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A race of dragon-like humanoids - for brevity's sake just think of the Dragonborn of D&D, just with wings - were the first species to achieve sapience, and have had lots of time to establish a far-reaching empire that covers most of the known world. They also practice a kind of druidic magic that harnesses the life force of the natural world to manipulate the elements. These factors have led them to becoming the apex power in the world for countless years now.

Humans, who are not natives to the planet and arrived under mysterious circumstances, were more or less slaves to this race for many generations. It's only within the last couple of centuries that they have escaped or rebelled in numbers large enough to create nations of their own. After years of bloody, defensive warfare, something approximating peace has arrived, with their former masters agreeing to leave humans alone - for now.

So the thing I'm struggling with is trying to figure out just how much the presence of this race impacts the development of human society, specifically in terms of how humans would develop weapons and armor to defend themselves. How would concepts like warfare and battle strategy change in the face of such a foe?

If it helps, the level of human technology is roughly equivalent to the early 20th century, around the First World War. That said, I'm also concerned with how society survived long enough to get to that level of technology too.

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    $\begingroup$ Given the nature of humanity, and the number of threatening species it's eradicated, I suspect that one side would have been wiped out before you got to WWI technology levels unless they got there at the same time. Once firearms reach a point where they can be mass-produced (somewhere in the 1700s), battlefields become massacres favoring whichever side has the guns. If your dragon-like species can't copy that weaponry or something of equal effectiveness, they're going to get butchered as soon as the next war starts up. Subjugation or extermination look probable at that point. $\endgroup$ – Palarran Jun 22 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ My first thought would be lots of bunkers and no castles and walls. Fortifications on hills and such would have no use, but forrests remain a good hiding place. Can the dragon-like humanoids expell infinite fire like dragons? That I think would be an important factor. $\endgroup$ – botava Jun 22 at 15:39
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    $\begingroup$ They can, but not infinitely. They have some internal sacs that help to store gases obtained during digestion like methane and hydrogen. Once those are spent, they need to eat again to fill their stores. I haven't given much thought to the amount of time they can breathe fire, and though I imagine it depends on genetic or physical factors, I'd say a nice estimate is maybe 30-60 seconds or so. $\endgroup$ – Vigilant Jun 22 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ As to Palarran's point, this dragon-like race has access to druidic magics that help to shape and manipulate nature. Not everyone has trained to do so, but there are enough practitioners to make it a formidable force. I imagine they could use this to level the playing field in battles. Uprooting trees, creating storms, creating constricting vines, manipulating winds, that kind of thing. They're also physically stronger than an average human. Humans are the aliens in this world, and the planet itself isn't exactly built with them in mind - I imagine they leverage technology for survival. $\endgroup$ – Vigilant Jun 22 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Weapons for Long-armed (Winged) Dragons? Also probably of this and this. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jun 22 at 21:48
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For your society to be First-World War advanced, you would have to have experienced and developed:

  • An Enlightenment, a period of scientific, cultural and artistic exploration that liberated society from older, stagnant beliefs and structures
  • An Industrialisation period, where advances in metallurgy, production processes and economic structures allowed the possibility of mass production and precision manufacturing.

So the above events would likely be shaped in the landscape of your dragons. The study of them, the scientific and cultural significance of them, would all be integrated in the above events to influence the pathway to WW1 technology. That alone would give you ample resource for your story.

As for strategies and warfare, WW1 level weaponry had all the elements that many actually apply to WW2 and beyond, simply being improved for later wars. As an example, the following were all present and fought in WW1:

  • Tanks
  • Submarines
  • Airplanes
  • Machine Guns, shells and mines
  • Dreadnought Class Battleships
  • Advanced chemical and biological warfare techniques
  • Command and control processes, much more than previous wars

This was actually fairly advanced already, so your dragons, I'm sorry to say, would be up against a formidable array of weaponry, the only thing missing would be guided unmanned rockets, and radar, developed later. It is easily conceivable the above would be focussed around your dragons in such a way that would be based on the earlier studies that enabled Enlightenment and Industrialisation.

