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Dragon philosophy - Phil's Rambling Rants
November 16th, 2004
10:41 pm

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Dragon philosophy
A couple of years ago, I put together a fantasy roleplaying campaign.  I thought of it as D&D, but by the time I got done fiddling with the rules, it was pretty unrecognizable.  The campaign was moderately successful for a few months, but the group of players I was able to recruit were not really trying to achieve what I was.  In my mind, the campaign was primarily supposed to be about all of us working together to create a good story, secondarily about role-playing, and only incidentally about rolling dice; my players seemed to have the priorities in the other order.  (To be fair to wlhb, the only one of the players who AFAIK has a LiveJournal, even though I don't think he's active at all and probably won't see this, he didn't have time to participate at the level I was hoping for, and he was up front about that at the beginning.)  But I didn't mean to be writing about the campaign itself.

I created the setting for the campaign myself, starting from some basic cosmological and cosmic assumptions about things like the nature of gods, and invented a world populated with a number of creatures which had the names of familiar fantasy archetypes -- dragons, dwarves, elves, vampires -- but were actually my own creations, with their own intentionally unique physical and biological natures.  I don't know how successful I was in making these creations real to my other players, but they became very real for me, and still fascinate me even though the campaign itself is long over, and I've found that some of the ideas that I made up initially to form the world have turned into things that I believe to be true or relevant to the real world.  Some day, I would like to actually write a novel (or novels) set in this world, but I don't have the time to devote to it today.  But I've been thinking for some of pulling some pieces of the background out and writing about them here in my journal, since (though incomplete) it's my finest creative achievement to date.

I've been thinking specifically about my dragons, and wanting to try to explain the draconic philosophy of life.

Dragons are highly intelligent beings, more so on average than humans.  They are telepathic and highly magical by nature.  (Dragons fly not by aerodynamics but by magic.)  They are predators by nature, but they are not evil or sadistic.  Humans fear them because they are large and powerful, and covet them because of old human legends that drinking a dragon's blood can prolong a human's life to hundreds of years, yet dragons prefer to avoid humans and will only fight them if given no other choice.  Those rare humans who have telepathic powers and have the chance to meet dragons often become their friends.

Dragons' unusual outlook on life is a direct result of their biology.  They are hermaphroditic by nature, and find the baggage that humans attach to gender perplexing.  When dragons mate, anywhere from a dozen to over a hundred offspring may be produced, but the young dragons are extremely frail.  Regardless of the size of the clutch, typically only one survives past infancy, and more than two surviving is almost unheard of; yet they do live before they die.  An extensive nervous system develops in the dragon embryo before much of anything else does, and the young dragon achieves consciousness and telepathic contact with its mother, siblings, and other nearby dragons many weeks before the embryo forms an egg that will try to live and develop on its own.  The young dragons know they are almost all going to die, most without ever seeing the outside world, yet to them this is not a sad thing; it is the way it is.  It is part of life and life is good.  The adult dragons are in telepathic contact with the young dragons even as they die, which makes them far more intimately familiar with death than we humans ever are.  Each dying dragon (and each other creature, the dragons report) experiences, in that last instant as their mind winks out like a soap bubble popping, something so wonderful that their last emotions taste of astonished joy.  Thus, every dragon knows (since even the young are in contact with their siblings) that death itself is not something to fear.

The dragon starts out very weak, but as it grows it becomes tougher.  The body develops massive redundancy in all its important systems, and what we think of as the brain expands throughout the entire body, so that an adult dragon can even survive decapitation.  Their innate healing ability enhanced by conscious use of magic allow them to recover from anything which does not kill them outright, and a mature adult dragon is as close to physically invincible as any mortal creature can be.  They never stop growing, though the older they get the slower they grow, and a well established dragon could live essentially forever if he chose; yet it is rare for dragons to live much more than a thousand years.  A dragon always reaches a time when he realizes his life should be over, and when that happens, he will die -- usually by inviting some of his close friends to eat him, though sometimes by other means such as power diving into the ground.  Their history has taught them that a dragon who does not end his life when the time comes, instead insisting on or being forced to remain alive, will become first listless, then profoundly depressed, and finally utterly insane.

