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The world I'm building contains multiple "species" of sentient dragons. All of them are around human-sized (in terms of body size, if you get what I mean) and quadrupedal with opposable thumbs, with four legs and two or four wings, and can reasonably be expected to remain in the air for at least several hours at a time (and that's the low limit for sick or malnourished dragons).

Some dragon species can breathe fire, but no dragon species has fire resistance. There's a few other abilities like ice breath, a venomous tail stinger, breathing underwater, and the like, but what I'm primarily looking for is how weapons would work when the combatants can fly and sometimes breathe fire.

These dragons would operate with medieval level technology, like swords or battle claws.

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    $\begingroup$ Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. $\endgroup$
    – Community Bot
    Feb 1 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ I think the issue is 2 different tech periods. Options for a soldier in the year 2000 and the year 1000 are very different. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Feb 1 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ You've a couple of fine answers to work with, just be aware that focussed questions that elicit identifiable "best answers" are best to fit our ways for future ref.. Oh, BTW, welcome to worldbuilding, enjoy the site :) $\endgroup$ Feb 1 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ You do not mention mass constraints. big difference if they can fly with 5Kg 50Kg 500Kg. I would imagine higher masses would distinctly limit flight time. Can't stop flying mid air and take a breather. $\endgroup$ Feb 1 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ Where did you find a 100kg dragon ? btw I have to downvote this, because I don't think dragons need weapons. They have claws, jaws and.. fire.. Also, tip: there are two close votes now, with 5 it gets closed. See you narrow down your question some more, it has many answers, we prefer a single BEST one. You could e.g. ask if dragons could use Flail, or whip.. or if they would use their tail, or use their forelimbs for handling the weapon. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Feb 1 at 20:54

5 Answers 5

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Distance and velocity are key:

To maximize what your dragon can do, emphasizing flight and fire, then you want to extend your dragon's reach in a way that maximizes impact as the dragon makes passes over opponents that can't reach the dragon. A dragon isn't extremely strong, but they can lift, swing and drop while using a lot of force.

  • Lance: Held in four claws, a lance can be truly immense. More of a pike with a sword on the end, it COULD be used for slashing, and that works for small opponents. The reach and accuracy of this weapon makes it good for engaging other flying opponents. For a large enemy, impaling them on a giant lance stabbed into them at the dragon's dive speed will both keep the dragon out of reach and kill really large enemies. Or land on something high like a roof and stab down at enemies with "stubby" little spears and pikes. For a dragon on the ground, set it to receive a charge as your opponent dive-bombs you.

  • Flail-type: Again, these are going to be really long. They might even be attachments to a tail to maximize reach while keeping one's fleshy tail safely from an enemy. A heavy rock on the end of a rope is the simplest version to deal with small opponents. Lots of forward velocity, room to swing, and even the simple expedient of dropping the ball on an enemy and then lifting it off the ground via cord/chain make it versatile and impactful. A martial-arts dragon may even be able to use the kinetics of this to distribute weight and assist in high speed maneuvers. A long-enough flail can be used to entangle an opponent and their limbs/wings.

  • Hook (on a rope/chain): Just what it sounds like, you try to impale your enemy on a hook (or bundle of hooks) and jerk their body off the ground. If ripping a hook into them isn't bad enough, fly up, then drop. A hook on a rope or chain would also likely be a useful tool for a dragon to carry things or apply a jerking force to things they want to move. Hooking a flying opponent means you control their motion while hurting them, and if things get awkward or entangled, just let go.

  • Whip: The light, easy, portable version of the flail, this weapon can be useful at a generous distance but be coiled up round a limb easily for concealment or just ease. Again, lots of room for maneuvering, but it will require more precision than many other of these tools. Again, tied to a tail, the reach could be very great and optimized with the dragon's natural swing of their tail. Wrap a whip around a wing and the enemy can't fly very well. A whip can work well as a noose or a snare line.

