Last Updated: April 6, 2022
Dragonborn were introduced late in 3rd edition as a weird template, and became a full-fledged race in the 4th edition Player’s Handbook. They were introduced to answer the simple criticism that the game is called “Dungeons and Dragons” but there was no easy way to play a dragon. 3rd edition had rules for playing a True Dragon, and there are a number of 3rd-party rules for playing a dragon in 5th edition (including my own interpretation in Monstrous Races (Affiliate Link)), but there is objectively no easier way to play to the draconic theme of the game than to play a dragonborn.
While there are now many variations on the Dragonborn, every variety of dragonborn chooses a draconic ancestor. This determines your character’s damage resistance (if they get one) and the effects of your breath weapon.
Table of Contents
- Varieties of Dragonborn
- Dragonborn Classes (Customizable Origins)
- Dragonborn Classes (Default Rules)
- Dragonborn Feats
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
- : Good options. Useful often.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.
We will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, in handbooks for official content because we can’t assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. We also won’t cover Unearthed Arcana content because it’s not finalized, and we can’t guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.
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Varieties of Dragonborn
Over the course of 5th edition’s history, we have now seen options for the Dragonborn appear in three source books: First in the Player’s Handbook, then in Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, and finally in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. Some context and background information about the iterations of dragonborn may be helpful (or at least interesting), so we’ll explore them in order of release. We’ll also discuss the impact of Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything on pre-Tasha’s versions of the Dragonborn.
Mechanically, dragonborn are one of the weakest races in the player’s handbook. At first level their breath weapon is a helpful offensive tool, but the damage scales slowly and the Dragonborn simply doesn’t provide enough racial benefits to compete mechanically with other races. Still, it’s a viable option for a few classes (paladin and Charisma-based spellcasters).
Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount introduced two new dragonborn variants: the Draconblood and the Ravenite. Each replaces the standard Dragonborn’s ability score increases and damage resistance, offering several new options to enjoy the race. This made the Dragonborn viable beyond Charisma-dependent classes, but still never made the Dragonborn especially powerful.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduced the ability to change your character’s ability score increases, which broke the Dragonborn out of its narrow band of viable classes. However, every other race could do the same thing, so the Dragonborn remained a weak option from an optimization perspective.
Most recently, Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons reworked the Dragonborn to offer more distinctions between draconic ancestries than just your damage resistance and breath weapon, while also introducing dragonborn with gem dragon ancestors. The text of book explains that the new versions of the Dragonborn are “for players who want to try a more nuanced approach”, but the new versions are just outright better than the PHB versions of the race, making the original version of the Dragonborn entirely obsolete.
The new versions rework the damage scaling of the dragonborn’s breath weapon (it’s lower at low levels but has a higher maximum at high levels) and allow it to be used a number of times per proficiency bonus so that you’re no longer rushing to the next Short Rest to make your race matter. In addition, dragonborn now receive additional traits, the most notable of which come online at 5th level and include things like additional ways to use your breath weapon beyond damage.
The new variants can also use their breath weapon in place of an attack during the Attack action, allowing characters with Extra Attack to use their breath weapon and still swing a weapon. You can even use things like two-weapon fighting and the Monk’s Martial Arts since you’re still taking the Attack action.
Mixing the Draconblood and Ravenite variants with the new variants in Fizban’s is not allowed as far as I can tell. Both specify that they use the dragonborn traits in the Player’s Handbook with some adjustments, so you’re required to work from the original version of the Dragonborn. You can still use the custom origin rules, but you won’t get the updated breath weapons or anything else from Fizban’s.
That all might leave your scratching your head, so here’s a list of the possible varieties of dragonborn:
- Chromatic (Fizban’s)
- Classic (PHB)
- Draconblood (Wildemount)
- Draconblood+Tasha’s (Wildemount)
- Gem (Fizban’s)
- Metallic (Fizban’s)
- Ravenite (Wildemount)
- Ravenite+Tasha’s (Wildemount)
The three varieties of Dragonborn introduced in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons work similarly, but have some key distinctions which might make them more suitable for different builds and play styles.
Chromatic dragonborn have the longest range on their breath weapon, but it’s also line, and line AOEs can be difficult to use. Their Chromatic Warding feature makes common damage types like Fire and Poison more appealing because in exchange for enemies being able to resist your breath weapon more often you can get temporary immunity to a damage type which is also commonly dealt to players.
