The Midgaheim Bestiary: Dragons Overview

Dragon Family Tree

Of all the fantastic arcane creatures to dwell on Midgaheim, few are as famous and ecologically successful as dragons.  These marvelous serpents can be found in every environment on the continent, occupying multiple different niches and often proving to be essential parts of the ecosystem.  Dragons come in many shapes and sizes, and quite a few of them are apex predators.  They are such an important part of Midgaheim’s environment that many travelers from other continents would call Midgaheim the Land of Dragons.

Draconic Features

Tail spade

The Tail Spade, a weapon found on almost every dragon species

While dragons come in many shapes, some physical traits were retained throughout the clade’s vast and varied evolutionary history.  Perhaps the most notable dragon trait is the tail spade, an arrowhead-shaped bony blade on the tip of a dragon’s tail.  While the exact shape of this weapon is somewhat mutable, it is present in almost every known dragon species, and is the easiest way to distinguish a dragon from other arcane lizards and serpents.

Of course the tail spade isn’t the sole defining physical trait of a dragon.  Most dragon species also have sabre fangs on their upper jaws, as well as a hooked upper lip.  While some have mistakenly called their lips “beaks,” the curved upper lip is actually quite flexible, and allows dragons to make a variety of different sounds as well as facial expressions.  At least two cranial horns are present in almost every dragon species, and are rooted in a special armored part of the dragon’s skull called the Helm of Terror.  Many dragons also have cartilaginous fins located towards the back of their head, which many observers mistake for ears.  These “ear” fins didn’t factor into a dragon’s hearing at all, and were instead used for nonverbal communication.

Wing Evolution

From dorsal sail to full fledged limb, the evolution of the draconic wing

While not a universal trait, the wings that many dragons bear are completely unique to the clade.  Dragon wings began as simple sails of skin held aloft by long, thin bones, which in turn began as simple osteoderms.  Over time, the bone structure of these sails became more articulated, allowing for more complex use as a mechanism for dragon body language.  Eventually the first “rod” in the sail became an articulate limb, while the others dwindled in size and prominence until they were lost altogether.  New horizontal cartilaginous supports grew from the remaining limb, resulting in the somewhat fish fin-shaped wings that all winged dragons sport.

Though it isn’t immediately visible, dragon venom is perhaps their most well-known adaptation.  While the dragons that predated the Lost Epoch (and thus magic itself) had fairly crude and mundane venom, the magically attuned members of the clade quickly turned this ordinary toxin into a truly complicated and spectacular weapon.  Dragon venom is a cocktail of different chemicals (called “drakon” by alchemists) that eventually combust when mixed together, acting eerily similar to napalm.  The venom is deadly even before it ignites, as the chemicals that compose it are caustic to flesh.  Unfortunate victims of a dragon’s venom will first find themselves covered in horrific acid burns before they burst into flame.  Some dragons can also control the amount of time it takes for the venom to ignite, either to draw out the melting process, or to make the venom ignite almost instantaneously , which results in the surreal sight of a dragon “breathing” fire like a flamethrower.

Four Elements, One Serpent

While there are many things that contributed to their fame, one of the most noteworthy attributes of dragons is their attunement to every element of magic.  Most arcane creatures are attuned to one or two elements at most, and often their attunement was not particularly strong.  Dragons, for whatever reason, attuned to all four elements at once very early on in the Lost Epoch, and while which element they are most attuned to varies from species to species, they remain in touch with all four.  Like most arcane creatures, dragons are generally subconsciously attuned, which mean they can’t actively cast spells like a human sorcerer can (a few notable individual dragons are exceptions to this rule).

Like their fellow serpents, a dragon’s innate Earth magic generally manifests in their uncanny ability to find the precious metals and gems of the earth with astounding ease.  Their Earth attunement also accounts for their extreme durability, allowing them to shrug off most attacks, both mundane and magical.  Water magic accounts for their great healing prowess, as well as for the number of species that live entirely aquatic lives despite having lungs (the largest dragon species on record, the Midgar Guivre, spends most of its adult life in torpor at the bottom of the ocean, rising to hunt only once in several centuries).  Wind magic has certainly played in a role in all the strange new forms dragons have evolved into, and is the reason many dragons can fly even when they reached preposterously tremendous sizes (most dragons’ wings are too small to actually lift their bodies off the ground, and instead steer the direction a dragon’s body flies in).  Fire magic plays a role in their combustible venom, and is responsible for the caustic nature of a dragon’s blood once it has been slain.  A dragon’s innate fire magic also accounts for the inherent warmth of a dragon’s body – while dragons were technically exothermic creatures, their bodies are always notably warm to the touch thanks to their magical attunement.  It is oddly common to find other creatures nesting alongside dragons during winter, as the reptiles continue to magically exude warmth even as they enter their winter torpor.

