Dragon Life Cycle

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Dragon Life Cycle

“From the tiny egg the great wyrm grows.”
—Kobold proverb

Barring some misfortune, a dragon can expect to live in good health for 1,200 years, possibly even a great deal longer, depending on its general fitness. All dragons, however, start out as humble eggs and progress through twelve distinct life stages, each marked by new developments in the dragon’s body, mind, or behavior.

Eggs

Dragon eggs vary in size depending on the kind of dragon. They are generally the same color as the dragon that laid them and they have the same energy immunities as the dragon that laid them (for example, black dragon eggs are black or dark gray and impervious to acid). A dragon egg has an elongated ovoid shape and a hard, stony shell.

A female dragon can produce eggs beginning at her young adult stage and remains fertile though the very old stage. Males are capable of fertilizing eggs beginning at the young adult stage and remain fertile through the wyrm stage.

The eggs are fertilized inside the female’s body and are ready for laying about a quarter of the way through the incubation period, as shown on the table below. The numbers given on the table are approximate; actual periods can vary by as much as 10 days either way.

Laying Eggs

Dragon eggs are laid in clutches of two to five as often as once a year. Ovulation begins with mating, and a female dragon can produce eggs much less often, if she wishes, simply by not mating. Mating and egg laying can happen in almost any season of the year.

Most dragon eggs are laid in a nest within the female’s lair, where the parent or parents can guard and tend them. A typical nest consists of a pit or mound, with the eggs completely buried in loose material such as sand or leaves. A dragon egg’s ovoid shape gives it great resistance to pressure, and the female can walk, fight, or sleep atop the nest without fear of breaking her eggs.

Dragons sometimes leave their eggs untended. In such cases, the female takes great care to keep the nest hidden. She or her mate (or both of them) may visit the area containing the nest periodically, but they take care not to approach the nest too closely unless some danger threatens the eggs.

Hatching Eggs

When a dragon egg finishes incubating, the wyrmling inside must break out of the egg. If the parents are nearby, they often assist by gently tapping on the eggshell. Otherwise, the wyrmling must break out on its own, a process that usually takes no more than a minute or two once the wyrmling begins trying to escape the egg. All the eggs in a clutch hatch at about the same time.

Properly tended and incubated dragon eggs have practically a 100% hatching rate. Eggs that have been disturbed, and particularly eggs that have been removed from a nest and incubated artificially, may be much less likely to produce live wyrmlings.

Stages of Life

Wyrmlings (Age 0-5 Years)

A wyrmling emerges from its egg fully formed and ready to face life. From the tip of its nose to the end of its tail, it is about twice as long as the egg that held it (the actual size of the wyrmling depends on the variety of dragon).

A newly hatched dragon emerges from its egg cramped and sodden. After about an hour, it is ready to fly, fight, and reason. It inherits a considerable body of practical knowledge from its parents, though such inherent knowledge often lies buried in the wyrmling’s memory, unnoticed and unused until it is needed.

Compared to older dragons, a wyrmling seems a little awkward. Its head and feet seem slightly oversized, and its wings and tail are proportionately smaller than they are in adults.

If a parent is present at the wyrmling’s hatching, the youngster has a protector and will probably enjoy a secure existence for the first decades of its life. If not, the wyrmling faces a struggle for survival.

Whether raised by another dragon or left to fend for itself, the wyrmling’s first order of business is learning to be a dragon, which includes securing food, finding a lair, and understanding its own abilities (usually in that order).

A newly hatched wyrmling almost immediately searches for food. The first meal for a wyrmling left to fend for itself is often the shell from its egg. This practice not only assures the youngster a good dose of vital minerals, but also provides an alternative to attacking and consuming its nestmates. Wyrmlings reared by parents are often offered some tidbit that the variety favors. For example, copper dragons provide their offspring with monstrous centipedes or scorpions. In many cases this meal is in the form of living prey, and the wyrmling gets its first hunting lesson along with its first meal.

With its hunger satisfied, the wyrmling’s next task is securing a lair. The dragon looks for some hidden and defensible cave, nook, or cranny where it can rest, hide, and begin storing treasure. Even a wyrmling under the care of a parent finds a section of the parent’s lair to call its own.

Once it feels secure in its lair and reasonably sure of its food supply, the wyrmling settles down to hone its inherent abilities. It usually does so by testing itself in any way it can. It tussles with its nestmates, seeks out dangerous creatures to fight, and spends long hours in meditation. If a parent is present, the wyrmling receives instruction on draconic matters and the chance to accompany the parent during its daily activities. Wyrmlings on their own sometimes seek out older dragons of the same kind as mentors. Among good dragons, such relationships tend to be casual and often last for decades (a fairly short period by dragon standards). The youngster visits the older dragon periodically (monthly, perhaps weekly) for advice and information. Evil dragons, too, often counsel wyrmlings that are not their offspring - evil dragons lack any sense of altruism, but usually understand the role of youth in perpetuating the species. No matter what kinds of dragons are involved, such mentor-apprentice relationships require the younger dragon to show the utmost respect and deference to the older dragon, and to bring the mentor gifts of food, information, and treasure. Should the older dragon ever come to view the apprentice as a rival, the relationship ends immediately; when evil dragons are involved, the ending is often fatal for the younger dragon.

