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Because of the popularity and controversy of the "apex lifeform" question, I think it might be good to create a new question based on the original as a community-inspired "just for fun" question. To that end, I'd like the community to help me come up with an unambiguous set of guidelines for what qualifies.

Let me start it off; but remember that we're not just trying to duplicate the old question. We're trying to make a new one that will work better with the community standards. For these purposes, I think it would be good to use the answers to suggest edits and the votes to, well, vote. But I'm open to alternatives.

I've included a definition of what dragons are because this is one of those things that's highly debatable. While I do agree that most people know what a dragon is there are also a lot of things that are incredibly Dragon-like that aren't technically dragons. However, just saying "dragon-like" (or things like: list, of, examples) creates additional ambiguity. Feel free to frame your edit a different way if you think it'll work better.

Dragons are widely thought of as the "top dog" in classic fantasy. What is your best idea for of a species to take their place at the top of the metaphorical food chain? Remember, this is your single best idea, so only post the one!

Must:

  • Have a mortal (impermanent) nature and must have some form of offspring.
  • Be inspired by mythology. It doesn't have to match its mythological origin exactly but it should be referenced and it should still fundamentally resemble the creature in question.
  • Explain what unique combination of natural abilities makes this type of creature superior to a dragon.

Must not:

  • Be a dragon. A dragon is defined as having 3 or more of the following traits.
    1. A serpentine body (scaly or otherwise).
    2. A predator's fangs and/or claws.
    3. Flight (with or without wings).
    4. A breath weapon.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, this might be more workable if we can work out good criteria. The meta topic on the apex lifeforms question seemed to suggest there were problems both with the question (not clear enough) and with answers (many not meeting the... unclear... criteria). Perhaps we should put the apex lifeforms question on a historical lock if we go down this path (since it's historically significant, but as the historical lock notice says, not an example of a good, on-topic question). \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 6 '14 at 0:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Dragon trait #5: Treasure-hoarding. Also, there was a lot of confusion in the previous version over what "mythological" meant. Several D&D-originated creatures were suggested; would they be acceptable answers in this new version? They weren't considered acceptable by many based on the old question's criteria. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Aug 6 '14 at 0:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ As a note, considering the answer quality of the prior question, aim to set a very high bar of quality here. I've locked the old question pending a very good question coming out of this process. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Aug 6 '14 at 0:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Should it not be closed and locked, then? \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 6 '14 at 1:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @WesleyObenshain Then your criteria is unclear. I thought you wanted "not having lots of dragon-y traits," but apparently you want "not having lots of dragon-y traits that are generally beneficial"? (And "mythology" is just as broad and unclear as anything else without clarification; you still haven't said whether a beholder or an aboleth would be a good answer for this question.) \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Aug 6 '14 at 2:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ They're firmly entrenched in the mythology of D&D, and inspired by older works--aberrations draw on the Cthulhu Mythos, which Lovecraft credits as drawing on ancient cultural myths of "cosmic fear." Beyond that, such things are part of our modern cultural mythos. At what point does a creature move from "intellectual property" to "popular culture" to "myth?" Is it time, or ubiquity, or something else which makes a thing mythical? That's why I'm suggesting you clarify your terms. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Aug 6 '14 at 2:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ As for dragons, you've not explained the reasoning behind your definitions. My suggestion seemed like a reasonable addition based on your terms, but was dismissed out of hand because of something you assumed but didn't make explicit which underlies those terms. Thus I suggest you make your goals and assumptions more transparent so people don't misread it like I did. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Aug 6 '14 at 2:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BESW Mind making an answer comprising your suggestions and criticism regarding the dragon criteria? I'm thinking of making my own too. That at least makes this less of an amalgamated chat all over the place. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 6 '14 at 2:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener That's kind of what I was going for anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Aug 6 '14 at 3:11
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Ultimately, the apex lifeform question stuck around for 1 reason, and 1 reason only: it had value. There are people building campaign settings, or working on games who can refer to these kinds of lists to develop non-human, non-dragon overarching bad guy types.

This question, basically is either a soliciation of same, or an invitation to develop homebrew characters. If the apex lifeform question was too broad, this is too broad by several degrees more with the invitation to homebrew.

More importantly, SE is not a good place to develop new homebrew. It's an OK place to ask about specific issues your having while developing it, or issues that arise in play because of it. But it's not a great place for new thought.

I'm inclined to believe that this would be an excellent question in a forum, but is not a good fit for an SE site, even with an explicit rule break meta tag like attached to it.

Even those questions should solve actual problems (the only one we have so far is the 5e character sheet tag which solves a pretty darn clear problem). The apex pred question solved some problems, and the preference should be to edit, cull answers and reopen that one, not ask a new one that is broader.

