I have finally found an edition of the Dragonriders of Pern trilogy - living in Italy, I only had access to it thanks to my father's old books, and he doesn't own the complete series - so I have been immersed in that world and started imagining its less peaceful, alternative version.

For those unfamiliar with it, the relevant features are dragons: 9th Pass Pern Dragon Sizes by Color

The bigger the dragon, the rarer its occurrence in the population. These dragons have, other than their physical weapons, the ability of breathing fire through the digestion in a second stomach of firestone, and of teleporting to a different place, time, or both, as long as they have the mental image of the location at the specific time; or the generic image of the location if the teleportation is through space only. I will ignore here any specific exceptions that occur in the books. Each dragon is impressed by a rider when it hatches, and it lives the rest of its life in a symbiotic relationship with "its human".

The technological level throughout the planet is mostly European medieval, with a few exceptions (Rudimentary flamethrowers as the most notable).

Dragon-folk live in weyrs, communities built in inactive volcanoes most commonly, as you can see here.

Common people live in settlements much like the ones that were usual in the European middle age. Dragonfolk are either descendants of inhabitants of the weyr, or people brought in by "normal" settlements, according to the needs of staff and dragon riders (depends on how many eggs the queen dragons lay).

Now, while in the official Pern, dragonfolk are generally peaceful (with individual exceptions), I can easily imagine a culture like this realizing that they will not need much to grab power. Once the different weyrs have claimed their territory, they will turn against each other to obtain land, goods, privileges...

While the offensive potential of a dragon is immense, how would it be possible to defend yourself from a few hundred dragons that all of sudden appear out your window (figuratively speaking)?

I suppose the relationship among weyrs would be much like the Cold War, with isolated fights in neutral territory, but no large scale offensive, with large use of sentinels and deterrents (you burn my house to the ground, and within 1 second I am burning your house to the ground too).

Common people, on the other hand, will be largely disadvantaged. I expect their costumes to change over time to become similar to what was mentioned in this question. This may not be enough, as these dragons are intelligent, numerous, guided by human riders, and can friggin' teleport.

Which would be the most effective defense against a weyr in full force (assume 300 fighting dragons)? Either by dragonfolk, common people, or an alliance of both.

Feel free to ignore the ability to time travel, as it may be tricky, though fascinating to explore in terms of military strategy. If you want to tackle it, keep in mind that if you will go back in time tomorrow to do something, somewhere, right now, it means that in this moment there is a double of yourself doing whatever, wherever. You cannot perceive a specific time in one way and then go back to alter it, if you could it would be changed already - that is the assumption in the books. You don't change the past, it is already changed, and then the cause will occur.

It's way more physically and mentally demanding to travel through time, and the presence of two versions of yourself within, say, the same city, is enough to make you almost faint. Furthermore the risk of ending somewhen else entirely is high.

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    $\begingroup$ Anne McCaffrey's Pern goes on for more than 25 books and her son is still writing new ones. It is a spectacular demonstration of how rich a world can become after literally decades of world building. Not very certain about militarizing the dragons, as it doesn't match the character of the stories. Still, defending against teleportation is a great question! $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 5:01
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    $\begingroup$ Slightly off-topic, but I recommend reading "The Stars My Destination" by Alfred Bester. In this Sci-fi novel, it's discovered by that humans have the innate ability to teleport by visualizing where they currently are, and where they want to go. Its baring on this question is that it goes into significant detail on how this ability changes the entire concept of security for the world (ie, how do you keep people from teleporting into bank vaults, or teleporting out of prison?). $\endgroup$
    – Liesmith
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor for years (actually decades) I only had easy access to Dragonflight, Dragonsong and All The Weyrs Of Pern. I know, not the best way to read a series... having been to the USA in recent years a few times I found the time to pop into a book shop and purchase a volume with all the original trilogy. I haven't looked that hard in Italy, but I don't believe there is any recent edition of the series, maybe except Dragonflight. $\endgroup$
    – Michele C
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 7:41
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    $\begingroup$ What did you do to deserve 300 dragons ganging up on you? Or, if you are innocent, what didn't you do? It seems like the best way to defeat a dragon army (without one of your own) would be to prevent it from forming, through a combination of social engineering, starving dragons of the resources they need, and encouraging things that are detrimental to dragons. And, as a last resort, a giant sign that says, "Better prey over there!" $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 0:16

