 17. Giving our brown dragon a score of 18 is only one higher while conveniently increasing its modifier to represent this much higher score.
We add other characteristics as described by the 4e stats. All dragons pretty much move in the same way; they all have a fly speed of 80 ft. and a ground speed of 40 ft., so we’ll keep those. Brown dragons can also burrow. In 4e, all dragons had a ground speed of 12 squares, or 60 ft.; 5e’s speed is conveniently 2/3 that. The brown dragon had a burrow speed of 10 squares (50 ft.) in 4e, and 2/3 of that is about 33 ft., so let’s give it a burrow speed 30 ft. Our dragon should get tremorsense as well. In 4e it had 20 squares worth of tremorsense vision, which corresponds to 120 ft. Let’s go ahead and keep it the same for fifth edition, since the fastest movement speed for the dragon, flying, is 80 ft. for both editions. We can infer that it should have the ability to sense targets from beyond one turn of range. The white dragon has a special ability called ice walk that allows it to walk across ice or climb up icy surfaces without the need of a check or treating the ice as difficult terrain. Our brown dragon should also get that for sand, since in a desert it wouldn’t be hampered by its natural environment while trying to fight.
Most of the rest of the stat block comes from directly copying the other dragons, because Wizards took mercy upon us and made them pretty much identical except for damage types and factoring in their ability scores. All gargantuan dragons have three uses of legendary resistance each day, a multiattack consisting of a bite and two claws, a tail attack, frightful presence, a breath weapon, and legendary actions of detect, tail attack, and wing attack.
What’s different is the damage types that they do. A red dragon, for example, gets a bite attack at 21 (2d10 + 10) piercing damage plus 14 (4d6) fire damage. A white dragon, however, deals 19 (2d10 + 8) piercing damage plus 9 (2d8) cold damage. The same is true of their breath weapons, which are cones or lines (depending on the breed) and the dragon’s appropriate elemental type. Scouring the Draconomicon, we find that brown dragons don’t particularly deal any special elemental damage; their breath weapon is a stream of hot, blinding sand, but their bite is pretty normal (for a giant flying lizard). The breath weapon isn’t fire or acid, though by flavor it burns and dissolves victims through a shear blinding maelstrom of crystallized silicon. Ideally we wouldn’t want to shortchange the brown dragon on damage. A black dragon deals, on average, 28 damage with its bite when you combine the piercing damage and elemental damage of the attack. A blue dragon deals 31, a green 29, red 35, and white 28. We could give our brown dragon a bite that does 4d8 + 9 damage; that would be an average of 27 damage; slightly lower than the others but very close. However, even in 4e the brown dragon did not have elemental damage on its bite, and the attack was not buffed compared to other breeds to compensate. Wizards, theoretically, wanted it to deal slightly less damage without the element. Presumably, flavor-wise, the elemental damage on the bite represents traces of the dragon’s breath weapon, causing extra damage. Traces of sand probably wouldn’t make a dragon biting you any worse, so the damage should stay lower in our 5e dragon; 2d10 + 9 seems adequate, exactly the same as the 4e bite. As for the attack bonus; we’ll come to that later.
The breath weapon requires a bit more thought. Frankly, I think it would be boring for the brown dragon’s sand breath to just do damage and then do nothing else. In 4e the brown dragon takes advantage of the stinging and blinding characteristics of sand and can cause blindness with its breath weapon and a few other abilities. So, let’s do that here; the brown dragon’s breath weapon causes blindness on a failed Dex save; if you’re directly hit by it you are getting sand in your eyes. We’ll make it a line, rather than a cone. In 4e all breath weapons were considered blasts, but in 5e some were changed to cones and some were changed to lines depending on their natures. Fire or cold I can see working as a cone, which is exactly what they are for the red and white dragons. Sand though, I think makes more sense as a concentrated stream, like a sandblaster used to clean metal, rather than a cone of dust. So we’ll make it a line. Comparing the breath weapons in 4e we see that the brown dragon’s damage output with its breath weapon is somewhere in the middle of the other dragons, so we’ll make the damage 13d10; an average of 71 damage. Why d10s? Because there are two breeds that use d6s (red and green), two that use d8s (blue and white), and only one that uses d10s (black). Just seems to balance it out.