Addendum: If your developing a question specifically for the you probably should stop right then. If we're going to keep that tag, we should only use it for specific site events. The tag has to have meaning and using it to save questions from the bin is a terrible way to give it that. We've already had a mechanic for that (Community Wiki) that has fallen completely out of favor because it was used for this very thing. In other words, let's not use as a carte blanc for bad questions. Let's use it as a specific exception for major site events.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @WesleyObenshain re: the first point. The only instance of this tag so far is for a 5e character sheets question. That's the level of major site events I'm talking about. This isn't close to that. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Aug 6 '14 at 3:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm the one who brought up the argument that [just-for-fun] shouldn't be used to save questions from the bin. It would just be Community Wiki all over again, there being no differences that would make it work better this time around. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 6 '14 at 3:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie thanks, I edited that 'graph. I agree it's not for bad question salvation. If we're going to keep it, it needs to be for site events at most. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Aug 6 '14 at 3:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have found this format very good for homebrew. I have answered a few questions with new homebrew tailored to the authors' needs, and that has been well received, and I have received useful feedback on my work. So I disagree with that. I agree with the rest. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 7 '14 at 15:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I think the instances you mention are the sort of focused, concrete problems that the site is built around. "Here is a homebrew solution to the problem you're having" is a good answer. "Here is my homebrew solution, but X and Y don't work well in it, how do I fix it?" is a good question. But "I want a homebrew solution to replace X, what are good ideas in that area?" isn't - it's too broad and too opinion-based, which I think is what wax eagle's concerned about. \$\endgroup\$ – lisardggY Aug 7 '14 at 16:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @lisardggY aye, that's what I'm getting at. If the right answer to the question is a solid homebrew one, then that's fine. If the question is asking for you to write some homebrew for them, that's probably not a good question. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Aug 7 '14 at 16:57
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This is rapidly turning into a Gorilla vs Shark question, but with more problematic bits.

Like "what's a dragon?" and "where do the edges of 'mythological' fall?"

I’m gonna take a step back. This was originally not about "who can beat up a dragon?" but about "what can be used in place of dragons when designing an adventure?" That might be framable in something closer to Stack Exchange terms. We are using the "fun" tag, but let’s actually stay within our site’s strengths and try to solve a real problem.

As an exercise I'll try to re-write the question.

I'll take that question and modify it just a bit for my purposes: What can be used in place of dragons when designing a setting? [Note: I don’t think this is going to be a good question because I don’t have the need driving it. However, it’s a fun and interesting exploration of how this kind of question COULD be asked, if it can be at all. At the end of the day I might conclude it’s not a good fit for the SE format.]

Time for brainstorming! I'll collate it all into a proper question at the end.

Obviously first I need to define the role that dragons have in a setting, before I can do anything else. There’s no universal dragon template--they can be almost ANYTHING depending on the culture/setting/system/etc--so I need to define dragons in terms of what I need them to be/do/provide in this particular context.

First and foremost: a dragon’s presence in the world must be FUN for the players at the table. This means my players can interact with it somehow (even if it’s just running away, I suppose, but that seems unsatisfying). So the primary feature of the dragon in this context ("apex life form," "top dog,") is that the dragon's presence must colour everything about the setting. The existence of dragons is a defining element of living in the world.

The dragon must be physically powerful. Otherwise a particularly nasty virus, or a physically weak but politically savvy doppelganger, could easily colour the landscape and dominate the world without being a dragon substitute from a storytelling/interaction point of view. Also, many RPGs assume combat and it’s hard to fight a virus without going all “Fantastic Voyage.” Additionally the dragon must be high-profile. Dragons aren’t a surprise the party finds out about ⅓ of the way into an adventure, they’re not subtle like that.

Now, I’m not sure the specific nature of the setting is important but there’s one assumption I can make: it has intelligent humanoids. That point is crucial, as it leads to this criterion: A dragon must be an intelligent creature with social influence. A dumb brute, or even an intelligent creature which disregards social forces, will be unable to sufficiently influence a town, a city, or a nation, no matter how powerful the creature is. Besides, this lets the characters talk with the dragon as well as run from/fight him: more fun for the table.

I’ll make some other assumptions right off the bat. Some are drawn from the original question, others will be justified later on: dragons are solitary, living and breathing creatures with lifespans and offspring.

Now I know what dragons are: intelligent, physically powerful mortal creatures with solitary lifestyles. What role do they have? They dominate their environment through both physical and social superiority; wherever a dragon is, the influence of its desire is felt by everyone nearby. They’re mortal: dragons can be defeated/killed. But while they’re solitary dragons are not singular: when one dragon dies, another will likely want to take its place in the local power structure.

Excellent! Now I know what dragons are and what they do. Now, what is it about dragons which I don’t want to see in my replacement creature? Dragon abilities are so variant that it’s impossible to make a list of “must not,” but I can probably make a list of “try to avoid as many of these as you can.”

  • Breath weapons. These things are so iconic of dragons that it shouldn’t limit the answers much. Your creature can have a breath weapon, as long as it’s not also otherwise extremely dragon-y.
  • Colossal reptilian, likely winged. Unless it’s a very non-dragon-y kind of colossal winged reptilian (I wanna see that).
  • Hoards treasure. While any successful politician has deep pockets, dragons go above and beyond, collecting wealth for its own sake. Your creature should probably avoid such indulgences.