7 Answers 7


Don't let the dragons teleport in your fortress :

An alternative to the rope trick : tight streets, tall buildings, long iron spikes everywhere in the sky above the buildings. Iron, because dragons are flying and after a first attempt where they only fly above your city while spiting fire, there are no ropes anymore. Then, knowing the place, they could teleport in the rope-less sky.

That's why a rich city could build some kind of a metal cage above the roofs, while a smaller city would only have spikes tied to the roofs. The cage could, or could not, have a way to hide the city (city-sized blinds ? I don't want to put the whole city in the dark every time, but there should be a way to open/close the city from the sky, like deploying sails on a boat).

For time travelling dragons, either you change the city aspect very often to confuse them or you keep it so unchanged frome the outside that no dragon can find a specific date to teleport at.

Make your land hard to find/recognise :

A nomad way of life could be quite efficient for common humans. Light and fast travel prevents teleporting dragons, either if they can travel in time or not.

With their big friends, dragonfolk would have some issues to keep a nomad life. I'm sure they want a big badass fortress. You can try to hide it (underground, underwater, under big trees of an ancient forest). You can cover it with mirrors (good luck to look inside, ennemy dragons !) or with another optical illusion. You can make your fortress move (may request a little magical help, but you have dragons. They might pull a whole city if there are enough of them and the city is build with this trick in mind, on an artificial ground or something like that)

Oh my god, dragons are coming !

They did find your city ! What now ? If you have dragons too, of course, you send them. What else ? I assume that killing flying dragons from the ground is very hard. You can try to shoot at them with very big crossbows on the roofs (thanks Tolkien), but there are 300 of them, spitting fire, and they're going for the crossbows first. I don't know if a dragon can be poisoned or drugged with these arrows.

If you're underground or underwater, let's hope you have trapped the entries. A sudden avalanche or a flood should switch their fire off. Nets falling into the passages could prevent them from flying properly. A bunch of projectiles (arrows, stones, dart) fired from protected nests in the passage would make their entrance difficult. Big wooden doors might not stop them for ever, but slow them long enough to make of lot of damages. If your entry looks like a galery, put spikes everywhere (spikes that can be easily installed/removed if you have dragons too.

And a last one : in the middle of the city make sure every street and every refuge access is far too little for a dragon, and eventually only humans would reach the critical point.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm afraid tall buildings & tight streets would serve the exact opposite purpose: dragonborne projectiles or even dragons themselves (may depend on inclination towards kamikaze tactics), launched on the right point, would cause large portions of the city to fall in a spectacular domino effect. As for the part addressing time: dragons could teleport 1 mile away from the city every day and keep track of changes: now you are giving them precise time coordinates... it would work if instead they are not too careful about gathering intelligence. On a last note, I love the mirror idea! $\endgroup$
    – Michele C
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, on the comments about magic: the Pern series is surprisingly not centred on magic, it's actually a sci-fi series where dragons are explained in a pseudo-scientifical way. Pseudo cause there is of course a decent dose of handwavium. $\endgroup$
    – Michele C
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 14:36

I think the only effective defence against teleportation is to have no place to teleport to, at least in a range where the dragon can be dangerous. So basically, hang the sky full of ropes, too close to each other that a dragon could materialize there (this assumes that the dragon needs a free air space to materialize in).

Other than that, the only defence is to have people constantly watching the sky and surroundings, and be ready to react as quickly as possible.

  • $\begingroup$ Props for being the first one to think of the rope trick: "I seem to have a rope going through my heart...." $\endgroup$
    – Michele C
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 14:05

I will try to generalize a bit celtschk answer :

To defend against teleporting dragons, the best thing to do is to prevent them from teleporting. To teleport by surprise near your fortress or in your fortress.

