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Recently I have given myself an interesting challenge: To create an interesting fantasy world that does not have conventional "magic."

In this setting I'm writing, our entire civilization has collapsed in the year 2232 thanks to pressures caused by climate change. 99.7% of the world's population dies out, with the surviving humans returning to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle for thousands of years. Eventually, new settled civilizations do develop in a similar manner to our own world. Most of the world by the time of the story has entered the late iron age. These civilizations have lost most of the knowledge that the "ancients" once had and are basically starting over from nothing.In essence, this setting has the same physics as our own world.

In the story, there is a scene where one of the characters is attacked by a "dragon." This "dragon" cannot be an illusion, hologram, or illusion of any kind, as the character in question physically reacts to it. For the purpose of the story, the dragon has to be a "dragon." Not a plane, drone, or anything else that the characters could mistake for a dragon. The dragon has the following properties:

  • Although it does not have to be strictly "biological," it still has to be self-replicating and has to perform all of the functions a biological organism would have to do to survive. "Eating, drinking sleeping, etc."

  • It has a wingspan of 17 meters, weighs 200 kilograms, and is 7 meters long.

  • It does not have to be sentient. However, it must have a basic sense of self-preservation that all animals have.

  • It cannot be a one-off deal. There have to be multiple of them that have a stable population.

  • It does not have to be able to "breath fire" per-say. But it must have the ability to emit a defensive projectile from its mouth that is dangerous to humans

With all of that being said:

  • Would such a thing even be possible with 210 years of technological advancements?

  • For what purpose would the "ancients" create such beings? Why would they create them in such a way as to require them to perform the basic biological functions of organic life, and what about them has allowed them to survive for so many centuries after the demise of their creators?

  • Would a creature with the given physical specs actually have the ability to maintain powered flight? Why or why not?

  • If any of the above is physically impossible; what would be a reasonable alternative?

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    $\begingroup$ Please remember to limit yourself to one question per post. Also remember that we're here to help you solve specific problems not brainstorm possible solutions. We're also not really equipped to answer questions about specific motivations such as the reasons the ancient characters of yours would or would not build dragons. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Mar 28, 2022 at 2:00
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    $\begingroup$ There are literally hundreds(*) of questions and answers on this site about the physical possibility of real dragons, it is probably the most common question here. I'd strongly encourage you to survey them for ideas, it is an immense and fertile repository for this specific subject. *(The tag [dragons] alone has 402 questions. Just click the tag to see them all.) $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2022 at 13:00
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    $\begingroup$ "Realistic post-apocalyptic fantasy setting". You mean like Pern? Does that approach work for you? $\endgroup$ Mar 29, 2022 at 15:45

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Genetic engineering by the super-elite

When the ecosphere began to fall apart, the world's elite thought their money and power would allow them to ride out the storm in relative comfort. Some of them even welcomed the climate crash because they were eager to be the founders and dictators of a new society run according to their own political preferences.

The obliteration of modern society did not happen overnight. For a few generations, disaster capitalists and oligarchs became the de facto rulers of their own pocket societies, defended by private armies of mercenaries, with absolute power to decide which of the billions of Earth's climate refugees could take shelter in these new city-states. As you might expect, they only accepted people who had something to offer: advanced science skills, rare resources, appealing mates, etc; everyone else was turned away at gunpoint, forced to scavenge from the dying Earth.

Being a necessarily short-sighted and myopic set, the new tyrants believed this new state of affairs was sustainable. And so they continued to pour the Earth's resources -- over which they exerted total control -- into the same kinds of wasteful vanity projects they had amused themselves with before the apocalypse.

Of course, they also took steps to sustain their new "utopias." This included genetic engineering: to create food crops that could survive in this harsher environment; to create new medicines to defend themselves (and their chosen few) against the bugs that evolved among the oceans of fresh corpses outside the walls, and from biological attacks from competing tyrants; and, of course, to create better soldiers (and combat drugs).

As the wars between tyrants began to heat up, each craved a workable alternative to the petroleum-powered weapons platforms that now lay rusting, their fuel tanks empty. The walled cities being few and far between, what was needed was a gunship that could feed itself, one that didn't require a massive logistics chain. In short: a biological version of the attack chopper. And, being image-obsessed egomaniacs, the tyrants wanted something that would make a statement about their greatness and power.

And that is how real scientists in the real world were charged with breeding real versions of the dragons of myth.

The tyrants were wrong about the sustainability of their new world. Eventually the Earth failed to provide what the tyrants demanded, and each of their lawless little spheres collapsed. But the dragons existed now, and did not need permission from their former masters to go live in the wild.