While their attunement to all four elements makes dragons incredibly resilient, it also makes them a popular target of conjurers, as dragon organs are incredibly potent ingredients for magic spells.  Their venom glands, which conjurers call Dracontites, are extremely useful for healing magic, though they are notably difficult to harvest as they can become spoiled in the process of a dragon’s death.  The use of dragon blood depends on the manner of the dragon’s death.  A dragon that died suddenly will have potent beneficial magic in its blood, which can do everything from making a person’s skin invulnerable to teaching them how to speak with birds.  However, a dragon that is aware of its death will have tainted blood that is intensely caustic to the touch, making it only viable as a poison.  Dragon teeth are an essential ingredient for the creation of a specific type of advanced homunculus called a Spartoi, and the rest of a dragon’s bones can be ground into a powder used for  a variety of healing spells or used to make powerful weapons.  Dragon bones are also an essential ingredient in crafting Gargoyles, a particularly powerful variety of homunculi.  Dragon scales can likewise be crafted into nigh invulnerable armor.

Like all arcane creatures, dragons showcase the Fisher King effect, and are in fact notorious for “corrupting” the lands they dwell in.  This isn’t as clear cut as many human-made bestiaries make it out to be, however.  While a dragon’s territory is often considered inhospitable to humans, the other creatures in that territory tend to thrive.  Mundane animals in a dragon’s territory will be larger, stronger, and significantly fiercer.  Plants will become thick skinned, thorny, and resilient to attack.  Dragons make the wilderness more wild and resistant to civilization, and while humans may object to such a change, it isn’t necessarily a wicked influence.

Different Dragons

Since dragons are a large and diverse group of creatures, they have been split up into several clades of their own.  The eight primary dragon clades are differentiated by the number of limbs they sport, and are as follows:

1 Damsel Drake

A Lesser Drake, specifically a Damsel Drake

Lesser Drakes – dragons with four legs and no wings, these were the first dragons to evolve, predating the Lost Epoch by millions of years.  All other dragons are their descendants.

2 Green Bellied Mountain Dragon

A Greater Drake, specifically a Green Bellied Mountain Dragon

Greater Drakes – dragons with four legs and two wings, Greater Drakes are perhaps the most famous dragons in all of Midgaheim.

3 Tundra Lindorm

A Lindorm, specifically a Tundra Lindorm

Lindorms – dragons with two front legs and no hind legs, Lindorms descended from Lesser Drakes and are most common in the North.

4 Lament Wyrm

A Wyrm, specifically a Lament Wyrm

Wyrms – limbless dragons, Wyrms descended from Lindorms and tend to have stronger healing powers than the rest of their kin.

5 Azure Wyvern

A Wyvern, specifically an Azure Sting Tailed Wyvern

Wyverns – dragons with two wings and two hind legs, Wyverns descended from Greater Drakes.  Some species of wyverns evolved tail spades that doubled as venomous stingers.

6 Alchemist Zilant

A Zilant, specifically an Alchemist’s Zilant

Zilants – dragons with two wings and two front legs, Zilants also descended from Greater Drakes.

7 Medea's Amphiptere

An Amphiptere, specifically a Medea’s Chariot Amphiptere

Amphipteres – dragons with two wings and no legs, Amphipteres also descended from wyverns.  Many species among them are considered among the most docile and approachable dragons known to humanity.

8 Common Tatzelwyrm

A Tatzelwyrm, specifically a Common Tatzelwyrm

Tatzelwyrms – dragons with two hind legs and no wings or front legs, Tatzelwyrms descended from wyverns and include some of the swiftest runners in all of dragonkind.

In addition to these eight main clades (and all the clades they are then divided into), there are other terms used to describe different types of dragons outside of taxonomy.  A Guivre is a dragon adapted to live in the sea, while a Knucker is a dragon adapted to live in freshwater.  Immature dragons are called Dragonets.  Dragons who suffer from Hydra Syndrome (i.e. growing multiple heads and necks) are called Hydras, with a specific subset who only have three heads being called Zmeys, which often lack the advanced healing abilities that make Hydras so famous.

