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To Flame or Not To Flame

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
That is the question.

We write urban fantasy and have encountered a snag with our dragons. The basic idea is that all dragon types (Western, Eastern, Quetzalcoatl, Middle Eastern, Native American River Dragons, and Sea Serpents) are closely related and can interbreed with no problems, the offspring simply take on the characteristics of one parent or the other. They have the capacity to be highly intelligent, as in they have human forms, form Courts, horde treasure, interact with the modern world and consider themselves to be superior to all other beings.

So here is the problem. We lean hard and heavy on mythology and folklore to provide reasonable foundations for our preternatural races. We're not afraid to deviate from folklore, but there has to be a reasonable explanation as to why. For example, our therian, our were-animals, are not bound to the full moon as folklore would suggest. The reason folklore ties them to the full moon? Because in a world lit only by fire, that was the time when they were most likely to be spotted. Now, the problem with dragons is while it is well established that the Western dragon breathes fire and maybe the Middle Eastern, in my research I can't find evidence that the others do. In fact, other than the Quetzal, the other dragon types are water dragons. So, the conclusion we came to was that our dragons can't breathe fire - it makes no biological or magical sense if something that can interbreed as well as they can only has some types that can do something as major as breathe fire, and some who can't.

But I keep coming back to the fact that I love the thought of them being able to breathe fire! It just opens up a whole world of cool I want to play with. Can anyone think of a reasonable explanation to keep our dragons fiery?
 

Ireth

Myth Weaver
Maybe the fire-breathers have a certain set of genes (dominant or recessive), while others don't?

To go with the most basic genetics ever, we'll say a fire-breathing dragon with dominant FF genes breeds with a water dragon that has recessive ff genes. Their offspring will inherit one dominant and one recessive gene (Ff), meaning they will breathe fire. Now, if two dragons with Ff genes breed, their offspring will have a 1 in 4 chance of being FF, a 2 in 4 chance of being Ff, and a 1 in 4 chance of being ff. And then you can have Ff/ff pairings, which have even less chance of passing on the dominant F gene.
 
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A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
Maybe the fire-breathers have a certain set of genes (dominant or recessive), while others don't?

hmm... That's not a bad thought. It would cause a slow spread of the trait through the population. Dragons are great magicians and a truly ancient race... I wonder what caused fire breathing in the first place?
 

Ireth

Myth Weaver
hmm... That's not a bad thought. It would cause a slow spread of the trait through the population. Dragons are great magicians and a truly ancient race... I wonder what caused fire breathing in the first place?

Maybe it has to do with their prey, or some other huge parts of their lifestyle. My conjecture: As certain dragons migrated to other parts of the world, those circumstances changed, and they no longer needed to breathe fire. Then something forced them to join back with their fire-breathing cousins and interbreed, which mingled the gene pool.
 

Steerpike

Felis amatus
Moderator
If they're interbreeding, aren't you going to have a lot of hybrids that blur the lines between the species? You could easily use anatomical differences to explain why one pure form of dragon can breath fire and others cannot. But if a fire-breathing dragon crosses with one that doesn't breathe fire, the offspring is going to be a hybrid and not be either of those types, right?

Of, if by "take on the characteristics of one parent OR the other," you mean they stay as pure forms, then I don't think that's a problem either. Fire-breather crosses with non-fire-breather. Offspring either takes on the characteristics of a pure form fire-breather or a pure form non-fire-breather and is treated accordingly.
 

Addison

Auror
There have been two theories as to how dragons breathe fire. One is they have glands, like snake venom glands, which feed through the fangs the same way and mix with another fluid which is either the saliva or another ooze from a gland under the tongue.

Another is half of the above mixing with a gas made from the foods they eat.

A third is that they eat rocks or other earthen matter which mixes either with "venom" or body gasses to make fire.

So maybe you can use one or more of those methods for your dragons. And depending on what they eat or where they live (snake venom is different from poison fish venom) the fires could expel in a different manner (huge ball, long snake etc) they could have different colors and could even smell different.

Another way, which I snip from Once Upon a time, is that behind the ears or horns are little membranes which open to little fire pockets, or fire glands. Those flaps push air into the body and push the fire out of the mouth.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
These are all very interesting points and wonderful ideas! I'm just trying to figure out how they would work with a race that can shape-shift into a human form which I don't envision being able to breathe fire (though there is this one scene in Iron Man 3 that tempts me something fierce!).

Ireth, they eat people, among other things... breathing fire would definitely come in handy for roasting those blokes with the pointy sticks in their own shells.

Steer, the way we currently envision the interbreeding is when a female selects a male to fly her mating heat, if he is not her variety, say an Eastern female selects a Western male, then the offspring either takes the form of an Eastern or a Western dragon upon maturity (or upon birth, if the female chooses to incubate an egg, rather than live birth. They can do that.) But, that may or may not exclude fire breathing as a trait. I could definitely see a fire-breathing male being more desirable a mate than a non-fire breathing one. hmmmm...

