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A true dragon is a classification of dragons which become more powerful with age.[1] It refers to creatures simply known as "dragon", such as the red dragon and silver dragon.

True dragons are contrasted with lesser dragons, a broad category of dragon-type creatures such as drakes, wyverns and linnorms. Lesser dragons are distantly related to true dragons.

Types of true dragon[]

The best known types of true dragon are the five species of evil chromatic dragons, whose scales are of particular colors, and the five species of good-aligned metallic dragons. Other, less common dragons are known to exist.

Chromatic dragons[]

Chromatic dragons are evil-aligned. According to dragon legend, the five chromatic dragons were created long ago by Tiamat.

  • Black dragon: An acid-breathing dragon who inhabits swamps.
  • Blue dragon: A desert-dwelling dragon who breathes a line of lightning.
  • Green dragon: A forest-dwelling dragon which breathes poisonous gas.
  • Red dragon: A fire-breathing dragon, and the strongest of the chromatic dragons.
  • White dragon: The weakest of the chromatic dragons, which breaths a cone of icy cold.

Some rare dragons possess scales of a fixed color, but are not one of the five colors. They are speculated to be the result of rare interbreeding between true chromatic dragons. Some myths suggest they are the abandoned bastard offspring of Tiamat.

  • Brown dragon: A forest-dwelling neutral dragon able to shapechange into a forest animal.
  • Gray dragon: A rare ice-dwelling dragon from the world of Krynn.
  • Orange dragon: A dragon who breaths color spray. They mate for life. Called also the Sodium Dragon.
  • Pink dragon: A whimsical chaotic dragon which breaths bubbles.
  • Purple dragon: An evil dragon called also the Energy Dragon.
  • Yellow dragon: A dragon who assumes human form. Its breath weapon can cause disease or blindness. Called also the Salt Dragon.

Metallic dragons[]

The metallic dragons are good-aligned. They claim descent from Bahamut, the Platinum Dragon.

  • Brass dragon: A desert-dwelling dragon with a love of conversation.
  • Bronze dragon: A water-dwelling dragon with a strong sense of justice.
  • Copper dragon: A dragon with a love of humor who inhabits rocky mountain areas.
  • Gold dragon: The most powerful of the metallic dragons, which breathes fire.
  • Silver dragon: A dragon who breathes cold and inhabits icy mountaintops and cloud lairs.

Some less common metallic dragons exist:

  • Electrum dragon: A rare dragon found in Faerûn.
  • Steel dragon: Called also the Greyhawk Dragon, it spends most of its life in human form.

Neutral dragons[]

  • Pearl dragon: A coastal dragon which breathes steam.
  • Jade dragon: An oriental dragon.
  • Jacinth dragon: The rarest non-unique true dragons, with at most only a dozen on any given world.

Gem dragons[]

The gem dragons are psionic, rather than magical in nature. They are neutral in alignment, and sometimes considered a subtype of neutral dragon. Their leader is Sardior, the Ruby Dragon.[2]

  • Amethyst dragon: A purple dragon of the earth element, known for its diplomatic tendencies.
  • Crystal dragon: A white dragon inhabiting the Elemental Plane of Air.
  • Emerald dragon: A green dragon of the Air element, known for its curiosity.
  • Sapphire dragon: A highly territorial blue dragon of the Earth element.
  • Topaz dragon: A golden dragon of the water element, known for selfish and erratic behavior.

Ferrous dragons[]

A less common sort of neutral-aligned metallic dragon. Their origins are mysterious. Their deity is Gruaghlothor, the Supreme Dragon.

  • Nickel dragon: A relatively weak weak dragon able to breathe water.
  • Tungsten dragon: A dragon dedicated to the forces of good. It is able to detect good or evil in a person's heart.
  • Cobalt dragon: An evil, dangerous dragon.
  • Chromium dragon: Called also the chrome dragon, one of the most evil of ferrous dragons. They can be mistaken for silver dragons.
  • Iron dragon: The most powerful ferrous dragon.

Planar dragons[]

Certain extraplanar dragons are formed from the state of other planes of the Great Wheel cosmology. They tend to lack the ability to cast spells. Those of evil planes are sometimes called fiendish dragons.

