It goes without saying that dragons are bad for societies, they kill people, burn villages, steal cattle, infect people with the cooties, etc..., so obviously, any sane nation would take measures to hunt them down. In a particular land, with 16th-century military technology, anti-dragon corps have been established to fight the dragon threat, usually fighting lone dragons at faraway distances with companies of four scores of trained men armed with cannons.

The technique proved effective, ridding much of the land's countryside from dragons, however, dragons aren't stupid, they don't fight uphill battles, and they are far too arrogant to turn tail and flee, so they take the best method of procedure, they quickly close in the distance, fighting the dragon hunters in close quarters, which is their specialty, where they're aided by their dragonfire, sharp and long claws, and extremely strong arms.

So, the dragon hunters adapted themselves to the situation, they made arms & armor to face the beasts toe-to-toe, but, how'll it be like?

Here are some priorities of the arms & armor.

  1. It has to endure dragon fire, which comes at five seconds long bursts every 2 or 3 minutes, and its temperature is about 600-800 degrees Celsius. So, which materials to use? What would the soldiers be forbidden to wear? Would it help if they blocked the fire with their shields? And if so, how big would those shields have to be? Also, we have to keep in mind that the guy inside the armor can't boil inside of it.

  2. The weapons must be able to penetrate scales and hide. Dragon scale is about as tough as a rock, and it's about 0.8 to 1.4 cm thick, and its hide is similar to that of a Russian boar (which can withstand shotgun pellets at decent distances), so I think that leaves out crossbows and muskets, which wouldn't be able to penetrate the dragon's flesh, and also blades, maces, and axes. I think I'd go for something that can concentrate a lot of force in a small area for a long time, like a warhammer, which was very effective against armor.

And here are some details about dragons

  1. They come in all weights and sizes, they can be relatively small, from 15 up to 70 meters in length, with a wingspan a little less than twice that.

  2. Dragons are tough, their front legs (they're not wyverns, mind you), which are more akin to arms, can easily lift a man from the ground, and their claws are very long and can decapitate a man with one stroke.

  3. Dragons are sluggish on land, a man can outrun them by jogging when they're not flying.

  4. They can't move while they're breathing fire, that includes their heads and necks, and if they breathe fire while flying, they'll only be able to maintain their attitude while "standing still" on air.

  5. Their entire body is covered with dragon-scale, except for their wings, eyes, noses and bellies, the first and the latter having a slightly thicker hide, however.

  6. Their heads and necks have much thinner hide and scales than the rest of their body.

  7. Their necks are 'overburdened', they have difficulty raising their head in the air for too long, think of yourself raising both of your arms in the air holding some modest weight in each hand for a long time. Because of that, dragons usually have a posture which keeps their heads just above the ground, usually reaching a man's chest.

  8. Because of their overburdened necks, two or three men, or maybe a particularly strong one, can hold down a dragon's head by its horns, which is also very painful, and adding to that the fact that if a dragon takes flight while a man is holding it's horns can damage its neck, so dragons are effectively pinned down when being held by their horns, but doing this can be suicidal, as a dragons horns are well within the reach of a dragon's front legs, which are very deadly.

  9. A dragon's brain is very big (for a lizard), and damage done to it can be as deadly as it would be to a human, though it is protected by a particularly large skull.

  10. Filling a dragon's mouth with water will stop it from breathing fire. Can't see how'll this be helpful though.

Having said that, what designs would be the best for dealing with these damned animals? Also, these men are quite valuable, so their survival is also important, and remember, we're limited to 16th-century technology.

EDIT 1

Not a big fan of Skyrim, but for the sake of showing how would the average dragon looks like, and how would his posture be like, I'll add some pictures of them here.

Big boy flying

Big boy on the ground

These dragons are not all that close to the ones in the question though, these would have shorter necks, and long & bulky front limbs (aside from wings).

