On the Origins of Dragon Species

77IM

Explorer!!!
Red Box Basic Set (1983, Elmore cover) had six dragons -- red, blue, green, black, white, gold (a.k.a. yellow).

And even back then, my 9-year-old self hated it. "Really? Color-coding? I mean, I know they need some variety, but is this really the best they could do?"
 

Aldarc

Adventurer
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.
It would potentially limit how they are called or how we understood their natures. But I'm not sure if it is reasonable that D&D (and its world of magic) would be restricted to a Middle Age conception of science, philosophy, or alchemy.
 

aco175

Explorer
I'm not sure my games have enough dragons that I need/want to change them from the more normal types. There are some that the PCs can find if they go looking and maybe once or twice a campaign they end up encountering one. I cannot remember the last time there was a good dragon around that interacted with the PCs.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
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.
Yeah, this.

I mean, I'm all for rethinking assumptions and trying to make the game more fun. But trying to rationalize design ideas by arguing that they are more historically accurate, or more scientific, or whatever, is kinda pointless in my opinion.

So let's say we reconfigure all the dragons to meet the expectations of the OP. How will that make the game more fun? That's kind of all that matters.

(And, no, "inconsistencies in the fluff annoy me and make the game less fun" is not a persuasive argument.)
 

Aldarc

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).
This seems closer to the Eberron approach. Some of the deities are depicted as dragons that would not otherwise seem obvious based upon the alignment of the deities or the MM alignment of the dragons. And this phenomenon is likewise encountered with dragons in the world of Eberron. Eberron only suggests that chromatic dragons are more susceptible to the influence of the "daughter of Khyber" named Tiamat.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Yeah, this.

I mean, I'm all for rethinking assumptions and trying to make the game more fun. But trying to rationalize design ideas by arguing that they are more historically accurate, or more scientific, or whatever, is kinda pointless in my opinion.

So let's say we reconfigure all the dragons to meet the expectations of the OP. How will that make the game more fun? That's kind of all that matters.

(And, no, "inconsistencies in the fluff annoy me and make the game less fun" is not a persuasive argument.)
I don’t think “more fun” is necessarily the right metric to use here. A game with a cohesive setting is not necessarily “more fun” than a game with a hodgepodge setting, but depending on the interests of the people playing, either may be preferable to the other, for reasons other than being more fun. Fun is also very difficult to quantify, which makes proving that a fluff change makes the game “more fun” very difficult, and therefore this metric would seem to strongly discourage fluff changes. Better to ask “how does this enhance my enjoyment of the game?” than “how does this make the game more fun?”

To answer how this change enhances the game, the current set of metallic dragons is arbitrary and confusing. Most people can’t remember the difference between copper, brass, and bronze dragons off the top of their heads. Brass and bronze are alloys while copper, gold, and silver are elements. And why those five? With the seven alchemical metals, there’s a unifying theme. Instead of five metals chosen seemingly at random, there’s a reason each one is part of the set. Or if you want to keep it to five, maybe go with copper, silver, electrum, gold, and platinum - the five coin metals of D&D. Or go with dragons for each of Heaiod’s ages of man - gold, silver, bronze, mithril (since “heroes” isn’t a metal), and iron. Or go more historical with it, with stone, bronze, iron, steel, and silicon. Anything that doesn’t leave you without an answer to “why those five?”
 
why the founding nerds picked those 5 colors and 6 metals for the core dragons.
May not mean anything, but: B&W, RGB. They're primary colors.

In heraldry you have: argent, gules, sable, azure, vert, and or. With argent pulling double-duty as both white and silver, that covers the cheomatic dragons, with gold as a bonus.
 
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Voadam

Adventurer
I didn't think about it much but I read that Gygax wanted variety to surprise his players. So green is standard for lizardy things and most people would probably expect a dragon to be green. Red is Smaug. Black is from Sleeping Beauty. That seems a reasonable start. White for cold seems obvious and blue for sky with lightning kind of works and then gold has the good chinese dragon motif stuff I'm not super familiar with but assume is sort of out there.

As for why the five metals, it all started with gold, so silver and bronze seem natural extensions for the olympics association, and for the D&D coins you add in copper, and then to get the full five match up to the chromatics you've got the city of brass? I would have expected Iron but the good dragons were always little used oddballs anyway so they got less mind space than the chromatics and I never really thought about it.
 

Frankie1969

Explorer
May not mean anything, but: B&W, RGB. They're primary colors.

