I've been researching Dungeons and Dragons (and Pathfinder) lately. Not doing any playing, just...researching. Pouring over Player's handbooks, reading the bestiaries, looking at blogs and reviews and forums.
There's some stuff that I'm actually liking about what I see. But there's some stuff that makes me glad I didn't grow up playing the game, because I would hate to imagine being nostalgic
for this garbage nonsense.
One of the things in the latter category is the take on dragons.
Funnily enough, ADnD 2e doesn't grind my gears so much in this regard. While it was the early editions that started
the whole nonsense that annoys me later, for some reason I feel able to forgive it. The early Monster Manual
illustrates the different dragons in such a way (variously mixing features of eastern and western dragons, ancient reptiles and living ones) that they feel like totally different species - all dragons in the same sense that triceratops, stegosaurus, and tyrannosaurus are all dinosaurs - which makes the idea that the species have huge differences in their mental and physical stats a lot more natural.
But over time, the dragons got bigger, smarter, more powerful, more majestic, more important...and more similar-looking and generic and conceptually interchangable, so that the difference is less "t-rex vs bronto" and more "half-elf vs half-orc."
And yet a white dragon is still inherently much
smaller, weaker, and stupider than other chromatic dragons, AND is inherently Chaotic and inherently Evil, AND lives in cold, icy lands and specialized in ice-related magic. No wonder I see DMs arguing about how to make dragons fun/interesting/suprising for their game buddies.
D&D et al. has some baaaad problems with implicit racism in its treatment of its sentient humanoid roster, and I understand that from a broader viewpoint it's more important to fix the issues with the "exotic"/"monstrous" humanoids, but. For God's sakes, Kobolds
get thrown more Bones Of +1 Flexibility than the very beings they worship that the silly game is named after
. And I like
the kobolds, they're probably one of the most intriguing reptilian or "monstrous" humanoids the game has to offer, even without the whole "are/worship dragons" stuff that 3.5 introduced, and I've downloaded every bit of DnD or Pathfinder material on kobolds that I can. But the little guys who started as "something dudes can slaughter en masse while still at level 1" have been given more opportunities to be cool than dragons have been given to regain their cool.
Instead, the same thing over and over in Monster Manuals and Draconomicons: "these are True Dragons, let us tell you everything you already knew about them. Here are some new True Dragons that both of us will probably forget about, because they're basically already-existing chomatics/metallics with a few traits swapped around and a new breath weapon and scale color, or they live in Magic Space where normal adventures don't take place, or whatever. Too bad for you if you like them, because we'll probably forget about them when next edition rolls around, or even within this edition. Quirkier dragons that are more directly inspired by folklore (especially non-western-european!folklore) are not True Dragons. Dragons that you can dragonride or keep as pets without worrying about enslaving a sentient beings are not True Dragons. Dragons that are the size or shape of dragons in typical medieval and Renaissance artwork are not True Dragons. Only giant sorcery-flinging Smaug/Godzilla expies (and Sinospheric dragons sometimes I guess lol, when we fucking remember them) are True Dragons. Since none of these other dragons
are True Dragons, we will devote little to no space or attention to them."
You know what would be a good idea? Make dragons modular
- Strip the 10 classic DnD dragons of everything but their base numerical stats. These are now the draconic species/"race" options for DMs to throw at players, akin to the difference between tossing a black bear at someone vs a grizzly, or fighting a goblin vs a hobgolbin.
- Take each color of dragon's breath weapon, special abilities, immunities, etc. These are now wrapped up in a package akin to a sorcerer's bloodline in Pathfinder, which for now I guess I'll call "Wyrmic Broods" or some pretentious shit. The white dragon-themed package might be called the Blizzardbrood, the silver package the Mistbrood, the red package the Vulcanbrood, the gold package the Sunbrood, etc etc. So you could have what is essentially a Gold Dragon but give it the powers of a Green Dragon, for example.
- Maybe have an option to allow the breath weapon in a specific Brood to be traded out for a different one, including breath weapons not accounted for in the 10 classic DnD species (such as sonic energy). Love D&D-style green dragons, with their forest-dwelling and gnome-eating and shit, except you reaaaally wish they could breathe fire like green dragons do in all non-D&D media ever? Bam, done.
- Dragon alignment up to DM's discretion. Dragons are the folkloric descendants of Cosmic Serpents and Chthonic Serpents and the monsters of Primordial Chaos that sun gods and other heroes of Lawfulness like to kill; this is likely true of even the lawful and benevolent ones. (Seriously, check out some of the weirder chinese dragons.) You reaaaally shouldn't be able to tell one's alignment just by looking at it.
- Some rules on how to apply the Brood templates to non-"True" dragon species, and possibly even certain animal/monster categories that often blurred into the "dragon" concept/label in ye olde times. "Serpent" means both "dragon" and "snake," "wyrm" means both "dragon" and "worm." "Dragon" itself is derived from drakon, snake. "Wyvern" is just a corruption of the word "viper." I feel like giving a snake or lizardman or whatever access to weird draconic enviromental sorcery, while otherwise being the same as its bretheren, is a more interesting way to create a demi-dragon enemy and build up to an encounter with a Capital-D Dragon than "lol the local dragon likes to commit bestiality, here's your bat wings and your sleep/paralysis immunity." Like seriously? Even Dragonborn are less stupid than half-dragons.
- ????????????????????? like obviously there are probably ways to make dragons even more modular, but I'm pretty sure separating physical properties from magical properties is a good starting point to avoiding the need for "desert dragon but stronger/weaker" or "cave-dweller dragon that isn't fire."
- I'm done ranting about dragons. (Not really. Please talk to me about dragons, I'm so lonely.)