EDIT 2

I forgot to mention this earlier, but I think this is a pretty important detail, these soldiers can't carry gunpowder on themselves, the only gunpowder they carry is that of their cannons, and when dragons come too close, they'll immediately run as far as they can from the cannons and gunpowder, because fights with dragons often involve fire, and as one can imagine, fire and gunpowder is a recipe for disaster. Imagine having a grenade or a gunpowder sack strapped to your chest and a spark of flame ignites the thing while it's attatched to your chest. It wouldn't be a pretty sight to see.

10 Answers 10

up vote 5 down vote accepted

So with your description of the dragon, your key target will be the head, since its the part which will most restrict the dragon. In terms of weapons, it doesn't really matter. I would probably go with a dagger or short sword, or maybe a metal stake if the hide and scales are particularly tough as well as a ton of nets and bolas

The strategy is pretty simple. You are trying to overburden the dragons neck and immobilize its head before using the dagger/stake to kill it. Your hunters spread out and simply keep launching bolas and nets at the dragon while its flying. Once the dragon lands, you simply circle the dragon, out of reach and wait for it to breath fire. Once it breaths fire, you simply throw a ton of nets and bolas over its next and forelimbs and now its head is basically weighed down and it can't move anymore. You might not think there is enough weight, but your men can just throw more onto it until its pulled to the ground by gravity. Once its on the ground, its forearms will be pushed down by its own body weight which gives your men as much time as they need to tie it up with ropes before executing it.

The only problem with this is that there needs to be some protection from fire since someone will be the target and your men need protection while the dragon is still in the sky. Now I'm going to go with a believable solution, which might not be actually plausible or possible. Your hunters each carry a wooden shield padded with leather. Why wood? because it takes time for it to burn when exposed to a fire and it doesn't transfer heat as well as metal, so your hunters should be able to hold it against a fire without gluing their skin to the shield. Next, your hunters wear capes made out of dragon hide. Dragon hide should have fairly good anti-heat properties since dragons will need to fight each other and have protection from their own fire. It might be expensive and cut into profits so maybe only the core team or veterans have it and the newer members just use normal leather.

The leather provides your hunters with a bit of protection from the heat that comes off the flames. It should be thick enough to survive one or two close hits and is used together with the shield to stop all that heat from frying them alive (If I recall, fire actually kills you very slowly, usually you suffocate, so protection from direct heat should be enough to be believable). It should also be lighter than metal and not make them metal pots when exposed to fire and shouldn't restrict their movements as much.

So in short:

Weapons: Nets, Bolas, Dagger/Pick/Stake

Armor: Wooden Shield, Leather Cape

  • That seems extremely effective, though I wouldn't stakes and short swords at a dragon's head. But I got to point out that the dragon's forelimbs are mad strong, I don't think the hunters would be able to throw enough weight fast enough to tie the dragons front legs down, and while they're free, a dragon can simply remove the net from its face with its paws (did I say that right?). I might be miscalculating or overreacting, but isn't there another way to immobilize the dragon's front limbs? If there was, it'd be simply perfect. – Jedboo May 15 at 2:25
  • @Mr.J Yeah, neither are nets though, but they do seem kind of effective at pinning the dragon down, though that's not the major concern, – Jedboo May 15 at 2:37
  • @Jedboo Your nets would be weighted and you would most likely carry several. Once the dragon is bogged down or trying to remove the netting, you can try and throw thick ropes or chains over it to chain it down. Best case, you manage to trap its legs with its head and so it now has to be extremely careful when breaking free. Your dragons are very slow on the ground, so once they are on the ground, you keep them there and slowly burden them until they aren't a danger anymore. – Shadowzee May 15 at 2:41
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    That's a good answer, by the way you put it, I think that only a very large dragon, or an exceptionally strong one, would be able to free his front limbs, but these are a small minority. Thanks for the input man! – Jedboo May 15 at 2:48
  • the wooden sheilds might be more effective as a combination of wood and ceramic. Wood to provide structure and support and ceramic because it is not flammable and has poor heat conduction. Certain ceramics are also rather hard, and might shield from some impacts too, but may be brittle. – redbow_kimee May 15 at 3:38

Completely Realistic Answer

The best, best solution for this, is actually giving a cow a complete surgery, where you implant a extremely poisonous bag inside the cow. the "poison bag" should be enough to not reveal the smell of the poison inside it, and should not burst inside the cow, but should be easily pierced with daggers so that when the dragon eats the cow, he then poisons himself too.

