D&D General Are dragons wings too small/little?

Oofta

Legend
And magic is not a suitable explaination for the flying ability of dragons since it lacks in empirical evidence and explaination. Although I do like the super strong bones, carbon fiber like skin, etcetc. Weapons out of Dragon Bone can even be better then steal or titanium etc.

Huh? This is a world where incorporeal spirits are walking around, beholders float, hounds from hell breath fire. Why would flying dragons that breath fire, acid, lightning, cold and various other nasty things not be magical?

Don't get me wrong, it's interesting to speculate how they could be more mundane, but at some point the D&D dragon has to be at least in part inherently magical. Now wyverns on the other hand might be a different story. :unsure:
 

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Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
I was a huge fan of that book as a kid. However, aesthetically, I prefer dragons that fly by wing lift - even if the dragon must be given supernatural strength and lightness to do so - rather than floating along like living blimp..

Also, a dragon that is stabbed by a knight's lance should not pop and deflate like a balloon. :)
The blimp issue can be easily solved by distributing dragon gas exchange throughout its body in a series of distinct ‘air sacs’ rather than a single cavity. Perhaps like birds dragons have no diaphragm, instead they have a solid armoured breast structure to protect the air sacs and rigid lung structures
 

If your talking about making dragons IRL, well you need to get some really advanced degrees in bio-engineering (some which don't exist yet) and maybe a century (or more) of technological advancement before we get there.
And it'd be a pretty inefficient allocation of effort. As impressive as an ancient red dragon is, it's probably outperformed in almost every metric -- size, speed, ceiling, range, durability, destructive capability, you name it -- by the good old B-52.
 

MarkB

Legend
Huh? This is a world where incorporeal spirits are walking around, beholders float, hounds from hell breath fire. Why would flying dragons that breath fire, acid, lightning, cold and various other nasty things not be magical?

Don't get me wrong, it's interesting to speculate how they could be more mundane, but at some point the D&D dragon has to be at least in part inherently magical. Now wyverns on the other hand might be a different story. :unsure:
Now I'm imagining this comic immediately followed by the dragon collapsing under it's own body mass.
 

Now I'm imagining this comic immediately followed by the dragon collapsing under it's own body mass.
I recall some natter in in a Dragon article or something about there being "background magic" or "intrinsic magic" in the world that powered such physics-defying-but-not-labeled-as-magical effects as the flight of dragons and beholders. The idea being that mortal "antimagic" didn't have enough oomph to cancel out magic that deep.

A friend of mine ran a campaign that went the opposite direction: a plot twist was that antimagic meant instant death for anyone, because all life is magical.
 

Oofta

Legend
Now I'm imagining this comic immediately followed by the dragon collapsing under it's own body mass.
Yeah, anti-magic spells and magical (non-summoned) creatures has always been a bit problematic. But while magical spells can't be cast and item's magic is suppressed in the zone, nothing says it otherwise affects creatures.

I've always interpreted that as dragons and other creatures generate their own magic, it's part of their metabolism.
 

dave2008

Legend
The blimp issue can be easily solved by distributing dragon gas exchange throughout its body in a series of distinct ‘air sacs’ rather than a single cavity. Perhaps like birds dragons have no diaphragm, instead they have a solid armoured breast structure to protect the air sacs and rigid lung structures
If you think that is true you need to do a lot more research into materials and physics. You need a certain volume of gas to overcome the mass of the body. You can't get that within the standard dragon shape, no matter how efficiently you fill it.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I was a huge fan of that book as a kid. However, aesthetically, I prefer dragons that fly by wing lift - even if the dragon must be given supernatural strength and lightness to do so - rather than floating along like living blimps.

Um... you know how being a living blimp is... making you lighter? Like, supernaturally lighter?
 

Dausuul

Legend
Um... you know how being a living blimp is... making you lighter? Like, supernaturally lighter?
What is your point exactly? Anything that flies, by whatever means, must be light enough - supernaturally or otherwise - to do so. That does not mean it has to float along like a blimp.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Let's start with a real-life animal that's roughly where we want dragons to be. Quetzalcoatlus is all very well, but I prefer my dragons a bit more robust. Say we use Haast's eagle, a very big extinct eagle that hunted moa: Weight up to 30 pounds, body length about 4 feet, wingspan up to 10 feet, able to take off from the ground.

How big should dragons be? Let's figure the tail is extremely long and thin, more of a steering vane. For the body, say 40 feet. That's on par with the very largest minis (8x8 base). So, this dragon is 10 times the size of Haast's eagle in every dimension. Thus, it must be 10 times as efficient a flier.

You put this as a footnote. It ought to be up front:

If the dragon's body is 10 times the size of Haast's eagle in every dimension, that means it is 1000 times the volume. To first approximation, that means it is 1000 times the mass and weight.

Now, here's where you run into problems. The lift generated by a wing is directly proportional to the wing's surface area. But, at 10 times the size in each dimension, the surface area of this dragon's wings are only 100 times those of the eagle.

