In the early days of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, there were two basic types of dragons. Good dragons had metallic scales: gold, silver, copper, brass and bronze*. Evil dragons had a color theme: red, blue, green, white and black.
Bahamut the Platinum Dragon led the metallic contingent, but his opposite number was even more fearsome: Tiamat the Chromatic Dragon. Whereas Bahamut had to make do with a single head, Tiamat was graced with five, one for each of her colorful kin.
Tiamat was one of the chief antagonists in the ’80s Saturday morning cartoon adaptation of the game. There she was the rival of the show’s archvillain, the demonic Venger. She made a significant appearance in my favorite episode, “The Dragon’s Graveyard.”
The series’ premise was that a sextet of modern-day kids were transported into a mystical realm and armed with magic weapons which transformed them into rough analogues of typical D&D character types. Venger wanted their weapons to beef up his own powers, and so spent much of the first two seasons plotting against the children. But in “The Dragon’s Graveyard” he took things too far and gravely injured their pet unicorn. (Don’t ask.)
The kids, having had it up to here with Venger, decided to finish the fight once and for all. But to do so, they needed the help of Tiamat. Fortunately, their magic items could open a portal to her home, the Dragon’s Graveyard.
They confronted Tiamat, only to discover that their weapons were substantially more powerful in the graveyard, not coincidentally the place from which they originated. While the Dragon Queen refused to do the chidren’s dirty work, she offered to teleport Venger to the Dragon’s Graveyard, where their enhanced abilities would win the day.
And sure enough, they kicked Venger’s deviled ass all over Dragontown, a scene I found very satisfying back in the day. Their leader Hank prepared to make the killing shot against their helpless opponent…then released him instead. The demon asked the Ranger why he didn’t finish him off, to which Hank replied, “If I did, we’d be no better than you are. We’ve beaten you, and you know it. Do you understand, Venger? I didn’t do it for you, I did it for us!” In hindsight, I suppose that “we’d be no better than the villain” thing wasn’t as much of a philosophical breakthrough as it seemed at the time, but just the same I thought it was a good message for the young audience.
Tiamat is still very much a major player in the Dungeons & Dragons pantheon, proving that five heads are better than two.
*The latest edition of the game replaced the two “alloy” dragons, brass and bronze, with iron and and the fictional metal adamantine. This was in part because it was felt that alloys didn’t fit the scheme, but mostly because gamers could never remember which were brass dragons and which were bronze.