Dragon Culture

Though often written off as simple beasts, Dragons, like most arcane creatures, are actually incredibly intelligent.  Their full cognitive capability varies from species to species, but the average dragon was at least equal to a human being in intellectual capacity, although they used that ability very differently.  Since magic provided so much for them, dragons never had much need for technology.  Swords and spears are nothing compared to their fangs and claws, their skin is tougher than tenfold shields, and humanity would take centuries to weaponize fire as effectively as their combustible venom does.  Their disease resistant metabolisms, magical healing prowess, and ability to cook their food while they killed it gave them little need for medicine, and they are comfortable in almost any environment.  Humans deemed dragons crude for failing to create the trappings of civilization, while dragons deemed humans pathetic for needing those trappings in the first place.

Language, however, was an invention both humans and dragons crafted by necessity.  Though they are considered antisocial when compared to humans, dragons do communicate with each other on occasion, and all species raise their young (the only other serpents to regularly do so are Hoogahs, while the other clades generally let their young fend for themselves).  Since most dragons also have long lifespans, they quickly developed a need to articulate more complex thoughts than simple emotions and needs, and thus dragon languages were born, and with them came dragon culture.

Since dragons spend most of their adult life alone in the wilderness, dragon culture values solitude and contemplation.  Riddles are a common past time for dragons, as the act of thinking up new verbal puzzles takes a great deal of thought and fine tuning, which makes it perfect for passing long stretches of free time.  Dragons love solving these mind games as well, and few dragons can resist the allure of a good mystery.

To others, dragons tend to be famed for their arrogance, and few dragons will argue this assessment of their character.  However, their pride is a complex matter.  Physical strength actually matters very little in dragon culture – not because dragons lack it, but rather because it is so common among them.  Dragons consider their physical prowess to be an obvious fact, and one no more worthy of praise than saying the sky is blue or that water is wet.  Instead they value intellectual prowess, which is why most of the folk heroes found in the vast oral tradition of dragon storytelling are cunning tricksters rather than powerful warriors.

A dragon’s territory is considered a symbol of their strength of mind, as a clever dragon should be capable of managing their hunting grounds.  A well maintained lair is the first priority in this matter.  Dragons will scrounge for possessions of great beauty or value, and spend a great deal of time meticulously positioning them so they can be best displayed.  Though these hoards may look like simple piles of stuff to a casual observer, they are actually carefully arranged art pieces.  Particularly ambitious dragons will extend their reach beyond their immediate home, going so far as to alter the landscape of their territory to better suit their aesthetic preferences, and to impress any other dragons that may visit.  Combining these beliefs with a dragon’s inherent territoriality and need for a large hunting ground to survive, and you get the reasoning for the greed that dragons are reputed to have.

Though they spend the bulk of their lives in relative solitude, there are occasions when dragons gather in mass.  These gatherings happen once every hundred years or so, and vast flights of dragons will flock to them in such numbers that their wings blot out the sun as they pass.  The primary goal of these gatherings is to share knowledge, whether it be riddles, stories, or even entire philosophies about existence.  These meetings are intergenerational, and all viewpoints, young and old, are encouraged and valued, as dragons relish the rare opportunity these meetings give them to see different perspectives.  The most eloquent and well-reasoned dragons are venerated at these meetings, with some even being given the coveted title of “Philosopher King,” or so it is commonly translated – a more accurate translation of the draconic words would be “Master of Important Thoughts”, though that doesn’t have the same ring to it.  Notably, the actual phrase is not gendered as “king” is – there have been just as many female Philosopher Kings as there have been males.

There are five particular Philosopher Kings who had a profound effect on dragon culture, as they were given the task of determining how dragons should react to the growing conflict with humanity, and were since known as the five Grand Philosopehr Kings.  Jormungandr the Ouroboros, the largest dragon ever to live, suggested a policy of avoidance, as dragons could live in places humans could not reach.  Fafnir the Gold Hoarder, a bloated lindorm, advocated for a war of resources, believing that dragons could simply starve humanity to death by over-consuming resources.  Zmey Gorynych the Hell Bringer argued for a more direct extermination campaign, as in his mind dragons had more than enough power to wipe humans out if they worked together.  The smallest of the five, Y Ddraig Goch the Skull Splitter, took the opposite approach, claiming that dragons could ally with humanity to create a better world for both.  Finally there was Nidhoggr the Root Chewer, who suggested a policy of subtle manipulation, one where dragons never definitively sided for or against humanity, but instead used guile to bend the course of human history into a direction that suited draconic needs.  The five different solutions became subcultures of their own, and many dragons would identify themselves by the Philosopher King they agreed with.

