D&D Monster Monday: Half-Red Dragon Veteran

Even town guards in small towns were slowly replaced by powerful half-red dragon veterans as the cult gained power and influence over mankind. Let me tell you, it’s tricky trying to pull off a heist with those bastards on watch.

The half-dragon is what I think most people who play a dragonborn in D&D 5e think they’re playing. Half-dragons are the result of a dragon in a polymorphed form mates with another creature. Ergo, they are much more dragon-like than a typical dragonborn.

What I mean is, they share a lot of similar traits with dragonborn, but half-dragons look more like dragons than the dragonborn do. Understandably so as well since one of the half-dragon’s parents is an actual dragon.

Regardless of their heritage and biology, the half-dragon is an absolute menace of a creature to deal with. They have the martial combat capabilities of an accomplished warrior while also having the breath weapon (among other) powers of a dragon. These creatures are no slouches on the battlefield.

Let’s grab our Monster Manuals and march to meet these terrifying draconic warriors head-on!

A half-red dragon in full plate armor wielding a longsword and shortsword
Half-dragons are definitely what people think they’re playing when they play a dragonborn. Credit: WotC.

Half-Red Dragon Veteran Lore

While the half-dragon in the Monster Manual is the cross between a human and a red dragon, half-dragons come in all shapes and sizes. If a dragon can mate with it, it can birth a half-dragon offspring.

Half-dragons take after both of their parents in various ways. For example, their lifespan, while doubled, is based on their “other” parent’s race. Their size and body type are also based on their “other” parent.

On the other hand, the half-dragon inherits their dragon parent’s breath weapon, resistances, senses, and appearance. They may also inherit personality traits based on their parent dragon’s color.

While dragons being horny is the most common way to create a half-dragon, there are other less-natural methods of doing so. For example, a wizard bathing a creature in dragon’s blood and performing a forbidden ritual could result in a half-dragon.

No matter their origins, all half-dragons share countless similarities. Their draconic features are all similar aside from their color and whatever traits they inherit from their “other” parent. Oh, and all half-dragons are generally unable to naturally have children. They’re like the ligers of the D&D world.

Half-Red Dragon Veteran Stats and Abilities

You can find the half-red dragon veteran’s statblock on page 180 of the Monster Manual

Stats

Size: Medium humanoid (human)
AC: 18 (plate)
HP: 65 (10d8+20)
Speed: 30 ft.
STR: 16 (+3)
DEX: 13 (+1)
CON: 14 (+2)
INT: 10 (+0)
WIS: 11 (+0)
CHA: 10 (+0)

For being half-dragon, the half-red dragon veteran certainly didn’t inherit the dragon’s incredible ability score spread. While it’s nice that they don’t have any negatives, their positive modifiers are, for the most part, not anything to write home about.

Due to their proficiency in Constitution saving throws, they are at least great at one of the three most common saving throws in D&D 5e. Sure, they have +1 to Dexterity as well, but for a CR 5 creature without any condition immunities or Magic Resistance, that’s almost as good as leaving it up to the dice.

Their Strength modifier of +3 is o.k. but nothing more. Their damage is, unfortunately, not going to be coming from their raw power, but instead their honed-skills in combat and, of course, their draconic breath weapon.

On a more positive note, their HP is at least decent and their AC is spectacular thanks to their full-plate armor. These are not going to be easy creatures to take down.

Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills

Saving Throws: STR +5, CON +4
Skills:
 Athletics +5, Perception +2
Damage Resistances: Fire
Senses: Blindsight 10 ft., Darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 12
Languages: Common, Draconic
CR: 5 (1,800 XP)

Honestly, this might be the strongest section of the half-red dragon veteran’s statblock. For starters, they have proficiency in a common saving throw making them a bit less susceptible to Constitution saving throws.

They also have proficiency in Athletics giving them the ability to put up a fight to anyone that attempts to grapple or shove them. Plus, their bonus to Perception, darkvision, and blindsight makes them above-average guard units.