Why This answer?

You can't actually defeat a dragon in melee. Imagine an Armored Tiger charging at you and you only have swords ans shields. Lets say you have 20 people with you with Steel Plates, swords and spears. Fighting the Tiger in melee might cause some lives to perish, but you'll be able to defeat it.

Now imagine a 70 meter fire breathing, Building crushing dragon. Lets say this dragon is so angry because you're kind killed her child, and you'll be fighting her at melee range? Its basically suicide, better yet maybe no one can defeat the dragons, even with dragon armors and weapons. A Dragon weights a lot, and can squish your human easily. A human cant actually realistically melee a dragon, that's why poisoning the dragon might be the only way to kill the dragon without severe casualties,

Let's just hope the dragon is not vegan.

  • That's actually a very creative answer, but I've got to say, dragons can be pretty damn smart, and they have a pretty good sense of smell, almost like dogs (which can smell sugar levels in peoples blood), so they would be able to know something's wrong with the cow, and they wouldn't fall for the same trick twice, so even if it worked, it'd be more of a one time thing. The only reason they actually fight humans which are trained to slay them is that they're too proud to cower, even though they know what they're doing is reckless. That's why traps wouldn't work with them, while fighting would. – Jedboo May 15 at 2:34
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    @Jedboo, Highly doubtful, trained dogs can smell changes in sugar levels, but dragons are a different class of animals. One time thing is actually good specially if you manage to kill a biggie. The claws can be used to forge weapons for your "anti dragon suicide squad", and can your dead dragon talk to the living? A Trivia if you may,theres actually a debate if dogs can smell drugs inside a mans' cavity, so scanners and trained personnel are there to do that job. – Mr.J May 15 at 3:11
  • Would it be cheating to put a significant amount of gunpowder in a airtight container, then put that in the cow? That might get around the smell issue. But yeah, this might be a trick that only works once. – Pinion Minion May 15 at 5:22
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    If you can use this trick to train dragons not to eat cows, that's a victory in itself. – divibisan May 15 at 20:32
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    @Jedboo Well even if dragons have the same sense of smell of dogs: As sad as it is, but dogs are keep getting poisoned by dog haters which prepare deadly bait and place it out side. I do not see why this should not work for dragons. No animal on our world is save from getting poisoned. – Herr Derb May 16 at 7:58

TLDR: you need tanks.

One guy in armor is not going toe to toe with your dragons. One good swipe from the dragon's arm or tail and all the armor in the world won't stop them from flying over the hill and becoming a medieval crash test dummy. Unless it's so much armor they can't even move. Hmmm...

What you need is a semi-mobile structure containing your elite dragon fighting squad. The structure is on wheels but contains outriggers and stabilizers the squad can deploy to prevent the dragon from simply knocking it over. It's heavy enough the dragons can't just flip it, but still light enough that the crew (10 to 100 people) can push it around the battlefield. It's armored with asbestos covered, hardwood panels and has vents to close during a fire attack, and quickly opened to cool off the inside. It looks something like the armored battering rams used on castles. It contains a cannon (or cannons) and has a 360 degree range of fire. Catapults could be added for launching heavy bolas, or torsion powered grapple arms (sort of a giant insect mandible things) with barbed hooks that dig into and immobilize the dragon so that the crew can attack at close range with pole arms. It would be sweltering, bloody, exhausting work, but it's the best I can think of that gives your team a chance.