Long term relationships are not unheard of in dragonkind.  After mating, dragon couples always stick together at least until the eggs hatch, and there are many occasions where they stay together afterwards.  These partnerships are not so uncommon as to be rare, but are still treated as a phenomenal stroke of luck, and many dragons hope deep down to find such a relationship.  Dragon romance isn’t strictly heterosexual, either, as same sex dragon pairs do exist.  These romances are just as treasured in dragon culture as heterosexual ones, and it is considered an honor to act as a surrogate for such a pair when they wish to have eggs of their own.  It also isn’t unheard of to find a dragon sharing its lair with other creatures.  Depending on the intelligence of their companions, these creatures can be treated as pets, henchmen, or actual friends.   While a solitary lifestyle is what the majority of dragons experience, these exceptions are a fairly large minority, and it seems solitude isn’t as inherent to their nature as some would believe.

Dracofalsum

A great many creatures imitate dragons, though nowhere near to the extent that humans are imitated.  Many non-draconic serpents resemble their more famous kin as a defense mechanism.  There is a distantly related group of agamid lizards called Grotesques whose have specialized in imitating different dragon species, both to scare off predators and to intimidate competing species.  A group of docile long-necked crocodilians called Waterhorses vaguely imitate a dragon’s head in profile, and the immense sea-dwelling reedfish known as Leviathans are similar to aquatic dragons in both form and ferocity.

There are also cases of creatures using magic to intentionally mimic dragons, rather than evolving over time to resemble the mighty serpents.  Dragons are a popular choice for transformation spells, though it takes an experienced spellcaster to pull the transformation off.  Many powerful mages have turned themselves into dragons as a last resort when fighting an enemy.  Transforming an unborn child into a dragon is also an oddly popular cursing tactic, and more than a few mothers have given birth to discover an affectionate dragonet instead of their own offspring.  It’s important to note that these transformations are complete ones – the subject of the spell doesn’t just look like a dragon, but actually is one on the genetic level.  Some transformed dragon children are even exceptionally hardy – the largest dragon on record, Jormungandr, was the child of non-dragon parents.

Some biologists in the Lost Epoch speculated that humans-transformed-into-dragons were responsible for modern dragons being intelligent, as there was a misguided belief that lowly serpents could not otherwise produce a creature capable of rational thought.  While this hypothesis is utterly incorrect, the intermingling of dragons and transformed humans may explain why select lineages of dragons are capable of imitating human speech, while others are limited to the natural gurgles, growls, and hisses of their serpent vocal chords.

Dragons have also inspired a great many chimeras.  The appeal of a dragon’s attunement to all four elements of magic did not go unnoticed, and many spellcasters tried to build a chimera that would attune to all four elements without having a dragon’s fierce will and temper.  The most notable of these imitations is the Cockatrice, a hybrid of Basilisk and rooster, and a dismal failure at building a better dragon.  While cockatrices and similar hybrids often manage to attune to at least three of the four elements, they also tend to be deeply unstable creatures – the cockatrice, for example, is prone to inexplicable destructive fits and a murderous disposition.  Chimeras that use dragons as component parts are a common invention, though they are even harder to pull off.  Such hybrids tend to have phenomenal power that borders on catastrophic, and even the meeker members of this group are terrible forces to behold.

Dragon and Human Relations

Humans eventually defied the odds and became the dominant species on Midgaheim, and in the process they came into conflict with dragons again and again.  Eventually the act of slaying a dragon became a valued profession, and a great deal of humanity’s knowledge of these marvelous serpents came from the mercenary soldiers who set out to kill as many of them as possible.  The practice grew to the point that several tactics were soon considered standard dragon slaying methods.  These included wearing spike-studded plate mail armor, feeding dragons pitch or lead, and, most dangerous of all, thrusting a lance through a dragon’s mouth to pierce the tender interior flesh of its throat.  Dragonslayers also discovered nonlethal means of interacting with their quarry – an early dragonslayer was responsible for discovering how dragons can be placated by milk, which they find delicious even though their bodies struggle to digest it, making them incredibly drowsy in the process.  The most notable dragonslayer was Sir George Garston the First, as he was not only an incredibly proficient killer of dragons, but also the first to write lengthy notes about both his methods and the habits of the creatures he slew.  Many of the known dragon species were named by him, and his descendants carried on his legacy for generations.  Sir George was also the first to be given the title “Extinctor Draconis,” which is granted only to the most proficient dragonslayers.

