Postfest V, Part III: On the Dragons of the Flanaess: History, Culture and Natio
Date: Sun, September 11, 2005
Topic: Monsters of Greyhawk
"After all, what is a dragon if not a human writ large?"
-Daesnar Braedan, philosopher of Urnst, On the Nature of Man, gods, and Skepticism.
On the Dragons of the Flanaess: History, Culture, Nation
Used with permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from he author.
Social Mores and Practices
The dragons of our distant sister world of Krynn are the ultimate in power, the incarnation of nature itself. They are too strong for mortals to fight without very special tools, and too smart for mortals to trick. They enjoy a fearsome reputation without parallel, have no weaknesses to speak of, and are in short the prime creatures of that world.
The dragons of Oerth only wish they could be so lucky. The ancient, winged, reptile-like creatures are indeed very strong and powerful, commanding respect on Oerth. But, they are not nearly as powerful, strong or invincible as current “canon” indicates. They suffer from a number of weaknesses, including their greed, hubris and cowardice, and do not wield the power in the Flanaess that their strength might otherwise suggest.
Dragons are divided into two main types. Chromatic dragons, named for their colors, are reprehensible, vile and evil creatures who are enemies to almost all other living things, especially others of their species. Metallic dragons, named for the various precious metals, are generally good-natured creatures with benevolent dispositions, which have the potential to get along well with humans. Gem dragons, named for precious stones, are thought to be neutrally aligned. They do not exist in the Flanaess, although they may exist in other parts of the world.
Dragons dwell in a wide variety of environments: blue and brass dragons dwell in deserts, green dragons in forests, red and silver dragons in the mountains, black and bronze dragons in marshes, white dragons in cold regions, and so forth. In whatever region they live they are usually the main predator, although in practice they spend most of their time sleeping and rarely emerge to interact with the outside world, unless it is to weave some great evil plot (for chromatic dragons), or in response to some horrible evil (for metallic dragons).
Ironically, it is more usually the outside world that comes to the dragons, most often in the form of smaller beings coming to kill the dragons and take that same wealth. One reason that most dragons want little to do with the smaller races is that these races are always trying to kill them for their wealth, or to subdue and enslave them, as giants are particularly famous for doing. Dragon hoards are infamous for their size, and having as many as a dozen charged magical items, and half as many permanent ones! Dragons can be killed for their treasure, subdued and enslaved, or even sold by their subduers! Understandably, few dragons of any alignment find such experiences pleasant, and have no compunctions about slaughtering most of the smaller creatures that come into their lairs.
However, dragons may also seek out relations with humans. Evil dragons can demand tribute and worship from evil humans and humanoid tribes, or even be worshipped as representatives of the gods. In return, the dragons may provide power and leadership to the smaller races, or strike against their powerful enemies. However, the dragons never hesitate to let the smaller races know who is in charge. Dragons are the masters, and are quite happy to lord over their subjects in that way.
Good dragons are considerably more benevolent in their relations with smaller races. Near-mythical realms can enjoy the protections of good dragons, and dragons can form great friendships with individual mortals, especially if the smaller beings have performed great services for the dragon in the past. While they are as keen for tribute and wealth as their evil counterparts, good dragons are always ready to lend their might to those who have gained their trust, and serve as protectors and advisers. Still, good dragons are known for favoring their solitude, and often prefer not to associate with smaller races on a long-term basis, except in very personal relationships, or for small kingdoms of very good alignment who they feel deserve and need their protection.
The magic, physical prowess, and fearsome breath weapons of dragons are all very famous, and do not need to be described here. However, it is important that dragons are neither omnipotent nor omniscient, and suffer from a number of weaknesses. The first is their hubris; whatever else they may have done, dragons and their gods most certainly did not create the Oerth or play such significant roles in the battles of good and evil as they might like to otherwise boast.
Dragons, even good ones, are notorious for exaggerating their power and prowess. Although they are certainly powerful creatures, they are mortal just like any other being, and have been slain in single combat by giants, elves and humans. Their magic is also very limited compared to that of men or elves, and other powerful monsters such as titans, demons or devas, and beholders can still match them in combat. For all their strength, dragons can be singularly cowardly creatures, surrendering in humiliating fashion when smaller creatures best them in combat.
A dragon’s greed can also be its worst enemy. Dragons have an almost paranoid aggression when it comes to protecting their treasure hoards, given that these treasures are a source of sustenance to dragons. They are far too large to eat conventional foods without devastating the surrounding ecology, and so most dragons draw a sort of sustenance from the amount of wealth they gather. The treasure itself is not magical, but the dragons have a bizarre ability to generate their own sustenance and nourishment from the feelings and emotions their wealth generates for them, thus relieving them of the need to eat vast quantities of meat or plants.
It should also be noted that, contrary to recent canon, not all dragons can use magic, or change their shapes into smaller races. Some dragons cannot even speak, being able only to roar and screech in anger or kindness. The idea that all dragons are incredibly powerful beings with erudite speech, great intelligence, and tremendous magical powers is, quite simply, a myth.
If one were to ask a dragon the origins of its race, they would be given a very long, drawn-out story of how their species is the rightful heir to the legacies of Tiamat or Bahamut, culminating in how its species is the strongest, mightiest, and greatest of all dragons. Boastful and self-serving as these stories may be, they do have a grain of truth…
In the early days of the world, after the Dark Lord had been banished by fiat of the other gods and the Oerth Mother was bringing life to their mortal creations, there were the two original dragons: Bahamut and Tiamat. Tiamat emerged from the maw of the Dark Lord with the other devils, demons and daemons after Dread Tharizdun had vomited them up, while Bahamut had emerged from the Oerth itself, serving as her champion against some of the vilest of the Dark Lord’s minions.