Very Young (Age 6-15 Years)

By age 6, a dragon has grown enough to double its length, though its head and feet still seem too big for the rest of its body. It becomes physically stronger and more robust. The dragon’s larger size often makes finding a new lair necessary. Many dragons relocate at this stage anyway, especially if they do not have parental support. (After the dragon has hunted in an area for five years, the location of the original lair might have become known to outsiders, or the area around the lair could become depleted of prey.)

In most ways, a very young dragon remains much like a wyrmling, albeit more confident in itself.

Young (Age 16-25 Years)

By age 16, most dragons begin a new growth spurt that eventually carries them to their adult size - though they still retain a wyrmling’s overlarge head and feet. Their intellects become sharper as they gain life experience and master their innate abilities.

At this stage, a dragon begins to feel the urge to collect treasure and to establish a territory (though it might well have done both sooner). In some cases, however, a young dragon continues to share its lair and its territory with nestmates or parents. Dragons that leave the nest when they become young often range far from their home lairs, seeking locales where they can set up housekeeping on their own.

Juvenile (Age 26-50 Years)

By age 26, a dragon is well on its way to adulthood. It has nowhere near the physical power of an adult, but it has an adult’s body proportions. Some species exhibit the first of their magical powers at this stage.

Young Adult (Age 51-100 Years)

As it passes the half-century mark, a dragon enters adulthood (although its body keeps growing for many more years). It is ready to mate, and most dragons lose no time in doing so. By this age, a dragon’s scales have developed into armor formidable enough to turn aside all but magic weaponry or the teeth and claws of other dragons. A young adult dragon also masters its first spells and shows evidence of a formidable intellect.

A young adult dragon severs its ties with nestmates, mentors, and parents (if it has not done so already) and establishes it own lair and territory.

Adult (Age 101-200 Years)

During the second century of its life, a dragon’s physical growth begins to slow - but its body is just entering its prime. With the dragon’s initial growth spurt over, the dragon’s body becomes even more powerful and healthy. An adult dragon continues to hone its mental faculties and masters more skills and magic.

At this stage in life, a dragon is most likely to take a longterm mate and share its lair with a mate and offspring.

Mature Adult (Age 201-400 Years)

When a dragon passes the two-century mark, its physical and mental prowess continue to improve, though it usually undergoes little obvious physical change. By this stage of life, a dragon is truly a force to be reckoned with—and it knows it.

Mature adults display a degree of self-confidence that younger dragons lack. Mature adults seldom seek out danger just to prove themselves (except, perhaps, against other dragons). Instead, they act with purpose and confidence, often launching schemes that take years to complete.

Because of a mature adult’s power, wealth, and age, it seldom remains unnoticed in the larger world. Its name becomes known, at least among other dragons, and it often becomes the target of rival dragons or adventurers. One of a mature adult’s first orders of business is to review and improve the defenses in its lair. Often, the dragon relocates as a matter of prudence. The dragon never chooses its new lair hastily, and usually includes in its plans some scheme to secure more treasure. Bards’ tales of dragons destroying kingdoms and seizing their treasuries often have their roots in true accounts of what happens when a mature adult dragon is on the move.

Old (Age 401-600 Years)

By the time most dragons reach this age, their physical growth stops, though they become even more hardy, and their minds and magical powers continue to expand with the passing centuries.

Old dragons usually begin to show some outward signs of aging: Their scales begin to chip and crack at the edges and also to darken and lose their luster (though some metallic dragons actually take on a burnished appearance), and the irises in their eyes begin to fade, so that their eyes begin to resemble featureless orbs.

Most old dragons continue to hone the patient cunning they began to develop as mature adults. Though quick to defend what they regard as their own, they seldom rush into anything, preferring instead to plumb the possibilities in any situation before acting.

Very Old (Age 601-800 Years)

After passing the six-century mark, a dragon becomes even more resistant to physical punishment. It begins mastering potent spells and magical abilities. This is the last stage of life in which female dragons remain fertile, and most females attempt to raise at least two clutches of eggs before their reproductive period runs out.

Ancient (Age 801-1,000 Years)

By this stage, female dragons have reached the end of their reproductive years. Many females compensate by mentoring younger dragons of the species, as do many males. Ancient dragons have little to fear from much younger dragons that have not yet reached adulthood, and they have much wisdom and experience to pass on.

Most dragons at this age have minds to match the best and brightest humans, and they can tap into vast stores of knowledge, both practical and esoteric.

Wyrm (Age 1,001-1,200 Years)

Surviving for more than a thousand years is a grand accomplishment, even for dragons, and this stage is a great milestone in dragon life. Even among rival dragons, a wyrm commands at least grudging respect. Male dragons at this stage are reaching the end of their reproductive years, but their exalted status among dragons practically guarantees them mates. Younger females often establish territories adjacent to a male wyrm for mating, for protection, and to make it easy for the offspring to gain the wyrm as a mentor.

