This article was first broadcast in Episode One Hundred Eighty Three on 29th September 2021.
Lennon: Ryu, come on, we already talked about this.
Ostron: Back when we covered all the dragons, or did a summary anyway. We explicitly called out the gem dragons.
Ryu: We talked about them for a grand total of maybe two minutes! Do you know how criminally short that is?
Ostron: Still, we did talk about them.
Ryu (disappointed): All right, well, I told KayDee that you guys wouldn’t be able to go over her notes on how to skin various creatures to preserve their hides because I was going to talk about dragons, but if we’re not going to do that…
Lennon: …You’re bluffing.
Ryu: Try me.
Ostron: I owe Gath too many favors…and a lot of diamonds.
R (squeeing): So as everyone knows, you can’t have Dungeons and Dragons without dragons, and you can’t have dragons without having more dragons.
Lennon: I’m not sure about that last bit-okay okay, put the hat down. More dragons, yaaay!
The ten basic types and the two dragon gods were baked into D&D from the start, but not long after the game got started, people began to notice a gap. The types of dragons all matched up with alignments. The metallic dragons were all good dragons, and the chromatic dragons were all evil dragons (remember this was 1st edition, nobody was bothering with nuanced motivations for the monsters back then). But…neutral was an alignment, so where were the neutral dragons?
D&D players got their answer in 1980 courtesy of an article penned by Arthur W. Collins for Dragon Magazine #37. The premise behind the creation of the dragons was pretty much exactly what I mentioned; he’d noticed there were no neutral dragons and decided to invent some. Following the pattern of dragons at the time, he created five types: Crystal, Topaz, Emerald, Sapphire, and Amethyst. To go along with Bahamut and Tiamat, the Ruby dragon Sardior [SAR-dee-or] was set up as the premier gem dragon, though he wasn’t necessarily in charge of the others, as we’ll get to later.
Now other than their alignment and appearance, gem dragons were originally portrayed as being talkers rather than fighters, and were described as being more intelligent and charismatic than most of the other dragons. As such, in 1st edition they were very likely to have access to psionic powers.
Unfortunately for fans of the faceted flying lizards, gem dragons didn’t return until the 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendium Fiend Folio Appendix was published in 1992. So despite people’s love for them, they’ve never really been a top publication priority.
However, once they did appear, one of the things that had become a defining trait for them was psionics; all gem dragons were psionic and that more than anything else set them apart from the more common or traditional dragons. Also, it was established in 2nd edition that gem dragons are not necessarily native to the prime material plane, though they aren’t so rare that you have to travel to a different plane to find them. You’re more likely to run into a chromatic or metallic dragon than a gem one, though.
In 3rd edition and 3.5 Gem dragons were moved up the priority ladder a bit but again they didn’t get first billing. For each edition, the gem dragons were included in the 2nd published monster manual, and their basic characteristics and behavior didn’t really change from previous editions. The delay in their publication can be partially explained by the need for them to be psionic; whatever edition was running at the time had to have its psionic mechanics in place before the gem dragons could be introduced.
It’s possible the shortened lifespan of 4th edition is the reason the gem dragons never appeared there; despite having an explicit system for psionics, albeit one that still fell within the bounds of the “powers” set up 4th edition used, gem dragons were never included in a publication.
Up until the announcement of Fizzban’s, the only gem dragon that had appeared for 5th edition was the sapphire dragon. Despite the new edition and occasional new directions 5th edition has taken, the write up on the lore of the sapphire dragon suggests that not a lot is changing about their lore, so here goes.
So let’s cover the general stuff first. In addition to being psionic, as mentioned, all the gem dragons are very suave and charismatic. They actually tend to avoid fighting if they can possibly help it, and part of their rarity and people’s inability to find them is a lot of the gem dragons either convince people they meet not to say anything or get them to believe they didn’t actually meet a gem dragon at all.
Also as we hinted, technically gem dragons aren’t from around these parts. A lot of them have made homes in the material plane, but some of them fit in better in some of the elemental planes. That explains a lot of their unusual features. Despite the various depictions in artwork, the gem features of the dragons usually refer to their scales; the scales of the gem dragons all resemble whatever gemstone they’re named after, and in some lore they’re actually made of that material as well. But they aren’t a large moving sculpture of the gemstone shaped like a dragon, nor are they lizards with giant gems embedded in them. Well, actually that last bit sometimes happens because they sleep on their treasure hordes a lot, but it’s not how they look naturally. That’s just accessorizing.
