On the Origins of Dragon Species

Frankie1969

Explorer
Warning: rambling discourse ahead. I've been pondering why the founding nerds picked those 5 colors and 6 metals for the core dragons.

First, we have damage types. OD&D initially recognized fire, cold, and lightning. Black dragons & trolls bring acid into play, but the word never appears in descriptions of corrosive oozes or other creatures. Dragons had a separate table noting resistances & vulnerabilities to the following 5 sources: water, fire, lightning, air, & earth. Cold seems to count as water type, but acid and poison don't count as any of them. Air & earth were only relevant to elementals.

Tiamat appears to be based on the seven-headed serpent Têmtum (aka Lotan in other myths). Why only five heads? I think it's because they couldn't dream up appropriate breath weapons for two more dragons. Chlorine Gas was already a terribly awkward leap.

It's clear that although Arneson, Gygax, and friends cared deeply about historically accurate arms & armor, they cared not at all about historically accurate chemistry. Chlorine and Platinum weren't known until the 1700s. In addition to king of the lawful dragons, Bahamut is king of D&D anachronisms.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_chemical_element_discoveries

Someone in Lake Geneva was a huge fan of copper alloys. But it galls me that if bronze and brass are so important to deserve dragons, then why not Tin and Zinc?

Adding insult to injury, the expanded list of dragons (Dragon Magazine et al) picked bizarrely modern metals. Cobalt, Tungsten, Chromium? Three more 18th Century discoveries. At least Iron is appropriate, and one or two splatbooks rightly have a Mercury Dragon.

Lead, however, gets no respect. The 2nd oldest metal known to man, long before the Bronze Age, but it's never gotten an official dragon. Even though every single one of those other dragons were represented using miniatures made out of lead!
 

jgsugden

Explorer
Fantasy.

Not reality.

The technology of a typical D&D game - when putting all magic aside - is a mishmash of eras. And that makes some real sense, if you think about it. The rate of technological advancement in a world would be quite different if the smartest people around all tend to use magic rather than science.

Regardless, the answer as to why thse 5 colors of chromatic dragons and why those 6 metals ... is likely really just about preferences and flavor. Not mechanics, science and reason.
 
I

Immortal Sun

Guest
Why are we trying to tie Tiamat to random gods? There was literally a goddess Tiamat.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
In my setting, there are 7 varieties of metallic dragon - lead, copper, tin, iron, silver, quicksilver (the name “mercury” doesn’t make sense in a world without the god for which it is named), and gold, corresponding to the 7 classical metals of alchemy, with Bahamut being the Orichalcum dragon, rather than platinum, repesenting metal perfected by the Great Work. There are 4 varieties of chromatic dragon - black, white, citrine, and red, representing both the four most widely recognized stages of the Great Work, as well as the four humors, and are characterized by the temperaments associated with an over abundance of their respective humors, with the seven-headed Tiamat representing the Peacock’s tail and the failure of the Great Work.

Alchemy is a big thing in my setting.
 

Frankie1969

Explorer
Why are we trying to tie Tiamat to random gods? There was literally a goddess Tiamat.
Read the article you just referenced. The mythological Tiamat was sometimes depicted as a serpent, but she was strictly one-headed. The extra heads only appear in later mash-ups with Temtun/Lotan/Leviathan.
 

Frankie1969

Explorer
In my setting, there are 7 varieties of metallic dragon - lead, copper, tin, iron, silver, quicksilver (the name “mercury” doesn’t make sense in a world without the god for which it is named), and gold, corresponding to the 7 classical metals of alchemy,
Very cool.

I went the other direction, and decided that the rules of the game represent the underlying physics of the game universe. Each dragon type embodies one of the essential forces of the universe, aka the 10 energy damage types, so I filled in extra colors & metals to match.
 
Last edited:

jasper

Rotten DM

...
.

.....It's clear that although Arneson, Gygax, and friends cared deeply about historically accurate arms & armor, they cared not at all about historically accurate chemistry. Chlorine and Platinum weren't known until the 1700s. In addition to king of the lawful dragons, Bahamut is king of D&D anachronisms.

