Scale and Claw : The Secret Life of Half-Dragons
by Stephen Kenson (Dragon #284)
Dragons are legendary creatures. Rarer still are half-dragons, the offspring of dragons and humanoid races. Born with the power of a dragon's blood their veins, these children are touched by a special destiny. Some might say they're cursed with a heavy burden, for their powers and appearance set them apart from society, and their mortal blood taints them in the eyes of many dragons. But their destiny remains in their own hands, to do with as they will, if only they have the courage to take up the power that is rightfully theirs.
Of Fated Birth
Their magical nature makes dragons capable of breeding with almost any material creature, if not necessarily inclined to do so. By assuming humanoid form, a dragon can mate with a humanoid and produce offspring with them. This is not something dragons take lightly, and half-dragons are usually born for one of two reasons: as part of a dragon's greater scheming or (more rarely) out of true love between a dragon and a mortal.
Most evil dragons see their half-mortal offspring as valuable servants at best, tools to manipulate and discard at worst. They sometimes find it useful to breed children of their blood to carry out tasks in humanoid society that are either beneath the dragon's notice or difficult for such a powerful creature deal with unnoticed. Half-dragons often lead cults or secret alliances in their dragon parent's name, ruling by virtue of their draconic blood. In the distant past, evil dragons even gave rise to entire bloodlines of evil half-dragons to build empires in their names.
Evil dragons tend to limit their breeding with humanoids simply because they don't trust others, and history has shown that half-dragon offspring are often treacherous and willing to overthrow and slay their parent in order to seize power and wealth for themselves. The dragons are also cautious about allowing too many of their arcane secrets to fall into other hands.
Good dragons, too, have been known to produce half-dragon offspring for a particular purpose. While not as callous and calculating as their chromatic cousins, the metallic dragons often see half-dragons as a means to an end. In their case, that usually means the defeat of some danger that threatens, particularly if it's been unleashed by evil dragons. Metallic half-dragons often appear in response to the presence of evil half-dragons to act as champions against the forces of evil.
In some rare instances, a half-dragon child will result from a loving union between a dragon and a mortal. Good dragons have been known to fall in love with particularly good-hearted humanoids, although such unions are nearly always doomed to a tragic end.
Although the dragon can assume humanoid form, and often does in order to be close to a loved one, sooner or later the dragon must face the fact that his beloved will age and die. Even elves are short-lived by dragon standards. Dragons are also drawn by their natural instincts away from humanoid society sooner or later.
Many tragic love stories involve the love between a mortal and a dragon. The dragon parent of a half-dragon tends to be male, although female dragons have been known to take mortal lovers and give birth to half-dragon children, particularly good female dragons who have assumed mortal form to be with a beloved partner. Male dragons often do not reveal their true nature to their mortal partners until their child is born with clear signs of draconic heritage. Then the dragon might reveal the truth and take the child for its own purposes. Other dragons (particularly chromatics) abandon both mother and child, or at least appear to, sometimes watching their progeny from afar and subtly manipulating events to suit their plans.
A Life Apart
Half-dragons are clearly a breed apart from their humanoid parent. They are born with scaly skin the color of their dragon parent, reptilian eyes, sharp teeth, and claws on their fingers and toes. They tend to have elongated, sinuous features and pointed ears.
Although some find half-dragons strangely exotic, many humanoids find them hideous, leading some mortals to abandon half-dragon children. These poor souls are either taken in by others or must survive in the wilderness alone. Many of them die.
Those half-dragons that survive are faced with a lonely and difficult life. Even if they have the acceptance of their mortal parent or guardians, half-dragons rarely find open acceptance in humanoid societies. They are feared and shunned for their strange appearance, mistrusted and often considered cursed or bringers of bad luck. They lead lives of isolation except for the few people able to see past their physical appearance and relate to the person inside.
