Thursday, June 9, 2011

Holmes & Cook: Dragons

As I mentioned yesterday, there are several dragons (blue, gold and green) that appear in Cook's wandering monster tables that are not found in either his monster section or the one in Holmes. While Cook does provide statistics for these dragons, they are missing two key elements that define what a D&D dragon is — alignment and a breath weapon.

In order to determine these traits for Cook's dragons, I must look to Holmes and how he seems to see them. I am going to begin by comparing red and white dragons, because (believe it or not) they are the most similar of the four in Holmes: they both have coned breath weapons that are expressions of thermal energy.

Red and white dragons are an exercise in extremes:
  • Reds have the highest HD (in Holmes); whites have the lowest (in both Holmes & Cook)
  • Reds have a breath weapon that violently releases thermal energy; whites have one that violently extracts thermal energy.
  • Reds are the only type of Holmesian dragon that are not cursed with animal intelligence; whites are the most likely to be cursed.
This pattern suggests that dragon types occur in pairs — each representing an opposite or an extreme. This implies that red and white dragons (and therefore all dragon pairs) are somehow related. I can see two possibilities, both of which are very intriguing:
  1. White dragons are the female of the species and reds are the male. (Holmes indicates in his description of dragons that the smallest dragons are "positively female" and the largest dragons are "positively male"). Alternately, if one interprets this Holmes description to mean that all types of dragons have both male and female, reds can only breed with whites and vice-versa.
  2. White dragons evolve into red dragons (where the intelligent whites are the only ones who know how; thus, all reds are intelligent).
This last option, however, only works if both the brass and black dragons are the weaker of their dragon pairs (since both are subject to being cursed with animal intelligence). Both have 6-8 HD (higher than the white's 5-7 HD). The brass have a natural pair with Cook's gold dragon (since they are both metallic) which has 11 HD — one higher than Cook's version of the red dragon. Interestingly, Cook seems to fix the dragon HD at the middle of the Holmes HD range. Thus, a white has 6HD, red has 10HD. This is a difference of 4HD. The middle of the bronze HD range is 7; also a difference of 4HD when compared to the 11HD gold dragon. This suggests a pattern applicable to all dragon type pairs: the smaller of the two will always have 4HD less than the larger.

Given this, black, blue and green dragons don't appear to be natural pairs. This suggests that there are three additional types of dragons out there that correspond to the black, blue and green. In the case of the latter two, these missing types may very well have 12 and 13HD! The fact that Cook has dragon types that Holmes does not and that Holmes has a type that Cook does not (brass) makes me quite comfortable about these unrepresented and potential types of dragons.


Since gold dragons are part of the brass dragon pair and Holmes gives them a neutral/chaotic good alignment, it follows that gold dragons are chaotic good. It also follows that since all the colored dragons are chaotic evil when intelligent, so too should blue and green dragons; however, since they are likely the smaller of their respective pairs, they will have a chaotic evil/neutral alignment similar to black dragons (indicating that some have been cursed with animal intelligence).

Breath Weapons

As previously noted, white and red dragons both have breath weapons at the opposite ends of a thermal energy scale. Given that black dragons breath acid (which could be seen as an expression of chemical energy) this suggests that most dragons have a breath weapon of some type of energy. The exception is the brass dragon, which has two breath weapons with spell-like effects.

Since the red and white dragons have breath weapons on either side of the thermal energy scale, it follows that the breath weapons of various dragon type pairs ought to as well. Thus, the dragon that would complete the pair with the black would spew a line of a very strong base (the opposite of an acid).

It also follows that the gold dragon should have spell effects which are "opposite" of Sleep and Fear. I would propose Confusion and Charm Person.