I feel like I've seen an example of an ancient armored vehicle but my searches aren't coming up with it tonight. I found this one example, which is actually a concept by Master Da Vinci.

Augment your force of dragon tanks with highly mobile skirmishers. These guys hide in the grass and wait for the dragon to land and attack the tank, then rush in and attack with cross bows and pole arms. They don't wear much armor because it wouldn't do much good. Better to be able to quickly dodge or run away.

You specifically asked about clothing choices. I've looked into naturally flame retardant clothing, (don't ask) and it turns out wool, and leather are good choices as both tend to char rather than ignite. Plant based fibers are best avoided. At least I know cotton will burn nicely. Polyester is right out. It melts. Ouch!

Finally I'll circle back to talk about the vehicle armor. 600-800C will melt lead but not gold or silver. 5 seconds at that temp will for sure burn you but it's not nearly as hot as what a glass blower or metal smith is going to be working around. Details on what it does to various objects will depend on a lot of factors. How much heat (not temperature) the dragon fire puts out in a single burst, and over many bursts, how quickly does the object cool between, etc, etc. I'd go for something to deflect as much heat as possible, while insulating your troops. Wood is a great insulator and when covered with asbestos (known in ancient times) it should deflect a lot of the heat/flame away from the squad. Any metal is going be a poor choice since it will quickly reach the temperature of the flame and begin conducting heat to whatever is behind it. If you want to coat your asbestos/wood armor panels with steel to protect them from claws and jaws, well that is a good use for it.

PS If you've got any water mages, keeping the whole party soaked is going to increase your soldiers survival rate be a lot.

  • The problem with tanks is that dragons are also alpine, many times they’ll be faced in mountains, hills and forests, where tanks most definitely can’t follow them, but aside from that, your answers are on point! Thanks a lot! – Jedboo May 15 at 10:32
  • A few trees worth of fresh green vegetation thatched onto the tank would provide a cheap and low-tech alternative to asbestos – Daron May 15 at 19:49
  • If the dragon is eating a village's cattle, you don't attack it in its lair in the nearby mountains. You attack it in the open when it comes to town. You fight the dragon on the plains where your tanks can be used and you have the advantage. – Daron May 15 at 20:00
  • I would rather have several smaller tanks than one large one. That way you more reliably get a clear shot from the others while the dragon attacks one. – Daron May 15 at 20:03
  • Not hitting your own doods I leave up to you! – Daron May 15 at 20:05

Several good solutions to the dragon problem in various fiction. For melee weapons, though, you are going to want a pike or something similar. Preferably, a LOT of pikes, and a plan that draws the dragon into a confined space where concealed pikemen can then safely poke at it from behind, say, stone pillars or boulders or something. Wear it out, get it to land in your killbox. Lure it in.

In reality, given iron-age tech? Ballistas.

  • SOMEONE with the actual answer! But the question said melee, BUT, a Ballista in the head is the easiest, most cost effective way isn't it? – Mr.J May 16 at 8:06

First of all to say, dragon hunt is a team work, and required team size depends on dragon size and strength.

Cycling the facts you provide we can get the following assumptions:

  • Steel or pure lead shields will not melt from such a heat as their melting points are beyond 1,000 degrees, however it is far too hot to hold the shield with bare hands. It requires either some heat resistant material for handle or support tool to place the shield on ground
  • Dragon scales most likely are similar to nowdays fish scales in terms of their nesting. That means some sharp and narrow weapons such as spears and swords can easily penetrate between two scales from opposite of the growth direction, other heavy and blunt weapons such as hammers can rip scales off after hit from that direction
  • Flying dragon's flame projection onto the ground is a straight line, so the best way to avoid being caugth by fire is to move perpendicularly to dragon's movement direction
  • Smart and experienced enough dragons will know their strong and weak points, so they are definetly not going to land, but instead keep fighting in air where people have almost no mean for counteract (aiming ranged weapons to eyes during dive is the most that can be done, I guess). That leads to the rule of not to fight dragons wherever they can fly
  • Stupid and/or brave unexperienced dragons might not be afraid of onground combat, which is the best turn of events for hunters
  • Dragons are strong, that means no normal armor can save from direct hit or bite. Bent or torn plates will hurt even more after the hit. The best choice in this case are lightweight chain or thick leather armors to reduce the influence on speed, agility and endurance as much as possible without complete loss of defence from indirect hits and heat
  • Being wet does not grant a fire resistance at all, but it gives an additional split second to move away from fire