As you might figure, they prefer their hordes to be mostly gemstones, but they aren’t particular about type; a sapphire dragon will accept emeralds and tourmaline without complaint. The interesting thing about that, though, is it’s only partly the covetous nature of being a dragon that motivates them. If necessary, they can actually eat the gemstones to nourish themselves.
Though each type of gem dragon has different personalities, in general they tend to be rather introverted. Most dragons will set up hidden lairs for themselves but usually that’s so they have a safe place to hide their treasure while the red dragons try to terrorize people, the bronze dragons go to fight the next war, and the gold dragons just fly around to make sure everyone knows how awesome they are. Gem dragons create lairs away from everyone because they actually want to be away from everyone.
The other thing unique to gem dragons is they have very…different…breath weapons. You aren’t dealing with lightning or fire when they open their mouths.
Getting into specifics, we’ll start with the Amethyst dragon. Amethysts are universally described as “wise and regal.” When people can find them, they are often asked to be neutral mediators in disputes, and that can sometimes be disputes between other dragons like chromatics and metallics. However, while they’re good at it, the amethyst dragons can also be aloof about the issues, believing that concerns of mortals or even other dragons are petty and silly. For that reason, they much prefer to hide in their caves, usually dug into mountains or rocky areas. They will also happily set up shop on the elemental plane of earth in any of the millions of caves that exist there.
Like most gem dragons, unless you attack it at home or near its children, amethysts will avoid combat, especially against an opponent that it can’t immediately overpower. If it has to fight though, it has a lot of options. In addition to its psionics and the fact that it’s a huge beast, its special breath weapon is a line of pure concussive force. If its enemies aren’t lined up for it, though, it also has the option of spitting an amethyst gem that explodes into fragments at its enemies. In 3.5 the radius of the gem explosion was 20 feet.
So does anyone have a friend, or multiple friends, that don’t really want to go out and do anything most of the time, but if you go to their house they will happily invite you in and spend days talking to you and will want to know about every facet of your life? Do you want another one of those friends but much more awesome? Then go find yourself a crystal dragon. Frequently described as the friendliest of all dragons, crystals will happily sit down and talk to anyone who comes to visit because they’re generally curious about the world but really don’t want to get involved. They also have a bit of a misguided altruism to them. They’re frequently known to have…issues…with the white dragons living in the same mountains they lair in. This may have to do with their habit of finding a white dragon’s lair, *stealing their eggs*, and bringing them back to their own lair because they believe that all the little white wyrmlings need to be functional members of society is just to grow up in a loving home.
These amazing creatures don’t just build little igloos in the mountains, by the way; they set up full blown ice palaces, although that’s only if they can’t find somewhere in the elemental plane of air to hang out. If you upset a crystal dragon in addition to the claws and the tail and the psionics, you get to deal with a breath weapon that is a cone of coherent light. That’s right; this dragon blinds people with laser breath. Isn’t that cool?
I’ll ignore the pun there for Ostron’s sake.
Continuing with the real life allegory, do you also know someone that has done such thorough study of life and history that they grow paranoid about everyone because of all the horrible things they know people are capable of? Well they’d get along really well with Emerald Dragons. These green monstrosities keep people away by nesting in dormant or infrequently active volcanoes, but they like to be close enough to some sort of civilization so they can observe and study it whenever they want to. They will secretly interview and interrogate people to gain more information, but they’re paranoid about other creatures coming to steal their treasure or knowledge. Do not enter an emerald dragon’s lair unless your passive perception is stupidly high; their traps, have traps in them.
If you make it through the gauntlet of traps and end up on the wrong end of the dragon’s paranoia, you’ll soon find out the emerald dragons are the most aggressive of the gem dragons in a fight. They’ll start out by introducing you to the unique pleasure of being vibrated into jelly by their sonic breath weapon before closing to close range and tearing you apart. Then it may ask why you’re there and who sent you and what they’re plotting next.