Great. Now we have a dragon running around that can blind you with sand. Sounds fun.
The only thing we need to do now is figure out the brown dragon’s Challenge Rating, which will give us both its experience value and what its proficiency bonus (and thus attacks and save DCs) look like. In 4e, the ancient brown dragon had a level of 25. This is lower than all but the ancient white dragon, at lvl 24. In 5e, an ancient white dragon has a CR of 20, while the next lower dragon (black) has a CR of 21. Let’s put our ancient brown dragon at CR 20, since we already know it has less health than the black dragon and does less damage due to its lack of elemental damage. This also gives us its proficiency bonus (+6, which allows us to calculate an attack bonus of 6 + Str modifier 9, or +15) and save DC (19). Some of the attacks for the standard breeds, such as the breath weapon and wing attack, seem to be higher than the proficiency bonus would suggest; from what I can gather they *tend* toward +3 for the wing attack and breath weapon, and the save DC versus frightful presence seems based at least partially on the Wisdom score of the dragon in question, tending to subtract from the base DC of the table. Since the brown dragon has a better Wisdom score than most dragons we’ll go ahead and keep it at the base DC of 19.
Following the rules of the Dungeon Master’s Guide on creating monsters we compare the brown dragon’s health and AC to the Monster Statistics table (it’s defensive CR), then the damage per round and attack damage bonus numbers (it’s offensive CR), and finally find the average between them to create a “true” CR. Defensively, our brown dragon has a CR of 24. Offensively, with its breath weapon plus a (legendary) tail attack and a (legendary) wing attack (105 damage per turn), it has a CR of 23 as well. The average of these two is 23.5, so our final CR is 23 for an ancient brown dragon. Oddly, the DMG would claim that a CR 23 monster should give 50,000 xp when defeated, but the ancient blue dragon, also CR 23, only gives 32,500 xp. I assume this was done for a reason, so we’ll make the brown dragon the same.
Here’s our monster. I even made ’em pretty for ya.
Curiously, Wizards seems to have taken much of the brown dragon’s habits and nature and combined it with the blue dragon for 5e. In fourth edition blue dragons tended to live where violent storms and raging winds were prevalent. Thus, their lairs were often found on seaside cliffs, the coast, tropical islands, and other similar “water-friendly” locales. But in 5e they suddenly shun the water and favor desert wastes and sandy regions, which is what brown dragons are meant favor. Obviously you, as the DM, have complete control over your world and the creatures that live in it; my chromatic dragons on Aeramis, for example, are not automatically evil (and neither are my metallic dragons automatically good). So whichever kind of blue dragon you prefer is your business; maybe browns and blues commonly run into each other, and two dragons in the same place is rarely good for the dragons or the surrounding environment.
If you do include a brown dragon in your game you may need to determine how its lair and lair actions function. I would suggest simply using the blue dragon’s lair options; they work perfectly for the brown dragon, just remove the lightning-based options and flavor. For the lair actions in particular I might suggest replacing the lightning arc action with something else to flesh out its options. One such lair action that I’ve created myself is below, which you are free to use if you so choose.
“A whirling gale of sand rushes through the lair in a 15-foot-radius sphere until the dragon dismisses it as an action, uses this lair action again, or dies. The sphere is centered on a point the dragon can see within 120 feet of it. The gale spreads around corners. Each creature in the gale must succeed on a DC 15 Strength saving throw or be restrained. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.”
Well, there we have it. A 5e stat block for a gargantuan brown dragon. Next I’ll be looking to convert the other brown dragons, eventually making my way to the other chromatic dragons and metallic dragons in the Dragonomicons. For more information and references on brown dragon habits I’d suggest picking up a copy of the Dragonomicon I: Chromatic Dragons for fourth edition.