The short view of dragon society is this: by and large, no such thing exists.
Exceptions here and there have turned up throughout history as, on occasion, dragons have sought either to build their own societies or to insinuate themselves into the cultures of others. For the most part, however, dragons’ solitary and territorial nature ensures that they eschew societal bonds.
Under most circumstances, what passes for society among dragons best falls under the label “infrequent.” So-called dragon society consists of occasional cooperation between a handful of dragons against a larger threat, adherence to occasional common religious practices, and the occasional observance of vague and ineffectual traditions governing interaction between dragons when interests or territories overlap.
Interactions Between DragonsEdit
When chromatic dragons interact with each other, the meeting comes about because one has encroached on another’s territory or because multiple dragons have their eyes a single prize, such as a particularly well-located lair, a valuable item, or a holy relic of Tiamat. Sages estimate that the size of a dragon’s territory encompasses all the ground that dragon can cover in one day’s flight from its lair. Although that serves as a basis, dragons might claim significantly less territory than that if they have plentiful hunting closer to their lair, and others claim lands farther out, either because they cannot find or build lairs near good hunting grounds or because of their pride and greed.
Chromatic dragons come into conflict with one another for a variety of reasons. Although dragons accept a tiny amount of overlap between territories (albeit reluctantly) if the two dragons are of the same variety, territorial overlap of more than a sliver of shared space or between dragons of different hues leads to confrontation.
Geographical disputes between dragons can become bloody. In most cases, one dragon or the other could depart to find hunting grounds elsewhere, but these prideful, territorial creatures never give in without a fight unless one wyrm is clearly older and more powerful than the other.
More such clashes occur over dragons’ hoards. Every dragon knows that the best place to acquire a lot of wealth quickly is from the lair of another dragon. Although a few chromatics respect their neighbors’ domains and would never contemplate such a raid, the majority leap at the chance if they think they stand better-than-average chances of success.
When hostile dragons come together, the conflict can take one of two forms. If combat is not a foregone conclusion, the dragons spend minutes—sometimes even hours—circling one another, taking each other’s measure, and perhaps bellowing at one another across the intervening distance. (Usually these bellows consist of threats and braggadocio, but occasionally two chromatics discuss and resolve a point of contention in this way.) If one realizes that it cannot prevail in the conflict, it breaks off the engagement and retreats, essentially ceding victory.
If the two find themselves evenly matched, and the shouting back and forth does not result in negotiation, the result is a sudden fury of blood and claw, breath weapon and fang.
The usual such battle ends with a clear victor: the dragon that survives. In some instances, however, the loser escapes, with the winner too exhausted or injured to pursue. In other cases, no clear victor emerges, and the dragons break off combat when both are too bloodied and exhausted to continue. When this happens, it can mark the start of a longterm rivalry, a grudge match that might be carried out in skirmishes between minions, sabotage, and espionage that can last for centuries.
Still, not all interaction between chromatic dragons leads to conflict. Some dragons band together, despite the racial predilection for solitude. Most such gatherings are familial, but even groups of dragons without bonds of blood can find common cause. Chromatic dragons might band together to face encroaching dragons more powerful than any of them as individuals, or they might join forces to take revenge on legendary dragonslayers. They might come together for religious reasons, honoring Tiamat or another deity, or they might undertake quests in Tiamat’s name. As mentioned in the page Dragon Life Cycle, a wyrmling without a parent might enter into a master-apprentice relationship with an elder dragon of the same variety. Finally, sometimes two chromatic dragons meet to trade information—perhaps on the borders of neighboring but not overlapping territories—realizing that as long as they keep off of each other’s lands, they have more to gain through exchange and mutual defense than they do through combat.
Chromatic and Metallic InteractionsEdit
Take everything described above about chromatic dragons’ interactions with other chromatics, and remove any hint of their working together or respecting common boundaries. That is how chromatic dragons interact with their metallic cousins.
By and large, chromatic dragons see metallic dragons as born rivals, an inferior species of dragon whose existence is an insult that cannot be tolerated. Devout worshipers of Tiamat particularly think this way, desiring to purge metallic dragons, the children of Bahamut, from the face of the world. Any interaction between such chromatics and metallics ends, if not in combat, at least in threats and promises of violence to come. Cooperation and collaboration do not exist.
As with all things, exceptions do exist. Some chromatic dragons have better things to do than engage in battle after battle with other dragons. Chromatics might be cowed into cooperation, or at least peaceful coexistence, by the greater power of a neighboring metallic dragon. In such cases, metallic and chromatic dragons can both occupy territories in a given region. Tales even tell of forbidden love between chromatic and metallic dragons, or of the two kinds of dragons finding common ground in a religious sect— but even if true, such tales are so rare as to be legend.
