Saturday 11 January 2014

Demons or Dragons?

D&D "for grownups" has demons on the cover.

D&D "for kids" has dragons on the cover.

So - unconsciously, perhaps - did TSR decide, within the space of five formative years. Well, the trend did not continue, but any two points make a line and it's fun to riff on what follows from making the Demon your iconic adversary as opposed to the Dragon.

The Demon - is Weird Fantasy, Conan, Fafhrd & Grey Mouser, Cugel.
The Dragon - is High Fantasy, Beowulf, Siegfried, your garden-variety knight.

Dragonlance. (Ugh, and Dragonstrike.)

The Demon - is human-like (so it forces you to kill a human-like thing). It's almost symbiotic on humans, no self-respecting demon is found without a cult, statue, altar, and weird robed guys.
The Dragon - is bestial (so can be slain without compunction). It's a loner, a wilderness hazard, a devastator of civilization.

The Demon - is carnal. Is often clutching a Leia bikini lass or receiving a nude sacrifice aglow with Brundageous pallor. Oh, and succubi.
The Dragon- is PG - its main sin is greed, maybe pride. It captures maidens but that's about it.

The Demon - is from Lord of the Rings.
The Dragon - is from the Hobbit.

Both of them - start having playable offspring with humans in 3rd edition. Blurring the line between monster and PC in the same way those damn statblocks do.

I wrote before about how a lot of DMs fall prey to "Precious Dragon Syndrome" and hold off a long time inflicting "WOW! DRAGONS!" on their players. The Demon, in my experience, more often gets drafted in as a climax monster.

Anyway, if you can't decide, you can have them both - in Sweden, anyway.


  1. The Holmes Basic Set was marketed right on its box as "The Original Adult Fantasy Role Playing Game." Ha, but yes demons would have been tpk at 1-3 level. The Holmes' monster list included 4 colors of dragons, but no demons.

  2. An astute analysis for which I can find no faults. Bravo!

  3. It might interest you to know that the picture is actually a spoof.

    There is a game called Drakar och Demoner in Swedish, and has been published in a multitude of versions since the early 80ies.

    The picture is a manipulation of a rather early edition of the game, from sometime during the 90ies. The two figures in the foreground are actually the current swedish prime minister (the bald guy) and the swedish minister of finance (to the left).

    The first edition of Drakar och Demoner, published in 1982, featured a dragon on the box. (That was essentially a translation of Basic Roleplaying/Magic Worlds.)

    1. I knew about the Swedish game, didn't catch the political satire in that pic. Interesting contrast between TSR in the 90's sweeping devils and demons under the rugs, and the Swedish game shouting HEY GOT YER DEMONS HERE.

    2. Interestingly enough, while there was some grumbling about a game about dragons and demons, it wasn't until Kult arrived that the shit hits the fan. That caused some commotion!

  4. The shift away from demons in the hobby game genre was quite intentional. Mark Rosewater, head designer for MTG, talks about it briefly here:

  5. To be fair, the DMG picture is an Efreet and the PHB picture is just some random evil god. AD&D really screwed the pooch wrt demons. Not only did they make them so powerful only a tiny fraction of the players ever encountered one but most of them require the DM to use the crappy psionics rules. Demonic fail!

  6. Technically, second edition. Half-dragons were in Council of Wyrms and Tieflings were in Planescape.

    Anyway, give me a Dragon any day-- not that I don't enjoy a good demon now and again, but all the connotations of dragons you list are much more my speed.

  7. I think the huge aspect you are missing is religion. Yeah, dragons show up a few places in the bible but they belong more to the fairytale. Demons, though, they get cast into swine, they are only associated with the devil. At least in the middle-class, suburban America I grew up in.

    I had several relatives telling my mother I shouldn't play D&D because it was satanic. I had to tell her several times the ugly creatures on the covers were the things we fight, the enemies.

    So, if you want to talk about the pg-ification of the game I don't think you can ignore the pressure TSR felt from the whole satanic panic bs.

  8. I have to say the Erol Otus cover, despite its depiction of a dragon, looks more demonic than any other edition's cover art regardless of subject matter.