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In a world I am building, I have a race of Dragons. A lot about them is based around questions previously asked on this site; as a result, most of them are around human-sized and cannot fly (a pox on you, square cube law!). However, due to the fact that their evolutionary ancestors initially could fly due to magic (all of which was stolen by the Elves to kill the mountain-sized dragons of old), these dragons still have arms specifically designed for flight. This means that their back and pectoral muscles are incredibly over-developed, and their arms are almost twice as long proportionally as a human's (they also have two extra-long fingers on each hand, but I don't think they matter as much).

So my question is, what medieval-age weapons would these long-armed dragons use? Would there be existing weapons that would benefit from longer arms and strong wing-flapping muscles, or would they devise specially modified weapons which could take better advantage of these differences without suffering from as many downsides? Fights with humans and other dragons should be considered.

Some extra notes on dragons: they're sort of a cross between bipedal and quadripedal, putting most of their weight on their legs but using their hands for stabilization (and pretty much just because they reach down that far anyway). Due to their musculature and big heads, they're pretty topheavy, but have somewhat flexible tails as a counterweight. There are individuals (usually smaller, with longer arms) that have fully formed wings, but most have bred out the genes for webbed arms or simply cut off the webbing at an early age. Dragons are not magic-users, and on average are lower in intelligence than humans, though more intelligent than animals.

EDIT: On the strength of dragon arms: think of them like bats. Their arms are built more for flight than anything else. While they may use their arms to walk, they probably still can't do a pull-up, and bats are small enough for square-cube to work in their advantage. Now, dragons have evolved, so their arms will have some added definition, but due to their excessive length I'd say it's still not enough for a pull-up, and holding heavy things is probably going to be a bit of a challenge. However, like I said, they're built for flight, so any flying motions are going to be very powerful, but just like a bat wouldn't want to flap its wings directly into a wall, the dragon should be careful where he puts all that force.

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  • $\begingroup$ I gotta say, these answers are really helping me think. It's not so much the answers themselves but the perspectives of the answerers, they're opening my mind to all the possibilities... $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Feb 19 '15 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ I think that is a good thing! $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Feb 19 '15 at 21:10
  • $\begingroup$ Would you like them to be pretty much equal with medieval humans, or militarily more/less dominant. As in, what 'level' are they, and how many are there. Also, what's the environment around them like? $\endgroup$ – Mikey Feb 20 '15 at 7:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Mikey I'd like them to be superior to humans at some tasks, but probably not numberous enough to form armies of their own. They'd be like mercenaries to bolster human armies. Environment is variable. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Feb 20 '15 at 18:31
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Plenty of answers have already told you that these dragons will probably be pretty great with ranged weapons like bows or javelins, and they are correct. Unfortunately, they won't always be able to keep their enemies at a distance, and if they are too dependent on bows, they will be helpless against a simple shield wall. So I will focus on other types of combat.

The dragons could probably also have very effective cavalry, particularly light cavalry. Their history of flight and its effect on their physiology probably means that dragons are lighter than similarly-sized humans, meaning dragon cavalry would be more mobile than counterparts in other species. (And you could even call them dragoons!)

The most direct use of mounted forces is the cavalry charge. The weapon used, the lance, is particularly well-suited to the long-armed bodies of your dragons. Their long arms would enable them to use longer lances than other cavalries. In comments, you've expressed concern about their relatively frail arms using heavy weapons, but impact of a lance is absorbed by the shoulder, which shouldn't have such problems.

If the enemy doesn't break after a charge, your troops will probably end up in a melee. There are disadvantages for cavalry here—particularly limited reach. People on horseback can't reach more than the head or soldiers of enemy infantry, giving them a smaller area to defend. It is also leaves their legs vulnerable. The longer arms of your dragons can compensate for both aspects of this, since they could easily reach down to their feet or an enemy's abdomen.

So, what sort of weapon should they use in this case? From horseback, soldiers will mainly attack with downward strokes, so a heavy clubbing or chopping weapon works well, like a warhammer or axe. A sturdy single-edged sword would also work well.

Since the dragons have weaker but longer arms, they should use weapons that emphasize their reach advantage. For a general-purpose weapon to be used by cavalry and footsoldiers, I suggest a khopesh, or another forward-curved sword like a falcata. These are very effective cutting weapons, and the curvature makes them able to reach around enemy shields. They could also use pick-like weapons, like a kama or horseman's pick, for the same purpose.

If you're concerned about the dragons' grip strength, as other comments have indicated, you could have them use gauntlets attached to swords, like a pata. Their shields should also have arm straps for the same reason.


How recently were the giant, magical dragons around? Are they still a part of the collective memory, or are they history, or legend? In any case, your current dragons could use the connection to their ancestors for psychological warfare. In particular, they could adorn themselves similar to the Polish Winged Hussars, with artificial dragon wings on their backs. The wings worn by the hussars probably functioned as noisemakers during a charge, to intimidate the enemy.

