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The following came up during my campaign:

The characters got their hands on some Black Dragon eggs. The PCs put out the thought that if they got the eggs to hatch, they could raise the dragons to be "good".

In canon D&D, can a Black Dragon Hatchling be raised to be good?

Of course you can say DM discretion but I'm not asking about DM discretion. I'm asking about what would happen in the canon D&D universe in the "normal" case.

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There is practical issue: raising a dragon is a multi-generational project, even for elves. – Dale M Mar 8 at 20:04
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Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/30200/… And note that while it's two different versions of the system, the answers provided are about the history of the system and the design philosophy behind it, so it is still relevant to this question. – Zibbobz Mar 8 at 21:28
up vote 20 down vote accepted

By canon, as your question asks, nope.

First we'll define the word canon so we're clear about what we're discussing as it applies here, I'll leave out definitions that don't apply:

Canon;

  1. a general rule, law, principle or criterion by which something is judged; or

  2. a collection or list of sacred books accepted as genuine (or the works of a particular author or artist that are considered genuine)

With those definitions established, I'll be citing the Monster Manual for 5th Edition, which is based upon the Forgotten Realms setting.

The pertinent reference comes from the Monster Manual on Pg. 86 under the heading: Chromatic Dragons

Driven by Greed.

This section covers the instincts that govern a chromatic dragons behaviour. I'm not going to bother pasting it here because the title alone sums up their drive, and the text simply expands on it.

The following is where alignment comes into play.

Creatures of Ego.

Chromatic dragons are united by their sense of superiority, believing themselves the most powerful and worthy of all mortal creatures. When they interact with other creatures, it is only to further their own interests. They believe in their innate right to rule, and this belief is the cornerstone of every chromatic dragon's personality and worldview. Trying to humble a chromatic dragon is like trying to convince the wind to stop blowing. To these creatures, humanoids are animals, fit to serve as prey or beasts of burden, and wholly unworthy of respect.

On top of that, the main header on the page titled Dragons also covers this pertinent bit (emphasis mine):

However, true dragons fall into the two broad categories of chromatic and metallic dragons. The black, blue, green, red, and white dragons are selfish, evil, and feared by all.

So, by canon alone, no, they can not be converted to good. Basically, it's like trying to convert a demon or devil. You could let them do it, you're the DM. Consider what the nature of the creature is though. Is it likely to be successful? What kind of problems are they going to experience? How are they going to deal with the backlash when the dragon eats it's first person or destroys a farm with it's breath weapon?

A good resource used to be The Draconomicon, however it doesn't translate well to 5th edition because it uses AD&D numbers, feats and skills. You'd have to do a lot of work to tidy it up, but there's actually a section on rearing eggs on page 13.

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The fact, that black dragons dislike and despise humans is the fact of the culture heredity. By itself it says absolutely nothing about what happens when you raise the black dragon from an egg. It could be the argument if you would find in the canon info about BIOLOGICALY determined behavior of dragons – Gangnus Mar 12 at 17:47
    
They arent social creatures who have societies. There is no "culture" for these dragons. This is all covered under Dragons in the MM. They dont live in groups. Thats kind of why you dont run into herds of them when assaulting a lair. – Lino Frank Ciaralli Mar 12 at 22:23
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Creatures of Ego nails it. It's difficult enough to raise a human to be good, much less a dragon. Also the lifespan of dragons makes it very difficult for humanoids to have any influences over it, even an archmage. The dragon would turn evil as naturally as a teenager rebelling against its foster parents. – Muz Mar 13 at 0:16
    
From your argument I assume your position would be similar in the converse case? I.e. that it's not possible to raise metallic dragons to be evil? ..... In which case I refer you to the Dragon Lance mythos of draconians; i.e. metallic dragon eggs corrupted to evil and producing a new kind of draconic creature. – Craig Young Mar 18 at 15:27
    
They weren't corrupted through being raised evil, they were corrupted through black robed wizards and dark magic. The question wasn't about magics being used to convert things from one to another. It was about nurturing. And, in that specific reference, the draconians still tended towards good as they ended up rising against Takhisis during the reign of Mina and the dark armies. I know my Krynn lore too. Incidentally, my personal position is covered by the answer based in moral choices. But that's not what the questions asked. – Lino Frank Ciaralli Mar 18 at 17:39

Good or Evil: intelligent creatures can make moral choices

The alignment specified in a monster’s stat block is the default. Feel free to depart from it and change a monster’s alignment to suit the needs of your campaign. If you want a good‑aligned green dragon or an evil storm giant, there’s nothing stopping you (Basic Rules, DM, p.3/ MM p. 7).

Short answer: yes, a black dragon can be good. How it becomes good looks like a journey, which is where the fun is in a role playing game. There is support for this in the published rules.

For some creatures good or evil is a choice, for some it natural to be of one alignment more than any other, and for others good or evil is a part of their essence. (Basic Rules p. 34).

For many thinking creatures, alignment is a moral choice. Humans, dwarves, elves, and other humanoid races can choose whether to follow the paths of good or evil, law or chaos.

