ECLs are based on the LA plus Monster Hit Dice plus Class Level. That's fine with a regular monster, but as Dragons progress, they gain Monster Hit Dice...and the LA penalty also goes up. That means that the goal posts shift as Dragons Age.
On top of that D&D never provided LA penalties for Epic Monsters. Once a monster gets to an ECL of 20th level it was considered unplayable. So there is no data there.
Lets have a look at the Black Dragon. We get the following information:
Black Dragons by Age
Age | Size | Hit Dice | Level Adjustment | Effective Character Level* Wyrmling | T | 4d12+4 (30) | +3 | 7+* Very young | S | 7d12+7 (52) | +3 | 10+* Young | M | 10d12+20 (85) | +3 | 13+* Juvenile | M | 13d12+26 (110) | +4 | 17+* Young adult | L | 16d12+48 (152) | - | -
* = ECLs are not normally written as X+, but there is also supposed to be Class Levels added in there. So if someone was going to play a Wyrmling Black Dragon Ranger, they could start off as a 7th Level PC, with zero Class levels and then add 13 Levels of Ranger, before becoming an Epic Character.
However, when a Wyrmling Black Dragon turns into a Very Young Black Dragon it suddenly gains an extra 3 Hit Dice. And when a Young Black Dragon turns ito a Juvenile Black Dragon it gains both an extra 3 Hit Dice and also another +1 LA penalty (a combined ECL increase of +4).
I've not worked out how to deal with these sudden increases in power.
And I think that, if I extrapolate the above (limited information) and infer LA penalties for Epic Dragons, the issue is going to get bigger and bigger.
EDIT: Scratch that. I've just checked the Advancement Section.
So, a Wyrmling Black Dragon is able to add on two Monster Levels of Black Dragon, before it hits the glass ceiling (and needs to age to a Very Young Black Dragon).Advancement: Black Dragons wrote:Wyrmling 5-6 HD; very young 8-9 HD; young 11-12 HD; juvenile 14-15 HD; young adult 17-18 HD; adult 20-21 HD; mature adult 23-24 HD; old 26-27 HD; very old 29-30 HD; ancient 32-33 HD; wyrm 35-36 HD; great wyrm 38+ HD
I'm thinking that, if Dragon PCs are required to take Monster Levels in their race, up to the next size category (before ageing) that could get rid of a lot of the problem. It could be just the LA penalty increase that is the problem.
The original Council of Wyrms rules were designed for 2nd Edition, but do they give any ideas on how to balance out the power shifts in playable dragons?
Or are shifts upwards in power just a normal thing (like modified stats for conventional PC races)? Should I just be ignoring this sort of thing (except to calculate Challenge Raitings of NPC Dragons)?
EXTRAPOLATED LA AND ECL STATS FOR 3E DRAGONS:
- Chromatic Dragons