However, the relationship between dragons and humans is not always adversarial.  Many human spellcasters allied themselves with dragons – in fact, it was particularly common with sorceresses, with many of the most famous sorceresses being renowned for working with multiple dragons throughout their storied careers.  There were also many human societies that put their most valuable magical artifacts under the protection of dragons, with this practice being particularly common in the country of Mediterra.

Attempts to domesticate dragons, even those few species of beastly intellect, were never complete successes, as dragons are unanimously too proud to be obedient.  However, there are many recorded instances of dragons working with towns or even single families so long as they were treated as equal partners.  Puks, a diminutive species of Greater Drake, even specialized at living in human residences, bringing wealth to their human symbionts in exchange for food and shelter.

Dragons on Other Continents

Though far more successful in Midgaheim, dragons were found on some of the other continents of the Lost Epoch.  In the east they were represented by Loongs, which were so strange compared to their Midgaheim cousins that they are given their own clade in the dragon family tree.  To the south there are the Trunked Dragons, a group of Lesser Drakes who are considered the missing link between Midgaheim dragons and Loongs.  Then there are the Piasa Dragons in the West, which were by far the least successful dragons of all time, as they were quickly outcompeted by the local fauna shortly after making landfall and driven into extinction.  Beyond these three notable examples, there were precious few dragons outside of Midgaheim, as their niches were filled on other continents by different predators, including some of their serpent cousins.

Meta Notes:

Dragons are quite possibly my favorite mythological creature of all time, and have been the crux of this project since I was four years old.  Everything that would eventually become The Midgaheim Bestiary began with me thinking about dragons way too much and way too often.  I think it would be accurate to say they are the heart of this project.  I knew I’d be ready to truly begin once I have dragons figured out, as everything else could fall into place with their example.

Dragons are also an iconic fantasy creature, and have been adapted so many times and so many ways that actually defining them is both very difficult and, in my experience, very controversial.  People want dragons to be a lot of different things, to the point where “dragon” may as well be considered little more than a synonym for “monster” at this point – and “monster” is an infamously difficult to define term.  There’s literally at least one academic society dedicated to defining it, that’s how hard it is.

I went with what many would say is the “boring” route because, as is often the case, the boring route is what appeals to me.  What can I say, I love lizards and snakes, and the idea of big, flying, fire-vomiting snake-lizards really appeals to me.  Being big weird lizards is what made dragons fascinating to me when I was a kid, and it’s what continues to fascinate me as an adult.  Sticking to that concept as much as possible while still including the fantastical elements of dragons, both in myth and pop culture, was a fun challenge.  In fact, it was a more interesting challenge for me than removing the “they’re just lizards” limitation would have offered.  A chimera of animal parts can justify flying and fire breath pretty easily, but getting a monitor lizard to have those traits is a bit harder.

Making the tail spade and horns essential characteristics of a dragon came from the many depictions of dragons I’ve seen throughout my life.  While those traits aren’t universal in dragon fiction, they’re common enough that seeing a reptile with a tail spade and horns immediately registers as “draconic” in my mind.  The same goes with the vaguely beak-ish upper lip, though to a lesser extent.  How dragon wings work varies a lot in depictions, with most people just giving them bat or bird wings for the sake of simplicity.  However, the weird fish-fin wings are a pretty common alternative, particularly in older art, and one that’s way more interesting for my money, so I went with them instead.  The sabre fangs are less a common trait in dragon depictions (they happen occasionally, but nowhere nearly as frequently as the other traits) and more a common trait of my dragon depictions.  I just think dragons look cool with two big fangs and lots of smaller ones, and it happens enough in my art to make it a common uniting factor in my dragons.  Anything that makes the clade stand out is a good thing in my book.

The napalm-like nature of dragon venom is taken from classic accounts of dragons from Antiquity, though the explanation for how it works is my own design.  I chose this instead of the more modern view of dragons spouting fire like a flamethrower because it’s a little grosser and more unique.  The image of this big lizard retching a caustic liquid on its victims and watching as they burst into flame is at once comical and unsettling to me, and one I can’t recall seeing all that often.