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  • $\begingroup$ A dragon isn't extremely strong Citation Needed xD $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Feb 1 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm I merely mean that relative to other large fantasy animals, dragon arms and wings are rarely portrayed as "beefy." And large, unbalanced swings might be hard to perform while flying unless considerable skill at shifting weight is used. Underhand swings maximizing flight force versus crude slashes (although I've seen some wing-buffet attacks and weapons that are interesting, but kind of make a dragon vulnerable to wing damage). $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Feb 1 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ + for flail which was going to be my contribution. With a flail the kinetic energy of the flying dragon can be used to strike without so much energy rebounding to the weapon, and the dragon holding it. Plus a flail could entangle the other dragon or its weapon. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Feb 1 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldnt a lance be suicidal? If you let go a fraction too late the lance+impaled target will drag you to the ground, which at divespeeds designed for lancing enemies would likely kill the dragon. I would alter the Lance into something like Javelins, lets you carry more, lets you drop them during a dive to stay at longer range and still have decent accuracy and reduces the chance of getting hit by arrows or other projectiles. Similarly a flail that gets caught suddenly acts like an anchor, at high speeds you run the risk of ramming the ground before you can release and adjust. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Feb 2 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ @DWKraus I dont think that you should be flying with any melee weapon at all. Its like equipping a biplane with a flail, lance or similar. It just wont be useful and often detrimental for the user. Melee weapons would be for walking dragons with only limited flight during combat. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Feb 2 at 11:52
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(For this, I'm going to forget that the dragons with no abilities would probably have died out or be a lower-developed race by their middle-ages. Maybe they developed to be stronger or more intelligent, so survived alongside the dragons with abilities. But anyway, here are some thoughts...)

I think if these dragons are sentient, at our level, say, then they would have the capacity to build on what they already have. I think they would develop a lot of fire-based tech and ice-based tech. Like a helmet that concentrates and extends the throw of their breath, or maybe a hand-held extended fire thrower and intensifier, also fuelled by their breath. They would have naturally learned in the past what makes, for example, the fire dragon's fire hotter, more destructive, more intense, as well as what would weaken the effect. They would incorporate this knowledge into weapon and armour designs.

One of the first things developed would probably be armour to protect against these 'special' abilities. This may be full or partial (light) body armour, or possibly a shield that deflects another dragon's breath. A standard dragon shield, for example, would be in two parts separated as much as possible, so the freezing/heating of the front part was not transferred to the inner part of the shield, held by the defending dragon.

The different species would prefer different fighting styles. The ice and fire dragons would rely, pretty much solely, on extending that ability for close to medium range combat, so would need to fly pretty close to be effective. The species without these abilities would prefer to stay well back. Evasion, covert and long-rage attacks would be what they concentrate their development on. Large arrow-firing machines could be held up by multiple dragons or hid in the terrain below. Smaller crossbows or something similar could be attached to or held by, a dragon. They might have developed fire-arrows or explosive arrows. They may have claw-like battle-axes or swords as a last resort, especially if the special abilities can run out at some point.

Another attack method would be similar to birds of prey. They would swoop covertly from above to grab, grapple and pierce their prey with their claws or simple stabbing tools. This would be a get in, get out, repeat type attack used in combination with other attacks from other fronts.

These would all be medieval-type tech.

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Long range: glaives. Short range: gauntlet-swords

Every hand-held weapon but the knuckleduster shares one feature: they extend a person's reach. Generally you always want a longer weapon over a shorter one: as evidenced by an interesting set of fights by HEMA practitioners, spears tend to beat swords in personal or group combat. The limit is when the thing becomes unwieldy or unusable for specific kinds of combat (close quarters, scuffle on the ground).

Reach is funny thing for flying dragons. Most of the time you are really, really far away; and occasionally you get really close. We humans have a middle range because we can keep a consistent two-step distance from an opponent; from there one step back and you're safe, one step forward and you can reach the enemy. Perfect for formal duels. Not feasible for dragons.

So for the long distance you take the weapon that extends your range most dramatically, for when you are both flying and making passes at each other. A long-range fight between two dragons (assuming neither of them breathes fire) would resemble jousting. And for that you need a lance, to truly skewer the enemy serpent through with all your body weight behind it; or a glaive, essentially a sword on a long stick, if you don't want to skewer (or be skewered) but want to make a big gash in the foe's wing membrane. Hold the glaive perpendicular to your body, make sure you know which way the enemy will pass you and have the sharp end in that direction, then slash about as you sail beside him and hopefully not get slashed yourself.

