Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D is for ... Dragons!!!

Looking back on my RPG career, I remember encountering exactly two dragons as a player.

The first when I was learning to play Dragon Warriors, aged 12 or so, and my high level sorcerer fossilised it (7th level spell) as it flew overhead.  We didn't expect the spell to affect it, so we weren't prepared for the 2 km long furrow the stone dragon made in the desert we were crossing...

The second was much later, a Rolemaster Paladin campaign - I'd got whichever of the supplemental books had the Paladin class in it, and as they were reasonably balanced, we played a group of paladins, with different skills and specialities, during a political schism in a dying, rather Grimdark world.  After betrayal, pursuit and invasions by The Forces of Dark, my stupidly high level character fought a Dragon outside a defenceless City... After a huge amount of dice rolls, I slew it with the critical that meant it landed on me as it was dying, doing another critical that slew me.  A rather epic ending, although the other PC's won the war without me...

All this impressed on me that Dragons should not be common, and should retain an aura of magic, mystery and danger.  Where's the power in interacting with a creature from mankind's earliest legends when you're expected to slay in and loot it's treasure? Barbara Hambly's Dragonsbane series probably influenced me more than any RPG setting or other book, other than the description of Smaug in The Hobbit, when Bilbo is stealing from it.

Which leads me to the Dragons in my campaign world. 

Go into any rowdy tavern in the Borderlands, or in a town rather near to a place with a dark or desperate history, and you'll find (if you buy enough drinks) someone with a strong swordarm and a touch of heroism who will tell you that he or she once slew a dragon. Inquire gently, always speaking of the danger involved, and you will uncover enough details to confirm, in your mind at least, that the beast slain was most probably a large Wyvern, which, although smaller and less powerful than a true dragon, are still mighty foes, and few survive one on one battles with them.

The average citizen knows little of the True Dragons, but will have heard of the fabled Dragon Isles, the westernmost lands known, past the Silver Island of Validor, and the labyrinthine channels of the Hundred Islands.  Sailors who venture that far give the island a wide berth, mindful of the dark shapes that circle the distant peaks.  Even the accounts of Tharlimin, Duke of Tordath some 100 years ago, who sailed a fast, fire-proofed galleon within a few hundred metres of the island, are only of huge shapes sunning themselves on a rocky beach, and although they hissed at him, they did not rise or pursue.  Many others who have tried the same maneuver have not returned, nor has any sign of their ship ever been recovered.

Only a few have encountered these beasts in the main lands.  Talagos Firehand, Loremaster and Mystic of Rhyden, says he once stumbled into an underground cavern where a brilliant red dragon, over 50m long, took him on a strange journey through time and space, showing him the location of the fabled Eye and Sword of True Flame, but taking his left eye in payment.  Attempts to relocate the cavern have failed, but Talagos considers it the best bargain he ever made.  There is one that is rumoured to trail the Pirate Fleets of Misoleth, the Dark Island on occasion; jet black, always flying high, out of arrow or ballista reach, but merely observing the movement of the fleet.  And the great-grandfather of the current King of Kheldaria, who was then of course only a Duke, slew a rogue dragon that had been despoiling his lands.  It was bronze coloured, tending to green, and it was only slain, after much destruction, by a cunning plan involving surprising the sleeping beast with some 200 soldiers, with a hundred archers firing arrows with ropes attached over the beast, binding it and hacking its head off. Even so, over 150 trained armsmen died, and the Duke walked with a heavy limp the rest of his days.  The skull of this beast is now mounted over the Iron Throne, beside the Royal Arms.

To this day, no loremaster or magician can speak with authority on dragons, aside from the notes of Tharlimim, and a mysterious stone dragon at the end of a weathered but still distinct furrow, in a far off desert land.

Sorry for the wall of text... This A to Z is getting more difficult but I'm still here...


  1. I've always found dragons difficult to do well, both in RPG form and when writing. It's that balance between them being some damn great lizard and them being an ancient, intelligent being.

  2. Yay Dragons! I do like the idea of having them limited and not overrunning everything, and not so much for the go out and slay them approach either. Though I know a couple writers so obsessed with dragons that anything they write or draw usually involves them. Great topic for D. ;-)

  3. Hi- found you through the A to Z challenge.

    Who doesn't love Dragons? And perhaps to us geek gamers the most famous of all is the Dragon on the basic D&D "red box"!

    Good luck with the challenge and I'll try to keep up too!

  4. I like that, "Dragons should not be common, and should retain an aura of magic, mystery and danger." Very poetic.