D&D Monster Monday: Pseudodragon
There it is, you’ve found it, the bounty the old wizard told you to find. A pseudodragon! As you approach it, slowly and cautiously, you get the feeling of dread, panic, and fear. Something isn’t right…
I recently started listening to the Hit Dice! podcast during my morning commute and while I’m only a few episodes in it’s a very fun podcast. That being said, one of the first encounters in the show involves a pseudodragon.
Pseudodragons are fun little creatures and while I’ve had quite a few D&D Monster Monday showcases for low to mid-CR creatures I haven’t done many for very low CR creatures. In fact, we haven’t gone below CR 1 since October of last year!
Actually, I’d wager that it’s rare for a party to actually fight a pseudodragon. They’re very rare, and very valuable creatures making them much better plot devices, pets, familiars, or treasure than an encounter.
Let’s take a look at every wizard’s most desired familiar, the pseudodragon!
Pseudodragons are a curious creature. Not in the sense that they seek out new experiences and other creatures, but more in the sense that they’re very strange and extremely rare to find in the wild.
Most pseudodragons prefer to be left alone if anything. They’ll nestle into a hollow tree or a small cave and live their lives in comfort spending their days playing and hunting small wildlife.
They resemble small dragons, except with a scorpion-like barb on the end of their tail, so it’s no surprise that they have some affinity for magic. No, they cannot cast spells, but they do have telepathic senses and natural resistance to magic. Their telepathy allows them to convey simple ideas and emotions to other creatures.
Because of this affinity for magic and their above-average intelligence for a creature they are sought out as pets, but they are especially sought after as familiars by wizards and magic-users alike partly due to their nature, but also because once bonded as a familiar, they share their magic resistance with their master.
As I said though, they’re stealthy creatures that love to hide, making them difficult to find. And even if they are found, it will take time and effort to befriend them to the point of them choosing to become your familiar.
Besides, they have a mind of their own. Should their new partner abuse or frighten them they will sever their magical bond and fly away. They’re excellent familiars, but they are extremely particular in who they trust and continue to trust.
Pseudodragon Stats and Abilities
You can find the pseudodragon’s statblock on page 254 of the Monster Manual (MM).
Size: Tiny dragon
AC: 13 (natural armor)
HP: 7 (2d4 + 2)
Speed: 15 ft., fly 60 ft.
STR: 6 (-2)
DEX: 15 (+2)
CON: 13 (+1)
INT: 10 (+0)
WIS: 12 (+1)
CHA: 10 (+0)
As a whole, the pseudodragon’s ability scores are phenomenal for a CR 1/4 creature. They also have a ridiculous amount of movement speed at up to 60 ft. per turn. They don’t have a trait like the battleforce angel’s flyby so their flying speed is going to be used less offensively and more defensively. Their kit as a whole is built with this playstyle in mind and their stats represent this well.
Their only weak ability score is Strength, but that’s to be expected from a tiny dragon the size of a house cat. Strength is one of the less frequently used saving throws so it’s not a terrible ability score to have as a weakness.
Their HP is also on the weak side. It’s certainly possible for a pseudodragon to be killed in a single hit by even a level 1 character, though their 13 AC does give them a small buffer compared to other CR 1/4 creatures.
Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills
Skills: Perception +3, Stealth +4
Senses: blindsight 10 ft., darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 13
Languages: understands Common and Draconic but can’t speak
CR: 1/4 (50 XP)
From their lore, we know that pseudodragons like to hide and just chill-out. The last thing most pseudodragons want to do is be found by a potential hunter, be it another creature looking for a meal or a person trying to collect a very rare pet for a bounty. Both of their skills aid them in this behavior.
They have a great chance to hide from predators thanks to +4 to Stealth, and they can see potential danger well ahead of time due to their 13 passive Perception. Plus, if that wasn’t enough, they have a small amount of blindsight and 60 ft. of darkvision to spot intruders at any time, anywhere.
While they’re not technically a beast, pseudodragons certainly seem more beast-like than dragonlike in their behavior. It makes sense that they cannot speak a language, but they are still intelligent enough to understand language.
Abilities and Traits
Keen Senses. The pseudodragon has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight, hearing, or smell.
