The word 'Dragon' refers to a wide spread of sapient, reptilian creatures with immense power and incredibly long lifespans. Anatomically, they are incredibly diverse, ranging in everything from size to shape to number of limbs. The factors that most readily define a giving creature as being a dragon are not always as clear as their outward appearance. The vast majority of dragons are scaley beasts with lizard- or snake-like traits, though even those loose descriptions leave a few exceptions. Several dragons throughout history have been recorded as being avian or mammalian in appearance, and rumors abound that there may even be aquatic dragons in the depths of the oceans heretofore unknown to science.
To say something is 'the size of a dragon' - or even worse, to call something 'dragon-like' - is about as useful as saying something is 'the color of a flower' or that it 'smells like food'. If you're going to give a loose estimate, at least don't make the range practically infinite.
When classifying a new creature as a dragon - assuming it can't simply be trusted to identify itself - biologists look for three distinctive traits. First, dragons' appearances drastically change and adapt during their younger years to reflect their environment, personality, and life experiences. This trait is a large part of why their species is so visually diverse, but as you might expect, it's also difficult to test on a more immediate basis. The second factor, then, is that all dragons harbor an innate magic, stored within an organ that grows in and around its heard and lungs. Again, this is difficult to determine with a living subject that isn't willing to give a demonstration, so often it comes down to the third option: Does the creature in question have an Obsession? We'll cover what this entails - as well as go into further detail about the previous two items - further on.
Subspecies of Dragon
Dragons are generally grouped into six distinct sub-species. As stated above, their specific appearances vary considerably, and there is the distinct possibility that there are dragons in the unexplored reaches of the world that would fit into none of these groups. However, for the time being, this list appears to be accurate enough to categorize the vast majority that are likely to be encountered.
Land Drakes are wingless, usually quadrupedal reptiles, ranging in size from about that of a large dog up to and beyond the scale of small buildings, a dozen or more meters in length. They're heavily built, particularly in the rear half, giving them the stability to rear onto their hind legs for extended periods. There are some varieties of land drakes who are amphibious in nature, sometimes sporting fins or even gills to facilitate semi-aquatic living. This spurred on the initial theories about Sea Dragons, to the point of many scientists claiming for years that they had been proven to exist, but as these drakes still return to land with varying levels of frequency, many researchers remain skeptical of the existence of true, exclusively water-bound species.
Winged Drakes are quadrupedal reptiles in much the same vein as their land-bound cousins, though they edge towards the smaller end of the size scale and are more forward-built, with more muscle in the foreleg and wing area. On average, their necks are also quite a bit longer than non-Winged Drakes, which helps them access food up in trees or down in animal dens, where their wings might otherwise be damaged or get in the way.
Serpentine Dragons are long, almost snake-like creatures who may or may not have limbs, though it they do they will have even pairs of them, up to as many as six along their length. They are wingless, but an inherent magic allows them to adjust their mass and achieve a low level of propulsion, drifting gently through the skies. Those with a knowledge of air currents and weather patterns can use this ability to traverse the skies almost as quickly and efficiently as Winged Drakes despite the lack of true, powered fight.
Wyrms, like their serpentine cousins, are long, wingless dragons, though they are far more likely to lack limbs of any sort. They cannot fly, but they have a natural talent for burrowing, aided by sleek profiles and heavily armored skulls. Wyrms are also frequently blind, but make up for this either with excellent hearing or a capacity to sense minor vibrations in the world around them and construct a map of their surroundings from it.
Greater Wyverns, despite their name, are not literally, biologically related to the various breeds of lesser wyverns found in the wild. Lessers are non-sapient beasts. However, both families share an overall body shape, that being a predominantly bipedal creature whose forelimbs take the form of large wings with finger-like claws at the major joint. Wyverns are more agile flyers than the average Winged Drake, but they cannot grow nearly as large and are much slimmer in build.
