"Gronckle, Zippleback, the Skrill... Boneknapper... Whispering Death... Burns its victims, buries its victims, chokes its victims, turns its victims inside-out... Extremely dangerous, extremely dangerous... kill on sight, kill on sight, kill on sight..."Nearly every culture has myths about something called a 'dragon', despite the fact none of them can agree on exactly what dragons are. How big are they? What do they look like? How many heads do they have? Do they breathe fire? Or ice? Do they fly (and if so, with or without wings)? How many legs do they have? Are they dumb as planks, or superintelligent? Are they low scaly pests, or ultra-rare Uber-serpents ancient and powerful as the Earth itself? The answers to these questions generally fall within two traditions, "Western" and "Eastern". Even then, in addition to cultural differences, dragons fall into a very wide range of types even in one local mythology. Eastern dragons, such as in the Eastern Zodiac, come from different traditions and as such aren't technically the same dragon as their Western counterparts; Westerners who encountered stories and images of Chinese lóng and Japanese tatsu/ryuu sprung on the similarities to the European dragon and couldn't think of anything better to call them. Even within these traditions, however, there is much variability. This has increased in modern times, as Western and Eastern authors have blurred the traditions by mixing and matching attributes from both (benign Western dragons are quite popular these days, for instance). Some authors invent completely new attributes to set their dragons apart from the crowd or just make them cooler. And some authors put dragons in their stories just for the sole reason of making a story look cool.
— Hiccup (flipping through the Dragon Manual), How to Train Your Dragon
|Western Dragons||Eastern Dragons|
|Are scaly and reptilian (outwardly, anyway), and usually serpentine.||Are Mix-and-Match Critters, though the exact components vary (generally, they can best be described as "lion-snakes"). They sometimes evolve out of Seahorses or Legendary Carp.|
|Normally associated with fire, which they often breathe as an attack.||Normally associated with water (and the sky, which was considered an ocean in classical Chinese thought), and are often considered bringers of rain. In various fiction, some Chinese dragons are capable of breathing fire.|
|Have around the same size range as houses, at least when fully grown.||Can be as small as a grasshopper or large enough to fill the space between heaven and earth.|
|Are usually antagonistic towards humans, if not an outright Satanic Archetype. More intelligent versions are often manipulative, or, at the very least, love to screw with people; less intelligent versions are beasts and act the part.||Are benign, but capable of destructive force when provoked. They may be rivals with tigers.|
|Kidnap damsels (preferably princesses) and/or hoard treasure. Often greedy and/or insatiable, especially in the latter regard.||Instead of hoarding magical treasures, they make them. The other thing they hoard is wisdom, which they rarely share with mortals.|
|Have a variable number of heads and legs, though one head and six limbs (four legs, and a pair of wings) and a tail is the most common configuration. More divergent types (no legs, multiple heads, etc) seem more likely to be brainless bestial monsters than the "basic" form.||Most often have one head and four legs. The longer a dragon, the more pairs of legs he has.|
|Either fly with bat-like wings, or they lack wings and don't fly.||Can fly via magic even if they lack wings, which they usually do. When they do have wings, they are often birdlike.|
|Have varying levels of intelligence. Prior to Tolkien, they rarely spoke. After Tolkien, they are often portrayed as at least as clever as humans, and frequently (much) more. More traditionally bestial examples still usually have a predatory cunning.||Not only are they intelligent, they are usually a Mentor Archetype.|
|Their scales (and armor made thereof) may be impervious to magic. In addition, they often have some form of innate magic if intelligent. Sometimes they may even disguise themselves as humanoid beings of much smaller size and interbreed with said species, creating half-dragons.||In addition to assuming human form, they also often have the ability to transform into other animals.|
|Live for a very long time, if not actually immortal, but typically may be killed.||May be an out and out Physical God.|
|Are incredibly strong and hard to kill but usually have one or two fatal weak spots. This is traditionally under the chin, but post-Tolkien, it's more likely to be on the chest or belly, and the eye is popular too.||In relation to the above, pretty much invincible... not that people actively seek them out to kill them anyway. Have a single "reversed scale" under the chin, and go into a blind rage if it is touched/rubbed the wrong way.|
|Sometimes have poisonous blood, breath, saliva, or some such. Often, this will kill you after you kill it. If their blood isn't poisonous, it grants special powers such as invincibility.||Since they live and breathe essence of life itself, they are the exact opposite of being poisonous.|
|The original name (drakon) meant Serpent/Snake.||The original name (long) is used to describe Saltwater Crocodiles (smaller crocs are named something else) explaining their ties to water.|
- The most popular variation has been the wyvern, somewhat resembling a bat with the forelimbs being clawed wings and the rear limbs being two legs - this configuration generally being considered more "realistic" as something that could actually evolve. note In some settings, this is the only type and will simply be called "dragons." In other settings, wyverns are not considered "true" dragons at all, but a related, usually less powerful and intelligent species. Wyverns are less likely to breathe fire, and more likely to be venomous (even when dragons in the same setting are not venomous).
