Let’s face it; dragons are probably the most iconic monster to come out of Dungeons & Dragons. I mean, it’s in half of the name.
But, if you’re new to D&D, you might still wonder how dragons work, where they come from, or how to use them in your game.
In this article, it’s all about D&D dragons. I’m gonna cover what they are, how they differ from each other, and give you some ideas for adding them to your D&D campaign.
Let’s start things off by going over what dragons in D&D 5e are.
The Dragon Creature Type
Dragon is one of the 14 creature types in D&D 5e. It covers a range of creatures that share features and abilities with your typical fantasy dragons and other dragonkin.
So, almost any large, reptile-like monster falls into the dragon creature type.
Now, this isn’t always the case. Behirs, for example, are serpent-like creatures that breathe lightning. But, they’re a monstrosity, not a dragon.
Dragons usually pose great challenges to player characters at almost any level. Even the weakest of dragon wyrmlings may prove too dangerous for low-level adventurers. And, they only get harder the bigger and older they get.
The dragon creature type separates monsters into two categories; true dragons and lesser dragons. Let’s start with true dragons since they’re the ones most people think of when they think "dragon".
True Dragons in D&D 5e
The true dragons in D&D are your typical medieval-fantasy dragons. They are big, four-legged, have wings, and breathe some sort of element.
These are the dragons you typically see in promotional art.
True dragons share many common features and abilities with only slight variances between each other. The differences usually depends on the damage type they use.
The true dragons in D&D:
- Have a fly speed due to their wings
- Have immunity to their corresponding damage type
- Have four separate levels depending on their age
- Have a breath weapon using their damage type
- Have some sort of nigh insatiable greed
- Have lairs and regional effects the older they get
Like I said, all true dragons in 5e share these traits. But, they differ from each other depending on the damage type a dragon uses.
See, not all D&D dragons breathe fire.
Granted, quite a few of them do. But, they actually include various other damage types. The damage types a true dragon may have include; Acid, Cold, Fire, Lightning, or Poison.
When I go over each of the true dragons later, I’ll include what damage type that dragon uses.
Another thing true dragons share is their opinion of themselves.
It doesn’t matter their color, true dragons typically think they’re the greatest thing on the planet. Their strength, wisdom, age, or straight-up ego makes a true dragon almost arrogant.
Do the dragons in your game have to be this way?
Not necessarily. If you were several hundred years old with the power to wipe out a town single-handedly, it’s easy to see how a true dragon falls into arrogance. This doesn’t make them evil per se, as I’ll get into with the Metallic dragons. But, most true dragons, especially the older ones, think pretty highly of themselves.
You should know that each true dragon comes with a set of features and abilities depending on their age. So, let’s take a quick look at each of the ages.
True Dragon Ages
All true dragons in D&D 5e have four stat blocks depending on their age; wyrmling, young, adult, and ancient.
Each age increases a given dragons capabilities and challenge rating (CR).
Let’s briefly go over each age range.
- Dragon Wyrmling (Age: <5 Years)
- Wyrmlings are the youngest level of true dragons. They’re still a challenge for low-level parties. But, they usually only have their breath weapon and a regular attack.
- Young Dragon (Age: 6-100 Years)
- Young true dragons jump up in CR by having significantly more hit points and dealing more damage. They usually get multiattack, get a second mundane attack, and their breath weapon becomes even deadlier.
- Adult Dragon (Age: 101-800 Years)
- Dragons who reach adulthood become fearsome foes the party may contend with. Adult dragons gain access to their Legendary Resistance feature and the ability to use Legendary actions. They also get more attacks through multiattack, another regular attack, more damage for their breath weapon, and their Frightful Presence feature. This is also when I’d consider giving a dragon a lair and adding regional effects according to the Monster Manual.
- Ancient Dragon (Age: 801+ Years)
- Ancient dragons are the pinnacle of the true dragons. Everything increases including damage from regular attacks and breath weapon, an increase in Armor Class and hit points, and harder Difficulty Classes (DCs) for their breath and Frightful Presence feature.
Now that you know how the age of true dragons changes their abilities, I’m gonna break down their types. Let’s start with the Chromatic dragons.
Chromatic Dragons (Evil Dragons)
In base D&D, the Chromatic dragons are the evil ones. These dragons manipulate, torment, and harass the smaller (read: weaker) races of D&D worlds.
