Posted by : David Guyll November 28, 2013

I remember half-dragons as far back as 2nd Edition, specifically in Council of Wyrms, though I do not remember much about them besides a breath weapon. Despite the considerable benefits package 3rd Edition's half-dragons were pretty badly executed, partly because of the once-per-day breath weapon, mostly because the +3 Level Adjustment severely gimped you. 4th Edition's dragonborn are great: not only can you play one right from the start without being punished, but you can also use your breath weapon more than once in an entire day.

Now I have no major problems with the mechanics of 5th Edition's dragonborn: yeah, they might be a bit underpowered but at least there is currently no horrible, horrible Level Adjustment, and they even included an encounter-based breath weapon (though they were careful to follow the tradition of using more words than is necessary to explain how it works). I also like their appearance, having stated on occasions that I wish dragonborn should possess the scales and features of other dragons, and even houserule them in my own campaigns. Where it fails is the flavor test.

See in past editions half-dragons were the result of dragons getting it on with other creatures, which is fine and could even make for interesting—or hilarious—results depending on what Dungeon Masters paired them up with (half-dragon/half-dragon dragons, anyone?). Since they were their own race in 4th Edition they moved away from that and created several potential origins: either they were created by Io before or during the creation of true dragons, or they sprang forth from his blood along with true dragons.

5th Edition does not introduce a new origin alongside the others, instead outright ignoring them in favor of having them be the result of dragon eggs that are not blessed by either Bahamut or Tiamat. In other words if a dragon lays some eggs and one of two dragon gods cannot be bothered to bless them, you get dragonborn. Hopefully they can cope with the fact that due to divine negligence—in a world where gods routinely hand out miracles like they are candy, no less—which would have otherwise resulted in a nigh-immortal lifespan, as well as being near the top of the monstrous food chain without having to survive for ten or so levels.

What is even stranger is that they are willing to make a concession for the 4th Edition look—something that I think no one was asking for—by stating that in some worlds they have all interbred so much that they have become homogenized, even though past editions were rife with races that did not somehow become homogenized over time. Why not just say that your dragonborn can just all look mostly alike? Why include this aspect of 4th Edition and not the origins? They could have just as easily put in un-blessed eggs with the other, better, possibilities, but given the pitches for the dryad, medusa, and more I guess I should not be too surprised.

While the new origin is equal parts silly and lazy, it is at least easy enough to ignore. Less so is the second option of the third survey question asking about the mechanics of the D&D Next dragonborn:

I dislike them, because they're too  much like the 4th Edition dragonborn and not interesting enough.

They are not asking if you dislike them just because they are too much like 4th Edition (which is essentially a non-reason), or if you dislike them because they are not interesting enough, but if you dislike them because they are not like 4th Edition and not interesting enough.

I am not sure why they are comparing them to 4th Edition's dragonborn when they do not have a flexible ability score bonus, bonuses to skills that cannot be easily negated, get more out of their healing surges, gain an attack bonus when bloodied, cannot use their breath weapon on the same turn that they can do something else, and cannot swap out their breath weapon for a fear-effect. I could not find an option for disliking them because 5th Edition mechanics are largely uninteresting and lazy, but at least they are underpowered so I had a backup option.

{ 4 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. I think the new origin has some interesting implications, and had it been proposed back at the start of 4E, it's probably what I'd have used for my homebrew setting. As written, the blessing bit makes me wonder why the dragon gods aren't blessing every clutch of eggs. Maybe they are just lazy, but I think there's plenty of room for a better explanation: the dragons are servants of the gods. Bahamut and Tiamat only bless a dragon egg when they need a new servant for some task or role. This elevates dragons to the tier of demigods (which they sort of were already) and implies a specific agenda and role for every dragon. But that's just the most obvious extension of the new origin, let's get creative...

    So, dragons happen when eggs are blessed and dragonborn happen when eggs are not blessed. What happens when eggs are cursed by the dragon gods? Well, what other iconic dragon-like race do we have? I'm proposing that the kobold is the result of a cursed dragon egg. They might be cursed for a number of reasons: jealousy, punishment for treachery, failure to satisfy their creator, etc. What's important is that we've now established why kobolds are so hated (apart from being thieving cowards). They are a literal curse; they have a similar stigma to the draconic races as the undead.

    Ok, so now kobolds are interesting (in my opinion, at least), what else? Well, we've already established that all three species are related and tied to the whims of the gods. So let's throw in some whims and stir. What if the egg of dragonborn parents (because seriously, explicitly dragon now) hatches as a kobold? What did the parents do to deserve such a fate? How will they treat the child? Will they even raise the child or will they abandon it in the wood? Or, what if one of the eggs in a kobold lair hatches as a dragon? How will the tribe respond? What sort of agenda do the gods have that would require such a blessing?

    Or, in a completely different direction, what if only dragonborn could reproduce? What if the act of blessing and cursing eggs made the offspring infertile or even genderless? Now dragons are the children of a lesser race, who grow up to become some of the most powerful beings in existence. The dragonborn as a whole likely worship them and place them in positions or power, but how do their siblings and neighbours feel? How do their parents even handle the situation? And what happens with the kobold? I imagine they're routinely killed after hatching, so tribes frequently raid dragonborn settlements for eggs. In fact, I'd be inclined to add that kobold tribes are led by a caste of shaman who possess a secret ritual to curse healthy dragon eggs, thus perpetuating the tribe.

    So there's my thoughts on the new origin and its potential/implications. Personally, I think it's more interesting than the 4E blood of Io origin, even were I to stop after my first paragraph. The rest is just icing and could make for some interesting hooks in a campaign. Of course, WotC will probably leave it as it is, which is pretty drab. Worse yet, they'll likely contradict the new origin elsewhere and try to support both within the same setting.

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  2. I imagine that either god would choose whether to bless them for specific reasons (they need a dragon, or there are too many dragons), or just bless them all the time because why not?

    The problem with your story is why either god would bother to make kobolds? I cannot see Bahamut, a Lawful Good protector god punish the unborn for crimes they did not commit, and if Tiamat was so involved in mortal affairs why not just make them into dragons, send other dragons to kill the parents and claim the eggs? It would also be pretty messed up for any Good-aligned race to hate someone because they were unfairly cursed. If anything I would think that Good dragonborn would take pity on them.

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  3. Well, I'm thinking more Old Testament style punishing. The parents are punished by having their children cursed, only instead of being barren or stillborn, they're kobolds. Actually, it doesn't even take righteous anger, just Hera being jealous of Zeus' latest conquest and bam, Lamia. I suppose I'm not much for fixed alignments either, so I have no issue with Bahamut cursing the unborn or Tiamat having some redeeming qualities.

    And yeah, it would be pretty messed up for a "Good-aligned race" to hate someone because they were unfairly cursed (if they even saw it as unfair), but then, that doesn't sound very unrealistic. In fact, it may be too realistic for groups looking more to escapism than having to deal with prejudices against the handicapped and afflicted. The truly Good would probably take pity on them, but I'd question how many really were Good, even if they were generally good.

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  4. Old testament style gods--or a removal of alignments--would make the game much more interesting. A world where clerics of Pelor burn witches "in his name", or where Moradin's priests punish laziness/sloppy craftsmansip opens up more than a few story opportunities, but we probably will not see that because alignments, traditions, etc.

    I still do not think it would make me like the blessed eggs story, but I could see a dragonborn being born as a true dragon, or a tribe of dragonborn transformed into kobolds as a kind of curse.

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