In this world, some dragons are bred by humans, some are feral. Some are domesticated and trained for work or war, while others are free, and can make lifelong friends with humans and their families. They are intelligent, and some of the older ones (too old for battle) can understand human speech. It is clear that the army whose dragons can quickly direct their fire at targets below, above, and to the sides of their flight path have distinct advantage over those who must steer to fly directly at their targets and fire. Assuming a bridle bit in her mouth for steerage (it could some other way) how do I set up the classic video game scheme of moving vs. pointing and shooting - on a dragon’s back? Thank you!

After some feedback, thank you:

The reason the king must put riders on dragons is because his enemy does it. Guided by their pilots, the dragons strike at human infrastructure with precision: battlements; dwellings; water supplies; food stores; caches of arms; factories. The king does not understand his enemy is the problem, and unless he figures it out, he and his people are doomed.

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    $\begingroup$ if they can understand human speech wouldn't a simple word order suffice to make them spit fire. $\endgroup$ Mar 30 at 21:08
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    $\begingroup$ A bridle bit seems to be the worst possible solution if the dragon is breathing fire, not to mention unwanted by the free ones. If dragons are intelligent then the solution seems both trivial and unnecessary - let the dragon pick its own targets and get rid of the unnecessary human weighing it down! $\endgroup$ Mar 30 at 21:30
  • $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055 a rider is still probably essential so the dragon can pick targets. I mean yeah a dog can understand certain words but still is not intelligent enough to understand the situation it's in. So i don't think a dragon knows battle tactics automatically. And even if it does how does it know how to contribute effectively in battle with out communication? $\endgroup$ Mar 30 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Fallenspacerock: "With out communication": What's wrong with bugle calls and military music in general? Those were used for millennia to signal attack, retreat, charge, wheel left, wheel right, form line and so on. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 30 at 21:56
  • $\begingroup$ How accurate do you need to be? I mean, are you aiming your dragonfire at a big block of hundreds of troops, or are you trying to pick out specific individuals, or something in between? $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Mar 30 at 22:15

6 Answers 6


You could use whistling (like sheep herders use to control sheepdogs) with different pitches meaning different commands. Or some kind of instrument that the rider can use. If it's a string instrument, the rider can bend the string against the board to modulate the pitch to make it go up or down, which could correspond to the dragon's actions. A separate drum beat could mean to start and stop breathing fire.

  • $\begingroup$ Oh that is beautiful! Thank you so much. $\endgroup$
    – Clarkman
    Apr 1 at 3:42
  • $\begingroup$ Doesn't an instrument sound a little complicated i mean that would require a lot pf attention from a rider. So he might just fall of or something $\endgroup$ Apr 1 at 6:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Fallenspacerock have you ever thought about how horseback archery works. $\endgroup$ Apr 2 at 10:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Starfish Prime i mean wouldn't a simple word command be enough? $\endgroup$ Apr 2 at 11:42
  • $\begingroup$ @fallenspacerock I assumed the din of battle would make it difficult for the dragon to hear voice commands. Also voice commands for precise directional movement will be inefficient and inaccurate $\endgroup$
    – Tvox
    Apr 3 at 11:45

Vocal Orders are best

Since the dragons seem relatively intelligent they should probably understand Vocal Orders. These would probably just be short key words uttered by the rider to initiate a breath attack.

I imagine them working similar how you would order a dog around. So really the dragons should due to their intelligence have no trouble following these Orders.

You would probably need to train the dragons like you do with a regular dog. This probably works best with a trusted person a.k.a. the rider but i think this also works generally for multiple person. You could also make the dragons learn different Ordersfor other maneuvers or different kind of attack with its breath weapon.

Selecting a target is just a easy as telling a horse where to go. Really the dragon should be smart enough to recognize what is a target and what is not given their intelligence. Should there somehow still be a need for selective targeting just use additional voice commands to differentiate between targets.

Additionally: Don't nail me down on this one but looking up dog training or better how war Elephants were trained should be helpful. Because they really deal with a similar problem and as far as i am concerned war elephants had special orders to make a stomp attack though on this one i am not sure so you should still look it up.

Note: English is not my primary language so please excuse any grammar or spelling errors.