The thing about Pandora's box is that it cannot be closed.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 Similar to DWKraus but with more motivational detail. $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2022 at 17:23
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Jurassic Reproductions:

Your ancients had some pretty advanced tech before the fall, and they certainly had the hubris to think all that warning stuff (like in a certain movie series) about re-creating ancient predators was foolish. So they decided that for fun and profit (maybe a theme park...), they would recreate Quetzalcoatlus.

The estimates for Quetzalcoatlus are surprisingly close to your requirements. Weight and length are covered, and the wingspan estimates are close enough that there may have easily been individuals with your required wingspan. They are know to have existed, and in a world hit by global warming, dinosaurs would be well adapted to a hotter world.

As for a defensive projectile "breath weapon", we really don't know much about the working behaviors of dinosaurs. But modern birds have gizzards with stones in them, and pterosaurs were known to have had gizzards as well. It would not be outrageous if Quetzalcoatlus somehow had the ability to regurgitate gizzard stones and spit, head-sling, or just throw these stones as projectiles as a defense against opponents they can't reach otherwise.

quetzalcoatlus

Keep in mind that the ancients may have recreated Quetzalcoatlus how they WANTED it to be, or based on evidence they discovered about it in the future. So any variations you need to add can be explained away as "stuff we don't know yet" and not historical inaccuracy.

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    $\begingroup$ There was another question recently about albatross chicks vomiting up stomach grease on attackers. That's another option for a projectile weapon. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Mar 28, 2022 at 18:03
  • $\begingroup$ Or spitting poison, like Spitting Cobras. $\endgroup$
    – c1moore
    Mar 29, 2022 at 3:04
  • $\begingroup$ Or if you want something even closer to breathing fire, have a look at what bombardier beetles do. Unfortunately, it probably wouldn't evolve in vertebrates so it might be hard (as in "not doable") to genetically engineer. @Daron's idea about vomiting is probably more realistic, concentrated stomach acid probably burns pretty good (vultures have very strong stomach acid to kill of nasty stuff in the carrion they eat, for example) - but if you want to add some bombardier beetle-like spice to it, the vomit could be complemented by a spray of something alkaline to produce an "acid bomb". $\endgroup$
    – gustafc
    Mar 29, 2022 at 8:33
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The dragon species was created in the pre-apocalypse

if we assume that the dragon is biological or a living being. one strong possibility is that the creature or species is result of pre apocalyse biological creation. perhaps yoredays scientists created such creature for the science and entertainment of masses. while humanity experienced downfall, their crafted creature remains. this route too allow you to added many other curiosity animals and creatures. especially ones from fantasy settings.

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They were always there.

Dragons have existed since things started evolving out of the ocean, although it may be reasonable to think that the Ones Who Came Before created them, given their relative rarity.

Having evolved from a divergent branch of Quetzacoatls, they are well protected from human eyes, and even the Ones Who Came Before were unequipped to discover them. Even the Ancients hadn't fully explored the surface of their planet due to difficulty traversing certain locations, so it's no surprise that there may be unidentified animals in the wild.

Located deep in the Himalayas near Bhutan, they had no reason to come out of their seclusion. They eat the local animals like the Goral and Takin, and have for millennia not needed to venture out of their small haven of existing dragons. They are actually the primary reason for the mythological history of multiple East Asian places, including Bhutan itself!

So why now?

Climate change is a slow process, and when the climate was a bit cooler and the oxygen of the world was higher, these reptilian creatures found it difficult to breath, having not evolved with the same need for oxygen as other forms of life on Earth. Now that the composition of the air has changed to be closer to their liking, they have reemerged and spread out across the world, once again spawning new origin stories about the creation of the world.

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Extraterrestial

The dragons are extraterrestials from another planet. In particular, they are a species that spreads via panspermia. Their eggs/spores have spread far and wide, but are awakened by a sudden large increase in temperatures. As it turns out, catastrophic climate change happens eventually to all intelligent species, and these species have adapted to take advantage of that, awaiting that cataclysm and then coming out to take advantage of the carnage.

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In the film Reign of Fire, the dragons had always been there and were just accidentally discovered after millennia of them basically hibernating. Same could work here, especially with your climate change theme. In the movie it was explained that the dragons were responsible for climate changes in the past, and their destroy-then-hibernate cycle was normal. Not necessary in your story to take that approach, but them living thousands of years ago and then going into extended hibernation during an ice age could explain why they weren't around during the rise of the modern era. Something climate change related (global temps, CO2 concentration, etc.) could have triggered a reemergence around or following the collapse of civilization.

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