No creature in all of fantasy is more iconic than that of the dragon. It’s been shown in stories around the world and in each of its iterations evokes a sense of awe and wonder. Dungeons and Dragons was founded around the idea of exploring dungeons and defeating dragons, thus their importance can be felt throughout much of its design. In the world of Dungeons and Dragons, dragons are divided into two categories: the Chromatic Dragons and the Metallic Dragons. Chromatic Dragons are well known by even the poorest of peasants due to their long history of antagonism towards the sentient races of the realm. They are evil, vain, spiteful, and greedy. They were distinguished by a solid, non-reflective coloring of their scales, which gave them their name. Metallic Dragons were distinguished by the color and composition of their scales, which looked like various metals. They are typically good, altruistic, righteous in nature, and have been allies to various sentient races throughout history. Where Chromatic Dragons are feared, Metallic Dragons are revered.
Many theories of the origin of dragons arose, but it is most commonly believed a being known as “Io” created dragons in its image and were the perfect race of mortal beings. During an ancient war between primordials and gods, Io was slain by a being known as the “King of Terror.” Some theorize that Bahamut and Tiamat rose from the two halves of Io’s corpse, whilst others believe they were simply his eldest creations and inherited his divinity upon his death. Bahamut and Tiamat both became the gods of Dragon Kind. Bahamut, the Platinum Dragon, upheld justice, battled evil across the planes, and liberated the oppressed. As the years passed by, non-dragons began to worship him for his virtues and he became a god known not for his connection to the dragons, but for his righteousness. All Metallic Dragons revere Bahamut as their originator, but not all worship him. Conversely, Tiamat was full of wrath and hatred towards the world that slew her father and waged war with the beings responsible ruthlessly. All her actions were rapacious and violent, she was suspicious of others; even Bahamut. This attracted the attention of the remaining dragons, the Chromatic Dragons, who shared her anger, greed, spite and suspicious nature. Today, as the evil deity of wealth, greed, and envy, she urges her followers to take vengeance for every slight and most Chromatic Dragons follow this doctrine.
Each type of dragon is unique, having differing powers, personalities and motivations. Thus, it would be a massive disservice to dragon-kind to try and discuss the species as one singular entity. We will be discussing each breed of Chromatic Dragons, their personalities, lairs, powers, and how you might fit them into your story.
Red Dragons are the poster-board dragons, both in appearance and personality. They are the archetypical dragons you see in media outside of Dungeons and Dragons. Massive creatures with powerful wings that breathe fire and are obsessed with amassing a hoard. Their domains tended to hold a mountain at its epicenter, which they use as their lair. Territorial, avaricious, evil, deadly, and prideful, Red Dragons believe themselves to be the pinnacle of dragon-kind. Believing other types of dragon were impure due to their arrogance, they cared little for news of other dragons in the world and value only information of other Red Dragons near their lair. If they believe other local dragons’ feats and possessions to have been greater than theirs, they will fly into a vengeful rage, decimating the surrounding areas until they believe they’ve outdone their rival. Often destroying only half a village or leaving a singular survivor to spread word of their deeds, this reckless habit of theirs shined a beacon across the land to treasure hunters and adventurers alike. It is consequently why they are one of the easiest types of dragons to incorporate into your game. Towns being decimated is a quick and effective method to call adventurers to action and the promise of a dragon’s hoard of loot if they succeed is enough to drive even the most pragmatic and cautious souls to action. While they often act violent and savage, you would do well to remember that they are still intelligent and cunning creatures.
Green Dragons seek to manipulate, deceive, and corrupt lesser beings, treating groups they’ve seduced as a part of their hoard. Dwelling in forests and breathing deadly poison, their scales allow them a natural camouflage that lets them stalk unsuspecting prey and listen in on their conversations, often using what they say as leverage in their manipulations. Adoring intrigue and secrets, they often use them as bargaining chips in their plots to corrupt others and oftentimes said secret ends up being the final step in the corruption of their subjects. Against more powerful foes, they use diplomacy and deceit to keep good favor until they can find an angle that grants them the upper hand. Their true nature shines when dealing with lesser beings and those they’ve tricked, dropping all regal diplomacy and instead favoring merciless cruelty and pettiness. They often make bargains for safe passage through their lairs, but beware accepting such deals as they love to betray. Lucky travelers that stumble into their lair and barter will be eaten when they lower their guard. Unlucky ones that garner the interest of the dragons will instead be seen as a prized possession in their hoard and corrupted, manipulated, and remolded to fit the dragon’s need, never again being allowed to leave its domain and tricked into eternal service. Green Dragons make excellent antagonists for expansion and exploration focused campaigns where the group needs to tame, explore, or map out an area of the map the dragons’ domain encompasses. Due to their nature and love of manipulating and corrupting, it is completely reasonable for the party to have several encounters with it that don’t end in violence. It may even appear to be an ally to the party at times, showing them “safe” areas they can settle, but all its gifts are mere disguises for its sickening ploys. Green Dragons are infamous for their temper and nothing gains their ire faster than being deceived themselves. The party discovering and dismantling the ploys of the dragon is a surefire recipe for disaster and destruction.
