Beyond to the lair of Dragotha, the undead dragon where fabulous riches and hideous death await. - Note on a map
In the shadow of fabled White Plume Mountain lies a dismal land, a blighted place of gnarled trees, bone fields, and roaming, hungry undead. The foul taint staining this region originates in the lair of a loathsome creature whose name inspires terror in even the boldest of heroes: Dragotha, the Death Dragon.
Little remains of Dragotha’s flesh to indicate that this undead horror was once a red dragon. Twin horns snake from the back of his skull; smaller ones are blackened by flame, cracked, splintered, or missing altogether, leaving dark holes that now hold only burrowing parasites. Tattered mem-branes clothe his wings while mummified tissue clings to his tail and massive rib cage. Webs hang from his frame while bright green maggots squirm in his joints. If the presence of this massive skeletal dragon were not enough, Dragotha’s baleful blue stare radiates all the malice and evil that fuels this undead monstrosity. To behold him is to see death.
Spurned Lover. Ages ago, Dragotha was a celebrated consort of Tiamat, a mighty red dragon chosen for his strength and cunning, as well as unswerving loyalty to his mistress. He was dutiful and felt an earnest affection for the goddess, sparing him her wrath far longer than any other consort. For all the Dark Lady doted on Dragotha, though, he had little protection from ambitious dragons that craved his vaunted position. Through his long years, he squared off against numerous dragon ascendants, each more powerful than the last.
Dragotha’s fall came when a vicious dragon challenged him. He dealt with the upstart as he had others, tearing out its throat and devouring its heart. Unknown to him, his rival was the son of Tiamat, whose death enraged his mistress. Realizing his doom was at hand, Dragotha fled Tiamat’s realm to find refuge in the mortal world. Even far from cruel talons of his former lover, he knew her servants would find him—and when they did, they would kill him.
The Age of Worms. Dragotha sought out a powerful priest of the death god, a vile human named Kyuss, who promised immortality in exchange for the dragon’s service. Dragotha agreed, and not long afterward, Tiamat’s spawn indeed descended on the dragon and killed him. As Dragotha lay, broken and dying, Kyuss made good on his vow. Instead of restoring him to life, however, Kyuss transformed Dragotha into a terrifying dracolich.
Dragotha masqueraded as a loyal servant, taking part in a convoluted scheme intended to grant Kyuss true godhood. Though it led the Worm that Walks to believe that its service was genuine, Dragotha sought only to grow close enough to Kyuss to slay the vile priest. The plot failed, and Dragotha withdrew to a hidden cave, contaminating the lands around. Hoarding treasures in the endless depths, the great monster rarely stirs these days.
Unholy War. Dragotha ventures out once every century or so to spend his fury on whomever he can find. He does not venture out often, for he does not wish to draw unwanted attention. His influence across the world is thus small, though his ultimate plans are of mighty and merciless revenge against the beings he despises above all others: Tiamat, the Queen of Dragons, and Kyuss, the Worm That Walks. The former is a goddess; the latter an undead priest of horrific might, not yet a god but very nearly as potent. Both granted Dragotha great power, great authority—and both ultimately betrayed him, leading him to his current, abhorrent state. Many of Dragotha’s current schemes are devoted to wreaking horrible vengeance upon those who turned on him—and yet the undead dragon is nothing if not cunning and oh, so patient. Lately, Dragotha has contemplated turning the followers of Tiamat and Kyuss against each other, but as yet hasn’t come up with a viable way of going about it.
Dragotha's Minions. Such is Dragotha’s reputation that this dracolich has acquired misguided cultists who erect shrines in the wreckage of his domain. Since the undead dragon rarely has use for living servants, these feckless acolytes often receive the curse of undeath as their reward for constant service.
Dragotha collects trivial bits of information from captives (apparently for his own curiosity) before slaying them and using their skeletons to serve his needs. A humanoid or giant slain by Dragotha's Death Wind is changed by Dragotha into an undead warrior, known in legend as a drakanman.
Dragotha's control over his drakanmen allows him to select one of his individual drakenmen within one mile and sense whatever that drakanman senses, as if it were a familiar.
One of Dragotha's favorite tricks is to place his drakanmen in positions whereby they not only frighten away potential looters but also serve as spies.
Dragotha finds it difficult to control more than a few dozen drakanmen at a time. The excess undead are given one last command in his soft, lisping whisper and sent away:
"Go back from whence ye came and kill all that ye see."
