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

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Awesome Star Wars reference. However, there are already real life animals, most extinct, but some not, that break so many laws of physics with their ability to fly. I'll post something else when I have more time about how it works.

Do not confuse "we don't fully understand the dynamics of that" with "breaks the laws of physics". Nothing breaks the laws of physics - at worst they demonstrate laws of physics of which we were previously unaware.

The classic example is the bumblebee, which, back in the day, defied explanation. However, the confusion came due to an assumption - that the bumblebee flapped its wings up and down, when they really flap them back and forth - the resulting fluid dynamics are different, but calculable, and the bumblebee (and the hummingbird, which uses a similar movement to hover) is no longer an enigma.

The only block to our understanding was being able to see the wing motion. We couldn't understand until we built cameras that could show us the motion.
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Ah, thread necromancy. Almost didn't hit quota for January! :p

An actual dragon would need to be made of unobtainium to reduce weight, have some sort of solution for the square-cube law, and (yes) would need wings significantly larger compared to their body size.

Noting that the usual discussion of large animal flight includes assumptions of Earth-gravity and Earth-air density, neither of which we actually need in our fantasy world. With more dense are, you fly more easily, with lesser gravity, the weight is less of an issue.

Note that one generally invokes unobtanium to fix the square-cube and wing-size problems (which are not actually separate problems - they are just different aspects of the same thing).
 

Noting that the usual discussion of large animal flight includes assumptions of Earth-gravity and Earth-air density, neither of which we actually need in our fantasy world. With more dense are, you fly more easily, with lesser gravity, the weight is less of an issue.

Note that one generally invokes unobtanium to fix the square-cube and wing-size problems (which are not actually separate problems - they are just different aspects of the same thing).
As I had understood it, square-cube includes several things that wingspan doesn't, like thermal regulation and circulatory system requirements. So while you could just say "square-cube law" and be done with it, it's more effective to mention wings separately, even though that is technically redundant.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
As I had understood it, square-cube includes several things that wingspan doesn't, like thermal regulation and circulatory system requirements.

Okay, for one thing, neither of those things are issues of flight, specifically.

For another, dragons probably don't actually give us circulatory system or thermal regulation problems. The largest land animal known today is likely Argentinosaurus, which may have run up to 130 feet long, weighing 110 tons. The D&D Draconomicon places ancient red dragons around 120 feet long. 5e isn't nearly so specific.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Okay, for one thing, neither of those things are issues of flight, specifically.

For another, dragons probably don't actually give us circulatory system or thermal regulation problems. The largest land animal known today is likely Argentinosaurus, which may have run up to 130 feet long, weighing 110 tons.
It would take an awful lot of both energy (which is where the circulation etc. questions come in) and wingspan to get that off the ground. :)
 


Man, you guys must be fun to watch a movie with! Sometimes, and it's pretty often, you should just set aside concerns over realism and have fun. Just immerse yourself and have fun.
:)
"If you're wondering how it flies and breathes, and other science facts...lalala..."

I think part of the fun is arguing with other people about how it could or couldn't happen. For whatever reason, fantasy games appeal to engineers and scientists, and some of them are going to do this stuff. Besides, you can come up with some fun alternate dragons. Maybe they're smaller and have huge wings and have a powerful flap attack.
 

"If you're wondering how it flies and breathes, and other science facts...lalala..."

I think part of the fun is arguing with other people about how it could or couldn't happen. For whatever reason, fantasy games appeal to engineers and scientists, and some of them are going to do this stuff. Besides, you can come up with some fun alternate dragons. Maybe they're smaller and have huge wings and have a powerful flap attack.
Hey! I resemble those remarks!
 

Incenjucar

Legend
I like to bake this sort of thing into the lore of the world, with impossible things being a specifically "supernatural" effect that's layered over traditional physics, including physical feats that PCs pull off that shouldn't be possible.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
I don’t think dragon flight needs to be specifically magical in nature. Dragons have wings. Big wings. Therefore, they can fly.

This is logical and coherent with the in-game universe. Similarly, a Pegasus flies because it has wings. Giant bees fly even if their wings remain proportionally the same as regular bees. It’s all possible because it’s a fantasy world and the convention is that wings provide a mundane way to fly.

So that’s not to say that dragons aren’t magical creatures, only, in the setting’s logic, their wings allow them to fly « naturally » unlike, say, skeletal dragons or oriental dragons whose flight is more inherently magical in nature.
 



Dausuul

Legend
It would take an awful lot of both energy (which is where the circulation etc. questions come in) and wingspan to get that off the ground. :)
That is a fair point. Flying is much more energy-intensive than walking.

However, I don't think it calls for any additional magic to address it. If we are already invoking unobtainium to make the dragon's body lighter and stronger by a (combined) factor of 10 or more, those same properties will make it much, much easier to meet its circulatory needs. Blood that is 20% the density of normal blood should require far less energy to pump through a large body; and the dragon's arteries and veins could withstand much higher blood pressure than a normal animal's.

Just immerse yourself and have fun.
That's what we're doing right here in this thread. If you don't like it, no one's forcing you to participate.
 

That's what we're doing right here in this thread. If you don't like it, no one's forcing you to participate.
You forgot to include my smiley face. It means I am having fun with you. You, and others in this thread, are not being attacked or put down because of this discussion. It was an attempt at a bit of humor, i.e. just immerse yourself in this thread and have fun.
 

