In a world with rideable dragons, what skills would you look for in a knight, and how would they train for it?

For this question, let's assume:

If you are riding a young dragon (say up to 2 times the size of a horse), you can fly. Otherwise, you are stuck to the ground. In any case, you can make your dragon spit fire, charge or fight. And from its back, you yourself can use any projectile weapon or maybe a lance. The enemy also has dragons.

Now here's the question: because dragons are still quite expensive and dangerous, you don't give them to children nor inexperienced knights. So, what sorts of skills would be required of knights then, and how would you then train to handle all the situations that may arise in battles that involve dragons? What props do you use? What methods, what exercises, at what point should you get your first dragon...

Problems to mention in your answer might include:

  • learning to "pilot" a dragon, with medieval tech, before you actually go to your first flight
  • learning to dodge dragons air strikes while battling on the ground
  • learning to fight with a small armor in case the dragon you were flying got killed (you can't wear heavy plates while flying)
  • what weapons do you need to master in a battle environment with dragons
  • ...

Don't hesitate to draw more from other questions on this site!

  • $\begingroup$ Are you looking for minor modifications in the training program to account for dragons, or are you expecting that it would be completely different from the way medieval knights trained? $\endgroup$ – Erik Apr 16 '15 at 8:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Erik: Whatever it takes to make sense. If the way battles are led is completely revamped by the presence of dragons, then maybe I should ask about that first in a separate question. $\endgroup$ – Sheraff Apr 16 '15 at 11:44
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    $\begingroup$ so basically you have tanks and aircraft... $\endgroup$ – Anentropic Apr 16 '15 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ Doesn't this seem to beg a second question...what training could an intelligent dragon train to adjust to a knight on it's back giving orders? Dragons are (in most stories) quite intelligent and have long drawn out life spans and it puts forth this unique setup where the mount is more intelligent than the rider...wouldn't it make sense that the dragons training to accept a rider is more significant than the training of the knight on it's back? $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Apr 16 '15 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ I'm more going from the angle of a Dragon flying into battle wondering why theres a useless monkey strapped to his back trying to give him orders? I mean the dragon doesn't see us strapping a cute but useless bunny onto our backs before charging into battle despite how well trained that bunny thinks it is...why should the dragon have to put up with this? $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Apr 16 '15 at 20:44

This is something I considered a long time ago. Fighting against a flighty, mobile enemy such as a dragon, standard weapons training (Kunst das fetchens et al.) would be considerably less useful.

On foot, these knights would have to be rather athletic and acrobatic. Attacking smaller flighty dragons would likely be the job of crossbowmen or longbowmen~ puncture its wings more than a couple of times and it will have trouble staying aloft.

For the larger ground based ones, one assumes they get the dragon-standard: adamantine scales; so bolts become less effective. Instead, our athletic knights probably master things like pole-vaulting onto its back and then using tapered longswords or stilletos to penetrate the gaps between scales, whilst other parts of the division keep it distracted.

This requires us to know how deadly dragonfire is, of course. If its 9 billion degrees or other such madness, distraction is merely going to be blowing raspberries in front of the beast and running like the clappers.

If its less ridiculous than that; specialised tower shields with ground spikes might work, even if they are disposable.

In general, these knights are not in full plate or even chainmail. A helm and a breastplate are probably all they have. No point having armour if a single tail swipe drops you on your ass helpless and ready to be clawed in the gut. They rely primarily on dodging.

So overall, reflexes, perception, instinct. Courage can be militaristically drilled in if needed, but would also be needed. Strength and athleticism enough to do all that crazy. As you say, this is a lifelong career, not something a standard mercenary drops into very easily (though vice-versa is plausible).

As a result, we assume there is special dragoon squad in every batallion of knights; this amount of training is probably too expensive logistically to give to the entire army, though those might get a 'Dragons 101' course if they're common opponents.