The ruler of the land south of Dragotha's lair was rumored to have once sent a hundred goblins to test his neighbor. Dragotha sent them back as drakanmen that caused him much regret.
Legacy of Dragotha
Dragotha was first named by Lawrence Schick in 1979 in a tantalizing note penned on the map included with the adventure White Plume Mountain. But it was nearly a decade before he got a full writeup, in Dragon Magazine issue #134.
In 2nd Edition, the adventure Dragotha's Lair was published for free online, and can be found at https://www.wizards.com/dnd/files/Dragothas_Lair.pdf. Later the penultimate adventure in the Age of Worms adventure path, Into the Wormcrawl Fissure, brought the First Dracolich to 3rd Edition in Dungeon Magazine issue #134. Dragotha's stats were updated for 4th Edition in Draconomicon.
White Plume Mountain has been re-relased many times, most recently as part of the Tales from the Yawning Portal collection in 2017.
Dragotha lairs in the Wormcrawl Fissure, north of White Plume Mountain. A particularly deep spur canyon extending from the westernmost reaches of the Rift Canyon, the Worm-crawl Fissure is well known as one of the most mysterious and dangerous regions in the world. Few have braved its depths, but its perimeter is thoroughly documented.
The entrance to Dragotha's lair is rarely used, being shrouded by layers of fog and crawling with ghouls, wights, and worse. Beyond this narrow entrance lies an enormous dungeon said to extend endlessly into the earth, filled with treasures and riches—but also home to hideous aberrant creatures and legions of undead. Navigating these tunnels is as perilous as facing the Death Dragon.
On initiative count 20 (losing initiative ties), Dragotha takes a lair action to cause one of the following effects; the dragon can't use the same effect two rounds in a row:
- Dragotha attempts to recharge his breath weapon.
- Dragotha casts forcecage (spell save DC 21). The cage lasts one hour or until Dragotha uses this lair action again.
- Dragotha curses any number of creatures he can detect within 30 feet. Cursed targets cannot regain hit points until initiative count 20 on the next round.
In the deepest part of the Wormcrawl Fissure, the most profane temple of Kyuss known as the Tabernacle of Worms has the following effects:
- Anyone who attempts to use divination magic to scry on a creature that is within the lair, instead receives a horrible vision and must make a DC 15 Intelligence saving throw. On a failure, the diviner takes 21 (6d6) psychic damage and is insane until they finish a long rest. While insane, a creature can’t take actions, can’t understand what other creatures say, can’t read, and can speak only in gibberish. A greater restoration spell ends this effect.
- "Doors" in the lair are made of writhing sheets of worms, as hard as iron. Aberrations, constructs, and undead can simply push their way through, but other creatures cannot "open" the wormdoors and must either break them down (AC 20, 10 HP), succeed on a DC 15 Strength check to force their way through them, or discorporate them with a knock spell.
- A creature that attacks a wormdoor, wall, floor, or ceiling within the lair must succeed a DC 15 Constitution saving throw once per round or take 21 (6d6) necrotic damage.
A creature that forces its way through a wormdoor or passes through a surface by magical means (such as passwall or etherealness) automatically fails their save against this effect.
Damaged wormdoors and surfaces fully repair themselves in 1d10 rounds. If Dragotha is destroyed and doesn't regenerate, these effects fade over 1d10 days.
The Undead Dragon
Gargantuan undead, neutral evil
- Armor Class 22 (natural armor)
- Hit Points 546 (28d20 + 252)
- Speed 40 ft., climb 40 ft., fly 80 ft.
STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA 30 (+10) 10 (+0) 29 (+9) 20 (+5) 15 (+2) 24 (+7)
- Saving Throws Dex +8, Con +17, Wis +10, Cha +15
- Skills Arcana +13, History +13, Insight +10, Intimidation +15, Perception +18, Religion +13, Stealth +8
- Damage Resistances acid, lightning, thunder
- Damage Immunities cold, fire, necrotic, poison; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks
- Condition Immunities charmed, exhaustion, frightened, paralyzed, poisoned
- Senses blindsight 60 ft., truesight 120 ft., passive Perception 26
- Languages Common, Draconic, Infernal, telepathy 30 ft.
- Challenge 28 (120,000 XP)
Detect Thoughts. Dragotha is permanently under the effects of the detect thoughts spell, without requiring concentration (spell save DC 21).