Magic Resistance. The pseudodragon has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.
Limited Telepathy. The pseudodragon can magically communicate simple ideas, emotions, and images telepathically with any creature within 100 feet of it that can understand a language.
Their perception is already solid with a +3 modifier. Keen Senses kicks this proficiency into overdrive. It’s going to be very difficult to sneak up on a pseudodragon that is actively perceiving its surroundings.
Magical Resistance is the real meat of the pseudodragon and one of the primary reasons why any magic user would seek them out as a familiar. First of all, they’re going to be hardier than a typical familiar thanks to their higher CR. However, as a bonded familiar they give their partner Magic Resistance if the pair is within 10 ft. of each other.
Not only that, but Magical Resistance obviously gives the pseudodragon a lot more survivability in combat. While their behavior and statblock points towards escaping/hastily retreating, survivability is still a huge part of that. It’s hard to magically crowd control a creature if they have advantage on the save.
Pseudodragons are also sought after by the rich as pets. I mean, having a creature smart enough to understand language must be pretty easy to live with. Plus they’re so unique! They also have Limited Telepathy which gives them the ability to convey simple ideas with people. Pseudodragons must be great at parties!
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d4 + 2) piercing damage.
Sting. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5ft., one creature. Hit: 4 (1d4 + 2) piercing damage, and the target must succeed on a DC 11 Constitution saving throw or become poisoned for 1 hour. If the saving throw fails by 5 or more, the target falls unconscious for the same duration, or until it takes damage or another creature uses an action to shake it awake.
The pseudodragon has two attack options, Bite and Sting. Both do the same damage and have the same reach. Pseudodragons don’t have Multiattack either so for the most part, you’ll be using Sting against your potential enemies. It’s just that much better.
Sting does 4 damage just like Bite. However, it also forces the creature to make a DC 11 Constitution saving throw. Failing the save means the creature is now poisoned meaning they have disadvantage on both attack rolls and ability checks. This means that it just got a lot tougher to knock out or grapple the pseudodragon!
On top of that, if the target fails the saving throw by a large margin they’ll fall unconscious for up to 1 hour. Talk about crowd control potential!
Difficult to Capture
The name of the game when playing a pseudodragon is to avoid being caught. Pseudodragons are intelligent creatures. They’re very particular with whom they want to befriend. If you don’t fit those criteria the pseudodragon is going to avoid you at all costs.
As I’ve said before, their statblock and kit fit really well into this “observe and retreat” playstyle. For example, they have above average Constitution, Dexterity, and Wisdom. Add Magic Resistance to the mix and you have a creature that is very difficult to crowd control or damage via a large number of spells that require saving throws.
The general objective of adventurers that would track down a pseudodragon isn’t to kill them. They wish to take them alive, therefore spells like fire bolt or wildly shooting arrows aren’t effective means of capture. You’re not going to make much for bringing back a dead pseudodragon.
Since most spells are going to have a hard time landing this means that melee combat is the party’s best bet. They can just knock the pseudodragon out with the flat of their blade!
Well, it’s going to be hard to sneak up on a creature with darkvision, blindsight, and 13 passive Perception. That is if you find them at all thanks to their size and +4 to Stealth.
Oh, and they have 60 ft. of flying speed per turn. They can get out of range of melee attackers in an instant.
Pseudodragons have to be one of the most difficult creatures a low-level party could possibly hope to capture by traditional means.
Fantastic Debuffing Capabilities
So let’s say that somehow a stealthy or front-line character was able to get into melee range of a pseudodragon. Let’s go even further and say that they were able to get a hold of the pseudodragon with a grapple, or corner them in such a way that they have no chance to move out-of-the-way.
This is the scenario when the cornered pseudodragon is going to choose to fight. Specifically, try to debuff and potentially crowd control a creature with Sting. If they’re able to poison their assailant they’re able to increase their chances of survival by a fair amount.
If they’re able to poison the creature, the pseudodragon may now consider dashing past the creature and eating an opportunity attack if they’re able to. It’s risky, but dire times call for dire action.
If their opponent fails the Constitution saving throw by 5 or more than they become unconscious giving the pseudodragon a very safe path to escape with their 60 ft. of flying speed.