EDIT: To consider your highlights Dragon Defence~ Assuming you're talking about regular troops and we don't have magic; it would be difficult at the best of times. A keep away policy is likely best- long polearms and crossbows again. Again, this is all dependent on the range and potency of dragonsbreath. Dragons 101 may also cover the ability to rapidly disperse formation in an orderly fashion. This is typically suicidal on a regular battlefield, but here it would be advantageous to get out of phalanx and beat the creatures from as many angles of attack as possible. Although this assumes that, regardless of its general potency, it can still be zerg-rushed to an extent. If its good at blowing flankers away with its wings and tail, keep away is the only thing you have, I'm afraid.

Fighting from the back: Long lances or poleaxes. Assuming the dragon also has a weight limit, we don't want our riders in heavy armour again. The training for this is mostly going to be akin to light cavalry training: rideby attacks and disruption, something our dragoneers will excel in. After all whats more disruptive in a field battle than something that forces you to break formation?

Props for training Probably an assault course. Depending on the level of mechanics in the setting, it should have as many unpredictable moving sections as possible. Early training menus may start with lesser beasts (bull-fighting etc.) to get people used to it. Attemping to ride wild horses is another good start. Or, if dragon-taming is at such a level where a normally docile beast can get aggressive on command for the purposes of training, then that is the probably the best of all. For this, they could use fake polearms and plant flags or something rather than stabbing it obviously.

EDIT 2: Didn't notice castle design as a parameter before. Did I miss it?

Anyway~ Castle Design: First and foremost, eliminating 'firing lanes' is critical. You don't want the dragon to be able to fly straight over your courtyard. Hence, you place towers in unsymmetrical locations so if a dragon wants to fly over your castle and blast with fire, its gotta take a really curvy route. Secondly, you add diagonally upwards facing spikes to your crenulated walls, so a fly by attack against guys on the battlements is more difficult. Thirdly, you add in murder strips, so if our silly dragon does fly the curvy route, it gets to a point in the defence where it gets barraged from shots from both sides.

Again, all of this depends on the range of dragonfire. If our dragon can sit half a mile in the air, out of arrow reach, and lay some carpet napalm, no ground defence is going to be of any use. Furthermore, I'm not an architect so as for the feasibility of constructing these things, I wouldn't know.

  • $\begingroup$ I like your answer, it's got some good ideas, but it doesn't cover quite all the aspects of my question. I edited to highlight those. $\endgroup$ – Sheraff Apr 16 '15 at 8:42
  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer, it makes me think that pretty much from birth, you'd have to choose what kind of knight you were going to be: whether anti-infantry, anti-dragon, or dragon-riding. The skills involved in each would be way different. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Apr 16 '15 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, absolutely, that was what I meant to imply. You could have generic squire-ship from 6 up to around maybe 8 yrs or so, but after that you would have to start specialising. Most knights started training like that in their infancy, after all. $\endgroup$ – eharper256 Apr 16 '15 at 14:00

Horses are also large and dangerous, though not as large and dangerous as the posited dragons. It may be worth looking at real life horse and rider training.

As it happens, my riding instructor is also teaching her four-year-old granddaughter. The granddaughter does not ride a young horse. She rides a senior citizen of a horse that prefers a slow walk and takes a been-there, done-that attitude to anything that happens during trail rides.

As she gets bigger and more skilled, and the horse continues to get older and stiffer, that arrangement can't last forever. Another horse is being trained to take over as the granddaughter's primary mount, but as a young, inexperienced horse it is currently being ridden only by the most skilled riders.

I assume a young dragon rider's first experience would be on a very old, experienced, ground-only dragon that is fully trained but retired from charging around carrying an adult wearing armor. Once the trainee has learned to ride correctly on the ground they could advance to riding one of the oldest flying dragons, probably one that can only just fly even without a rider, and prefers to walk. Ideally, it would only fly if cued correctly and firmly, and any lapse on its rider's part would result in it landing to rest its wings.