Legendary Resistance (3/Day). If Dragotha fails a saving throw, he can choose to succeed instead.
Magic Resistance. Dragotha has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.
Necromantic Link. Dragotha regains 10 hit points at the start of his turn if there are any living creatures within 30 feet of him. If Dragotha kills a creature and spends one minute harvesting its heart, the dragon's regen-eration functions for the next 24 hours. Dragotha "dies" only if he starts his turn with 0 hit points and doesn't regenerate, and is destroyed only if his remains are completely destroyed, such as multiple disintegrate spells or a wish .
Multiattack. Dragotha can use his Frightful Presence. He then makes three attacks: one with his bite and two with his claws.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +18 to hit, reach 15 ft., one target. Hit: 21 (2d10 + 10) piercing damage plus 14 (4d6) necrotic damage.
Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +18 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 17 (2d6 + 10) slashing damage, and the target must make a DC 21 Constitution saving throw or be paralyzed for one minute. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.
If a target’s saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the target is immune to this paralyzing effect for the next 24 hours.
Tail. Melee Weapon Attack: +18 to hit, reach 20 ft., one target. Hit: 19 (2d8 + 10) bludgeoning damage.
Frightful Presence. Each creature of Dragotha's choice that is within 120 feet of the dragon and aware of him must succeed on a DC 21 Wisdom saving throw or become frightened for 1 minute. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a creature's saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the creature is immune to Dragotha's Frightful Presence for the next 24 hours.
Breath Weapon (Recharge 5-6). Dragotha uses one of the following breath weapons.
When Dragotha attempts to recharge his breath weapon, he recharges Clinging Breath on a roll of 5 and Death Wind on a roll of 6. Using either breath weapon requires them both to recharge.
Clinging Breath. Dragotha exhales cold, fire, or poison (his choice) in a 90-foot cone. Each creature in that area must make a DC 24 Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, a target takes 70 (20d6) damage immediately and 35 (10d6) damage of the same type at the end of its next turn. On a successful save, a target takes half as much of the initial damage and no damage at the end of its next turn.
Death Wind. Dragotha exhales tornado-force rippling black energy in a 90-foot cone. Each creature in that area must make a DC 24 Strength saving throw. On a failed save, the creature takes 70 (20d6) necrotic damage and a Large or smaller target is pushed 60 feet away from the dragon and knocked prone. On a successful save, a creature takes half as much damage and is not pushed or knocked prone.
A creature reduced to 0 hit points by this damage is completely melted, save for clothing, possessions, heart, and exposed bones. The bones rise the next round as a skeleton in Dragotha’s service. The wind disperses gas or vapor, and it extinguishes candles, torches, and similar unprotected flames in the area.
Dragotha can take 3 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action option can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature's turn. Dragotha regains spent legendary actions at the start of his turn.
Detect Thoughts. Dragotha uses detect thoughts to read the thoughts of a creature he can see, or detect a creature he can't see, within 30 feet of him.
Tail Attack. Dragotha makes a tail attack.
Wing Attack (Costs 2 Actions). Dragotha beats his wings. Each creature within 15 feet of the dragon must succeed on a DC 25 Dexterity saving throw or take 17 (2d6 + 10) bludgeoning damage and be knocked prone. Dragotha can then fly up to half his flying speed.
Worm That Walks
For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth’s pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.” -H.P. Lovecraft, The Festival
A Worm That Walks is a swarm of vermin assembled into a coherent humanoid mass that shares a single intelligence, retaining memories of its host's devoured corpse and seeking to continue the creature’s dark schemes or to seek revenge against those who slew it.
A Worm That Walks reproduces by first slaying a worthy creature such as a powerful spellcaster or warrior. Rather than consuming the body, the swarm divides itself, filling the corpse with scores of its component creatures. Over time, these vermin devour the corpse and arise as a new Worm That Walks. This newborn monster gains much of the victim's memories and knowledge in the process.
Worm That Walks Template
A beast, humanoid, fey, giant, monstrosity, or undead can become a Worm That Walks. The nature of the Worm That Walks is such that the template is most effective when the host has some type of gaze or fear effect, to enforce the horror of the creature's existence. When a creature becomes a Worm That Walks, it retains all its statistics except as noted below.
Type. The creature type changes to Swarm of Tiny undead.
Resistances. The Worm that Walks gains resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage.
Immunities. The Worm that Walks gains immunity to poison damage and the charmed, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, prone, restrained, and stunned conditions.