Chances are, these dragons are the bad guys in your game if you’re running a dragon-heavy campaign. The Monster Manual describes Chromatic dragons as greedy, egotistical, and down-right mean.
Chromatic dragons come in five flavors:
Let’s go over each of the Chromatic dragon colors in alphabetical order, of course.
Damage Type: Acid
According to the Monster Manual, black dragons are the most evil of the Chromatic dragons. Rather than killing for food or territorial reasons, black dragons love actively torturing and tormenting weaker creatures. Often, they’ll give false hope to their victims with promises of mercy before brutally killing them.
Despite (or because of) their cruelty, black dragons are almost cowardly. They love torturing and killing their weakest enemies first. And, if a stronger dragon or other creature threatens their territory, they’ll just up and leave.
A black dragon’s hoard consists of treasures from ancient, long-fallen civilizations. Because of their love of watching lesser beings fail, these dragons’ treasures include various items from fallen kingdoms.
Black dragons make their homes in deep, noxious swamps, preferably where ancient civilizations once stood.
Damage Type: Lightning
Blue dragons are desert-dwelling predators. They’re vain, selfish creatures who won’t stand any other creature implying weakness or incapability.
This type of dragon is extremely territorial. If an intruder of any kind (intentional or not) encroaches into a blue dragon’s territory, the dragon won’t hesitate to eliminate them.
While some dragons accept worshippers, followers, or other minions, blue dragons actually encourage capable individuals to serve them. In fact, a blue dragon rewards loyalty. And, blue dragons also encourage other desert-dwelling creatures like ankhegs to inhabit the areas surrounding their lair for greater security.
Valuables of any kind are fair game for blue dragons. But, they prefer gems and blue gems especially.
Damage Type: Poison
The Monster Manual places green dragons as the most cunning and devious of the Chromatic dragons.
These dragons love nothing more than manipulating and corrupting other creatures into their bidding. As such, green dragons are masters of lying and double speech.
Green dragons are patient. They’ll wait for decades for the right opportunity to strike down a foe. And, they’ll spend time manipulating and corrupting other creatures to fulfill their needs.
Like some other dragons, green dragons accept other creatures as servants and worshippers. But, they love corrupting elves (in Forgotten Realms, at least). Because of this, a green dragons treasure hoard consists not only of memorabilia of civilization like wood carvings and humanoid sculptures, but also of actual people they’re corrupted. Well-renowned heroes, famous bards, and so on are the most precious treasures in a green dragon’s hoard.
Damage Type: Fire
The quintessential dragon.
Perhaps the most well known of dragons, red dragons are the pinnacle of the Chromatic colors. They are selfish, greedy, arrogant creatures who think of themselves as rulers and successors to the Queen of Evil Dragonkind, Tiamat.
Red dragons are dangerous simply due to their unpredictable rage.
Any slight, however small, could send them into a rampage. They’ll burn anything in their path until they’ve deemed the insult repaid.
The legendary greed of red dragons means they know exactly where each piece of their hoard lies. They know the exact value of their treasures. And, if one piece, however small goes missing, they won’t stop until they’ve found it.
Red dragons claim arid, mountainous lands as their territory so they may keep an eye on their realm.
Since they think of themselves as rulers, red dragons surround themselves with other evil servants. These servants might serve the dragon by offering food and wealth, but they live in constant fear of the dragon.
Damage Type: Cold
The most animalistic of true dragons, white dragons share little of the intelligence as other true dragons.
Due to their more bestial nature, white dragons follow instinct rather than cunning or manipulation. They are the best natural hunters out of the true dragons. And, their goals often involve surviving the harsh environment of their frigid territories and eliminating their enemies.
One interesting aspect of white dragons is their respect of strength.
While they seek to eliminate any and all creatures too close to their domain, if a creature of significant strength, usually a frost giant, defeats a white dragon, that dragon becomes that creature’s servant. Otherwise, only creatures able to appease a white dragon’s hunger without invoking its paranoia or wrath may reside near these dragons.
A white dragon’s hoard consists of frozen corpses of powerful foes, ivory from walruses and mammoths, rich furs, diamonds, and other such items. They love objects that remind them of the cold and ice. So, clear and white items tend to be a white dragon’s preferred treasure.
