Something Different: The Dragonborn Druid
“Something Different” articles explore race and class combinations that are just a little bit off-center.
The other dragonborn never knew what to make of Surina Drachenarian, and it wasn’t just because her scales seemed to be a bit paler—whiter, even—than everyone else’s.
Surina just didn’t seem interested in spending time with other clan members. Sure, she was still respectful and considerate. When pressed, she would acknowledge that clan always comes first. But she just didn’t seem to care about mastering any of the typical crafts.
At her mother’s request, Surina had tried her hand as a jewelsmith and gave it up before she ever really mastered the craft. She was quick to lose interest in leatherwork. She wasn’t remotely inclined to work in the mines, nor to care for hatchlings.
No. Surina liked to keep to herself. She liked to hunt, but not with the males that would go in groups and hunt the seal, bear, and roc that would feed the clan through the harshest of the winter months. Surina liked to hunt by herself—in weather so blustery, cold, and foul that even Old Balasar would shake his head and curse the north wind.
The truth was, though, that the weather wasn’t a problem for Surina. It was a communion. When the wind howled through the mountain passes, when thunder rumbled down the mountainside, and when lightning cracked trees in twain, Surina knew the nature gods were speaking to her.
The nature gods were calling to her, but she didn’t understand them. Not yet. Still, she wanted to understand them. More than anything. And she knew her answers lay with nature. Clan came first, but she hoped there may be a way to follow both. Because even though her clan held her heart, her every breath sang with the promises of the distant forests and wildernesses beyond the hewn caverns and rocky outcroppings of her home.
There were no druids in her clan. No one to teach her the ways of the wild. But Surina knew she was meant to learn the ways of nature, and that meant her journey would lead her down a long, lonely, and uncertain path…
Why It’s Different
In Dungeons & Dragons, it typically pays to pair races and classes that offer mechanical synergies. The half-orc and mountain dwarf both gain valuable bonuses to their Strength and Constitution scores, making them excellent Fighters and Barbarians. The high elf and gnome both make excellent Wizards, thanks to their Intelligence bonuses, and halflings make natural Rogues, thanks to their bonuses to Dexterity. And as we learned when FiveThirtyEight asked, “Is Your D&D Character Rare?” these synergistic race and class combinations were also among the most common.
But the dragonborn druid? Dragonborn characters gain bonuses to Strength and Charisma, neither of which really matters to the typical druid.
Even beyond the lack of mechanical benefits, the combination sets the druid’s tendency toward isolation against the dragonborn’s devotion to their clans.
How It Can Work
Despite the utter lack of synergy between the dragonborn race and druid class—and the thematic challenges—the fact that Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition caps the maximum value to which you can raise an attribute at 20 means that your dragonborn can be every bit as effective as any other druid… eventually.
Part of the joy of this character might be the journey of discovery... But you still need to survive the journey. The important thing, then, is that you have a plan for making the character fun at every level—especially for the early levels when you haven’t yet balanced the dragonborn’s bonuses against the Wisdom the Druid so dearly covets.
For example, in a campaign that uses the point buy method for customizing your character’s ability scores, your dragonborn druid could easily afford to start with a Strength of 16 and a Wisdom of 15. You’d even have a good number of points left to balance out your other attributes. And if you have a +3 modifier in one of your primary attack attributes, you’ll never fall too far behind any other character since a +3 is the highest modifier the point buy method affords anyone.
The fact that your character is effective from the very beginning is critical. Think about it: you’re a loner who desires to be self-sufficient, and a big part of this self-sufficiency is your ability to carry your weight in combat.
As you play deeper into your campaign, you’ll have more and more chances to define your character and to come to understand his or her place within the party. You’ll see your character more and more as an individual with quirks, desires, motives, and weaknesses. But at the beginning, you have zero history, and your character’s skills and combat prowess make a greater impact on how you enjoy that character.
If that’s not reason enough, there’s also the fact that low-level parties have less ability to support ineffectual members. It’s far more important that everyone is able to pitch in during a fight at the lower levels than at the higher levels when some characters are able to obliterate entire encounters all by themselves.
So our dragonborn druid might start out at 1st level as a Shillelagh-wielding hunter who can also Produce Flame in times of need. This makes sense in terms of an unlikely druid’s story, as well. If we think of our druid like Surina—a character drawn to nature and innately connected to nature, but with no formal druidic guidance or training—we can easily imagine her using standard dragonborn tactics, only slightly modified by her bond with nature.
As she gains levels, though, you’ll have her rely more upon her spells. You might decide that since you haven’t yet maximized her spellcasting attribute, you want to use her spells to enhance her teammates or enhance herself when she assumes beast shape via her Wild Shape ability.
This makes the Circle of the Moon a tempting choice for a Druidic Circle feature. There’s a lot to be said for a dragonborn druid who can transform into a Brown Bear with Barkskin, gain extra hit points, and make two attacks each round by 3rd level.
On the other hand, you’ll find your druid afforded an increasing measure of flexibility thanks to her spellcasting abilities, and you can build upon this flexibility by dedicating her to the Circle of the Land and selecting some circle spells that really add to her role within the party.
After all, she’ll be improving as a spellcaster when she increases her Wisdom at 4th level—then again at 8th level. By 8th level, she’ll be just 1 point shy of her attribute cap, and she’ll be nearly as effective a spellcaster as druids who take races with a bonuse to Wisdom. You can consider her a full-fledged spellcaster now, or you can continue to have her focus on utility spells like Invisibility, Haste or Silence—spells for which save DCs don’t matter.
By 12th level, you’ll be able to boost her Wisdom up to 20—right as you’re nearly ready to unlock Fire Storm and some of the other big druid spells that make it exciting for your druid to have maxed out her save DCs.
How to Play It
Ultimately, even if the dragonborn druid can eventually be every bit as good as other druids, if you’re playing a dragonborn druid, you’re not playing it for the math. You’re playing it because you like the concept. Because something in the character and her journey appeals to you.
Given how rare dragonborn druids are—and how much the druid class is likely to push you away from the other clan members who don’t feel the same connection with nature—you’re likely an outsider. You’re not just living outside of the dragonborn norm. You’re looking for something unusual, as well. So what is it? Pursuing the answer to this question could take you multiple levels and shape your whole adventuring career.
Were you shunned or banished, and now you’re looking for redemption? Did you hear a calling that no one else could hear, and—if so—why? Is your blood or your ancestry somehow different from that of your neighbors? What does your dragonborn’s connection to nature offer that he or she did not find elsewhere in life?
In the end, your character will have to journey long and far before attaining druidic mastery, so you might as well embrace the journey. There’s no reason to feel you need the answers to your questions right away. So long as you start on the right foot, the journey is likely to be as rewarding a process of discovery for you as it will be for your character!