.Lead, however, gets no respect. The 2nd oldest metal known to man, long before the Bronze Age, but it's never gotten an official dragon. Even though every single one of those other dragons were represented using miniatures made out of lead!
LOL HA HA HA ....cared deeply about historically accurate arms & armor...... I glad the coffee is not made.
HOLY MOLLY US GAMERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE EXTINTICTION OF A TOTAL SPECIES.
Yes we killed off all the lead dragons so we could play Dungeons and dragons.
I shall go through myself out the window.
crash
 

Radaceus

Villager
I believe the origin of metallic dragons had more to do with in-game currency and metallurgy than it had to do with scientific discovery of those metals. The mystery, though added later in an issue of Dragon, is why they added Bronze and Brass instead of Iron and Electrum dragons, which IMO is due to armor and weapon types ( Iron weapons, Bronze Plate, et al) more so than currency.

50cp
10sp
1gp
.2 pp
 

Radaceus

Villager
LOL HA HA HA ....cared deeply about historically accurate arms & armor...... I glad the coffee is not made.
HOLY MOLLY US GAMERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE EXTINTICTION OF A TOTAL SPECIES.
Yes we killed off all the lead dragons so we could play Dungeons and dragons.
I shall go through myself out the window.
crash
They killed off all the lead dragons at my table tooo!!

/mourn Ral Partha
 

Aldarc

Adventurer
Why are we trying to tie Tiamat to random gods? There was literally a goddess Tiamat.
Thankfully you have linked the article here. If you look under other names for Tiamat, you can see the tranliteration of the Akkadian cuneiform sign value "TAM.TUM" and TI.AMAT," both of which were names alternatively used for the mythological figure. The link between a TAM.TUM/TI.AMAT in Akkad (Mesopotamia) and a Têmtum in Ugarit (northern Levant) should not be difficult, especially given their Semitic language roots. (And the connection between the aforementioned Lotan and the figure of the Leviathan, which is again more obvious when looking at the Semitic roots.) But the multiheaded serpentine depictions of Tiamat (or presumed artistic depictions of Tiamat) are not exactly common. We instead find this sort of depiction more frequently in Levantine (and West Semitic) analogues, though this a resurfacing of this motif becomes far more prominent in MUCH MUCH LATER biblical apocalyptic writing. Considering how loosely EGG connects Bahamut/Behemoth to a platinum dragon, it's possible that EGG was just looking for a cool, ancient sounding name from the grab-bag of West Asian mythological names to apply to his monsters. (A goddess who is meant to embody the very essence of primordial chaos is Lawful Evil? :confused:)
 

Coroc

Explorer
... Armor and weapons, like longsword leather armor with and without studs ring mail was there ever a chain bra btw? Lol's and the poor lead dragon....
Tbh I agree with your base sentiment but differently. I actually like the chromatic dragons, they are quite systematic. The metallic and the gem dragons not so much. Especially it should be gold silver copper since these are pure. We do d&d not an Olympic medal.
 

Frankie1969

Explorer
Hmm, redoing the core dragons for 7 breaths, 7 colors, 7 metals.

Red: Fire
Yellow: Lightning
Green: Wind (Force)
Aqua: Acid (green-blue scales, yellow-orange breath)
Blue (indigo): Cold
Black: Death (Poison)
White: Light (Psychic? Magic? Laser?)

Gold: Fire
Silver: Cold
Copper: Lightning
Quicksilver: Light
Iron: Force (maybe magnetism)
Lead: Poison
Tin: Acid (because that's what's left)

Which leads to mixes / alloys of increasing silliness...

Orange: sparks (Fire / Lightning mix)
Purple: ???
Gray: ???

