Are dragons wings too small/little?

Dausuul

Legend
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.
Yes, that is exactly what I was going for. Start with a real creature; scale it up; figure out the hypothetical properties (weight and strength) that would be required to keep it airborne at that size; and then invoke magic to make it so.
 

TheCosmicKid

Adventurer
Simplified theory:

Young dragons can fly without issue.
Old dragons can fly because they've flown their whole lives and aren't about to let a little physics tell them what they can and can't do.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Yes, that is exactly what I was going for. Start with a real creature; scale it up; figure out the hypothetical properties (weight and strength) that would be required to keep it airborne at that size; and then invoke magic to make it so.
Which is why I pointed out the pterosaur in my first post. It's the best analogy we have and basic dimensions are fairly close to dragons in size with reasonable wing size.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Interesting side note: The dragons of "Game of Thrones" look very like what I outlined above. They have hugely muscular, deep-keeled chests tapering sharply toward the hips, and enormous, robust wings. Their tails are long and thin, and their legs are bony, more birdlike than reptilian.

I prefer my dragons with four legs, but that's a matter of taste (and it requires explaining how a vertebrate ends up with six limbs, and how the forelegs and the wings attach without crippling each other). In physique, they're exactly how a dragon built for powered flight ought to look.
 
I look at dragon art and I notice that the wings of dragon are pretty small for such a large creature.
Shouldn't the wings have more surface volume? I know it is all fantasy and such, but it just seems to defy the laws of physics.
It kind of reminds me of an Amnizu, although I don't know if they can actually fly.

Shouldn't the wings of dragons be larger, plus extend down into their tails for more muscle and attachment to the body for longer wings?
The answer is "yes, dragon's wings are too small". Oddly enough this is actually something a lot of the earliest writers and creators for d&d have known since the early days. As a result there are a couple different times in the canon where a weird little reference will be made to this fact usually accompanied by another entry saying something to the effect that the reason the wings arent larger is because the dragon's supernatural or magical nature assists it in staying aloft easier than it should be able to with such small wings. Its the mother of all lazy explanations imo unless you really lean hard into the idea of dragons being a bit of a massive avatar of the cosmic/planar/mystical. Then i suppose its acceptable.

Such a creatures wings realistically should be so large that it would essentially stop being a practical creature to use though. I cant remember what the exact dimensions on it are, but ive seen calculations for humanoids with realidtic wing size and honestly they already breach that limit and humans are WAY smaller than dragons.
 
Well, if you make dragonbone some really awesome stuff, and make their muscles magical, and you can do it...



It is less "impossible" and more "our animals chose fewer limbs a long, long time ago, and adding functional limbs is so unlikely as to be unthinkable". There is no real engineering reason to not have a six-limbed animal - the only reason we don't is that the tradition of genetics is very, very hard to break.
also wyverns. Wyverns would require far less genetic deviance. So they are actually mathematically easier to arrive at. I dunno. Random thought.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
But dragons don't fly. They're just so powerful that they move the universe around them with their wing flaps.
I seem to remember a Sci-Fi (Alan Dean Foster?) like that. Basically they had "befriended" all the dark matter in the universe or some silliness. It presented as a small alien but they eventually decided that it was stationary and the universe moved around it. There were sooo many problems with that premise.
 
Simplified theory:

Young dragons can fly without issue.
Old dragons can fly because they've flown their whole lives and aren't about to let a little physics tell them what they can and can't do.
Im using this in my campaigns now.
Dragon: ah! Beautiful day for flying.
Physics: no! You ca-
Dragon: what's dragon's law again?
Physics: a physical law that is breathing tends to stay breathing so long as it pays its local dragon the courtesy fee for protecting it from other dragons and psionics...
Dragon: good boy. You're welcome!
Physics: yes sir. Will that be zero gravity or 1 % gravity today?
Dragon: better make it 5 % today. I feel like getting a work out.
Physics: yes sir. Thankyou sir.
Dragon: you're damn right!
 

TheCosmicKid

Adventurer
Interesting side note: The dragons of "Game of Thrones" look very like what I outlined above. They have hugely muscular, deep-keeled chests tapering sharply toward the hips, and enormous, robust wings. Their tails are long and thin, and their legs are bony, more birdlike than reptilian.

I prefer my dragons with four legs, but that's a matter of taste (and it requires explaining how a vertebrate ends up with six limbs, and how the forelegs and the wings attach without crippling each other). In physique, they're exactly how a dragon built for powered flight ought to look.
That seems to be the direction in which contemporary fashion of dragon design is going. You see similar in Skyrim's dragons and Peter Jackson's Smaug. For that matter, Todd Lockwood's (gorgeous) dragon designs for this game have a lot of the same anatomical proportions, just with the extra forelimbs.

On that note, draconic hexapody seems to me a nonissue in a fictional setting where the young earth creationist's claim that "God did it" is patently correct in every way except the singular subject. It's remarkable that anything in D&D looks like the product of evolution at all, really.
 

