Subduing a Dragon (or other Monster) in Castles & Crusades

Have you ever thought of subduing monsters? This has come up numerous times for my players and so I have taken a closer look at this, since I want my players to have the greatest array of options when it comes to how they can deal with monsters they encounter.

Subduing monsters has existed in previous editions of D&D (AD&D 1st edition, for example, had unique rules for attempting to subdue dragons, which is what inspired my deeper look into this, for subduing a dragon – or draconic creature – will become an option in one of my Castles & Crusades campaigns). I would like to present some scenarios as to how this might be done using the C&C rules as written and present some homebrew adjustments I will be making. Even if you don’t use C&C, the discussion that follows might be of interest to you.

What is subduing?
From the C&C Castle Keepers Guide (3rd printing, p.316): “Subduing an opponent or monster is a form of establishing dominance. This only succeeds if the opponent or monster believes the person doing the subduing is superior or has been convinced that any established bond is reciprocal. Subdual most often involves a physical contest but may involve more, depending on the intelligence (and memory) of the opponent. Creatures completely lacking any sort of intelligence, such as a skeleton or a green slime, cannot be subdued. Creatures of bug-level intelligence could possibly be subdued for short periods of time, but they would tend to resort to instinct.” [I will note that, for me, there may be exceptions to that last sentence. My Barrowmaze group may have subdued an Amber Golem without realizing it! Like with anything, if a player makes a good case for accomplishing something, or comes up with a genuinely creative solution to a problem, exceptions may arise.]

More from the CKG (ibid): “Animals, particularly those of the herd or pack variety, are programmed to dominate or be dominated. It is simply a physical contest where the strongest is the boss. This would last until the boss demonstrates significant weakness or poor judgment. The wolf who cannot lead his pack to food may himself become food. Lower end human-level intelligence creatures would follow a similar code, although the initial subdual may not require a physical contest at all. Intimidation may be enough. Higher intelligence creatures would certainly require more than a physical contest to be subdued.”

For the Barrowmaze group there have already been attempts at dominance made with wolves and lycanthropes (one player has become a werewolf), and with the rules that follow, we will be able to deal with this much more clearly and successfully in the future. My Dragonclaw Barony group may also find this useful with their future dealings with dragons (and other draconic creatures), and giants.

How does subduing work?
Subduing may begin as a physical contest but can evolve into a test of wills. Again, from the CKG (ibid): “[subduing] comes by defeating the foe in non-lethal combat, thus demonstrating to the foe your superiority. The attacker succeeds at this through unarmed combat, or by using the “flat” of a weapon, that is, by using the weapon in such a way as to deal non-lethal damage. The weapon will do the same damage as far as hit points go, but the majority of this damage is temporary or “bruising” damage, which will heal relatively quickly.”

To attempt subdual, the creature must be reduced to at least 50% of its hit points, although some monsters may require more. For example, bringing a normal animal to at least 50% would be enough for a check to be made (detailed below), but I would probably require bringing a dragon or giant very close to 0 hit points before it surrenders or submits.

Control is gained by making a successful, relevant, attribute saving throw (add attribute bonus plus level). [The CKG says to roll a successful Charisma saving throw, but in my view a character could do this by other class-specific means that make it a lot more fun and relevant to the PC, as I explain]. What do I mean by “relevant?” It depends on the class doing it. For a paladin it would be Charisma, for a Dragonslayer, Dexterity, for a Giant Killer, Strength. Your class will determine the method you will use to attempt subdual – it will be unique to each character. This means the Challenge Base will be 12, since the check will always be based on the character’s best prime attribute.

The Challenge Level added to the Challenge Base will be equal to the creature’s hit dice or level. Additionally, in this contest, any damage the character has taken will affect the outcome of the saving throw, since the creature will perceive the PC as being weaker and easier to defeat. For every level’s worth of hit points the character has taken in damage (rounded down), you reduce the number they add to their roll by 1.

