Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pellatarrum: My Dragons are Different (part 3)

Written as a cooperative effort by Erin Palette and Mike Kochis

Dracula hasn't had servants in 400 years and then a man comes to his ancestral home, and he must convince him that he is like the man. He has to feed him, when he himself hasn't eaten food in centuries. Can he even remember how to buy bread? [...] The loneliest part of the book comes when the man accidentally sees Dracula setting his table. “
Shadow of the Vampire

IV. Society
Dragons, as will be shown later, are consummate schemers, plotters, and planners. They do not have time to properly raise their brilliant-to-genius offspring. Fortunately, their kobold servants are more than willing to teach the hatchling about draconic society – especially the importance and usefulness of kobolds.*

Even before they are born, dragons are avid learners, and a dragon's training begins long before it is hatched. Their brains and sensory organs form while they are still in the shell. The songs which dragons (of both genders) and their kobold egg-tenders sing to their unborn are more than just lullabies; they contain moral, ethical, and historical lessons, philosophical questions, arcane formulae, and other tidbits the young dragon will need to know throughout its life.

However, none of this prevents the feeding frenzy the newborn experiences upon being born. They eat first their shell and any food around the nest, and then, if they look helpless and tasty enough, their siblings. Some parents prevent this from turning fratricidal; other parents look on it as a first, critical lesson in survival. Others make sure all the eggs hatch, and then eat the smallest while the others watch – it's all a personal choice that each set of parents makes for themselves.

As would be expected in a society where eating one's rivals and their followers is sometimes a way of counting coup (gaining prestige), young dragons are cautioned against even being seen by potential enemies, especially those more powerful than themselves. They learn to work indirectly, through agents. They learn to cover their tracks, leave red herrings, and to decipher the same. In fact, understanding how Paladins of Light think – straight forward, honest, direct and utterly lacking in deceit – cause many dragons headaches.

A dragon is most at home at the heart of political intrigue with its fellow dragons (which is to say, involved in their machinations while not dealing with them directly.**) Is their newest agent really a mole? Have their own moles been turned into double agents? Which choice affects their long term interests more, swinging by the local farm and eating a fat cow, or "taxing" the local fishing village for deep-sea bass? What should they do if their backup plans fail? In short, for creatures with the physical, mental, and magical advantages they have, dragons are incredibly insecure, nervous, paranoid, and devious.

A careful dragon (which is to say, nearly all of them) takes this to what would seem like paranoid extremes, but the fact of the matter is that other dragons are out to get them. Therefore, the cultivation of extensive networks and the acquisition of many servants serves multiple purposes: it extends the dragon's reach; it insulates the dragon against direct attacks; and it muddles the dragon's identity. Only the most powerful or cocksure dragon would allow its true coloration be known to any but a selected few, for this is important tactical information. Which is more advantageous: a red dragon being known as such, facing a party warded against fire and wielding cold-based weapons and magic, or being known as a red dragon and facing such a party only to surprise them with a breath weapon of an entirely different element for which they are completely unprepared?

In short: dragons are not monsters; they are villains in the mold of the James Bond franchise.

* This, along with the willingness of kobolds to perform the tasks which a dragon cannot or refuses to do, frequently elevates their species above “mere servants,” and the overall competence and efficiency of a kobold tribe is one of many status symbols among dragonkind. Of course, this is considering the tribe as a whole; individuals within it are rarely seen as more than useful tools.

** Their intense dedication to their passions is what makes most dragons avoid the company of their peers, because understanding that one has quirks is not at all the same as respecting them. (See: any argument on the Internet.) Worse, sometimes the passions of one dragon directly oppose those of another. While this can be seen as an intellectual challenge when distance is involved, it is all too common for tempers to flare when a dragon is in the immediate presence of one who embodies everything he opposes.

While other (lesser) races have to bow to the rules of society, by their very nature there is no such thing as dragon society, with rulers and constabulary and social pressure, because they are naturally solitary creatures who are long-lived and slow to reproduce. Instead, there is only a collection of customs and a framework of etiquette so rigid as to give Emily Post the vapors. These rules are in place mostly to prevent dragons from killing each other out of turn, which would be both needlessly destructive and unseemly. Proper, civilized dragons engage in proxy warfare for centuries, wherein their foes are systematically stripped of all they hold dear until, impoverished and without allies, they may be crushed at one's leisure.

To be continued.

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