The term "wyvern" is less likely to be used if the creature in question walks quadrupedally (using the wings as forelimbs, like a bat or a pterosaur), such as Smaug from The Hobbit, Vermithrax Pejorative from Dragonslayer and the dragons from Reign of Fire.
- Rivaling the wyvern is the Hydra from Greek Mythology, which is often depicted as a flightless dragon-like water or swamp beast with one or more heads; for each head you cut off, two rapidly grow to replace it. If they have a Breath Weapon, it's often a different one for each head. The original sprayed poison and had poison for blood.
- A drake (when it is not simply another term for dragons, occasionally for male dragons specifically) is usually a creature closely related to dragons but smaller and less intelligent, equivalent to the relationship between humans and chimpanzees, or is sometimes an adolescent dragon who isn't finished growing yet. Multiple species of drake may exist for different environments (e.g. the drakes that live around volcanos may be the only ones able to breathe fire). Unlike wyverns, they have the same body type as other dragons in the setting, though if dragons have wings then drakes will sometimes lack them.
- Very old (Greek and Roman, and some medieval) dragons are presented as more serpentine than the more recent ones — if winged, the wings are usually their only limbs; and some were totally limbless, just very enormous serpents. This type of dragon may be referred to as a wyrm (pronounced just like "worm").
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- Earth and Sky: Due to dragons being magic creatures, their physical forms change based on their desires. For instance, a dragon that lived by himself in the middle of nowhere grew a second head just so he'd have someone to talk to. This is also apparently why Spike has wings now when he didn't during his greed-induced growth spurt; he didn't want them back then, but has since learned to enjoy the concept of personal flight.
- Hope For The Heartless: According to the Horned King, despite resembling them, gwythaints such as the two he kept aren't dragons. He did once encounter a true dragon, which was built like a gwythaint but had four legs and bronze-colored scales, and was as large as two peasant houses put together. It didn't breathe fire (but he has heard tales from people who have actually seen firebreathers), but spat lava instead, something some dragon types can do by eating rocks and digesting them into a lava-like substance.
- The Last Draconequus: According to Discord's inner monologue, eastern dragons exist alongside the western kind, and are capable of interbreeding with ponies to create a chimeric species called the long-ma. The draconequi were long-ma who migrated west. The original long-ma followed a different evolutionary path and are still around today, and deny being draconequui at all, but Discord still considers them basically the same species. Western dragons are stated to be an inherently chaotic species, and as such, like the draconequi, can potentially produce an Avatar of Chaos.
- The dragons of RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse are mostly of the Western type. They have nigh-invulnerable scaly hides, fire breath, six limbs (counting the wings), eat gemstones, and collect a Dragon Hoard because they grow larger the more stuff they possess.
We are dragons. We are mighty. We are the strongest of the mortal races. We have no equals. And because of that... we are dying.
- However, this is heavily Deconstructed. Because dragons are so individually powerful, and can find their food so easily, they never developed a civilization beyond the crudest level of "might makes right". Very few dragons can even read and write, and the handful of more civilized dragons have to learn other languages just because Draconic lacks the vocabulary to express many of the things they want to say. In addition, since the greatest threat to a mature dragon is another dragon, they never work together, and though they may spawn whelps, they would never take them into their own lairs, for they might steal something. As a result, there are only a few thousand dragons on the planet. As one abnormally wise dragon puts it:
- Gloryhammer: The song "Magic Dragon" from the first album, Tales From The Kingdom of Fife is about a magic dragon who becomes Angus McFife's ally after a magic spell is cast.
Demon attacked me but then it was slain
The dragon appeared and a battle was fight [sic]
I spoke from the words of a powerful scroll
And magical dragon became now allied.
- The protagonist of the "Dragonland Chronicles" album trilogy of the Swedish Heavy Metal band Dragonland is said to descend from dragons. In addition to that to cite an example "Dragondawn", the first song of their first album is accompanied (it's instrumental) by these verses:
As the dragons of the dawn spread their wings
And in the first blazing rays of the flowing morninglight
Set flight over oceans of radiant azure blissfull tides
Over majestic mountains of old, mountains of gold (...)
The man-eating ones have said they mostly prefer their humans with barbecue sauce.