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One of my players would like his mountain dwarf to get a fire breath attack, like the one of the dragonborn.

Which dwarf trait(s) should I remove to add the fire breath trait from the dragonborn and keep this custom dwarf race balanced?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there some kind of story to why a Dwarf has a natural breath weapon? Or would it make more sense to have a magical item or class feature that provides it? \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 8:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ it's a specific feature of this dwarf's clan, which is named EmberBreath. It could be due to some dragonborn blood in the lineage, but I do not have more details at this point \$\endgroup\$
    – Yotus
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 8:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm guessing that with a name like EmberBreath, his weapon is Fire based? For flavor I think either that makes sense (forge?) or continue with Poison? Just gotta watch out if it's fire. That beard... \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 12:36

2 Answers 2

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If we look at the Racial Traits for a Dragonborn, and compare those to the ones for Mountain Dwarves we see that the Dragonborn has:

  • Ability score improvements
  • Resistance to one type of element
  • A bonus language
  • Breath weapon

The Dwarf has a lot more, but it also happens to include:

  • Ability score improvements
  • Resistance to Poison (and a bonus to saving throws)
  • Bonus language

So if you want to keep it balanced, the easiest way would be to trade the breath weapon for everything else the Dwarf gets. That would mean losing Darkvision, Stonecunning, Armor & Tool Proficiency and Combat Training.

Of course, if you look at these traits then you see that some of them are primarily flavorful. Breath weapon is a powerful combat trait. So is Medium Armor proficiency for the Dwarf (assuming the character is not already proficient with it, anyway).

But Stonecunning isn't very potent, and usually neither is a weapon proficiency (either you already have it, or you probably don't want to get caught in melee). An extra tool also isn't likely to unbalance anything.

So to keep your Dwarf flavorful, without making it too powerful, I think you could get away with trading the breath weapon for Darkvision and Armor proficiency; that's losing two fairly potent traits in return for another potent trait, but still lets your Dwarf be an axe-wielding Wizard who knows stuff about rocks and has a knack for making stuff.

(Just not a Wizard in armor. And one who has to use a lantern underground.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Nice answer - it might also be worth noting that the Dragonborn race is often considered (for example, this reasonably popular balance checker) to be the weakest PHB race, and the Dwarf is often considered one of the strongest. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miniman
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 10:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ I could see an in-universe explanation for losing darkvision, if low levels of fiery breath can be used to see by (with the tradeoff of giving away one's location from a distance, and needing to let one's eyes adjust to see in dim light without it). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 12:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @CharlesDuffy that might work, although the fact that they're half-blood and they have the eyes of Dragonborn might also be enough. They'd be nice and recognizable for being Dwarves with reptillian eyes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 12:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd suggest keeping Darkvision (a Dwarf that can't see in the dark is silly, and I refuse to believe that their clan is just running around shooting tiny pilot lights out of their mouths at all times), and instead playing with the ability score modifiers. Perhaps a strength deduction, since these dwarves relied less on melee, martial combat. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 16:33
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An easy way to maintain balance is to re-skin an actual dragonborn into a dwarf, meaning to keep all dragonborn stats and no dwarf stats and just say he looks like a dwarf. This also gives you some properties to work with, such as this dwarf outrunning other dwarfs due to movement speed differences.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Honey, should we tell him?" "No dear, it would only hurt his feelings." \$\endgroup\$
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 13:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @T.E.D. "But he's starting to ask questions about why he keeps banging his head on the ceiling and none of the other children do!" \$\endgroup\$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 14:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Bonus points if he's called Kzad-bhat \$\endgroup\$
    – Joe
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 14:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Joe ...or Dragonfruit Ifoundsomegoldson. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dragomok
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 16:02

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