Their resistance to fire damage is due to their red dragon heritage. Every dragon color has a corresponding resistance that is granted to dragons, half-dragons, and dragonborn alike. For the record, resistance to fire damage is one of the best draconic ancestry perks based on the conclusion I made in this article on the subject. TL;DR fire damage is very common so it’s an exceptional resistance for a creature to have!

Unfortunately, the half-red dragon veteran doesn’t have a couple of condition immunities, but they’re in a decent spot overall. They might be slightly below the CR 5 threshold due to their mediocre offense, but they’re still a solid creature.

Actions

Multiattack. The veteran makes two longsword attacks. If it has a shortsword drawn, it can also make a shortsword attack.

Longsword. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit:  7 (1d8 + 3) slashing damage, or 8 (1d10 + 3) slashing damage if used with two hands.

Shortsword. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6 + 3) piercing damage.

Heavy Crossbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 100/400 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d10 + 1) piercing damage.

Fire Breath (Recharge 5–6). The veteran exhales fire in a 15-foot cone. Each creature in that area must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw, taking 24 (7d6) fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

Earlier I alluded to the half-red dragon veteran’s combat prowess being the source of their damage. We can see just how that translates into game mechanics by looking at their 20 average damage Multiattack which is stuffed to the brim with action economy goodness. 

Seriously, three whole attacks stuffed into their Multiattack is exceptional. There is the caveat that they need to be dual-wielding to get the additional shortsword attack, but it’s pretty much always worthwhile to do so unless you choose to equip your half-dragon with a shield.

The most optimal way of fighting is to use Fire Breath whenever it is available provided that you can catch at least two creatures in its 15-foot cone. On the rounds your half-dragon is unable to utilize their breath weapon, you should be using your Multiattack to make two one-handed Longsword attacks and one Shortsword attack.

The three-attack Multiattack will always be more efficient than two two-handed Longsword attacks. The two-handed attack will deal 1 average damage higher per swing than its one-handed counterpart, but you are losing out on 6 average damage per swing with an extra Shortsword attack.

Attacking with your Heavy Crossbow should be avoided at all costs as a) it’s not part of the Multiattack (but it’s fine to homebrew it to be) and b) it has -2 to hit and deals -1 damage per attack than a one-handed Longsword attack. However, it’s nice to have the option to attack from afar.

Reactions

Parry. The veteran adds 3 to its AC against one melee attack that would hit it. To do so, the veteran must see the attacker and be wielding a melee weapon.

Gaining a way to reliably use a reaction every turn is an enormous boost to a creature’s action economy. Sure, if the half-dragon is up against a party without any melee combatants then this isn’t going to be used at all, but I’ve yet to run a game without at least one melee attacker in 5e so that’s not going to be a common occurrence.

This is a great defensive tool for a creature that’s already fairly defensively-gifted with regards to direct attacks. Plus, since all half-dragons have 10 ft. of Blindsight there’s no situation where they’ll be unable to use Parry due to a lack of vision on the target.

Variant Half-Dragons

While the Monster Manual only contains a statblock for a half-dragon based on a red dragon and a human, the same page contains a template for making other creatures into half-dragons of various colors.

The basics of this is based on the Draconic Ancestry feature that dragonborn have which I’ve linked a few times in this article already. First, you select a dragon color which will dictate what damage resistance the half-dragon gains and what damage type their Breath Weapon is.

However, because half-dragons can be any creature mixed with a dragon they can be all sorts of shapes and sizes. For example, you could have an ogre or even a giant be one of the parents of a half-dragon. Due to this phenomenon, the creature’s Breath Weapon will also scale with its size. Check out the table below!

Creature SizeBreath Weapon
Large or smallerAs a wyrmling
HugeAs a young dragon
GargantuanAs an adult dragon

Basically, the bigger the creature, the more potent the Breath Weapon. You can cook up all sorts of powerful variant creatures with this template. For example, imagine a half-dragon giant elk with a young dragon weapon attack!

