Overview

The Tagma Drakontas is an order of ascetic monks bound to protect and serve all dragons. Monks have extensive knowledge of all things draconic, from culture to physiology, language to diet. Most travel alone, wandering the world wherever they are needed. They tend to be distant from the civilized world, keeping mainly the company of dragons and other monks.

History

The 5th Century was a dangerous time for dragons. Paranoid grassroots movements against magic had strengthened into full-fledged armies seeking to wipe magic from the face of the world. Wyvrens, gryphons, and all manner of magical creatures were killed wherever they could be found, but dragons seem to have faced the worst of it. Whether by knights seeking glory or peasants seeking revenge, dragons fell under attack and their numbers dropped drastically. The normally aloof dragons desperately sought help from anyone who might offer it, but none would.

The dragon Dyraln'glaam, known to mortals as Goldwing, sought after the Grand Council of the Magi in a last-ditch effort to save his people. He came before the Council and prostrated himself, asking for salvation from the violent hordes. The magi were reluctant at best. Their numbers suffered just as badly as the dragons, and many of their members had gone into hiding. They held no love for dragons, and very little trust. Most members of the Council thought the matter closed before it opened. But one counselor stood alone in support of the dragons.

Trypho Panagiotis was a shaman of the Eliki, a band of forest-dwelling tribesmen from the East. The Eliki had long honored the dragon as a sacred being, though they had always kept a pious aloofness from the beasts. Panagiotis saw this as an opportunity to bring his people closer to the dragons and receive blessing from them. The other magi scoffed at this, some even demanding his resignation from the Council. What could one mage possibly do? they asked. 'Perhaps little,' he answered. 'Perhaps I will fail and my name be cursed forever. But the gods will know I at least tried.' Adamant and unmoving, and knowing the Council would do little to help him or the dragons' cause, Panagiotis requested permission to travel with Goldwing to his homeland and seek help from other shamans of his tribe. The Council agreed, glad to be rid of the troublesome wizard. Panagiotis presented the news to Goldwing himself. Overjoyed at even this little hope, Goldwing gave a ecstatic cry and lowered his head to the ground, allowing the shaman to climb unto his back. Goldwing arose and swiftly flew to the homeland of the Eliki.

Panagiotis and Goldwing were given a heroes welcome when they arrived in the forests of the Eliki, and a solid week of feasting and joy took place to honor the dragon's arrival. After this, Panagiotis informed the tribal elders of the dire situation of the dragons. The elders gathered with Goldwing, Panagiotis, and shamans from surrounding villages to discuss the matter. They knew they could not stop all the kingdoms that were waging war against the dragons, so raising an army was useless. Goldwing noted that boneblight, a wide-spread plague, had ravaged many kingdoms. Kingdoms blamed the dragons for the disease, when in fact the dragons suffered most from it, weakening their bodies and in some cases causing blindness. This weakness made them especially susceptible to attack. If a cure for boneblight could be found, the dragons could be healed and defend themselves better while the cure was administered to the kingdoms. The elders agreed, and the responsibility to find a cure fell on Trypho Panagiotis' shoulders.

Knowing he could not cure the draconic race alone, Panagiotis enlisted the help of nine other shaman of the Eliki, known historically as the Ten Brethren. Goldwing led them to an ill dragon, and after three years of experimentation, the Brethren were able to work their healing arts and cure the dragon of boneblight. During this years, Goldwing taught the shamans all he could about the draconic world: history, physiology, culture, language. Perhaps most importantly, Goldwing led each of the Brethren in a bonding ceremony, a draconic rite that forever intertwined the fates of the shamans and the dragon. By the time the ill dragon was cured, boneblight had dissipated from the kingdoms; dragons, however, still suffered from the disease. Having gained extensive knowledge of dragons, the Ten Brethren set out into the world to cure the dragons of boneblight. Word of Brethren spread quickly across the draconic networks, and soon nearly all dragons knew of the shamans. They assisted the Brethren in their quest, and nearly all dragons who suffered from boneblight were cured in two decades.

