Tag: dragons


Posted on by Ryan Gauvreau

  1. The old man with jobs for heroes is a dragon

So dragons can shapeshift in your world? And they don’t always get along with each other?

Think back to The Hobbit and put your Imagining Hat back on. Imagine that Gandalf was a dragon. That Smaug was a rival of his, for territory or treasure or something else, or maybe just an undesirable loose cannon and potential threat somewhere two or three centuries down the line.

So Gandalf-the-dragon tracks down some dwarfs that have a personal stake in the issue, gives them advice, and sends them in the right direction. Even helps them pick up a hobbit for the journey, too. And the thrush that mentions Smaug’s Achilles’ heel? Shapeshifted Gandalf again.

Lesser beings are pieces on a magnificent chess set, moved around by their draconic betters. These are moves in conflicts that can last for centuries before they even come to open blows, and sometimes never do.

Another dragon doesn’t even have to be facing down the metaphorical barrel, either. Dragons can have a multitude of reasons for manipulating humans into doing their dirty work for them.

And sometimes, of course, dragons head off potential trouble by giving false reports about themselves. Imagine the look on a dragon-hunter’s face when it’s discovered that the secret vulnerability ze was going to exploit doesn’t actually exist.

  1. The dragon used to be an old man with jobs for heroes

Alternatively, let’s go back to characters like Fafnir. Dragons aren’t born, they’re made, they’ve become. Sufficient greed and obsession, centered on a sufficiently-large hoard, can cause a transformation into a dragon. It may be slow and gradual or very sudden.

A dragon’s new life came on account of its hoard, and its life is forever subject to the same. Dragons can be controlled by holding their hoards for ransom. Luckily, this is usually as far as it goes. A dragon’s strength and power are linked to its hoard and it can be killed if the hoard is destroyed, but dragons seldom fear this fate. They know how hard it is for their former peers to do away with such treasures. More likely is that the thief will turn miserly as well, and a new dragon will be the result of it.

Dwarf-keeps are generally ruled by dragons, of course. More dragons were originally dwarfs than any other species, in fact. Whether this is a natural tendency or their culture has been warped by centuries of dragon rule is anyone’s guess.

I say “alternatively” in the beginning there, but I should add that these ideas are not mutually exclusive. In this scenario dragons have already changed shape once. Who’s to say that they can’t shapeshift back, either into their original form or into anything that their minds conceive. Maybe there are supernatural tells, maybe it’s a flawless impersonation.

  1. The most important part of a dragon’s hoard is the dragon

Maybe dragons hoard gold and jewels. Maybe they don’t. Either way, though, the real profit from dragon-hunting is in harvesting body parts. Every part of the dragon is useful.

The scales make a serviceable armor. The fangs and claws may be made into weapons. But many of the other body parts may be rendered into potions. Dragons possess a venom in their teeth that keeps long and well in glass decanters. Or perhaps the venom, so quick to kill, is a multipurpose fluid that is also behind their fire.

Perhaps it is their blood, and causes paranoia and various hallucinations. Hence the tales of dragon-slayers that speak to birds after killing a dragon (especially if it can turn into a gas upon contact with the air, which can also add danger to the very fighting of a dragon). Or maybe the hallucinations are the natural side effect of getting down into the depths of reality, where things are truer and the phenomenal world is revealed to be merely symbolic. Or maybe it just makes you invulnerable, as Sigurd discovered.

The heart may prolong the lifespan, cure diseases, or grant strength. The eyes aren’t actually magic, but they do taste pretty good and make an excellent soup.

  1. The next step is body modification

Silly dragon-slayer, you don’t go and use up a dragon’s bits like that. Didn’t you hear that the future is in renewable resources?

Wizards are the elite of society. They’re almost defined by their practice of grafting parts of dragons to themselves. Some of them have a smile like a shark’s, full of razor-sharp dragon fangs. Some of them have new blood flowing through their veins, opening their ears to the language of the birds. Some have threaded dragon muscle in with theirs, or grafted tough skin in place of their own.

Almost all of them have replaced their hearts. It’s the first thing that you want to do, even if it has a fair chance of killing you. With a dragon’s heart in your chest your lifespan can be measured in the centuries.

In some ways scientific progress is right on the level for a fantasy society, but medical science (surgery in particular) is on the cutting edge, if not entirely past anything that we can do today. Wizards direct all of their efforts in this direction, because improving the grafting process is an effort that never fails to bear fruits.

Some wizards push the boundaries of what should be possible, even allowing for magical cross-species organ transplants. Some have chopped up their stomachs to make room for additional organs, and rely on intravenous drips or nutrient slurries. Others are simply content to become bloated parodies of their former selves

Wizards. Biotech. Body horror. Dragons through and through that all. What are you waiting for?

  1. Actually, don’t touch anything there at all, mkay?

A dragon’s hoard is cursed, man. It’s the dragon’s last revenge against thieves and murderers that would despoil it and rob its treasures.

Perhaps you hallucinate or turn mad. Perhaps you become mad with greed (maybe even as the result of partial possession by the dragon’s own spirit) until you’ll kill someone for looking at your hoard wrong.

