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I'm trying to get a handle on the Dragonborn (humanoid dragon creatures) from D&D. For all the other races (Elves, Dwarves etc) I can reference mythology, or settings like Tolkien's middle earth.

But what is the earliest fiction based around our majorly featuring dragonborn?

The earliest reference to them, I can find is this roleplaying book, but I can find nothing earlier. It doesn't matter if they're called Dragonborn or not, just that they resemble, and possibly inspired, the Dragonborn from D&D.

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    They sound suspiciously like Draconians from the old Dragonlance setting, but I dunno if that was intentional or not. – KutuluMike Mar 12 '15 at 18:02
  • So, to clarify, you're looking for the mythological INSPIRATION for the Dragonborn? Not the first appearance/origins of the Dragonborn themselves? – Omegacron Mar 12 '15 at 18:28
  • well, the first appearance of the dragonborn race, as far as I know, is the reference he cited, a 3.5e supplement. – KutuluMike Mar 12 '15 at 18:33
  • @omegacron I want to read something, and go "Oh, that's how a typical Dragonborn deals with loss/goes to battle/treats other fantasy races". And I want something canonical, and authoritive, so I'm going for the inspiration assuming they are similar enough. – AncientSwordRage Mar 12 '15 at 18:38
  • That doesn't parse... I want the earliest thing that solidly inspired the D&D Dragonborn race. – AncientSwordRage Mar 12 '15 at 18:52
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tl;dr: Most likely, the 3.5 edition dragonborn are derived from earlier 1st edition reptilian/draconian creatures, which were likely inspired by earlier humanoid reptiles (such as the Silurians from Doctor Who).

D&D Precursors to Dragonborn

The earliest examples of a creature resembling a dragonborn in D&D lore, that I am aware of, comes from the 1st edition, and went by a few different names.

In the core 2nd edition Monster Manual, they were called Sauriels. Though the creatures looked like dragons, they were actually distantly related to dinosaurs, so they only vaguely count as "proto-dragonborn." These creatures were also present in the 1st edition Forgotten Realms setting, and appear in print originally in the novel Azure Bonds, published in 1988.

Even earlier, in the Dragonlance setting, there was a similar but distinct creature called a Draconian. These were either 5 races, or a single race with 5 variations, all created by magically corrupting the eggs of the metallic ("good") dragons. They were the foot soldiers in the armies of Takhesis, the 5-headed chromatic dragon (basically a re-skinned Tiamat) that is the main villain of the War of the Lance. They appear in print in the novel Dragons of Autumn Twilight, published in 1984.

These are much closer to what the current dragonborn race is supposed to be, except they were universally chaotic evil and blindly followed Takhesis and her generals orders.

A Baaz Draconian

Outside D&D

While I'm not aware of any fictional creatures from other works that I'd call dragonborn-ish, there are several creatures that might be the inspiration for the dinosaur-like Saurials. The most notable of these are the Silurians from Doctor Who: a reptilian race called homo repitlius that lived beneath the Earth's surface that predates homo sapiens.

These creatures were first shown in 1970, in the Season 7 episode Doctor Who and the Silurians, which pre-dates D&D by several years.

An original 1970s SilurianVasta, a modern Silurian

Mythology

There are several other creatures in mythology that have vaguely dragon-like features, but none that I can find that exactly match the description of a humanoid descended from dragons.

The closest I can find is an ancient Greek mythological creature called a dracaena or drakaina. This is a female dragon that is usually depicted as having human-like features. (side note: DO NOT google Drakania at work.). I couldn't find a good image of one other than this from Rick Riordan's site (the author of the Percy Jackson books):

A terrible drawing of a dracaena

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  • The Draconians look like they may be it... shame they are all 'evil', makes for a very one-dimensional fantasy race – AncientSwordRage Mar 12 '15 at 18:33
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    well they were mostly cannon fodder at the time, and AFAIK never appeared outside the Dragonlance supplements. My guess is that someone else thought much like you and said "lets take those guys and make them better." – KutuluMike Mar 12 '15 at 18:35
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    I would not be surprised if the inspiration for dragonborn came from the Kang's Regiment stories by Margaret Weis and Don Perrin, in which a group of Draconian battle engineers try to save their race from extinction. It was the first story to show Draconians as anything other than cannon fodder in the armies of Takhesis. – Boelabaal Mar 12 '15 at 18:39
  • The Silurian edit is very good! Very helpful. – AncientSwordRage Mar 12 '15 at 18:48
  • What about the Gorn from Star Trek and the aliens from V? – Lexible Mar 12 '15 at 19:35
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There are a few possibilities, but all of the earliest ones come from Chinese mythology.

Dragon/Human Hybrids

The oldest mention of a dragon/human hybrid is probably Nu-wa, a deity in Chinese mythology mentioned as early as 875 BC. Nu-wa's body was essentially that of a mermaid or centaur, only dragon-based. Her upper body resembled a beautiful woman, yet her lower body resembled that of the Chinese dragon.

Dragons in Humanoid Form

The earliest mention of a dragon in humanoid form is also from Chinese mythology - the Dragon Kings. Nearly as old as the legends about Nu-wa, the Dragon Kings are the ruler of the Four Seas in Chinese mythology, and are typically depicted as a dragon with two arms, legs, etc. like a man.