Ironically, half-dragons find more acceptance, or at least fearful respect, among humanoid cultures, particularly those of a reptilian nature like kobolds or lizardfolk. There a half-dragon's reptilian characteristics are not as unusual, and they might even be considered beautiful. The half-dragon's potential power is also feared and respected by such communities, although this might lead some evil humanoids to kill a half-dragon out of fear of its power. Half-dragons can rise to positions of great influence among these savage tribes, and many become leaders, even establishing ruling dynasties. Many kobold tribes claim to trace their ancestry back to a legendary half-dragon ruler.
In rare cases, the dragon parent raises the half-dragon. Half-dragons in this situation tend to have more acceptance but are still looked down upon by true dragons. Dragon parents tend to be distant toward their offspring, allowing them to be raised by servants, and the cruelty of a half-dragon's full-blooded dragon siblings can be terrible to behold. Half-dragons raised by their dragon parent are also even more isolated from society, making it difficult for them to interact with other humanoids.
The Other Half
Dragons intermingle with different humanoid races for different reasons, and the various races each treat half-dragons in their own particular way.
Humans: The most common humanoid mates of dragons are humans, perhaps because their natural adaptability helps them deal with the unique challenges of half-dragon offspring, perhaps because dragons are drawn to human vitality and energy, or simply because humans are so plentiful. Half-human half-dragons can come from nearly any kind of dragon and be found in nearly any human society. Since human lands often include many different non-human races, a half-dragon might be able to find a greater measure of acceptance, although life is still difficult for them.
Dwarves: Half-dwarf half-dragons tend to have red, copper, or silver dragon parents, but blue or gold are not unheard of. They might find life difficult in the clannish and tradition bound dwarfholds and tend to adopt lives of wandering or isolation. Red and gold half-dragons find their immunity to fire useful in dwarven communities and can become skilled crafters and artificers, provided they can find suitable teachers.
Elves: Dragons are drawn to elves because of their long lives and magic natures, but elf-dragon unions are rarely happy ones, and the products these unions might have a difficult time in elven society. Even more than half-elves of human heritage, half-elves of draconic parentage feel like outsiders in elven culture. They are more than capable of learning the intricacies of elven life -- a little too capable, in fact. Their greater intelligence and magical gifts sometimes make half-dragons the targets of jealousy, while their appearance is not up to elven standards of beauty. Half-elf half-dragons tend to abandon elven society after a time to strike out on their own. The most common dragons to breed with elves are green and copper dragons, along with the occasional black, silver, or gold dragon.
Gnomes: Gnome half-dragons are a rarity but actually find a great deal of acceptance in gnome society, which values children of any race. A half-gnome half-dragon might be subject to some pranks from time to time, but they tend to develop a better sense of humor about themselves and the rest of the world. Their gnome parents also encourage their natural magical talents. The main source of prejudice against half-dragons among gnomes is their resemblance to kobolds, and some gnomes shun them because of it. Half-gnome half-dragons are typically born to brass, bronze, or copper dragons.
Halflings: Halfling half-dragons are among the most rare, and they are nearly always a product of true love between a dragon and a halfling, meaning they are usually born to metallic dragons. Such children have the benefit of at least one loving parent (if not two), along with the opportunities affording by a tight-knit halfling community. Living as they do among other races, halflings are used to the role outsider, and halfling half-dragons benefit from this as well.
Savage Humanoids: Half-dragons among the savage humanoid races like goblins, hobgoblins, orcs, kobolds, lizardfolk, and the like are generally chromatic (although lizardfolk half-dragons are just as often metallic, usually bronze). If they survive childhood, the half-dragons quickly rise to places of power within the tribes using their superior physical and mental abilities.
The Dragon's Gifts
What do half-dragons gain in exchange for their lives as social outcasts, belonging to no particular culture? They gain power, which is sometimes a cold comfort, but power helps ensure their survival.