  • Astral dragon: A long dragon native to the Astral Plane
  • Battle dragon: Armored dragons from the Heroic Domains of Ysgard.
  • Chaos dragon: Wild dragons from the ever-Changing Chaos of Limbo.
  • Ethereal dragon: Pearleascent dragons from the Ethereal Plane.
  • Oceanus dragon: Good-aligned aquatic serpents who inhait the River Oceanus, which links the good-aligned planes.
  • Radiant dragon: Golden, glowing dragons from the Seven Mounting Heavens of Celestia.
  • Howling dragon: Chaotic frilled dragons from the Windsept Depths of Pandemonium.
  • Pyroclastic dragon: Evil volcanic dragons inhabiting the Bleak Eternity of Gehenna.
  • Rust dragon: Corrosive dragons of the Infernal Battlefield of Acheron.
  • Styx dragon: Evil serpents inhabiting the River Styx, which winds through the Lower Planes.
  • Tarterian dragon: Dark, gaunt dragons who consume condemned souls. They hail from the Tarterian Depths of Carceri.
  • Adamantine dragon: Of the Twin Paradises of Bytopia.
  • Arboreal dragon: Of the Olympian glades of Arborea, in Arvendor.
  • Axial dragon: Of the Clockwork Nirvana of Mechanus.
  • Beast dragon: Of the Wilderness of the Beastlands.
  • Condordant dragon: Of the Condordant Domain of the Outlands.
  • Chole dragon: Of the Infinite layers of the Abyss.
  • Elysian dragon: A pot-bellied dragon who enjoys ale and inhabits the Blessed Fields of Elysium.
  • Gloom dragon: Of the Gray Waste of Hades.

Lung dragons[]

Wingless, serpentlike dragons of Oriental legend.

  • Yu lung: Called the Carp Dragon, it is the infant form of lung dragons, which grow into the other known types.
  • Chiang lung: Called the River Dragon, it it a water spirit who inhabits rivers and lakes.
  • Li lung: Called the Earth Dragon, it lives underground. Unlike most lung dragons, it is winged.
  • Lung wang: A mighty sea dragon.
  • Pan lung: Called the Coiled Dragon, it is a water spirit which guards temples and burial sites.
  • Shen lung: Called the Spirit Dragon, it is a water spirit believed to bring good fortune.
  • T'ien lung: Called the Celestial Dragon, they are the rulers of the lung dragons.
  • Tun mi lung: Called the Typhoon Dragon, they are evil dragons who create storms.

Epic dragons[]

Epic dragons are rare beings composed of something far greater than normal flesh and bone. Their strength is beyond that of normal dragons.

  • Force dragon: A dragon made of pure force, similar to the spell wall of force.
  • Prismatic dragon: A dragon made of radiant magical light. Its breath weapon is that of the spell prismatic spray.
  • Time dragon: A dragon made of time itself.

Arcane dragon[]

A rare type of dragon who excel at magic rather than physical power. At least two types are known to exist.

  • Hex dragon: An earth dragon, typically evil.
  • Tome dragon: An air dragon with a white mane who collects lore.

Other dragons[]

  • Beljuril dragon: An ancient volcanic dragon.
  • Bestiary dragon: A great winged serpent.
  • Brainstealer dragon: A horrible mind flayer hybrid dragon.
  • Brown dragon: An earth dragon called also the Great Desert Dragon.
  • Deep dragon: An dark purple earth dragon who stalks the Underdark.
  • Dracolich: A dragon who has undergone the transformation to an undead lich.
  • Dzalmus: A three-headed dragon found in the steppes of Faerûn.
  • Fang dragon: A greedy, chaotic dragon.[3]
  • Fire dragon: A monster created of living magma in the form of a true dragon.
  • Incarnum dragon: An rare indigo dragon of incarnum soul energy.[4]
  • Obsidian dragon: A dragon resembling the silver dragon, inhabiting the northern reaches of Oerth
  • Rattelyr dragon: A wingless, hooded dragon of Faerûn, thought to be synonymous with the cobra dragon.
  • Rainbow dragon: A powerful, evil dragon.
  • Sand dragon: A chaotic earth dragon inhabiting deserts.[5]
  • Shadow dragon: Dark dragons who inhabit underground lairs, with ties to the Plane of Shadow.
  • Song dragon: A rare species of silver-blue dragon encountered in Faerûn who can assume human form.[6]
  • Stone dragon: A rare dragon which inhabits rocky areas and likes to eat gemstones.

Unique dragons[]

Some dragons are considered unique:

  • Ahi, the steel dragon, and his twin brother Rahab, the grey dragon
  • Tiamat, five-headed god of true chromatic dragons
  • Bahamut, the Platinum Dragon
  • Sardior, the Ruby Dragon
  • Quazar dragon, a unique dragon capable of consuming worlds

Abilities and traits[]

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Dragons are capable of flying and various breath weapons. Many dragons can also cast spells.

Life cycle[]

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Publication history[]


The dragon first appeared in Gary Gygax's miniature wargame Chainmail (1971), which would go on to inspire Dungeons & Dragons. Chainmail featured a winged, fire breathing red dragon, described as typefied by the dragon of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit.[7] The rules also describe the white, black, blue, and and green dragons, as a well as a rare flightless purple dragon with a venomous stinger in its tail.