Player characters make moral choices, as do most/many NPC's.

The evil deities who created other races, though, made those races to serve them. Those races have strong inborn tendencies that match the nature of their gods. Most orcs share the violent, savage nature of the orc god, Gruumsh, and are thus inclined toward evil. Even if an orc chooses a good alignment, it struggles against its innate tendencies for its entire life. (Even half-orcs feel the lingering pull of the orc god’s influence.)

This shows that moral agency is available for intelligent creatures, even if it is difficult to change inborn tendencies.

Your black dragon could (as an intelligent creature) have as much success as an orc or half-orc in overcoming inborn evil. The details can be worked out between the DM and the players, in terms of how the change happens. Dragons compare favorably to orcs, half-orcs, and PC's as intelligent creatures. Between Charisma and Int scores, young and wyrmling dragons should be capabile when given motive and opportunity. (Dragons don't treat Int as a dump stat!)

  • Young Black Dragon stats: S 19(+4) D 14(+2) C 17(+3) Int 12(+1) Wis 11(+0) Ch 15(+2)
  • Young Dragon Wyrmling: S 15(+2) D 14(+2) C 13(+1) Int 10(+0) Wis 11(+0) Ch 13(+2)
  • Orc Stats: S 16(+3) D 12(+1) C 16(+3) I 7(−2) W 11(+0) Ch 10(+0)
  • Half-orc as with Player Characters (Average = 10-11)

How much effort are the players willing to invest in this project to raise a black dragon, from birth, to overcomes inborn evil tendencies? How many years?

This would be hard, but not as hard as dealing with, for example, a fiend.

Alignment is an essential part of the nature of celestials and fiends. A devil does not choose to be lawful evil, and it doesn’t tend toward lawful evil, but rather it is lawful evil in its essence. If it somehow ceased to be lawful evil, it would cease to be a devil.

While the Monster Manual entry on Black Dragons establishes their general nature as evil, the book leaves an opening for a chromatic dragon to be other than evil.

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To address the second part of your question, from the 5e Monster Manual, page 7:

The alignment specified in a monster's stat block is the default. Feel free to depart from it and change a monster's alignment to suit the needs of your campaign. If you want a good-aligned green dragon or an evil storm giant, there's nothing stopping you.

At least by this rule, green dragons, and by extension other chromatic dragons, are not inherently evil. Good ones can exist, though this doesn't address whether they can be made good simply by being raised well, as other factors could come into play.

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Noticing this line is a good spot. – jhocking Mar 13 at 15:59

Both nature and nurture. See PHB p122. Also, see Black Dragon entry in the Monster Manual.

As for your black dragon, sadly, there is no such thing as a sure thing in this life, nor in D&D. So, while it is canon that a creature can turn out contrary to the general alignment of it's species, there are no guarantees that it will in your particular case.

So you're down to the basic rule of D&D:

  1. The DM describes the environment.
  2. The players describe what they want to do.
  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions.

One of those actions might be hiring a sage to so some in-game research. Or find some metallic dragons and ask them, if anyone would know, it would be them.

I think the idea of raising a black dragon kind of charming. As long as it doesn't happen in my neighborhood. Just remember, your kids and your pets are never as cute as you think they are.

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Yes to both.

It is inherently evil, but can be (somewhat) raised to be good... if you raise it on the plane of Bytopia. (DMG, Bytopia, optional rule: Pervasive Goodwill, pages 59-60)

Aside from just ruling it as such, I saw this question elsewhere (I think on gitp, asking about whether handle animal could be used to raise a dragon to be good). If you take the creature to the plane of Bytopia and stay for 1d4 days after it fails a DC10 wisdom throw its alignment will change to either Neutral or Lawful good (whichever is closer, therefore Neutral Good) permanently... but it can be dispelled by dispel evil and good and resume being chaotic evil.

Also, good luck on the knowledge roll about the planes to be able to know to do this.

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One thing I would point out is that, in terms of what's "canonical", this is perhaps partially dependent on which edition of D&D you're using. Monster Manual entries in some (perhaps even most, nowadays) editions frequently state that a creature's alignment is "Always [x]" or "Usually [y]", and may also contain things like "Any good" etc.

For those creatures labelled "Always chaotic evil", it seems to me that this "Always" is interpretable as being an intrinsic characteristic of the creature, rather than a product of its upbringing, whereas "Usually" denotes more flexibility, perhaps implying that the creatures in question are more prone to making a personal choice early in life.

This in turn is not to say that an intelligent creature, born to chaotic evil, cannot decide later in life to turn from that path and become good. A strictly defined alignment (anything other than "neutral") implies an understanding of the moral consequences of one's actions, and, beyond a certain point, denotes a choice to behave in a moral or immoral way. Is the mountain lion who drags off a small child to feed itself inherently chaotic evil? No, it is an amoral predator with a defined alignment of neutral. It lacks any innate capacity to judge its own actions and perceive them as "wrong" — such a concept does not exist for the mountain lion, but the same cannot be said of a dragon beyond a certain age.