The term 'Faerie Dragon' is more of a sub-classification than a dragon variant in its own right. Dragons below a certain size threshold - typically about a meter to a meter and a half in length down to a mere handful centimeters - seem to generate more inherent magic than their larger relatives. Whether this is a defense mechanism or simply a byproduct of condensing all of the usual power of a dragon into a much smaller package, this makes them powerful in varied and fascinating ways, though naturally far less physically imposing ones. Faeries dragons are frequently considered 'cuter' than their full-sized brethren, but as far as body shape goes, they can fall under any of the classifications listed above.
Dragon Growth and Aging
Until the age of about three or four years, newly born dragon whelps will remain in vulnerable, almost featureless state, with skin thin enough to be seen through for at least the first several weeks, and generally an albino-like white for the remaining time. According to the dragons themselves, this is when a young dragon has not yet 'found themselves', and so they appear as a blank slate to the world. As they grow, gain knowledge and awareness, and begin to form an identity unique to themselves, their bodies will change, sometimes in drastic ways. It's during this process that they will grow their adult scales and thicken their skin, becoming the nigh-invulnerable beasts that most people think of. This is the time when dragons start to appear far more unique, growing everything from new bone and keratin to fur or feathers, and even additional limbs, although in most cases unique traits this drastic can be seen from birth. Once their appearance is largely in place, they are considered to be young adults and their instinctual solitude starts to develop, prompting them to leave their birthplace and find their own place in the world.
It takes about twelve years for the average dragon to grow from a newborn whelp to young adult status, varying based on the size of the dragon in question. From there, dragons will sometimes continue to grow fairly quickly for as many as forty years, though eventually they will reach a state of being 'full grown', at which point the rate will all but stop, only increasing to any noticeable degree over the span of decades rather than months or years. Aspects such as horns, tusks, feathers, fur, and so on will frequently continue to grow or change at a somewhat quicker rate, making it easier to tell the general age of fully grown dragons by their complexity and eccentricities than by their size alone.
Dragons nearing the ends of their lives can sometimes end up overcome by their own horns or other growths as age and decrepitude make it harder for them to care for themselves. Due to their generally solitary lifestyles, this will eventually be the death of them, crushed under the weight of their own bodies or caught somewhere with no food or drink to sustain them. For the ones who avoid this fate, they will simply slow down over time as the magic within them dwindles. Eventually, even if their body is otherwise in fine condition, it will sputter out entirely, and they'll drift to sleep, never to awaken.
As mentioned above, dragons have a number of unique features as far as sapient species are concerned. Some would label most of them weaknesses, and many dragons would agree with that assessment. However, these are features that the dragons have long since come to terms with, accepting them as part of the draconic identity, and the price paid for the power and longevity it's afforded them.
Each dragon is born with an affinity for something within the world. A class of object unique to them. Whatever it is, they find themselves saddled with an incredible need to obtain as many forms of it as possible. This is their Obsession. The object of their Obsession varies from dragon to dragon, but it is generally a single type or category of object, such as coins or bones or books or something of that nature. More rarely, there will be an individual who collects more esoteric things, like memories or voices or dreams. When a dragon encounters something that falls under their Obsession, they feel compelled to own it, sometimes by any means necessary. This can be resisted to a certain degree, but it is almost painful to do so, and the memory of these 'ones that got away' will linger for a long while, often to the point of distraction. This leads to nearly all dragons having a collection or hoard of the objects of their Obsession they have gathered over the years.
As you might expect, Obsessions - and more specifically the fact that they are a psychological affliction being unknown to most other species - give dragons a reputation of being greedy, thieving, or simply covetous. This is rarely the case, as the actual character flaw of greed rarely factors into it. Obsessions are uncontrollable, and seem to almost function more as a personalized magical curse than any sort of ailment originating in the physical brain of the creature. To date, no one is entirely sure why dragons have Obsessions, as unlike the next item on our list they do not seem to have been an intentional limiting factor put in place by the gods. Research is ongoing, but dragons do not always submit to study by the other sapients in the world, and it's not exactly possible to gather multiple dragons into one place for easy study, because...