Half-Red Dragon Veteran Strengths

Well-Rounded Offensively

While I submit that their damage output is much to be desired when Fire Breath is on cooldown, half-red dragons at least have a ton of versatility in their statblock. No matter where a creature is on the battlefield, the half-red dragon veteran has a way to attack them.

They have their standard Multiattack for when creatures are up-close. You can even homebrew them to forgo their dual-wielding attacks and give them a shield to wield along with their longsword if you want to beef up their defenses even more.

Their Fire Breath comes in clutch if creatures are within 15-ft of them and are grouped.

If all else fails, they can at least make attacks with their Heavy Crossbow from 100 – 400 ft. away. By RAW they can only make one of these attacks per turn so it’s far from an ideal option, but it’s an option nonetheless.

All in all, the half-red dragon veteran has such a fantastic variety of attacks that they can be useful in practically any combat scenario. There’s something to be said about having that kind of variety, even if their damage output is mediocre outside of their Fire Breath.

a half-dragon and a half fiend. The half dragon looks closer to what a dragonborn looks like in 5e with fewer draconic features and more of an overall "lizard" vibe
The half-dragons from 3e don’t feel as draconic as their 5e counterparts. Credit: WotC.

Fantastic Defense Against Direct Attacks

Plate armor is nothing to scoff at in 5e. 18 AC solely from your armor is an insane amount of protection, especially for creatures that aren’t typically this well-armored. Throw in a shield and you’re looking at 20 AC which makes anyone donning this combo a fantastic tank in 5e.

Regardless, having 18 AC even while dual-wielding is a fantastic spot to be in. Half-red dragon veterans are in a solid spot to shrug off a high volume of direct attacks thanks to this high AC.

However, that’s not even considering Parry! Melee attackers will need to roll at least a 21 to hit a half-red dragon veteran if they want to ensure their attack won’t be parried. This is a particularly nasty reaction to use against a melee rogue as you could potentially deny their Sneak Attack.

For the record, if you gave a half-red dragon veteran a shield this threshold would increase to 23. This might be a favorable homebrew tweak if the party has a lot of melee attackers. Sure, you lose 6 damage per round due to the lack of a Shortsword attack, but you probably negate more than that each attack you parry.

Half-Red Dragon Veteran Weaknesses

Hits Like a Wet Paper Bag Without Their Breath Weapon

20 damage per round is garbage for a CR 5 creature. Even more so when you realize that the 20 average damage per round comes from three separate attacks. That’s not great. It’s less than what their Fire Breath hits a single target on average.

The half-red dragon’s versatility in combat, unfortunately, came at the cost of their damage output. They certainly have the tools to hit you from anywhere on the map, but if they aren’t hitting you with their Breath Weapon it won’t be much more than chip damage due to their low Strength and Dexterity.

These creatures are resource vacuums much like the clay golem from last Monster Monday. Except they aren’t nearly as deadly, though they can be used in a wider variety of situations. You’ll spend a lot of time, features, and spell slots whittling them down, but if you play it right they shouldn’t be much of an issue when their Breath Weapon isn’t recharged.

Weak to Most Saving Throws

Outside of the odd Strength saving throw or the much more common Constitution saving throw, the half-red dragon veteran is going to have to let fate take the wheel every other time they are asked to make a saving throw. Let’s put it this way, the odds are not in the half-dragon’s favor.

This means that AoE damage spells are going to be your bread-and-butter when encountering a half-red dragon veteran. As long as the spell doesn’t call for a Constitution saving throw you’ll have a favorable chance of inflicting the full amount of the spell’s damage. Their high AC isn’t an issue if you can simply bypass it.

This also makes these creatures easily crowd controlled. Especially since they don’t have any condition immunities. Crowd controlling these creatures and putting additional distance between each other will also render them useless if you can stay outside of the range of their Breath Weapon.

a red dragonborn in sorcerer robes weidling a staff and a wand made out of bone and wood
Sure, you can tell that a dragonborn has draconic roots. But look at the difference between them and a half-dragon! Credit: WotC.