Increase the size - you get 1000 times the weight, but only 100 times the lift. That's the problem.

You said you preferred body plans like the eagle. Well, this is why Quetzalcoatlus didn't have the eagle's body plan - keep the same body plan at a larger size, and you can't fly - because for natural animals, you have only a few options for reducing the body mass, and most of those actually negate the point of being physically larger!

This is where being a fantasy creature comes in. I am not sure most of the time that you want them to be 1000 times the physical size, but only 100 times the weight. In our case, 100 times the weight of the eagle is only 3000 pounds - on the order of the weight of a large bull. Aside from blowing away in the wind... it would mean that any predator who could take down a large bull might also have a chance at the dragon.

So, no, let us not reduce the weight. Instead, increase how much you get for that weight. In normal animals, as you say, the force muscles can exert is proportional to the cross sectional area of the muscle fiber bundle - if I am 10 times the size in each dimension, I am 1000 times the weight, but only 100 times as strong. Whoops!

Fix that one thing - muscle power, and it all works. The muscles of our large fantasy creatures are incredibly powerful as compared to our smaller fantasy creatures. Giants, Dragons, and so on, have some force multiplier. Their connective tissues and bone strength (not overall weight, just their strength) must increase to take the larger loads. But then, you're done.

So, really powerful muscle, and dragon and giant bones that are stronger than metals. And that's cool anyway.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The blimp issue can be easily solved by distributing dragon gas exchange throughout its body in a series of distinct ‘air sacs’ rather than a single cavity.

With respect, go look at a hot air balloon for a minute. One that's designed to lift a few people in a basket.

Look at the volume of the balloon.

Exactly how big is your dragon, again? In air, the volume that you need to lift a body by displacement is much, much larger than typical animal bodies - to lift a few hundred pounds of mass by air displacement, you need a volume like a hot air balloon! The dragon weighs several times that.
 

This is where being a fantasy creature comes in. I am not sure most of the time that you want them to be 1000 times the physical size, but only 100 times the weight. In our case, 100 times the weight of the eagle is only 3000 pounds - on the order of the weight of a large bull. Aside from blowing away in the wind... it would mean that any predator who could take down a large bull might also have a chance at the dragon.

So, no, let us not reduce the weight. Instead, increase how much you get for that weight. In normal animals, as you say, the force muscles can exert is proportional to the cross sectional area of the muscle fiber bundle - if I am 10 times the size in each dimension, I am 1000 times the weight, but only 100 times as strong. Whoops!

Fix that one thing - muscle power, and it all works. The muscles of our large fantasy creatures are incredibly powerful as compared to our smaller fantasy creatures. Giants, Dragons, and so on, have some force multiplier. Their connective tissues and bone strength (not overall weight, just their strength) must increase to take the larger loads. But then, you're done.

So, really powerful muscle, and dragon and giant bones that are stronger than metals. And that's cool anyway.
I think there's a place to meet in the middle here. I'm fine with saying that dragons are lighter than you might expect for a creature of their size: they're titanium and carbon fiber as opposed to the steel of something like a giant. But no, blowing away in the wind would be rather undignified.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
What is your point exactly?

That "supernaturally lighter" is not significantly different from "floating like a blimp".

Go watch footage of people walking on the Moon. That's the motion of people who are supernaturally lighter than you'd expect. They bob along kind of like balloons.
 

Dausuul

Legend
That "supernaturally lighter" is not significantly different from "floating like a blimp".
Yes, it is. A dragon that is light but heavier than air still behaves like the flying animals we know. It soars and banks and dives. If you bind its wings, it falls. A blimp does none of this. It just floats.

Go watch footage of people walking on the Moon. That's the motion of people who are supernaturally lighter than you'd expect. They bob along kind of like balloons.
Go read Galileo. Heavy objects and light ones fall at the same speed in the same gravitational field. The Moon has a different gravitational field. The weight of the astronaut has nothing to do with it.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
With respect, go look at a hot air balloon for a minute. One that's designed to lift a few people in a basket.

Look at the volume of the balloon.

Exactly how big is your dragon, again? In air, the volume that you need to lift a body by displacement is much, much larger than typical animal bodies - to lift a few hundred pounds of mass by air displacement, you need a volume like a hot air balloon! The dragon weighs several times that.