Since all "colored" dragons have some kind of energy-based breath and the metallics have the spell-effect breaths, it follows that the blue and green dragons would have energy-based breaths. There are several possibilities:
  • Thermal
  • Chemical
  • Electrical
  • Radiant
  • Nuclear
  • Magnetic
  • Sound
  • Luminous
Since thermal and chemical are taken, that leaves the rest as possible breath weapons for blue and green dragons. Color only has a passing correlation (blue could easily be the color of cold, black the color one gets from being burned by fire and red is not the color opposite of white), therefore it will not be of pressing importance. Rather, the most important factor will be opposites that make sense.

As cool as electrical, nuclear and radiant energy sound, they don't immediately suggest interesting opposites. This leaves the following:
  • Magnetic (attracting vs. repulsing)
  • Sound (high frequency vs. low frequency)
  • Luminous (light vs. dark)
Since the latter doesn't exactly inspire destructive possibilities, the blue and green dragon will have magnetic and sound-based breath weapons.

The color green has a passing association to earth, from which magnets come. Blue has a passing association to air/water through which sound travels. Therefore, green dragons will have a magnetic-based breath weapon and blue dragons will have a sound-based breath weapon.

Seeing that blue and green dragons are the most powerful of the "lesser"/female dragons, it follows that there might be extra effects tacked onto their breath weapons. I imagine that green dragons have a lined, repulser breath that moves targets away 10-60 ft (half if the save is made) in addition to the damage. Blue dragons would have a cone of high-frequency sound. Victims could be rendered deaf.


The Jovial Priest said...

Your Holmes / Cook thought experiment just gets better and better.

Svafa said...

I had two thoughts while reading the article.

First, at least typically, male reptiles are smaller than their female counterparts. The male being larger than the female is more a mammal thing, not that dragons or fantasy need to conform by any means.

Second, I figured some sort of dark/undead/negative/fiendish energy would be the opposite of Radiant. That's likely due to my experience with 4E though, as prior to playing 4E I would have thought of Radiant and Luminous as redundant. I could see opposing dragon types that breath a life-infused breath and a death-infused breath. Of the two options left, I'd probably assign it to green due to its common associations with nature and flora. An opposing brown dragon might correlate to barrenness.

richard said...

I am alternately attracted and repelled by your thinking on breath weapons, which seems itself to be a breath weapon. When I read of a breath that casts sleep and fear I imagine a poisonous or hallucinogenic gas, but why not just spell effects, indeed? Why shouldn't a wizard have a dragon familiar that breathes Read Languages or Passwall?

Red and white paired dragons remind me both of alchemy (so the thermal thing's interesting) and of Merlin's vision. I'm wondering about the resonances of other pairings. Green/black seems like a possible nature/corruption or life/poison pair, but would lose your 4hd symmetry.

I'm also getting a strong whiff of Pokemon "evolution" off your pairings, which is really interesting in the brass/gold case: brass is an oddly instrumental alloy, sometimes a coining metal, but used as a cheap substitute for gold - it suggests either a "fake it til you make it" metamorphosis path for gold dragons, or maybe a tarnishing devolution for those that can't live up to the hype, that aren't "as good as gold" (where bronze dragons would just be gold but less valuable). Thinking about it, green and black are also tarnish colours for copper and bronze, which makes me wonder if the chromatic and metallic dragons aren't secretly interchangeable and/or if tarnishing isn't fundamental to them, somehow.

Where I did not expect to end up with this comment: Prince Rupert of the Rhine

FrDave said...

Thanks. I am glad you are enjoying this...

Interestingly, the only reason I have females as smaller is due to the reference in Holmes. Had that not been there, my instinct was to make females bigger...and I must admit I like your vision of the green dragon.

The only reason I have the "spell effect" breath weapon is because it is there in the original text. Being a breath weapon, they effective become area effect spells and one still has to save verses breath rather than spell...but it is a bit strange.

Thanks for the link on Rupert...fascinating!

The Jovial Priest said...

Here's an idea I stumbled upon:

Dragon Magazine Number 62
The grey dragon, Rehab.

Breath weapon: gas cloud that affects all victims as a super-powerful charm spell. Affected creatures will never again attack Rehab or seek to do him harm for as long as they live.