Prediction Time: What to do with Draconians in 5E?

Once again Wizards of the Coast (WotC) is teasing the return of two older campaign settings for Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). This came from WotC releasing some infographics on upcoming projects in 2022 (https://screenrant.com/dungeons-dragons-setting-classic-ravenloft-wizards-coast/). It was “confirmed” by certain WotC/D&D leads over on Twitter, with the little addendum that the products in development are just in development, and not all projects in development make it to release. So, WotC/D&D is working on two settings that have not received support in the current edition (5E), but there’s no guarantee they will see the light of day, and WotC is being tight-lipped on what those two settings are. Which leads to a lot of speculation. The prime candidates based on social media response have been: Dragonlance (DL); Spelljammer (SJ); Planescape (PS); and Dark Sun (DS). Ravenloft (RL) and Forgotten Realms (FR) received 5E support almost immediately out the gate with 5E, with both of those settings continuing to get additional updates and sourcebooks. Eberron (EB) finally got a bit of coverage, but support has been left up to one of that setting’s creators, Keith Baker, to release additional products through the DM’s Guild (basically, Baker is developing additional products on his own, although WotC continues to hold the rights to the intellectual property).

All of that is just a long-winded intro to the real bit of speculation: What will they do with Draconians if they bring Dragonlance to 5E?

The answer potentially lies in two books by Margaret Weis and Don Perrin: “The Doom Brigade” (1996) and “Draconian Measures” (2000). The prior was published by TSR, while the latter was published by WotC after the acquisition of TSR. These novels follow the exploits of the First Dragonarmy Engineering Regiment (comprised of Draconians) after the War of the Lance. These two novels are important for two reasons:

  1. Establishes that Draconians are not fundamentally evil; and
  2. There are female Draconians.

Once or twice a year the discussion on “races” and “alignment” pops up in D&D circles online, and I’m not going to do a deep dive into that here. It is just worth pointing out considered when these two books were published, and that Draconians were considered inherently evil. They were also depicted as all being male.

“So, if they’re all male, how did they originally reproduce?”

Draconians in their original iteration were creations of servants of Takhisis, the Queen of the Abyss, and chief among the “evil” third of the Dragonlance pantheon of deities. To really do a deep dive into this you have to understand that Takhisis on Krynn was originally a reskin of Tiamat from the default D&D setting of Greyhawk. Takhisis frequently appears in the form of a five-headed dragon (each head being one of the base “chromatic” dragon types: Red; Blue; Green; Black; and White), the same as Tiamat. Takhisis’s “good” counterpart in the Dragonlance setting is Paladine, who sometimes is depicted as a platinum metallic dragon, the same as Bahamut in default D&D. At the time TSR was playing around with this whole unified metaverse for the various D&D settings, and Dragonlance was modeled on that. What that meant is that different worlds could share deities even though the localized names may be different. When the first module (Dragons of Despair) and novel (Dragons of Autumn Twilight) released in 1984, Dragonlance was still very much tied into the greater meta-cosmology of D&D. It would not stay there, but the Draconians are immediately introduced into the setting. They present one of the greatest mysteries: Chromatic dragons follow Takhisis, while metallic dragons follow Paladine, yet the Draconians’ scales are metallic. The Draconians are the shock troopers of the Dragonarmies, who are evil fascist villains in service to Takhisis. Draconians are depicted as evil, with early depictions not even clarifying their gender. Before anyone decides to chime in with, “Yeah, but they’re lizards, humans and elves probably wouldn’t even pick up on their gender identity,” I want to point out that every named dragon in the series gets gendered. And yes, eventually Weis and Hickman would point out that all of the Draconians at this point in time were male.

Spoilers ahead for books that are over thirty years old on the origins of Draconians. As mentioned before, Draconians are created by mortal servants of Takhisis (who is a barely reskinned Tiamat). How it is done is extremely horrific. They stole all of the eggs of metallic dragons while they slumbered, and that’s why the metallics aren’t opposing the Dragonarmies, because the Dragonarmies are holding the eggs as hostage. Except that is a lie. Instead the eggs of the metallics are a key component to the ritual, that binds demonic servitors of Takhisis to the metallic eggs, which then hatch producing as many as a dozen Draconians per egg. The different types of Draconian are based on what type of metallic egg produced them:

  • Aurak – Gold Dragon
  • Baaz – Brass Dragon
  • Bozak – Bronze Dragon
  • Kapak – Copper Dragon
  • Sivak – Silver Dragon

Here is where the Takhisis/Tiamat connection comes in. In various iterations of D&D there is a fiendish species known as Abishai, who serve Tiamat. The Abishai were depicted back in the 80s as being between a humanoid and a dragon in appearance, and were Medium to Large in size. While DL never uses the term Abishai, there were fan theories that the “demonic spirits” that the servants of Takhisis bound to the metallic eggs were actually Abishai. That would come to make less sense as the DL cosmology grew and became more distinct, separating Takhisis from Tiamat.

Even if it was not specifically Abishai, there were still “evil” spirits drawn to the eggs to corrupt them and turn them into the evil Draconians. The Draconians stood out in Dragonlance very distinctly for this reason. They were inherently evil in the beginning. They were the only intelligent species that was depicted this way outside of the dragons. Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Kender, and Minotaur were all depicted as being capable of dedicating themselves to good, neutrality, or evil. Even the goblinoids were given this greater degree of agency. But not the Draconians. They were evil because they were demonic entities that were walking around in stolen forms. Dragons were “good” or “evil” because they were so closely connected to either Paladine or Takhisis. Even though they were physical beings that were arguably mortal, they were also considered to be extensions of the gods that initially created them. And whoa, is there a whole complex set of legends in the DL setting on where each of the “races” come from. What is important for this discussion is where the Draconians came from, and since it happened in the War of the Lance period, it was happening while those initial modules and novels were occurring.

