Dragons by a landslide, which is probably an enviromental danger that a Keystone GM can spring on their players. But is it a landslide caused by dragons or a landslide composed of dragons? Or both, really. Why nitpick the particulars?
This entry was amusingly tricky to write, and much of it is devoted to my ever-present hobby horse of whether adventuring and dungeon-delving is really just a spree of murders and lootings. Is slaying a dragon a thing that heroes do? If so, what makes it heroic? There’s a lot of tricky context when one dragon might be a worthy foe and another might be a source of wisdom. So I of course addressed this conundrum by complicating things even further.
Is dragon-slaying murder?
Well, it’s complicated…
These incredible beasts are simultaneously the scourge of civilization and exemplars of ancient wisdom and power. Reptilian in form, dragons have four legs, two wings, and a powerful tail. As if their claws and teeth were not dangerous enough, dragons are naturally magical creatures and can harness arcane forces to destructive effect, most commonly to breathe fire. Dragons can live for centuries or even millenia, and never stop growing in size and magical power.
The life cycle of the dragon is unlike any other known beast. Hatchlings emerge from their eggs about four feet long and fly within hours. The next ten years are spent hunting, eating, and growing, gaining about three feet in length every year. By the time a dragon reaches sexual maturity, it may measure anywhere from thirty to forty feet long. These dragons mate in mid-air and lay annual clutches of twenty to thirty eggs, which incubate for approximately eight months. A single dragon may mate for fifty years, producing a thousand eggs, although fewer than one in a hundred hatchlings will survive to sexual maturity, themselves.
After fertility and virility begin to wane, the draconic lifecycle continues and the dragon becomes an elder dragon. The dragon continues to grow and gain spiritual power, and it is only at this stage that the dragon begins to speak. It is unknown if elder dragons ever die of old age. Elder dragons have widely differing stances towards their own descendents. Some protect and shepherd their broods, keeping them away from people and vice versa. Others show complete disinterest in their progeny and the wake of destruction that they leave.
Suffice to say: most dragons encountered are young, hungry, and dangerous. Until they can speak, dragons cannot be reasoned with, and even after developing speech some have little interest in dealing with the tiny, short-lived, and squishy Speaking Peoples. A rare few elder dragons build peaceable if not even friendly relations with surrounding communities, serving as a local spiritual figure. They may coordinate with the locals on staying out of nesting grounds or hunting the prey that younger dragons rely on.
Outside of nesting grounds, dragons are considered rare and wondrous beasts. They are featured prominently in heraldic devices, symbology, and legends. Both the jewelshaped ‘dragon gem’ and the banded ‘dragon eye’ are popular jewelry styles. Many kobolds insist that they are descended from dragons, and their religious rites often valorize the beasts. On the other side of the spectrum, orkish mettle rites set the dragon at the apex of worthy prey.
The question of draconic intelligence is both persistent and unanswered. Hatchlings exhibit no signs of comprehension beyond a bestial cunning, and mating dragons do not communicate. However, dragons of mating age do collect hoards of metal goods for nesting—metal retains heat better—which may betray some modicum of intelligence. Elder dragons are certainly intelligent, but are unhelpful regarding the status of their younger relations, either suggesting that there is no answer to the question that is comprehensible outside of dragonkind, or supplying variations of “that’s just how kids are.”
Even though elder dragons speak, dragons as a whole are not generally considered one of the Speaking Peoples. There are as many arguments for this as there are ethnographers to make them, but most boil down to a few themes. Firstly, dragons only learn to speak after they have lived more than half a century, and most dragons in the world are pre-verbal. Secondly, dragons do not speak naturally, but magically, which makes them more similar to spirits than people. Lastly, dragons cannot interbreed with Speaking Peoples, which underscores the proposition that they are different in kind rather than degree.
Dragons can be found throughout Ipieros to varying degrees. The beasts prefer to nest in rocky, high elevation areas; some areas of Xenix Gorge are uninhabited by people as they are known breeding grounds for dragons, and the Enai River itself is named after them. Elder dragons may travel far from their old nesting grounds—some elders have hinted that their younger relations are intolerable neighbors—to find more comfortable environs for their later years. It is said that every island of the Kelompok has its own resident elder dragon, although this is almost certainly an exaggerration.
(I love “almost certainly an exaggeration” because it’s a very unsubtle challenge to GMs and players to discover that it’s not an exaggeration at all, cue fireworks.)
But now let us look forward into the distant future of next week. Which of the entries referenced above shall we flip our digital book to? I like when we have a good grab bag: a concept, an industrial process, a people, and a geographic location. What’s next, folks?