The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game has a very specific approach to dragons, and it works well for a fantasy game, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the idea of having the dragon species seem a bit more natural, rather than color-coded or tied to specific elements, terrains, celestial bodies, and so on. With species like yellow reapers, longwings, and British parnassians, the dragons from the Temeraire book series feel like they’d be right at home in a naturalist’s journal, each one having a variety of distinct physical characteristics. The popular movie How to Train Your Dragon took a similar approach with armorwings, gronckles, nadders, and zipplebacks, again with each dragon type having a very distinctive look and features.
In the spirit of this style of dragon, today’s article features a list of ten flavorful physical characteristics you can give a dragon to make it feel a bit more unique and give it some more personality.
1. Large Horns. The dragon has one or more large, prominent horns on its head. This may take the form of a single, massive horn at the end of its snout, or a pair of horns growing from the forehead, a combination of these, or even more elaborate arrangements. The dragon may use the horns to impress potential mates, or even battle against other dragons with them for territory and status.
2. Extra Claws. Rather than having entire extra limbs, the dragon simply has one or more extra digits on each of its existing limbs. The dragon might have five or six claws per limb, or it might actually have fewer than normal. Alternatively, instead of having the draconic equivalent of extra fingers, the extra claws might be located elsewhere, such as extending from the top of the foot, similar to a velociraptor’s talon.
3. Spiny Ridge. The dragon’s back is adorned with a row of long, jagged spines, which can be found along the length of its spine. These spines may be talon-like protrusions, or they may be somewhat softer, waving gently back and forth as the dragon moves. In some cases, there might even be thin flaps of skin between them, forming a sort of sail down the dragon’s back.
4. Oversized Wings. The dragon’s wings are particularly long, giving it a truly impressive wingspan, nearly twice the length of its body. Although very long, the wings are also fairly thin, and, as a result, cast a narrower shadow as the dragon flies overhead, which it uses to better sneak up on its prey. Alternatively, the dragon’s wings may be broad as well as long, giving it a particularly intimidating shadow, and making it seem bigger than it truly is, to ward off competition.
5. Tusks. The dragon has two or more tusks jutting from its mouth, or otherwise has fangs that protrude beyond its jaws. These tusks and fangs are often blackened by the dragon’s own breath weapon, leaving them permanently stained with acid, soot, or similar.
6. Scale Pattern. The dragon’s scales form an unusual, distinctive pattern. It might involve streaks or splotches of bright colors, designed to intimidate competition and attract mates, or it might be more subtle, such as a blending of shades. The coloration might even be on the dragon’s wings, instead, perhaps including a pair of massive “eyes” on the wing membranes, similar to some moths.
7. Club Tail. The dragon’s tail ends in a large, bony ball or club, ideal for bludgeoning foes. This club might be covered in skin and scales like the rest of the creature, or it might be exposed, hardened bone, of the same hardness and consistency as horns or claws. The dragon might drag the tail along the ground when it walks, and it might hang low beneath it as it flies, or the weight of it may not impact the dragon’s movements at all.
8. Camouflage Coloration. The dragon’s scales are colored in a very specific way that helps it blend in to its environment. This might mean that the dragon’s underside is a mix of light blues and whites, to disguise it from below as it flies through the air, or it could mean that its scales are a mottled mix of different shades of green, to better fit in in a forest environment. Swamp-dwelling dragons might have the upper portions of their heads resemble logs, allowing them to lurk unseen in murky waters, while cave-dwelling dragons might have scales the color of stone.
9. Colorful Frill. The dragon has a large, colorful flap of skin that encircles its neck. These frills are generally collapsible, and only really visible when the dragon is angry or frightened, causing it to suddenly seem larger and more intimidating, or perhaps being used as a display to impress a mate. In the case of dragons with specific colors, these frills are often a different, bright color that contrasts nicely with the main color of their scales (such as red for a blue dragon, or yellow for a green dragon), although sometimes it is simply another shade of the same color.
10. Spike Tail. The dragon’s tail ends in one or more large, bony spikes, which it uses to brutalize its victims and foes. This may take the form of a single, blade-like claw at the tip of the tail, possibly curved in a hook shape, with a sharp point and a blade-like edge, or numerous spikes jutting out at different angles.