In heraldry you have: argent, gules, sable, azure, vert, and or. With argent pulling double-duty as both white and silver, that covers the chromatic dragons, with gold as a bonus.
I hope RGB (additive) is being taught as the primary colors today, but in the 1970s anyone who didn't work in television or printing definitely thought of RYB (mixing) as the primary colors. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subtractive_color#RYB

Thanks for bringing up heraldry; surely some of the TSR folks had studied that topic. If the dragons were based on heraldry colors, wouldn't they have included purpure (purple)? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subtractive_color#RYB
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
Better to ask “how does this enhance my enjoyment of the game?” than “how does this make the game more fun?”
I'm not sure I see the difference between those two phrasings. Can you explain? "my enjoyment" seems just as subjective as "fun."

Oh, maybe you thought I meant "universally fun for all". No, I meant it in an entirely subjective sense.

To answer how this change enhances the game, the current set of metallic dragons is arbitrary and confusing. Most people can’t remember the difference between copper, brass, and bronze dragons off the top of their heads.
Huh. I never would have even considered that to be a criteria. I can't remember how many hit points an ogre has off the top of my head, either. I almost always look up a monster when I use it.

Brass and bronze are alloys while copper, gold, and silver are elements. And why those five? With the seven alchemical metals, there’s a unifying theme. Instead of five metals chosen seemingly at random, there’s a reason each one is part of the set. Or if you want to keep it to five, maybe go with copper, silver, electrum, gold, and platinum - the five coin metals of D&D. Or go with dragons for each of Heaiod’s ages of man - gold, silver, bronze, mithril (since “heroes” isn’t a metal), and iron. Or go more historical with it, with stone, bronze, iron, steel, and silicon. Anything that doesn’t leave you without an answer to “why those five?”
Hill, Stone, Cloud, Frost, Fire, Storm. Why those six?

Flesh, Clay, Stone, Iron. Why those four?

I dunno. Maybe symmetry in these sorts of things appeals to some people. And I kind of get that, but at the end of the day I don't need it to be designed that way. I just want a variety of monsters that are fun to use as NPCs, and to fight.
 

dave2008

Adventurer
I have often thought about changing dragons in my campaigns; however, they have always been so rare that I just haven't had the need. In 30 yrs of gaming my PCs of come across less than a dozen dragons. Plus, I really like the 5 headed version of Tiamat ;)
 

akr71

Explorer
I wouldn't hesitate to use a yellow dragon, if I thought it was appropriate in a given situation. My 'yellow' dragon would likely be a re-skinning of a green dragon I think. How much I would alter it, would depend on the situation, though off the top of my head it would be some kind of burning poison breath (mustard gas?).

I too, think it is odd that there are copper, brass & bronze, but no iron. Again, I wouldn't hesitate to change it up if i thought the situation called for it. However, now that HotDQ & RoT are done with, like [MENTION=83242]dave2008[/MENTION] I don't think my players will encounter all that many dragons going forward, unless they specifically go looking for them.
 

MechaTarrasque

Adventurer
In setting, I figure this premise is backwards. Humanoids named the metals after the dragons. Metallurgy came about because they couldn't find metals that were the same color as the dragons.
 

Frankie1969

Explorer
Hill, Stone, Cloud, Frost, Fire, Storm. Why those six?

Flesh, Clay, Stone, Iron. Why those four?
Giants:
  • Fire, Frost, Stone (Mountain), and Storm: Norse mythology
  • Cloud: Jack & the Beanstalk
  • Hill: not sure about them, maybe just overgrown Ogres?
  • Cyclops, Titan: Greek mythology
  • Ettin: Narnia
Golems:
  • Flesh: Frankenstein's Monster
  • Clay: Jewish mythology
  • Stone: various myths of animated statues
  • Iron: Greek mythology (Talos was actually bronze, but close enough. 1E's Iron Golem drawing is plagiarized from Jason & the Argonauts.)

Thank you for bringing this up. Nearly all of D&D's early monsters have known obvious precedents in myth & fiction (except for a select batch that were derived from a weird set of plastic toys), but not most of the core dragons (red is European myth, gold is Chinese myth, the rest are ???). That's exactly what bugs many of us.
 
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Elfcrusher

Adventurer
Giants:
  • Fire, Frost, Stone (Mountain), and Storm: Norse mythology
  • Cloud: Jack & the Beanstalk
  • Hill: not sure about them, maybe just overgrown Ogres?
  • Cyclops, Titan: Greek mythology
  • Ettin: Narnia
Golems:
  • Flesh: Frankenstein's Monster
  • Clay: Jewish mythology
  • Stone: various myths of animated statues
  • Iron: Greek mythology (Talos was actually bronze, but close enough. 1E's Iron Golem drawing is plagiarized from Jason & the Argonauts.)