If you choose lightning, expect your breath weapon to always be useful, but expect Chromatic Warding and your damage resistance to be only rarely useful. If you choose fire, expect to face resistance and immunity to your breath weapon frequently, but expect Chromatic Warding and your damage resistance to be useful frequently.
Gem dragonborn have conical breath weapons and they deal the cool damage types not covered by things like Resist Energy. However, this also means that their own damage resistance is much less useful because those damages types are so rare. Gem dragonborn also get a temporary flight option at level 5, offering a powerful tactical options for classes that otherwise can’t fly and for spellcasters who can’t spare Concentration. Gem dragons also get short-range telepathy, which is really nice.
Metallic dragonborn have the most interesting breath weapons. They get the same damage type options as chromatic dragonborn, but they have a 15-foot cone instead of a line. But what makes them interesting is that at level 5 you get two new options for using your breath weapon: rather than just dealing damage, you can incapacitate foes or push them away and knock them prone. This tactical versatility makes it easy to use your breath weapon in nearly any situation, even when damage resistances or immunities would frustrate other dragonborn.
Dragonborn Classes (Customizable Origins)
This section assumes that you’re using the option “Customizing Your Origin” rules presented in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. If you’re not using those rules, scroll down to the next section.
The Dragonborn’s breath weapon is a nice complement to the capabilities of most artificers. Melee artificers (armorer and battle smith) can use the AOE damage to great effect, reducing the need to cast spells like Burning Hands with the Artificer’s limited spells slots. Since infusing Winged Boots offers access to flight, I recommend either Chromatic or Metallic since the Gem Dragonborn’s flight is less impactful.
The artillerist may find that the Dragonborn’s breath weapon is uninteresting since they can produce a similar effect with their canons.
A breath weapon offers a way to handle crowds, which is difficult for most barbarians, and unlike spellcasting you can use it while raging. The new dragonborn variants introduced in Fizban’s can use their breath weapon in place of an attack, so Extra Attack allows you to both use your breath weapon and attack in the same turn. Any of the new dragonborn varieties are appealing, and the Barbarian’s need for high Constitution will help keep your breath weapon’s save DC high.
If you don’t expect to use your breath weapon often, the Ravenite Dragonborn is still a decent choice. Vengeful Assault can be a big damage boost if you’re using a big weapon.
Bards are a class that rarely belongs close enough to melee to make a breath weapon useful. However, the Bard also gets few simple damage options, so a breath weapon may be a helpful tool when all you need is damage. I recommend either Chromatic for Chromatic Warding (bards don’t get Absorb Elements) or Gem for the temporary flight.
If you don’t expect to use your breath weapon often, the Draconblood Dragonborn is still a decent choice thanks to Forceful Presence, which is a powerful trait on a Face character.
Clerics get plenty of options for AOE damage, so the Dragonborn’s breath weapon isn’t especially useful. The vast majority of the time it’s going to be more effective to cast a spell than to use your breath weapon.
Much like the Cleric, the Druid already has plenty of options for AOE damage, so the Dragonborn’s breath weapon holds little appeal. Druids also typically don’t fare well in melee combat, so getting into range to use your breath weapon is dangerous for most druids. Circle of the Moon could use a breath weapon immediately before or after using Wild Shape as a Bonus Action, but that doesn’t make the Druid an easy choice for the Dragonborn.
The Dragonborn makes an excellent fighter with a wide variety of appealing options. Chromatic dragonborn are good if don’t have a good response to damage types which you could cover with Chromatic Warding. Gem is great if no one in your party can give you flight when you need it. Metallic is great if you want some crowd control options that aren’t stabbing things or using a feat. Even the Ravenite is potentially useful for two-handed weapon builds where an additional attack as a Reaction could be a big damage boost.
Also consider the Dragon Fear feat. Fighters get an unusually large number of attacks, so combining the fear effect with a Grapple+Shove combo is an easy way to get an advantage over your foes in melee. See Feats, below, for more.
The dragonborn makes a fine monk, but stick to the Fizban’s variants. Since you can use your breath weapon in place of an attack with the Attack action, you can still use Martial Arts or Flurry of Blows during the same turn. Most monks don’t have a good way to handle crowds, so an AOE damage option is very powerful. If you want even more draconic flavor, you can also play a Way of the Ascendant Dragon monk.
