Double (down on) Dragons

When I first got into D&D I didn’t have friends who played. I bought the brand new 3rd edition core books and had a lot of lonely fun reading the game before I ever played it. To my late-90s teenage mind it was analog Diablo. The biggest disappointment was easily the relative lack of dragons. This was Dungeons & Dragons, for crying out loud! Where where the dragons? So I did what any lonely teen would do—I added a metric fuck ton of dragons into my own D&D world.

The tl;dr pitch is this:

    • The gods created the world, the beasts, the folk, and lastly the dragons.
    • There was peace on O’ethe until the dragons committed deicide and assumed divine power.
    • Now the world is ruled by lesser, mortal dragons and the not-quite-god dragons are the divine forces.

One of the biggest questions you get asked as a game designer is how you started designing games. That’s how I started in the RPG hobby. First by trying to reverse engineer the West End Games Star Wars RPG and then by hacking all eleven of the classes in the Players Handbook to be more dragoned up. Paladins didn’t serve gods, they were the hardcore enforcers of a dragon’s servants. Monks studied in monasteries to learn the secrets of the dragons, channeling their ki to bring their bodies and minds closer to the perfection of dragons should they ever need to stand against them. Rogues weren’t sneak thieves and cut purses, they were the mortal assassins working the dragon’s will.

These hacks weren’t just back stories, world hooks, and cosmetic makeovers, either. Every class had new abilities, new options, or new spells written up to make them more in tune with the dragons.

Long story short, I didn’t think about that world for more than fifteen years. I got a group, I started playing but I wasn’t the GM. My world wasn’t the focus. A couple years ago my grandfather passed away. He’s the first (and still only) grandparent or even close relative that I’ve lost. I dragged out the idea of doubling down on dragons in D&D and fired up Scrivener to start typing away. At first it was just a dragon patron for the Warlock, maybe as something to put up on the DM’s Guild and make a few dollars. As I wrote, the memories of that old, original setting came flooding back. The little writing project evolved into a cosmology and a whole world—I could include my idea of the dwarves as a Roman analogue and really put my stamp on what I think D&D is by writing up the whole world.

It was therapeutic but as I grieved I moved into anger and… just stayed there for a long time. My writing was put to the side.

Anyway, a few days ago I had the opportunity to read a friend’s material on his D&D world and it got me thinking about mine. I went back and cleaned up the cosmology. The writing was (still is, honestly) pretty rough but it got my ideas across better.

The Dawn of All Things

At the dawn of all things the gods were born into the void, a vast emptiness before the world. There they stayed, unmoving and unchanged for countless eternities. Baru, the Remembered, was the first to create. From the darkness outside of time she spoke the universe into being. She became light and pushed the darkness away. But the darkness was too great and her light was not enough. Baru stretched, stretched herself to the ends of the heavens where she shattered into countless stars. They hang there to this day, a reminder of the first goddess.

The other gods soon wrought their own creations in the light of the stars. The world, O’ethe, was forged by all those that remained. They learned from Baru’s exertion and built a world to share. Soon the firmament was laid and the gods began to work alone. They wrought works according to their natural, disparate inclinations. Thus O’ethe was covered with oceans, mountains, trees, plants, and all the beasts that roam the wilds. The gods contested with one another to create the most wondrous things — fireflowers and displacer beasts; islands floating in the sky and burrowing bulettes; thunderbirds and krakens.

The gods contented themselves to create for ages untold. Some believe that the gods created other worlds before abandoning them or letting them fall to ruin. They say O’ethe is but the ninth and final world created by the gods. Regardless, all agree that there was harmony on O’ethe when it was the naught but the gods, the world, and the beasts. It wasn’t until the gods created the folk that strife, disharmony, and the cycle of life and death arrived upon O’ethe.

Birth of the Folk

The folk of O’ethe — dwarves, elves, halflings, gnomes, and all the others — were the beginning of the Godfall. The dwarves were the first folk, carved from the living rock. Their creator breathed into them life and freewill. The dwarves are a naturally clever people and soon began to create things of their own—they dug mines, built forges, and built cities.

The other gods were jealous, for the dwarves were the greatest creation yet. Soon the elves, orcs, humans, and more folk were born. Dozens of folk were created, some now forgotten, as the gods sought to impress one another in their pride.

One god, weary of the contest and strife, gifted to the elves a measure of his own power. The folk call this power magic. Again, the other gods were jealous and soon gifted magic to all the folk. Priests worked miracles while wizards and sorcerers bent reality to their will.