Then there's close range; when two dragons are grabbing each other, falling to their deaths, and it is a game of chicken who first disentangles to not hit the ground together, and who stays longer to inflict further harm on the baddy. Range is not necessary here, you are already practically hugging; so here's where you need the equivalent of the dagger. A sharp object to focus your strength on the narrow tip and penetrate armour (natural or metal) like a knife through butter.

Actual daggers can work here. Claw extensions can work. Teeth extensions can work. Anything sharpening the pointy bits a dragon naturally has will be of use here, and probably be whatever the dragon himself prefers. But I want to throw one particular idea out there: a dagger equivalent of the gauntlet-sword. In fact, a wrist-mounted Assassin's Creed dagger would do fine as well; the advantage being that you can use that small arm whilst you are holding on to the larger glaive or lance. That spares an entangled dragon the need to change weapons and waste a precious few moments of terminal velocity.

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  • $\begingroup$ "spears are proven to be superior to swords." <- To clarify, a spear is superior to a sword when used on its own. However, when you watch the 2nd half of that video you see the swords start to outperform spears once you add shields to the equation. Also, none of the tests account for armor. A sword is much easier to get into the gaps of armor than a spear is; so, spears are better than swords for light infantry, but as you move toward heavier infantry, swords become superior. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 1 at 22:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Fair enough, I clarified it. The test was not very scientific and I wasn't trying to be scientific in referencing it; but nevertheless it is a very interesting demonstration that goes against the popular conception of swords as THE perfect weapon of the middle ages. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Feb 1 at 22:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki it is also stated that these people have no experience with spears and are still doing very well. Multiman spears aren't added to the ranks as well, which allow big strikes at long distances way before swords are useful. I also think it helps that these people have no fear of death when charging a line of pointy sticks. Finally spears are leagues cheaper to make, repair and maintain. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Feb 2 at 9:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane It is also noteworthy that those people have no experience with shield walls either. On average, a Roman Legion of 6000 men was about equivalent of a 10,000 man Greek Phalanx. The scutum allowed a Roman to push straight into a phalanx wasting any advantages the spears would otherwise give which is confirmed by both Greek and Roman accounts. So yes, if your opponent is not well armored, spears are great, but civilizations who routinely fought a well equipped enemy and need a poor man's weapon often opted for axes, maces, and war-hammers instead. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 2 at 16:12
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Wing-mounted weapons.

Even assuming your quadruped dragons have the range of motion in their limbs to swing a weapon, it will pale in comparison to the energy your wings can produce. Essentially you are "jumping" on the air constantly, lifting your entire bodyweight each time in order to fly.

Any melee weapon would be mounted on the wings for this reason, around halfway on the wings (the tips wont have the bone strength to handle the shock). You can choose what type of weapon yourself. A simple razors edge mounted on the wingedge. Alternatives are scimitar like weapons and spears that are slightly aimed inwards.

"But Demigan, the wings beat DOWN, not forwards". Correct! But to swing a melee weapon these quadrupeds have to go bipedal, and then any wingbeat will move the wing straight at the enemy. With a partially folded wing you can prevent your dragons from launching themselves backwards with each strike (although it would be a good way to quickly dodge backwards when you need it). So the weapons will also be mounted facing "down" rather than "forwards", as seen from a quadruped position

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The dragons' abilities are their best weapons. No, seriously, how much damage will a medieval sword or bow do against fire that can melt or burn, ice that can freeze and crack wood or even metal, or a tail which likely has much better accuracy and range than any weapon of the time? (To use the examples provided in the question.) (Dragons that could breathe in water could be used to lure their opponents into the water, where they could drown them or use the water as a trap.)

Their natural flight ability and speed would be their next best weapon. Again, this may seem almost too simple, but with the clumsy medieval level technology such as swords and bows, any dragon that can fly at least moderately quickly can evade the weapons from the air as well.

Finally, given that the dragons do not have resistance to one another's abilities, their most potent weapons given the technology of the world would be their physical strength, ability to fly, and unique powers that can be used against one another. (Similarly to @n00dles' answer, the dragons by that point would have likely also created weapons to enhance their special powers.)

It appears based on all of this (and the information about the dragons provided in the OP's question) that the medieval weapons known to man would be likely extremely ineffective for dragons fighting in the air using their powers.

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