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As per this question and the answers provided therein, Dragons are of the "always X" alignment. Which means...

Always: The creature is born with the indicated alignment. The creature may have a hereditary predisposition to the alignment or come from a plane that predetermines it. It is possible for individuals to change alignment, but such individuals are either unique or rare exceptions.

A description that is usually reserved for such races as Demons, or other positive/negative energy aligned creatures... and yet, is also applied to dragons.

This strikes me as somewhat odd, given that dragons are intelligent creatures capable of making decisions of their own, not directly tied to any particular good/bad plane of energy.

What then is the in-canon reason for Dragons being "Always X" alignment?

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Why assume there's any reason beyond the intent of the game designers? –  okeefe Nov 19 '13 at 0:02
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@okeefe Because I'm genuinely intereted if there's a canonical reason behind it, rather than just 'because Gygax said so'. I like the logic behind SevenSidedDie and Emrakul's answer (favoring the latter), though if there is a solid in-game reason for it backed up by source, that would be even better. –  Zibbobz Nov 19 '13 at 13:46
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I think your question is more about why dragons of the same color share the same alignment and to that I say: for your convenience. –  MrJinPengyou Nov 19 '13 at 18:30
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@MrJinPengyou While I appreciate the reference, I think later events in the series prove that this is not, in fact, "always" the case. ;) Still, I am chiefly curious if there is an in-game reason for it, though I think I'll be satisifed just with the answer "it's referential" or "because they are difficult to sway and bestial by nature". –  Zibbobz Nov 19 '13 at 18:39
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4 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Much of this has to do with the history of dragons, and the fact that D&D draws significant content from existing cultures. Primarily, dragons were representations of the balancing forces in nature in many cultures. In Europe, they tended to be less so, though they were still symbols of longevity:

Dragons are often held to have major spiritual significance in various religions and cultures around the world. In many Asian cultures dragons were... revered as representative of the primal forces of nature, religion and the universe. They are associated with wisdom—often said to be wiser than humans—and longevity. -- Comparative mythology of dragons (emph. mine)

Fundamental forces of nature are, by strict lore, either slow to change or do not change at all. This, I believe, is very likely to be the original source of the polarizing nature of dragons and their alignments. In D&D, battles between dragons are long, deep, and complex, which is indicative of this spiritual form of dragons. To address why many dragons are evil in D&D:

European dragons are usually depicted as malevolent, though there are exceptions (such as Y Ddraig Goch, the Red Dragon of Wales). -- European dragons

The canonical form of dragon which appears in D&D is a form of the classic European dragon; wings, tail, claws, legs, and lives in mountains or underground. However, Gygax and the D&D team are well-known for drawing ideas from multiple sources, so it is very likely that his descriptions incorporated the magic of many Asian cultures, representing dragons as fundamental forces of nature, which are slow to change and last for inconceivable spans of time.

In short, the dragons we see in D&D are a combination of the European-style bodies and the Asian-style souls and identities. Though both traditions have been somewhat corrupted from their original form, the intent is the same: the dragon is intelligent, long-lasting, and representative of a fundamental force, and is therefore unlikely to change. Or, at most, will change slowly and infrequently.

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It might be worth mentioning that some early depictions of Gold Dragons made them out to be Asiatic ones - the kind portrayed by a dragon dance. –  GMJoe Nov 19 '13 at 4:10
    
This is, however, pure speculation... –  mxyzplk Dec 31 '13 at 0:12
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You've got the wrong end of the stick. You say it's "a description that is usually reserved for such races as Demons..." and then you wonder why dragons get this treatment too. Rather than wondering, that is your answer: dragons are something much more like demons – in that they have an immutable nature – than like beasts or (demi)humans.

As for "Why?" the answer is "because." Gygax made them that way in the setting implied by the 1st edition AD&D Monster Manual.

This might conflict with your own conception of dragons in your setting (assuming you're the GM), and that's OK: if dragons are more nurture than nature in your world, you're free to ignore the alignment restriction. Otherwise, considering it a data point telling you something about dragons in that setting.

