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I recently played in an adventure with a new group, and after killing a dragon, the rest of the group started talking about butchering the dragon, harvesting its scales, blood, eyes, fangs, etc., specifically so we could sell them for money. I was shocked that we were talking about breaking down a sentient creature for parts, but both other players and the DM seemed to feel like this was a normal thing to do. In further research, every group of D&D players I've asked has told me this is something they've seen in their games, or heard about as a normal thing to happen. Somehow, in 20 years of playing D&D, this idea has entirely missed me.

I've checked through a few questions here (including a 5e one here) that ask about the mechanics for harvesting dragon parts, and generally what I've seen is that in 5e and 4e, there were no mechanics for this, and in 3.5 the only source about this was the Draconomicon. The one exception being the rules in 3.0/3.5 about how to harvest dragon hide, specifically, for Dragonhide Armor.

It's strange to me that something with no apparent rules justification is treated as such a normal thing, so I'm trying to figure out where this idea comes from. Specifically, I'm looking for the first time in D&D that there were rules that specifically showed what dragon parts were harvestable, how much they could be sold for, or any other indication that harvesting dragons parts for money was a thing supported by the rules. Magic item creation rules that gave benefits for using dragon parts other than hide would also work. If there are no such rules in any D&D edition, then showing a non-rules source supporting dragon harvesting in D&D (maybe dialog in an adventure or something? flavor text somewhere?) would likewise answer my question.

Where exactly did the idea that you could sell dragon parts come from?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Reminders to everyone that 1) answers do not belong in comments, and 2) this question is about the history of selling monster organs rather than how to handle players attempting to do so. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Dec 9, 2022 at 22:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @chepner Whale oil is useful, you can burn it. Elephant tusks are cosmetically valued, and was used as part of art pieces or fine craftsmanship. If you have citations for dragon parts having a specific, defined value as either something useful or otherwise valued, that would be exactly the information I need. This question exists because I'm not aware of a rules source that establishes dragon parts as either. If you believe dragon parts are inherently valuable, then post an answer saying that. \$\endgroup\$
    – DuckTapeAl
    Dec 10, 2022 at 23:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Al, AD&D 1e DMG is where the simple answer to your question is (Grody has that answer) but this is a great question that has attracted quite a few fine answers. @Giacomo1968 You can order an entire cow, quartered, but that's more of a wholesale transaction than the usual retail transaction. 😊 A friend of mine does that every year; he and three others order a cow and divide up the meat to put into their freezers. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 14, 2022 at 16:06

4 Answers 4

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Way, way back.

As to where it first appeared in the rules, the first edition to include rules for selling dragons was... the original game! "Subduing Dragons" was a special rules section in the Monsters And Treasues supplement was the first stun damage rule in any RPG, and selling the dragon for lots of GP was the explicit reward for doing so. Later supplements expanded on this. The 2e Draconomicon added a description of the butchering process (dragon's blood could be reliably sold at 200gp/pint, as long as you could bottle it before it putrefied and combusted). The 3e Draconomicon presented 'Dragoncraft Items'. This was greatly expanded on in June 2005's Dragon Magazine, with the subtle cover title "101 Uses for a Dead Dragon".

As to where chopping up a dragon comes into play in the source materials...

Gary Gygax spoke German as a child, and later studied Germanic legend. This is relevant because Germanic and Nordic mythology is rife with the use of dragon blood or other parts:

  • In the legend of Sigurd, he eats a dragon's heart and gains the ability to understand the speech of birds; he bathes in a dragon's blood, and gains skin as hard as horn, making him invincible. (Sigurd would later become a hero in the Forgotten Realms.)
  • In the legend of Ortnit, he receives armor and sword tempered in dragon blood, rendering them impenetrable and unbreakable, respectively. (Of course, his story comes to an end when the two dragon eggs he gathered hatches, and the hungry lizards eat him while he's sleeping, no doubt inspiring numerous GMs to make players think about what they're looting.)

But of course, these tropes are older than the German middle ages; parts of dragons were valued medicinally, particularly in the classical period.