Metallic Dragons (Good Dragons)
Metallic dragons in D&D are the good true dragons. They usually don’t engage in the wanton destruction of weaker races and often times serve as protectors or benevolent rulers. While they oppose the Chromatic dragons and generally embody "goodness," they’re still arrogant creatures.
At the end of the day, a dragon is a dragon.
Metallic dragons might not have the bloodlust and love of destruction as their crayon-colored counterparts, but they’re still powerful, long-lived beings. Because of that, they still fall into the trap of thinking themselves above other creatures.
That said, you’ll often see Metallic dragons as mentors, protectors, rulers, and even friends to mortals and other creatures.
Like their Chromatic kin, Metallic dragons come in five shiny colors:
Like before, let’s go over each of these colors and give you a bit of a basic info on them.
Damage Type: Fire
Brass dragons are some of the more friendly types of true dragons.
These desert-dwelling dragons love nothing more than conversing with unique and interesting creatures. Because of this, they can be…a bit pushy. If a creature tries to leave a Brass dragon alone without first engaging in conversation, they dragon might try to pin said creature down until they’ve had their fill of talking.
A brass dragon’s treasure, of course, follows suit.
Sentient weapons, items that contain some sort of intelligent being, or other items that let them talk with other creatures are top tier items for a brass dragon’s hoard. They scatter their valuables across their desert territory.
Damage Type: Lightning
Bronze dragons are a bit more active compared with their Metallic kin.
While they share the same base benevolent nature, bronze dragons actually love involving themselves in warfare. They’ll often ally themselves with whichever side fights for good. This is because bronze dragons seek out tyranny and evil to put a stop to it.
These dragons dwell along coasts, looting sunken ships for their treasure. Once they find something they like, they’ll tuck it away in one of the coastal caves that serve as their lair.
Other items that bronze dragons enjoying adding to their loot include monetary compensation for their participation in a war, military strategy books, or spoils of war from enemy armies.
Damage Type: Acid
Copper dragons are interesting in that they share the same gregarious nature as their Metallic kin, but they also have possibly the most greedy and paranoid personalities.
These dragons love pranks, song, and riddles. They consider sharing songs, jokes, and riddles a great form of treasure.
…But, they also take offense if someone doesn’t laugh at their jokes or pranks.
Which leads to the second aspect of copper dragons; they’re greed.
Look, all true dragons are greedy. But, page 112 of the Monster Manual goes so far as to describe copper dragons as having a "…covetous, miserly streak…." when someone might threaten their treasure which usually includes precious metals and gemstones.
Luckily, copper dragons do often have a benevolent personality. Just don’t try stealing their stuff.
Damage Type: Fire
Gold dragons are the most powerful of the Metallic type. They’re also possibly the most aloof.
These dragons don’t often associate with other dragons. That said, they love conversing with mortals but always in disguise. Taking on the form of a humanoid or animal, a gold dragon may walk amongst townsfolk, catching up on current events affecting the town or simply befriend someone.
Now, just because they prefer keeping a low profile doesn’t mean they don’t oppose evil.
About as active as their bronze brethren, gold dragons stand as staunch opponents of evil. They work in subtle ways to support the good in the world while undercutting the bad. And, being the most powerful of Metallic dragons, they have the capabilities to fight against tyranny or malevolent forces should the need arise.
One interesting thing about gold dragons is they…eat valuables.
They still form a hoard deep within their lairs. But, they actually enjoy eating gems and pearls. And, they accept gifts of this sort so long as those gifts aren’t bribes.
Damage Type: Cold
Silver dragons are actually the most social out of the Metallics.
While other Metallic dragons might enjoy interacting with other creatures, it’s a major part of a silver dragons’ personality. They often befriend towns and generations of families not out of some self-centered greed but because they want to.
While they oppose evil creatures and will help their friends in destroying it, these dragons aren’t as active as other Metallics in the destruction of evil. They won’t actively seek out corruption or malevolent entities. But, if they come across one, they’re up for a scrap.
Often times, a silver dragon spends as much time shape changed into a humanoid form as they do as a dragon. They’re love for the shorter lived races means they’ll sometimes…forget about their friends only to return and find them long dead. Such is the life of a creature who lives 1,000+ years.
A silver dragon’s hoard consists of things that remind them of their love for the humanoid races. Ancient art pieces and relics from civilizations long dead, pieces of architecture or other craftsmanship, and coins from lost or fallen kingdoms.