Through all the contests there was one—known now as the Youngest—who was mocked by the others. This god’s workings — the turning of the seasons, flowers, birds — were humble creations, beautiful in their simplicity. The others laughed at them and boasted of their own grand creations. But a god’s pride is boundless and the Youngest keenly felt the words of his siblings. This fault of the gods—the pride and pettiness they all shared—was the instrument of their destruction.

Come the Dragons

The Youngest set about in secret to create the most marvelous thing yet. Hidden far away in the heavens, he labored for an age to create the most powerful, beautiful, and terrible creation any god had produced. When the Youngest returned, it was with a host of dragons. The earliest dragons were massive creatures, rivaling mountains in size. Their magic was stronger than any of the mortal races.

The Youngest had created something to rival the power of the gods.

They lived together in relative peace for an age, perhaps. The gods, the folk, and the dragons found harmony together when O’ethe was yet new. There was much to do, much to create, and much to discover. The dwarves built their empire in the mountains, with entrances carved into the living rock and keeps fashioned from the peaks themselves. The elves claimed the forests and grew their living cities from the trees themselves. Humans spread far and wide, building cities near lakes, rivers, and seas. Their wanderlust encouraged trade and their cities became cosmopolitan centers of knowledge and wealth.

The dragons, enormous as they were, sought to live in peace with the others. For an age they listened. They watched. They learned.

Godfall

The dragons soon realized their power and the chance to seize yet more. Yet dragons are patient. For centuries they bided their time, meeting in secret and scheming in whispers. They first turned upon their creator. The oldest of the dragons, Geshnaq, went to the Youngest and implored him to visit the dragons on the moon. There the dragons devoured the Youngest, elevating their own power as the god’s blood stained the moon red ever after.

The dragons then swooped down to O’ethe, seeking out the rest of the gods. They were not swift enough for the simple, bloody coup they had planned. The gods felt the Youngest die and gathered in strength against the dragons. Many gods and dragons died that day before the wisest of the dragons, Lyx, called for a retreat as the tide turned against them. The dragons had tried to usurp power in a single night. They failed.

The war that followed laid waste to O’ethe for centuries.

The gods and dragons called upon the folk of O’ethe as allies. Thus the folk were divided. The dwarves and elves largely sided with the gods, though that is a simplification of history. The gods birthed a new folk to bolster their ranks—the giants, a simple warrior race gifted with elemental powers but devoid of magic.

The dragons gathered warriors from the abandoned and forsaken folk of O’ethe. Those that joined the dragon army were transformed through magic, granted a modicum of draconic majesty and power. These warriors became the first Dragonborn.

Humans were the most divided of the folk, without a majority supporting either side. Legends tell of siblings meeting on the battlefield under different banners.

The final battle took place on the plains of Pilam. It was a desperate gamble, for the dragons were losing the war. The gods had been making ground for decades and had killed many dragons. Their numbers reduced to but a few score, the dragons gathered for a final assault against the gods. Sensing a chance to end the conflict once and for all, the gods gathered in response and their armies stood to face the dragons.

The battle raged for most of the day until Geshnaq, the eldest and most cunning of the dragons, sprung her trap. Centuries ago, before the death of the Youngest, she had laid a brood of eggs on the dark side of the moon. They had finally hatched and grown strong on the blood of the god that soaked the moon. As night fell and the blood red moon rose in the sky, she cried out to her children and scores of young dragons fell through the skies upon the ranks of the weary gods.

The gods were slain but at great cost to the dragons. One goddess, remembered now only as the Last, cursed the gods as her last act. The font of divinity was strangled to a mere trickle of its original potency.

When the dragons slew the gods, they took what remained of their power, and assumed divinity for themselves. Of the original host, only thirteen dragons survived. Each ascended to a divine mantle, seizing control of some portion of O’ethe for themselves.

The chromatic dragons claimed elemental dominions and guide the cycle of the wilds. The greatest of them is Geshnaq, the Five-Fold Mother and Elemental Fury, who guides the cycle of death and rebirth on O’ethe. The metallic dragons became the stewards of the mortal races, each influencing civilization. Lyx, the platinum dragon, is known as the Judge and established the rule of law after the death of the First Gods. The thirteenth and final dragon has no name. It is known only as The Night and is the guardian of the dead. The Night sits in judgment of souls that await rebirth, guaranteeing that balance is maintained between the planes of existence.

About PK

PK Sullivan is a game designer and writer living in Chicago.
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