Mediocre Physical Defenses
While their Magic Resistance and high saving throw abilities make pseudodragons hardy against magic users and creatures with spells, their physical defenses leave something to be desired.
13 AC is certainly better than most sub CR 1 beasts. It’s not going to be impossible for a level 1 character to hit, but it’s a small buffer nonetheless.
The real issue though is their HP average of 7 points. While it’s on the high-end of being able to be one-shot by a level 1 character, it’s certainly not impossible. Sure, most of the time the players aren’t going to try to damage the pseudodragon, but on the off-chance that they do, it’s not going to take much.
I can’t believe I’m writing this, but this may very well be a scenario where a netis a great weapon to have. Yes, you’re attacking at disadvantage with it unless you have Crossbow Expert, but if you hit the pseudodragon it’s almost certainly toast. While it only requires a DC 10 Strength save to break free of the net, the pseudodragon is doing so with a -2 to its saving throw. It’s also not a magical effect so their Magic Resistance isn’t any help to them.
Sub-par Damage and Lack of Ranged Attack Options
While Sting provides the pseudodragon with some solid debuffing and crowd control capabilities, their attack actions don’t give them much to work with in combat. Both attacks deal an average of 4 piercing damage which is mediocre even for a CR 1/4 creature.
This is solid damage for hunting vermin and small prey, but it’s nothing spectacular against hunters and adventurers looking to hunt you. They also only get one attack per round at a pretty average attack modifier.
They also don’t have any sort of “run and gun” capabilities thanks to their lack of ranged attack options. If they’re flying away from a creature they’re doing solely that, escaping.
I actually think homebrewing a pseudodragon to have some sort of acid spit could make them a solid creature for a low-level encounter. They have the statblock to be one, but not the attacks.
How to Play a Pseudodragon
Play Hard to Get
Let’s drive this fact home. You’re not out to kill the party as a pseudodragon, you’re there to be sure that YOU don’t get killed. If the party has already collapsed on you, you’re in dire straits. That’s really the only time you should be actively trying to damage the enemy as a pseudodragon.
Use your excellent perception modifier to scope out danger before it even makes its way towards you. Flee as quickly as you can if potential enemies are coming in hot! Tun every encounter into a chase encounter because that’s where the pseudodragon shines!
Low-level parties don’t have the equipment, magical items, spells, or features to take away a lot of the pseudodragon’s natural strengths like flying speed, high movement speed, or excellent perception. If they want to catch a pseudodragon, they’re going to have to work for it.
Stealth is Your Friend
Ideally, the party will walk right past whatever little tree hollow, cave, or bush that your pseudodragon is hiding in. With a +4 to stealth, there’s a very good chance that they will.
It’s interesting because most of the time when I recommend that a creature hides it’s as an attempt to ambush the party. The pseudodragon is one of the few examples of a creature that shouldn’t try to engage the party. They should literally be hiding and hoping that whatever danger passes by.
Once the potential threat has passed, use your speed to zoom out of your hiding spot and make way for a safer location. Or, if the party actually seems like good-natured creatures make yourself known with Limited Telepathy!
Tracking a pseudodragon should be a ranger’s playground. It’s an intense game of hide and seek. If the pseudodragon wants to be found, they have the ability to do so from the safety of their hiding spot.
While I talked a lot about combat as per usual, this Monster Monday was unique to write. Pseudodragons are one of the few creatures I’ve come across that are geared towards avoiding combat rather than participating in it.
I don’t say that like it’s a bad thing either. The pseudodragon’s statblock, abilities, and lore all lend itself towards a creature that can serve as a fun plot point or side quest in its own right. Some wizard hires the party to capture a pseudodragon for them. How does this rag-tag bunch of level 1 characters nab a rare, intelligent, and slippery creature?
Most of the time, characters aren’t going to just stumble upon a pseudodragon. They’re going to be tracking them down and actively looking for them. Maybe it’s to become an opinionated, but potentially extremely loyal familiar for the party’s magic user, or it’s just another job.
Pseudodragons are unique, both in their playstyle and as a creature. But they’re fun creatures to play as that pack a lot of interesting mechanics into a CR 1/4 creature.