Making dragons attuned to all four elements comes from Alchemy, where dragons were believed to represent all four elements since they were flying creatures (air/wind) that live in/near water (water obviously), crawl with their bellies close to the ground (earth) , and breath flames (fire).  The strength and power dragons represented made them a good symbol of the Alchemical ideal of getting all four elements to work in harmony.  As a bonus, making dragons attuned to all four elements partially justifies why there are so damn many of them in my setting.  The magical uses of different dragon body parts are based on various myths, as well as a few fantasy tropes (such as using dragon bones to make weapons and dragon hide for armor).

While I don’t plan on bringing it up with every monster entry in the bestiary, outlining the particulars of a dragon’s Fisher King Effect was important, as the effect dragons have on the environment is very common in myth.  The idea that a dragon’s presence makes neighboring flora and fauna tougher is partially inspired by myth (particularly the crab that helped the Hydra of Lerna fight Heracles despite being woefully outmatched), modern storytelling (as a nod to the wall of thorny briars Maleficent used to her advantage while fighting the Prince in Sleeping Beauty), and my own invention.  One notably common trait I left out was the tendency for some dragons to be accompanied by foul vapors, as I intend to make that trait specific to certain species rather than a universal trait.

Most of the names for the eight dragon clades come from myth.  Only the terms “Lesser Drake” and “Greater Drake” are my own invention, and even then, calling four legged dragons “drakes” is a common fantasy trope.  “Wyrm” can be applied to dragons of all sorts in myth, but is most often attributed to the legless sort of dragon, and no other name would be more appropriate for that group.  Both Lindorms and Tatzelwyrms are commonly described as two-legged wingless dragons.  Since Tatzelwyrms are also noted for being impressive leapers and fast runners, I decided to give them the hind legs, since it would be harder for a creature crawling on two arms to pull off such stunts.  Wyverns and Zilants are both described as dragons with two wings and two legs.  Since Wyverns are more well-known, and depictions of two legged, two winged dragons tend to use the hind legs instead of the arms, I gave Wyverns the hindlegs and Zilants the front legs.  Amphipteres are universally described as legless but winged dragons (as far as I can tell), so there was no decision making needed on their account.

Likewise, the non-clade-related dragon terms also come from mythology.  “Dragonet” is a name for a small dragon, and one that works pretty well for juvenile dragons in my opinion.  Knuckers are dragons that live in lakes, rivers, and wells, so making Knucker a term for freshwater dragons fit well enough.  Guivres were sea-dwelling dragons that spat poison and were also oddly bashful around naked humans (or at least one was at any rate).  While I had to shave some of those fun details out to make Guivre a less specific term to apply to all sea-dwelling dragons, I do intend to incorporate them into at least one species of Guivre dragon somewhere down the line.  The hydra probably doesn’t need an introduction, being the most famous multi-headed dragon around.  Zmeys are a bit more obscure, but they show up a lot in Eastern European folklore and deserved to get some time to shine.

The culture of dragons is mostly my own invention, though it is heavily influenced by the works of J. R. R. Tolkien.  More prominently than that, though, it is based on my own experience owning reptiles as pets, as many of the traits I’ve given dragons come from my own (perhaps anthropomorphized) interpretations and theories about what goes in a lizard’s brain as it goes about its day to day business.  Some of it comes from myth as well – no adaptation of European dragons can go without addressing the pride and greed that define them in myth, and I attempted to explain these traits in a way that doesn’t necessarily demonize the big lizards.  The Philosopher Kings named in this overview all take their names and personalities from characters in myth, though how closely they’ll resemble their mythic inspiration may vary.

The idea of dragons having loved ones is, astonishingly, not solely my own addition.  Dragons are shown in mated pairs often enough in European myth for it not to be completely out of the norm, and many dragons in Eastern Europe also have familial relationships that are eerily similar to human ones.  Even the bestial dragons of Western Europe are shown to have family ties, and mythological dragons were shown to take care of their young on at least a few occasions.  Dragons befriending different species isn’t unheard of either, with many of the Greco-Roman dragons being practically tame and affectionate to their human handlers – and once more I must mention how the Hydra of Lerna was aided by a crab when she fought Heracles, proving that weird dragon friendships do have a mythological basis.

