I’ve always looked at the lore of dnd and been happy to use it as a guideline, not alway concrete setting laws. I keep most of the gods, and certain groups within, but usually I just make my own world with the building blocks provided. But one thing in dnd I love and will never change, the dragons. The whole metal vs chromatic bit is something I absolutely adore. And I love stories of beings struggling against their nature, in the words of Paarthunax: “What is better? To be born good, or to overcome your evil nature with great effort?”
Needless to say, no one can blame me for loving this theme and playing around with it and similar ones, but I was poking about online when I saw the question “Who’s your favorite villain with good intentions from your campaigns?”
And instantly I was reminded of one of my favorite “villains” given to us by a good family friend who is no longer with us…. So without further to do, please listen to the tale of Hadar the Golden, Hadar the wise, Hadar the kind, Hadar the Righteous, Hadar One Eye, Hadar the Honored…. Hadar the mad…
Once long long ago, there was a set of five cities that founded themselves at the base of a massive mountain, splitting five plots of land surrounding the mountain into five kingdoms. Despite their proximity, the kings of these kingdoms did not get along, they grew into massive trade hubs and despite all five kingdoms CONSTANTLY trying to get along and setting marriages into each other’s families pushing for unification and trying desperately to bring their peoples together, it never worked. Every time they were close to establishing a new uniting law or ceremony between two or more of the kingdoms, assassins or military groups would strike and only just barely enough evidence would remain of these forces to imply multiple kings. For hundreds of years this continued, the kingdoms struggling just barely at the brink of war, unable to get ahold of proof to justify war, but every outstretched hand ended up with fingers metophorically lopped off.
But the kings had a secret weapon, all of their families originally were intertwined through a single family ancestor, and as corny as it was, they trusted each other and they knew this was not each other’s doing through the blood oath that bound them and their forefathers. They were all heroes of their own people and wanted to unite the kingdoms through their people, but despite their intentions and efforts, something kept intervening. It took several generations, but they finally discovered extremely deep roots into each and every one of their kingdoms, rotting them from the core out. They came to the understanding that something was manipulating the kingdoms, trying to pull on puppet strings, and for the most part succeeding. Much time was spent secretively searching until the source was uncovered.
Within the mountain between the kingdoms, there was a particularly nasty dragon, an odd VERY ancient red dragon who seemed obsessed not with blatant rampaging and destruction, but with manipulating the lives of mortals. Playing the kingdoms as if they were instruments in his grand orchestra of pain and suffering.
The kings discovering this despaired as they recognized this ancient threat was far beyond just any normal dragon, even any average ancient dragon. This beast was a whole separate tier. Declaring himself to be a spawn of Tiamat, he proved to be much older and much more powerful than other dragons as when he was discovered, a conflict almost instantly began.
When opposed, the dragon who named himself Nalahar the Red quickly showed his hand. As the armies began to turn their attention to the mountain, dozens of cults in the cities began open revolt and blood sacrifices. It was an odd and horribly destructive event which drove many investigators to assume that Nalahar was trying to ascend into godhood through constant ritual sacrifices. But the kings felt this was a distraction for a much more simple mission. Nalahar had ruled this area since long before the cities were even built, it was more than likely that he simply enjoyed controlling and deceiving mortals, leading them on goose chases guessing and grasping at strings.
But despite Nalahar’s cleverness and cruel machinations, he did not expect the kings to react in the way that they did.
The five kings were unable to push back the cults or the increasing hostility of Nalahar’s champions who served as the most violent and powerful of his hands, but they were able to call upon the sole heir to the bloodline that aligned them, they called upon Hadar the Golden.
They knew very little about him, only that he was a powerful and noble Paladin of the Platinum dragon and something of a renown slayer of chromatic dragons. But while only the kings knew why he made such a good slayer of dragons, Hadar was even more of a mystery to the people, but quickly became their hero as he relentlessly hunted the cults, effortlessly slaying them in droves and blessing their fowl lairs making their rituals impossible to repeat on the same ground.
Nalahar took notice rather quickly and sent his champions, and it was that day, the turn of the battle and truly the start of the golden war that the kings declared a unity of all the kingdoms and marched out with Hadar the Golden to face the chosen champions of Nalahar who took great offense at the kings themselves getting involved. To him this was ruining the fun. Going for the throat of the victim meant there was no chase, no squirming, no game. But what happened next both infuriated and thrilled the cruel Nalahar.
The champions stood against the five kings and one paladin, great wings sprouted from the backs of the kings as they wreathed in flames and strode forward, slaying the champions put before them, planting the banner of the Platinum Dragon into the corpses of Nalahar’s champions, but the real shock to the people and to Nalahar who watched with his magic from afar.
As the champions of darkness drew their weapons, Hadar the Golden let loose from his lips, from the depths of his bowls a great roar and with a flash of gold from his skin, and a breath of fire from his throat, a golden dragon erupted from it’s armored humanoid form. Biting into his foe, he severed him and the Golden War truly began.
Despite the reveal of Hadar the Golden, and the five kings and their secretive bloodline, the war had only just started. The battles began as the people fought for their safety, freedom, and their homes. Nalahar sent his minions and much more to attack the cities, wrecking havoc and reigning terror upon the people, hoping to break them and force them to flee. But to his aggressive annoyance, Hadar would arrive quickly and put and end to every one of his machinations.
It wasn’t long before Nalahar was running out of minions and starting to lose the war through attrition. He was a deceitful hate filled trixter at heart, he had not planned on being discovered much less waging a war. So he burst from the peak of his mountain and roared a challenge to the kings Hadar below. While he was a trixter, he was still a hulking juggernaut of red scales and unholy magical blessings of his mother Tiamat.
