This article was first broadcast in Episode Twenty-Seven on 6th June 2018.
Lennon: Ryu… are you ok?
Ryu: *disappointed* Yeah, it’s fine… just… why’d they put “Dragon Heist” in the title if it’s nothing to do with dragons?
Lennon: Yeah, I’m sorry, though Dungeon of the Mad Mage might have them…
Ostron: Ok guys, I’ve finished my article on Comparative analysis of Ranged vs Melee Damage per Class and– Ryu, are you alright?
Ryu: Yeah, it’s fine…
Lennon: You know… I don’t really know much about the history of dragons
Ostron: Yeah you do, you’re the one who told me about– why are you looking at me like tha— oooh! Yeah, he knows nothing.
Lennon: Right, nothing! Fancy catching me up on it?
Ryu: Well… Alright! Ooh, where to start… Ah yes! The Core dragons!
In the original D&D set, there were only six dragons: White, Black, Green, Blue, Red, and Gold. The Gold dragon was the only dragon that could be lawful, but the “chromatic” and “metallic” distinction wasn’t codified until the Greyhawk supplement was released. That supplement added the copper, brass, bronze, and silver dragons, along with the platinum dragon and the dragon queen, a five-headed dragon with chromatic scales. Thus, the core dragons of D&D were established.
The habitats of the dragons were all assigned as well: White dragons got snow, Blue and Brass dragons were put in the deserts, Copper dragons dwelt in arid, rocky areas, Bronze dragons liked sea coasts, Silver and Red dragons liked mountains and high places, Black dragons lived in swamps, and Green dragons took woods and forests.
Silver and Gold dragons were capable of shape changing, as was the Platinum dragon, but no further details were given. Bronze dragons could also do that but only into animals, and not all dragons were guaranteed to speak or use magic, but some had the ability.
By Advanced D&D (aka 1e), the dragons had gained a little more personality, along with most other creatures. Bronze dragons were now described as very friendly to humans, for example, and Copper dragons were consummate pranksters. By this version, the Gold and Red dragons were established as the most “powerful” in their categories, based on statistics. Also, all dragons were spellcasters. Tiamat and Bahamut were given their names by this edition, as well as their status as dragon gods, rather than simply the most powerful or ruling dragons.
Dragon lore didn’t change very much in 2nd edition; usually creatures were only getting lore updates for that edition if they were seen as too demonic. Most of the changes with the dragons in 2nd edition were statistics-related. Since the dragons were some of the first creatures created for the original D&D, they hadn’t been updated with many of the new mechanics or abilities that were developed. The end result was that a lot of the newer monsters were more powerful or more difficult to deal with. Fans had been complaining that the iconic creatures of the game didn’t really present any danger or challenge much of the time. 2nd edition corrected that.
Though the dragons appeared in third and 3.5’s monster manuals, 3.5 was the first to publish a draconomicon that gave each type of dragon a page or so of defining characteristics. Though much of the information was merely more elaboration on already established lore, there were some new elements. The preference of each dragon type for certain kinds of treasure and the particulars of the lairs they chose were first established in this edition, and the specific differences in the dragon’s appearances were given for the first time, such as black dragon’s forward facing horns and the “delta” rather than “bat” shape of the wings on the Copper, Brass, and Gold dragons. Spellcasting dragons were not really a thing anymore, with any spell like abilities being attributed to “natural” abilities. Silver and Gold dragons were innate shape-changers in this edition, and the Golds were established to spend most of their time as humanoid creatures.
It was in this edition that it became very important to look for canaries following any old man who was wandering around, because the canaries turn into gold dragons and the man is actually Bahamut. Tiamat was also said to travel in the guise of an attractive woman (sometimes elvish) in this edition. The location of Bahamut’s palace or temple in Celestia and Tiamat’s lair in the Nine Hells were codified in 3.5’s various books.
As with many things in the D&D universe, Dragons were slightly adjusted for fourth edition, particularly metallic dragons. Whereas before the metallic dragons were undeniably good, their lore in 4th edition began to suggest ways in which metallic dragons could be legitimate adversaries even for generally good-aligned parties. The benevolent gold dragons could now become overbearing, law-obsessed tyrants, and the practical joker Coppers could be insincere negotiators and spreaders of destructive chaos and disorder just for the fun of it. The idea of dragons being in competition with each other was also played up for fourth edition. While fighting between metallic and chromatic dragons was still very much a thing, it was also suggested that some metallic dragons didn’t like other kinds of metallic dragons, and most chromatics were painted as violent loners who would attack any other dragon unless it was exactly the same color.
Bahamut and Tiamat got slight adjustments as well. The pantheon of gods was reorganized so the origins of the gods were adjusted as well. Bahamut was no longer described as inherently a dragon but instead a god whose most well known form was a platinum dragon. Tiamat was still a 5-headed dragon, but no longer lived in the Nine Hells, instead maintaining a fortress in a realm called Tytherion, closer to the Shadowfell than any other domain.
Now that we’re in 5th edition, much of the lore from 3.5 has returned and the approach of 4th edition was largely abandoned.
Most of the changes have been to Metallic dragons. They once again represent virtue and good (although brass dragons apparently go a little overboard in ensuring a conversation), but now all metallic dragons also gain the ability to shapeshift after a certain age, rather than it being limited to a few of the colors. The newest mechanics all dragons have acquired is that their innate magic will now have an explicit influence on areas where they reside, altering local wildlife and vegetation, and sometimes the inhabitants as well.
Bahamut is once again a specifically dragon god, although he is said to spend a lot of time traveling in the guise of a humanoid. Despite the information released about other planes and powerful beings in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, none of the benevolent, “good” gods or realms were described in detail, so most of the other information about Bahamut is still unknown. The “Rise of Tiamat” module describes Tiamat’s and her cults’ efforts to free her from the Avernus level of the Nine Hells. Tiamat has been banished there again, though now her position is said to be precarious as she was “demoted” by Asmodeus. Apart from that, the history of the Gith in Tome of Foes describes the arrangement by which young red dragons are given over in service of the Githyanki, but all of the details about the reason, terms, and details of her residence in the Nine Hells and/or her motives overall are still left obscured. Tiamat received a stat block in the Rise of Tiamat module (and is still the only CR 30 creature so far), but no official release has provided them for Bahamut as of yet.
Lennon: Ok, wow, thanks! I feel so much more informed. And unlike when Ostron tells us things, my ears aren’t bleeding!
Ryu: Well we haven’t even mentioned brown dragons, purple dragons, iron dragons, adamantium dragons, orium dragons, shadow dragons, the controversial status of dragon turtles, any of the gem dragons who have been around SINCE FIRST EDITION, half dragons…