Original D&D[]

The five chromatic dragons and the golden dragon appeared in the original D&D box set rulebook Monsters & Treasure (1974).

The Chinese lung dragons were introduced in Chinese Dragons, Dragon #24 (Apr 1979), p.8.

Basic D&D[]

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From Hatchling To Immortal Guardian, Dragon #170 (Jun 1991), p.14

AD&D 1st edition[]

Dragon Magazine articles introducing new true dragons included That's Not In the Monster Manual!, Dragon #37 (May 1980), p.7; Rearranging and Redefining the Mighty Dragon, Dragon #38 (Jun 1980), p.11; Faerie Dragon, Dragon #62 (Jun 1982), p.6; Steel Dragon, Dragon #62 (Jun 1982), p.8; Grey Dragon, Dragon #62 (Jun 1982), p.9; The Missing Dragons, Dragon #65 (Sep 1982), p.28; Landragons, Dragon #74 (Jun 1983), p.12; The Electrum Dragon, Dragon #74 (Jun 1983), p.17; Creature Catalog II, Dragon #94 (Feb 1985), p.46; There Can Never Be Too Many Dragons, Right?, Dragon #96 (Apr 1985), p.45; The Cult of the Dragon, Dragon #110 (Jun 1986), p.12; The Dragon's Bestiary, Dragon #134 (Jun 1988), p.10; Dragons are Wizards' Best Friends, Dragon #146 (Jun 1989), p.14; The Dragon's Bestiary, Dragon #146 (Jun 1989), p.22; Not Necessarily the Monstrous Compendium, Dragon #156 (Apr 1990), p.15; That's Not In the Monstrous Compendium!, Dragon #158 (Jun 1990), p.25; The Voyage of the Princess Ark, Dragon #163 (Nov 1990), p.45; Hoard For the Horde, Dragon #163 (Nov 1990); and The Dragon's Bestiary, Dragon #170 (Jun 1991), p.27.

AD&D 2nd edition[]

Dragon Magazine articles introducing new true dragons included Opening the Book of Beasts, Dragon #199 (Nov 1993), p.12; The Draconomicon, Dragon #234 (Oct 1996), p.16; The Dragon's Bestiary: Chaos Creatures, Dragon #246 (Apr 1998), p.96; The Return of the Missing Dragons, Dragon #248 (Jun 1998), p.27; and Earthstokers, Dragon #265 (Nov 1999), p.42.

D&D 3rd edition[]

The five chromatic and metallic dragons appear in the Monster Manual (3.0) (2000) and Monster Manual (3.5) (2003)

The [8], defines "dragon" as "a reptilelike creature, usually winged, with magical of unusual abilities", usually having darkvision and immunity to sleep and paralysis. Page 68 defines true dragons as winged, feared for their great size and magical abilities. It differentiates true from lesser dragons in that true dragons gain power as they age, while others do not.

The most detailed sourcebook on true dragons in this edition is the Draconomicon (3e) (2003), which provides enormous amounts of detail on the physiology, society, and life cycle of true dragons, and details the fang dragon, shadow dragon and planar dragons.

Other books introducing new types of dragon in this edition include Oriental Adventures (3e) (2001), which introduces the oriental lung dragons; Monster Manual II (3e) (2002), p.77, which introduces the gem dragons; and the Epic Level Handbook (2002), which introduces epic dragons.

Dragon Magazine articles introducing new true dragons to third edition included Hellish Fangs on Abyssal Wings, Dragon #300 (Oct 2002), p.29; Dragon Psychoses, Dragon #313 (Nov 2003), p.75; Planar Dragons, Dragon #321 (Jul 2004), p.44; Monsters of the Mind, Dragon #337 (Nov 2005), p.25; Creature Catalog IV, Dragon #339 (Jan 2006), p.51; Creature Catalog V, Dragon #343 (May 2006), p.39; Creature Catalog V, Dragon #343 (May 2006), p.42; Planar Dragons: Wyrms of Another World, Dragon #344 (Jun 2006), p.27; The Horde, Dragon #349 (Nov 2006), p.62; Ferrous Dragons, Dragon #356 (Jun 2007), p.23; and Time Dragon: A Wyrm For the Ages, Dragon #359 (Sep 2007), p.36.

D&D 4th edition[]

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D&D 5th edition[]

The Monster Manual (5e) (2014) features the five chromatic and five metallic dragons. Page 6 defines dragons as large reptilian creatures of ancient origin and tremendous power, and true dragons as highly intelligent creatures with innate magic. In contrast, non-true dragons (i.e. lesser dragons such as wyverns) are described as distantly related to true dragons, less powerful, less intelligent, and less magical.

Creative origins[]

The first of D&D's true dragons, the red dragon, was inspired by the fire-breathing dragon Smaug from Tolkien's story The Hobbit, which was in turn inspired by European mythology.