How to Play a Half-Red Dragon Veteran

Corral Your Enemies

While it’s true that Fire Breath is worth using even if you can only hit two creatures, the more creatures you can catch in its 15-ft cone, the better. You’ll want to try and force the party to group together so that you can get as much value as possible out of your Fire Breath.

This shouldn’t be difficult for half-red dragon veterans to pull off. They are big, well-armored fighters who will ideally try to be in melee range whenever possible. Use the half-dragon and their allies to circle the party and force them to squish close together.

Corralling your enemies into a tight formation will make your Fire Breath even more potent. This is important since it’s a rechargeable action so you may only get one or two Fire Breaths per half-dragon per encounter!

Keep in mind though, if you can pull this maneuver off the fight’s challenge-level will probably be much higher than intended due to the increased damage output.

Force Your Foes Into Melee Combat

Every half-red dragon veteran is equipped with a Heavy Crossbow for those situations where your creatures are forced into ranged combat. It’s certainly a decent last resort to deal a bit of chip damage from afar, but it’s anything but an ideal solution.

Put your half-red dragons in a situation where they can reliably engage their enemies in melee combat. The battlefield doesn’t have to be small or tight-quarters, but at least put them within Dash action distance!

If you want to use half-red dragon veterans on a large battlefield, consider adding a ton of cover. Even some rocks or walls that only provide half-cover can be enough to give the half-dragons enough of an advantage to advance upon the enemy without being sitting ducks.

Another option is to pair half-red dragon veterans with ranged units or casters. Raining arrows or crowd controlling the party from afar with these units should give the half-dragons plenty of time to get within striking (or Fire Breath) distance of the party!

5 Half-Red Dragon Veteran Plot Hooks

  1. The Red Dragon’s Guard – It’s said that the lair of a red dragon contains riches beyond your wildest imagination. While the dragon itself is enough of a deterrent, it’s fabled that they have hand-selected guards that are some arcane combination of dragon and human alike.
  2. The Dragon’s Curse – A band of warriors set off to fight the evil dragon in the mountain. They returned unsuccessful in slaying the beast though forever changed. Their flesh turned to scales, fingers turned to claws, and their teeth turned to fangs.
  3. The Super Soldier – The kingdom has taken to drastic measures in their wartime preparations. They have hand-selected their most powerful warriors and are forcing them to undergo a transformation to grant them the power of a red dragon!
  4. The Cult – A once-thought-to-be-harmless religious group that worships the red dragon Garyx has undergone a transformation ritual granted by the powers of dragons blood. This cult is now terrorizing the farmlands and overthrowing local governments left and right.
  5. The Missing Child – A half-dragon child has gone missing. Some suspect they were kidnapped by a band of poachers or criminals due to their unique physical properties.

Conclusions

Half-red dragon veterans have been the go-to melee units for the final chapter of my ongoing D&D 5e campaign due to some lore implications. All in all, they are a solid unit for the higher tiers of play due to their robust defenses against direct attacks.

Their kit boasts a fantastic variety with regards to dealing damage, though they won’t be much of a real threat if you aren’t able to get within melee range of the target. However, as long as you can get off at least one well-timed Fire Breath attack your half-dragons will have served their purpose.

I love that WotC included a template in the half-red dragon veteran’s page in the Monster Manual. It’s an easy-to-use tool to repurpose creatures and give them some extra combat perks due to their half-dragon powers. It’s a great way to spice things up mechanically!

Although one could say that the lore and storytelling implications that half-dragons far outweigh the fun mechanical perks that the half-dragon template brings to the table!

Previous Monster Monday – Clay Golem

Next Monster Monday – Firenewt Warrior

If you enjoyed what you read be sure to check out my ongoing review for all of the official D&D 5e books!

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