This page is about the big scaly winged beast. For the character role of the main villain's right hand man (or beat stick), see The Dragon.
A dragon is a legendary creature with serpentine or otherwise reptilian traits that features in the myths of many cultures. They often have wings, and a Breath Weapon, although Chinese dragons are generally wingless and travel through the air "like a lizard on a wall". Unless a dragon slayer intervenes, dragons are generally thought to be either extremely long lived and/or immortal … however they are also often shown to spend most of their lives asleep in between destructive rampages1.
Depending on the source, they may be depicted as clever and intelligent, or just ravenously hungry beasts. They are generally depicted as highly acquisitive, hoarding gold and other valuables, more out of avarice than any use for wealth. Many of the intelligent versions (especially amongst the Chinese) are also skilled users of magic, philosophers or other kinds of scholar and/or extremely knowledgeable due to their immense age. If properly approached - usually with eye-watering bribes and/or by pandering to their colossal egos such a dragon may be a useful source of knowledge.
The other use for a dragon is traditionally to kill it and break it down for parts - the Chinese consider the dragon to have a magical pearl in its brain that can grant powers to any human who holds it, and they are not alone in looking for magical stones in the brains of dragons. Dragon hide is often considered a good source of armour and their teeth and claws sometimes get used as weapons. Other bodily parts may be used as material components in magic and/or the brewing of potions and other alchemy. Dragon's blood was considered extremely potent - giving immunity from weapons, the ability to understand the speech of birds and/or animals and other esoteric powers - but was also frequently thought to be poisonous. Both may turn out to be true.
Mythically, especially in the Christian tradition, Dragons can have significant weight as manifestations of sins such as Wrath, Pride, Greed and Covetousness - and occasionally as creations of or direct servants to The Devil. Hoarding and rampaging were thought to be inherent to their nature as part of this, and some "saints" find themselves slaying dragons as a result. Into the modern period Professor Tolkein's dragons are very much drawn from this tradition, being creations of Morgoth (his Satan equivalent) and being compulsively drawn to all of the abovementioned sins.
Transformation into a dragon also crops up from time to time - in some Chinese myths it was the result of consuming the magical pearl from a dragon's brain, whereas Western traditions were more likely to see it as the result of overindulgence in those sins that dragons were said to typify2. Occasionally fantasy authors (and RPG designers) have included transformation to dragon status as a deliberate process - usually as the result of powerful magic. On the flip side some dragons - especially the oriental varieties - are said to be skilled shape changers and fond of wandering around in the form of humans or other animals. Such transformed dragons may also mate with other creatures, spawning lines of descendants with some measure of the dragon about them - in some places this is a common form of origin myth for royal dynasties, wizards, heroes and villains alike.
- Lusca - a creature that may be part dragon
Game and Story Use
- Big and scary, with instant name recognition. If you introduce a dragon to your setting or story, the players will take note.
- Almost as good is to not introduce them but include them in backstory - sooner or later the PCs may end up going looking for them and can be distracted for ages chasing rumours. Why they aren't around should probably be decided in advance.
- An example - dragons are not native to this world and must be summoned with powerful magic. Either the spell itself, or the subsequent spell to control the dragon that you've summoned has been lost, thus dragons no longer appear (assuming that everyone who knows the spell follows the Charles Dexter Ward Principle. Hilarity - and campaign development - may ensue when a caster breaks ranks.
- This also ties with the dragons as supernatural evil meme.
- "Certain RPG Systems" are prone to the "big lizard" approach to dragons, making them a bit too mundane and easy to kill - feel free to avert this and use dragons only as epic challenges.
- Make sure your players are aware of the type of dragons you like to run - big lizards work in some settings and not others and PCs used to one are likely to suffer when exposed to the other.
- Why are dragons so interested in virgins? I came up with the following: All dragons are really alchemists. This is the reason why they have so much gold, and also why they can breathe fire… alchemist's fire. Quite possibly they were once mortal men who perfected their alchemy so much that they can internalize it in their bodies, necessitating their transformation into dragons. And virgins are alchemically powerful. Controlling them represents the alchemical marriage between the White Queen (the virgin/mercury) to the Red King (the dragon/sulphur). Thus, it is all in the name of improving their alchemy.
- That's actually a really good idea. Almost certainly better than the likely answer: that in a society which commoditises women a virgin of good family is very valuable property and appeals to a dragon's instinct to collect expensive things.
- Again, the transformation to dragon-shape through alchemy would be appropriate to real world mythiea.
- How do dragons have the abilities they have? That question might help you build parts of your setting, or work out ways to make your dragons different.
- One possibility: dragons eat a lot of metal and have strong stomach acids, which they use to produce hydrogen gas. A dragon flies as a superlight or possibly lighter-than-air craft, and breathes fire by sparking the gas. So the dragons hoard gold to help them fly (or you can say that they have a completely or almost-completely electrochemical metabolism), and go with gold instead of iron because the knights who come after gold wear iron anyway.
- As noted, draconic ancestry can be a great source of supernatural powers for your (N)PC … and you can balance out the points cost of those advantages with draconic flaws - a monstrous appearance, arrogance and impulse control problems. Also, people may want to break you down for parts.
- As per the entry for Puff the Magic Dragon a dragon could serve as a mentor or tutor to one or more generations of heroes.