But right off the bat the rules seem to imply an intrinsic and pervasive evil in the species as a whole, quite possibly from birth, as racially encoded in the DNA as the dragon's wings are. And, to continue with the analogy, an older dragon can always choose not to fly, but it will still be born with wings.

A seagull, on the other hand, cannot ponder and reflect on its abilities and make a conscious decision that it shall never fly again. It just flies — because that's what it does; it is part of its very nature, like the murderous mountain lion.

So, a grey area in the canon I feel. My take on this is, admittedly, a bit of a judicious interpretation of RAW, but at the end of the day the DM is judge, jury… and of course executioner.

Just found this quote, which I presume (…) is from MM:

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.

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In D&D, Evil and Good is an measurable value, just like temperature and weight. There are spells to detect the value of a creature's good-evil score; there are items that affect or require certain ranges of values; there are areas that are beneficial and inimical, depending on a creature's value.

There are planes dedicated to particular values on the good-evil scale. Creatures from these planes are good or evil, as appropriate, by nature. Even more, they cannot change their nature. A fiend is always evil. A celestial is always good. A modron is always neutral.

On the Prime plane, however, creatures get to choose. It is one of the things that differentiates Prime planes from Outer planes. In other words, not all goblins are evil.

Whether or not this applies to dragons is up to the GM. In the Forgotten Realms, dragons are not native to Faerun - they fell to the ground many thousands of years ago. One could argue they are descended from extra planar creatures, so their alignment is locked into their nature. One could also argue they came from another Prime plane, so nurture plays a part.

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There are no spells in D&D 5e that detect good or evil. The Detect Good and Evil spell, despite its name ... doesn't. – Dale M Mar 8 at 20:02
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Can you cite the lore edition wherein dragons are not native to Faerun? Is that a 3e era development? – KorvinStarmast Mar 8 at 21:47
    
Do you have a reference that backs up your claim that only prime critters have free will? I've a multiverse full of planars, petitioners, proxies and powers who disagree. – GMJoe Mar 8 at 22:56
    
@KorvinStarmast - In many Forgotten Realms books dragons are referenced by druids as the ultimate perversion of nature. Pikel, the dwarven druid in R.A. Salvatore's books has a particular hatred for them due to this. I don't know if that helps you, but it certainly implies they aren't native, since a native creature by definition would be natural. – Lino Frank Ciaralli Mar 9 at 5:21
    
@LinoFrankCiaralli I'd need to dig up my old Salvatore paperbacks. Thanks, something for the weekend. Makes sense. – KorvinStarmast Mar 9 at 6:55

Short answer: I don't see why not.

Many of the player races are described as having alignments of either good or evil, or lawful or chaotic, but there many examples (both in game and in official novels) of unique individuals bucking the trend in spectacular fashion.

Dragons are highly intelligent creatures, often more than the typical player races. This intelligence (in my opinion) gives them the capacity to learn, to break instincts and, more importantly, choose their own path.

It's tempting to look in the Monsters Manual and declare that all Black Dragons are the same. But such rare and powerful creatures should be every bit as unique as any player race.

Long answer: Sure... but I bet it'll be really difficult for the poor thing to grow up. With all of these instincts which its "parents" keep scolding it for following; parents that it cannot help but feel are somehow inferior.

Good luck to those who try!

EDIT:

Khisanth is a FINE example of a canon black dragon who (at least for a while) certainly didn't fit the typical alignment of her kind.

[Khisanth] wandered Ansalon for a time as a beautiful human woman known as Onyx. However with the death of her companions, due to the actions of some human bandits, Khisanth threw away the peaceful life with her new friends and instead flew into a rage, killing the bandits and leaving the area altogether.

http://dragonlancenexus.com/lexicon/index.php?title=Khisanth

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Just a comment as to why this might be gathering negative votes. The question specifically asks for answers that draw on D&D canon, which this does not. – Wibbs Mar 9 at 14:28
    
@Wibbs I guess I could have quoted some novel names and entries from the Monsters manual... but apart from that, I'm not sure how much more canon it can be! I assume the novels are canon (such as DragonLance etc.) – Matthew Mar 9 at 15:01
    
Only for Dragonlance and not D&D5e, as the question is tagged. I consider it a valid point, but not the most pertinent answer, personally. (Read: 'No vote') – The Nate Mar 13 at 16:47

It's up to you. In my Greyhawk campaign, orcs and black dragons are unalterably evil; in my Judges Guild campaign, they are not and although no PC has ever encountered a good orc a neutral black dragon has featured.

Alignments have been flexible in every edition of D&D for one particular group: humans and their allies. Elves may have been listed as Chaotic Good in the MM but that didn't stop players running NE elven assassins.

Similarly the (1e) MM says that alignment is "characteristic" of the monster, which leaves some options.

The danger of making all alignments flexible is that it risks losing flavour. Drow, for example, have become something of a running joke because there seems to be more good-alignn exiled rebel drow than there are actual evil drow despite the fact that they're supposed to be renowned for their evilness. It's become a cliche.

None of which changes the fact that the DM is the last word and can do it any way that suits the nature of their particular world. Nor that DM discretion is canon.

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