Addison, I've also seen the "fire-as-a-product-of-diet" idea tossed around, and as chemically viable as it is, it's not a direction I want to go with our dragons. It just seems a little, well, gooey, actually. I can just imagine what happens to the waste material from such a process - dragons barfing slag on the field of battle! :p
 

Penpilot

Staff
Article Team
How about something like this. All dragons have a gland, like Addison mentioned. That gland allows the dragon do one of several things, one being breath fire, maybe venom and maybe nothing at all. You can have a spectrum of abilities like spitting streams of water, sand, air, etc., so fast they can cut like a saw.
 

gowph3ar

Troubadour
I like the Reign of Fire movie where Dragons actually ate Ash for food. They had two glands that sprayed and when mixed created a flame thrower effect and then they ate Ash to survive.
 
If your dragons are limited shapeshifters, that goes a long way to explain any ability you want; almost the only good explanation for a beastie with really interesting weaponry is that it built it itself out of its flesh. Genetics might not even matter at all, it might just be that only some dragons have the skill (or the nerve) to make something as tricky as a flame-thrower.

Or genes might combine with that, as different genes (or genes reshaped as a dragon fine-tuned its form) make certain shapes and weapons more likely, and you start thinking how separate different lines of dragons are and how re-breeding or changing might split off or recombine them.
 

Graylorne

Archmage
Well, Anne McCaffrey was a dragon specialist. All her male and lesser female dragons chewed some firestone to be able to breathe fire. So yes, there was some slag involged :). The queens didn't chew, because it would made them infertile and they were the ones who produced offspring.
You could broaden the idea by having water dragens chew some sea crystal that has them producing lots of water to spit, etc.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
Graylorne, that's actually the exact reason why we don't want to go in the direction of having our dragons consuming substances to incite chemical flames. We both grew up as HUGE Anne McCaffrey fans, and it just feels a bit too much like poaching to us. Plus, barfing dragons... just a bit undignified for creatures with a whole master-of-the-universe complex. ;)

Wordwalker, our dragons are not only limited shape shifters but also great magicians which are, thinking about it, to an extent scientists as well. So, being able to manipulate their own abilities magically would make a great deal of sense. Definitely well worth thinking about!

I'm leaning towards a genetic/magical explanation for the fire breathing, but still trying to rationalize water dragons breathing fire when I can't find any references to it in the folklore. However, I'm being tantalized by modern fantasy art showing them breathing fire, so I want to just say they do it... but I need an argument my writing partner will buy.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
Yay! Problem solved! The genetic/magical explanation is the one that got the green light. What we're going with is this -

In an age long past, a dragon of great power and vision saw that the warring gods and mages could wield elemental magics through force of will alone, without relying on complex structures of glyphs and matrixes to bind and give their magic form and focus which all other magic users were forced to. This dragon, whose identity is lost to the mists of legend, sought to tie at least some of this magical dexterity to the very nature of dragons, and after much work was able to master the breathing of fire. This trait passed down to their offspring, and has been spreading slowly through the dragon race ever since.

Thank you all for your wonderful ideas! They were immensely helpful. :)
 

pmmg

Vala
This was always a silly question. You may as well ask why pixies pix, or brownies brown.... Dragons breathe fire because knights are so pesky.

As to how, it starts with great sense to blast out some justice for the good types, and really just any kind of annoyance for the bad types. Comes from bile, and the lungs, and is vomited out with great force. The flames themselves come from hell fire, or the burning light of truth, depending, as dragons are not of this earth. They dont owe their existence or reasons to mortal earthly types.
 

pmmg

Vala
Not that the question matters much anymore, but I never thought this was something required explanation.

Suckerpunch is the only movie I can recall that tried to offer one.

 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
This was always a silly question. You may as well ask why pixies pix, or brownies brown.... Dragons breathe fire because knights are so pesky.
This is funny. I am the Evil Queen of Why, which means that plausibility means a lot to me and my team. I can't handwavium fantasy to one side. I'm pretty sure that if I did, I would burst into flames. Hence the search for a good reason and history behind why and how a creature of water can make fire. Plausibility is the difference between suspending disbelief and taking it bungee jumping.
 
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pmmg

Vala
Evil Queen of Why? But the handle says Forum Mom....

Anyway...I kind of take it as the Dragons have some type of bile or fluid that ignites when sprayed in the open air, or they are just on fire on the inside themselves. Where did the Balrog's fire come from? I like the idea of the two stone/glands in Suckerpunch, that ignite when touched together. I might ask 'and why does that happen?' I dont know, but somethings to spark when touched together.

In my own world, if it was to come up, 'why does the dragon breath fire', I think the answer comes from some type of hellish or divine power. It wont come up. Most people who see will be like...incinerated. And the few who aren't will mostly be trying to escape and kill it, so...
 
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