Great Wyrm (Age 1,201+ Years)

When a dragon passes the twelve-century mark, its mental and physical development is finally at an end, and the dragon is at the peak of its physical, mental, and magical powers.

The Twilight and Death

Dragon Graveyard
Dragon Graveyard

Exactly how long a dragon can live after reaching the great wyrm stage is a matter of some debate (some scholars contend that a dragon lives forever). Unfortunately, dragons themselves are little help in this matter. They keep no birth records and are apt to exaggerate their ages.

The half-elf sages Guillaume and Cirjon de Cheirdon made a study of dragon ages by carefully noting when certain famous (and infamous) dragons reached their wyrm celebrations and then tracking their ages from there. Some later scholars suspect that Guillaume and Cirjon were silver dragons using half-elf guise, and that the speculations they published were in fact field notes. In any case, the pair eventually vanished, and their final resting places are not known. Perhaps they died in a dragon attack, or perhaps they are with us still, in other guises.

Guillaume and Cirjon established that the shortest-lived true dragon, the white, can live as long as 2,100 years. The true dragon species that lives the longest is the gold; Guillaume and Cirjon put the gold’s maximum age at 4,400 years.

In addition, the sages discovered that dragons can extend their life spans to some extent by entering a state called “the twilight.” That term, coined by Guillaume and Cirjon, refers to the closing phase of a dragon’s life. The cessation of growth at the great wyrm stage heralds the onset of death (as it does for most creatures that grow throughout their lives). A dragon can survive for centuries after reaching the great wyrm stage, but a dragon is mortal and cannot stave off death forever. The twilight occurs when the weight of a dragon’s years finally comes crashing down, forcing the dragon’s physiology into a downward spiral. A dragon’s twilight period can last for a number of years, but often the dragon succumbs when the twilight first sets in.

Many dragons prefer to avoid a slow descent into death and leave the mortal coil with their dignity intact. Many great wyrms seem to just disappear at the ends of their lives. No one knows exactly where they go, but scholars have identified at least three possibilities: departure, guardianship, and dracolichdom.

Departure

A dragon can simply will its spirit to depart. Upon doing so, the dragon dies, and its spirit is released into the hereafter. A dragon prepares for its departure by consuming its entire hoard. Most dragons also travel to a dragon graveyard and die there.

Dragon graveyards are ancient places whose origins are lost even to dragon memory. As a rule, they are accessible only to flying creatures, being situated on mountaintops, in hidden valleys (surrounded by jungle, deserts, or mountains), on islands located in windless or storm-tossed seas, or in the depths of great rifts on the earth.

Within the graveyard, dangers abound. Storms of elemental energy often wash over dragon graveyards, and elemental vortexes often appear in random spots. Some of these may belch forth groups of hostile elemental creatures or suck the unwary right off Azolin and onto an elemental plane. Dragon carcasses or skeletons may spontaneously animate and walk about, attacking any living creatures they meet.

Dragon graveyards also are haunted by ghostly dragons.

Despite the dangers, dragon graveyards often draw visitors. According to legend, and some reputed discoveries, not all of a departed dragon’s consumed hoard is always destroyed, and many treasure hunters (showing dragonlike greed) eagerly seek out dragon graveyards for the treasures they are said to contain. Other visitors seek to obtain dragon remains for magical or alchemical purposes.

Guardianship

At the end of its normal life, a dragon can elect to become a guardian, literally transforming into part of the landscape. After the dragon consumes its hoard, it changes itself into a geographic feature: hills, mountains, lakes, swamps, and groves seem to be the most common choices.

Such areas become favorite places for dragons to lay their eggs. It is said that no nest of dragon eggs laid in such a locale will ever be disturbed. Wyrmling dragons living in the site are said to commune with the guardian spirit, receiving the knowledge they need to become strong adults.

As with dragon graveyards, legends say that some of the late dragon’s treasure may still remain hidden at the site, making these features prime targets for treasure hunters. Extracting the treasure (if it exists at all) is apt to be difficult. Younger dragons living at the site usually resent intrusions, as do absentee parents who have laid eggs there (as we have seen, dragons that leave their eggs untended often still keep watch over their nests). These sites also attract their share of ghostly dragons, adding a new element of danger for trespassers.

Dracolichdom

Dracolich
Dracolich

Some evil dragons enlist the aid of others to cheat death. The dragon and its servants create an inanimate object, called a phylactery, that will hold the dragon’s life force. Next, a special brew is prepared for the dragon to consume. The potion is a lethal poison that slays the dragon for which it was prepared without fail.

Upon the death of the dragon, its spirit transfers itself to the phylactery. From the phylactery, the spirit can occupy any dead body that lies close by, including its own former body. If the body it currently inhabits is destroyed, the spirit returns to the phylactery, and from there it can occupy a new body.

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