Dragonborn are one of the 9 basic race types for DnD. Unlike many of the other races, they have very little lore in the Player’s Hand Book and the descriptions for them are vague. What the dragonborn lack in starter material they make up for in traits and abilities. Players who choose dragonborn gain flexibility in that there are very few hard set visual descriptions. This allows for a lot more customization options.
What is a Dragonborn in DnD?
Dragonborn are humanoid creatures born of dragons. They look very much like dragons, though they lack wings or a tail, and stand with a normal humanoid posture. Their faces are dragon-like and they have reptilian eyes. They are scaly creatures by nature. Their physical traits describe them as being around 6 1/2 ft. tall weighing around 300 lbs.
So they’re big lizards essentially, but unlike lizardmen, dragonborn are more emotionally intelligent, have a cool breath weapon, and a matching damage resistance type. Great traits all around.
The PHB goes into a little more detail on scale colors and a little bit about dragon heritage, but both of these things just boil down to a dragonborn looks a bit like the type of dragon it is descended from. A bit lackluster for such a fantastical race, but this loose description gives people freedom to further tweak and customize their appearance.
For a dragonborn, society is all about clans and honor. They care deeply about their clans and failing to uphold honorable ways may cause them to be exiled or worse. This could lead them to a life of adventure fueled by a need to restore their honor. Wait, am I reading about the dwarves? No, you read that right. Dragonborn society is essentially dwarven society minus the giant mountain homes and with the addition of scales.
While they have similar characteristics as a society, they don’t have the same life span. They actually live a bit shorter than humans with an average of about 80 years. This makes their society a little less about grand works and more about the individuals themselves.
Another thing that stands out in dragonborn society is that everyone is a bit self-focused. This isn’t in contradiction with the clan mentality, it is instead part of it. A way they can act honorably is to seek perpetual improvement. This is one of the things that drives their society forward and creates interesting characters that really want to be the best versions of themselves that they can be.
Dragonborn are a proud race that believes in honor and sticking to principles. Most dragonborn take this a step further and have a strong desire to be self-sufficient and don’t want to rely on the help of others. This usually culminates in a dragonborn having a singular drive to master a particular skill in their lifetime.
It’s very easy to want to look at this as a reason to make jerk NPCs or for a player to create a selfish character who doesn’t get along with others. Don’t get sucked into that trap. Dragonborn are friendly for the most part. They might be a bit stodgy and reserved, but that comes naturally when interacting with other races that might mistake you for a monster on first sight.
Like dwarves, they have many reasons to seek out ways to bring honor to their clans. But unlike dwarves, they might go out seeking their dragon heritage and try to befriend or earn the favor of great dragons. A dragonborn might also head into the world to seek ways to master their craft, be it magic or mundane. These are all great reasons for dragonborn to head out into the world and party up with others for mutually beneficial reasons.
Subversion of Dragonborn Archetypes
If you want to make a dragonborn that defies expectations, you’d make a crude, overly friendly, incautious, laze about. Essentially start with a dragonborn, throw out pride and honor, and then staple on some rebellion and lack of self awareness.
Characters like this might not make a lot of sense coming from a clan, but they might be orphans, raised by that never fit in, or from a clan that had declined after being rebuffed by its ancestor. No matter how you justify it, dragonborns are a little easier to subvert than some other races since their lore is limited and traits are rigid.
Dragonborn by the Numbers
Dragonborn have improved strength, improved charisma, a draconic ancestry, a breath weapon and damage resistance that matches that ancestry, and are otherwise sturdy creatures.
Breath weapons are a 30 ft linear or 15 ft conical attack, based on ancestry. They deal damage that scales as you level, starting at 2d6 and increasing to 5d6 after level 16. The DC Dexterity or Constitution save (based on breath type) is determined by your Constitution modifier and your proficiency bonus. This means that beefier dragonborns also tend to have better breath weapons, and that’s a neat way to incentivize dropping points into constitution. You can only use a breath weapon once per short or long rest.
The damage resistance does not scale or change, but at early levels it can be extremely helpful, especially when the game has already made pumping points into Constitution worthwhile.
Dragonborn in a Nutshell
While there’s not a lot to go on for dragonborns in the core rule books, they make a pretty heavy appearance in other materials. Dragonlance settings, have a lot more examples of their use and speak to the internal struggle with their dragon nature that drives them to push towards extremes. Regardless of where you draw the source material from, dragonborn are a useful and fun race that add a cool concept to the roster of playable races.
If you have players seeking to play dragonborn characters, encourage them to customize and explore their draconic ancestry a bit more. It’s more than worth a little bit of time and definitely a race worth having in your campaigns.