Oofta

Legend
That is a fair point. Flying is much more energy-intensive than walking.
That depends, doesn't it? Flying is much more energy-intensive for certain things, but many birds simply soar which requires little or no energy. :geek:

However, I don't think it calls for any additional magic to address it. If we are already invoking unobtainium to make the dragon's body lighter and stronger by a (combined) factor of 10 or more, those same properties will make it much, much easier to meet its circulatory needs. Blood that is 20% the density of normal blood should require far less energy to pump through a large body; and the dragon's arteries and veins could withstand much higher blood pressure than a normal animal's.


That's what we're doing right here in this thread. If you don't like it, no one's forcing you to participate.

Isn't unobtanium just another word for supernatural? It comes back to supernatural being the easiest explanation.

You could, in theory, have something similar to dragons without unobtanium if they not only had hollow bones but bones and air sacs filled with hydrogen to give them buoyancy. They can bleed off some of that hydrogen which, along with some other substance, ignites in order to create fire. You'd probably also have to get rid of the front legs though, because the muscles and anchor points needed for the wings would interfere with the front legs.

However, that dragon would likely be quite fragile. Assuming they could get to be the size of the quetzalcoatlus (the pterosaur as tall as a small airplane and as tall as a giraffe) they could still be plenty terrifying though.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
That depends, doesn't it? Flying is much more energy-intensive for certain things, but many birds simply soar which requires little or no energy. :geek:
Once they get up there, sure.

But they have to get some air under them first...
You could, in theory, have something similar to dragons without unobtanium if they not only had hollow bones but bones and air sacs filled with hydrogen to give them buoyancy. They can bleed off some of that hydrogen which, along with some other substance, ignites in order to create fire. You'd probably also have to get rid of the front legs though, because the muscles and anchor points needed for the wings would interfere with the front legs.
Or could the front legs almost be retractable, such that when it's flying they look like little Tyrannosaur arms* but when on the ground they extend into something more sizeable/useful/menacing?

* - or, if some of the anchoring musculature is shared with the wings, they fold up against the wings when in flight then come out almost as "landing gear" when approaching the ground?
However, that dragon would likely be quite fragile. Assuming they could get to be the size of the quetzalcoatlus (the pterosaur as tall as a small airplane and as tall as a giraffe) they could still be plenty terrifying though.
Yes - great big glass cannons, which (maybe or maybe not coincidentally) is kind of how Gygax designed them right from the start. Very interesting take.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Isn't unobtanium just another word for supernatural? It comes back to supernatural being the easiest explanation.
Yes. This being a fantasy setting, I'm assuming that the unobtainium is a magical substance rather than the product of fictional technology.

You could, in theory, have something similar to dragons without unobtanium if they not only had hollow bones but bones and air sacs filled with hydrogen to give them buoyancy. They can bleed off some of that hydrogen which, along with some other substance, ignites in order to create fire. You'd probably also have to get rid of the front legs though, because the muscles and anchor points needed for the wings would interfere with the front legs.
Yes, this is the Peter Dickinson/"Flight of Dragons" model discussed upthread. It has interesting ramifications, but the resulting dragon is very different from what we're familiar with.

Air is roughly 0.1% the density of flesh. That means, for every cubic centimeter of flesh you want to lift, you need 1,000 cubic centimeters* of hydrogen. A few sacs here and there won't cut it; the dragon's entire body must be a blimp, with a hydrogen cavity enclosed by the thinnest possible layer of flesh. Interestingly, this means the square-cube law is now working in reverse. The dragon's flight now becomes more efficient as the dragon gets bigger (the hydrogen cavity's lift grows as the cube of the dragon's length, but the weight of the fleshy shell around it grows as the square). The only limit on the dragon's size is when its heart can no longer keep that huge shell of tissue supplied with blood.

This means a dragon which is absolutely gigantic, but also very fragile. Any wound means air gets into the cavity and mixes with the hydrogen, which a) reduces the dragon's ability to fly and b) means it now contains an explosive mix of hydrogen and oxygen. In a battle, it could very easily ignite itself with its own breath weapon. Flaming arrows would be utterly lethal, both to the dragon and to anyone nearby.

It also means the dragon would fly like a fish rather than a bird, literally swimming through the air. It would probably dispense with limbs altogether, except maybe some vestigial fins to help it steer. It would not move quickly, and it would be largely at the mercy of wind and weather. Watching its approach would be eerie; a gargantuan levitating serpent coiling lazily through the sky, very like the Chinese portrayal and not at all like Western dragons.

*Actually slightly more, since hydrogen is 7% the density of air rather than 0%.
 
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dave2008

Legend
That is a fair point. Flying is much more energy-intensive than walking.

However, I don't think it calls for any additional magic to address it. If we are already invoking unobtainium to make the dragon's body lighter and stronger by a (combined) factor of 10 or more, those same properties will make it much, much easier to meet its circulatory needs. Blood that is 20% the density of normal blood should require far less energy to pump through a large body; and the dragon's arteries and veins could withstand much higher blood pressure than a normal animal's.


That's what we're doing right here in this thread. If you don't like it, no one's forcing you to participate.
Well sure, but in your example unobtainium = magical IMO. There is not relevant difference between impossible/unknown materials and magical materials.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Well sure, but in your example unobtainium = magical IMO. There is not relevant difference between impossible/unknown materials and magical materials.
Never said there was. Nothing about "unobtainium" is exclusive of "magical material." It just means a material with desired properties for a given application (e.g., constructing a working dragon), which does not exist in reality.
 

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