Dragons suffer from an odd relationship with one another that is most commonly termed 'Revulsion'. Upon reaching adulthood - proper adulthood, usually a decade or so after they've achieved their semi-final appearance - they develop a strange sense of other dragons being within their general vicinity. It's been described as a cloying anxiety, a fear in the bottom of the stomach, or an irrational hated of a place, but however it manifests, it's a sign that another dragon is in the area. This appears to serve two purposes. First, it prevents dragons from accidentally inhabiting one another's territory, as dragons are voracious eaters, and more than one in a fairly sizable region would quickly rob it entirely of food. Secondly, it appears to have been an attempt on the part of the gods who created them to prevent dragons from being psychologically capable of forming a society.
Being the powerful, long-lived beings that they are, the Elemental Four were concerned that they would easily dominate all of the other species in the world. If they repulse each other, the thought was, they would spread out evenly across the world, able to live their lives free and unrestrained, but also incapable of forming any sort of overwhelming dragon nation through which they might impose their collective wills upon the planet. From a position at the end of history, this direction seems questionable at best, but to a certain extent it has worked.
Dragon couples in the prime of their lives are temporarily freed from the Revulsion in a way that allows them to mate, protect their vulnerable young, and then part ways as it returns, potentially splitting the parenting duties in larger broods until the children themselves develop a revulsion themselves and go their own ways. This interaction is only possible once in a dragon's life, and the window is fairly brief, meaning that many dragons simply don't manage to find a compatible partner in time to have offspring. In this way, their numbers are controlled despite their extensive lifespans.
Being sapient beings, dragons are perfectly capable of learning to cast magic in the traditional way. However, they are also born with a unique organ which develops near and often partially fuses with the heart and lungs. This organ, generally referred to with the rather mechanical-sounding name of an 'arcane accumulator', slowly draws in magical power from the dragon's environment, allowing it to be funneled into their bloodstream in order to bolster their body in some way, or else into their lung and then out through their mouths or noses in the form of a direct magical effect. Interestingly, this power seems to exist in a sort of 'raw' state, unfiltered by the mind of the dragon by default. It can be directed into their natural magic, bolstering it and allowing them to achieve much stronger effects than they might otherwise, however they also have the option of risking a bit of chaos in order to utilize it as it is.
In the blood, this magic conveys stamina, strength, and sometimes even auras of effects seemingly determined by the dragon's appearance, personality, and current location. This comes at the cost of strange, transformative properties, not all of which wear off when the magic does. This is at least part of the cause for each dragon's rather unique aesthetic development over the course of their lives. When expelled with the dragon's breath, it instead takes the form of destructive, chaotic magical blasts. Most variants of this effect are described as looking similar to fireballs laced with bolts of lightning, though the colors and more specific details seem to change from dragon to dragon. As you might expect, this ability quickly gave rise to the belief that all dragons could simply breathe arcane fire on a whim. Not as false a claim as it could be, but not the whole truth either. It's only in more recent decades that knowledge of dragons' capabilities has grown enough to reveal what's actually happening.
Civilization and Culture
Being as spread out as they are, dragons have never developed a language of their own, but instead tend towards languages of the species around them, or those which have been passed down across generations. This can lead to a dragon in one region speaking the language of a continent many miles away. Names, then, follow a similar convention, being based in the language spoken by a dragon's parents, rather than necessarily being the one native to their birthplace.
A fairly common practice for adolescent dragons is to choose a name for themselves once their family has parted ways. This Adult Name commonly has some association with their Obsession, but some rebel against this idea, not wanting their instincts to define them, and instead choose something more personally important to them.
Dragons are largely solitary creatures, though some with more extroverted personalities have been known to mingle with species other than their own. Because of the Revulsion which keeps them separated, when the time comes for procreation, their own tastes in beauty will rarely factor into things, with their mating habits instead being based around personal compatibility, strength, or even mere proximity and availability. Even in those rare instances when physical appearances do come into play, it will typically be tastes founded in non-dragon cultures, rather than anything set by the dragons themselves.