After their express goal was complete, the Ten Brethren met again in the forests of the Eliki to discuss what would become of them. They had gained incredible knowledge and skill in their time journeying with the dragons. They were skilled herbalists and healers, scholars of incredible knowledge, shamans of great skill. They had gained extensive combat experience from defending ill dragons. To simply disband would be a waste of their talent. And though boneblight was no longer a threat, malevolent prejudice against dragons was still commonplace. Venerable dragons were hunted by foolhardy warriors, and bold thieves stole dragon eggs and young to be sold to circuses and curious nobility. These injustices could not be suffered. With Goldwing's blessing, the Ten Brethren gave solemn oaths resolving to roam the world protecting and serving dragons in whatever way they could. They renamed themselves the Tagma Drakontas, and Eliki phrase meaning simply 'The Order of the Dragon.'

After several more years of serving the dragons, the shamans of the Tagma Drakontas realized that they were aging and their time on this world was short. wishing the tradition of their order to continue, they set out to find apprentices to whom their knowledge would be passed down. They sought out pupils from all walks of life: rangers, warriors, magi, scholars, healers. They trained their students extensively, each apprentice spending more than a decade in study and practice. At an appointed time, the apprentice was given to a dragon in the bonding ceremony, take vows, and become a full monk in the order. After the passing on of the original Ten Brethren, the monks of the Tagma Drakontas continued to pass down the traditions, teachings, and techniques of their masters, and the Order of Dragons continued for generations to come.

The Monks

A monk of the Tagma Drakontas is a rugged, self-sufficient individual. They have no standard habit, save a silken white sash, but are ascetics, wearing very utilitarian clothing. A monk wears a weapon out of necessity, though they dislikes combat as a whole. Monks are extremely knowledgeable in all draconic studies. They can recall the traits and peculiarities of hundreds of individual breeds. They are familiar with a dragon's physiology, able to identify a health problem with only a few observations. Just as quickly can they find a remedy, whether from their always-handy satchel of medicines or from herbal cures found nearby. And should an elixir not be immediately available, a monk can use her magic skills to either heal the wound or place a spell of protection around her patient while searching for a cure. A monk must be familiar with many draconic languages and dialects in order to communicate with their reptilian allies. They are also familiar with many forms of combat and are willing to use their skills, should an imprudent poacher attempt to kill a wounded dragon.

Though they have a slew of abilities that would make any adventurer wary, a monk rarely bothers idle travelers. Monks of the Tagma Drakontas are aloof of society, preferring the company of dragons and other monastics. Some view this as secretive, but the monks have no qualms about revealing their identity or their order. For the most part, they simply want little or nothing to do with the 'civilized' world and will avoid it whenever possible. They do not let this habit disturb their duty, however. If a passerby happens to stop and observe a monk, he will only be removed if he interferes with a monk's work. Monks who are treating or tracking a dragon often seem completely oblivious to everything around them; in truth, a monk is on the utmost guard at these times and is well-aware of what is going on around her. A monk may even suffer a lucky traveler to observe her work and ask questions, so long as the interrogation is not too distracting. Some monks are even known to be helpful to those seeking knowledge on dragons, acting as draconic gurus to those that seek them out.

Because of their distance from the secular world, monks rarely participate in wars and battles. A monk in combat, however, is a fearsome sight. They tend to be quick and strong, using minimalist strokes to fell an enemy. Unless a monk is planning for combat, armor is not worn. If armor is necessary, it is usually simple leather padding that provides minimal protection. On the very rare occasion that dragons declare war, the monks will join them. Acting as dragoons, they will be carried by dragons into battle and provide an extra set of eyes for their mounts. With their copious knowledge of draconic flight and combat abilities, a dragon and her monk rider are a deadly pair.

