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Lizardfolk
Dragon's-Eye View
By Jon Schindehette

L izardfolk, kobolds, troglodytes, and the rest of the scaled folks in the D&D world make me groan. Don’t get me wrong: as a player/DM I love having them in the game. They bring all kinds of fun and mayhem into the mix. But, when thinking of them in my role as the Creative Director for the brand, they make me cringe. Why? Well, if you’ve been playing D&D for a while (and I have for more than thirty years), you know that these races have lacked a massive amount of visual continuity. Add into that mix the ability to have clear and understandable visual distinctions between the different races, and you’ve described the recipe for a creative headache. It’ll come as no surprise that we ended up having lots of long and heated discussions when we were talking about all the races that I flippantly clustered together and called lizard, frog, and fish folk.

Today, I’m going to focus on the lizardfolk and troglodytes, which are two of our lizard-based races. Before I get too far into it, I have a question for you: have you ever spent time looking at lizards?

I have. I used to have two gigantic iguanas in my life at one time. They captivated me with their behaviors and antics. Lizards are amazing creatures; they are living and breathing fossils that are masters of survival. I kept my observations about iguanas in mind while we tackled the fun of deconstructing the lizard races. Doing so, in this case, came in the form of trying to distinguish the races according to their story and culture. Now, with real world lizards in mind, here’s my next question for you to consider: what does a lizard look like?

Do you think of the innocent little garden lizard called the anole? Do you think of the ancient mariner, the green iguana? Do you go big and think of the komodo dragon? There are thousands of different lizards running around our big green ball, so when I say that a race is based on a lizard, you can imagine all the different images that start popping into folks’ minds.

You’ve got lizards on the mind now, so let’s focus in on the lore and see if we can draw any conclusions from there. In fact, let’s draw them up side by side and see if we can identify the differences as well as the ties.

Lizardfolk

  • Lizard-based
  • Natural armor and weapons favored
  • Natural camouflage
  • Not all that bright
  • Sluggish in the cold
  • Dwell in swamps
  • Eat to live

Troglodytes

  • Lizard-based
  • Some weapons; javelin favored
  • Stench
  • Not all that bright
  • Degenerate offshoot
  • Dwell in the Underdark
  • Live to eat

So, when looking at these two creatures in a broad sense, the main differences are in their environment, culture, and some physical elements. Technically, then, I could see us ask for lizardfolk that didn’t really have much of a difference except that Lizard Guy A has a body odor issue, has a greater tendency to use weapons, and looks a bit degenerate. Yep, that could be it.

From a world-building sense, I’d like to have more than that, though. I would prefer (as a player, DM, and CD) that I could look at a creature and know who/what they are quickly and easily. That is, unless the creature in question has the ability to mimic or masquerade as something else (think of all the critters out there that do that in the real world). Mimicry is not a feature that is discussed in the lore, though, so I’ll run with the idea that they should look “related,” but different.

Going back to the “in-world” viewpoint I talked about in the previous Dragon’s-Eye View article, how does the culture and physiology of the beast express itself in the world? When we talked about lizardfolk and troglogdytes, we ran through lots of real-life lizards, or combinations of lizards, to see what types of appearances best supported the mythos of these guys. Since we were bouncing between “normal” and “degenerated” sides of a family, we decided to play up that aspect of the backstory. I wanted to contrast between the strong and healthy creatures, and the weak and corrupted ones. That was as good a place to start as any!

After that, I wanted to overlay ideas of the stench of the trog. I mean, how do you show a stinky creature? We kicked around the idea of doing a cloud of funk similar to that of Pig Pen’s, but that would just be a nightmare to deal with visually. Instead we started asking ourselves this: what caused that stink? Could it be caused by the corruption? Do they have open sores and gross medical issues that create the stench? Another interesting idea, but there was a concern that they would start to look too much like undead. What then? Diving back into nature, we considered the ways that nature creates stench—especially as a weapon/defense. Hmmm . . . glands. There’s an idea that might have some legs. Add that one to the list.

At that point, we had some signposts to help direct our thought processes, so we dove into the concepting process. Ideas flew about, we debated lore and execution, and the project started to gel.

At this point, let me run through a bit of our thinking . . .

  • Similar body anatomy to tie together family, but different enough in their outline so they are visually distinct at a glance.
  • Brighter color (but color changes depending upon environment), more muscle mass, more upright appearance, visual cues of “sun soaker” types of lizards (fins for cooling, white belly to reflect back heat, and so on), and a nod to a gator for lizardfolk.
  • Subdued colors, scent gland, more hunched and “corrupt” look for troglodyte.
  • They should be reminiscent of lizards . . . not dragons, frog, or fish.

Without labeling them, do you get a sense that . . .

 Which creature do you think is the creature on the right? Choose one.  
Lizardfolk
Troglodyte

 Given the criteria I’ve talked about in the article, are there visual representations that you think are not represented well?  
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.
I think you’ve done a good job, but you missed an item or two.
It’s okay, but you missed several items.
Way off the mark, and let me tell you why.

Please add any comments below.

Previous Poll Results

The goblin matched my list . . .
Pretty darn close. Most of the items were the same. 678 41.8%
Somewhat. You hit several of my items. 391 24.1%
Exactly! You must have been reading my mind. 219 13.5%
Not a lot. You matched only a couple of my items. 212 13.1%
Am I looking at the wrong image? We didn't match at all. 122 7.5%
Total 1622 100.0%
Jon Schindehette
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at theartorder.com.
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