Gender is more or less a non-issue for dragons, as male, female, or anything in between or beyond is largely irrelevant when it comes to their own kind. Outside of procreation, where a male and a female are required for biological reason, one's own personal identity is one's own business. Deviations from this mindset are generally born from other cultures influencing dragons on an individual basis.
Because dragons are driven apart by their instincts, getting two dragons together in one place is something of a challenge. If a dragon wishes to procreate, they must begin by pushing their boundaries, pressing against zones where their fear or hate indicates that another dragon is already dwelling in order to determine who might live around them and precisely where. Once they've got an idea as to a potential mate's direction and location, all that's left to do is wait for the day to come when one's Revulsion temporarily recedes in order to find them directly. As there is no indication of the sex of the dragon they are approaching, this will require a fair bit of trial and error, and in many cases, will never actually lead to a viable mate. However, for the lucky few who run across another dragon with compatible bits, the event is so rare that many feel obliged to mate for the propagation of the species, so interactions beyond that point are fairly straightforward. If both partners are interested in one another after that point, a more lasting relationship can be formed. It's just that simple.
Once a dragon the correct age at which Revulsion comes into effect, entering their mating season causes it to temporarily subside for all dragons around them, which allows mating pairs - even if the two are of relatively different ages - to remain together until the whelps are hatched and reach young adolescence. During this time, the dragons can afford to actually get to know each other. And, should it turn out they are not compatible socially, the father will typically depart, ceding the held territory to the mother. While this would be seen as bad form in most cases, allowing her to keep her home territory allows the whelps to grow up more comfortable and protected, while keeping the father out of the children's lives altogether will simply mean one fewer tearful goodbye when the time comes for them to split up.
Beyond mating pairs, dragons aren't particularly keep on long-term relationships in any sort of romantic sense, for reasons which are surely clear by now. That being said, this doesn't mean some dragons don't still desire some form of social interaction. Some dragons have been known to engage in written discourse with others of their kind, sending letters to compensate for their inability to meet in person. Others choose the somewhat simpler approach of living amongst other species. Dragons are feared by many, so this can be a difficult situation to arrange, but there are dozens upon dozens of stories of dragons becoming valued members of a town's society, or living on a family's homestead as protection, or even becoming business owners. As these situations tend to be rare in relation to the dragon population as a whole, however, it does more to indicate the wants, desires, and ideals of very specific individuals rather than providing any particular insight into their species.
Average Technological Level
Devoid of a society to call their own and not exactly built for tool use, dragons rarely engage in craftsmanship. Those who do can be expected to lean from the other local sapients rather than through any personal study, which means that dragons will generally only be as technologically adept as their most convenient neighbors.
Major Language Groups and Dialects
As mentioned in Naming Conventions, dragons gravitate towards either the local tongue, or that of an ancestor who picked up a language and taught it to their children before those children left the country and took it with them. In this latter case, the language tends to become heavily corrupted with something usually termed the 'draconic accent', where inaccuracies and personal quirks compound over time to generate a language so warped as to almost be unique unto itself. The phrase 'speaking dragon' refers to people who have left their homeland and developed this same sort of garbled accent in their mother tongue over time.
Common Etiquette Rules
When a dragon enters the territory of another, the instinctual desire to be removed from them applies to both parties. As such, it's considered highly impolite to remain in that area for long without a purpose. Similarly frowned upon is the practice of frequently testing the limits of the border, bouncing into it several distinct times over a relatively short time period. It's expected for young dragons to do this once or twice by accident when finding their own place to live, and somewhat more frequently when scoping out their environments for potential mates, but the polite thing to do when a border is found like this is to move in another direction for a significant distance rather than trying to skirt the edge.
- Multiple Centuries
- Average Height
- Average Length
- Body Tint, Colouring and Marking
- Widely Varied
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