One of the things I’ve noticed about following the AD&D universe from puberty through menopause is how the quality of the artwork has changed. The original creators of the game were geeks, not artists. Whatever art skills they had were self-taught, probably over many lonely hours. The game needed visuals for its players, being at that point mostly cerebral, and the TSR created with charm and style.
This is the original Red dragon as visualized by the game. It’s pretty plain and childlike. It’s clear comic art of the 1970s was an influence.
The different dragon types developed their own “looks” in the artwork of the early 1980s. Here’s an early depiction of the Chromatic dragon goddess/demoness Tiamat from the Saturday morning cartoon Dungeons and Dragons.
This depiction was based on artwork from the game itself and the types are slowly settling into their canon appearances. The Green has an alligator-like face and a finned crest, the White a single, backward-curving horn with an attached fin, the Blue a large nose horn and frilled ears, the Black forward-pointing horns. The Red dragon head is still changing. Instead of the heavy brow of the earliest artwork, it now has a mane, oversized fangs, and a face like that of an Oriental dragon. The tentacles at the side of its jaws in the earliest version have been replaced by tufts of hair.
Another depiction, this one on a toy box from the mid-1980s. Note the poses of the warriors fighting the creature are as close and dramatic as those on the first picture I posted.
When TSR was bought by Wizards of the Coast in the 1990s, the artwork changed again, from a comic-based to a more realistic style. One of the selling points of WotC’s original product, Magic: The Gathering, was the quality of its art. That emphasis carried over.
In this illustration the Chromatic types have their modern (that is, 2018) appearance. The Green dragon still has its back fin and alligator head, the White its single head horn, though now its upper jaw comes to a point. The Black, Red, and Blue dragons have changed the most. The Black’s horns are much larger and curve forward in a lyre shape, and its head is more-skull like, with an underbite. The Red dragon still has heavy brows, and now horns; at the end of its jaws it now has fin-like ears, not tentacles or hair. Its nose, oddly, remains a variation of the first version, with wide flaring nostrils. The Blue dragon’s ears and nose horn have become enormous compared to its earliest incarnation and its head less horselike.
Two of the dragon types in their habitats. More realistic yet, but… it’s harder to imagine adventurers carelessly swinging swords at them in close-up combat. These pictures depict them as foes requiring care and distance. Trickery and subterfuge, even.
If you’re looking for some adventures for your characters, here’s some randomgen Chromatics for use.
Mature adult female green dragon. She has sharp-keeled, emerald-green scales with a silver-purple edge and is missing one fang. In addition, she has a small horn on her nose. She likes to hoard any kind of magic. Using shapechange she often disguises herself as a human peasant to see what is happening in local communities. Chisaug is unpredictable and in truth is more chaotic neutral than her native alignment. If one catches her in a good mood, she can be quite friendly. She lairs in an abandoned temple deep in the forest.
Young but large male white dragon with a sarcastic way of speaking. He likes to hoard food, most of which lies spoiled in his den, emitting a sickly odor. He has thick scales with faint, dirty green bands and numerous chin and facial horns. Despite his youth he has four huge fangs to grapple his enemies with. He likes to tell long-winded stories to his captives, whom he ransoms rather than kills. Other local dragons avoid him, sensing he is not quite right in the head.
Gnarkle the Stormcaller
Massive adult female white dragon. She hoards any kind of precious treasure, but has special regard for scents and perfumes. Gnarkle has heavy, plated scales with metallic reticulations and long silky tufts of white hair on her face. She insists nearby communities worship her as a goddess. When attacking she gives a sharp cry like a falcon’s. She has a taciturn personality that says little (aside from telling lesser beings to worship her.) Her most feared ability is blizzard summoning.
Blackwraith the Venerated
Huge, ancient male black dragon. He likes to hoard marble statues and loose, uncut diamonds. He has a pleated hide with iridescent purplish-blue stripes and numerous gems embedded in his body from long periods of inactivity. He enjoys hearing distant news from travelers and has a deep rumbling laugh. Blackwraith has a tendency towards neutral good, unusual for a black dragon.
Old, medium-sized female black dragon. Likes to hoard jewelry especially items made with emeralds. When encountering strangers she speaks with a sweet, musical voice, gesturing with her graceful neck. But her friendly nature is a sham, and she will turn on the weak at the first opportunity. She lairs in a ruined castle half-submerged in a swamp.
Aurrieve, aka The Terror of the West
Adult male red dragon. He has an aura of heat around him and likes to hoard meteorites as well as more conventional treasure. On his hide he displays bright gold freckles. Aurrieve enjoys playing deadly tricks on humans with his long, whiplike tail. He is known for despoiling forests, turning them into arid wastelands.
Huge, ancient female blue dragon. She likes to hoard platinum and is called “The Trickster Empress” for her tendency to trick victims out of their treasure using shapechange, rather than taking it by force. One of her favorite falsehoods is telling humans she used to be a human princess until a jealous queen transformed her into a dragon. Gamshisz has dry, leathery skin and a sharp laugh. Using magic, she has given herself two extra pairs of wings.
Medium-sized, venerable male red dragon. Bharath likes to hoard tomes of knowledge with bejeweled covers and has a library of hundreds. He lairs in an abandoned catacomb. He is short-tempered and tends to act on impulse, so caution is advised when in his territory.
Huge, ancient, healthy male blue dragon. Yevagrund has a silver-dusted greenish-blue hide with faint tiger-like stripes of a darker blue. Rumor has it his lust for treasure caused the ruin of an entire elven city. Yevarund is cautious and will find out everything he can about a situation before acting.