To teleport a dragon need two things :

  1. Space

You can forbid dragon to teleport inside your castle, for example, as celtschk suggested, by hanging ropes around, or by building only rooms too small for dragons (obviously you can not do it if you have dragon as well, so the rope trick seems particularly excellent).

However, you can not do much about the empty space around your place. Of course you can build everything inside deep forests to prevent teleportation, but then you lose the ability to spot regular army incoming, and you can not prevent teleportation in the sky.

  1. A mental image of the place where they want to teleport

Well then it depend on how much precise the mental image need to be, but you can play with it. By keeping the looking of the interior of your castle very secret, you can forbid teleportation inside. By changing the looking of the place where your castle is located, you can therefore possibly prevent teleportation there (perhaps repainting the walls is sufficient, I do not know).

But a sure thing is that information will be important. If for example a dragon need to have seen the place to picture a sufficiently good mental image of a place, then dragon will be strictly forbidden to travel in foreign countries, since simply allowing them to pass by your fortress result in great danger for it.

Note on dragonfolks' fortresses

If you do have dragons at your disposal, you are not force to use the usual "tall tower on high ground" kind of fortress, since they are built that way partly in order to watch its surroundings. You have dragons, you can just use flying sentry, thus possibly making underground fortress a viable solution.

  • $\begingroup$ I believe changing the exterior aspect would serve the purpose only if you are successful at keeping dragons outside of the country on a general basis, otherwise if they keep track of changes they will have a map of time coordinates consisting in the castle's appearance. I suppose keeping dragons away would rely on a strong military presence that can scare away single dragons? (Not much you can do about a large group, but focussed fire could scare 1 away). $\endgroup$
    – Michele C
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 14:33

I think the easiest way for most of the common folk to survive would be to live in cave systems. Even the smallest dragon on the scale is enormous compared to the human, so they'd have a hard time getting to you except by collapsing your entrances. As long as the cave network is substantial enough, you can just use other entrances for a while, then dig out entrances that were collapsed a while ago.

People would start going outside when the dragons are inside, which could cause substantial cultural changes if it forced everyone outside at night. Conversely, little would change if the dragons are night-lifers.

The worst problem for humanity would be the loss of our crops. We could do a little with skylights and in-cave flora, but without acres upon acres of fields, our way of life would cease to be viable. We'd be back to what amounts to a hunter/gatherer society.

The ideal solution then, is to kill all the dragons. Humans are really good at killing things, so this probably isn't as far-fetched as it seems, unless the dragons are magically immune to anything common humans would have. Dragons would be very scarce, since each one would require tens, if not hundreds, of square miles of hunting grounds just to survive. At the end, only the craftiest of dragons would be able to survive the pestilence that is pissed-off humanity, and they would do so by not attracting attention, negating their attempts at world domination.

Teleportation would help them, of course, but at the end of the day I don't think it would matter. They have to sleep sometime, and just a few seconds of being off-guard could spell their doom. The only real chance they'd have is to annihilate humanity in one fell swoop at the start of their conquests.

