Remaking a Classic – Dragons
I’m afraid I have to put my foot down on this one. While the legend of dragons has many variations in terms of size, shape, intelligence, and powers, a dragon has six limbs! Four legs, two wings. Sorry Skyrim and Game of Thrones, but if the forelimbs are the wings you have a wyvern, no matter what it’s capable of.
With that solitary distinction in mind, let us take the classic fire-breathing, sky-borne terror and shake it up a bit.
In most fantasy settings dragons are intrinsic, often ancient, but generally quite natural, perhaps crafted by a god (or gods) of the same shape, or perhaps their true nature is shrouded in mystery and they simply are.
However, in a setting where magic is usually commonplace, could magic not craft such a terrible monster as it does so many others? What if dragons were crafted as weapons, or as guardians for mighty treasures? In the Dark Sun campaign setting, the destructive powers of magic can turn practitioners into dragons, Borys of Tyr succeeding until he was slain, and Dregoth of Giustenal being half-dragon, and creating a race of the same to serve him.
What of other genres? Many punk styled setting have depicted the return of the dragons, Reign of Fire being a prime example of dragons (though not true dragons) being very organic beings, using fire generated by mixing chemicals from glands either side of the mouth.
As a personal favourite, I recommend watching this when you have a couple of hours to spare:
For the short version, this show proposes natural evolutionary adaptations that could generate a living, flying, fire-breathing – or vomiting – dragon.
This is a debate I’ve had frequently. Which do you prefer:
The bestial dragon is an uncontrollable engine of rage and destruction. Driven by hunger, territoriality, or at times, fear, a dragon that runs on instinct has a far greater lethal edge. A bestial dragon can be controlled by an intelligent and powerful entity and kept as guard-dogs, but a volatile one at best.
The intelligent dragon has a cunning mind, a plan for every stratagem, a counterplay for every tactic. Though less bloodthirsty, when they attack they are far more precise and devastating. An intelligent dragon might enslave a nation, but their intelligence also makes them vulnerable to deception and wit.
I for one am a fan of intelligent dragons as they offer a great deal by way of narrative options, but a dragon that is too old and wise can offer be an indomitable enemy, having thought of quite literally every possible means by which it can be slain, and thought of a way to prevent them all.
The idea of a greater enemy with pet dragons can make for a rather terrifying concept. What kind of power could tame a monster of such incredible strength, and more to the point if they are that powerful why would they need to?
Why do dragons gather large quantities of treasure? How do they gather such wealth, and how do they protect it? In the case of Tolkein’s legendary Smaug, surprise, speed and terrible fire seized the fortune of Lonely Mountain, and reputation and general power were enough to keep armies of dwarves at bay. He slumbered within the mountains of gold and jewels.
But in Dungeons & Dragons an entire species exists to serve, obey and protect the hoard so that their draconic masters need not sully themselves. Kobolds – although originally the name of a german mine spirit – are lizard like cowards that rarely leave the safety of their masters’ lair to steal and gather for the hoard.
Suppose as well that a dragon might care little for gold. What about a dragon who hoards sunken ships, fine art, or advanced and alien technologies? A dragon’s trove might reflect it’s personality, and clues about how to talk to the dragon, or even slay it, might be found by exploring the halls of treasure.
Variations On A Theme
Rarely do dragons come in one variety. Harry Potter, Dungeons & Dragons, and most of all How to Train Your Dragon all include a vast array of draconic species with drastic differences. Size, shape, colour, spines, frills, breath weapons, even the number of heads.
It may be personal opinion, but a dragon can be any manner of reptile with wings and four limbs. Hulking piles of muscle and claws or lithe serpentine lizards, even Ojutai of Magic: the Gathering’s world Tarkir, the feathered ice-breathing monastery master.
To finish another redesign article, here are some comedy options:
- A dragon who hoards beanie babies.
- The beige dragon which breathes a cone of scalding hot porridge.
- A dragon with a soft spot for a bad pun.
- A dragon with chameleon eyes that keeps demanding to be taken seriously.
- Half dragon squirrel