The Monasteries

While many monastic orders have great mansions and huge cathedrals as abbeys, the solitary nature of Tagma Drakontas monks has no need for such structures. They do, however, need to meet in private on occasion, or simply require a storage place for artifacts or tomes. It is then that a monk would find a monastery.

The largest of monasteries are lairs, the homes of dragons. These are usually large and secluded enough to house or hide whatever is needed. The most common stored item are books, and vast numbers of them. Monks study all sorts of manuals and compendiums in their work, and a monastery provides a library of reference. Often these monasteries serve as schools for Initiates of the order, allowing students access to copious knowledge. A monastery is provided over by one or two monks, one usually an abbot with an Initiate apprentice. This is also where dragons, the true masters of the order, dwell. They advise, consult, or merely converse with monks whenever needed.

Smaller monasteries are scattered across many lands. Aging monks often retire to care take one of these small monasteries, which often act as a sort of halfway house for traveling monks who need shelter. This happens infrequently, however, and many monasteries double as inns with the presiding monk as innkeeper. Even in these situations, though, the monastery is a source of knowledge. Inn-monasteries are well-stocked with useful tomes, usually in an attic or basement library kept by the presiding monk. These monks are also an invaluable source of knowledge, their experience holding volumes of information that a wandering young monk can glean. The wise adventurer also knows an innkeeper-monk's true profession, and might be fortunate enough to gain access to a monk's thoughts or even her library.

Recruitment

Not long after a monk becomes fully Avowed, she begins to search for an apprentice to carry on the charge of the Tagma Drakontas. An open-minded monk considers everyone a possible protege; all races, genders, and walks of life have potential. To help them narrow the field, monks enlist the aid of allies. Though mostly anti-social, monks make a few friends in promising groups: magic schools, ranger leagues, universities, healing guilds. These acquaintances usually owe some debt to a monk; perhaps she saved a friend's life or shared information with him. When the time is right, a monk asks for a return favor: look for very promising young people who have some potential in becoming a member of the Tagma Drakontas. If a friend does find a potential monastic, the monk will observe and, if they pass scrutizing, eventually confront the person to see if they are interested in the order.

The Levels of the Order

To make the process of monkhood consistent, the Tagma Drakontas long ago developed a ranking of four monastic levels. Each is distinct in purpose and character. The four levels are Initiate, Noviate, Acolyte, and Avowed.

Initiate - One accepted to study the path of the Tagma Drakontas. When a monk finds a willing candidate for the order, she presents him with a white sash-the only habit worn by monks-and is declared an initiate, with the master monk as his abbot. An Initiate is also given a dragon master, who will act as a guide in his journey. The Initiate must spend a minimum of four years studying at a large monastery, gaining vast knowledge of draconic lore. Both the abbot and the dragon master act as teachers during this time. After passing a vigorous test of knowledge, the Initiate is promoted to the rank of Noviate and is presented a talisman emblazoned with the seal of the Tagma Drakontas.

Noviate - When an Initiate becomes a Noviate, he leaves the monastery with his abbot to actively serve and apprentice the work of the order. A Noviate will become familiar with the terrain where he is assigned, learning to live off of the land. Noviates travel with their abbots as assistants and apprentices, helping and studying the abbot's work. This is also when a potential monk trains in combat. This second step in the monastic process is the longest before becoming a monk, lasting a minimum of ten years. The abbot and dragon master keep a close eye on the Noviate and, when a dragon master believes a Noviate is ready, he is given an amulet made from the scale of his dragon master. This declares the apprentice monk no longer a Noviate, but an Acolyte.

