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29 November 2014 @ 09:49 pm
On the might of dragons  
This post is inspired entirely by this video:

I've been looking for an extended version of "Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold" for months, and I finally found it. I haven't seen any of the Hobbit movies and I'm not like to unless they ever show up on Netflix or softlykarou buys them, so this is the first time I've seen any footage from it. I haven't even watched the trailers.

After I found this, I sat down to watch it with softlykarou and we ended up getting into a discussion about how dragons are portrayed. And while it's true that the lone knight fighting and beating a dragon has a very long pedigree--and indeed, occurs repeatedly in Middle Earth itself, with Eärendil defeating Ancalagon, Túrin defeating Glaurang, and Bard defeating Smaug--I really like dragons as nearly-unstoppable forces of nature. More like dragons in Shadowrun, I guess, where dragons mostly sit in the back and manipulate everyone and are powerful enough to demolish cities and survive orbital strikes even in a world of 2060s technology.

Dungeons & Dragons lives up to the latter part of its name by having a dragon for every occasion. First level characters can fight pseudodragons, second level characters can fight faerie dragons (or maybe switch those, depending on the party), third level characters can fight pavilion dragons...it goes on and on. Go to the online Monstrous Manual and scroll down the D section and there's whole pages of dragons for every occasion. And that's a reasonable approach, especially in a game like D&D that's based on an endless variety of different kinds of monsters with extremely specific ecological niches (lock lurker, anyone?), but I like the idea that dragons are rare, fantastically powerful, and you probably need an army, an archwizard, or other supernatural aid to fight one.

I guess "other supernatural aid" applies to the heroes mentioned above. Eärendil had a magic ship hallowed by the Valar, Túrin was using Gurthang, and Bard had the thrush tell him where to aim.

I keep bringing up D&D, but there's a D&D setting called Birthright that does dragons this way. There's only one kind of dragon, and you can see from the picture there what kind of threat they're supposed to be. Birthright actually does a lot of generic fantasy stuff right--it has elves that are complete assholes, for example--but the dragons are one of the things I really like about it. Dragons as forces of nature, not as a ladder of different types that are color-coded for your convenience that you climb on the way up the XP ladder.

Basically, I think there's value in there being monster-based challenges where the players can't just roll initiative and go to town. I actually just got something on DrivethruRPG called Stealer of Children that involves a first level party and a creature that requires magical weapons to hurt, forcing the party to think of novel strategies to kill them. As long as there's enough warning about what they're facing, that is. No one likes having something invincible sprung on them out of nowhere, as "realistic" as it might be. I'm pretty sure the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain thought that Smaug just showing up was pretty cheap.
Current Mood: pleasedpleased
Current Music: Clamavi De Profundis - Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold (Extended Cover)
q99q99 on November 30th, 2014 05:42 am (UTC)
Yea, I do like there being a "ok, serious time- it's a (X)!" monster, a role which dragons fill very very well.
dorchadasdorchadas on November 30th, 2014 08:14 pm (UTC)
Dragons have the benefit that they don't need any buildup, too. Everyone knows that they're really dangerous, can fight large groups of soldiers, have deadly breath, etc. If you try to introduce another monster to fill that niche, unless it's something like the Tarrasque where the work has been done already, it'll take a lot of time and will never have the kind of archetypal basis that dragons have.
q99q99 on December 1st, 2014 12:02 am (UTC)
You can sometimes do it with, say, demons, or such, but that has somewhat different thematic connotations.