  • $\begingroup$ I mostly agree on the first half (with the exception that it seems way easier for the attackers to collapse galleries than for the defenders to dig new ones or re-open the old ones), but I am not sure you considered all the details in the second part... I mentioned most effective defense against a weyr in full force (assume 300 fighting dragons), I'm not sure 300 dragons qualify as a scarce quantity. Re: feeding dragons, I ignored it as not relevant, but dragonfolks breed cattle or similar animals both for themselves and for dragons, so pastures can serve multiple dragons. $\endgroup$
    – Michele C
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I did a bunch of math. It would take 8-220 times more land for dragons to live than humans (37-220 if the white dragon in the picture is a baby, and the smallest adult is the green one). And that assumes the dragons are keeping farmland and pastures. So if the dragons actually started raiding human settlements, the same thing that weakens the humans would weaken the dragons. We would just destroy their crops and kill/steal their cows and they would starve to death. Then we'd go hunt them down and kill them, making them very scarce. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelS
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 22:43
  • $\begingroup$ That all assumes the dragons follow Kleiber's Law, which may be too pedantic for a fantasy world. Flying would make them a bit more efficient, but fire breathing and teleporting would take a lot of energy, so they'd probably end up being even more scarce. As far as the 300-dragon attack force goes, I don't think it's relevant. The initial onslaught would be practically indefensible, since nobody would have worried about it previously. Then in the ensuing carnage, the dragon population would get culled too much to mount such a force. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelS
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 22:48
  • $\begingroup$ The white is a mutation, so that is its full size, newly hatched dragons are smaller than a pony and take up to 18 months to reach full size. I looked to the internet to see if anyone has asked and answered the question "how much does a dragon eat" before, and of course they have. $\endgroup$
    – Michele C
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 8:24
  • $\begingroup$ I am not fully convinced that once humans decide to kill or steal cows, sheep, or whatever, they will undoubtedly succeed. If dragonfolk are smart though they will have someone watch their pastures, and they only need one dragon&rider per strategic point as thanks to teleportation they can have their full fighting force available in minutes if not seconds. Alternatively while common humans take out one of their pastures they could counter-attack on the now less defended human settlement. Humans are very good at killing things, but dragon mounted humans are better at it, is what I am saying :D $\endgroup$
    – Michele C
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 8:32

Let's say you are a lord holder who's decided for whatever reason to protect his people from dragon rider depredations. To protect against a sudden assault by hundreds of dragons, the key is preparation. If you are not yet a lord holder, solve that step first if you can, or become the power behind the throne, etc.


Thankfully these are on your side. Killing a rider will incapacitate or destroy the telepathically bonded dragon (perhaps they attempt to violate time rules to go between to save their rider). Assume the riders will not willingly part from their dragons to enter areas the dragons cannot reach - if they do, this is far too easy. Even without this vulnerability, the riders are not a significant factor.


Say the dragon riders have conquered your neighbors (shame on them for being less prepared or allying themselves to the wrong side). This devolves into a fairly standard human military equation with a few elites. Your best choice is to limit how much of the opposing force they can bring to bear at once, via choke points, narrow corridors, fortifications, killing boxes, etc, while keeping the elites out of the fight as much as possible.


Thankfully, as others have mentioned, small areas aren't only useful against armies, but also your friends against enormous, massive, teleporting opponents. I would minimize the mass and size advantage by countering it with the ground - dig into and build deep in mountains, cliffs, and rocky areas. Thankfully, holders have a strong tradition of living in tunnels bored out of just such areas - impossible to teleport into and difficult to dig into. This tradition serves well as basic preparation.


Now, you can survive the night, but can you survive the year? The teleporting dragons have a massive information and logistical advantage over you, so you should devote substantial resources and preparation to stockpiling food, water, weapons, etc. Sappers are a significant concern, so your stockpiles should be located as deeply as possible, and prefer many smaller caches over a single large one which could be drained or poisoned.

You will want to prepare many bolt holes and long underground tunnels you can use to conduct (often night time) raids against any forces guarding the area. When overwatch is sparse, dispatch assassins and diplomats (to other groups for aid). In the early stages, poison supplies and kill as many sleeping dragons as you can, before they learn to camp at home and teleport in at the first sign of trouble.

If you have longer to prepare, pre-seed spies, assassins, saboteurs, etc in the world around you, if possible among their number. After all, with all this thinking you've done, wouldn't it be great to be the one on the other side of the tactical scenario...

Time travel

Your weapon here is information. Try to keep your buildup secret and your person safe as early and for as long as possible. Either you'll be assassinated before you start (see also below), or your preparation worked out well (or poorly) enough. Keep your pre-revolution identity a secret as well - try to pin the name on significant political opponents, or figures who died young of mysterious causes who through position or privilege might have grown into a threat themselves. If you can get them to consistently guess wrongly about your gender, you'll increase your security further. Take the same precautions for all major leaders, and beware any whose names are public - there may well be a reason they weren't killed before you met them.

