[RPG] Can a true dragon die of old age


Does a true dragon have a maximum lifespan or old age maladies that can kill them? or do they live functionally forever unless slain via violence?
Is there an edition difference where they can die of old age in some editions but not others?

Best Answer

Yes, dragons can die of natural causes/old age

I'll focus on 3e and 5e resources here as they're the editions I have the most familiarity with. There is some variation in how dragons are depicted between these two editions of the game, but in both of them, it is established that true dragons certainly have very long lifespans by the standards of most species, but they are not immortal, and (barring special circumstances) will die of old age.

3/3.5e - "the twilight"

3/3.5e unsurprisingly goes into the most detail on this subject. The Draconomicon sourcebook is all about dragons and describes their biology in great detail. On the subject of their lifespan, it states that dragons themselves tend to be rather cagey about revealing this kind of information (they do not make it easy for anyone to know exactly how old they are and have a tendency to exaggerate their ages), but it does state explicitly that extremely old dragons eventually enter a stage referred to as "the twilight", when their bodies will start to fail them and they will ultimately die:

A dragon's maximum age is a function of its Charisma score. For a chromatic dragon, multiply the dragon's Charisma score by 50 and add the result to 1,200. This is the age when the twilight period begins for that kind of dragon. For a metallic dragon, multiply the dragon's Charisma score by 100 and add the result to 1,200. [...]

When a dragon's twilight period begins, the dragon must make a DC 20 Constitution check. The dragon dies if the check fails. If the check succeed, the dragon survives, but its Constitution score drops by 1. Each year thereafter, the dragon must succeed on another Constitution check in order to stay alive.

Under these rules the shortest-lived dragons are white dragons (nominally entering twilight at about 2,100 years old) and the longest-lived are gold dragons (entering twilight at 4,400 years old), so even the short-livest varieties of true dragon have natural lifespans in excess of two millennia. The Draconomicon also describes that dragons often choose to end their lives in some other fashion before reaching the twilight stage (including the possibility of becoming an undead dracolich), but it's clear that they will otherwise die of natural causes if they put that off for long enough.


In 5e, we have the Fizban's Treasury of Dragons sourcebook. As a general rule, 5e prefers to be vaguer and more mysterious about these kind of worldbuilding details than previous editions were, so we don't get nearly so explicit a description of their lifespans; but it does strongly imply that, by default, dragons can die of old age or natural causes. A few selected quotes:

Some dragons can live for over a thousand years, outlasting the rise and fall of nations—or even whole civilizations.

Dragons are considered ancient once they reach eight hundred years of life, and many live for centuries more.

Some dragons can live for more than a thousand years, and they may live for centuries past 800, but there's no indication that the ones that didn't live so long must have necessarily met a violent end.

The oldest ancient dragons sometimes transform into mythic creatures of godlike power. These greatwyrms, described in chapter 6, are nearly perfect avatars of draconic nature and are so suffused with the magic of the Material Plane that they are all but immortal.

These greatwyrm dragons are "all but immortal" - so they are not quite actually immortal, meaning they might live for an exceptionally long time but you would expect them to die eventually. Further, it follows that if this is a particularly special property of greatwyrms - who are only created in exceptional circumstances - normal dragons are even less immortal, and thus die of natural causes like any other creature might.

Despite their incredible life spans, some dragons pursue undeath to extend their existences. Others stumble into undeath unwillingly or unwittingly.

Some dragons may be willing to resort to becoming undead in order to extend their lives, so they must otherwise be in danger of dying naturally - otherwise they would not need to become undead to "live" for longer, they'd just need to avoid getting killed.

Even further, the Rise of Tiamat adventure modules includes a dragon graveyard called the "Well of Dragons", of which it states that:

For reasons no mortal understands, many dragons reaching the end of their lives come to the Well of Dragons to die, and have been doing so for millennia.

Altogether, it seems implicit that dragons can die of old age or natural causes, though precisely how long they may live is only vaguely specified, since we are only told they are considered ancient at 800 years old, may live for "several centuries" longer, and greatwyrms specifically are usually at least 1,200 years old. Personally, I would interpret it all to mean that you could expect the average dragon to live to at least a thousand years old, but probably not more than 1,600 years old.

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