Half-dragons are stronger, tougher, and smarter than other humanoids, and they're gifted with forceful personalities, partly from their draconic heritage and partially from the demands of their upbringing. They're hardier than their humanoid cousins, gifted with natural armor and weapons in the form of their scales, teeth, and claws. They develop a breath weapon at maturity similar to that of their dragon parent along with immunity to certain attacks.
The True Art
Magic is in a half-dragon's blood, and all half-dragons have the potential to learn how to cast arcane spells and become powerful sorcerers. More importantly, they do not require tutoring or extensive training in magic; spellcasting seems to come naturally to them, and many half-dragon spellcasters are self-taught (usually by necessity). With dragon-like fervor, half- dragons often latch on to sorcery as a means of expressing themselves and exploring their heritage. They delight in learning new spells and applications of their magical powers.
On Faith & Religion
Although metallic and chromatic dragons respectively acknowledge either Bahamut or Tiamat as the ultimate among their kind, the mortal concepts of worship and religion are foreign to them. Half-dragons raised by their dragon parent tend to adopt this attitude, making them disinterested in religion in general.
Half-dragons raised in mortal society can be as devout as anyone else. Half-dragons sometimes find succor from the burden of being different from others in their faith, and some half-dragons are even raised by temples and monasteries as foundlings or at the request of their parents. Good and neutral religions teach half-dragons tolerance and understanding, while evil religions teach them to value the power inherent in their nature, and to use it for their own benefit. Some half-dragons turn to religion seeking understanding and acceptance, while others turn to evil religions seeking power and purpose in the world.
Carrying On the Line
It is difficult for a half-dragon to find love in the world, but half-dragons do create families of their own, passing on their draconic blood to future generations. According to some legends, all sorcerers can thank a half-dragon ancestor somewhere in their past for their unique magical gifts -- the only part of a half-dragon's legacy that survives past the first generation or so of intermingling with mortals.
Some half-dragons found influential bloodlines, creating ruling dynasties based around the strength of draconic blood. This is particularly true among the savage humanoids, where there are still tribes of kobolds, lizardfolk, and others ruled by clans of sorcerers descended from a distant half-dragon ancestor that first united the tribe with his powers.
As sorcerers know, even a touch of dragon blood can be enough to make one different and strange. Dragon blood has been known to skip generations in a bloodline, particularly as they grow further from their dragon ancestor. Someone touched by the blood of dragons might appear in a family that has forgotten about (or hidden) that particular aspect of their heritage.
Master of Their Fate
Although half-dragons are born to either chromatic or metallic dragons, the alignment of their dragon parent does not necessarily dictate a half-dragon's eventual alignment. As thinking creatures, half-dragons can choose their own beliefs, based in part on how they were raised and taught. Chromatic half-dragons have a natural propensity toward evil and metallic half-dragons toward good, but that does not make their eventual alignment a foregone conclusion.
Half-dragons raised by their dragon parent (or the dragon's servants) tend to adopt the parent's alignment. But a half dragon raised in humanoid society might adopt a completely different alignment. Outcasts from society, half-dragons often favor neutrality or chaos over law, and some half-dragons reject good and evil and adopt a more dispassionate, neutral view. A chromatic half-dragon raised by a good and kind mortal might grow up to be good, while a metallic half-dragon tormented and treated cruelly might turn to evil out of bitterness.
Dungeon Masters should use caution when allowing half-dragons as player characters, since they are more powerful than other player character races. Using the guidelines in the DUNGEON MASTER'S Guide, half-dragon characters should be treated as if they were three levels higher than their class level (having three starting "monster levels"). Thus a 1st-level half-dragon character is equivalent to a 4th-level character from a standard PC race. If the half-dragon's non-dragon parent is not one of the standard PC races, the character's monster levels might need to be increased. For example, a half-dragon (+3 levels) half-lizardfolk (+2 levels), has a total of 5 monster levels, and a half-dragon/half-ogre would be a truly formidable character (+8 monster levels)!
Sample Half-Dragons: Kianna Firemane and Ariskull