The gods of other races, such as the humans, elves and orcs, unleashed many emotions both positive and negative: greed, pride and cowardice, but also determination, wisdom, compassion and the bonds of the family. These emotions were absorbed into the souls of the creatures Tiamat and Bahamut created to oppose one another. The emotions of humanity, elvenkind, the dwarven race… all these thoughts, feelings and emotions became the dragons, writ large unto that winged, reptilian race, along with their ideas of power, might and wealth.
Different thoughts came into different wyrms, and both good and evil dragons developed positive and negative traits. All dragons suffered from greed, arrogance and cowardice, but they all had great power, a fearsome capacity for both combat and wealth, and a tremendous ability to show compassion and care, whether for their loved ones (who are the only beings evil dragons show anything other than utter hatred and loathing to) to smaller races such as humans. In a sense, dragons were spun from the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of the smaller races into the great and powerful beings they are today. One can only imagine how dragons might have developed, had the smaller races not been so extreme in their emotions in those days just after the Dark Lord was put down to rest.
Famous Dragons of Note:
-Murkelleth the Black: Black dragon living in the Vast Swamp south of Sunndi; worshipped as a god by many tribes of bullywugs, who bring it regular offerings of treasure; able to speak, but not able to use magic; has a long-running feud with the demigod Wastri; dwells in a vast tunnel beneath the swamps, with rigged dikes and false pits to trap intruders in bog and mire before they ever reach him.
-Kilberenden Sand-Twister: Blue dragon living in the Dry Steppes south of Ull; hates the Uli for murdering her mate and offspring to loot their hoard; able neither to speak nor to use magic; seeks nothing more than a personal combat with the Orakhan of Ull, the one she holds responsible for the death of her family; lives in a vast cavern of rock beneath a desert mesa carved over the centuries by the winds.
-Tiberius, He of the Brassy Wit and Insolence: Brass dragon living in the eastern Bright Desert; considers the desert his personal domain, and exacts tribute from those he encounters, although his reach far exceeds his grasp; is able to both speak and use magic; well-known for his picking fights with anything he considers a worthy opponent, and to use his magic for trickery and to enrage his opponents into doing foolish things; lives in a vast sand-pit where the sand flows upwards from the ground, a magical anomaly left from some long-ago magical battle that Tiberius keeps trapped with magical wards and alarms.
-Valkuurith of the Fourteen Seas: Bronze dragon living in the Oljatt Sea south of the Lordship of the Isles; known for his titanic battles with krakens, verme and other sea-monsters, which sailors are sometimes fortunate enough to be able to witness; able to speak, but not use magic; well-known for attacking and plundering the treasure-hoards of the sahuagin and mer-folk; lives in a massive undersea castle fashioned from the remains of human ships, guarded over by whales and dolphins he has befriended.
-Joking Fergus the Mad: Copper dragon living in the Hestmark Highlands; known for his pranks on the fairy-folk of the forests and hills; able to speak and use magic; well-known for attacking Aerdi and Ahlissan soldier patrols, before fleeing in cowardly defeat if they put up a strong enough resistance; famous for his ability to breathe a gas that reduces opponents to fits of laughter, rather than slowing them down; lives in a series of caves carved by him to resemble a laughing jester.
-Lady Illuviel the Wise: Gold dragon living in the depths of the Vesve Forest; consulted by elven and human pilgrims for her advice and wisdom; able both to speak and use magic; very old, very wise and very compassionate, but unwilling to intervene in matters directly, preferring to help smaller races find their own ways in life; famous for having battled the demon lord Grazz’t at one point during her very long life, earning her the enmity of Grazz’t’s son Iuz; dwells in an ancient temple that was said to have been given to her by the sun god Pelor himself, with many magical defenses against intruders and those who approach Illuviel with evil intentions.
-The Fanged Bile: Green dragon living in the Hornwood in western Geoff; a vile, hateful creature who emerges every few decades to ravage and raid the lands around, feared by both good and evil creatures alike; able to speak, but not use magic; said to be kept from coming out in his full wrath by various Flan dances and ceremonies meant to keep the dragon under control; dwells in the remains of a colossal roanwood over two hundred feet in length, protected with a thick coating of green slime that The Fanged Bile is itself immune to.
-Brazzemal: Red dragon that lived at one time in the palace of fire giant King Snurre Iron Belly; famous for his treacherous, imperious nature; able to both speak and use magic; fanatically loyal to Snurre, despite the fact that the giant’s grandfather once subdued him in humiliating fashion; has a particular fondness for burned troll meat, which Snurre exploited by allowing him to feast on trolls that were disobedient or lacking in strength and power; dwelled in a labyrinth of caves beneath Snurre’s palace, but it is not known if he fell with Snurre to the adventurers who crusaded Against the Giants.
-Galahad the Silver Paladin: Silver dragon dwelling in the Crystalmist Mountains; famous for his travels around the world, both as a dragon and a man; able both to speak and use magic; famous for leaving his lair in the Crystalmists for years at a time; famous for his having loved other silver dragons all around the Oerth; famous for his fights against evil alongside humans; dwells in a magnificent palace of silver and diamond, guarded by golems and other animate constructs who protect his treasure against intruders.
-The White Hag: White dragon dwelling in the frozen wastes of the lands between the Land of Black Ice and the Burneal Forest; famous for her stupidity and nasty attitude; able neither to speak nor use magic; hates most other creatures, especially humans, demihumans and humanoids, all of whom have subdued her at point and/or stolen her treasure after causing her to flee in disgrace; dwells in a large rift in the tundra, which is easily accessible both by her and smaller races