During this process, the trainee would also be learning skills such as mounted archery.

The young knight would have many years of practice at dragon-riding and related skills before getting on a battle-ready flying dragon, and still more practice before undertaking the training of a baby dragon.


I think that fighting in a dragon's back should be very difficult and dangerous for the knight and even, for the dragon.

Knights should work as a special operation command. Several knights may ride a dragon. The dragons may put them in a specific place and then, they perform their mission taking advantage of the confusion: kidnapping, killing, robbery of a precious artifact, destroy key buildings like bridges, etc.

The way of defending of them should be using heavy crossbow to damage their wings to push them to land and become an easier target.


Dragon riders will need alot of skill to control their mount, and do anything usefull in battle. Depending on strenght of dragon, a group of them will need to be used, so that will require some sort of formation, different for aerial combat, and different for land. That means alot of training for rider and dragon. Horses used in battles, atleast by units like Polish Hussars had to be trained, and each hussar had to bring few of them in case one dies in battle. This could be similar for dragons, depending on their survavilabity in battles. Add the maintance cost of dragons, and you have a mount reserved for richest who are skilled enought to ride them.

Young dragons. Those young enought to be capable of flying would make great scouts and messagers. Being able to send message to isolated or sieged units, detecting enemy movements would make a great addition to every army. In battles, they could be used to disorganize enemy ranks, by attacking them with short bursts of fire, just enought to make them break formation and to be able to repeat this action few more times. Rider would be limited to pilot in air-ground fightes, unless he's given a bow. Any meele weapons are out of question because it would require dragon to land or get close to enemy.

Old dragons. Too heavy to fly, they would be tanks of their times. Large and strong enought to hold heavy armored rider, they would stomp over enemy, and break their ranks just by walking over them. And if they somehow stand ground, fire will help. Again, knight would be just a pilot, he's too high on dragon, too far from enemy to do any fight. It would be up to dragon to kill enemy. This is would be good for nobles, because they risk less and contribute more at the same time. Those dragons wouldn't stop after initial charge if possible, so they don't get surrounded and killed, they need to keep momentum. They would retreat and repeat the charge like hussars, or try to push forward while followed by humans who will keep their distance behind them, to avoid being killed by "friendly" dragon.

Training of Rider Dragons can be tamed, so people know their behaviour and what can be done with them. This means, training of rider should start with series of lectures, where experienced rider will pass his knowledge about dragons. Theory before practice is required, because there is huge chance of dragon killing his new rider when misshandled. Or worser, it would be trained incorrectly and try to break free. We are talking about nobles here, they have alot of time, so they can start at young age. After theory, they will be given their first mount. Depending on how fast dragon grows, he should be large enought to carry a kid. If the kid has a chance to grow up with a dragon, he can adjust to constant change of dragon size, and will not be afraid when he gets to ride larger version. As he will start with flying ones, he will have to do alot of acrobatic training, he has to be agile, to be able to mount dragon, and perform actions that will force dragon to fly where he wants. At this point, kid should be taken as passanger for a ride with older knight. They will perform few crazy maneuver to check if young one won't pass out. This will decide if they are capable of air fights, or will they remain scouts. If they pass the test, they will fly few more times with instructor, who will show them how to control flight of dragons with set of lines and pedals (How to train your Dragon comes to my mind). This is why agility training was required at early age. Then he will start training with his own dragon, who should be old enought to fly with rider, and still too weak to perform maneuvers that might kill unexperienced rider.

At this point rider should know how to handle his dragon and how to fly. In battle his role is limited to this, so that's why those two skills are focus of training. Archery would be limited to air-air combat, when riders might attempt taking out other riders. Attacking ground would be to limited because of dragon body and wings obscuring most of targets.