One thing I did notice when looking at Medieval depictions of Dragons that they tended to be smaller than the modern view and also they tended to have serpentine neck and tails on round bodies - exactly as would be expected of a "blimp serpent" :) so maybe the serpentine depiction of dragona is more accurate, giving them reletively light weight but due to their ability to 'blimp up' legends have claimed they are much much larger than we have come to expect :p

Of course they also tend to be bipedal which might make them wyverns rather than dragons

blog-bacon1-dragon.jpg
dragon-stained-glass2.jpg
 

Yes, it is. A dragon that is light but heavier than air still behaves like the flying animals we know. It soars and banks and dives. If you bind its wings, it falls. A blimp does none of this. It just floats.
Eh, it depends how much heavier than air. Feathers are heavier than air, but they still float around a lot.
 

dave2008

Legend
I think there's a place to meet in the middle here. I'm fine with saying that dragons are lighter than you might expect for a creature of their size: they're titanium and carbon fiber as opposed to the steel of something like a giant. But no, blowing away in the wind would be rather undignified.
True, but for my fantasy I would rather dragons trend to the stronger strength of materials side than the air-filled blimp side. i would expect their design would incorporate strategies to make them as light as possible (i.e. diamond fiber is extremely hard and strong, but light as well), but personally I want my dragons to look like dragons first and realistically fly second.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Eh, it depends how much heavier than air. Feathers are heavier than air, but they still float around a lot.
Well, yes, but I'm not proposing reducing the dragon's density to the point where it would drift like a feather. A creature the size of a dragon, at 20% the density of normal flesh, would still fall quite fast if its wings were folded.

What I am trying to do is get to a creature that flies in the same manner as a large bird--the way most of us expect a dragon to fly, soaring majestically before it folds its wings and dives to spew fire. Umbran's solution of "just make it stronger" is a problem because no matter how strong the dragon is, the surface area of its wings determines how much lift it can generate per flap; Hercules cannot fly by flapping his arms. As you pointed out earlier, a dragon relying purely on stronger wings would have to fly like a colossal hummingbird, beating its wings at blurring speeds, and it would have to do this all the time. It could not soar or glide. As soon as its wings stopped moving or even slowed down, it would plummet.

Alternatively, the dragon could use its strength to make its wings bigger. But this leads to a dragon with a 40-foot body and 1,000-foot wingspan.

The blimp-dragon is the end result of "just make it lighter." Again, though, such a dragon's flight would look very different from what we expect. It would not so much fly as swim through the air. When at rest, it would simply drift above the ground. That fits nicely with Eastern-style dragons, which are generally portrayed without any wings at all. But for Western-style dragons, it would look utterly bizarre.

So, the middle ground is a place where we make the dragon strong enough to support a reasonably larger wing surface, and light enough for those wings to lift it in a birdlike way, without making its wings absurdly outsized and without making it so light that it cannot fall.
 

So, the middle ground is a place where we make the dragon strong enough to support a reasonably larger wing surface, and light enough for those wings to lift it in a birdlike way, without making its wings absurdly outsized and without making it so light that it cannot fall.
I think we're pretty much on the same page here.

For the largest dragons, I suspect if you sat down and ran the numbers (which I have not) you might still need to do some fudging to avoid the hummingbird-or-feather problem, but anything south of Quetzalcoatlus in dimensions is clearly at least within spitting distance of plausibility, and so bulking the creature out to turn it from an overgrown stork to a proper dragon is just a matter of saying that their muscles and bones are better than a pterosaur's -- by some factor that might still strain realistic biology (since Quetzalcoatlus was presumably already pretty damn optimized) but at least isn't off by full orders of magnitude.

Unless, of course, the killjoys are right and Quetzalcoatlus itself was flightless...
 

Oofta

Legend
Well, yes, but I'm not proposing reducing the dragon's density to the point where it would drift like a feather. A creature the size of a dragon, at 20% the density of normal flesh, would still fall quite fast if its wings were folded.

What I am trying to do is get to a creature that flies in the same manner as a large bird--the way most of us expect a dragon to fly, soaring majestically before it folds its wings and dives to spew fire. Umbran's solution of "just make it stronger" is a problem because no matter how strong the dragon is, the surface area of its wings determines how much lift it can generate per flap; Hercules cannot fly by flapping his arms. As you pointed out earlier, a dragon relying purely on stronger wings would have to fly like a colossal hummingbird, beating its wings at blurring speeds, and it would have to do this all the time. It could not soar or glide. As soon as its wings stopped moving or even slowed down, it would plummet.

Alternatively, the dragon could use its strength to make its wings bigger. But this leads to a dragon with a 40-foot body and 1,000-foot wingspan.

The blimp-dragon is the end result of "just make it lighter." Again, though, such a dragon's flight would look very different from what we expect. It would not so much fly as swim through the air. When at rest, it would simply drift above the ground. That fits nicely with Eastern-style dragons, which are generally portrayed without any wings at all. But for Western-style dragons, it would look utterly bizarre.

So, the middle ground is a place where we make the dragon strong enough to support a reasonably larger wing surface, and light enough for those wings to lift it in a birdlike way, without making its wings absurdly outsized and without making it so light that it cannot fall.

All of that is fine, but at some point magic needs to be involved. Dragons as we know them could not exist without magic. That doesn't mean that like beholders they can only fly because of magic, just that they are magically lighter than their mass would indicate.

To me that makes sense. If there is magic, evolution will at least in some cases take advantage of it. So a dragon (at least while flying) weighs as much as a very large bird and it's bones are supernaturally strong. Of course it's scales are also supernaturally strong and it breaths fire so it's just part of the package.
 

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