Other True Dragons Not in 5e…Yet
Gem Dragons (Neutral Dragons)
Gem Dragons were a type of true dragon in 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Different gemstones inspired these neutral-aligned dragons.
There dragons used colors and textures based on various gems. Hence the name, "Gem Dragons."
Like the other true dragons, D&D categorized Gem dragons into different types. But, unlike the others, there were six types:
Now, Wizards of the Coast hasn’t added Gem dragons to D&D 5e…yet. But, with the introduction of different dragonborn subraces, including Gem Dragonborn, in the Draconic Options Unearthed Arcana, we might see the return of Gem dragons sometime in the future.
Planar dragons are true dragons that were either born or spent a great deal of time on a different plane of existence. Their alignment varied depending on their home plane. And, they come from the 3rd and 4th editions of D&D.
Planar dragons included:
- Abyssal Dragons
- Astral Dragons
- Elemental Dragons
- Feywild Dragons
- Shadowfell Dragons
But, almost any plane could’ve had a dragon of that type.
Interestingly, the Monster Manual includes a vague template for turning 5e’s dragons into Shadow dragons. If a true dragon spends enough time in the Shadowfell, they turn into a Shadow dragon.
It’s not quite the same as a Shadowfell Dragon, but it’s pretty close. Maybe we’ll see Planar dragons return in 5e since because of this template. But, there hasn’t been any other evidence pointing towards that conclusion yet.
Lesser Dragons in D&D 5e
Lesser dragons in D&D 5e include the rest of dragonkin that aren’t true dragons. Basically, any big, scaly monster qualifies…most of the time.
Honestly, there aren’t that many lesser dragons in 5e so far. And, they don’t really share anything in common other than being vaguely dragon-esque.
Lesser dragons include:
- Ambush Drake (Hoard of the Dragon Queen)
- Dragon Tortoises (Candlekeep Mysteries)
- Dragon Turtles
- Faerie Dragons
- Guard Drakes (Volo’s Guide to Monsters)
Now, some of these share similar features as true dragons. For the most part, Guard Drakes follow the same color scheme and damage type correspondence.
Aside from that, these creatures vary in their capabilities and features.
Faerie Dragons are almost fey like and helpful while Wyverns are natural, animalistic predators.
Using Dragons in Your D&D Game
Of course, if you’re running a D&D game, you’ll need some idea for adding dragons to your game.
As with any monster or NPC, there’s a myriad of ways for using dragons. It’s really up to you on how you want to go about it.
But, here’s some ways I’d use dragons in my D&D game.
Using Chromatic Dragons
Chromatic dragons make great villains. With the exception of maybe white and black dragons, Chromatic dragons manipulate and deceive mortals to fulfill their greedy nature.
If you’re planning on going off the Monster Manual, keeping Chromatic dragons as evil means using them as villains and other adversaries. Use them as either the final villain or in an isolated adventure. Just know that you player characters will probably fight them.
Chromatic dragons don’t mess around in combat. So, prepare for at least one player character death.
Here are some ideas for using Chromatic dragons in your game:
- A red dragon has claimed land surrounding a number of towns and demands a payment every month
- A white dragon starts raiding mountainous, tundra villages indiscriminately for food
- A green dragon disguised as a royal vizier starts manipulating a monarch on the border of a great forest
- A black dragon nurtures the growth of an acidic bog that threatens the countryside
- A blue dragon kills and usurps the ruler of a desert civilization for their vast treasure
I would encourage you to think outside of the box, though.
For example, keep a green dragon as evil. But, what if they truly care about their forest and want to protect it from destruction at the hands of mortals?
What if a blue dragon encourages trade to add more and more treasures to their hoard? But, in doing so, their desert civilization becomes a major trading hub, causing an economic boom for the people.
Think about the consequences of a dragon’s actions and whether through their own selfish goals a Chromatic dragon inadvertently does good for an area.
Using Metallic Dragons
Metallic dragons make for powerful allies for your player characters. They also work as ancient rulers over wide expanses of territory.
That said, Metallic dragons work well as villains too.
If you don’t like sticking to D&D’s alignment system, your Metallic dragons may be tyrannous or malicious creatures. Again, since these dragons are just as arrogant as their Chromatic kin, they think of themselves as better than other creatures. This arrogance may lead to corruption or downright malevolent behaviors.