Thank you for bringing this up. Nearly all of D&D's early monsters have known obvious precedents in myth & fiction (except for a select batch that were derived from a weird set of plastic toys), but not most of the core dragons (red is European myth, gold is Chinese myth, the rest are ???). That's exactly what bugs many of us.
Oh, maybe I'm misunderstanding your goal. I thought you wanted the specific types to have some kind of symmetry and pattern. Because if I look at "Hill", "Stone", "Cloud", "Fire", "Frost", and "Storm" I'm not really seeing any pattern. That's two elements, a mineral, a geological feature, and two meteorological phenomena.

On the other hand, if what you're looking for is historical/literary/mythological precedent, why are you going for colors/elements in dragons at all? Where does THAT come from? If you're trying to replicate the pattern in golems and giants, I'd think you'd want fire-breathing dragons, maybe flightless wyrms without a breath weapon, and chinese dragons. (But maybe you're a lot more up on the literary history of dragons than I am.)

I mean, I'd also be interested to know the hows and whys of the canonical choices. And if I were designing a game I might go for more symmetry. But I have trouble being bothered by it. How does it actually affect gameplay, in a negative way?
 

Frankie1969

Explorer
On the other hand, if what you're looking for is historical/literary/mythological precedent, why are you going for colors/elements in dragons at all? Where does THAT come from?
[ . . . ]
How does it actually affect gameplay, in a negative way?
Sometimes the game mechanics are so utterly off from fantasy storytelling that it interferes with my Suspension of Disbelief. For example, Evasion. TV rogue surviving dragon breath completely unscathed by diving behind cover? Awesome! D&D rogue surviving Incendiary Cloud completely unscathed by ... standing inside it on an open field? WTF?

I never liked Vancian spell preparation, but the guys in Wisconsin did, and it does have a valid internal logic, so I can't hold it against them.

AC and HP are bad oversimplifications that have polluted countless game systems ever since. But even there, I have to admit that they do make the rules simpler, and that's a valid game design principle.

Dragons are literally the most important monsters in D&D, and their subspecies are filled with WTF. They aren't from source material. They don't have internal logic. And they don't make the game simpler. Any way I look at it, they should have been designed differently.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I'm not sure I see the difference between those two phrasings. Can you explain? "my enjoyment" seems just as subjective as "fun."

Oh, maybe you thought I meant "universally fun for all". No, I meant it in an entirely subjective sense.
No, fun just has connotations of exhilaration and joy to me. There are lots of things that I enjoy that I wouldn’t describe as “fun.” But, I suppose it’s only a semantic difference, if by “fun” you just mean “enjoyment” then I retract the objection

Huh. I never would have even considered that to be a criteria. I can't remember how many hit points an ogre has off the top of my head, either. I almost always look up a monster when I use it.
I don’t need to know its HP or whatever off the top of my head, but I do like to know one monster from another. I don’t know how much HP an ogre has, but I know an ogre from a troll, from an orc, from a goblin, you know?

Hill, Stone, Cloud, Frost, Fire, Storm. Why those six?

Flesh, Clay, Stone, Iron. Why those four?
As Frankie pointed out, these all have mythological or folkloric precedent.

I dunno. Maybe symmetry in these sorts of things appeals to some people. And I kind of get that, but at the end of the day I don't need it to be designed that way. I just want a variety of monsters that are fun to use as NPCs, and to fight.
For me it’s not so much about a pattern as it is about some kind of internal logic. If the answer to “why this set?” is “cause they’re inspired by these stories,” great. If the answer is, “cause they represent the 7 metals of antiquity,” great. If the answer is a shrug and “I dunno, that’s how D&D has done it for years,” not so great.

If that doesn’t bother you, that’s cool. You’re welcome to keep using the dragons in the books and have fun doing so. Personally, I find the existing set of metallic dragons arbitrary and that bothers me, so I change them, and then I also change the set of chromatic dragons to match the internal logic of the metallics. In my setting, dragons are closely tied to alchemy, and I think that’s cooler than dragons that are just a seemingly random assortment of metals.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Oh, this is a “suspension of disbelief” thing. I’ll bow out. Good luck.
Not for me. If I’m suspending my disbelief enough to allow for the existence of dragons, I can easily believe that they would not come in a nice, tidy, color-coded set. To me the issue is not suspension of disbelief, but clarity of design intent. I want a clear design reason behind the set if it does exist.
 

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