As for combat strategy itself, it is clearly clear after all these assumptions.

To choose the right battlefield is the key to possible victory: never fight a dragon wherever it can fly freely; if it takes off during a fight, force it to land with grapplers or hooks.

Every team member should wear lightweight armor and tower shields.

Keep some distance and surrond the dragon, keeping in mind its possible jaw/hand/tail lunge range. Those who are in front of the dragon must always be ready for a fire attack, to place their shield on ground and step back before it gets too hot.

Every hunter have to be ready to strike anytime. Should the dragon move its gaze out or start breathing fire, it must right away get peirced between scales from a blind zone. Best spots to aim are wing/jaw/hand joints to immobilize respective parts and known arteries to initiate a massive bleeding. Even fully immobilized of bled out dragon must not be taken lightly before the finishing blow is done.

Such a fight is a wrong place to show any emotions. Any team member hit by dragon should for the whole fight duration be assumed dead instantly (and thus totally ignored) unless he himself states the opposite out loud.

Dead dragons might be a good source of hight quality materials for making better armors and weapons for future fights.

Asbestos cloth & padding, with metal or ceramic plates if desired on the inside. Asbestos was available since ancient times. Armor should not be too heavy, since focus will be on avoiding the fire breath in the first place. Or maybe 1-2 heavy "tanks" to draw dragon's fire while more their nimble comrades flank it.

Speaking of "tanks", here is an idea for semi-portable or cart-mounted shield: pottery shingles. Pottery resists heat well, and does not conduct it. Shingles are mounted on a wooden frame that is soaked in liquid clay.

Melee weapons: spears, pointy warhammers, battle-axes or pickaxes. Ranged weapons: crossbows and longbows. With long, heavy, thin and pointy arrows or bolts. Cart-mounted ballistas are definitely an option, complete with shingle shields.

gear for tangling dragon's head: ropes or chains, with hooks. Net with weights, maybe a bolo (two weighs with a few feet of rope between them), to weigh down dragons head from a distance.

Strategy: get the dragon to the ground. Bait him, or chase him on horse until he is too tired to fly, shoot arrows through his wings to reduce ability to fly.

Once dragon is grounded, get his head and neck tangled with chains (as well as his arms and tail), and go in for the kill during the fire-breath cooldowns.

If a lake is available, tangle head with chain, attach chain to heavy rock, drop into water, PROFIT. Or place heavy rock into water beforehand, with chain attached by pulley.

Finally, you can throw water balloons / sheep bladders filled with water, into dragon's mouth :)

PS Strong front paws and wings strong enough to fly is hard to implement anatomically. All verterbrates have 4 limbs. Legs+wings+arms makes six. Muscles for wings and arms will have to be in the same spot. Perhaps you could go for a pretodactyl-like setup where wings are the only front limbs, with maybe a thumb sticking out for clawing and grabbing.

In addition, tails are often formidable weapons.