The curse may be applied to the hoard and whoever owns so much as a single coin of it. This means that the curse can be transmitted vertically, generation to generation, and also be spread horizontally, so that many people are affected. Does it matter how much of the hoard you have, or is the person in possession of a cup subject to the curse to the same degree as the person who owns everything else? Does giving up the hoard relieve the curse?

Your turn: What are some other interesting ways that dragons could be used in a story?

R. Donald James Gauvreau works an assortment of odd jobs, most involving batteries. He has recently finished a guide to comparative mythology for worldbuilders, available herefor free. He also maintains a blog at White Marble Block, where he regularly posts story ideas and free fiction, and writes The Culture Column, an RPG.net column with cultures ready for you to drop into your setting. 

Posted on by Ryan Gauvreau

  1. Dragons built civilization (kind of by accident)

Pretend for a moment that you’re a dragon. You have a hoard. You want to keep it protected, but you would like to grow it too and you can’t be over there, getting loot, if you’re over here, protecting the loot that you’ve got.

Lucky for you, there’s no need to choose. Those half-hairless bipeds you’ve noshed on now and again might try to sneak into your hoard every now and then, but maybe they could be trained.

Dragons have their own civilization (of a sort; we wouldn’t easily recognize it as such) but they didn’t intentionally replicate that in humans in the organization of their “hoard-keeps.” It simply grew around them. Writing and mathematics developed in order to keep better records of a hoard’s contents. A technological arms race was the product of struggles between tribes and clans, all trying to protect their patron’s hoard and seize the hoards of others.

The system became so successful that small bureaucracies began to emerge in order to manage all of the various tasks required by the hoard-keep. Having a dragon around is a good deterrent against raiders, too, so there’s another incentive to align yourself with a dragon.

Even today, dragon-run empires are effectively vast hoard-keeps. The national treasury and the dragon’s hoard are one and the same, and when the empire extends its holdings and establishes colonies it does so in order to add greater glory to the name of its dragon.

There are a few ways that this can go, none of them contradictory with any others:

  • Dragons may be cooperative in this and age, and nations are ruled or run by multiple dragons at one or more levels.
  • Dragons may be capable of breeding with humans, and their children are likewise fertile. Perhaps dragons simply fill the middle ranks with their descendants but are still active forces themselves. Perhaps dragons don’t care what’s done so long as the trains run on time (are there trains in this world?) and the effective head of state is a descendant of the dragon. Indeed, that might be the difference between nobles and commoners.
  • Going a little further on that idea, Dungeons and Dragons isn’t the only place where you find dragon-descended humans having magic powers thanks to their ancestry. Perhaps this is the source of all magical ability. Speaking of which, what if dragons were able to magic to great effect but only in certain ways, while their half-breed descendants are not as powerful but can turn their small amount of magic to a number of ends?
  1. A generational story centering on a dragon

We can run with this idea even if we assume that civilization arose more or less normally. Let’s push the date of the Bright Idea further into the future.

Imagine a story, told over generations, that starts with a few people that have been approached to protect a dragon’s hoard. Perhaps the dragon has made a cost/benefit analysis and decided that what it pays them will be a smaller loss than if there were no one to protect the hoard. Or maybe there’s something that people really like and dragons care little or nothing for. If dragons have valuable bodily substances (we’ll get to that next week) then maybe it bleeds itself or milks its venom on a regular basis for them.

Regardless of how it gets started, it goes on. The years pass and a secret society forms around the hoard. You don’t want to make this a matter of public knowledge if you can avoid it, after all. You want to help your fellow hoard-keepers in day-to-day life while you’re at it, too. And having a series of initiation levels will help you sift wheat from chaff and discover who can be trusted.

Imagine that the treasure of the Freemasons and the Knights Templar was a dragon’s hoard (and also not fake) and you might have the general idea.

Eventually, in process of time, the secret society transforms further. Perhaps it insinuates itself into society so thoroughly that it effectively takes control. Perhaps it becomes a religion, secret or otherwise.

  1. A generational story from the point of view of a dragon

Alternately, why don’t we forgo the humans entirely? We’ll get rid of the whole process of characters dying and being replaced by others, too. Instead, our story, still being told over a period of centuries, has a single protagonist: the dragon itself.

Start with the durg is born, or hatched, or whatever you want to call it. From youth to extreme old age we follow the dragon. History moves, the times change, and the world becomes ever more different. Once no bigger than a thumb or a hand, the story goes on until our dragon is as big as a mountain and has to retreat into the bones of the world or the depths of the sea.

And what would that be like, if the story continued for a little bit more? I want to know what civilizations exist beneath the waves. At the very least there must be dragons, great big ones that hibernate for years and have lived for millennia, and the kind of society that would develop under those circumstances.

By the way, does that proposed life cycle make dragons out to be like great big fire-breathing sea turtles?

R. Donald James Gauvreau works an assortment of odd jobs, most involving batteries. He has recently finished a guide to comparative mythology for worldbuilders, available herefor free. He also maintains a blog at White Marble Block, where he regularly posts story ideas and free fiction, and writes The Culture Column, an RPG.net column with cultures ready for you to drop into your setting. 

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