Beginner's Guide to Dragonborn
by Steven Franklin
So, you want to play a character that’s foreign and mysterious, evoking feelings of awe and wonder in everyone they meet? You want to play a character who’s strong and imperious? Who’s both socially and physically imposing? You want to play a character from one of the most unique and colorful races in all DND?
Then it’s time you played them: the dragonborn!
No, not that dragonborn! THIS dragonborn!
There we go! As I was saying, the 5e dragonborn are a storied, colorful (see what I did there?) race that offer a spectrum (yes, two in a row!) of story hooks, features, and traits designed to give you one of the most unique and powerful characters in the game!
Unlike most of the typical DND races, dragonborn are not native to this plane of existence, so explaining their presence here requires a bit of a history lesson. Every dragonborn that you see is a relatively new arrival, with their kind only appearing on the planet of Toril within the last generation or so. The entire race is comprised of refugees from Abeir, a (literally) godless planet on another plane that is governed by primordial titans rather than traditional divinities. Or at least, it was… but now the true powers on Abeir are the dragons, who grew so powerful that they drove the ruling primordials into hiding. Now, the almighty dragons have broken into disparate factions (Chromatic vs Metallic) and are locked in a never-ending civil war against one another for rule of the planet.
You see, on Abeir, the concept of “good dragons” does not exist: the dragons there are invariably malicious and hostile. It was these dragons who magically created the dragonborn race to be smaller, flightless, weaker knock-offs of themselves that could be forced into servitude. On a good day, they were used for slave labor by their draconic overlords, and on a bad day, they were used as cannon fodder for their wars! Because of this, the dragonborn actually fiercely despise their creators, and most apply this same prejudice to the dragons of Faerun as well!
Remember those primordial that I mentioned earlier, the ones who were effectively the gods of Abeir prior to the draconic coup? They proved incapable of saving themselves from the draconic threat, much less the dragonborn who once prayed to them for salvation. Thus, the dragonborn as a whole became sorely disillusioned with the very concept of praying higher powers, determining that if their salvation were to ever come, it would have to come from within. Thus, even on Toril, where the presence of gods is practically palpable, and many are proven to be benevolent, the dragonborn still want nothing to do with the divines. While no dragonborn is truly atheistic, they are so used to being ignored or abused by higher powers, that most actively despise the gods. They would never stoop so low as to pray and to ask the gods for aid again, they would find a way to persevere on their own!
In fact, after thousands of years of no one else looking out for them (not their creators, nor the primordials), being raised in a world that was invariably hostile towards them, and refusing to rely upon anyone else (not the dragons, nor even the gods), the dragonborn have made it their greatest cultural imperative to become entirely self-sufficient. This is the defining characteristic of their race and expresses itself in two major ways:
The dragonborn people’s most sacred rule is this:
Well, perhaps “Family” is not the right word... dragonborn "families" exist purely for procreation. Marriages are usually arranged by members of their clan and are highly transactional in nature, viewed as a partnership for the purposes of producing offspring. As a partnership, the dragonborn female entering a marriage is considered the equal to her male counterparts in all respects. Since their relationship is primarily practical, the couple begins mating immediately once their union is official, and stays together only until their hatchlings reach the age of three. After that, the marriage is legally dissolved and both parents go their separate ways, dividing the children between them according to their gender (fathers are given custody of male hatchlings, and mothers are given the females). But while the institution of family is shaky in dragonborn culture, one’s loyalty to their clan is the core of their very identity. So I guess I should instead say…
Dragonborn clans are the dominant social unit within their culture. Clans are comprised of all the members of multiple bloodlines that were formed in time-forgotten to serve a common purpose. They are notably not traditionally divided by scale color, as the dragonborn race was not divided by the same hostilities that the dragons themselves were. These clans exist today as the epicenter of the dragonborn’s entire lifestyle: everything that a dragonborn does in life will be dedicated to the purpose of serving their clan: whether by strengthening it, adding to its number, spreading its fame, or increasing its honor. A dragonborn’s clan is the crux of their pride, and none would never take any action that could negatively impact or dishonor their clan.
The dragonborn’s second-most-sacred cultural tenet is the noble pursuit of self-improvement. The dragonborn believe that their actions are a reflection of who they are within, and seek to constantly both prove and improve themselves by facing all challenges head-on. Bravery is not merely a trait to be attained or celebrated, it is a baseline expectation for all clan members. Cowardice is not considered an unseemly thing to be ashamed of, but rather a revolting thing to be shunned or exiled. They hold their own integrity in such high regard that they will conduct themselves honorably at all times, even when in combat with their worst enemies! While this is partially because they feel that all creatures deserve respect, even the lowest of the low (because this is what they were considered on Toril), it is also because their conduct is a reflection of their nobility. Stooping to dirty tactics or unseemly conduct is beneath them; a sign of weakness. By extension, they also value forthrightness, straightforwardness, and even honesty when in conversation with others. They consider lies, double-talk, and deception to be an expression of conversational cowardice; evidence of an inner fear of the consequences of speaking plainly.
Dragonborn were granted the ability to channel the primal, elemental fury of their draconic creators. Each dragonborn inherited their sires’ affinity toward a certain elemental magic (corresponding to their scale color), and are able to manipulate energies of that type. They can conjure it forth as a breath weapon, and even resist damage from energies of the same type. While they are not permanently immune to the damaging effects of their element like full dragons are, they can temporarily mirror this trait for short intervals.