Chromatics and other DragonsEdit
Chromatic dragons feel uncertainty about the nature of the powerful and deadly catastrophic and scourge dragons. Greed and ambition drive the rages, violence, and destruction of chromatic dragons. With a few exceptions, even the most rapacious red or black dragons do not understand the mind-sets of creatures that cause death and devastation without a care for what they gain in the process—yet that’s exactly what they believe catastrophic and scourge dragons to do. Thus, chromatic dragons engage these other wyrms in battle only when necessary, due to territorial disputes or conflicts over treasure, and otherwise prefer to ignore their existence.
Chromatic dragons regard planar dragons as part of the extended family, at least those descended from chromatics. Thus, planar dragons and chromatic dragons get along as well or as poorly as any two kinds of chromatics.
The previous section contained a number of generalizations: Most dragons prefer isolation. For the most part, dragons don’t form or join societies. Nevertheless, a few dragons make efforts to join or establish extended networks or societies. When draconic societies do arise, they normally take one of the following forms.
Family and ClanEdit
The least rare of the dragon societies is more of an extended family than a society. Although most mated pairs separate when wyrmlings depart the nest, a few families stay together, either because the region is particularly dangerous and they wish to protect their offspring, or because they seek to establish a power base for a religious or political purpose. As these families expand, they occasionally grow into full-fledged clans. Each member, or at least each immediate family, claims its own domain, and the combined territories can exceed the size of nations. These clans might engage in internecine squabbles for power, but the clan leader is almost always the eldest—and thus, strongest—of the bloodline.
Few humanoids hear of these extended clans, at least by name, since the clan members interact with humanoids in the same manner that lone dragons do—as raiders and predators. One name that has appeared in humanoid records, however, is that of Irril-Indriss, an ancient blue dragon known to locals as the Thunder King. Irril-Indriss and his extended family, numbering roughly a dozen dragons, dwell in the peaks of the cloud-wrapped Achlan Mountains and use the region’s frequent storms as cover for raids against both the coastal highland communities and the merchant ships that ply nearby waters.
If the familial clan is the most common draconic society, the mixed community is the least common. In a mixed society, dragons and members of another kind or race—often a race associated with dragons— work together for the common good, with both races participating fully in the government. Even if dragons hold all the highest positions, the other native races are full citizens: not slaves or subjects, but partners.
Dragons’ superiority makes these mixed societies not only rare to begin with, but also difficult to maintain. In order for such a community to last, either the dragons must have a strong sense of purpose and devotion to the society (one that allows them to overcome their distaste for long-term cooperation with “lesser” beings) or the other race or races must prove themselves on a regular basis to convince even the most arrogant wyrm that they are worthy of the dragons’ cooperation.
The dragonborn empire of Arkhosia is the iconic example of this sort of society. Although metallic dragons made up the primary dragon population of the empire, a significant minority of enlightened chromatic dragons were citizens as well. Alternatively, for those familiar with the Dragonlance series of novels, the armies of Takhisis—consisting of dragons, the humanoid Highlords, and the armies of humans, goblinoids, and draconians—also serves an excellent example of a mixed society, one driven and held together by religious zealotry.
In this variety of dragon society, a ruling class or order of dragons reigns as tyrants over a population of other races. Unlike a mixed society, this is not a partnership. The people of the society are second-class citizens at best, slaves and chattel at worst, utterly subject to the whims of their draconic masters. This sort of society is only formed by chromatic dragons.
The makeup of this government varies. In some cases, a single family, clan, or variety of chromatic dragon makes up the entirety of the ruling overclass. In others, the dragon lords might be of multiple chromatic varieties—but even then, one bloodline of one variety holds the pinnacle of power, above the other dragons. Some of these societies have a sort of middle class—individuals favored by the dragons, who stand above the rest of the populace but still do not rule. These individuals are usually either dragonborn or dragonspawn.
Perhaps the most infamous historical example of a dragon overlord society is the nation of Maru-Qet, an empire ruled by a pharaonic dynasty of brown dragons until war with a clan of catastrophic dragons reduced it to a blistered wasteland. Less famous, but of far greater threat to the people of the modern day, is the citystate of Pallavarthas. Due to a great ritual performed by exarchs of Tiamat, this doomed city exists on two planes at once: the natural world and Tiamat’s own astral domain. As the two dimensions merge within the city’s borders, more and more of its citizens find themselves suddenly in an alien world, pressed into slavery by dragonspawn overseers.