MarkB

Hero
This thread puts me in mind of the dragons of Discworld, which can only exist and function through the near-constant consumption of magic. The dragon summoned in Guards! Guards! essentially looks like a badly-done CGI effect when it flies, because it's not entirely real and is constantly expending magic in order to defy the laws of physics.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
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.
I like the idea of the materials science being magical, rather than them magically ignoring physics. They aren't a big lizard that weighs 20 tons and yet flies with winds that would barely work on a pterosaur, because they actually only weigh about as much as that pterosaur.
I'd still make the wings bigger, on most dragons, though.
And bring back wingless most eastern styled dragons.

Yes, that is exactly what I was going for. Start with a real creature; scale it up; figure out the hypothetical properties (weight and strength) that would be required to keep it airborne at that size; and then invoke magic to make it so.
Yes! You basically just described my writing/world building style in any fantasy work, whether game or story.

Especially my RL+Magic world, where I've split the game into 3 main Eras, each with it's own balance of fantasy and science. In the Future, there are warp rings that open wormholes between two known points, and warp drives on scout ships that allow effectively faster than light (but technically not) travel for exploratory ships, and the basis of the tech is real world theories of how warp tech might work, with magic solving the energy issues. As well, magical materials science allows solar panels that run at 90+% efficiency, nearly indefinite power storage, etc, leading to a post-power scarcity civilization.

But there is still pure magic, and things that don't need magic tend not to use it, because magic almost always requires the application of conscious will to operate.

Truly magical creatures tend to not be entirely physical in nature, like unicorns, demons, angels, sprites, and the True Dragons, which are among the oldest gods known as the First Gods, born from the first expressions of Will upon the newly forming universe.

But lesser dragons are long bodies, big winged, lighter than they look, and have feathered crests and 4 limbs like a pterosaur.
 

Greenfield

Adventurer
I haven't read all of this, so if my post is a repeat, please forgive. So many posts, too iittle time.

Dragon wings are usually depicted as being small, I blame the limits of lead, and shipping problems: The gaming figures always had pitifully small wings because if you put larger wings on the dragons then the joints wouldn't hold, even if the figures were handled carefully. I mean, who likes it when the DM brings out his or her pride and joy, that huge (or Colossal) horror they spent far too much money and time on, an they have to treat it like tissue paper lest it fall apart. There's also a practical limit on how big a package they're willing to shell out for and ship.

Oh, sorry, you were taking about the "real" dragons in the game, not the miniatures. :)

Artistic license by the illustrator? Limited page space for the art? Because there are few if any places where the various sources actually give wing measurements.

Now, can something the size of a moving van fly by muscle power? You can't just scale up a hummingbird and expect it to fly. A hummingbird brought to the size of an eagle would be earthbound. Wings are too small.

To make said muscular moving van fly they'd need wings like a circus tent, and a skeletal structure that could move them from that relatively small base. No joint of bone and cartilege (sp?) will ever be strong enough. As size doubles, wing area quadruples (square of the scale up), but the weight to carry octuples (it's a cube thing).

So in the strictly technical sens, no, dragon wings aren't big enough, nor could they be.

Artistically however, we could at least try. The wings depicted in most D&D art and figure castings wouldn't keep that thing in the air even if you didn't scale it up. I'd like it if the artists and sculptors would at last try.
 

Greenfield

Adventurer
Afterthought: Many many moons ago a company called Archive Miniatures had a gorgeous dragon mini called Shredni, the Serpentine Dragon. It became their logo for quite a while. It came in 14 pieces (I kid you not), and the body was indeed long, twisting and serpentine.

I had a couple, and they looked good! I saw their display at Gencon, and they had one, assembled and primed, though not painted, on display at their booth. It was broken.

Each wing came in two pieces, and the attachment to the body was quite long compared to the wingspan. Even so, short wings and large connecting surface, even the pros who made the bloody thing couldn't get it to stay together.

So, what does this have to do with the question, other than being another artistic depiction of a Dragon who could never get off the ground?

It exemplifies the problem for a flesh and blood dragon: How to get wing joints that can take that strain, and muscles that can move them with enough force.

I think that the answer is magic, not just for lift, but also for muscle and bone density. They have to exceed anything the natural world has ever produced, by a factor of about 20.

BTW: If you ever face this problem with an assembled metal figurine, I suggest a "pin vise" drill and some jeweler's drill bits. A few well placed holes, some hard steel straight pins running through both pieces, and a bit of glue can work wonders.

Like I said, I had a couple of those dragons, and mine didn't fall apart. :)
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Afterthought: Many many moons ago a company called Archive Miniatures had a gorgeous dragon mini called Shredni, the Serpentine Dragon. It became their logo for quite a while. It came in 14 pieces (I kid you not), and the body was indeed long, twisting and serpentine.