Example [from the CKG, (ibid)]: “A 7th level bard, Amanoth, with a primary attribute of charisma 14 attempts to gain control of a griffon. The creature’s hit dice is 7 making the challenge class a 19. The character rolls a 13, receives a +1 for his attribute modifier and a +7 for his level for a result of 21. The check is successful, and the character gains control. However, if Amanoth had taken half his hit points in damage, the character would only add 3 to the roll for his level. The result is very different: 13 +1 + 3 for a total of 17. The subdual fails. If the attribute check is successful, the character gains control of the creature. If the attribute check is unsuccessful, then the creature is unaffected.”

As you can see, it is not just the creatures hit points that play a role in subduing them, you must appear strong and dominant yourself!

Maintaining Control
Keeping the creature subdued may require a series of attribute checks. Quoting from the CKG again (p.316):
“Checks may be required whenever the subdued creature’s life is endangered or when the master commits some sort of significant error. Times to check subdual:

• If ill-treated.
• If forced into evil/good actions.
• Highly stressful situations.
• Master very weak.

Keeping a foe subdued may be a far more difficult job than the initial subdual. A creature treated well, and which shares an alignment with its master is less likely to rebel than a creature of opposing alignment or one which the character forces into dangerous or deadly situations. Chaotically aligned creatures, more individualistic by nature, are more likely to rebel, as are creatures of a higher hit dice than their master. Lawful creatures may be more likely to wait for an opportunity to defeat their master and usurp his place.

Remember that subdual always begins in defeat and fear. In time, it may grow into a devoted loyalty, but this is something that the master will have to work hard to earn.”

Applications for Subdual, and an Example of it in Action with a Dragon
Normal Monsters and Magical Beasts

The CKG example regarding the griffon is a great demonstration of how subduing would work with animals and some magical beasts.


Humanoid Opponents
You could also use this against humanoid opponents who you want to question or place under coercive influence. We have all read stories or seen TV shows or films where a villain is subdued into a submissive role working for someone they dislike or hate. This could be a tactic you use to achieve a similar result. Obviously, high level villains will have a lot more options before them, so this is by no means a guaranteed form of control (remember, they are not charmed), but it does offer an option. Imagine you have a rogue who wants to run a guild and you see another active thug as competition, if you can succeed in subduing this thug, you they might do your bidding and become your “muscle.” They might resent it and work to find a way out, however, if they admire strength and cleverness, in time they might realize that it is in their best interest to remain with you and their allegiance might switch from their previous employer to you.

Epic Monsters
What about something more epic like giants, or dragons? Have you considered getting a dragon to guard your treasure? Perhaps you want to ride a dragon? Perhaps you want to have a dragon as an advisor. What about bullying a troll to live under your bridge and collect tolls from those that pass over it? Why attack the city walls of your enemy when you can get a giant to do it for you? Some of the above examples are activities that these creatures frequently do on their own, so getting them to do it for you may not be as much of a stretch and they may find it reasonable or even enjoyable.

Still, these creatures are quite powerful, are they more resistant to subdual? In C&C Dragons get bonuses to their saving throws based on their age category and many are resistant or immune to certain types of fear, so all of these factors will increase the Challenge Level to subdue. A Young Adult Blue Dragon, for example, has 8 HD. A young Adult dragon also gets a +3 bonus to saving throws. Additionally, if you attack a dragon in its lair, I think they should have an advantage, since they know every nook and cranny of this location. I would give them an additional +1 for fighting them in their lair. I would then add all these numbers together to get a Challenge Level of 13, providing a total Challenge Class of 25. This would emphasize the dragon’s greater resistance to being controlled or defeated. If they had also cast Aid and Protection from Good on themselves, then the Challenge Class could increase to 27 or 28.

However, if someone in the party trying to subdue the dragon were a Dragonslayer (i.e., the Drachentöten class from the Codex Germania), then I might give them an additional +1 bonus to their roll since they are a class trained to deal with and defeat these monsters. Also, in my games the god the players choose for their characters gives them abilities similar to what worshipers got as Specialty Priests in AD&D 2nd edition. So, if you worship a god that is focused on destroying these creatures (such as Thor when it comes to striking down Giants), then I might give the player a +1 bonus for that as well. Finally, if you are attacking in large numbers, then that is bound to influence the monster you are trying to subdue. In my campaigns I want a large group of PCs – usually 10 – since I want my players to have the most options available to them and my campaigns tend to be very dangerous, so if I have five players and they each have two characters, they could lose one character during an adventure and keep going. Plus, having additional members of a class such as rogues and clerics adds to the different ways you can heal or find/remove traps. Having a large group will also pose a greater intimidating challenge to the dragon they are trying to defeat, and I might give the character attempting to subdue the dragon an additional +1 for every character that is currently standing with them.

