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Kudos to Ender. (Seriously, I'd send him a box of those little chocolate covered granola bars. They're so tasty!) He wrote this wonderful editorial that has nothing to do whatsoever with any specific game or series. I love these editorials because there is something to discuss, some meat left to pick off the bones, unlike the ongoing FF debate, which I feel has bleached the bone white and is now sanding off the surface.
Before I start going off into the "dragon's lair" I will say that I did not read his original editorial he mentioned in his first sentance. If I repeat anything he said, I'll say, "My bad."
With that out of the way, here's a little preface. I've been playing RPGs for probably ten years. I picked up the pen and paper RPG Dungeons and Dragons about then too, and after years of gaming, I've become somewhat of a local "guru" in the fantasy genre. I haven't read too much fantasy fiction, but I have read a few "essentials" like Tolkien.
Now, the man says dragons are powerful. Let me say that my D&D PC's hate to see dragons. They know I will kill the better part of their party. No one, not even those few nutcase dragon slayers, should doubt the combat prowess of dragons. I'd like to see you take down a flying, firebreathing T-Rex. I don't care what kind of drugs Squall is on, LSD is no match for 37 tons of claws, jaws, and bad attitude.
Now to the good part. He says that dragons attacking your party at random is stupid. No doubt. The only time a random encounter should happen is when dragons are hunting, which is quite rare. Dragons eat and sleep, much like the cats of Africa. They hunt once in a long while, gorge themselves silly on meat and sleep for a long time until the need arises to eat. In a way, they're like college students, but I digress... Anyway, these encounters should be very short, with either the characters running in the opposite direction as fast as possible, or ending with dead characters.
Here's the part that bother's me. Ender says that the only time you should fight a dragon is if you are the bad guy. This is like saying the only time you should play your Playstation is when you have no homework. I think I'm pretty accurate on this (as an aside, Lunar 1 was the best way to not do Physics homework).
Dragons are megalomaniacs. They are very smart, very strong, can nuke a village without thinking, and are on THE TOP of the food chain. And they know it. They revel in the fact that no one can take them down. What did the man say? "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." This breeds evil dragons. They like to terrorize the countryside. They love tormenting would-be dragonslayers. They are vain and egotistic. They love treasure so much that they sleep on, yes ON, piles of gold. I don't think even Bill Gates sleeps on his money. The perfect example? Smaug. Tolkien's Smaug. Not to mention his other dragons (which there are like seven, but I can't remember them. Gimme a break, it's late!)
What is the stereotypical dragon? He captures beautiful princesses and eats them. Some say humans are a dragon's favorite food. Dragon Magazine (a D&D monthly publication) says dragons feel that a human's complex diet make each one a gastronomical delight. I know, digression... But I ask you, is eating a princess moral?
Now for a little literature lesson. The Lernaen Hydra, that Hercules killed, would go into nearby fields and eat cattle and destroy property. Saint George, the patron saint of England, went out to slay a dragon who terrorized a town, demanding (guess what?) a virgin princess. Shocking. Sigurd (aka Siegfried) was directed to slay Fafnir. Fafnir was a dwarf who killed his father for his treasure, and was then transformed into a dragon for his greed. Beowulf (the bane of english majors) fought a dragon who, noticing part of his treasure was missing (one goblet), went on a pyro binge, burning villages to the ground. Now for the epitome of evil: Nidhogg. This monster serpent gnawed on the roots Yggdrasil, the tree that holds up the universe. By doing so he attempted to destroy the universe. Yeah... real nice guy.
This is not to say that all dragons are evil. Far from it. Dragons sometimes use their vast knowledge and mythical powers for good. Bahamut, king of dragons, fought endlessly with Tiamat, the multiheaded draconic she-devil. My PC's breathe great sighs of relief when that huge winged reptile has metallic scales. This means they won't die today. But there is still that latent knowlege that "humans is tasty!" Asian mythology depicts dragons as benevolent spirits. These dragons live at the head of the river, or on the higest mountain, to serve as protectors or gurus.
Lunar's dragons are benevolent. So is Bahamut in Final Fantasy IV. But they don't just give out powerful spells and Dragonmaster titles like candy at the Fourth of July parade! There's a combat test. If the characters impress them sufficiently, the dragon shares it's knowledge. These dragons want to make sure your heart is pure and intentions are just.
The example of the Mist Dragon of Suikoden is flawed. Granted, you are intruding on it's privacy, but the first reaction is not to fight to the death. That is something a beast would do. Dragons are very intelligent (insert broken record). A dragon knows that it is smarter than his intruders, and infinitely more powerful than any human intruders. His first reaction would be to scare the "attackers," and I would certainly wet myself if I ever saw a dragon trying to scare me. If the "attackers" aren't hostile, and try to initiate a conversation, a good dragon might respond helpfully, and an evil dragon might not. But here's the thing: fighting expends a lot of energy. Unless a dragon is mortally threatened, he won't fight, at least not all out. He'll probably have to hunt again after the battle, and the land can't physically support a dragon's appetite on a weekly basis.
Dragons are the defining element of fantasy. Nothing spurs the imagination more. They will always be more than simple beasts, wether or not Square thinks so. Heck, elves survived the Victorian rush for childrens literature. They organized, got Tolkien as their union speaker, and told Santa Claus to hire dwarves. What?! Someone please explain why elves are short manual laborers! That's a dwarf! Read fantasy lit!
But if Ender had one thing right...
Dragons need to be stronger! Write your congressman! Get Dubyah on it! I want to fear for my life when I see that serpentine nightmare on my Dreamcast, PS2, X-box, and Gamecube! Do you hear that Square, and every other developer who even thinks about making a fantasy role playing game? Even Wizards of the Coast listened. They made dragons godlike in the new Dungeons and Dragons. Come on guys! You're getting outdone by the Microsoft of tabletop gaming!
Now, if you'll excuse me, there are a few dozen short manual laborers at my door holding baseball bats that wish to have a word with me.
Questions? Comments? Smart remarks? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Original Editorial : The Truth about Dragons
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