Written as a cooperative effort by Erin Palette and Mike Kochis
If you ignore the dragon, it will eat you. If you try to confront the dragon it will overpower you. If you ride the dragon, you will take advantage of its might and power.
– a Chinese proverb
– a Chinese proverb
VI. Dragon Networks
As mentioned before, dragons rarely do things themselves – it wastes time which is better spent making contingency plans for the backup plans for the main plans that fit into the dragon's world domination scheme. (Dragons are smart enough to realize they will never actually rule the world, but continually moving toward this goal assures that their power and influence grow, which helps protect them from sudden, violent death.)
Instead, they work through agents of all races. Most have at least one tribe of kobolds who serve them. Through judicious use of their hordes, both through investment and ventures, dragons extend their financial empires across the infinite length and breadth of Pellatarum. Conflicts rarely result in dragon-on-dragon violence; negotiated settlements, complex games of chance, proxy wars, and breeding to give the contested area(s) to their children are all common solutions to draconic conflicts.
For lack of a better word, dragons are draconic. They sometimes forget that their followers are not all near-genius level beings with great power. They punish failure (which can mean deviating in the slightest detail from the plan) harshly, though not always fatally. They usually do kill those who betray, assault, or lie to them (others just have a laugh at the little worms attempting to get the better of them). Although dragons do reward success, it is rarely as lucrative as fairy tales would have you believe, and if you do receive a magic sword, huge gemstone, or land grant from draconic service, expect there to be strings attached.
Perhaps the most poorly understood aspect of dragons is the network of draconic favors that allows dragons to "borrow" each others' followers. This usually happens without the knowledge of the borrowed (if they even know who they're working for to begin with, which is rare for non-kobolds). This means that even while an "owned" party of adventurers runs about a dungeon for a quest given to them by "the old man at the tavern", they could also be looking to destroy an ancient artifact, find a bottle of a certain vintage wine, and check for rumors that thunderstone deposits are still nearby – each of them coming from a different dragon. Which is not to say that all quests ultimately come from dragons; far from it. Only about a quarter of what adventurers do is interesting or significant enough to attract draconic attention, let alone prompt them to action.
However, the fact remains that if you're doing something, you never know if a dragon is ultimately responsible for it. More likely, in the process of breaking into monster's homes and killing them for their stuff, an adventuring party will come to the attention of a dragon. Believers of the phrase “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,” dragons are very aware that parties of adventurers are just the thing to take out a draconic rival – or themselves. So they keep tabs on potentially dangerous adventurers, finding out what motivates them and making sure they are motivated in directions other than hunting down and killing the dragon in question. And if the adventurers just happen to go into a dangerous dungeon and not come out again – yes, the loss of resources is regrettable, but at least the adventurers themselves are gone...
Only the most trusted (or least untrusted) of a dragon's followers have access to this network, which is wide-ranging in terms of both skills and terrain. Likewise, these servants have simple tasks, such as "Destabilize this nation while making sure the clergy and farmers are not harmed" or "Make certain that this peasant farmer's son grows up to be romantically irresistible to this particular elven princess". But the testing never ceases. Dragons are certain their network contains spies, moles, and traitors – after all, they've got enough of their own in other networks, they ought to know how easy it is.
Dragons are obsessed with their status among other dragons, and insist on proper respect from other (lesser) species. As part of this, dragons are constantly "counting coup" on each other. They are too few in number to be able to afford resorting to violence as a first recourse with their rivals; a fight between dragons is usually a few centuries in the making.
A consequence of this is that dragons often meddle in the affairs of other dragons, if only to keep the others distracted enough that they can pursue their own obsession. In fact, draconic custom alters the level of acceptable interference based upon age, known interests, proximity to lair (with more generous zones around one's "main" lair), and so on.
The older a dragon is, the more complex and well developed their ploys become. A ploy (as most dragons call their efforts) consists of multiple layers of activity, diversions, delaying tactics, backup plans, fail-safe measures, and other considerations. Even for a genius-level creature, these ploys require years to develop, and are so detailed that they can seem prescient when unfolding (presuming, of course, that actual prescience isn't involved – because magic, that's why).
Indeed, it could even be possible that the dragon whom the PCs have been researching, battling the minions of, tracking, being stymied by, foiling the plans of, and all around focusing their attention on, has in fact been dead for centuries, and no one knows this but the kobold tribes who served her, and who, in her name, have been fostering the plots she lived for until she was taken by some fell disease or another draconic ploy!
To be continued.