  • In Pliny the Elder's Natural History, from AD 77, one chapter describes "Remedies derived from the dragon," describes uses for the head, eyes, and fat of a dragon. Another chapter describes 'dracontia', an extremely valuable white gemstone that can only be extracted from the dragon's brain while it is still alive. (Pliny recommended drugging the dragon for anyone who wanted to try to extract one.)
  • Discorides wrote about the medicinal usages of "dragon's blood" in De materia medica. Various substances (including plant resins, cinnabar, and amber) were said to be "dragon's blood", because natural historians claimed it was the result of "dragons and elephants at war." Dragon's blood was useful for everything from treating gallstones to toothpaste. This mythological attribution gave the name to the species of various species of plant, including Calamus draco and Dracanea draco.

Finally, I leave you with the song Every Little Piece from the Disney movie Pete's Dragon, which came out in 1977, the same year that the Holmes D&D Basic Set came out.

We could make a million
By slicing him, dicing him
Hoagy, we could sell every little shell
There's enough of him to go around!
Money, money, money
By the pound!

Even if players weren't German history buffs, the idea of carving up dragons for big rewards was definitely in pop culture at the time.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You can fake footnotes manually by using "<sup>n</sup>" to manually include the reference numbers, and repeat them at the bottom of the post, maybe after a horizontal line (which you get by opening a line with three dashes, for example). \$\endgroup\$ Dec 9, 2022 at 7:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ For footnotes: even better, use MathJax and the command ^, with funny symbols lake \dagger, \ddagger, \star, et cetera. I found the solution of @PeterCordes quite difficult to read, and moreover those don't look like footnotes, since they are in the middle of the text. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Dec 9, 2022 at 13:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. Footnotes are at the end of a page, whereas endnotes are at the end of a chapter or section. I'm not sure how those terms, derived from work on printed pages, translate to a webpage. Some might call notes within the text, like Peter Cordes', 'footnotes' if they would be at the bottom of a page, were the text printed out. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Dec 9, 2022 at 15:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ I looked up these rules for my own curiosity, if you'd like to add a page/price reference the Subduing Dragons section is on page 12-13 of Monsters and Treasures, and the sale price of the dragons was (1d6+4) x 100 gp per Hit Point of the dragon. \$\endgroup\$
    – DuckTapeAl
    Dec 11, 2022 at 4:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ D&D came out in 1974. AD&D's first book, the Monster Manual, came out in 1977. 😉 The Holmes "Basic Set" D&D came out in 1977 also. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 14, 2022 at 15:57
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The 1e DMG lists them as ingredients in magic item manufacture

In addition to the wonderful answer by sgfit, in the printed rules of the game this idea first appears in the AD&D 1e DMG. It has a table on pp. 116/117 that lists the "special ingredients" required to manufacture magic potions. While it gives the DM liberty to exchange them ("The list of potions and special ingredients possible is given for your convenience only."), it contains these entries:

Type of Potion Suggested Specical Ingredient(s)
dragon control brain of the appropriate dragon type
longevity dragon blood and treant sap or elf blood
treasure finding gold dragon scale (...)

P.S. As a side comment, the 2e DMG drops these examples, and on p. 84 advises on the problems that allowing/requiring fantastical organ and body parts in magic item creation can bring:

At the same time, however, the practical method can be abused by clever players. They may figure out that every monster encountered has a potential usefulness to wizards and so begin collecting tissue samples, blood, hair, organs, and more. They become walking butcher shops- not at all what is desired!

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    \$\begingroup\$ And to add to that, especially about sentient beings, the Clairvoyance and Clairaudience potions used: "human or simian thalamus gland or ear from an animal with keen hearing" (DMG p.116). \$\endgroup\$ Dec 9, 2022 at 21:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Walking butcher shops was a common D&D 1e joke. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mary
    Dec 15, 2022 at 0:09
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At our table, in AD&D 1e (so, way back), we had a rule which was that you could bathe in the blood of a dragon you just slayed. That would give you a better natural armor (+1). We did not actually invent the rule ourselves¹, but instead found it in Dragon magazine #41 (p20) which was published in September 1980 (more precisely, we received it through Casus Belli which would reproduce Dragon articles in French).