So, let us look at a more complicated example of a party trying to subdue a dragon.

Green Dragon (art from Wizards of the Coast, 2014)

George is a lawful good 10th level Dragonslayer who lives to slay or subdue dragons. He slays the chaotic evil ones but is open to subduing the lawful non-evil ones to do his bidding or to consult for their knowledge of the area. In this case he wants to subdue a local green dragon and use what it knows so that he can go slay a red dragon. He is part of a group of 10 adventurers that call themselves, rather boldly, “The Masters of Dragons.” The Masters of Dragons arrive at the lair of an adult lawful evil Green Dragon named Grawvish. Progressing through its lair they all take some damage from its traps but make it to his central chamber. There is some initial verbal sparring between George and Grawvish demanding the dragon submit to his will, but Drawvish laughs at these arrogant mortals and battle begins. The wizards might normally cast fireball and lightning bolt but George wants to subdue Grawvish, so they and the other spellcasters focus instead on controlling spells such as using entangle and web on Grawvish’s tail and wings to reduce its movement and reduce the effectiveness of its multiple attacks, leaving it to the warrior types to make the physical subdual attacks and damage. Grawvish breaths forth a horrific cloud of toxic gas that kills one of the wizards and brings a rogue and druid to a state of unconsciousness. There are now only 7 characters still active in the fight. George is doing the most to the dragon, using his Baldr’s Strike ability for twice maximum damage with each hit, and using Dragon Dancing to avoid getting hit by it in return. Still, the dragon knows that George is the greatest threat to it, and he has knocked George down to ¼ of his maximum hit points. It so happens, though, that at this same moment George has also (with the assistance of the other fighters, barbarians, and monks in the group) reduced it to just above 0 hit points with their subdual attacks. George now demands that Grawvish submit to him. Now it is time for George to make his check.

Here are George’s numbers: normally he would get +10 for his level, but because he is only at ¼ his maximum hit points, it is only +2. His Dexterity modifier is +2. He is a Dragonslayer, so I give him another +1. He worships a god of hunting, so I decide to give him another +1 for the skill his god has given him. Normally I would give him another +9 to his roll because of the other nine members of his party, but because three of them are down, he only gets another +6.

So, he will roll a 1d20 +2 (weakened 10th level character), + 2 (Dex), +1 (unique character class) + 1 (deity bonus) + 6 (characters reinforcing him). Or put more simply: 1d20 + 2 + 2 +1 + 1 + 6.

The Challenge Base begins at 12 since it will be a prime check for George. The Green Dragon is a Young Adult (8 HD) for a +8. I am giving it a +3 for its Age Category. It is fighting in its lair, so I give it another +1. And it had time to cast Aid on itself, and I have decided that the +1 bonus the spell provides should be added to its Challenge Level to resist.

So, the Challenge Level will be 8 + 3 +1 +1 = 13.

The final Challenge Class will be Challenge Base 12 + Challenge Level 13 = 25.

George rolls 1d20 +12.

This will be difficult, for George will have to roll 12 or higher to succeed in his subdual attempt. And he rolls…

How ‘bout you roll a d20 to see if George succeeded? What did you get? Did George succeed in subduing Grawvish? Will George be able to get the information he seeks for the nearby Red Dragon he wishes to hunt and kill?

As you can see from this example, there are a lot of variables. In my game your class, god, and how many people you have supporting you will play a roll [pun intended] in your success, as well as how much health you have when you attempt to subdue the creature – you need to get the creature’s hit points down while keeping yours up.

Whether you use the more simplified Castles & Crusades system for a ranger or barbarian that wants to subdue a wolf or owlbear, or add a few more homebrew variables like I will add for more challenging monsters like giants and dragons, this adds great new options for players to consider for game play.