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So, I was writing an outline for the battle between a dragon and a bunch of humans. However, a key component of the humans' battle plan was to place a hidden stash of ballistae near the entrance when the dragon was away. Then, raid it during the night, corner the beast in his own cave, and pepper him with poisoned ballista bolts while meekly hoping that St. George's paladin skills are strong enough to withstand dragon fire.

But there's the problem. Why would a dragon choose a place where their main selling point (insane mobility via flight) can't work? I mean, we don't play by Hollywood rules. When a dragon sees they're in big trouble they won't hesitate to do the legendary maneuver, the "Fly you fools!" "Nigerundayo, Smokey!"

Sure, dragons need quite a bit of space, but there must be other places they can sleep in besides caves, right?

So why caves?

To be more concrete, the aforementioned plan relied on the cave having only one entrance. Just how common is that? Because if a large majority of caves are like that, where many openings are too small for a dragon (a creature slightly larger than a horse), then it's not worth it. There's also the humidity (some of the dragon's hoard is sensitive to that), temperature (not too hot, not too cold), general safety (i.e: the roof won't fall on your head when sleeping), and accessibility. Dragons like to fly (even more so than swimming) but it is a last resort.

So, would caves be a good lair for a dragon, if yes, then why?

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    $\begingroup$ Look at bats, though they're much smaller they live in caves because it's dark, it's protected from the elements and predators and has everything they need. Maybe your dragons too look for that, a nice, quiet place in which not many creatures go, so they can rest peacefully. Plus it might not be that hard for them to just open a larger path (also, would be awesome if the heroes went to fight the dragon just to find out that the cave is much bigger than they expected...and that dragons too live in colonies). Maybe the top of a mountain could yield similar results, but those aren't as hidden. $\endgroup$ – ProjectApex May 31 at 1:37
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    $\begingroup$ @ProjectApex Nah, they aren't that numerous. Though the story takes place during the Filibuster Era, kickstarted by some mad genius finishing the improved necromancy library and API, so the adventurers might find out what dragons believe in instead of the tooth fairy, wink-wink. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles May 31 at 1:40
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    $\begingroup$ if the dragon is cold blood they can warm themselves by igniting the cave to entrap heat, and a single entrance mean the dragon can easily burn intruder that try to enter and make a choke point or bottleneck, considering dragon can also use range weapon such as their fire breath. and its naturally made so less work to make a nest, though i believe they do make some modification like digging the cave wall or removing dangerous stalactite from the cave to make them fit well and not dangerous. $\endgroup$ – Li Jun May 31 at 5:04
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Man. When you said a dragon I though of a really huge dragon. But horse sized dragons? Well. Caves have certain appeals to them.

  • If they are in a mountain they can be up the mountain thus an added element of being harder to get to thus a better home.
  • Similar to the point above a dragon might find a lair or help make it so that it is only accessible if you can fly.
  • Finding and using an existing natural thing is much more in line with animals than trying to create a city or a new thing.
  • If the dragon or dragons are smart enough they can work in the cave system to separate the thing into different bits, much like a human creating rooms, and thus they can store gold in a place that is very hard to get too while also enjoying life in the close to the outside places. And so on.
  • A lair limits the creature. It's true. But that limitation could be handy. For example a lair with one small entrance leading to a small cave system means that the humans coming at the dragon can only come in small groups. An open field where the dragon can fly might seem tempting, but remember they can bring their rifles or bows or whatever to bear at it in the open.
  • Fear. Another element in making a lair for the dragon. Now our brave heroes won't care. But most people would be afraid of being in a small place with a dragon.
  • Immunity. If the dragon is immune to fire and smoke then trapping its attackers in a place where a small amount of fire, of course it can't breath fire for long amounts of time anyway, can kill them outright or suffocate them makes more sense. Again in an open plain they can scatter, much like they would do if artillery is trying to hit them, and that means that the dragon has to try to target individual targets all the while it's open to fire. But in a cave they are in trouble.
  • Natural reasons. Maybe they hibernator, or maybe they use active volcanoes because of the heat.
  • Might be cultural thing. Honestly. Like you have somewhat intelligent dragons or they are just used to caves. Might even make fun of it.

That's all I could think of now.

Also the likes to fly thing must be absolutely exhausting for such a large creature.

I'd imagine they spend more time walking around and trying not to fly because of how much energy they much burn up when they do.

And I'm saying this because you did mention humidity so they are not pure magic.

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  • $\begingroup$ I hate to say it, but most dragons in fantasy are portrayed as rather stupid and un-subtle brutes who rely on their strength to kill and dominate. Most dragons should be brilliant & crafty, with buried treasure, traps, & escape routes. Dragons are very snakelike (even more so in mythology), & could crawl through holes in the ceiling inaccessible to adventurers. Caves are very three-dimensional. $\endgroup$ – DWKraus May 31 at 3:30
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    $\begingroup$ The variety in folklore dragons is enormous. There is no reason why they can't be stupid brutes if that serves the story. $\endgroup$ – Mary May 31 at 4:14
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus Well, regarding that... I'll be back a bit later. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles May 31 at 12:05
  • $\begingroup$ +1 Only additional; yes the dragon main strength is mobility but that is context based on your killing plan. Given they have gold or killing them has value; the cave provides concealment. Because the cave is hidden, the mobility has more value (the dragon has somewhere to be mobile to and from). $\endgroup$ – Commander Nirvanah Crane May 31 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ @CommanderNirvanahCrane So, both the plan and the dragon's hideout are actually reasonable? $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles May 31 at 13:46
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You have listed many faults of a cave. But the question is, what would be a better alternative? You don't want to leave your treasure hanging about in open air!

The only thing I can think of that would even come close is a castle, but it would also have many openings that are too small for a horse-sized dragon, be vulnerable to heat and humidity, have safety issues if it's not kept up, and have issues of accessibility.

"Dragons like to fly (even more so than swimming) but it is a last resort."

The big question is -- what would they resort to first?

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Some decades ago, I read a book titled, IIRC, The Flight of Dragons. Its basic premise was to start from the assumption that dragons actually existed and had the attributes commonly attributed to them, and then reverse-engineer a scientific explanation for how this could all work.

Regarding the propensity of dragons to live in caves, the explanation they came up with was that dragons had well-armored heads (unlike the rest of the body, which remained somewhat vulnerable due to the high acidity of their blood and the need to keep weight down in order to float in the air), so they would want to live in caves with a single entrance, only just big enough for the dragon itself to fit through, so that it could defend the lair while exposing only its head as a target for attacks. This also channels the attackers into a single long line with little room to maneuver or sidestep, maximizing the effectiveness of the dragon's fiery breath.

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