Acolyte - This is the final step before becoming a full monk of the Tagma Drakontas. As soon as the Noviate receives his scale amulet, he wanders out into the wilderness for a strict time of purification. The Acolyte lives asceticism to the extreme, fasting for weeks at a time and experiencing fierce physical mortifications. The purpose of this retreat is for the Acolyte to understand himself, the world, the order, and the draconic race. This withdrawal can last for months at a time. When an Acolyte is finally sure of his place in the world and his preparedness for the order, he will seek out his dragon master. The dragon master and Acolyte will spend several weeks alone, the dragon giving any final knowledge or words of wisdom to her charge. When the dragon master and Acolyte agree that he is prepared, the Acolyte goes through a three-fold test: body, mind, and spirit. The body is tested in combat by other monks, and the Acolyte must show an ability to fight wisely, fiercely, and fearlessly. The mind is tested by the abbot in an assessment similar to that during the Initiate phase, but much more intense. Finally, the dragon master will test the spirit in an ardent scrutiny of the Acolyte's very soul. If the Acolyte passes, the dragon master will dispense the rite of bonding to him. The Acolyte presents himself nude, completely vulnerable to his dragon master. The dragon speaks an ancient oath and, using her claws, places a distinct scar on each shoulder of the Acolyte. The mark is a draconic rune unique to each dragon, thus preventing deceivers from creating counterfeit marks. The marked Acolyte will finally present himself and his marks before the abbot. The abbot will administer the final vows of the order, and the person will become a fully avowed monk of the Tagma Drakontas.

Avowed - The full-fledged monk of the Tagma Drakontas. Soon after receiving final vows, a monk is given a charge by his former abbot. The charge is a large tract of land the monk has responsibility for. The Avowed monk will go to his land and familiarize himself with its terrain, monks, monasteries, peoples, and, of course, dragons. The monk will then take guardianship over the dragons of his charge, protecting and serving them in whatever way is seen fit.

The Bonded

The draconic ceremony of bonding is an arcane and profound rite. Its origins are ancient and date back to the earliest times of mortal-dragon cooperation. The rite uses primal draconic magic that creates a link between the monk and the dragon. This relationship can incredibly deep, often surpassing the depth of any human interaction. Though a monk will serve many dragons in his lifetime, his first oath is to his bonded master. A monk is only bonded once to a dragon. Dragons are normally and preferably bonded to only one monk, though on rare and dire situations a dragon has taken two or even three bonded monks. This puts a strain on the dragon's soul, however, and is not a desirable circumstance.

Role-play Hooks
-Conflicting Ideologies: The lands the PCs are in have apparently fallen under attack by a dragon. The regent of the kingdom asks the party to hunt down and kill the offending dragon. Going off to seek their quarry, they are stopped by a Tagma Drakontas monk who gives good reason to the dragon's actions (reasons could vary: corrupt king, pillaging of dragon's homeland, attack on spies of the kingdom, etc.). The PCs must decide who to trust and who to assist.
-Defender: While traveling a land, the party comes across a dragon who is apparently dying. The dragon is completely immobile and defenseless. While the PCs assess the situation, a monk arrives and demands to know the party's intentions. If they wish to kill the dragon, find its lair, and loot it, the monk will engage them in combat. Otherwise, they must convince the monk of their noble intentions. If the monk trusts them, s/he will attempt to heal the wounded dragon. During this healing, a band of hunters suddenly appears seeking dragon flesh. The party must fend off the poachers while the monk tries to protect and heal the dragon.
-Knowledge Seeker: While staying at an inn, the party hears rumors that the innkeeper is a witch. After further investigation, they discover she is not a witch but a monk of the Tagma Drakontas. The monk would certainly have information regarding (*insert party's current quest here*). Perhaps they can convince her to share some information.
-Monastic Apprentice: If the PCs have stayed in one area for some time or have a reputation, a guild master may approach one of the PCs and request his/her presence in an isolated place alone. The lone PC goes to the destination to be approached by a monk of the order who wants to make the player an Initiate of the order. The monk gives the PC one week to decide, then leaves. The player must decide if s/he wishes to abandon her/his party and join the order, or stay the course and ignore the monk.

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