by Mike Brotzman
©2006 Mike Brotzman -- all rights reserved
Greetings, food -- I mean 'hewmans'! This time around, I am going to share a few thoughts I had on the topic of anthropomorphized, or hewman-like, dragons.
Anthro dragons can either be of the shifting type, those who also have a true dragon form, or they can be of the permanent (hybrid) type, which do not. In all honesty I can only see two and a half reasons why anyone would want to have a natural anthro (sometimes known as a 'hybrid dragon') character. The first is the desire for a rich and complex character who doesn't fit in, is burdened by racism, hindered by the alternative presence or lack of physical abilities and is chronically knocking things over with a tail or impaling objects on a spike or horn. The second reason is that your character needs to be compatible with various other anthro (furry) friends, most notably for activities involving highly intimate cooperation (i.e., spooge). The half reason is if you're making some sort of computer game, and all of the races need to be roughly hewman scale.
I know this sounds a bit harsh, but think about it: Whenever you've encountered anthro dragons, when is it for any reason other than so that the character can have some problem with racism or can get it on with his buddies without bursting them? Personally, I find the latter case highly unprofessional. In the vast majority of literature and mythology, dragons are big and scary and usually only fit in caves or other similarly cavernous structures. This is a key piece of what makes a dragon what it is, and to put this aside for furry compatibility not only does the race a disservice, but in my opinion constitutes very lazy thinking.
It's like the game developer who really wants a draconic race because 'dragons are kewl', but the 3D world built around the hewman- or elf-sized characters and besides, such a big character would be unfair to everybody else. So their solution is to make some sort of anthro race with a lame backstory. In other situations the full dragon race can be mindless, unfeeling monsters, and mixing in some hewman blood yields a more level-headed creature. Again, my response is: Why take the easy way out and go with the 'bestial dragon' stereotype in the first place? In some sense, these compromises are better than not having any dragons at all, or (worse) having only bestial dragons, but it's not as good as a solution that involves a bit more creativity. I don't tend to give much respect to watered-down compromises which try to please everybody or capture the 'best of both worlds'.
Speaking of 'best of both worlds', dragons are not mammals. Therefore, their anthro form should generally be less hewman-like than, let's say, a horse. I see how it is perfectly understandable to incorporate non-saurian features into an anthro-dragon form, but again, it might be more interesting to take a risk and do something a little harder. Dragons fly and fight; therefore, their genitals are mostly internal, accessed by a streamlined slit. Many anthro dragons have more hewman parts -- air-conditioned plumbing, as it were -- which would freeze in flight, and get bitten off in a fight. Dragons lay eggs and do not nurse their young; therefore, functional breasts are completely unnecessary. Granted, breasts are hot -- but, to repeat, dragons aren't mammals. It would make just as much (or as little) sense to put feathers on a bat as it does to put tits on a dragon! You might even consider eliminating the structure all together. Dragons are fairly androgynous in appearance, so there is no need to overly feminize or masculinize their anthro forms. Finally, dragons have thick and/or scaled hide, both for protection and as a reflection of their status as an apex predator. If you take away the aggressive bits, you're left with something that belongs on a kids' TV show rather than in the real world.
Wolves have been bred by hewmans into useless little yapping toys; an anthro dragon with a soft, smooth hide would be in pretty much the same boat, and serve only to demean the parent species. I know it's tempting to have a character or avatar that's everything you are now, just cuddlier, but making things a bit more challenging will result in a character that's more real and ultimately more rewarding.
There is no problem with an anthro maintaining some or all of a comparable full dragon's powers, even a non-shifting anthro. Likewise, there's no problem with an anthro using 'hewman'-style tools and technology like weapons and clothes. Most shifting dragons take an anthro form for precisely that reason, so you shouldn't feel you are violating the dragon spirit if your anthro wears clothes and uses guns.
With regard to the issue of racism, I have only heard of a few instances of real life discrimination against anthro mythicals, dragons included. But if you are ever writing a story with an anthro dragon character, prejudice should be a very prominent issue unless there is some extraordinary backstory to explain its absence. Hewmans will naturally fear anthro dragons because of their natural abilities, their appearance, and the reputation of their big brothers. Hewmans will tend to lash out against anthros, due to their inability to lash out against the true dragons -- think of it as an unintended flip on the saying 'pick on someone your own size'. As anthro dragons generally have the powers of their larger kin, they should enjoy very long lives, which will also isolate them from the hewman community.
Dragons will generally view anthros as something of a disgrace or disappointment. Your typical hybrid dragon race usually has some sort of creation story that real dragons will, no doubt, be ashamed of. Full dragons will tend to avoid anthros, possibly using them as intermediaries in dealing with hewmans. Even if full dragons do not purposefully exclude anthros, their larger size will make many forms of casual socialization impracticable, and most full dragons wouldn't take on an anthro form just to suit their disadvantaged kin. However, unless the anthros are somehow allied with the hewmans or hewman-kin, full dragons should have no reason to show the hybrids active hostility.
It's a bit tough to talk about anthro-dragon culture and characterization in such general terms, so I think I'll stop here and save anything else for more specific discussions in the future. As you can see I am somewhat critical of the non-shifting anthro, but they do have their moments when used appropriately. There's a lot that can be said regarding the design and usage of both shifting and non-shifting anthro/hybrid forms.