Fire is an obvious weapon with psychological value that dragons could use. However, without magic it would be difficult for them to use effectively, especially if they are using horses. Gunpowder existed in China in the Middle Ages, so you could have dragon infantry using fire lances, or even simple rockets. Of course, that doesn't really fit with the description of dragons as less intelligent than humans, unless they have some sort of natural affinity for fire that could explain it.

All in all, I think the Winged Hussars are a great starting model (even if they are technically early modern, and not medieval). They were powerful cavalry (with wings!), that used horseman's picks in melee. Their shields had straps and came to a point that could be used as a weapon, too.

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  • $\begingroup$ I love this answer, because like the others it agrees on a basic set of skills (ranged, cavalry), but offers new insight for interesting melee weapons. The psychological aspect is interesting too, though I don't think it exactly answers the original question. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Feb 21 '15 at 4:30
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh Fear cuts deeper than swords. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Feb 22 '15 at 23:55
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I spent a good amount of time thinking about this and I came up with what I think would work best:

Bow and Arrow

Think about it, with their arm length they can have huge bows. Bigger draw means bigger power. And they have the muscles in all the right places to properly wield such an item.

I'm also thinking that they'd have spiked gauntlets on for those tricky hand-to-hand moments. Again, this takes advantage of arm length and can also use their muscles efficiently.

Another question is, do they have breath weapons? This would be a big factor in deciding their weapons. Also, I imagine they'd be big poison users. Poison-tipped arrows with the power that their bows have would mean instant poisoning for just about anyone, which keeps them out of close range.

One final note: I think it'd be cool if they were good mounted combatants. Partially because that's a really big deal if you're using a bow and arrow but also I imagine that if they really needed to they could hop off a mount at the right moment and maybe glide a bit. Which if nothing else just looks awesome.

EDIT: Okay, I've found some more info on bows that I think will help with this.

  1. Assuming a 6' tall dragon has twice the wingspan of a 6' tall human then he has a draw length (used for bow calculations) of 64.5 inches. This means he can pull the string back about that far. This also factors into how much weight he'll be pulling back. The rule of thumb is to add 2-2.5 lbs per inch over 28" in your draw length. This means we will be adding 73 pounds. This will be important later.

  2. Assuming our 6' dragon is also well built then he's going to be starting at about 60 pounds. Add 73 to this and we get 133 pounds on that bad boy. Just a bit more than the English Longbow.

  3. I would say that our Dragons can probably handle this much force, but maybe I'm imagining them differently. I do think it would be really cool, however, if they figured out how to make compound bows, which I think is definitely in the realm of possibilities. If they had compound bows then they'd be pulling about 27 pounds of force (20% of 173). And this would give them an edge in tech above other races.

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    $\begingroup$ Also, I just drew some bow concepts, and the arrows would have to be almost as tall as the dragons themselves. Basically, it'd be a ballista :) $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Feb 19 '15 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, that's what's so great about it! They have the unique ability to wield ballistas on friggin horseback. Let me do some research to see if I can back up their ability to shoot said bow. $\endgroup$ – upfish Feb 19 '15 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh check out my most recent edit. $\endgroup$ – upfish Feb 19 '15 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ A few other bow comments: even if the total draw weight is the same, a bow with a 60lb draw over 60 inches would impart twice the energy as a 60lb bow with a 30 inch draw, since work = force * energy. Also, they might need an asymmetric bow like the Japanese Yumi to get that draw length without their bows dragging on the ground. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yumi Also, even without hands that can grip like human hands, dragons could fire a bow using a Mongolian grip on the string and cradling the bow against the thumb. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Feb 19 '15 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ @ckersch, I think the Yumi is a really good idea. I think that a race that knew they needed modified bows to be effective would be able to come up with something to aid their cause. $\endgroup$ – upfish Feb 19 '15 at 21:53
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If their arms are specifically designed for flight, they probably can't use weapons.

Mainly due to the shape of their hands. Wings require huge, but fairly stiff fingers. It's easier to transmit all of that force from the pectoral muscles into flight if the musculature of the hands isn't getting in the way. I'd expect their hands to be mainly stiffened by tendons, with a few muscles for basic mobility, but not for providing power and lift, and definitely not for providing a strong grip.

Humans have evolved a powerful grip because we evolved hands for climbing and swinging from branches. Dragons, bats, and birds don't do that. At least, not with their wings. Flight requires and quickly selects for certain structures. It's most likely that dragon's arms wouldn't even be able to move in the right directions for flight.

It is possible that they've evolved to be used to walk on. Huge pterosaurs like Quetzalcoatlus evolved to walk quadrupedal on their 'wrists' while on the ground, with most of their wings sticking out behind them.

