Friday, October 3, 2008

A Dragon by Any Other Name…

Dragons have come a long way in AD&D, going from being nameless beasties that can be subdued with the flat of a long sword and rode around like a pony at a child’s birthday party to intelligent personalities that often affect political agendas and the tides of war. There have been various efforts to turn them into something other than a big mass of experience points perched atop a heap of ever more experience points, mostly in the pages of Dragon magazine, but each edition of the game fine-tunes them a bit more.

I made a decision in regards to dragons a few years back. Not one of game mechanics, but one that I feel makes my own dragons a little different from most others. Quite simply, I established a method for naming my dragons in a manner I feel reflects the way they’ve often been portrayed in literature.

Dragons are often compared to felines. They share a few of the same qualities: fastidiousness, vanity and the tendency to play with their food before devouring it. These feline qualities, in addition to their incredibly long life-spans, suggest that dragons would not be satisfied with simple names like the kind that serve the short-lived humans and demi-humans which cause them so much trouble. Dragons would prefer more poetic names; ones that appeal both to their vanity and to the many deeds that they’ve accomplished over their long lifetimes. As such, when it comes to dragons, I’m prone to giving them evocative names. Names that almost resemble haikus or prose poetry. Take the following examples:
  • Amber Chrysalis of Night-Shed Tears
  • Lightning Reflected on Raindrops
  • Candle Burns on Chalk Marks
  • The Corpse with Firefly Eyes
  • Showers of Nickel, Copper and Brass
  • Scaled in Magma and Heart of Stone
  • Trees Wrenched in the Whirlwind
  • Coral in Repose
  • Song on Battlefields
  • Charmed of Icicles and Frost

These names would be their translations into the Common Tongue of Man. Since the language of dragons – Auld Wyrmic in my campaign – is incredibly difficult to learn, knowing the complete translation might behoove an adventuring party traveling into the domain of a dragon. Being able to call a dragon by his or her proper name just might buy the party enough time to bargain for their lives.

Nearby settlements would use an abbreviated form of a dragon’s name when referring to the creature, provided they were safe within the walls of their village at the time. That is, if they didn’t just call it the Dragon, which would be much more likely. After all, how many dragons live close by?

5 comments:

James Maliszewski said...

Those are great names. I may have to swipe a few if I ever use a dragon in my campaign.

noisms said...

For some reason this reminds me of T. S. Eliot and cats' names. I like it a lot.

mr scratch said...

The chromatic wheel of dragons never sat with me. A dragon, in my mind, should be a unique individual, although even the good ones possess a vanity bordering on solipsism.

Amityville Mike said...

@noisms: There was probably Eliot inspiration to this, albeit subconsciously. I remember the poem from college. I like cats myself, but if any animal is full of themself, it's a cat. Stands to reason dragons would be the same.

@mr. scratch: This name generation process would work similiarly well for owls in a "Bunnies & Burrows" game, don't you think?

PTR said...

Two things come to mind for me here:

1. Barbara Hambly's book Dragonsbane is a great read as well as a fascinating take on dragons. Her dragons are all individuals, all unique, mystical and serene and savage. Those names would suit her dragons well I think.

2. Iain M. Banks' sci-fi novels feature superintelligent spacecraft which often choose such names for themselves. Are dragons the fantasy equivalent of starships?