So, a while back somebody had commented something or other about dinosaurs in one of the various RPG subgroups I follow, and all I really remember about it was apparently some people find the inclusion of dinosaurs in RPGs to be highly divisive. Well, I’m here to say that the detractors are wrong, dinosaurs are great, and I don’t care if you don’t like them, they’re awesome.
Too many people I find want to categorize dragons by the number of limbs, malign intellect, whether or not it breathes fire, or what have you. Damnable scientific categorizing seems impossible to escape in our reality: from Monsters by type in the Monster Manuals to the Witcher 3’s giant lists. I’m largely of the opinion of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” that “science kills the myth”. That’s the whole reason Van Helsing exists, that reason puts aside our cowering at superstition.
In the faerie takes I read growing up, the lines between fae, devil, and ghost were often blurred, so much so that Old Scratch was replaceable by King Nuada or Father Christmas depending upon the tale. Which is much more in line with my homebrew and thinking.
Thus many may find it contentious, but I’m of the opinion that Big Reptile=Dragon. Wyverns are a kind of dragon, sea-serpents are dragons, Godzilla is a dragon, and yes, dinosaurs are dragons, thus “Dungeons and Dragons” means that Dinosaurs are included in that group.
In the words of the French death metal band Gojira, “Dragons are The Myth Alive in The Hearts of Men.” Dinosaurs are the first element we ever learn of as children that tells us that dragons are real, and we have a mythic world lost to us ages ago. This is pertinent in any form of storytelling, as it opens the gates of our imaginations from early on, and many fantasy tropes and settings are predicated off of the Lost Age or post-apocalyptic setting. Especially if your world has dungeons from a time before, it isn’t that hard to imagine your world once had an earlier Age of Fire, where true dragons and their dinosaur cousins warred for supremacy over the unbroken Pangea that once was.
Further, Dinosaurs have a certain je ne sais quoi about them that sparks our imagination. Gygax himself was notorious for his use of the now-labeled “chinasaurs” that became monsters of icon and celebrity within our hobby, such as the Bulette, the Owlbear, and the Rust Monster. As we constantly remix and tell old tales anew, invariably we’ll seek to amalgamate creatures into new chimeras. I, personally think that Gygax was ahead of the trend with the little plastic beasts he brought to the table, and would encourage you to step off from this starting point as well.
Here’s my take at remixing Lizardmen as a playable species using Dinosaurs that I made earlier this year:
You are descended from one of the great saurian peoples from the Age of Dragons, living weapons against the apes-who-became-men. Your Scaled hide is always treated as having leather armor. You have a tail that acts as an unarmed strike (you are proficient with your tail and any ancestry weapons/abilities) and are never unarmed. Choose your ancestry:
⁃ Carnage Tyrants: Gain d6 bite attack, and advantage on STR checks made to grapple. You may Roar 1/day to inspire Fear in opponents (Save vs your STR score)
⁃ Pack Talons: Speed is increased by 10 and you may jump to attack twice with toe claws 1d4. You also have Pack Tactics ability (advantage in melee if enemy is engaged with allies).
⁃ Thunder Guards: Your head crest and horns always count as having a shield and you may gore with your horns on a charge for 2d6 damage.
⁃ Armored Sentinels: Your armored back plates always count as plate armor instead of leather, and your spiked and/or clubbed tail is considered to be a Warhammer/pick 1d8.
⁃ Skyview Behemoths: You count as one size larger for carrying capacity/grappling. Your massive neck lets you crane around corners and over objects to peer about with advantage to stealth.
⁃ Swampland Rangers: You swim as fast as you move, and encumbrance doesn’t affect your swim speed. You can also hold your breath for constitution score in rounds. You may also bellow once a day as a full action, nauseating any non-swampland rangers around you (save vs your constitution score)