Similar to the Barbarian and the Fighter, the Paladin lacks an easy option for handling crowds, so the Dragonborn’s Breath Weapon is helpful. I recommend the Gem Dragonborn for their temporary flight, but the Metallic Dragonborn’s additional breath weapon options are also helpful. The Chromatic Dragonborn’s Chromatic Warding is helpful, but less crucial since the Paladin can heal themselves with Lay on Hands.
The Dragon Fear feat is especially useful for Oath of Conquest Dragonborn, allowing you to make groups of foes Frightened several times per day without spending spell slots on Wrathful Smite.
If you want to look beyond the Dragonborn’s breath weapon, the Draconblood Dragonborn makes a good face, and the Ravenite Dragonborn’s Vengeful Assault offers a decent boost to your damage output (though perhaps not as good as the improved breath weapons on Fizban’s dragonborn variants).
The Ranger’s options for AOE damage aren’t great, so a breath weapon is a powerful tool for melee rangers. The Dragon Hide feat offers the ability to match heavy armor AC while in light armor, but you can do the same thing with +1 armor or with Mage Armor, so consider those options first if you can.
The Dragonborn’s traits don’t complement the Rogues capabilities in any significant way. While the Rogue generally lacks the ability to handle crowds, crowd control generally isn’t something that the Rogue wants or needs, instead focusing on using Sneak Attack to quickly eliminate single foes. The Ravenite’s Vengeful Strike may be your best bet, potentially allowing you to deal an additional Sneak Attack outside of your turn.
At low levels, the Dragonborn’s Breath Weapon may be a helpful damage option to complement your limited number of spell slots and spells known, but as you gain levels the spell Dragon’s Breath will dramatically outpace your natural breath weapon in terms of versatility, damage, and number of uses. Perhaps your best racial option is the Draconblood Dragonborn, which doesn’t benefit from the updated breath weapons in Fizban’s, but the Forceful Presence trait is useful for a Face character.
You might also enjoy the Gem Dragonborn for their telepathy and temporary flight, reducing your need to solve those problems magically. The Draconblood Dragonborn is a tempting option for a Face, but you can learn and cast Enhance Ability, which will be more effective.
With strictly limited spell slots, the Warlock has plenty of options for AOE damage but few resources with which to use them. The Dragonborn’s breath weapon neatly fills that void, offering an additional source of AOE damage. Since the range of breath weapons is often short, hexblades will likely be the go-to option for dragonborn warlocks, though they’re certainly not the only option. Any of the Fizban’s variants will work great, but the Draconblood Dragonborn’s Forceful Presence is also helpful if you’re going to be your party’s Face.
Everything that the dragonborn brings to the table can already be done by the Wizard, often in a more effective way. The spell Dragon’s Breath outshines the Dragonborn’s own breath weapon, especially since a wizard can put it on a familar while still casting other spells. Damage resistance is easily replaced by spells like Absorb Elements and Resist Energy. The Gem dragon’s telepathy and temporary flight are the best things that the Dragonborn can bring to the Wizard, allowing you access to telepathy long before you can get it with spells, and allowing you to fly without committing Concentration to do so.
Dragonborn Classes (Default Rules)
This section assumes that you’re not using the option “Customizing Your Origin” rules presented in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything or the updated version of the race published in Mordenkainen’s Monsters of the Multiverse. If you are using those rules, scroll up to the previous section.
This secton applies to the version of the Dragonborn published in the Player’s Handbook and the two dragonborn variants published in Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount.
Draconblood offers the crucial Intelligence increase that we need, and the Dragonborn’s breath weapon offers a helpful AOE damage effect to complement the Artificer’s spellcasting. The Artillerist’s canons will totally outshine the Dragonborn’s breath weapon, but other varieties of artificer may enjoy an AOE damage option that doesn’t eat precious spell slots.
A Strength increase is absolutely crucial for the Barbarian, and the Dragonborn’s breath weapon provides a helpful way to handle crowds of enemies, which is often difficult for barbarians. The standard Dragonborn’s Charisma increase is wasted, but the Ravenite Dragonborn’s Constitution increase works great, and Vengeful Assault offers a great way to get some extra damage output.
College of Valor is the most obvious option for a dragonborn bard, but Strength-based bards are a difficult build. Without a Dexterity increase, you’ll want to fight in medium armor, so start with 14 Dexterity and try to keep yourself alive until College of Valor grants you medium armor proficiency at 3rd level. Or you can just build a caster bard, but when fighting at range your breath weapon will be much less impactful.