European myth[]

While the name "dragon" is applied to mythological creatures from various ancient cultures, the dragon of Dungeons & Dragons can ultimately trace its origins back to Norse and English mythology.

In Beowulf (c.700-1000 AD), a slave steals a single gold cup from the hoard of a fire-breathing dragon. The dragon rampages the local countryside in revenge until the hero Beowulf slays it in its lair. The dragon is referred to in Old English as a draca ("dragon", same cognate as modern English "drake", ultimately via Latin and Greek drakon, perhaps via Christian texts) or wyrm ("serpent", same root as English "worm", from Old Norse ormr, as in Miðgarðsormr).

In the Saga of the Volsungs (written c.1250 AD), Loki kills the dwarf Otter, and is forced to pay compensation to his family. Otter's brother Fafnir steals the gold, transforming into a poisonous serpentlike dragon (Old Norse ormr, meaning "dragon", "serpent" or "worm",[9] cognate with Old English wyrm). Fafnir lies upon his treasure to guard it, but is eventually slain by the hero Sigmund.

Tolkien's works[]

J.R.R. Tolkien was a scholar of mythology, and expressed familiarity with Beowulf and the dragon of Norse myth. In a 1936 lecture, Tolkien says:[10]

"And dragons, real dragons, essential both to the machinery and the ideas of a poem or tale, are actually rare. In northern literature there are only two that are significant. If we omit from consideration the vast and vague Encircler of the World, Miðgarðsormr, the doom of the great gods and no matter for heroes, we have but the dragon of the Völsungs, Fáfnir, and Beowulf's bane."

These creatures were almost certainly the inspiration for [1] Smaug, the fire-breathing dragon in Tolkien's novel The Hobbit (1937). Smaug shares many traits with the dragon of Beowulf, including its habit on resting upon a hoard of golden treasure and ability to breathe fire.

Fantasy wargaming[]

Dragons appeared in Rules for Middle Earth (1970), a set of miniature wargame rules inspired by Tolkien's works. That dragon resembles Tolkien's Smaug: it can fly, breathes fire, and can be killed by archers.[11]

These rules are believed to have served as inspiration to Gary Gygax's 1971 wargame Chainmail, which included the dragon among other fantasy creatures. Chainmail compares the dragon to that of The Hobbit:

"Dragons are feared everywhere, and with good reason. We will deal here with the great Red Dragon (Draco Conflagratio, or Draco Horribilis) which is typefied in Tolkien's THE HOBBIT."

According to the preface of The Slayer's Guide to Dragons (2002), Gygax based the appearance of the dragon on European illustrations depicting the creature as a winged reptilian quadruped with long tail and neck, and which commonly breathes fire. Gygax crafted his own red dragon miniature for Chainmail by modifying a stegosaurus, making its tail spikes into the dragon's horns.

To make the dragon less predictable, Gygax next created the green dragon, inspired by stories of poison-breathing dragons (perhaps Fafnir of Norse myth), and making it green after the color of chlorine gas. Next, inspired by the Chinese game of mahjong, which has three "dragon" tiles of red, green and white respectively, Gygax created the white dragon. This was followed by the blue dragon, as Chainmail already had a lightning bolt wizard spell, and finally the acid-breathing black dragon.[12]

Having created the original five chromatic dragons, Gygax felt the need to introduce a more righteous counterpart, creating the noble golden dragon inspired by the lung dragons of Chinese mythology,[13] which were said to bring good fortune.

Reception and influence[]

The division of dragons into "true" and "lesser" has appeared in numerous other games.

In Dark Souls lore, dragons are divided into the godlike Everlasting Dragons, who ruled the world long ago during an Age of Ancients; and distantly related brethren which include drakes and wyverns.

In the dungeon board game Gloomhaven, it is widely believed that dragons are a myth, but drakes are known to be real.


  1. Draconomicon (3e) (2003), p.4.
  2. Dragon #37 (May 1980), p.7.
  3. Draconomicon (3e) (2003), p.159.
  4. Magic of Incarnum (2005), p.172.
  5. Sandstorm (2005), p.152-155.
  6. Monsters of Faerûn (2001), p.44-45.
  7. Chainmail, 2nd edition, 1972.
  8. Monster Manual (3.5) (2003), p.308.
  9. Dragons in Norse Myth, Youtube. Jackson Crawford, 2017.
  10. Beowulf, The Monsters and the Critics, J.R.R. Tolkien, 1936.
  11. A Precursor to the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement, Playing at the World, 2016.
  12. The Slayer's Guide to Dragons (2002), Gary Gygax, Mongoose Publishing
  13. The Slayer's Guide to Dragons (2002), Gary Gygax, Mongoose Publishing