But, if you’re sticking with the Monster Manual and keeping Metallic dragons as good creatures, some ideas for using them in your game are:
- A brass dragon who serves as an envoy for a distant, powerful desert kingdom
- A bronze dragon who founds an adventurer’s guild dedicated to seeking out and destroying evil
- A copper dragon establishes a bardic college…much to the dismay of the surrounding townsfolk
- A gold dragon serves as the wise, centuries old ruler of a grand kingdom
- A silver dragon and their brood protects a northern village from the harsh winter weather and giant clans
Remember; when it comes to Metallic dragons, as kind or gregarious as they are, they still carry a greedy streak within them.
In base D&D, true dragons, no matter the color, are covetous beings. They seek out treasures and build their hoard over their many centuries of life. And, each one knows exactly where their valuables lie. Some even go so far as remembering the value down to the copper piece.
So, if the party oversteps and makes an attempt at stealing something from a Metallic dragon’s hoard…well, just keep that in mind.
Using Lesser Dragons
The lesser dragons in D&D 5e are best used as minions or as encounters during an adventure. They’re rarely gonna fit as main villains or antagonists.
Usually, these creatures work well as random encounters or as planned obstacles for your players.
A Dragon Turtle makes a great challenge for sea-faring adventures. A Wyvern is good for a mountain or forest combat. And, Guard Drakes are perfect for organizations in your game as, well, guards.
That isn’t to say you can’t use lesser dragons as something more.
Maye you want to pull an Avatar: The Last Airbender and make Dragon Turtles ancient, powerful entities with knowledge spanning millennia. Maybe a Faerie Dragon has aspirations of power and manipulates wizards and other mages into working for them.
Get creative with your monsters.
D&D Dragon FAQs
How Long Do Dragons Live in D&D?
There is no set age limit for D&D dragons. But, some people propose that dragons live to around 1,200 years old.
The only mention of age in the Monster Manual outlines the different levels for the four stat blocks. And, it states that ancient dragons are 801+ years old.
The Forgotten Realms fandom wiki says great wyrms live 1,200+ years. So, you could extend a dragon’s life out that far.
So, honestly, dragons can live as long as you want in your game.
What is the Strongest Dragon in D&D?
Ancient Gold Dragons and Ancient Red Dragons are the strongest of the true dragons in D&D 5e.
If we’re basing a list on Challenge Rating, the list of strongest D&D dragons looks like this:
- Ancient Gold Dragon (CR 24)
- Ancient Red Dragon (CR 24)
- Ancient Blue Dragon (CR 23)
- Ancient Silver Dragon (CR 23)
- Ancient Green Dragon (CR 22)
- Ancient Bronze Dragon (CR 22)
- Ancient Black Dragon (CR 21)
- Ancient Copper Dragon (CR 21)
- Ancient White Dragon (CR 20)
- Ancient Brass Dragon (CR 20)
D&D 5e tries to balance the Chromatic and Metallic dragons. But, the Chromatic dragons tend to be a little bit stronger since it’s assumed most parties engage in combat with those types.
Is a Dragon a Beast?
No. A D&D dragon is not a beast. Dragon and beast are two separate creature types in 5e.
Are Dragons Bad in D&D?
Not all dragons are bad in D&D. Chromatic dragons are evil and Metallic dragons are good.
Now, this is in base D&D. Meaning, if you’re playing in the Forgotten Realms, this is how true dragons follow alignment.
In your game, your dragons can be whatever you want them to be.
Who is the God of Dragons?
In D&D, Bahamut, the Platinum Dragon, is the god of good dragons while Tiamat, the Dragon Queen, is the god of evil dragons.
Final Thoughts on the Dragon Creature Type in D&D 5e
That’s about it for the dragon creature type in D&D 5e.
Dragons fall into one of two types; true or lesser. True dragons are your typical D&D dragons. Big, menacing, and full of themselves. Lesser dragons include other dragon-adjacent monsters.
Honestly, I encourage including dragons in your game.
Even newer players understand the weight of facing a massive, flying, fire (or otherwise) breathing lizard. And, the experience of fighting them leads to fun and rewarding experiences.
But one last piece of advice; don’t waste how you use dragons.
D&D dragons are legendary, mythical creatures. They might be commonplace in your setting. But, don’t waste a dragon fight on a random encounter.
Make your dragon combats mean something.
Do you use dragons in your game? What’s you favorite dragon encounter you’ve experience? Leave a comment below and we’ll swap stories.