metallic dragons are from the planes

Here’s an essay from my Random Dungeons book, which you should buy! Lots of stuff there, by me and other authors, which doesn’t appear on anyone’s website.

metallic dragons are from the planes

Metallic dragons never seemed to me to occupy the D&D world as chromatic dragons did. While fighting evil dragons is a core D&D experience, interacting with friendly gold and silver dragons sometimes seems hokey.

For one thing, a D&D world doesn’t have room for a lot of super-powerful good creatures. You might as well have a race of Elminsters running around, solving problems before the PCs can get to them. Even if they’re more Switzerland than global policemen, they still add areas of stability and safety that don’t have a place in every campaign world.

Also, the metallic dragons, with their ability to disguise as humans, seem to be on a different level of reality than the straight-ahead evil lizard cousins. They remind me of the Golden Hart from the Blue Rose d20 system: more like magical guides from fairy tales or hero’s journeys than inhabitants of the natural world.

I think that the metallic dragons have a place in D&D: and that place is the planes.

Gold dragons belong in the realms of the gods: the Astral Sea or the good-aligned outer planes. These dragons, like their home planes, are almost too beautiful to view directly: the sight of half-a-dozen winging across the glowing astral clouds is one that will stay with viewers until the end of their days. Gods and their exarchs sometimes ride gold dragon allies into battle. A gold dragon in the natural world is, perhaps, on an errand, doing a favor for a god.

Silver dragons are native to the moonlit glades of the Feywild. They’re among the most powerful and unpredictable natives of that powerful and unpredictable place. I like them as the most powerful dragons of their plane: it seems like a more interesting niche than “the second-most powerful good dragon”.

The other three traditional metallic dragons are brass, bronze, and copper, which is a bizarre collection of metals. We have way too many indistinguishable copper alloys here. There are five metallic dragons to match the five evil dragons, but, to me, these three don’t seem to have distinct conceptual places. I’d get rid of brass and bronze, and just keep copper dragons.

As gold dragons reflect the radiant light of the sun and silver dragons the moon, copper dragons suggest to me firelight. I actually think that copper dragons might belong in the natural world: they’re less powerful than many of the evil dragons, they’re described as gregarious, and in some editions they have stone-related powers. They might need to hide from the evil dragons to survive, and they split their time between hiding among humans in cities and skulking in vast torch-lit caverns under the mountains.

Maybe every dungeon, or many of them, contains the hidden lair of a copper dragon. You’re not likely to find it without really thorough exploration and possibly a stroke of luck.

9 Responses to “metallic dragons are from the planes”

  1. Bobby says:

    What about adding in iron dragons? What list of metals is complete without it?

    And maybe zinc?

    Can you make a potato battery with a zinc dragon and a copper dragon?

  2. Claire Claire says:

    I love these plane dragons! a great way to jazz up those planes with some extra dragon personality, and to make earth a little more earth-y. Iron dragons seem like they could do something creepy and industrial; maybe zinc dragons would just run trendy French bars from Y2K or something.

  3. paul says:

    I assume that iron dragons can only be constructed by dwarven smiths of near-godlike skill, and acted as steeds for the royal bodyguard of the Dwarven Empire. Probably the most efficient dragon to power a potato battery would be a blue dragon.

  4. 1d30 says:

    There’s only two Uranium Dragons around but you better hope they don’t get together to mate.

    I think an Iron Dragon makes sense in Acheron (the Planescape version, I have no idea what Acheron is like in other editions but that one is a void full of giant iron cubes covered in armies that fight when the cubes collide).

    Because there seems to be five main chromatic dragons, there is a need seated deep within me for there to be five main metallics. But because there are endless peripheral chromatics (Shadow, Deep, Yellow, Brown, etc.) I think it’s fine to have a bunch (not necessarily matching in number) of peripheral metallics.

    Magnesium would be interesting.

    In general though, the reason why chromatics work so well is that they’re easily identifiable. Too many metals are just silvery and that doesn’t make for interesting variety. That’s why Gold/Silver/Copper work so well (plus they match the currency – even Platinum!).

    I like to just make up dragons as they come. In my Isle of Dread redo/expansion, I had a Mountain Dragon, Sea Dragon, and Jungle Dragon inhabiting various extreme parts. I’d rather see a Volcano Dragon than a Red Dragon any day.

  5. 1d30 says:

    Also even though there’s an obvious weak chromatic (White) and a strong chromatic (Red), the differences between the top 4 are small. And their identifiers don’t judge their value or power.

    But for metallics, there’s the problem with metal rarity and value, and thinking that an Electrum Dragon should be better than a Brass. Perhaps metal rarity would correlate with magical ability and metal hardness with combat ability (hence Iron Dragons would be the toughest but have little magic, while Gold Dragons are pretty magical but the worst in a fight). But I can’t help but feel like if I can pick between a Gold and a Silver dragon, the Gold has this image of being 20x (or 10x depending on edition) better. And it’s not. But if choosing between a Red and a Blue dragon, they sound basically the same in quality.

  6. paul says:

    Having dragons be based on terrain, and having their color and appearance follow from that, sounds much better than naming dragons after colors, actually.

  7. Rowboat says:

    Possibly dragons might, as they age, gradually take on properties corresponding to their lairs’ environments and what they do there. A young dragon, a just about man-sized lizard, settles in some inaccessible caves around a volcano and begins feeding on its fires and gases, and after a hundred years or so when the volcano happens to erupt violently the dragon grows wings and you have your basic fire-breathing dragon to deal with on top of all the lava and ash and smoke. Another dragon flees from dragonslayers, hides in the sewers of a half-abandoned city for ages, eating rats and sewage, and consequently just basically becomes the Gaping Dragon from Dark Souls. I don’t know.

  8. Of course, given that they “hoard,” just as their evil “cousins” hoard, one shouldn’t expect to find any treasure lying around in a Dungeon associated with the lair of a Copper Dragon.

    And given that they are “good,” could good aligned characters actually “rob” them and still be considered “good?”

  9. Rhenium says:

    Perhaps evil dragons are the “fallen” good dragons?

    Or on a more interesting and rarer spin, perhaps the few evil dragons who live to the greatest ages, explore the most difficult philosophical problems over millenium can “ascend” to the level of metallic dragons, a form of redemption…

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