Amalgam (quicksilver + silver): ???
Bronze (copper + tin): weak breath weapon, but physically strong & durable
Electrum (gold + silver): ???
Rose Gold (gold + copper): Sonic (notifications)
Solder (lead + tin): ???
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Terrain (and encounter tables) may have been a consideration. You "need" a dragon for forests, thus you get a green dragon etc.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
And there wouldn't be much forest left if the green dragon is always breathing fire (or lightning).
Indeed. And the character of the dragon is driven by the "character " of the terrain- the forest is depicted as where many fey live, so the dragon too has to be conniving etc...
 

SkidAce

Adventurer
I divorced my dragons from standard colors and "factions".

They still influence or are influenced by terrain, so most "black" dragons like shadows or swamps, and since shadows and swamps are not nice...

However, the characters were surprised and enjoyed meeting "Gazorix Justicarius Rex" a female old red dragon that was the founder of the LG Knights of the Flame.


...and then there was the evil yellow/gold political manipulator behind the throne dragon, Eldeth (The Elder Death).
 

Draegn

Explorer
I too have tossed out the typical breath weapons based on colour. In my world all dragons regardless of colour, breathe fire (hot or cold), spit acid, exhale toxic fumes and may have venomous bites, some might be able to generate a shock of static electricity.

Dragons being an apex predator should be deadly.

The differences we have are that there are four types based on the number of limbs they possess.

Dragons traditional four limbs and two wings.
Drakes two limbs and two wings, weaker than a dragon but a far more graceful agile flier.
Wyrms wingless with four limbs, incredibly tough and strong.
Serpents without limbs or wings, weaker than the others but can burrow through loose materials with simple body movements becoming concealed.

To compare them to vehicles of the Second World War

Dragon = B-17 bomber
Drakes = Me 262
Wyrms = Schwerer Gustav railway gun
Serpernts = U-boat type 21
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I’m not sure I understand the criticism. Just because we didn’t discover something until the 1700s doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. If dragons were real, nature wouldn’t limit their species only to to things humans had discovered.
 

TwoSix

Lover of things you hate
Pretty sure Red Dragons always evolve from applying a Fire Stone to a normal dragon.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Hmm, redoing the core dragons for 7 breaths, 7 colors, 7 metals.

Red: Fire
Yellow: Lightning
Green: Wind (Force)
Aqua: Acid (green-blue scales, yellow-orange breath)
Blue (indigo): Cold
Black: Death (Poison)
White: Light (Psychic? Magic? Laser?)
If you’re going to do 7 varieties of chromatic dragon, why not ROYGBIV? Alternatively, the traditional Red, Green, Blue, Black White works perfectly as the primary colors of additive color theory (swap Red for Magenta, Green for Yellow, and Blue for Cyan if you prefer subtractive), with other colors being cross breeds.

Gold: Fire
Silver: Cold
Copper: Lightning
Quicksilver: Light
Iron: Force (maybe magnetism)
Lead: Poison
Tin: Acid (because that's what's left)
I’d definitely give Iron Fire. The symbolic association is too strong to ignore. Flint and steel starts fires, fire is used to refine and mold iron into tools, weapons, and armor, iron is associated with mars, who is in turn associated with fire. Iron dragons definitely need to breathe and resist fire.

I get what you’re going for with lead being poison, but I don’t think the symbolic association is strong. Yeah, lead is poisonous, but think about what it’s used for. It is incredibly dense and insulates well against any form of radiation, so radiant damage might be appropriate, though personally I would reserve radiant damage for either quicksilver or gold. It also doesn’t transmit vibrations well, so I would go for thunder damage with its “breath weapon” being a deafening roar. Also as the basest alchemical Metal, it’s fitting that it wouldn’t have a true *breath* weapon like the more refined dragons.

Radiant works well for quicksilver, but personally, I’d rather give it to gold, and give poison to quicksilver. Mercury is also highly poisonous, and the idea of a quicksilver dragon spitting actual mercury is pretty cool. Gold is symbolically associated with the sun, so it should either be fire or radiant, and in my opinion Iron has dibs on fire. Maybe you could do one a line of fire and one a cone of fire I suppose, but I kind of like radiant as the perfected form of fire, just as gold is the perfected form of baser metals.
 

Advertisement

Top