As I've been dabbling with more dungeon designs for D&D one-shots, I took some time to parse out why I don't like the dragonborn race as presented in the Player's Handbook. As it turns out, I'm not the only one who doesn't like it, as various videos and forum posts have been made on this topic.
So as I sat back, some time on my hands on a Friday night (which is not common), I decided to help fix the problem, and what follows is a new revamped version of the dragonborn that better incapsulates the theme of a draconic creature, streamlines and improves the mechanical abilities of the creature, while making as few changes to the base race as possible to avoid imbalance. We will start by looking at a few of the things that needed to be addressed, and then we will present the solution (much like what we did with the Way of the Four Elements Monk and the Battlerager Barbarian subclasses).
It is also worth noting that I wrote this article a few months ago, and just yesterday a new unearthed arcana dropped involving changes to the dragonborn, and I'm really loving what I see there. A number of my ideas will be different from what you see there, but I'm happy for either of these changes. So we'll see what the final version is, probably in the Dragonlance book when it comes out (possibly this year).
I. What's Wrong with the Dragonborn Race
Many content creators have voiced issues with the Dragonborn race, ranging from its odd ability score assignments (which has become a moot issue for those using Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, but is a big issue for people who don't), how the ability score assignments don't line up with the breath attack racial feature (which, since you don't get very many of those, is a big deal) and requires an action to use which will quickly become weaker than an Attack action or spell you can cast, and how they lack darkvision which a lot of races get.
The race also tends to take flak, like a lot of monstrous races, for not getting a bonus to its Armor Class for being, well, scaled. Some, like Lizardfolk, also get flak for giving a natural armor defense but that AC only applies if you don't wear armor. More on that fix in the next post as we revamp the lizardfolk race, but dragonborns tend to get more of a gripe because they don't get any AC bonus whatsoever even though the Draconic Bloodline Sorcerer does. So...why not? No one knows.
So suffice it to say, we have things that need adjusting, but not actually that much: we need a better thematic presentation of the resilience of a dragonborn, ability score assignments that are more thematic, and a wider range of perks to keep it in line with the bonuses that elves, humans (especially variant humans with their feat selection), and the new lineages that are rolling out. And I think we've got it.
II. The Revamped Dragonborn Race
You can find our fix to the Dragonborn race here, easily printable to show to your game master for their approval thanks to our friends at Homebrewery. The Variant Dragonborn is very similar, with us keeping the wording as much as we could. There are five major changes.
First, Constitution becomes the primary stat for the dragonborn, triggering all of its die-related features. Since the breath weapon triggers off of Constitution, you gain a +2 to your Constitution for the race. In addition, your +1 is variable based on the nature of your draconic ancestor, be they strong (Strength), agile (Dexterity), learned (Intelligence), wise (Wisdom), or cunning (Charisma). This gives it more versatility, and actually places it well among the other subraces to pair with a class (as every class can use a good Constitution score, and your +1 can be tied to your primary stat).
Second, the dragonborn gains darkvision which will surprise no one. We tied this to your choice of dragon ancestor because it's an inherited trait.
Third, the breath attack uses a bonus action to use, so it becomes a useful augment to other attacks/spells on your turn. This makes it an attractive option for crowd control and laying down suppressive fire (as it does cantrip-level damage, so not great but not bad either) alongside the offensive or supporting action you take for the turn.
Fourth, the breath attack can be used more times, being used a number of times up to your Constitution modifier every day. This means that it's not a "one and done" option, which is best if you're talking about a saving throw-based attack. It also means you get your time in the limelight to be the monstrous player character more often, which is just excellent.
And finally, your damage resistance now includes a boost to your Armor Class, which adds a +1 to your AC if you are wearing armor, or a +2 to your Armor Class if you are not wearing armor.
Now to be clear, this is not an "Unarmored Defense" ability: this is a +1 or +2 to your AC depending on what you are wearing. So suddenly a dragornborn monk is adding +2 to their Unarmored Defense. A heavily armored paladin is adding +1 to their AC. It's a small bump that shouldn't change much mathematically, but you feel like your scales are protecting you more than your soft skinned companions, and that's where the theme becomes awesome.
We really didn't change much with this revamp, but the trickle down effect is huge. We made it so that dragonborns are healthy (which they should be, based on size and having scales), their breath attack is usable beyond the first five levels of the game, and reduced the number of hits against the character by around 5%. But the end result is a race that plays well with its class and subclass, opens up options for cool moments, and makes the race feel cool and thematic. And that's critical for a game.
Next week we're taking on the lizardfolk race from Volo's Guide to Monsters, so if you like what we did with the dragonborn, come back next Friday! These two races will share 1-2 features, but beyond that they're going to go in different directions due to cultural differences, and we'll try our hand at some subraces to add some extra flavor to the race.
Until next time,