The number of creatures that imitate dragons in my setting has a basis in both folklore and the tastes of myself and a number of the fans of my setting, as it seems in general people can’t get enough of dragons.  There are a lot of hybrid monsters who have dragons mixed in with their other parts, particularly in Greco-Roman myth.  Likewise, the idea of creatures evolving to mimic dragons has a great deal of appeal, especially since imitating a more threatening creature is such a common tactic in nature.  The idea that sorcerers turn themselves into dragons as a last ditch survival effort is taken straight from pop culture, while non-dragon parents giving birth to dragon children happens in more than a few myths – particularly the fairy tale of the Lindorm Prince and the origin of Jormungandr in Norse Mythology.

The dragonslaying tactics described here all come from various myths.  Sir George Garston is named for both St. George and another far less famous dragonslayer from folklore.  While in general I’ve never much liked dragonslayers in myth (I sided with dragons when I was three years old and never looked back), the idea that the bulk of humanity’s knowledge of dragons comes from the people who lived to kill them has such a sad irony to it.  It’s just such a goddamn human way for things to go down.

The idea of dragons working with sorcerers is mostly a modern fantasy conceit, though it does have some mythological precedent (particularly in the case of Greek mythology’s Medea).  Puks are directly taken from mythology.

“Loong” is one of a few different ways to translate the Chinese word for “dragon” into English, and I chose it because the two more common ones – “lung” and “long” – are used for completely unrelated concepts in English already, where as “loong” just looks like a spelling error instead.  “Trunked Dragons” is a made up name for the dragons of Persia, which looked and acted like a hybrid of European and Asian dragon, and serve as a fun missing link between the two for my setting.  I look forward to fleshing these two out more when I get to the point where I feel comfortable making the equivalent of Midgaheim for Middle Eastern and Asian mythologies.

Piasa Dragons are based on the infamous Piasa Birds, which were originally depictions of an unrelated lynx monster in a Native American culture before some European explorers modified them to look like dragons.  Since Piasa Birds weren’t actually a part of the culture many books claim they come from, I thought it might be fun if their counterparts in my setting were dragons that tried and failed to immigrate to the currently unnamed continent based on Northern American mythologies.

There are a lot of other mythological figures from around the world that people like to call dragons – the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl and the African Grootslang are two particularly popular examples.  However, a lot of these monsters don’t really have a lot in common with the monsters Europeans called dragons.  Quetzalcoatl, for example, is an utterly benevolent deity known for immense compassion, being the only Aztec god who didn’t demand human sacrifice (at least not until the Spaniards royally pissed the Aztecs off anyway).  No European dragon would be that selfless or understanding.  Meanwhile, the Grootslang may act monstrous enough to fit in with European dragons, but its appearance is utterly bizarre, being a mishmash of crocodile, elephant, snake, and other features that are just plain spooky.  Both of these creatures are actually far more interesting when taken as their own creature than when they’re forced to fit into the European mold – I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen Quetzalcoatl reduced to a simple monster instead of the complex messiah-like figure he was in myth.  For this reason, I decided not to force these and other similar monsters to fit my dragons’ mold.  When I get around to adapting these other mythological creatures, I want to adapt them on their own terms, rather than force them to fit roles they weren’t conceived for.

Plus, as the record shows, I just love the idea of there being a whole menagerie of different reptile monsters out there.

One might argue that Loongs started out as independent concepts too, and while that’s true, the history of European and Asian dragons is pretty interconnected, since the various cultures of those two continents interacted a lot.  While dragons and loongs started as separate beings, the cultures that created them both believed they were more similar than different, and it’s not uncommon to see a little bit of dragon in modern depictions of loongs, or even a bit of loong in modern dragons.  Plus the idea that dragons took massively different evolutionary paths on two different continents is fun to work with when making a speculative evolutionary history.  This was the one exception I allowed myself to make, and I feel it’s a justified one.

All that said, though, the word “dragon” can mean whatever people want it to mean, and since the common consensus seems to be it should just be a synonym for “monster,” Grootslangs, Quetzalcoatls, and other mythic creature can all be called dragons just as easily as they can be classified as something else entirely.  You’re not forced to use the classification rules I set up for my universe.

Please don’t send me hate mail about dragons.

Also big thanks go to tumblr user theload, as she helped me flesh out a lot of my ideas on display here!

This entry was posted in Monster Menageries, The Midgaheim Bestiary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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