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    $\begingroup$ Assuming dragons can see their riders (by turning their heads), you could just have a "Look where I'm pointing my spear!" command, and then a few commands for what to do about it. Go there, burn that, bite that, pick that up in a non-destructive manner, etc. $\endgroup$
    – g s
    Apr 4 at 4:33
  • $\begingroup$ @g s Would probably also work if all else fails. $\endgroup$ Apr 4 at 7:40

Why do you need to give the Dragons Orders

Okay - time to bust out some WW2 Lore:

Project Pidgeon This is where Pidgeons were trained to peck at the silhouette of a target, in order to steer a bomb to the target.

Now, you have said that the Dragons are intelligent - some enough to understand human speech - so, we are putting them higher up than Dogs and Primates... and definitely higher up than Pidgeons

Therefore the optimal usage of Dragons is not to control them per se, but to teach them target prioritization.

  • random unarmed peasant - ignore
  • small group of peasants - ignore
  • brightly coloured knight on a horse - maybe attack
  • large military formation - attack.
  • someone wearing a crown - Attack.

You get the idea.

Now, you will still want a human to have a degree of authority over this - the other posters suggested verbal commands or a sheepdog whistle - which are both excellent suggestions - however, by training the Dragon to recognize and prioritize different stimuli - you can defer to the Dragon for most of your target selection:

  • The Dragon probably has far better eyesight than you
  • And better smell
  • With a fire attack, you probably do not need to be very selective

The only time where a human might want to override their Dragon would be if say a King or a Noble was on the field of battle and you wanted to snipe them and spare the lives of the army (with a hope they would turn to your side)

So - TL;DR - Teach the Dragon to recognize valid targets like Pidgeons were taught in WW2 and let the Dragon handle most of the target selection.


Phonetic Alphabet Dragonfire

A syntactically simple set of voice commands should get the job done. You don't want anything that requires the dragon to look back at the rider (which would add time between "aim" and "fire" as it were as well as leave it open to attack from above or below). You also don't want your command words to be misunderstood, so something akin to the NATO phonetic alphabet but for specific types and direction of attacks would be best. Two-syllable words (in this case not in your native language to minimize potential mishap) which can't be mistaken for each other.

You direct the dragon's flight via the bridle and perhaps leg movements (like a horse). Since you can do that, targeting becomes a matter of "straight" "down" "forward" "left" and "right." After that simple commands denoting duration and perhaps length depending on your dragonfire. So a rider would be able to tell their dragon to fire a long burst down and to the left (strafing an infantry regiment as you fly alongside) or fire a short burst by saying the command for forward/down/right/short to nail an enemy commander.

You would also train them using a word-per-action. So you wouldn't say "fire forward/right/down/short" you'd say "Delta!" and the dragon would know what to do. If you want to say "fire forward/right/down/long you might say "Yankee!" If your dragons are collie-smart (and it sounds like they're at least that smart) they'd be capable of learning hundreds of command words for specific actions. It'd probably be best to keep your list to a couple dozen because in the heat of battle simple is best. Even a few dozen would allow for pretty precise direction.

There's certainly room for variation as well. Instead of making each fire pattern unique you could have the first syllable be "horizontal direction" the second be "vertical direction" and a third syllable for "length/duration." That'd leave more room for misunderstood commands but certainly be easier to teach! Perhaps it would be the method dragonriders with little time for training use. Less effective, but quicker to get your dragon in the air and fighting for you.

You'll note I don't have an "up" direction for firing. That's intentional, as I think that'd cause potential problems for your rider via blowback unless your dragons are doing something unique with their fire-making ability. Also "up" is likely only going to be at enemy dragons, and at that point the dragon's combat instincts seem more useful than whatever your rider has going on.


One way you could solve that is by using a different style of bridle; if your dragons have horns, the bridle could attach to those rather than having a mouth bit, or it could be a harness wrapping around the entire skull.

You could also have the bridles made of something fireproof, which could also give you opportunities for mishaps where a dragon is in the middle of flaming and the bridle gets stuck and it throws off its aim, or where a dragon who hasn't fully been broken/trained is straining so hard against the bridle that he chokes and can't flame.


Laser designator. A crewmember dedicated to its operation might be a good idea. Determining wavelengths with suitable visibility to dragon optics are left as an exercise to the author.


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