While dragonborn may share scale colors, elemental affinities, and boast reflections of similar draconic powers, they are wholly unrelated dragons of Toril, and are not likely to share any of their personality quirks or social tendencies. For example, while a golden dragonborn might be graceful and wise (like a gold dragon of Toril), it does not mean that blue dragonborn are predisposed to be malicious tricksters, or that black dragonborn are predisposed to lead solitary lifestyles like their namesakes. Instead, their personalities are modeled to be the opposite of their evil Abeir-dragon overlords. Thus, dragonborn are typically a proud and upstanding people.
When choosing a dragonborn name, start with a 2-3 syllable combination of sounds with harsh consonants and prominent vowels for a first name. Try to mix consonants like “b”, “g”, “r”, “z”, and “n” with vowels like “o” , “e”, and especially ä. Their names are “breathy”, so if it sounds good while you’re exhaling (like a breath weapon), then you’ve got a winner! Dragonborn carry no surname, replacing it with their clan name, shared by all members of their clan. These are typically quite long, averaging 4-5 syllables, though there are some as short as 3. While they typically follow the same rules as first names, bonus points if you can include sounds like “-or”, “-ir”, “-ar”, “-ch”, “-sh”, and “-th”. Examples of some good dragonborn names might be Bharash Daardendrian, Nala Drachedandion, Raiann Kerrhylon, or Rhogar Turnuroth.
For added flavor, consider giving them a “Clutch name”, which is essentially the childhood nickname they had before being given their new name as an adult. These are commonly adjectives like “Zealous” or “Pious”, or verbs with “-er” added like “Climber”, “Biter”, or “Cutter”. I personally enjoy making up their names, clutch names, and clan names myself, but if you’re having trouble getting started, just use a dragonborn name generator like this one and simply modify what comes up to suit your taste!
Dragonborn characters excel on the frontlines, where they don’t have to be as picky about where they point those breath weapons. Plus, as a particularly strong race, they often gravitate towards melee combat, favoring an in-your-face fighting style. Because their race race has no abilities that make them consistently hardier, many dragonborn prefer to wear heavy armor so they can stay in the fight as long as possible! If a dragonborn overcomes its cultural dislike of gods, their racial advantages make dragonborn paladins peerless warriors. In addition to the perfect mechanical synergy, a dragonborn swearing its life to the unwavering pursuit of an Oath is extremely on-brand for their people from a lore perspective, as well!
But if you’re looking for a road slightly less-traveled, but one still dripping with lore implications, a dragonborn sorcerer makes an extremely thematic choice, particularly one of the draconic bloodline variety. A dragonborn fighter can show their battlefield supremacy using their battlemaster’s superiority dice. And a dragonborn bard singing tales of Abeir gets one-step ahead of the inevitable dragon-slaying jokes…
But even if you opt to throw out the rich history and culture these new arrivals bring to the Forgotten Realms, substituting your own homebrew lore and tendencies, a dragonborn PC will still remain a powerful presence at the table in any setting thanks to the extensive variety of variations within the save and the expansive suite of unique features offered by their lineages. Let’s go over a few examples:
Ability Score Increase:
Your Strength score increases by 2, and your Charisma score increases by 1.
Young dragonborn grow quickly. They walk hours after hatching, attain the size and development of a 10-year-old human child by the age of 3, and reach adulthood by 15. They live to be around 80.
Dragonborn are taller and heavier than humans, standing well over 6 feet tall and averaging almost 250 pounds. Your size is Medium.
Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Your character can speak, read, and write Common and one oher language
The spectrum (I’ll never get tired of that joke) of the dragonborn DND offers now includes a whopping FOURTEEN different lineages, each of which adds to or modifies the above abilities in certain ways. That’s a lot to cover, so we’ll break it down for you, starting with the original chromatic bloodlines:
The dragonborn DND 5e released in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons have expanded the list of DND dragonborn to include metallic dragons, offering players the option to play as a gold dragonborn, silver dragonborn, bronze dragonborn, as well as brass and copper varieties. These metallic lineages still maintain elemental breath weapons and resistances, like the chromatics, but with a few key modifications:
And just in case you’re thinking of using some Critical Role content, here’s two MORE options to consider:
Dragonborn are a powerful new presence on the face of Toril, bringing with them a storied history of thriving in a hostile world, and finally escaping their oppressors. Dragonborn PC’s should elicit gasps of fear and wonder wherever they go, since most folks have only heard tale of these newcomers. Their abilities, too, are entirely unique from those offered by the other races across Faerun, and they offer more variation within their race than almost any other! Few races have such great story hooks built-in, and none can offer this breadth of customization! What’s your favorite way to build a dragonborn? Do you prefer the newer bloodlines like Gem or Metallic, or are you a Chromatic through and through? Show your colors on our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or in our ever-growing Discord.
Steven Franklin is an avid RPG player and board game enthusiast who has played DND since the release of 5e. He is a cohost of the Bardic Twinspiration DND podcast and a frequent guest on the MistyMountainStreaming Twitch channel. You can find him as a player in various mini-campaigns on our Misty Mountain Gaming YouTube channel.
You can use his promotional code TWINS10 to save 10% on any purchase of premium dice, trays, minis, and more here at Misty Mountain Gaming's online store!