Weis, at least, wasn’t happy with Draconians being coded as just designated evil. That’s where the two novels about Kang and crew come in. Basically it goes, “Yeah, all that stuff about Draconians just being evil? Wartime propaganda.” Considering the strong anti-fascist tone of the original trilogy, and yeah, wartime propaganda makes sense to me. On top of that, the Draconians were stolen from their culture and raised to fight and die in service to another. There are a lot of really just gut-wrenching details with the Draconians that really make them interesting. It also makes the original books seem cold in how the Draconians are used as narrative cannon-fodder, because they are coded as storm troopers who die in unusual ways. When you are writing novels about some resistance fighters trying to defeat a fascist empire, it helps to have enemies that are viewed as “fundamentally evil”, because killing them in that context becomes perfectly acceptable. Give them names, friendships, and real motivations, and suddenly killing them without a second thought becomes squidgy. Weis and Hickman instead decided to follow D&D’s racial alignment coding for individual Dragons and Draconians, but not really for anything else.

Kang and his Draconians turn that on its head. They are not inherently evil. They are however programmed by a life that only knew service to a God of Evil, which means that even though they are trying to shift away from that past, they keep falling back into it. Then they find females of their race. Here is the other weird thing about Draconians. Apparently when they hatch they are fully matured, complete with basic knowledge and awareness. Because the whole finding females thing? They find eggs ready to hatch into female Draconians.

All that is weird, disturbing, and raises a whole bag of ethical questions, but we get to the important point:

Draconians can now reproduce.

Yeah, I made sure that was bold and italicized, because it makes the next step important.

Do Aurak have to reproduce with Aurak, or can they reproduce with Baaz? Those “spectacular death” abilities? Are they an extra enchantment on the initially created Draconians, or is it a trait that would pass to offspring?

My prediction is that Dragonborn will just be repurposed with a slight coat of paint with a little box that details the minor differences between core Dragonborn and Krynnish Draconians. In fact, if you look at the entry for Dragonborn on D&D Beyond, you’ll find this:

DRACONIANS

In the Dragonlance setting, the followers of the evil goddess Takhisis learned a dark ritual that let them corrupt the eggs of metallic dragons, producing evil dragonborn called draconians. Five types of draconians, corresponding to the five types of metallic dragons, fought for Takhisis in the War of the Lance: auraks (gold), baaz (brass), bozak (bronze), kapak (copper), and sivak (silver). In place of their draconic breath weapons, they have unique magical abilities.

The “unique magical abilities” are not listed, but WotC has already set the groundwork to put minimal effort into how Draconians will be developed into a playable ancestry, and a couple of vaguely remembered novels will set the stage for the current era of Dragonlance set in the Age of Mortals (or the 5th age) to have “trueborn” Draconians of adventuring age.

To understand how this would work out, we have to go to the timeline of Dragonlance, but I’ll keep it narrowed down to major events starting with the War of the Lance:

348 After Cataclysm (AC) – The War of the Lance begins – “Dragons of Autumn Twilight”

352 AC – The War of the Lance ends – “Dragons of Spring Dawning”.

384 AC – The Second Cataclysm – “Dragons of Summer Flame”. This also marks a new calendar system with 1 Second Cataclysm (SC).

386 AC / 2 SC – The events of “Draconian Measures”. The Draconian city-state of Teyr is founded by Kang and his followers.

423 AC / 39 SC – The original gods of Krynn return as detailed in “Amber and Blood”, the final book of Weis’s Dark Disciple trilogy. This is the last entry by Weis or Hickman other than a “Lost Chronicles” entry (which covers events that occurred concurrent to the original Chronicles trilogy).

The buzz is that Weis and Hickman have settled their legal disagreement from last year regarding a new trilogy of Dragonlance novels, which Weis seems to have indicated would pick up after the events of the Dark Disciple trilogy. This means that Draconians have been potentially breeding for at least 37 years.

The other reason why this timeline is important is that the vast majority of “ritual” Draconians would have been created by 352 AC. There may have been hidden clutches of unrecovered eggs (like the female Draconian eggs), but overall Draconians that were veterans of the War of the Lance would have been somewhere between 30 and 40 years old by the time of the Second Cataclysm (and when Draconians would have been able to start reproducing). This means that the 1st gen Dracs would by anywhere from 70 to 80 by the time we get to the “now” of the Dragonlance setting, while the oldest 2nd gen “born” Dracs would be nearing 40. Depending on how quickly Draconians reach reproductive maturity, players could be playing 3rd or even 4th gen Dracs. With 40 years under its belt, the Draconians of Teyr would likely have begun to establish their own customs and cultures.

Effectively, why wouldn’t WotC just recycle the Dragonborn as the Draconians? Especially when you consider the origins of the Dragonborn way back in 3.5E with “Races of the Dragon” (2006). Those Dragonborn were basically the inverse of the Draconians, having been created through rituals dedicated to Bahamut where humanoids (humans, elves, dwarves, etc.) were transformed by Bahamut into their draconic forms. The Dragonborn were basically created as a way for players to play Draconians, without having to play a Draconian. 5E reskinning the Dragonborn for the Draconians basically just brings the Dragonborn full-circle.

Not only will WotC just slightly alter the flavor of Dragonborn for Draconians, it has already been done. They just have not officially printed a Dragonlance book yet that explicitly states it.

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