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Note that, at least in 3.5, there is a big difference between a black dragon (Always Chaotic Evil) and a demon (also Always Chaotic Evil, but also has the Chaos and Evil subtypes). A lawful good black dragon simply is Lawful Good, and thus does not register to detect evil etc. A lawful good demon will still have the subtypes and thus glow under detect evil, as well as under detect good. –  KRyan Nov 19 '13 at 5:13
    
@KRyan I'm unclear where an Always CE dragon that's LG comes from? –  SevenSidedDie Nov 19 '13 at 7:15
    
@SevenSidedDie because of the "It is possible for individuals to change alignment, but such individuals are either unique or rare exceptions." line. Though I would really like to see a LG black dragon and ask him what went so WRONG with him. –  Kethryweryn Nov 19 '13 at 9:47
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@SevenSidedDie Per the linked question, “Always” doesn’t actually mean “always,” at least in 3.5. For demons (and other subtyped creatures), though, “always” is much closer to the truth: even if your actual alignment changes, you cannot lose the subtypes. So a demon always counts as Chaotic Evil, in addition to its actual alignment if it manages to have a different one. Fall-from-Grace (LN succubus), for example, counts as Chaotic, Evil, and Lawful, or Eludecia (LG succubus paladin), would count as all four alignments. –  KRyan Nov 19 '13 at 14:20
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You two know the drill. Integrate into answers, please. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Nov 19 '13 at 22:36
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A dragon is strongly instinctive, and too powerful to be forced to reexamine its life and decisions. Since no one is strong enough to make them reconsider, they continue as internally guided. (Their very high INT, WIS, and CHA make them difficult to persuade by any means--everyone else is lesser, with easily dismantled arguments.)

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Why the downvote? Seems like a legitimate answer to me. And interesting aswell. The fact that they're too powerful to have the necessity of change is quite true. –  Kethryweryn Nov 19 '13 at 9:48
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This seems like independent speculation on your part, and the question is asking for "the in-canon reason." Can you provide some D&D-based citation for your idea? –  BESW Dec 30 '13 at 8:34
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Despite (probably) being a rationalization ex post facto, this is a great answer. –  Eric B Dec 30 '13 at 15:16
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As per Page 305, Monster Manual always doesn't mean always:

Always: The creature is born with the indicated alignment. The creature may have a hereditary predisposition to the alignment or come from a plane that predetermines it. It is possible for individuals to change alignment, but such individuals are either unique or rare exceptions.

So the question ought to be why do most dragons stick with their original alignment given the lack of planar predetermination.

The answer is part of the quote "hereditary predisposition" is the closest thing to genes you'll find in an rpg. It's in their genes.

At this point the question becomes why is it in their genes? This could mean why did the game designers create genetic predispositions regarding alignment? Or why would it be so in-game?

Let's start with a definition:

Wikipedia on "Dragon (Dungeons & Dragons)" (emphasis added)

In D&D, dragons are depicted as any of various species of large, intelligent, magical, reptilian beasts, each typically defined by a combination of their demeanor and either the color of their scales or their elemental affinity.

  • Wikipedia referenced the Draconomicon (Wizards of the Coast, 2003) by Collins, Andy, Skip Williams, and James Wyatt - which I haven't read myself.

So Dragons are designed to be somewhat like reptiles. According to neuroscience and evolutionary biology the reptilian brain is very old and primal, explaining why reptiles are largely instinct driven creatures. Now dragons are also described as intelligent, which has many meanings in psychology.

According to the D&D System Reference Document it means

Intelligence determines how well your character learns and reasons.

Mechanically this covers number of languages spoken, skill points per level and modifiers to the following skill checks: Appraise, Craft, Decipher Script, Disable Device, Forgery, Knowledge, Search, and Spellcraft.

None of these demand existence of free choice, as a really "smart" robot could do any of these things. If dragons are genetically predisposed the same way a computer is logically predetermined, reasoning logically might convince a dragon to change his behavior, but never underestimate a smart mind's capability to rationalize the status quot. (See social psychology research on cognitive dissonance)

So Dragons are born with a strong drive to behave in certain ways, and are equipped with the mental capacities to rationalize to maintain that way. However, some experience the exceptional circumstances necessary to drive them to change.

I don't know the average age of dragons, but adults are about a century old and the older they get the more powerful they get, and more power makes it less likely to encounter a situation in which one's tools are no longer enough, thus normally they lack a necessity for change.

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This is much improved... but you're hinging the entire argument on the word "reptilian" in the SRD. That can mean "actually a reptile", (sense 2 in the link), or it can mean simply "kinda like a reptile" (sense 1). The text is ambiguous, but I read it as meaning only reptile-like. Since it says "reptilian beast", the text is getting even farther away from saying "actually a reptile" and much closer to "reptilian in appearance". And furthermore, the SRD wasn't written by the creators of D&D dragons, so it's almost not relevant in the first place. –  SevenSidedDie Dec 30 '13 at 20:12
    
Actually that's only partially true, as it's a multiple step answer. The first step is distal-why is it the way it is. Outgame the answer might be convenience or convention, but ingame it's quite clearly (per rules quoted) because of hereditary predispositions, read as the dragon's species. Though I guess you're right. the rest is speculations hinging on the word reptilian... maybe it would be a better answer if I cut all that out, but I'm too tired to re-visit this answer now –  Julix Dec 31 '13 at 11:39
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