The Dragon magazine was a way for Gary Gygax (and others) to continue to test rules and share with the people playing AD&D. So these were nearly official extensions to the existing books. Some of those extensions made it in the following versions of D&D rule books, such as the Barbarian class.

¹ Although, as mentioned by sgfit, it was part of various very old stories, some of which made it into movies so we knew of such...

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    \$\begingroup\$ There was a similar Dragon article regarding crafting special armor from the skin of dragons. I saw it in Best of the Dragon #3, don't know the original print date. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Dec 14, 2022 at 23:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dave Best of the Dragon #3 (Jan 1983) included articles from the Dragon magazine. What you reference is probably what appeared in Dragon #62 (Jun 1982) by Roger Moore. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 15, 2022 at 21:20
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Orbs of Dragonkind are probably the most iconic example.

Courtesy of Korvin, these appear to have first been printed in 1976, Original D&D Supplement 3 (which means they actually predate the Dragonlance universe entirely). The 2nd volume of Encyclopedia Magica from 2nd edition in the mid-90's has multiple entries of these iconic artifacts, which have even been included in live action movies of the franchise (I'll refrain from opinions on said movies).

These orbs take harvesting dragon parts above and beyond the simple 'take some body parts and make some armor out of them' and go straight into trapping the dragon's soul to achieve artifact-levels of power and domination over various dragon types.

While Dragons are most definitely sentient creatures by any Real Life standard of decency, it's important to remember that D&D was founded on a high fantasy narrative where monsters are monsters and not considered people despite their levels of sentience. In much the same way that summoning undead was always evil, for the sake of its high fantasy narrative the complex real life moral fiber of such a decision was hand-waved away with 'it's a monster, it was gonna kill you, or hundreds of others if you didn't kill it, and it's always okay.' No one in Greyhawk was ever going to lecture you for slaying a local tribe of goblins- they were more likely to look up to you as a protector of the common folk.

Today, varying tables have varying levels of comfort with this concept, and it's a highly subjective thing; most groups don't weep for every vampire slain in the Blade franchise, for example, or every clone/droid in Star Wars, but some tables will leap right into the moral dilemma of monster young and what to do after you finish cleaning out the lair of fighting adults.

D&D is a high fantasy narrative, and neither of these approaches is wrong in a high fantasy game- but everyone has their own comfort level with such things, and if this trips any kind of discomfort for you or anyone else at the table, it's best to discuss it with your group/DM early on and make sure everyone has compatible expectations.


I went back and pulled short excerpts from the text for documentation purposes. Without reproducing the entries in a way that violates copyright, short direct quotes are "Since the dragon orbs contain the trapped personalities of long dead dragons," and "this is calculated according to the age and color of the trapped dragon." A different entry has "and has the imprisoned essence of a dragon. Another paragraph reads "the powers of the orbs vary according to the age of the dragon spirit trapped in them."

This shows that dragons have been being rendered to make items of power since ancient times in-game and for almost 50 real life years, since original D&D.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While interesting, I'm not sure this actually answers the question. Like, if I asked "What was the first known case of someone's kidneys being stolen for transplant into another person," a response of, "Ancient voodoo practitioners believed that they could trap someone's soul in a doll to affect their health and mind," is interesting, and kind of conceptually related, but it doesn't actually answer what I was asking about. Similarly, orbs with dragon spirits bound into them doesn't answer where the idea of harvesting dragon organs came from. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Dec 14, 2022 at 17:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ObliviousSage You're not wrong. I don't know if it's been edited since or I misinterpreted, but I somehow read the overarching question to be about the sentiment of killing dragons for profit and made the leap from butchering for physical parts to any act of killing a dragon for components/crafting purposes. It's certainly roundabout but in my defense you could probably sell that orb for piles of gold, you just might be starting the next dragon apocalypse by doing so. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 15, 2022 at 10:55

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