In the AD&D Monster Manual, the Chromatic (evil) and Metallic (good) dragons are introduced. Each color of dragon has a different habitat, personality and breath weapon. (Or two breath weapons, in the case of the Metallic dragons.) Where did these various traits come from? Were they exclusively created for D&D, or were they inspired by a certain fantasy work?

As an example, the Brass dragon has two breath weapons: cone of sleep gas and a line of fire. They are said to be very talkative, they live in deserts, etc. Is that based on a specific folklore, mythology, a work by a certain author, or was it pulled from thin air?

  • \$\begingroup\$ related: in AD&D 2e (not sure about earlier editions) there are also neutral dragons, which are 'The gem dragons are the amethyst, crystal, emerald, sapphire, and topaz dragons; They are neutral with respect to good and evil' (MM) \$\endgroup\$
    – Dakeyras
    Apr 11, 2013 at 13:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ And there are untyped dragons, like Mercury Dragon, Brown Dragon, Steel Dragon, and Yellow Dragon and some other similar ones, which are not categorized as Metallic or Chromatic. But, metal-based ones are good and color-based ones are evil generally. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mp0int
    Apr 11, 2013 at 15:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not that this has anything to do with the question but this is pretty cool. \$\endgroup\$
    – Antonio
    Apr 11, 2013 at 16:09

2 Answers 2


Gary Gygax answered this question in an EN World interview, and at more length in Slayer's Guide to Dragons.

Originally there were the five chromatic and evil dragons, each with a color that suited their breath weapon, and a sixth good dragon patterned on the Oriental model of that imaginary creature. As it was both or different origination and alignment I decided to empower the gold dragon so as to more closely resemble the potent Oriental sort. So it got more of everything, including two breath weapons.

There came a time thereafter when more metallic dragons were desirable so as to expand the roster of good, Oriental-type ones. Thus all of them were modeled on the gold dragon template, had two breath weapons.

Logically, with metal value being used as the basis for potency, platunum (Bahamut) being the highest, then gold and silver, the sequence should have been platinum-gold-electrum-silver-copper-bronze. However, I thought bronze looked more potent than copper, and skipped then to brass—that metal conveying some not-so-benign connotations.

See https://ia804709.us.archive.org/29/items/enword_gary_gygax_qa_threads/enweggqa05.pdf for the longer quote.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I feel like this quote probably explains why the 2nd Ed. Monster Manual has an "Oriental" style picture for the Gold Dragon despite that not being how it's described at all... I've never been exposed to anything before AD&D/2e and never realized the original Gold wasn't always "Western" style. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 1, 2021 at 22:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ "brass—that metal conveying some not-so-benign connotations." - What connotations are that? \$\endgroup\$
    – Malady
    Feb 27, 2023 at 21:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe the Greek Ages, as said here. Brass, Bronze. Same diff? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver#Symbolic%20role \$\endgroup\$
    – Malady
    Feb 28, 2023 at 18:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Malady only thing that comes to mind for me is the City of Brass forgottenrealms.fandom.com/wiki/City_of_Brass \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Feb 28, 2023 at 21:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Malady This might be a reference to “brazen” meaning impudent and audacious. \$\endgroup\$
    – Charles
    Nov 4, 2023 at 11:18

Tiamat and The Chromatic Dragons

In Mesopotamian religion Tiamat is a Chaos Beast, a primordial goddess of the ocean and is depicted as a serpentine dragon. The image we see of Tiamat in D&D is based off of another creature known as Lotan who is a seven headed sea serpent or dragon from Ugaritic myths. The reason Tiamat (and therefore the rest of the chromatic dragons) is evil is she is also based off of European dragons who were also portrayed as malevolent. Now the origin of the usage of the chromatic for the chromatic dragons I think would be Smuag since he was red and also evil.

Bahamut and The Metallic Dragons

Bahamut, from the Arabic myths we know as the Arabian Nights, was a fish and also one of the layers that supports the earth. Bahamut seems to be more based off of Eastern dragons; if you look at this picture of Bahamut drawn directly from the 1st edition monster manual, notice the "beard" he has and also the Chinese dragon historically was a symbol of the emperor of China who would have been considered the most honorable figure possible.

In the Chinese Zodiac the Dragon is a creature of myth and legend. A symbol of good fortune and sign of intense power, the Oriental Dragon is regarded as a divine beast - the reverse of the malicious monster that Westerners felt necessary to find and slay. In Eastern philosophy, the Dragon is said to be a deliverer of good fortune and a master of authority. Therefore, those people born in Dragon years are to be honored and respected.

So I think all of these thing helped influence the alignment of the dragons and the division between good and evil dragons.

Breath Weapon

Now as far as the breath weapon, most historical dragons seem to exclusively breath fire, although some dragons could control the weather, which I think inspired some of the other breath weapons such as Ice breath and lightning breath.

Dragon Intellegence

Historically Dragons were often portrayed as Divine or Astral beings and we're seldomly unintelligent.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I think the idea here is what gave D&D's designers the idea of dividing dragons in this way, and specifically of using a color/metal hierarchy to distinguish the types and groups. Such clear grouping, with those criterion, doesn't seem to have a mythological precedent. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Apr 11, 2013 at 13:41
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ That is what the words mean, but the OP wants to know if the various kinds of dragon that appear in D&D are based on or inspired by some other work - Like, were the different colours of evil dragon based on a particular author's ideas? \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Apr 11, 2013 at 13:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Discord I will definitely try to find where the different breath weapons come from! \$\endgroup\$
    – Antonio
    Apr 11, 2013 at 14:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jadasc sorry I happened to submit my edit at the same time you did \$\endgroup\$
    – Antonio
    Apr 11, 2013 at 15:52
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ This really needs more backing citations to be a good answer. Otherwise the reader just has to trust that you know what you're talking about. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – starwed
    Apr 11, 2013 at 18:52

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