Try to control when the hundreds of dragons show up, to when you are ready. Until then, keep your head down. This will precipitate investigation into your past preparations - the better you've hid your preparation in the past, the greater your information advantage in the present. Take the initiative if you get the chance when you are ready - send a poisoned tribute. Any dragons who are fated to die from it won't come back to collect payment from your flesh. Again, the longer you have to prepare, the better your advantage in terms of spies, assassins, saboteurs, allies, etc. Make sure you have the information advantage before you initiate, and confidence in your preparations. Play it right, and those hundreds will never show up at all.

Killing the dragons

You probably cannot kill 300 dragons at once - one will be enough of a challenge. Every living being needs to sleep, eat, and drink. Assume they are wise enough to sleep together with a watch posted - try to poison supplies instead. In open combat, divide their forces, take advantage of stable shelter, and outnumber them with troops with long spears, chains, nets, and ranged weaponry. Foul their wings at any opportunity - "a downed dragon is a dead dragon". Additionally, I recall that they need to be airborne to teleport away. Prefer ambushes and asymmetrical warfare as much as possible over open combat.

By and large this will be better answered in a more general question about low/no-magic medieval tech level anti-dragon tactics in the battlefield, as their unique abilities will not make a huge difference here.

Insufficient preparation

A good ruler will sacrifice themselves for their people, and revenge is a dish best served cold. If your chance of success is too low, pass on secretly as much of your plans as you can to your children or others whom you trust, then assume full responsibility and try to prick their honor to spare your people. Do not attack on a small chance unless death is inevitable; this would give them the excuse to exterminate a future source of trouble. Try to die a martyr - this will hurt them more in the long run than anything else you can do on short notice. ("My father had a noble heart, and all we have is the word of those time travelling tyrants that he might eventually oppose them. Will you stand with us to avenge his death?").


To prevent teleporting, as has already been pointed out, you make your streets and buildings narrow and twisted. Put separator walls in the middle of large rooms, so that a dragon the teleports in, can't move and can be killed with ease. Do the same for wide streets; a long narrow wall dividing the street along its length. Wagons and carriages will need to be banned within the city, only handbarrows may be allowed.

So you've stopped dragons teleporting. That leaves a flying, fire-breathing mass of muscle out to get you. What are the limits? How far can they fly? What is the range of their fire? Is it a continuous stream, a fireball, or can it use both? What loads can it carry? How much does it need to eat? WHAT does it eat?

Make your ballistae with longer range than their breath. Leave no dragon food within a single flight range of your town-change your eating habits if you must. Make narrow holes for your ballistae, put them in reinforced stone rooms and protect them with spikes on the outer wall. Use light bolts to damage their wings at long range, instead of heavy bolts to target their bodies. Minimise use of wood to prevent fire spreading. Find what dragons hate or are allergic to and have plenty of it close at hand.

There are plenty of ways to deal with the problem but first we need to clarify exactly what the problem is. A single attack run of 300 dragons can be beaten back with significant loss on both sides, but will the dragons persist? Will they learn to avoid you next time?

  • $\begingroup$ One interesting aspect your questions remind me of: dragons in the Pern series can carry "as much as they think they can carry". I know right..? They appear to have telekinesis powers to help them doing that, which probably helps them fly as well, but they don't understand the concept and do so instinctively, so it's limited by their own perception of "too heavy". $\endgroup$
    – Michele C
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 7:34

I can think of three ways to defend a place against teleporting dragons. One way to to disguise the actual location to look like another location So when the a dragon wants to go to actual location, the dragon would be sent to another location. The Second way would to fog up the scenery. Although not very practical, it would make sure that the dragon cannot image the place. Finally and what I think is the best solution, drug them. Proactively mickey the dragons so they cannot think straight.

I really do not think making things smaller would help at all. A great defense would be practical one making things smaller would just make things a nuisance to the people using the tighter locations.


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