Training of Dragon. This would be similar to horse training probably. They would need to be guided multiple times through every maneuvers so they can remember and perform it on command. Training will be done on special fields, with high structures, made of wood, which will form a track. The more expierenced the dragon is, the harder the track would be. Gradual progression from track to track, will make sure that dragon can perform required actions like tight turns or barrel rolls. It should also detect limits of certain dragon. It's a living being, they are all different. At some point they will also have to be kept for a long time in loudy place, so they will get used to battle noise. When dragon is prepared, new training form will be introduced. He will have to pass "friendly army" test. That means walking via field will of dummy representing friendly humans and not damaging any of them. This will make sure he obeys they order, and can, alteast for certain amount of time be kept with the rest of army.

Dodging air strikes in battle. If only one side is capable of deploying dragons, in numbers that will matter (for example 1 young dragon in battle of thousands might do nothing significant) then enemy job will be to avoid battles on open field. They will search for covers like hills, mountains, valleys, anything where dragons has to fly a certain paths. In place like that you can dedicate small part of your forces to attack passing by dragons with ranged weapons. This is not ideal, but probably the best you can do. If both sides have dragons, it might turn the first phase of battle into series of skirmish for air superiority. The same way there were skirmisher fighting before main units clashes. Ground unit will either wait for result of air battle, and then decide what to do. If they loose, they might retreat and search for ground that will give them some defense from air attacks. Another tactic would be to attack while air fights are still in progress. This will limit usage of fire as it could potentially burn ally forces.

  • $\begingroup$ I really enjoy your understanding of the use of dragons in fight. Now how would you train future knights to do these things? Piloting while using a bow, air fights against other mounted dragons, charging from an old dragon's back... And how do you train to fight against these? $\endgroup$ – Sheraff Apr 16 '15 at 13:13
  • $\begingroup$ I will expand my post later today, to include training of dragon and more about combat when I have a little more time. $\endgroup$ – Polan Apr 16 '15 at 13:34

This isn't my original thought, but unfortunately I don't remember exactly who I heard this from.

Basically a knight riding a dragon would look nothing like a knight on horseback in terms of training, battlefield utility, or weaponry. This is for several reasons.

  1. Reach. A mounted knight has to be able to reach the enemy with their weaponry in order to be effective. On a horse it's relatively easy because the horse is comparatively small and therefore a human on horseback can strike nearby foes with a sword or a lance. However on dragonback a dragon is just too large to efficiently reach foes with a melee weapon, especially if the dragon has a long neck. In order for a sword or lance to be long enough to hit the target the weapons would have to be so long they could easily break or swinging the weapon around could damage the dragon's wings. Better weapons would be either a bow and arrow (especially since the dragon can carry more ammunition than a horse can) or dropping weights from the air.
  2. The mount is better armed than the rider. For knights on horseback, a horse has limited ways of fighting beyond rearing and kicking the foe. A dragon has teeth, claws, and fire breath. From a militaristic perspective, putting a human on dragonback does not increase the tactical efficiency of a dragon at all and only serves to control the dragon.

The end result of this is that a dragonrider would look less like a knight on horseback and more like a mahout controlling a war elephant. A dragon rider isn't really fighting so much as steering a big, armored, fire-breathing reptile into a horde of their enemies and letting the dragon do the fighting for them. This would probably result in riders who are good at controlling their dragons or flying them, but are absolutely terrible as actual combatants because they are sitting on top of their giant killer reptile and watching.

There would also be concerns about dragons being more dangerous to their own troops than the enemy and might require special protocol to be euthanized if they go out of control, similar to IRL war elephants, but I don't know your dragons' temperatments so I don't know if they are likely to go berserk.


Naomi Novik explores this topic in depth in her Temeraire series. The series takes place during the Napoleonic wars. During this time, nations have, in additions to armies and navies, air forces composed of dragon riders and their support teams. Naoimi's dragons are often large enough to support a whole crew that can board other dragons or drop bombs, and also ground crews that take care of bedding, feeding, and medical needs.

see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/His_Majesty%27s_Dragon


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