DnD 5e - The Dragonborn Handbook
Last Updated: January 8th, 2020
I will use 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.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- : Good options.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
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.
Mechanically, dragonborn are one of the weakest racest 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 perfectly viable option for several classes, and you simply can't compete with the cool-factor of being a humanoid dragon.
Bad ability spread.
A Strength increase is absolutely crucial for the Barbarian, and the Dragonborn's breath weapon provides a helpful way to handle crowds of enemies. However, the Charisma increase is only rarely helpful.
College of Valor is easily the best option for a dragonborn bard. 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.
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, a Charisma increase works great for the Purple Dragon Knight, 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.
The Monk is too MAD to work with a race that doesn't provide either a Dexterity or Wisdom increase.
The 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. 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 betwen 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.
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.
No Intelligence increase.
Making a creature 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 and Fighters should consider this once their primary ability scores are approaching 20, especially if their have an odd-numbered ability score. Warlocks might also consider it to help pad their limited spell slots.
Sorcerer may be the best candidate for this. 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.