At least, not with their front arms...

Birds do have the ability to manipulate things, just not with their wings. Birds have evolved powerful, dextrous feet for this task. Bats, too, have evolved feet that are capable if gripping, which bats use to hang upside down in caves. I'd imagine that your dragons could have easily evolved something similar. Their feet could be somewhere between the talons of birds and the back feet of monkeys, depending on how 'humanoid' they are.

For fighting, since your dragons have tails, they could even rear up like a tripod, with their front legs/arms and tail providing balance and their back legs/feet free to fight. They'd probably lean backwards to fight, with their tail in the front, so as to maximize the mobility of their leg hands in a fight. Depending on how mobile/strong their tails are, the tail could even be used as a third limb to fight with.

The other advantage of fighting like this would be that even the dragons with the ability to fly would be able to do so and still fight, since they wouldn't need to cut their wing membranes.

What weapons would they use?

This would depend in large part on how long their legs are, but my guess would be spears and polearms. Since they'd be used by the legs, which have good forward/backwards mobility but don't move from side to side as much, thrusting and hacking would be the most natural ways to move. They'd also be wielding their weapons from close to the ground, so reach would be a plus. The tails wouldn't be able to grip as well, but could have a shield lashed onto them.

Alternately, they might be able to use bows. They'd have to set them up and fire them differently than we do, since the body mechanics would be very different, but if they lashed a large spike to their tails, they could use those to hold off enemy combatants at a distance and protect themselves from cavalry while still being able to fire their bows.

Edit: Arms for bows, legs for spears.

First off, hats off to upfish for suggesting bows. Bows would work great with dragon physiology. Nothing in using a bow requires a firm grip like one needs for holding onto a sword or spear. Assuming that our dragon's wings have bat-like thumbs, the bow would be held nestled between the thumb and the wing. Since all of the force is back against the thumb when the bow is drawn, fingers to oppose the thumb against aren't needed to hold the bow. Likewise, dragons could use a Mongolian draw to pull back the string without relying on their overly long fingers. They'd just wrap their thumb around the string and tuck it under their fingers.

Their incredibly long arms would be a HUGE advantage for archery. Since the work done on the arrow by the string is proportional to $Length_{draw} \times Force_{draw}$, a dragon that can pull back a bow twice as far as a human can put twice as much energy in an arrow. They can use this to either fire a longer arrow, or use a set up more like the bows used in flight archery with an arrow rest for firing arrows that are shorter than the draw length of the bow. Since they've evolved for flight, their push muscles will probably be quite a bit stronger than their pull muscles, so they'll probably fire by holding the string back and pushing the bow away, rather than holding the bow away and pulling the string back towards themselves.

Of course, since dragon hands still can't grip melee weapons, they'd stand on their feet while firing, possibly tripoding back against their tails for extra support, and then put down their bows to fight in melee using weapons wielded in their feet while resting on their tails and hands.

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  • $\begingroup$ 1) Bats have a free finger per hand, what if dragons had two/three? 2) If you can lash things to the tail, why not the hands? 3) Otherwise, good answer, it got me out of my human-centered thinking. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Feb 19 '15 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ Even with two or three, unless your dragons have a full 'hand', the issue is lack of opposition. Bats effectively have a thumb, but the strength in human grip comes from the ability to oppose the fingers against the thumb. Any extra weight on the wing will also make it harder to fly, so it's likely that any such structures would be comparatively weaker on a creature that's evolved for flight vs. on a human. (Though if said flight was achieved through magic, evolution need not limit development in such a manner.) $\endgroup$ – ckersch Feb 19 '15 at 20:50
  • $\begingroup$ I guess that gets at the heart of the problem, it's hard to bring in evolution when your species started out with magic. But I agree grip would be an issue, right now I'm thinking stabbing weapons over slashing ones (and using the feet, like you suggested). $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Feb 19 '15 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ So they're epic kickboxers and parkour experts? $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Feb 19 '15 at 21:46
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The forelimbs of fliers are optimized to have lots of power on that load bearing downward flap of the wing. If you put your hands as wide to your sides and then slap them together in front of you, that is basically the motion the dragons would be better than us in. Quite limited, really. More positively they'd be much better at that motion than we are in every way. Strength, speed, and even control. Same would probably apply to the reverse motion.

We'd beat them in pretty much everything else, though. Our ancestors would climb trees, swing from branches and even catch flying insects with their fingers. A flier would not compare with the versatility and coordination our arms have and certainly not with the hand-eye coordination primates have.

So I am guessing the dragon would find weapons that use that one strong move they have and stick with it. It makes, to me, sense to focus on the thing at which they are superior to us instead of trying to compete with us on other things. Especially when it is a matter of life and death as it tends to be with weapons.