Nothing about the Dragonborn supports the cleric’s strengths. If you want a divine feel, the Paladin is a much better option.
No Wisdom increase.
A Strength increase works really well for fighters, and the Dragonborn’s breath weapon provides a helpful area damage option for a class that usually doesn’t have a way to handle crowds easily. A Charisma increase works great for the Purple Dragon Knight, but for other subclasses you should strongly consider the Ravenite variant.
The Monk is too MAD to work with a race that doesn’t provide either a Dexterity or Wisdom increase.
The standard Dragonborn’s ability increases are perfect for the Paladin, and the damage resistance is a nice addition to the paladin’s already spectacular durability.
The Dragonborn racial traits offer nothing which nicely complements the Ranger. If you need an AOE from time to time, use Hail of Thorns. You can build strength-based rangers in medium armor, but that’s not enough to make the Ranger a good option for the Dragonborn.
No Dexterity increase.
Draconic Bloodline makes a lot of sense thematically for the Dragonborn, and between the two you can damage resistance to two damage types. The Dragonborn’s breath weapon provides a helpful complement to the Sorcerer’s spellcasting, but expect to rely more on spells. Either the standard Dragonborn or the Draconblood variant works great, so choose whichever you prefer.
The spell Dragon’s Breath may prove either enticing or frustrating. The damage is better than the Dragonborn’s breath weapon, and you can use it every round for a full minute. You can even twin it, allowing you and a friend to share the benefits.
Like the Sorcerer, the Warlock benefits from the Dragonborn’s Charisma increase and damage resistance, and since the Warlock has fewer spell slots to spend on AOE spells, the Dragonborn’s breath weapon is more impactful. The Strength increase is tempting for Pact of the Blade warlocks, but Strength is largely worthless for Hexblades and if you’re building Pact of the Blade without Hexblade you’re doing something really weird. Either the standard Dragonborn or the Draconblood variant works great, so choose whichever you prefer.
The Draconblood variant offers a +2 Intelligence increase, making the Draconblood Dragonborn a viable wizard. The dragonborn’s breath weapon offers a helpful area damage option similar to burning hands, but expect to rely primarily on spells and to stay well away from melee. If you want an Intelligence-based dragonborn spellcaster, the Artificer is a better choice.
The spell Dragon’s Breath may prove either enticing or frustrating. The damage is better than the Dragonborn’s breath weapon, and you can use it every round for a full minute. You can even cast it on your familiar, turning you cat or owl (let’s be honest: it’s always an owl) into a roving flamethrower.
Making creatures frightened of you for a full minute is considerably more impactful than a little bit of damage, and expanding the AOE to a 30-foot radius is great. Paladins (especially Oath of Conquest) and Fighters should consider this once their primary ability scores are approaching 20, especially if they have an odd-numbered ability score. Warlocks might also consider it to help complement their limited spell slots.
The dragonborn variants introduced in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons are much better suited to using Dragon Fear than previous versions of the race. Since you can use your breath weapon in place of an attack during the Attack action, you can still attack enemies in the same turn. However, targets that take damage get an additional save, so consider taking advantage of the Frightened condition (which imposes Disadvantage on ability checks) to Grapple and/or Shove targets and work through them one at a time while other targets are unable to approach you due to the Frightened condition.
Sorcerer may be the best candidate for this with the Pre-Tasha’s rules. Dragon Hide will replace the need for Mage Armor, freeing up one of your limited slots for spells known, but unless you’re investing heavily in Dexterity your AC is still going to be terrible.
Thanks to Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and changes to racial traits in later source books, Dragon Hide is slightly more appealing because Dexterity-based builds are actually possible. The ability score increases from the feat fly in the face of that idea, but you can still get a Constitution increase, so if you have an odd-number Constitution score on a Dexterity-based build, you can take Dragon Hide and get AC equivalent to full plate with nothing but your Dexterity score and your birthday suit. You can wear a shield, too, so 20 AC on a Dexterity-based fighter, paladin, or ranger is a possibility.
Of course, all of that assumes that magic items aren’t a possibility and that you can’t convince someone in your party to cast Mage Armor on you. Mage Armor or a suit of +1 Studded Leather will provide just as much AC as Dragon Hide.
The feat also provides claws, but that’s a “ribbon” ability: It looks neat but has no meaningful mechanical impact on the game.