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What are the differences between "Dragonborn", "Half-Dragon", and "Draconian" races in D&D?

In the Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure, for example there is a Half-Dragon npc. I had assumed that when writing the adventure they were only allowed to use known material from Basic, and so renamed the Dragonborn into "Half-Dragon" for the sake of compatibility etc. However, the dragon breath rules are not at all similar for the half-dragon and the dragonborn, and I've also noticed wiki article that imply that they are different races entirely. (Thus introducing me to the term Draconian)

Are there clear differences between these three races, (in the same way there are differences between Goblins and Hobgoblins, or Dragonborn and Lizardfolk and Kobolds,) or are they really just three different setting names for the same basic race?

Answers can either be D&D 5e specific, or be based on the lore from all editions of Dungeons and Dragons. (I'm assuming here that the answer will be the same regardless)

Here are two images, the first one is a "half-dragon" from the front of the Hoard of the Dragon queen module, and the second one is a "dragonborn" from the 5e player's Handbook. I've included these images to help explain my confusion.

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4 Answers 4

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Half-dragon

Someone who has strong draconic ancestry, e.g. half their ancestry (one parent, or child of two half-dragons, whatever; someone who was, strictly-speaking, a quarter dragon or eighth dragon might still be modeled with the half-dragon rules). Literally is a dragon, in game terms and in fluff terms, though with a roughly humanoid body shape.

Sometimes ritual or magics could be used to infuse a person with draconic aspects, in game terms becoming a half-dragon. In 3.5e, there was a “prestige class” called the dragon disciple that gained this as its final level, for example. This obviously did not retroactively change the person’s ancestry, just changed their bodies to match those of “born” half-dragons.

In 5e, Hoard of the Dragon Queen is so far the only place where half-dragons have been seen. They are clearly distinct from dragonborn, but the book has actually been criticized by reviewers for not explaining exactly what the distinction is. Based on this twitter exchange...

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I expect to learn more of half-dragons in the Dungeon Master’s Guide or Monster Manual.

Dragonborn

Originally the “Dragonborn of Bahamut,” these were humanoid devotees of Bahamut, the good dragon god, dedicated to the slaying of the evil dragons aligned with Tiamat. They underwent a ritual to change themselves from whatever race they were originally, into something more dragon-y. The process literally involved getting put in an egg and later “hatching” as a dragonborn.

Despite this process, the dragonborn were still members of their original race, not true dragons. They did lose most of the racial features typical to that race, though, and replaced them with several dragon “aspects,” such as a breath weapon or wings. See Races of the Dragon for more details.

In 4e, these were changed into a more generic draconic-humanoid race, rather than a modification of existing people, and were supposed to be descendants of Io, the dragon greater god.

In 5e, these changed again: apparently in the 5th-edition world, any dragon wishing to bear true dragon children needs the explicit (written?) permission of Bahamut or Tiamat. Failure to obtain said permission results in any children being born as dragonborn, which are humanoids with special abilities depending on their Draconic Ancestry.

In both 4e and 5e, the Dragonlance Campaign Setting changed the interpretation of dragonborn; see Draconians, below.

Draconians

These are from the Dragonlance Campaign Setting, where they were made by an evil god from the eggs of good dragons; see Canageek’s answer for more details there.

In 5e, Draconians are represented primarily using the Dragonborn race, with a few modifications.

Bonus

You didn’t ask about these, and they are fairly-likely to never appear in 5e, but just in case you see reference to them and wonder what they are:

Draconic creatures

This was a template from 3.5e used in cases of someone having fairly-strong draconic ancestry, but not strong enough to use the half-dragon template. They demonstrated their draconic traits less strongly, and in the 3.5e rules, had their original type with the Dragonblooded subtype tacked on, rather than the Dragon type that half-dragons got.

Like I said, I doubt 5e will ever use these, they were primarily required to fill a mechanical niche that was specific to the 3.5e template system.

Dragonblooded creatures

This is for draconic ancestry even weaker than draconic, used for people where the draconic ancestor is ancient history, or completely forgotten. It has no effect on its own, and dragonblooded people cannot be immediately distinguished from others by inspection. However, they could take a number of feats typically reserved for dragons by virtue of their dragonblooded subtype.

Because the dragonblooded status is a matter of such slight ancestry, it is possible for characters to “discover” such ancestry and tap into it where they previously did not; the Dragontouched feat from Dragon Magic can be taken by any character with at least 11 Charisma, and grants the dragonblooded status (and some other exceedingly minor bonuses). The dragonfire adept class from the same book gains this feat as a bonus feat, and makes no requirements about it; in that case, mere veneration and emulation of dragons is enough to be considered dragonblooded.

From this we can conclude that trace amounts of draconic blood can be found very widely, at least in the 3.5e gameworld.

True Dragons

What the proper definition of a “true dragon” is was the subject of quite a lot of debate in 3.5e, and unlike the above two terms, the term “true dragon” is much more likely to appear in 5e. The metallic (gold, silver, copper, brass, bronze, etc.) and chromatic (red, black, green, blue, white, etc.) dragons are definitely true dragons. Beyond that, it gets murkier. I have made some statements about half-dragons being true dragons and dragonborn, draconians, draconic creatures, and dragonblooded creatures not being true dragons. This I am basing largely on a contentious subject in the 3.5e rules to make an in-character point. You should thus consider these statements with appropriate quantities of salt. Basically, in 3.5e, half-dragons received the Dragon type, while the others all retain their original type.

In 4e, this distinction did not exist within the rules. Player races did not have “types,” and dragonborn were the only playable form of dragon. It is unclear just how dragon-y they were meant to be.