I had a couple, and they looked good! I saw their display at Gencon, and they had one, assembled and primed, though not painted, on display at their booth. It was broken.

Each wing came in two pieces, and the attachment to the body was quite long compared to the wingspan. Even so, short wings and large connecting surface, even the pros who made the bloody thing couldn't get it to stay together.

So, what does this have to do with the question, other than being another artistic depiction of a Dragon who could never get off the ground?

It exemplifies the problem for a flesh and blood dragon: How to get wing joints that can take that strain, and muscles that can move them with enough force.

I think that the answer is magic, not just for lift, but also for muscle and bone density. They have to exceed anything the natural world has ever produced, by a factor of about 20.

BTW: If you ever face this problem with an assembled metal figurine, I suggest a "pin vise" drill and some jeweler's drill bits. A few well placed holes, some hard steel straight pins running through both pieces, and a bit of glue can work wonders.

Like I said, I had a couple of those dragons, and mine didn't fall apart. :)
It’s not actually half that bad. You just make the dragon much lighter than it looks, make the wings a bit bigger, and go.

The biggest flier IRL weighed about 500lbs, and was certainly big enough to eat livestock and be ridden by a human in a movie that doesn’t care too much about realism, without knocking patrons out of their suspension of disbelief. Which is more important than if it could actually carry a human on its back.

Dragons can be so big that a human barely measures up to its eyeball, but at that size they are a being of epic magical power. They’re practically minor gods. They fly because they want to.

But lesser dragons don’t need that level of magic. They just need less density.
 

dave2008

Hero
But lesser dragons don’t need that level of magic. They just need less density.
it is a little tricker than that and I think @Greenfield explains some of this issues as well. Less density alone will not do it. to create a fantasy dragon you would need:
  1. Less density
  2. Stronger than normal bones and muscles
  3. Sufficiently large wings to provide lift
The ratio of those three and how much (if any) magic is required depends on the size of the dragon and what you want it to be capable of. Personally, I like my dragons to suffer no consequences for their design and prefer to rely heavily on magic to get there. That can include the kind of magic that makes the muscles and bones extremely strong and less dense.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
it is a little tricker than that and I think @Greenfield explains some of this issues as well. Less density alone will not do it. to create a fantasy dragon you would need:
  1. Less density
  2. Stronger than normal bones and muscles
  3. Sufficiently large wings to provide lift
The ratio of those three and how much (if any) magic is required depends on the size of the dragon and what you want it to be capable of. Personally, I like my dragons to suffer no consequences for their design and prefer to rely heavily on magic to get there. That can include the kind of magic that makes the muscles and bones extremely strong and less dense.
I generally only need lesser dragons (adult and under) to be a little bigger than a quetzalcoatlus, which requires very little magic.

Even at, say, 30-40 percent bigger, it doesn’t take much magic at all for most people to be fine with a dragon. “It’s body is less dense, and it’s bones and muscles are stronger” is more than enough.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Its the mother of all lazy explanations ....
Well, they had a problem. Folks ask why things work. But, it isn't like the writers were biologists, engineers, or physicists. The number one rule folks should try in such writing is... don't do it. You try to actually explain your magic it 1) ceases to be magical, and 2) you'll get it wrong, and folks will rip holes in it. YOu may think it is lazy, but "It's magic, duh!" works and is pretty bullet-proof.

Really, if you aren't going to make the reason they can fly a plot point, a thing the PCs can interact with, you don't need to specify why. We have curious minds, but as the architects of our own games, we should recognize when specifying technical details is not necessary.
 

dave2008

Hero
I generally only need lesser dragons (adult and under) to be a little bigger than a quetzalcoatlus, which requires very little magic.

Even at, say, 30-40 percent bigger, it doesn’t take much magic at all for most people to be fine with a dragon. “It’s body is less dense, and it’s bones and muscles are stronger” is more than enough.
I guess it comes down to what you mean by "much magic at all" and what you mean by density. Birds can fly mostly because they have less mass, not because they are significantly less dense than other animals*. So are you suggesting they are magically less dense, or that super materials (magic or otherwise) make the less dense?

Also, a dragon that is 30-40% bigger than a quetzalcoatlus would weigh less than a 15' alligator. That is not my idea of a dragon.

*Note: some birds (puffins & loons) don't have hollow bones and neither do flying mammals. Almost all animals have a density close to water. Flying animals are simply less robust with less massive.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Dragons of my game world are physically the VTO jets and Combat Helicopters with napalm/flame throwers of this world (with better armor) they can also double as light tanks if grounded. How? well magi-tech gene engineering seems a good enough answer.

That they seem patterned after older from the golden age transcendent beings who have occasionally manifest as humans and whose inherent magic alters the bloodlines of certain humans would flabbergast the people aware of their use as War Machines in the previous era.
 

Advertisement

Top