Possible Modern Inspirations

If you're looking for more modern, strictly Draconid, inspirations, there are a few of those as well:

  • Gorn - the Draconid-like Gorn were introduced in a classic Star Trek episode, 1967
  • Doctor Who - in the early 1970s, Doctor Who introduced at least two species that were evolved from reptiles and/or dragons (the Silurians & the Draconians)
  • Sleestak - these humanoid reptiles were introduced in the 1974 TV show "Land of the Lost"
  • Sapient Dinosaurid - the idea of an "evolved dinosaur" in humanoid shape was first introduced to the realm of Paleontology in 1977, then made more popular in 1982.
  • Killer Croc - Batman's infamous villain who resembles a humanoid crocodile was introduced in 1983 (Batman #357).

Within Dungeons & Dragons

Within the game itself, the evolution of the Dragonborn race was discussed in "Ecology of the Dragonborn" by Chris Sims:

In the earliest days of the D&D game, some dragons could take human form. It was a fascinating idea — a great and terrifying beast in the skin of a mere mortal. Fortunately for many players, it was initially an ability that good dragons had. Later, that ability migrated to neutral and evil dragons, such as the oriental dragons of the first Fiend Folio or the deep dragon in Ed Greenwood’s Drow of the Underdark. The Council of Wyrms setting made it possible to play dragons in the D&D game.

Draconic humanoids also showed up in various forms, as did humanoids that could become dragons. Todd Lockwood’s krolli appeared very early, in The Dragon (#36, April 1980). Draconians came only a little later, appearing in the Dragons of Autumn Twilight novel and Dragons of Despair adventure. Dragonkin appeared in the Forgotten Realms setting, and the defilers of the Dark Sun setting could become dragons over time.

Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Three presented the weredragon, which became the song dragon in Third Edition’s Monsters of Faerûn. Even the Dragon Dice game had dice that represented dragon kin. Third Edition pushed the draconic humanoid further, starting with a new look and feel for kobolds, as well as half-dragons. As the edition evolved, draconic creatures and spawn of Tiamat also appeared, along with the dragonblood subtype. One race that fell into that subtype was the dragonborn of Bahamut, humanoids who, to show devotion to Bahamut, willingly took on draconic traits in place of their original biology.

The dragonborn of the 4th Edition D&D game take many cues from the dragonborn of Bahamut, as well as other dragonblood creatures from 3rd Edition. Like their predecessors, the dragonborn bear a mystique and fierceness unique to dragons, and they can be strongly affiliated with draconic deities. In fact, in an earlier iteration of 4th Edition, the dragonborn were called the dragonblood. In the final analysis, though, the dragonborn name was a better fit. It more aptly describes a race of draconic humanoids that share the legacy of the most important creature in the Dungeons & Dragons game.

View Entire PDF: http://www.wizards.com/files/365_ecologyotdragonborn.pdf

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The concept of draconic people is pretty well-established by other answers, but I want to address why dragonborn? After all, D&D 3.5 already had “half-dragon” people and “draconic” people, why did there have to be dragonborn too?

The simple answer is that, by the time Races of the Dragon came out, both the half-dragon and draconic templates had tried, and failed, to produce satisfactory dragon people. Both were widely considered nigh-unusable, or at least highly disadvantageous, for their gameplay properties. Even in groups where power was of little importance, they relied on the confusing and unpopular “Level Adjustment” system, which was flat-out incompatible with 1st-level play, which meant they couldn’t be used at all in many games.

And Races of the Dragon was relatively late in D&D 3.5’s run, and more and more Wizards was attempting to get the balance on their options right (one would see this trend continue straight into the 4th Edition, wherein balance became nearly paramount). They were explicitly courting, at this point, people who cared about such things.

But they wanted to release a book titled Races of the Dragon. They had been hinting at a relationship between kobolds and dragons for a long time, so that was easy enough, and the association of dragons with sorcery had been firmly cemented, so the spellscales made sense, but neither of these was the iconic, big, strong dragon-man that readers were likely going to expect. The draconic or half-dragon templates could handle that, but were considered rather poor. Wizards likely feared that the book would be poorly received if it focused on those. So they needed a third option for dragon-people.

Enter the dragonborn. The dragonborn attempted to be what its predecessors hadn’t: to be a dragon-person playable right out of the box, and to actually be good at things. This fulfilled the need for a big, strong dragonman, which Races of the Dragon needed, and finally delivered on that concept in a way that was satisfactory to a majority of players. It seems to have been successful: the dragonborn continued into 4th Edition and 5th Edition, neither of which have half-dragon or draconic creatures as playable options.

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  • This world be great on RPG.SE but not add an answer to this question. – AncientSwordRage Jan 21 '16 at 18:56
  • @AncientSwordRage then I think you need to clarify your question because as I read it, this is an answer to the question asked – KRyan Jan 21 '16 at 18:57
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I found this on wikipedia when I was researching bahamut: The Rite of Rebirth Rarely, humans, elves, halflings, or other humanoid races may hear a call, like a faint question in their hearts, asking them if they want to devote themselves completely to Bahamut. Normally it is first heard before adolescence, but sometimes adults hear it as well. Not all those who are called answer, but those who do may undergo the Rite of Rebirth. Those who commit to this demanding ritual put aside all their weapons and equipment, dressing in a simple linen shift. They meditate for a full day and night, their head filled with reminders of all they are giving up. If they elect to go on, they then enter an egg-shaped chamber at dawn and sleep until dawn the next day, emerging as a dragonborn, a noble, draconic, platinum-scaled version of their previous shape, ready to become a permanent champion against Tiamat and her spawn.

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    "I found this on wikipedia" - link please? – Rand al'Thor Feb 16 '16 at 1:57

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