Thus it is that dragons are not prey to mortal failings, not even old age, yet they still cannot live forever without becoming travesties of themselves.  Their power is great enough that they could fight nature and see all of their children live, but their wisdom is great enough to realize that if they did, the world would soon be full of dragons with nothing to eat.  And their wisdom is further great enough that rather than rail against these realities, they make them the foundation of their philosophy of life.

To a dragon, life is wonderful, but death is also wonderful, a part of life to be anticipated eagerly, not feared.  Death is not an evil in the world, it is part of the good of existence.  The evil in death is only in a death that comes at the wrong time, and it is equally wrong to live too long or to die too soon.  There is no greater crime than to end another's life too soon or force it to go on too long, and there is no greater gift than to help another to die as he wishes at the proper time.  When one that we love dies, we can't help but miss them, but we should not be sad for them, and we should only be angry if their death was not timely.  And while we live, we should live fully, not afraid to take risks, for it is no better to miss the right time to live than to miss the right time to die.

I think it's a good philosophy of life and death for humans too.

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From:catalana
Date:November 16th, 2004 09:43 pm (UTC)
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Absolutely fascinating. I hope you keep posting about this world.

I'd say more, but my brain is in dissertationland, so this is the best I can do...but please keep writing!
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From:tigertoy
Date:November 16th, 2004 09:48 pm (UTC)
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Come back and take another look after tomorrow is over; I'd like to hear your thoughts in more detail.
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From:msminlr
Date:November 17th, 2004 03:58 am (UTC)

defending dissertations

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Back when Sally Childs-Helton got her PhD, they sent around a "hooray!" card, which featured a cartoon originally done by someone for the New Yorker magazine. It depicted the degree candidate (a female, as it happens) punching-out her committee head, to the bravos of the rest of the group, and a caption along the lines of "Very effective defense, Ms Witherspoon"
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From:poltr1
Date:November 17th, 2004 05:00 am (UTC)
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Interesting.

Just curious -- how much of your dragon philosophy was inspired by Anne McCaffrey's Dragon riders of Pern series? From what I remember, it sounds like this would definitely fit well into the mythos.

And despite what faiths other than mine profess, I belive Death is truly part of the Circle of Life.

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From:tigertoy
Date:November 17th, 2004 07:33 am (UTC)
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While I've certainly read and enjoyed McCaffrey's dragon books, my dragons are not deliberately drawn from them. McCaffrey may have been the unconscious germ of the idea of dragons as nice people.
From:exapno
Date:November 17th, 2004 08:14 pm (UTC)
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That is absolutely beautiful & fascinating :) Thank you so much for sharing it :)

Hopefully you're not too terribly offended by random drive-by commentings :) Especially since i honestly can NOT remember how i got here at this point :) But i did find it, and had to respond
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From:tigertoy
Date:November 17th, 2004 08:56 pm (UTC)
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I love to get comments that show people are actually interested in reading what I write; all the more so when they're people I had no idea were reading my journal at all.
From:exapno
Date:November 18th, 2004 09:24 pm (UTC)
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Well, i wasn't reading before, but am definitely sucked in now :) Very interesting :)

By the way, i love the userpic, and am envious of your volunteering. I so wish i'd know about them when i lived down there :) Lucky fellow :)
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From:tigertoy
Date:November 18th, 2004 10:12 pm (UTC)
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If you're in the Chicago area (I have that vague impression from somewhere), there is a facility called Valley of the Kings (that link doesn't seem to be working as I write this; I don't know if that's a temporary glitch or not, but it at least used to be their web site) that's closer to you than EFRC is to me. They are not open to the public -- you have to have a membership card or be accompanied by someone who has one to get in the gate. And to be honest, there are people who have problems with the people who run the place. But when I visit, I see animals that are well cared for and happy, so I am willing to support them. If you're willing to do hard labor in exchange for the chance to be near tigers, you might want to see if you know someone who could take you there, assuming you're not willing to drop $60 for a membership just to see if you're interested.
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