Black Dragons are by far the most evil, vile tempered and cruel of all Chromatic Dragons. Dwelling in swamps and breathing acid, they corrupt the land to make it caustic and inhospitable to outsiders. Being aquatic in nature and excellent swimmers, their hoards tend to be deep beneath the waters, much to the chagrin of adventurers. While most dragons hunt and kill for food, Black Dragons torture and brutalize their victims. They constantly hunt, regardless of their hunger, as the cruelty of their kills gives them as much pleasure as other dragons gain in growing their hoard. Though cruel, they can also be quite clever, forming agreements with similarly evil beings to expand its domain and increase its hoard. They are often seeking to corrupt neighboring lands into swamps and bogs, so that its reach can expand even further. Hags make for great allies, as their strange powers can grant new avenues of options for the dragons and they revel in cruelty just as much as them. Lizardfolk often revere Black Dragons, entire settlements of their kind may willingly aid and serve them out of awe, sometimes even worshiping them. While Black Dragons are potent combatants in a straight fight, they rarely ever do so. Preferring to fight dirty and ambush their prey. Any method is acceptable if it leads to the eventual torture and anguish of their enemies. With great speed on land, in the air and beneath the water, they are masters of hit and run strategies. Capable of ambushing victims and then retreating where its prey can’t follow, be it the air for aquatic and land based species or beneath the water for those who can’t swim, they are the ultimate predator in their domain. Their penchant for savagery as well as scheming makes them one of the easiest types of dragons to incorporate into your campaign. They can fill the shoes of either a savage beast that relentlessly destroys settlements and kills travelers or they can fill the role of a villain with a grand plan, commanding Lizard Folks and Hags to do their bidding while they work from the shadows. Plots that work for Red and Green Dragons can also extend to Black Dragons if you prefer the gloomy swamps instead of mountains and forests.
White Dragons are the smallest and most feral of them all. Predictably so, they dwell in snowy environments where their scales grant them natural camouflage and their icy breath could freeze bison and polar bears solid. Carving lairs into icy caves, large icebergs, and at the peaks of arctic mountains. They tend to scavenge and loot to add to their hoard, rather than using manipulations and diplomacy like other dragons. While less powerful than other dragons, they are still ultimately a part of one of the deadliest species in existence. To underestimate one is to invite death. Smart enough to avoid stronger creatures and spiteful enough to take their frustrations out on lesser, they rarely start a fight they can’t finish and are smart enough to know when things aren’t going their way. They are vindictive creatures with long memories, willing to spend months and even years hunting down those who crossed them. Cases of them actively communicating with other species are rare, as they tend to just attack and eat whatever crosses their path. Perfectly acclimated to their icy domains they can climb the sides of tundra, ambush prey when flight would give them away, and love swimming in the icy waters. The colder the better. White Dragons are insatiably hungry, always on the prowl for their next meal, and even whales are part of their diet. They are a straightforward foe that thrives best in campaigns where survival is a major component. Spudding settlements needing to deal with a dragon that constantly kills both its settlers and the food they hunt may hire adventurers to hunt it down. While they themselves will rarely be the centerpiece of a complex plot, they’re savage and predictable making them perfect tools for craftier beings to use for their own goals, perhaps completely unbeknownst to the dragon itself.
Blue Dragons (not like the video game) are quite an oddity for Chromatic Dragons. Rather than the solitary and chaotic lifestyles of their brethren, they tend more towards law and were often part of complex hierarchies with others of their kin. Rather than reveling in cruelty, they prefer to manipulate, deceive and belittle. They are also unique in being great parents to younger Blue Dragons, rather than simply leaving them to fend for themselves as most other Chromatic Dragons do. Dwelling in deserts and wastelands, they are well known for tricking travelers into drinking sand and instructing them to go well out of their way to avoid some danger that doesn’t exist. They make lairs in underground cave systems and can breathe lightning to kill their enemies. Their nature makes them less likely to be the main antagonist of the group, but their deceptions can make for a great dilemma for a vengeful party to face. While the Blue Dragon didn’t outright attack them, its mischievous, likely causing a great deal of difficulty and maybe even leading to their demise. Do they stop pursuing their main goal to hunt down this foe or let it go and risk the potential of continued disruptions. If Blue Dragons really speak to you and you wish for them to be the centerpiece of your campaign, think about who they may have deceived and what said deception would have been. Did they trick their king into feeding his family to a monster and now demands its head? Perhaps it tricked several groups into a feud and the only way to bring peace to them is to kill the deceiver and split its hoard.
Purple Dragons, also known as Deep Dragons, are one of the rarest types out there. Most don’t know of its existence (both in AND out of game) for it dwells within the treacherous depths of the Underdark. The Underdark is an extremely complex, massive and dangerous landscape to navigate. It is essentially a massive pitch black underground cave system that houses some of the most deadly creatures on the material plane. Purple Dragons have adapted to fit their environment perfectly, having smooth scales and great increased flexibility which allow them to expertly navigate the cramped tunnels and caverns of the Underdark. They can squeeze through tight spaces and crawl on walls and ceilings, but most impressive are the magics they’ve imbued into their physiology. They can pass through solid rock and wall, merge into the very stone itself, polymorph its shape into any animals at will, and pass through all impeding effects with ease. They are a patient, crafty and cautious breed of dragon. The nature of their deadly home has instilled in them the desire to protect their own safety above all else and they will often try to manipulate or negotiate others rather than jump into combat. They adore trivia and knowledge; one can easily pass through their domain if they can teach them something they didn’t know. The far spread entrances to the Underdark means that people from all over the world will sometimes enter and pick up a large array of strange factoids. To use a Purple Dragon in your game has much higher prerequisites than any other type of dragon, as they never leave the Underdark under any but the most extreme of circumstances. Rather than the Purple Dragon, the Underdark itself is a place you design a campaign around; the Purple Dragon instead being a point of interest the party will run into as they traverse it. Its collection of knowledge can be a key plot point as the party must convince it to trade vital information it has, such as the location of a hidden temple or how to activate an artifact.
And… that’s a wrap! As you can see, there is a lot of depth to dragons, far more than I could justly cover in an article. So join me next week where I’ll discuss Metallic Dragons, some of the lesser known Esoteric Dragons, and how to construct a killer lair and hoard for your dragon. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, and until next time, start hoarding!