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    Isn't asbestos very hazard and toxic? I mean, asbestos only saw large-scale use in the last century, and it faded out due to its terrible effects, it's almost completely gone nowadays. Also, what type of ceramic do you have in mind? It has to do as good a job as steel would in protecting the wearer from the dragon's claws. – Jedboo May 15 at 1:30
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    Asbestos does give you lung cancer, but only after years of exposure, which is not a big deal if you might die on any one hunt. There is not toxicity or other immediate effects; I used asbestos pot-handler when I was a kid, and I am still here. – Bald Bear May 15 at 1:47
  • Not that your average dragon fighter has a particularly long lifespan anyway, but there wasn't much in the way of OSHA – Chromane May 15 at 1:50
  • @BaldBear These guys are actually very well trained, and most are veteran fighters, they are very likely to face dragons, which is not too often, and come out a-okay. And they're very expensive to train and equip, so losing them for any reason would be stupid, so yes, their survivability is actually pretty high when compared to other foot soldiers. And the country can't afford to lose this expensive fighting force to lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. – Jedboo May 15 at 2:05
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    @ well... everyone: There are many forms of asbestos, and although mass use of asbestos was in the 20th century, it was used in roman times, it was also used in many different forms. asbestos rarely leads to Lung Cancer, it does lead to other lung conditions such as asbestosis which can lead to Cancer. the pros of asbestos greatly outweigh the cons, especially in the Early 20th century, it has only been 20 years since White Asbestos has been banned, it was even used by the Apollo program! it is very likely a 1500s culture would use it in conjunction to something like Metal Plate in Armour – Blade Wraith May 15 at 8:54

For protection, a clay encased wooden shield covered in vinegar and alum can be resistant to fire (https://specialistworkclothing.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/fire-retardant-material-a-history/). Leather armor treated with alum could help protect the troops as well and give the mobility that is crucial in fighting dragons whether close or far.

This is just for the fire attacks though. Long barbed spears and spiked nets can hinder the dragon's movement a bit, where specialist troops can use containers filled with gunpowder to lob it at the beast. Basically bombs/grenades, since the tech does allow for it. The spears can also be used to entangle or rip at the wing membrane of the dragon if it has it.

  • Well, the problem with the bombs part is that these soldiers don’t carry gunpowder on themselves, the only gunpowder they carry is the cannon’s, and when a dragon approaches them, they immediately run as far from the cannons as possible, in formation though. The reason for that is that when fighting dragons, often there will be fire, and we all know that gunpowder and fire make a recipe for disaster. Just imagine having a gunpowder sack on your chest and some ember igniting it. – Jedboo May 15 at 10:27
  • They could change the contents of the container if they don't want gunpowder then maybe tar or any sticky substance. Given enough quantity and lobbed at the right places, it can hinder and also archers with fire arrows can target it once the troops have retreated from a distance. Other things they can put in there are water if the dragon's mouth is small enough to get filled up, or acid (this may be a hazard to those around fighting the dragon too though). – Arkhaine May 17 at 2:26

Based on the description of the dragon, melee combat isn't going to be effective at all. The closest modern example would be like going bare handed at a bulldozer which is going to demolish your house. It only works in Western societies because the bulldozer driver is reluctant to actually run you over, remove those scruples and you are a smear on the ground. And this is without taking the flame weapon into account.....

In human history, defeating armoured knights was a similar problem. The English at Agincourt used mass fire by archers to break up the cohesion of the advancing knights, then the archers ran forward and closed the distance until they could literally tackle the knights and hold them to the ground, where the knights were killed by blows to the head with heavy mauls or stabbed through the visor and other weak points in the armour with the long daggers the bowmen carried. It should also be noted the English had a force of men-at-arms (dismounted knights and nobles) who were also capable of fighting French knights one on one.

This suggests the proper strategy is to find terrain which restricts the dragon's freedom of mobility, such as a narrow ravine (the English anchored their battle line with heavy woods on either flank). The dragon is then galled by heavy arrow fire (given the anatomy of the dragon, heavy steel crossbows with ups to 1200 lbs draw weight would be used. Archers prepare several bows prior to the engagement, and each bowman has an assistant or two to span and reload bows during the fight.)

enter image description here

multiply this by 30 to 100

One thing that will be needed is nets or ropes to tangle the dragon once grounded. This can be a secondary job for the archers (launching quarrels with lengths of rope tied to the back to start, then running forward to throw nets or loops of rope on the grounded dragon). A separate force to entangle the grounded dragon might also be necessary.