Speaking of risky lairs to visit, Sapphire dragons are another fun gem dragon to try to find. Sapphires like to make lairs in dark, deep caverns, and if they can’t get space in the elemental plane of earth, they’ll often go into or close to the underdark. They frequently hide the entrances to their lairs by using psionic powers to reshape the rock and close off the entrance; they *really* don’t like visitors. People may seek them out, however, because sapphires are considered master strategists. in fact, one of the only ways to get a conversation going with a sapphire dragon is to walk in with a strategy game and offer to play. Then you can sit and chat with the dragon about its master strategies and tactics, usually while surrounded by trophies of the other creatures it’s outsmarted and eliminated from its territory, which it guards fiercely.
Of course, if you’re in the middle of a chess game against a sapphire dragon and decide to go all “queen’s gambit” on it, you’ll probably very quickly discover why the sapphire dragon wins all those fights in the underdark. First, it can walk on any surface. Second, it can teleport. Third, it’s breath weapon is infrasonic sound. That means it’s sound so low it can’t be heard, but that kind of sound is known to vibrate internal organs in ways that cause lots of fun things like nausea, vertigo, and a complete inability to really use your body in any functional way.
And for the final entry in “why you should find a crystal dragon” you have Topaz dragons. Topaz dragons are the stuck up brats of the gem dragon family. They are extremely selfish and unfriendly to basically everyone. They prefer to spend their time on the elemental plane of water, but they also insist on keeping their lairs dry. If they’re on the material plane, they make their lairs near shoreline caves or beaches, where they will spend most of their time lying out in the sun doing nothing. If anyone does approach them they will at least start by having a conversation, but if the person talking to them is too boring, they’ll simply attack them so they can go back to lounging around.
To help with their sunbathing and dealing with intruders, Topaz dragons usually focus on controlling the weather, so people they’re bored with may suddenly end up dodging a lightning storm or a tornado. But if they’re too close to the dragon for that, they can be hit with its breath weapon, which looks like a concentrated blast of water, but actually *dehydrates* whatever it hits, vaporizing water in its targets. Again, crystal dragons for the win.
Above all the gem dragons, usually literally, is Sardior. The only known ruby dragon, Sardior makes his home in a palace carved from ruby and gold that, when it’s in the material plane, usually stays in the sky on the dark side of the planet. When seen at all, it’s usually mistaken for a red moon. Occasionally the palace will move to one of the elemental planes for a while. Sardior is usually found there with his five thanes; one representative from each of the gem dragon types. He and his thanes rarely venture from his palace, and it is very hard to get to, so few people have met or spoken with the ruby dragon, however he’s rumored to be a master conversationalist and possesses a very sharp wit.
He is technically a dragon god but somewhat less powerful than either Tiamat or Bahamut. Also given the insular nature of the gem dragons, they don’t pay him much attention or really devote time to worshiping like some chromatics or metallics do for their patron. If he has a goal, he’s said to focus on furthering the propagation of psionics, and is rumored to be responsible for encouraging certain species to interbreed so psionics can spread more.
Sardior seems to be a somewhat controversial figure in D&D publication. His nature and mission is more inconsistent than any of the gem dragons he supposedly leads, and in some cases he is omitted from lore entries. He’s also only ever been given statistics in first edition.
As mentioned, some or all of this information may be updated or changed with the upcoming publication of Fizbans, but so far if the lore around the sapphire dragon is any indication, a lot of this lore should still be useful.
Lennon: Ryu…I couldn’t help but notice your fixation on the crystal dragon.
Ryu: What? They’re awesome dragons! Maybe my new favorite.
(distant loud dragon growling)
Lennon (knowingly): Ryu?
Ryu: He was so cute and all wriggly and he’s really not that big yet and I mean come on! Crystal dragon! Friendly! We can just…make the audio alchemy cave bigger!
Lennon: Didn’t you say they lived in ice palaces?
Ryu: Guild house upgrade!
Ostron: Didn’t you also say they took white dragon babies and tried to raise them as their own?
Ryu: Well obviously I’m not going to let it do *that*.
Ostron: That’s not my point; crystal dragon scales are translucent. You were in an ice palace. A white ice palace. How closely did you check the color of the scales since then?
Ryu: Umm…I’ll be right back.
Ostron: Okay, while she’s doing that, let’s go to the scrying pool.
Lennon: There could be a white dragon loose in the guild house and you want to check your mail?
Ostron: No, I want to go to the dome shaped room with the solid door and the druid who can turn into a whale and barricade it if things go south.
Lennon: Good point. But suggesting she turn into a whale is all you buddy. I’d rather not have something angry that wants to tear me apart on both sides of the door.