I have not seen official statements in 5e regarding “true dragon” distinctions in that edition, aside from the fact that dragonborn are definitely not true dragons. It is unclear from Hoard of the Dragon Queen whether or not those half-dragons would be considered true dragons.

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Are half dragons half human half Dragon or any child from a ploymorphed Dragon, or the result of a ritual? –  GMNoob Aug 24 at 18:39
    
@GMNoob That seems to be covered already by the first two paragraphs: a half-dragon can be such by birth or become such by ritual. (And they might be half dwarf half dragon, mind, or some other non-human race.) –  doppelgreener Aug 24 at 23:46
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@GMNoob any of the above. In 3.5e, half-dragon could be applied to "any living, corporeal creature," which got disturbing quickly if you thought too hard about how that happened. –  KRyan Aug 24 at 23:46
    
@kryan I understand that is the rule with regard to prestige classes, but is that actually the lore as well? –  GMNoob Aug 25 at 5:00
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@GMNoob That’s not from the prestige class (which actually could apply the template to an unliving or incorporeal creature), that’s from the template, which “is an inherited template that can be added to any living, corporeal creature,” so under the rules, it’s possible for any living, corporeal creature to successfully reproduce with a dragon and produce a half-dragon offspring. I’m not aware of any canonical examples in the books of particularly weird examples, but then they don’t usually have more than one example (and for half-dragon, the one example is a half-dragon human). –  KRyan Aug 25 at 13:06

A Half-Dragon is someone who is literally part dragon. This can be either as one of your parents, grandparents, etc, or someone who has used magic to become more dragon-like. There was a Sorcerer prestige-class who did this in 3.5 called the Dragon Disciple. Oh, and in 3.5 this was a template.

Next up: The Dragonborn. These are an honourable race with a bit of a samurai aesthetic. These were invented when someone noticed all the different ways to play a Dragon-person existed in 3e/3.5 and decided that should be an option in the 4e PHB.I didn't play much 4e, so I don't know a ton about these guys. Correction: It seems that Dragonborn started out in the 3.5 Races of the Dragon book, then where adopted into the 4e core book for the reasons above. Thanks to doppelgreener for the correction.

Finally: Draconians. These are exclusive to the Dragonlance campaign setting. They were created from the stolen eggs of good dragons by the Takhisis, the settings evil god. There are a whole bunch of types, based on what type of good dragon egg they were made from, and throughout most of the settings history, they were exclusively male, as they didn't want them able to form their own, independent, race.

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Dragonborn originated in 3.5e's Races of the Dragon - wiki link –  doppelgreener Aug 24 at 11:33

(Based on info from 3.5 edition): Yes, there are clear differences between all of those. The exact statistical changes may vary wildly between editions, but their origin (how they became draconic) should be universal between all editions.

Dragonborn is acquired through a rite of rebirth: A normal creature that has a close bond to Bahamut is chosen, performs a ritual and then is reborn from an egg as Dragonborn with some of it's previous traits lost and replaced by draconic traits. Gameplay-wise something in-between a template and a full race that can be applied to a creature at any point in it's life.

A Half-Dragon is a creature that is born from one True Dragon parent and one other creature (with the exception of those who acquire it through the Dragon Disciple class). Gameplay-wise a template that can be applied to a creature (almost all of the time, this is only possible at birth, though).

Draconian I have no in-depth knowledge about and I do not wish to make any wild guesses.

Lizardfolk and Kobolds are full-on races, with Kobolds being associated with dragons (built-in dragonblood subtype that allos acquisition of some draconic traits) and Lizardfolk with mundane reptilian creatures.

As for your renaming of Dragonborn to Half-Dragon: If the origin of that Dragonborn (what got him chosen by Bahamut) is relevant to your story in any way, that's a problem (because a half-dragon just gets born that way). Otherwise, no harm done.

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I'm not sure where you are getting your information on the Dragonborn from. They are a 4e race that is just a true-breeding race like elf or dwarf, at least in 4th edition. I never heard of them before that. Also, there was the Dragon Disciple class that eventually had you transform into a Half-Dragon, so turning into one certainly isn't impossible. –  Canageek Aug 24 at 11:29
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@Canageek Dragonborn originated in 3.5e's Races of the Dragon - wiki link. –  doppelgreener Aug 24 at 11:33
    
Can you expand a bit on what a "True Dragon" is (as opposed to a false dragon?) , or should that be it's own question? –  GMNoob Aug 24 at 11:34
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@GMNoob Could be its own question if it should be explored in depth. That was also explored in great depth in this question (from 3.5e's perspective): rpg.stackexchange.com/q/17144/1204 –  doppelgreener Aug 24 at 11:36
    
As the OP asked for information beyond his edition, I supplied what I have. And in 3.5e, they are what I described there (see Races of the Dragon, page 8). As for Half-dragons, I did make sure to specifically mention Dragon Disciple ant to say "ALMOST all of the time" to emphasize that being born to one dragon parent is the "usual", but not the only, way for a half-dragon to exist. –  Shoat Aug 24 at 18:52

Addressing the Draconians specifically, the PHB states in a sidebar of the Dragonborn section that Draconians are functionally identical to Dragonborn, save that their breath weapon and resistances were traded for a different ability. We can guess that the specifics of this will be in the DMG with Kender, Warforged, and other information that is specific to a non-generic world setting.

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This is part of what made me think that perhaps they are all really the same base race. Like the difference between Wood elves, and Drow. –  GMNoob Aug 26 at 6:39
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Such is the ontological danger of refluffing. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 26 at 6:50

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