OK, so our Thursday Night Group fought a 4E green dragon, and it was both balanced and impressive.
The "dragons" part of Dungeons and Dragons has always been a little problematic. Supposedly the toughest monster, it still needs to be the most accessible to players. In the originals we had subdual rules, which meant you always had a chance of one-shotting the big bag of hit points. But so weakened, the scaly monster was quickly bypassed by extraplanar creatures like demons, devils, and devas, so it wasn't as cool. Second Ed tried to expand their capabilities and varieties, but in the process made them a tad bit ... complex. They had too much going on, particularly for a game where position was not as important as it is today. And the set hit points per age category made the first encounters with dragons either total-party-kills or created that woozy moral feeling you get when you're beating up on white dragon children.
Third Edition continued this trend, and made matters worse by trying to bring dragons back to the forefront by toughening them up and, worse yet, undercosting them. They were packing d12 hit dice by now, yet this little fact had little to do with setting their CR. As a result, a battle against a dragon was always uphill fight, and one that would be generally avoided both by players and GMs.
Anyway, the battle with the green last night evidenced none of these problems. We started at a tactical disadvantage, with the party spread out through an underground complex to work the ritual to open the mystic doors. Dragon comes up from its lair (a 100' deep pit) and our paladin was waiting for it. The green dragon was officially a level 6 monster, and we were six 6th level characters.
We found ourselves in a challenging fight where neither side overwhelmed the other. We were pulling powers, exploits, and spells out of our hat every round, and the dailies disappeared quickly. Between the paladin's divine challenge and my warlord abilities we were, well, not controlling the dragon's actions, but keeping it from exploiting its powers as effectively as it might otherwise. The dwarf mage pulled off a semi-successful sleep spell that kept it grounded as well. And my warlord was doing the combat bureaucrat thing like he was a Kindergarten monitor, dispensing power bonuses and healing surges like candy. We made a few errors in the battle, with the halfling warlock (which is 4E for "Chaotic Neutral") firing off a close burst that nailed my character but left the dragon unscathed (thanks, guy).
And the DM seemed comfortable with the dragon as well, managing fly-bys and tail sweeps and recharging breaths. He flung my warlord into the 100 foot deep pit and shoved the paladin in front of a rolling "doomsphere" (don't ask). The DM, given a large but limited group of abilities, picked and chose according to the tactical situation.
And it was a good fight - we won, and no one died, but it was mobile and varied and everyone got into the act. I was fearful for our survival without feeling totally overwhelmed. This is the time after the hype, when everyone is taking the game out for a spin and seeing how it shapes up. And this time, they did dragons right.
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