So a weapon that uses a sideways swing. Should probably be relatively light because a heavy weapon at such large extension would be a pain. Should also avoid weapons that make direct impact as the high speed impact at the extended "wing tip" would eventually cause damage. And sideways swing makes dense formations impractical, so it should be something usable in open formations.

Suggestions: Bolas, darts, javelins, spear thrower with javelins or darts. These could, I think, be used with a sideways throwing motion that works with the musculature and directly benefits from the longer arm. Spear thrower would be a modified version, but the principle would be the same.

I have difficulty thinking of a good close range weapon. Some light chain weapon or flail might work. But probably it would be better to keep the distance and turn your enemies to pin cushions.

Since the dragons probably would not be that good at running or marching, certainly not compared to humans with our background as hunter gatherers, they'd probably really want to be mounted. Open plains and a fast horse would probably be really appealing to a species whose ancestors could actually fly. This would make them light cavalry. Probably very good one too.

Human archers might have them in accuracy, but the dragons should match human mounted archers well enough otherwise and probably have edge in penetration and damage. While using cheaper weapons and needing less practice.

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I would say a mace would be a good/great weapon for one of these Dragons. Swords might be awkward for them and if they are front heavy they might want to use their hands for balance at times, thus putting the blade in dirt. But a mace doesn't care about dirt, it is fairly simple to use and with the kind of chest power and long arms you are talking about, one good hit will be crushing knight armor and taking people out of a fight.

Edit to match new edit in question: My next best solution would be a whip, likely a cat-o-nine tales, coupled with a short spear (double bladed head). the spear could be used for poking holes in enemies and the whip is just a very useful medium range weapon. I'm also assuming they can still bite and their tail could be used as a second whip, with a little more bulk behind it.

EDT: Since KSmarts pointed it out I thought I'd make it more clear. a Mace on a chain would be a good balance between a whip and a straight handled mace. I was thinking about that in the Mace section but forgot to mention it (specifically) before. It would still be useful against armored opponents, much better than a plain whip. Though if the dragons still outweigh their adversaries tripping them with a whip and stomping on them could be pretty effective.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't know, I'd think a mace would be too heavy, since it'd be so far away from the body. But I guess it would probably be easier and more effective than a sword. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Feb 19 '15 at 18:59
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh a mace is most effective with a lot of torque behind it. Long and strong arms with a mace would keep anyone from getting close. Put enough power behind it and you'll only need one blow per knight and one blow might take out 2-3 un-armored opponents. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Feb 19 '15 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed, I guess I'm just worried all that power would snap their arm off at the elbow. But maybe I just need to rethink the dragons' lower-arm strength. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Feb 19 '15 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh if they can walk and run on all fours, their elbows can't be that weak! $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Feb 19 '15 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for the edit, a whip/spear combo could be pretty effective. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Feb 19 '15 at 20:01
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My first guess was bows and arrows, but the wings may be getting in the way, so it would probably be quite awkward to use them. You also need a highly skilled craftsman to create a bow powerful enough for such creature to handle. As I understand your dragons may have some problem with mastering an art of bowmaking to such level due to their lower intelligence. Hell, I don't think there are many humans, who could create such bow. Mass production is of course out of the question.

However, there is much simpler and cheaper weapon for them: javelins.

With strong, long arms you can throw them pretty far, and once they hit something - that thing stays hit for good.

Another interesting weapon can be a crossbow, or rather small ballistas. If you are familiar with Terry Prachett's work, you may remember troll Detritus - the same scenario apply to your dragons.

Combining those two options you can have elite, noble dragons use high-quality bows, and simple, low-level peasants use javelins.

When it comes to hand-to-claw combat I would advise something that takes advantage of a brute strength, like an axe, a warhammer, a mace, or even a simple club. Anything fancy would break too quickly.

Summing up, stick to simple and durable stuff.

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For the subset of dragons that have wings, or at least the vestiges of one: The wing itself can be a powerful weapon. The outermost edges of a flying creature's wing typically move quickly and with a lot of force. If you reinforce the wing's edges with metal armor, spiked studs, sharpened edges, etc, the dragon can issue a mighty downward flap (which would be forward, if you're standing upright) and do potentially serious damage to opponents at arm's length. The direction that the force would be traveling means this would likely be effective at dismounting a charging cavalryman as well. This would take advantage of the motions that their bodies are naturally designed to do well, and avoid the need for things that their bodies aren't really built for (like gripping). Along the same line of thinking, an iron ball worn on the end of the tail can turn it into something as powerful as a mace or morning star, depending on tail length.

A steel-edged wing would make flight rather difficult, but you said they can't fly in the first place so this shouldn't be an issue. The tricky part would be arming the dragon in the first place. You said they are less intelligent than humans and I would assume less dextrous, so it's probably unlikely that they were adept enough at metalworking to build the weapons themselves. It would be more likely that they have contracted/befriended/enslaved a more capable race to assist them.

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