Finally, men-at-arms with polearms will be needed to deliver the killing blows. Polearms are needed both to provide some stand off distance for the men-at-arms, and the additional leverage to strike powerful blows against the dragon. Halberds may be most useful, since they combine a stabbing spike, an axehead and a hook for grabbing and holding the dragon. Teams of men working together could work to hold the dragon down and continue striking blows against exposed parts of the body.

enter image description here

The close quarter fighters

Fighting a dragon is going to be a large and coordinated battle. You will likely need one or more companies of specialized troops, and if there are several companies, then an elected "Captain-General" will have to make the plan and coordinate the movement and placement of the archers, entanglers and men-at-arms in order to successfully engage the dragon at close quarters. If there is a contingent of gunners, they will also need to be carefully integrated into the plan as well, both to provide fields of fire for the gunners, and also to prevent the detonation of the powder charges from disrupting the remainder of the force.

So you are talking about a force with a Captain-General leading a company of gunners (under a Master Gunner), and company size contingents of archers, entanglers and men-at-arms (each under their own Captain). You will also need a Quartermaster and his team, and a fairly large train of pack animals to carry all the gear and foodstuffs needed for the force to enter the mountains and survive for several weeks. So fighting a dragon could require a force of between 300-500 men, depending on the strength of the companies and how much the local polity can afford to spend on dragon hunting.

  • A very good answer, though I didn’t understand much the analogy you made with Agincourt. You’re on point with everything, but I wouldn’t worry too much with the dragon’s flight, they’re arrogant enough to face men on the ground, and they don’t have enough energy to stay on air for too long. One thing I’m itched about though is the men-at-arms’ armor. Wouldn’t the metal armor burn them inside of it, had it been hit by fire, it wouldn’t melt or boil the man inside, but still, it seems pretty dangerous. – Jedboo May 15 at 17:17
  • No matter what, once they come to blows with the dragon, it is going to be incredibly dangerous. The armour provides a small bit of protection from claws, teeth and being beaten senseless by massive limbs and the tail. The analogy of Agincourt is fighting a dragon is much like taking on fully armoured knights, and Henry V's combined arms formation anchored by restrictive terrain was perhaps the only way he could have won. Fighting a Dragon will have similar considerations. – Thucydides May 15 at 21:38

Another more serious answer then:

You already mentioned the Dragon MO when facing off against canon crews: Get in close, claw them apart. The crew immediately turns tail and runs because of the risk the Dragon might set their explosive stores on fire.

You can use this to your advantage. Besides a Canon crew you add way more explosives that you would normally bring, two mortars and a bunch of people convicted to death. 16th century didn't have a lot of problems with executing people. You "volunteer" these people and give them that smidgeon of hope they need: If they survive killing X dragons, they are allowed to go home (just execute them quietly should they survive this long and you don't want them free).

The setup: You put the canon crew on the usual spot you would use to assault a Dragon. You place the mortar crews hidden from view nearby, each in a different spot in case the Dragon sees one anyway. The convicted criminals are dressed up in armor with stiffened leg-joints so they can't run faster than the Dragon and are forced to stay (make sure they know this). The convicted are all armed with weapons and told to fight off the Dragon and protect the canon crew if it gets too close. Make sure the excess explosives are stacked and prepared with lots of hollow shells on top for shrapnel.

The Dragon attacks. He doesn't evaluate the environment for hidden Mortars as that gives the canon crew more time to attempt to kill the Dragon and isn't in their MO anyway. If the Dragon gets close enough, the canon crew starts running in case the Dragon accidentally sets the explosives on fire. The convicted then try to kill the Dragon in close quarters ASAP and keep it engaged inbetween the canons and explosives.

