Dragon Types

A couple of months ago, I posted a few thoughts about dragons, certainly the most iconic monster of the game (and with a name like Dungeons & Dragons, you can hardly blame it). As is my wont, I’ve been ruminating on these beasties in the back of my mind since then, especially as I’ve begun to work on the Emprise!™ Bestiary.

Specifically, I’m wondering if the colors and metal types are the best ways to describe these creatures. Could they not be better served by being named for their breath weapon? Their physical attributes? Their habitats? A combination?

So instead of red, white, green, black, and blue, we could have fire, frost, forest, swamp, and lightning dragons. Brass, bronze, copper, and gold would become sand, sea, horned, and wingless dragons.

I dunno… am I just over-thinking this? Is messing with the colors/metals of the dragons just change for the sake of change? Or is colors and metals a game-mechanicky holdover that is best left behind in the interest of verisimilitude?

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Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

16 thoughts on “Dragon Types

  1. You have just listed the Palladium Fantasy RPG's various dragon types (or pretty close to it):

    Fire Dragon
    Ice Dragon
    Great Horned Dragon
    Wind Serpent
    Thunder Lizard


  2. I don't think hewing to the artificial color/metal breakdown is all that important. Personally, I'd randomize the breath weapon and give maybe a 50/50 chance that the coloration fits either the breath weapon or the habitat. For dragon type, I'd focus on behavior and non-breath-weapon abilities as packages: maybe I'd have Bestial Dragons, Noble (i.e. intelligent) Dragons, Sorcerous Dragons, and maybe something that fits into the gold dragon/oriental dragon slot as a dragon that's part of a draconic society that infiltrates the human world (Hierarchic Dragon? Holy Dragon? Spirit Dragon?)

  3. I think the most logical thing would be to name them by their colors (which includes the names of the metallic dragons). It would probably be what people in a world with dragons do.
    This does not mean that other types such as forest dragon, or horned dragon, could not exist.

  4. I have never been a fan of D&D dragons. I prefer the idea of dragons as in myth and legend over them. Plus I prefer them to be irredeemably evil and forces of destruction.

  5. Describing physical characteristics definitely seems the best way to go. So "red dragon" works, as does "horned dragon."

    I don't see the need for the metallic dragons, frankly. Or the white or blue dragons, for that matter. Red, green, and black all seem pretty iconic; I'd recommend keeping those, allowing for a couple different options in breath weapon, and giving them options for varying alignment rather than the alignment pidgeonholing which occurred earlier.

  6. It seems that this only becomes an issue when Dragons are common and studied, perhaps a dragon hunter would develop a system for naming the subgroups of dragon, but the farmer fleeing his burning fields would simply scream "DRAGON!" without cause to have checked whether it's scales were red or gold.

    I myself prefer to keep some mystery as to dragons, and let each type be considered as a member of the whole. Particular groups and characters could have their own naming schemes for the beasts.

    EDIT: After re-reading the post, I think I misunderstood the author, or at least my comment was unhelpful.

    It seems that the Harry Potter names work best in a higher-oder institution like a school. The populace will often adopt simple and obvious names for things. You could list both the common names for each dragon (such as a black dragon being known as a swarmp, or perhaps skull dragon) and also include it's 'arcane' designation like a scientific name. Thus the Hungarian Horntail might be more commonly known as a batwing dragon, or a spine dragon.

  7. The average person will appoint the same type of dragon differently in each region, typically using a physical characteristic (color, horns, breath, habitat, etc.).
    Scholars (arcane and dragon hunters, for example) would categorize them in other ways. In AD&D 1ed, the dragons had scientific names, and belonged to the genus Draco. Therefore, the common name of them would probably be "something dragon." Names such as "Norwegian Ridgeback", "Yellow Reaper," or "Night Fury," most likely only be used if there were so many different types of dragons as to be impossible to call all of them "something dragon."

  8. I broke mine into three main 'types' of dragon:

    Western (Typical fantasy dragons, 4 legs, 2 wings)
    Eastern (Oriental dragon, sinuous body, no wings)
    Feathered ("New World" winged, feathered-snakes)

    And in each of those families, you have seven sub-types, each based mostly on where they live:

    Storm (lightning-breathing, mountain dwellers)
    Sea (steam-breathing ocean dwellers)
    Fire (fire-breathing, volcanic dwellers)
    Frost (ice-breathing, glacier dwellers)
    Forest (acid-breathing, forest dwellers)
    Shadow (gas-breathing, cave dwellers)
    Sand (ash-breathing, desert dwellers)

    Each sub-type has a coloration that ranges from 'evil' chromatic colors to 'good' metallic (the color of the scales reflecting the nature of the dragon). Thus, an 'evil' Fire dragon develops red scales where a 'good' Fire dragon slowly turns gold as it ages. Sea dragons turn blue-green or get that blue-green copper patina. Storm dragons range from cobalt-blue to metallic-blue-steel, etc.

    Maybe it's too scientific, but as a general outline, it works for me and still allows for a lot of variation.

  9. If dragons have a uniform color, it seems like a reasonable way to classify them. But that will depend on the game world. By home terrain works well too. It would depend on the number of dragons in the world and the sophistication of the observers.

    Dragons in the Sea of Stars are not defined by color, their breath weapon, habits and magic are entirely independent of appearance. But their magic, and breath weapon, does run in bloodline which can be discovered through research.

  10. I like the names. Maybe they could be used as alternate names, or use the old color names as alternates. I find them more evocative.

    Obviously there are many strong feelings about dragons as evidenced by the responses.

  11. In the beginning (lbb territory) there were six dragons named for their colors, the gold dragon wasn't metallic, he was simply Golden colored. I have no clue when the current system of Good metallic dragons, Neutral Gem dragons, and Evil colored dragons actually began, but it always felt like it was cemented by dragonlance. I actually still have the council of wyrms book, and am thinking of digging it out and converting it to whitebox….

  12. I am happy to have the colour/metal description for dragons, but mainly because i never think of them as just what there physical description is. If you fight a dragon in my game do not expect it to be a generic dragon.

    For example: I once placed a red dragon in some frost covered mountain peaks. He raised a channel of magma high enough to warm his chambers & then made do with a special magical item to combat the cold. Of course players showed up with fire based items expecting an easy time of it, even though i warned them to expect the unexpected.

    Why did the dragon hide outside its natural climate? Because his siblings were trying to kill him for stealing there dead parents hoard.

    The fact that he was a red dragon didn't even phase me. Should have seen my players faces though… priceless.

  13. Also don't forget the now legendary "GREYHAWK DRAGON". Thats a pretty darn old school dragon & its not named after its colour or a metal (though i will concede they are sometimes called Steel-Dragons).

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