And now what don’t I want to see in my “top dog” that isn’t inherently dragon-y? I agree with some of the original list:

  • Humanoids are out. Go away, “man is the real monster.” You’re not welcome here.
  • Modern creations are out. The original question wanted answers with relatively ancient lineage. If the thing’s origin can be traced to an author or source, it should be several hundred years old at least.

And there we have it. Let’s put that together, shall we?

I can't believe it's not butter a dragon!

While building a setting, I want to use a non-dragon creature in the role which dragons would traditionally fill: an intelligent, physically powerful mortal creature that dominates its environment through both physical and societal superiority.

Features I want:

  • A physically intimidating creature. One on one vs the creature, a human’s odds should be laughable, but we want the possibility of an epic battle.
  • An intelligent creature with societal influence. The creature should be able to influence local or national politics, bribe important people, and generally enact its will through non-physical efforts. We want to be able to reason and bargain with it.
  • An obvious creature. Dragons don’t skulk around and manipulate things as a shadowy figure revealed only in the penultimate arcs of the campaign. If you’re in an adventure with a dragon you know there’s a dragon in the adventure. This creature should be similarly high-profile in its world.
  • A solitary creature. Perhaps the dragon’s greatest weakness vs humanity is its inability to form lasting alliances with its own kind. This sets the dragon apart mentally, and makes it more reasonable for a group of adventurers to eventually achieve victory over a dragon. I’d like to keep that if possible.
  • A mortal creature. Living, breathing, with offspring to carry on its role in the world. It’s got a lifespan, it can be killed, there’s more than one of them out there. It’s neither a god nor a one-in-the-world monster.
  • A creature sourced from ancient real-world fiction or mythology. I’m looking for creatures sourced from our real world’s mythologies, with fairly ancient lineage. If the thing’s origin can be traced to an author or source, it should be several hundred years old at least.

Features I don’t want:

These ones are non-compromisable:

  • Humanoids are out. Go away, “man is the real monster.” You’re not welcome here.
  • Modern creations are out. I’m looking for creatures with relatively ancient lineage. If the thing’s origin can be traced to an author or source, it should be several hundred years old at least. (Yes, this is expressed above already.)

And please, avoid the typical dragon-y traits as much as possible:

  • No breath weapons. These things are so iconic of dragons that it shouldn’t limit the answers much. If your creature has a breath weapon, it should be extremely non-dragon-y otherwise.
  • No colossal (likely winged) reptilians. Unless it’s a very non-dragon-y kind of colossal winged reptilian (I wanna see that).
  • No obsession with shiny things. While any successful politician has deep pockets, dragons go above and beyond, collecting wealth for its own sake. Your creature should avoid such indulgences.

If your answer suggests a creature which has to be adjusted to meet some of these criteria, try to make sure they’re minor points, few, and provide explicit justification of how/why the modified creature makes for a better answer. (e.g., if you suggest a humanoid monster and tell me, “Just say it looks different,” that’s gonna be a hard sell--harder if you also have to modify it from being an unintelligent one-of-a-kind immortal monster.)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I would actually be willing to adopt the quoted section wholesale but I want to give the community a chance to do its thing. \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Aug 6 '14 at 5:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well... Maybe not the title. :-P \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Aug 6 '14 at 5:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Titles can't contain strike-outs anyway. :'( \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 6 '14 at 5:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Shh. Don't ruin my fun. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Aug 6 '14 at 5:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this might actually be a good edit for the original question. It appears to match the original problem and criteria, but much tighter-written. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 6 '14 at 7:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I'd be okay with that, but it needs some tweaking; I left out criteria like "no natural weapons" which seemed overly restrictive without being particularly useful restrictions, and added criteria like "not obsessed with shiny things." \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Aug 6 '14 at 7:51
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I think the time has passed on this one. We already have the one apex lifeform question littering the site. If the proposal isn't "delete that and start again with this one," we don't want a second incarnation of a questionable thing. You say "the intent is not to duplicate it" but this is duplicating it with 5% change thrown in.

There's not a problem with [just-for-fun] being "the new community wiki," as basically a Meta-vetted once-in-a-while exception. The CW problem was that everyone used it all the time; believe me we won't let that happen. It's a safety valve to try to have alternate question types once in a while that the site community likes.

We can either retroactively [just-for-fun] that apex question and maybe add some guidance of "how to answer this in a non-crappy manner." Or just close it. I don't think doing the same thing again is worthwhile.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, the point is to replace the current question with this one. It frees the community from some of the issues of "setting precedent". Whether or not the original gets deleted (or closed. Or locked as historical) isn't really what this one is about. \$\endgroup\$ – Wesley Obenshain Aug 6 '14 at 15:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ It is about it, just because we're not going to greenlight a just-for-fun that's basically like that other big post... \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 8 '14 at 3:38

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