Then the Mortars fire. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mortar_(weapon)). Earliest Mortars use a ball with explosives in it to damage their enemy. These explosives are now going to set off the stack of explosives from the canon crew. With the extra explosives the Dragon risks being killed outright or heavily injured, and with it's speed and being engaged already it's unlikely he'll get away before the shells hit. Then you either keep pounding the injured Dragon with mortar shells (you might want to bring two extra canons for direct fire after the Dragon is injured), or you rush in with armored guys or crossbow crews. The option of just pounding it with two mortars and two canons seems favorable as it takes the least effort and reduces the risk of them being found too soon.

Should the Dragon notice one of the mortar crews too soon the Dragon isn't likely to change tactics. If he takes time attacking these mortar crews it means the canons will have more time attacking him while he's stationary at the mortar crew. He'll most likely attack the largest concentration of guns first. Should he finish off one mortar crew despite this and attack the canon crew, he still has to deal with the second mortar crew afterwards.

Should he somehow disable both mortar crews, have one of the canon crew set alight a fuse and run while the convicted keep the Dragon busy. Once the fuse sets off the explosives you can return and try to finish the job.

  • That’s actually a really good idea, particularly the part about penal companies, it seems a like a much better alternative to using freeman. Thanks a lot! – Jedboo May 16 at 12:36

this is not the answer you are looking for

You create several dummies, dress them in armor that burns wonderfully... And releases toxic vapor that will incapacitate or kill the dragon. Dummies could also be meatstacks disguised as offerings (not unimagineable some people try to do an offering to make peace with a dragon), but laced with poisons.

If they cant make realistic enough dummies and the Dragon doesnt fall for it The soldiers themselves can wear similar armor. Its a MAD strategy that you dont really want to use. Alternatively all soldiers could drink a slow poison prior to the battle. Afterwards they can take an antidote if they succeed. If the dragon wins and eats some, bye bye dragon.

  • Again, dragons are smart, they wouldn’t fall for these tricks. Even if they did, it would be a one time thing. And dragons have an excellent sense of smell, the’d be able to tell that the dummies are poisoned – Jedboo May 15 at 18:08
  • @Jedboo how would smartness have them discover this? They must have seen other humans freeze from fear before so the smart conclusion is "they be afraid of me" because he doesnt know anything else. If they suspect a trap, "burn it first" is one of the smartest reactions. If you put dummies on horses to simulate movement the dragon needs to have studied how humans ride and is more likely to come to the conclusion that these are inexperienced riders than dummies. Oderless poisons exist and you can put it in the center where too little smell reaches a dragon before its too late. – Demigan May 16 at 7:15
  • @Jedboo in fact you've already given the smart solution that dragons come up with: close distance ASAP and attack. These dragon Hunters are carrying around chemicals like gunpowder and the Dragon does not assume its poison or a trap (he could easily blow himself up if he uses fire, which you already mentioned it did against canon crew with boxes of explosive nearby). So no, these dragons as you describe them would not know to act differently unless the dummies are obvious. – Demigan May 16 at 7:19
  • Dragons here are about as smart as a man, if not more, they wouldn’t simply fall for booby traps, and they’d be able to tell a dummy from a person with no problems, and they are well aware of what gunpowder does, and it doesn’t scare them, explosions and fire don’t exactly damage them you see, one kills them by using cannonballs for a reason. – Jedboo May 16 at 12:48
  • @Jedboo I'm against knowledge that is practically magical. A Dragon without experience of group combat is unlikely to grasp the concept of dummies, even if we give him triple Einstein level intelligence. Its the same reason smart guys from the past couldnt imagine nerves requiring electricity, and were prone to thinking things like waterpressure based systems instead of nerves because they did have experiences with that. "slow" explosions shouldnt scare a Dragon, but explosions capable of launching caconballs or creating blastwaves should. – Demigan May 16 at 14:10

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