Senses. The Worm that Walks gains blindsight with a range of 10 feet and darkvision with a range of 60 feet.
New Trait: Swarm. The Worm that Walks can move through any opening large enough for a Tiny creature.
The Worm That Walks can't regain hit points or gain temporary hit points, but it can regenerate if destroyed if the base creature has a trait that allows it to do so.
New Action: Shifting Swarm. The Worm that Walks can Dash, Disengage, or Hide as a bonus action.
Optional Trait: Insect Swarm. A Worm that Walks often assumes a swarm of worms, grubs, or maggots, but might instead take a different form such as a swarm of spiders or beetles. These swarms can have special characteristics as described in the Insect Swarm sidebar on page 338 of the Monster Manual.
Challenge Rating. Increase the challenge by 1 and adjust the XP reward as necessary. If the base creature's challenge rating was 10 or lower, instead increase the challenge by 2.
Sample Worm that Walks
Here the Worm that Walks template has been applied to a lich necromancer to create a larva mage. Only the most evil spellcasters return to unlife as larva mages. Particularly powerful larva mages retain more of their previous spell-casting ability than others, and often carry their old spell-books around with them. If encountered in its lair, this larva mage can use the lair actions and regional effects of the lich.
A CR 16 warlock larva mage can be found in Morden-kainen's Tome of Foes on page 235, under the entry for Star Spawn.
Medium swarm of Tiny undead, any evil alignment
- Armor Class 17 (natural armor)
- Hit Points 135 (18d8 + 54)
- Speed 30 ft.
STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA 11 (+0) 16 (+3) 16 (+3) 20 (+5) 14 (+2) 16 (+3)
- Saving Throws Con +10, Int +12, Wis +9
- Skills Arcana +18, History +12, Insight +9, Perception +9
- Damage Resistances bludgeoning, cold, lightning, necrotic, piercing, slashing
- Damage Immunities poison; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks
- Condition Immunities charmed, exhaustion, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, prone, restrained, stunned
- Senses blindsight 10 ft., truesight 120 ft., passive Perception 19
- Languages Common plus up to five other languages
- Challenge 22 (41,000 XP)
Legendary Resistance (3/day). If the larva mage fails a saving throw, it can choose to succeed instead.
Regeneration. If even a single component creature of the larva mage remains, a destroyed larva mage can invade a corpse and gain a new body in 1d10 days, regaining all its hit points and becoming active again.
Swarm. The larva mage can move through any opening large enough for a Tiny creature. The larva mage can't regain hit points or gain temporary hit points except through the regeneration trait.
Shifting Swarm. The larva mage can use its bonus action to take the Dash, Disengage, or Hide action.
Spellcasting. The larva mage is an 18th-level spellcaster. Its spellcasting ability is Intelligence (spell save DC 20, +12 to hit with spell attacks). The larva mage has the following wizard spells prepared:
Cantrips (at will): chill touch, mage hand, prestidigitation
1st level (4 slots): detect magic, ray of sickness, shield, disguise self
2nd level (3 slots): blindness/deafness, mirror image, ray of enfeeblement, web
3rd level (3 slots): animate dead, bestow curse, counterspell, dispel magic
4th level (3 slots): blight, dimension door
5th level (3 slots): Bigby's hand, cloudkill
6th level (1 slot): circle of death, globe of invulnerability
7th level (1 slot): finger of death, plane shift
8th level (1 slot): dominate monster, power word stun
9th level (1 slot): power word kill
Turn Resistance. The larva mage has advantage on saving throws against any effect that turns undead.
Corrupting Touch. Melee Spell Attack: +12 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit 10 (3d6) necrotic damage. The target must succeed on a DC 18 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 minute. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.
The larva mage can take 3 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature's turn. The larva mage regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.
Cantrip. The larva mage casts a cantrip.
Corrupting Touch. The larva mage uses its Corrupting Touch.
Horrifying Gaze (Costs 2 Actions). The larva mage fixes its gaze on one creature it can see within 10 feet of it. The target must succeed on a DC 18 Wisdom saving throw against this magic or become frightened for 1 minute. The frightened target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a succes. If a target's saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the target is immune to the larva mage's gaze for the next 24 hours.
Disrupt Life (Costs 3 Actions). Each living creature within 20 feet of the larva mage must make a DC 18 Constitution saving throw against this magic, taking 21 (6d6) necrotic damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.