This article was first broadcast in Episode Thirty-Five on 8th August 2018.
Ryu: Now? Now? Can we do it now?
Lennon: Yes, fine, go ahead
Ryu: Yaaaay! THUNK
Ostron: What is that?
Ryu: That’s my notes on all the other dragons
Lennon: *sigh* okay, we can cover SOME of them. Pick the ones most people will recognize, at least.
People familiar with D&D will immediately recognize the more famous types of dragons. Most players know what colors most chromatic dragons come in and where they live, and they can usually name the major metallic dragons as well, though they might be less sure of the details like their habits and where the lairs are likely to be. But D&D has had some dragons that wander well off the beaten path. Most of these haven’t shown up in 5th edition yet, but they could be coming.
But of course we’ll start with an exception: the Dragon Turtle. People are a little more familiar with this creature than some of the others if only because they always show up in the monster manual right after the list of regular dragons. They look like regular snapping turtles for the most part, except their heads are more draconic and they tend to be 25 to 30 feet long. Their shells are described as nearly impervious and their breath weapon is a cloud of superhot steam. They love treasure as much as the next dragon, which is why they claim territories up to 50 square miles and attack any ships that enter. Bribing them has always been a good way to get them to not destroy your ship and take all your stuff. Despite looking vastly different from most dragons, the Dragon Turtle gets included because apparently it has draconic blood.
Next up we have something that barely qualifies as a dragon: the Dragonne (that’s two n’s and an “e” at the end). Believed to be mostly an in-joke by Gary Gygax, the creature appeared during the original run of D&D and is said to be the result of a crossbreeding incident between a dire lion and a brass dragon; it has a 12 foot long leonine body and bat-like wings but the body is covered in bronze scales. They’re intelligent but behave more like animals much of the time. They made it into every monster manual through 3.5, but they skipped 4th edition and haven’t shown up in 5th yet.
Getting back to dragons more worthy of the name, the expanding popularity of the Forgotten Realms setting caused a few more dragons to show up. Fang, Deep, Shadow, Brown, and Song Dragons were added, usually associated with particular areas of the Forgotten Realms. Each of them tended to have something unusual to set them apart from the more traditional dragons. For example, deep dragons’ breath weapon caused charm effects rather than damage, and brown dragons didn’t have wings in the traditional sense, but wide frills arranged in a diamond shape, meaning they flew by undulating their entire bodies. In fourth edition, brown dragons were upgraded to chromatic dragons, and deep and fang dragons were rebranded as chromatics, specifically grey and purple.
2nd edition gave us an offshoot of the metallics: Ferrous dragons. There were five of those dragons: Chromium, Cobalt, Iron, Nickel, and Tungsten dragons (yes, metallurgists, we know; don’t talk to us, talk to Jason M. Walker). Ferrous dragons are dragons of extremes. Where “regular” dragons would be more typical in their portrayal of a particular alignment, Ferrous dragons went full on fanatic. Tungsten dragons, for example, were Lawful Good, but the type of lawful good where everyone has to be good and lawful or they will be eliminated immediately, and Chromium dragons are described as what you get if you mix the greed of a red dragon with the sadism of a black dragon. The Iron and cobalt dragons actually got rebranded as metallic dragons and mellowed out a whole lot in fourth edition.
There is one type of dragon that was created independent of any existing types: Gem Dragons. Way back in 1st edition, there were only 3 alignments: good, evil (or chaotic), and neutral. Chromatics had the lock on evil, and metallics were all good, so a new class of dragon was needed to fill in the missing slot. Enter the gem dragons. The main breeds were based on precious and semi-precious stones but there was only one Ruby dragon: Sardior, who sat with Bahamut and Tiamat as one of the dragon gods. Apart from their alignment, the main thing that set the gem dragons apart from others since their creation is that gem dragons innately use psionics. They persisted through to edition 3.5, though mentions of Sardior became scarcer as time went on.
As we mentioned, fourth edition rebranded a number of “odd” dragons as traditional chromatic or metallic dragons, but it also created two metallic dragons unique to fourth edition so far: the mercury and orium [ORE-ee-um] dragons. Mercury dragons were described as generally good but mostly just insane. They also have dragon ADHD, getting bored if nothing changes around them, and they really want to set up lairs in Limbo or the Elemental Chaos because of how often entire landscapes change in those planes(remember the insane thing?) Orium dragons are more normal, apart from being based on a totally fictitious metal. They are obsessed with ancient ruins, and are known for conducting in-depth interviews of intruders to establish a clear category for them before it decides to kill them. One of the odder aspects of the Orium dragon is it’s breath weapon, which actually coalesces into a snake that attacks at the dragon’s bidding.
Now we could go on for hours-
Because the reality is that once D&D 3.5 got going, the list of dragons got frankly, silly. There was a whole class of dragons called “planar dragons” and that group has at least 30 types of dragons in it, some of them with their own subspecies. Unfortunately we don’t have time to go over all of them here.
As we mentioned, many of the dragons covered here haven’t been translated into 5th edition yet, and a lot of them didn’t even make it to fourth edition. Fifth edition’s approach hasn’t been a clear resurrection of 3.5 material nor has it totally rejected everything coming out of fourth, so it’s hard to say what dragons will or won’t reappear. Dungeon of the Mad Mage, with its reported multiple layers of deep caverns and varied terrain, would be an excellent opportunity to bring some of these lesser-known dragons back. We’ll have to see if Wizards decides the world needs more dragons.
Ryu: What do you mean decide if the world needs more dragons? Why is that even a question!? Okay, what’s their address? I need the hat.
Lennon: No, no, Ryu, you are not sending the killer DM to visit Wizards of the Coast. Come back!
Ostron: Right, well hopefully Lennon will find Ryu before anything permanent happens…