How Your Draconic Ancestry Affects Your Dragonborn in D&D
As described in the Player’s Handbook, the Draconic Ancestry trait serves a purely mechanical function: it determines the dragonborn character’s breath weapon and associated damage resistance. For example, a dragonborn with red dragon ancestry can breathe a 15ft. cone of fire and resist fire damage.
You might be tempted to do a little min/maxing in your choice of ancestry: If you’ve been told that your adventuring party will spend a lot of time in the frozen north during your upcoming campaign, you might think during character creation, “ I’ll just choose white dragon ancestry and gain resistance to cold. That will be useful.”
While there’s nothing wrong with this kind of powergaming—there is a lot of fun to be had in character optimization—draconic ancestry can be so much more than just another combat mechanic. This article will discuss the ways the character traits of various dragon types may be integrated into your dragonborn character.
The PHB describes dragonborn as being proud of their draconic lineage, devoted to their clans and faithful to their role in the tribe, dedicated to constant self-improvement, and self-sufficient, sometimes to a fault.
These traits will interact with alignment in interesting ways, and when Draconic Ancestry is added to the alchemical mixture of race and alignment, the dragonborn is suddenly rescued from the depths of “Proud Warrior Race” cliche and imbued with new nuance.
A Player’s Guide to Dragon Traits
All dragons are highly-intelligent, cunning, and unimaginably powerful. This combination of smarts and strength manifests itself as cruelty and vanity in chromatic dragons and as wisdom and nobility in metallic dragons.
Chromatic dragons represent all that we see as evil: gluttony, greed, vanity, self-centeredness, cruelty. These dragons hoard wealth for no other reason than to own it. Good-aligned dragonborn should struggle with this background, finding ways to use those seemingly negative qualities for the greater good.
Different types of chromatic dragons exhibit these traits differently, and these same traits are reflected in their dragonborn kin. The following list should give you some ideas for both role-playing your dragonborn PC and crafting a backstory.
Personality: In both combat and social interaction, look for the weakest participant and toy with them like a cat with a mouse. Take an interest in treasure from ancient and fallen civilizations.
Backstory: Black dragonborn tribes are at home in the swamp. They may settle among the vine-draped ruins of lost cities or vanquished empires, adventuring in search of ancient artifacts or as protectors of nature.
Personality: Deeply territorial. Do not take it lightly when others insult you, steal from you, or try to do your job for you. Fight strategically, at a distance if possible, valuing your safety above all.
Backstory: Dwellers of the steppe and desert, blue dragonborn may be nomadic herders. Though their clans are insular and secretive, they come in contact and work with a wide variety of merchants, explorers, and the like, which may lead them into the adventuring life.
Personality: A trickster with a love of argument and sophistry.
Backstory: As forest creatures, green dragonborn are rivals of wild elves. Like black dragonborn, they may be interested in protecting nature. Their natural curiosity may lead to wanderlust.
Personality: If dragonborn, in general, are full of pride, red dragonborn are the most prideful. Take their fiery nature literally: short temper, quick to anger, impulsive, emotional. They are solitary beings with a sense of superiority, which may lead to resentment and unrest if their social station does not match their high sense of self.
Backstory: As creatures of fire, red dragonborn may find themselves working as blacksmiths. A strong desire to be the best--the strongest, smartest, richest--may be the catalyst for their adventuring lifestyle.
Personality: White dragons are like starving predators: dangerous, skittish, and covetous. Their dragonborn progeny should be no different. They have long memories and are slow to let go of grudges.
Backstory: As denizens of harsh, frigid landscapes, white dragonborn are innate survivalists. They might find it hard to get along with other adventurers, but they may be impressed by a significant enough show of strength.
Whereas chromatic dragons represent everything base and cruel, metallic dragons represent all that is noble and wise. Dragonborn with metallic ancestry may be more drawn to a life of service as a cleric, monk, or paladin than their chromatic cousins.
Personality: Friendly, outgoing, loves good conversation, full of trust. A good candidate for a bard or other charismatic face of the party.
Backstory: Curious and sociable, brass dragons make natural adventurers. Going out into the world, making friends, and spreading good vibes could even be a rite of passage for a brass dragonborn clan.
Personality: These dragonborn love a good fight as much as they hate tyranny and oppression. In addition to being proud warriors, they are also students of military history. They act and fight with honor, relying on sound tactics and chivalrous conduct.
Backstory: Bronze dragonborn are natural mercenaries and will enlist in any martial cause if it means getting to fight evil.
Personality: Like their green cousins, copper dragonborn are tricksters, but are much more merry than cruel in their pranks.
Backstory: Copper dragons love bards, so a copper dragonborn may embark on a quest to become a world-renowned bard and gain the respect of a copper dragon patron.
Personality: Just as red dragons represent the worst vices of chromatic dragonkind, gold dragons represent all that is righteous and just in metallic dragonkind. Gold dragonborn are wise and reserved and may be either aloof and judging or humorless in their pursuit of an ideal.
Backstory: Gold dragonborn clans hide themselves in the most beautiful hidden corners of nature. They rarely interact with the outside world, and it would likely take a tragedy or a deep sense of duty to put them on the path of an adventurer. Whatever it was that put them on the path, grimly rooting out evil wherever it hides is their primary motivation.
Personality: Lovers of history of all kinds, curious about the world, dedicated to doing good deeds wherever possible, but less warlike than bronze dragonborn.
Backstory: Silver dragonborn tend to get along well with humans. Their tribes are most likely to live near and trade with humans, elves, and dwarves, and may be motivated by the same sense of wonder as humans.
This list is far from comprehensive, but hopefully, it is enough to get your imagination firing! Has your draconic ancestry impacted how your role-play your dragonborn? Tell us about it in the comments below!