The kings and Hadar answered the challenge and flew to the peak of the mountain, engaging the demigod red dragon in combat. Legends still sing of the days they spent fighting above the mountain before the fateful night when the lights enveloped the night sky. They claim it forever blinded those who looked directly into the light, they had all been fighting above the mountain for five days, but as the onlookers looked to the skies, they beheld the empty starry night and nothing more.
Only the bravest of knights and paladins moved into the mountain to search for the leaders of these kingdoms, what they found brought both pain and joy. Their kings and the champion were alive…. Barely.
The kings returned to their thrones crippled from their battle, missing limbs, shattered bodies and damage that could never be healed. But Hadar the Golden was found, his claws still grasping and impaling Nalahar’s heart through his chest, but Nalahar’s horn had plunged through Hadar’s right eye, deep within and he was not moving. It took weeks of healing and work, cutting through the ancient red dragon’s horn to free Hadar. He was extremely weak and forever wounded, the horn had penetrated his brain and remained stuck inside, unable to be removed without killing him.
The following months were of extreme celebration, and the following years, as Hadar stayed, he was declared the Golden King, the protector of the five kingdoms, a golden throne was built from the treasure horde once belonging to Nalahar. It took a long time for the dragon to recover, but eventually he took to his new title and took up the duties as protector of the five kingdoms. The horn plunged into his eye was enchanted and carved to look like an eyepatch, he became more than just iconic, the Golden King quickly built a temple to Bahamut and began training Paladins, choosing mostly the orphans of the war to forge into weapons of justice against evil.
Years, decades, even centuries pass. No one in all the lands does not know of the hero, the One Eye’d King, Hadar the Golden, Hadar the humble, Hadar the kind. Mostly found either training Paladins, caring for the world’s orphans, or forging armor in his holy forge, he was the herald of a golden age of prosperity, a saint that was not beyond the reach of the common man. Thousands would take up pilgrimage to see the Golden King, and they would always succeed, achieving his wisdom, and seeing him for their very own eyes to behold.
But this closeness with the people turned to brutal pain as the first signs of his advanced age began to show.
Whether from his brain injury as Nalahar’s horn still occupied his skull, or due to his old age, in a very short moment, he believed a common beggar asking for a blessing and a meal to be one of the champions of Tiamat. Thankfully, he only frightened the man half to death, but sadly the one most frightened was Hadar. It was only the first of many close calls and scares that told him that his time in this world was drawing to a close.
He withdrew from the world and began to seeth in endless fear, not just fear that he could injure someone innocent, but fear of what would befall the world when he left it. The fear of losing his legacy or even his life was nothing compared to all those he cared for and loved falling to some threat the moment he died, a threat from outside, or inside the kingdoms.
He sadly became even more reclusive and obsessed. The pilgrims and even the local Paladins saw nothing of him for the few short years when these problems started boiling to the surface, his fear forced him into his studies aggressively. Fear and his own damaged mind playing against him.
The Paladins and kings of the age, dismissed the actions regretfully as they assumed the truth, their king was dying. Their approach was more or less to give him room and forgive the mild madness, a kindness that nearly cost the world a thousand times over.
It was an early morning when a young bright eyed squire, desperate to see the figure of the legendary Gold King snuck into the mountain and found something. Coming from a family of wizards the young man vaguely understood the research set out on the table he approached, but froze in horror at what he finally discovered he was looking at.
The boy was almost killed on the spot by the Paladin order for even suggesting it was possible, but he took the research papers with him as proof, and it was not long before the highest levels of champions and elders of the Paladin order as well as the current kings themselves came to confront Hadar.
They wished with all their hearts that he would clear it up, tell them it was not true, brush it off as anything else, but when they found them, their hearts sank.
The papers and research were correct, Hadar the Golden was creating a machine, a device that in his madness he didn’t even recognize for what it was.
“Oh… you’re here… come… see it… I won’t have to fear dying… you will all be protected… the machine, we will burn the souls of the guilty to fuel safety and protection from those who would commit evil!” The look of joy in his eye as if he had found salvation and was giving a gift to those he loved so dear.
Hadar’s machine as it was created, was designed to sweep the nations as a magical anomaly, seeping into the minds of all the world, burning and consuming any with even the slightest evil in their hearts, using their souls to further power the machine and animating their bodies to serve the “greater good”.
He had created a genocide machine that would kill indiscriminately anyone who was not absolutely and purely good of heart and lawful to a fault, then animate their bodies for what was basically manual labor. A machine of endless death and slavery of their bodies after death.
It was a sin that could not be avoided or ignored, to the excessive pain in their hearts, all there engaged Hadar the Golden in combat in desperation to destroy the machine and put the old king to rest. But despite his ancient age, the golden king was endlessly powerful and the battle was turning in his favor. It was not until a great flash of light enveloped the room that the fighting stopped, in great confusion, the Paladins searched for the mad king and found nothing, nothing but the young squire who had followed them back out. When the fighting had started, the young boy, scared and uncertain, dug through the treasures once belonging to Nalahar, and he found a single artifact which succeeded in somehow banishing the Golden King. They knew not where or how, but he was gone.
They were still unsure if it was his age, his injury, or possibly a madness from the horn itself lodged in his skull. None knew, all mourned.
Even now hundreds of years later, the kingdoms are torn apart, near violently on whether it was Hadar, the golden king, or Hadar the mad. They wouldn’t know, not in their lifetime. If, or maybe when the Golden King returns, what will his fracture mind command of him?
Will he save the world…. or damn it?