couple of weeks ago, I deferred writing about dragons and raised the ire of a few fans. Never fear—I wasn't casting off dragons. I was just waiting until I had something interesting to talk about with dragons.
Whenever I'm dealing with folks outside the walls of Wizards, I often have to remind them that I'm picky about my dragons. Think about it. The brand is called Dungeons & DRAGONS, right? So if you want to start up a heated discussion with me, bring up dragons. I've got a heap of opinions about what makes a dragon cool. The great thing about it is this: so do the rest of you! So dragons tend to be a hot button that makes folks cringe. Not me. I like a good fiery discussion—as long as it is done with respect.
As always, I'm not here to talk about mechanics, rules, game design, balanced play, or anything else on the crunchy side of the house. I'll leave that to James and the rest of the R&D crew. I'm here simply to talk about the visual side of things.
Let me get my personal biases out of the way first. Some of you might call them my pet peeves. I think dragons should be fearsome beasts! They should strike terror in all but the bravest or the most stupid of beings. I feel the same way no matter what the age of the dragon. I hate the idea of a "cute" baby dragon. If it were up to me, and it isn't, a baby dragon would be at least the size of a Volkswagen bug and could tear most heroes to shreds—and they only get bigger and badder from that point forward.
Not too long ago I was playing a video game that allowed you to take on a dragon very early in the game and pretty effortlessly take him down. I was sad. It felt so cheap. Here was this immense and powerful creature, and a fledgling hero just wandered up and cut it to shreds. I don't ever want to have that happen in any of my games, and since I'm the DM in most of my games, it never will.
I'm also not a big fan of anthropomorphism in dragons. In other words, I really despise applying human emotions and motives to dragons, and even worse, having them doing humanlike activities. Every time R&D asks me to have a dragon hold a scroll and read from it, I cringe. Do you see opposable thumbs on these guys? I don't.
Okay, enough grumbling from me. Do you have some pet peeves? Go ahead. Scroll down to the bottom of the article and share them. I'll wait.
Back? Excellent. Let's dig into the meat of this discussion then.
Since you've read my pet peeves, it should come as no surprise that I'm all about making dragons look cool and badass. Toss a dragon into a movie, and you've suddenly got me on the edge of my seat. I'll check it out. I'll weigh it. Judge it. Critique it. In other words, I'll do what I do every day at work when I'm looking at art work. Dragons get another pass in my book, though. Nothing will drive me crazy faster than a weak rendition of a dragon (except maybe a badly illustrated horse).
Now here's a bit of personal history for more perspective. I had the honor of working with Todd Lockwood and Sam Wood as they did a concept pass on the dragons in the early development of 3rd Edition. While I've had some folks snag me and tell me they aren't big fans of the 3E dragons, it has been a pretty small group of folks. Most folks like the fact that each of the dragons has an individual look, not just a generic look with a change of color like many of the earlier dragons in D&D history. Now, you might have things that you'd like to nitpick about certain dragons, and that is cool. Heck, I've got my own list of nitpicks, but they are just that—nitpicks.
It probably doesn't come as a big surprise that when R&D raised the idea of concepting the dragons for D&D Next, I wasn't a huge fan of sweeping changes. Thankfully, neither were they. I had the concept artists play with a few designs, but they really didn't go anywhere for the most part. As part of the conversation, I did ask for one thing. I wanted to see a slight rework of a dragon where an artist played with my concept of a dragon—make it buff, tough, and threatening. We snagged Todd Lockwood's version of the classic D&D red dragon and ran it through the buff machine. The instructions I gave the artists were simple: Leave the basic creature design alone. Just give it a shot of growth hormones and a trip to the gym. Don't go crazy. Don't try to recreate the wheel. I liked the more feral feel to Big Red. It had more of that brutal feel that I like in my dragons.
What do you think? I've even included the original red concept by Todd Lockwood as a reference. Diggin' it? They've got two different vibes, huh? Todd's red is a little more noble—more intellectual. Big Red is just a brute.
Big Red _______.
Now, I don't propose we turn all dragons into performance-enhanced beasties. First of all, this was just an experiment to satisfy a creative itch. I don't know if anyone will think it is a cool idea or not. Secondly, I don't think beefing up every dragon really takes into account their personalities and backgrounds. A black is supposed to be crafty and sneaky—more of a stealth creature. Bulking it up wouldn't really play well with its legend and lore, right? Just look at this as a fun little creative adventure, and have the conversation with that thought in mind.
Let the writing commence!
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at theartorder.com.