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The main problem is gonna be harassment. A flying force can fly high above any group and continually fire arrows and drop stones and such, well out of range of any return fire. They can then retreat to a resource cache and restock and continue, harassing any organized force. No castle will be safe, and no organized group is going to be able to coordinate effectively.

The obvious counter to this is living underground. Heavy earth barriers can stop casual assault, and with enough time you can tunnel to any fixed locations of the enemy. Then you can have heavy troops with thick armor slay any dragons while fast skirmishers capture and kill the remaining dragons. Imagine very heavily armored knights armed with crossbows or longbows and axes emerging from the ground into hatcheries, and horse riders with short bows to chase down the fleeing children.

There's also gonna be a lot of need for skilled archers and sling users. They can pick off any archer who gets too close and protect any key infrastructure from enemies dropping explosives or firebombs on them.

They'd also need a crop that is resistant to burning. They could perhaps grow them all in separate stone basins, so a fire wouldn't spread, or use something like rice which has been flooded with water so it doesn't burn well.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tunnel_warfare#Roman

This has long been a type of warfare, used against well organzied and deadly forces. I Imagine that in medieval times once heavier armor was invented, thick plate strong enough to resist arrows from above, humanity would start to surge up. Captured slaves and skilled rebels in thick armor would crush the aerial enemies wherever they gathered, retreating to underground hideaways whenever threatened.

The invention of guns would complicate things for humanity. Bombs and guns allow an aerial force a great deal of mobility and deadliness. They have little accuracy, but massed fire can still slay an attacking force, and the accuracy issue would be much harder on humans than flying dragons. The heavily fortified castles of the humans could be smashed with dropped gunpowder bombs from on high. I imagine humans would keep using bows, since they are easier to use accurately. Skilled bowmen who could deflect dropped projectiles would be in high demand, as would the few rebel dragons who might help scout and protect humanity.

There would be a strong push to develop flying vehicles, and I imagine hot air balloons would be invented a lot earlier in this timeline. While less agile, a flood of hot air balloons would make it a lot harder for the dragons to maintain aerial superiority. This is probably around the time peace would happen, when the dragons started to lose some of their aerial advantage and had some terrible retreats. Imagine thousands of primitive hot air balloons with skilled bowmen and crossbow users picking off fleeing dragons from a highly fortified castle of theirs, while from below knights with lances and short blades of powerful steel cut those resting as they burst from the floors.

By modern times, there would be a stalemate. The Dragons would have vastly superior scouting and infantry capabilities, but the technology and heavy fortifications of humanity would make an attack difficult. Trenches and dug out fortifications would litter the land, for any human to retreat to, and deadly weapons of chemical and explosive nature would be ready to poison the tunnels. I imagine the dragons would have advanced a lot in chemical warfare, to counter the human tunnel advantage.

Open massed warfare would be almost unheard of, with humans relying on fortification to protect them and quick raids against targets who had landed, and the dragons attempting to use their superior height and speed and mobility to slash supply lines.

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    $\begingroup$ Damn, you've written quite a bit here. Thank you so much for all of this. Your focus on air combat and underground warfare is especially interesting. I was thinking along these lines as well - humanity would have to hide beneath the earth until the time came when they could challenge the dragon's overwhelming air superiority. Once airplanes and powered flight became available, I imagine they would focus less on speed and maneuverability and more on heavy firepower and lots of armor. A dragon would be infinitely more nimble than any WW1-era plane designs. $\endgroup$ – Vigilant Jun 22 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ I imagine in world war 1 level planes there would be a lot of focus on moveable guns. You might have someone with a crossbow or a rifle standing on it firing rather than fixed machine guns because they could come from any angle. They would focus on nimble firepower mostly not heavy firepower. $\endgroup$ – Nepene Nep Jun 22 at 21:06

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