Monday, April 19, 2010

Exorcising Dragons

  • "hanging its head in front of the most holy man, harmless and as if obedient"
  • "meek in spirit and with friendly noise"
  • "hanging its head, sobbing"
  • "it put its head on the ground"
  • "it humbly rolled its eyes, as if itwas feeling guilty and begging for mercy from him"
  • "it put its head down to the ground"
  • "like a pet dog"
  • "the dragon stood there like a sheep"
  • "that wildest of dragons left and hurried away and never appeared again anywhere"
  • "What more? The abominable dragon obeyed the saint's commands"
The dragon of D&D is typically the dragon of Tolkien and of Beowulf, the dragon that a hero must do battle with and slay. A fitting dragon for a world of adventurers. But not the only dragon of myth.

The dragon of many medieval legends is a creature of a world of God and the devil, and the dragon-slaying" legend of this world is a different kind of tale.

An itinerant saint arrives in a town, outsider to the community: a community suffering from the depredations and poisons of a dragon. The saint goes forth to the cave or pool where the dragon resides, often with townspeople following and observing. The saint calls forth the dragon from its dark place and in the name of God commands it: to go away from this place, to never again cause harm to people, even to die. The dragon is cowed by the saint and the name of the LORD and is subdued. The dragon has been vanquished.

I'll let Christine Rauer's treatment of the topic from her book, Beowulf and the dragon: Parallels and analogues, do the talking here:

Link to p. 71, in case the Google Book doesn't display properly.


Link to p. 72, in case the Google Book doesn't display properly.


Rauer's third chapter, "Dragon-Fights in Hagiography and Other Literature" is well worth reading in relation to this kind of dragon legend, as is the rest of the book for its masterful review of dragon-fight legendry.

This is not the dragon subdual of D&D, and I doubt these dragon myths had any particular influence on the introduction to "dragon subdual" into the game. But it does set a legendary and mythical precedent for dragon subdual of a different kind.

If I wanted to introduce this into a D&D game, I would do so through the closest analogue: the exorcist extraordinaire of the game itself, the Cleric. The Turning Undead tables in particular are rife for just this kind of application. One could easily expand these tables to include dragons (and demons and devils, for that matter) to better capture the resonance of these hagiographical tales. This works best thematically if dragons are simply dragons, not necessarily differentiated and catalogued into the familiar color-coded symmetry that has petrified over time (Zak's take, and E.G. Palmer's) .

I would be tempted to do something as simple as this:

Cleric vs. Dragon

Level of Cleric

Lesser Wyrm

Greater Wyrm

1

2

3

4

11

5

9

6

7

7

T

8

T

11

9

D

9

10

D

7

11+

D

T


This assumes that the DM will make a judgment call as to whether the dragon is a lesser or greater wyrm. I chose levels 4 and 8 as "breakpoint" levels because of their resonances with "Heros" and "Superheroes" in Chainmail and early D&D. The table assumes a "low level" world. Your Cleric vs. Dragons table might look very different.

Hat tip to The Geyhawk Grognard for prompting this post!