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 '16 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 '16 at 21:28
  • There are two great answers to this question, so I think the choice comes down to you as a DM: What is Canon in your world? The great thing about D&D is that the DM decides what is Canon, no one else. – SeraphsWrath Oct 15 at 12:46

12 Answers 12

up vote 32 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.

  • Yes, but is this selfishness and evilness something innate or a byproduct of chromatic dragon culture? I think there's space for alternatives. – Zachiel Jul 21 at 12:03
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    This answer is simply wrong: the brief, basic, general description is in no way intended as a strict, comprehensive, universal description, and numerous other sources contradict it. – KRyan Jul 21 at 13:52
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    Sorry, but you're wrong. The "brief" description in the Monster Manual, are for how creatures behave and act, and dragons are no different than say, Ogres or Gelatinous Cubes. I'm just going to point out that for dragons this "brief" description is a full page, followed by another full page for each colour independently, all pointing out how evil they are. A DM is of course free to change this up, but the question here was about canon in 5e. Example: Under Black Dragon we have Brutal and Cruel: All chromatic dragons are evil, but black dragons stand apart for their sadistic nature. – Lino Frank Ciaralli Jul 21 at 17:12
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    There's even canon dragons that don't fit the mold for this. There's an ancient red dragon in Storm King that basically thinks "little human things are so weak and soft, I should help them" and offers magic items for free, because it doesn't really need them. Is it a good aligned dragon? Maybe not, but that doesn't change the fact that the dragon isn't greedy, so the "lore" isn't set in stone. Besides, even devils can be redeemed, as has been shown in previous editions. – Theik Aug 6 at 6:32
  • If you're talking about Klauth, he is thoroughly evil. Opting to hand out boons to creatures he doesn't deem a threat doesn't make him good. For instance, your serial killer rogue might have an animal companion he treats with the utmost respect or even reverence, that doesn't make them a good character. Klauth is considered thoroughly evil, especially when it comes to dealing with his own kind, and he also olbiterated Mirabar. As for greed, even after he was gravely wounded he STILL took the time to plunder Irdrithkryn's lair. So it appears the lore holds fast. – Lino Frank Ciaralli Aug 6 at 13:53

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 is natural to be of one alignment more than any other; for some other creatures good or evil is a part of their essence.

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. (Basic Rules, p. 34; PHB p. 122).

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 its 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 capable of changing alignment 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)
  • Black 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 player characters willing to invest in this project to raise a black dragon, from birth, to overcome its inborn evil tendencies? How many years?

This change 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 rules leave an opening for a chromatic dragon to be other than evil.

  • It would be interesting to see a Wish spell or Miracle (Divine Intervention?) alter the alignment of a Dragon on the spot. It might be an interesting resolution to a DM's carefully constructed battle. "You confront the Ancient Red Dragon, It sneers at you and begins gathering its breath" "I cast Wish. I wish this dragon were Lawful Good!" Seems in scope for the spell's custom effect parameters. It's simple, statable in one sentence, and very unambiguous. It also ends the fight and turns the dynamic on its head. Might be a fun scene. – MarkTO Oct 15 at 14:44

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.

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.

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.

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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    Per this answer to a 3.5e question that contains that quote, that's from Monster Manual v3.5, p. 305. It's not directly relevant to 5e (which doesn't mention whether certain creatures "always" or "usually" have the listed alignment). – V2Blast Jul 21 at 6:19

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.

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.

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!


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.

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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 '16 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 '16 at 15:01
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    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 '16 at 16:47

Originally, alignments were not related to moral choices that you make or should make, but rather where you stood in the planar war, for example in 2e. Only later editions tried adding "morality" and "depth" to it to make it something you "can control" or "be influenced by".

The problem with alignments in general is how they're grossly misinterpreted. If you're basing your campaign around them, you need to define what they do: is it a character defining trait, character pushing trait or a faction. Otherwise you end up in meaningless bickering over "lul im chaotic ebil xd" responses when asked why did your character do X.

In your particular question - I don't see why not. Depending on setting, dragons might take a while to be brought up, so unless your party is a bunch of elves or other creatures that can live for as long as dragons do or even outlive them, it might not be reasonable or even plausible at all to pursue this goal.

Crystal dragons capture white dragons and raise them to be non-evil. It is canon. These dragons are accepted by their smaller, more intelligent cousins as part of the clan, as full members.

Not sure how that works out, come breeding time, nor how silver dragons react to a white and crystal when these meetings occur.

This is where the dungeon master comes into play.

I recall a group of gulley dwarves from the old 2nd edition game, and a very nurturing and protective old red dragon, who had gone senile and thought them her brood.

My point is that a DM ultimately decides. There is no canon, ultimately, because an exception can always be made with good storytelling (or bad, as the case may be).

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    Hello and welcome! You can take the tour for a quick site intro. I think you have an interesting addition with examples here but you could make it better by including the sources you got this from. Thank you for the contribution! – Sdjz Oct 15 at 11:36

NO

D&D Dragons supernaturally can tap to dragonic knowledge like bards have access to bardic knowledge.
This gives them subconscious access to a deep well of dragon lore & knowledge, and this gives any dragons aspiration to become better (/or crueler) and stronger as they mature.

Thauglorimorgorus is the wisest black dragon I ever know and his young dragon followers are not half bad as evil chromatic dragons.
While they are insanely territorial and vain, these dragon are never abusive and look after to their local environment, borders and subjects.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    Welcome to the site! Please take the tour when you get the chance. Can you edit your post to add some quotes from the rulebooks to back up your position? – Oblivious Sage Jan 28 at 2:05

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