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Preamble

I love the concept of the dragonborn generally, but it seems to be that the common consensus around the dragonborn as they stand in the 5th edition of D&D is that they're a bit lacklustre compared to the other official races. In playing dragonborn characters, I've generally found that the breath weapon doesn't really stay relevant once you get into the mid-levels, leaving their damage resistance as their one main gimmick.

So like everyone and their iguana, I've been tinkering with the dragonborn formula to try and come up with something fair and fun to play. In the homebrew world that I'm running, the species based on the dragonborn profile are sometimes referred to as the "Red dragonkin" and only come in the "Fire" variety. Culturally, the ability to breathe fire is an important aspect of their lives, and is incorporated into everything from their glass-blowing and smithing techniques to the annual fire dance performances. What is presented below is a slight refinement on what I've been testing in my campaign, which so far has seemed to be fairly balanced.

Design Goals

The goals that I have in mind that I want to meet:

  • They should be big and tough, and ideally able to attain immunity to fire at some point.
  • The breath weapon should remain a viable tool in their combat toolkit through all levels.
  • The rules should be clearly written and easy to use.
  • And, of course, the race should be within the power range established by other published races.

My target Detect Balance score is to be in a similar range as dwarves and elves, or 27-30 points (compared to their current ranking at 21 points).

So without further ado, here are the Red Dragonkin. Is this race balanced with respect to other published races? Specifically, does it land in my target Detect Balance score range?

The Stats

  • Ability Score Increase: You gain +2 Constitution and +1 Strength
  • Size: Height/weight unchanged from PHB. Your size is Medium.
  • Age: Lifespan unchanged from PHB.
  • Speed: 30 feet
  • Languages: You can read, speak and write Draconic and Common
  • Fire Resistance: You have resistance to fire damage. In addition, while you have fire resistance from another source (such as a spell, magic item or class feature) this trait grants you immunity to fire damage instead.
  • Tough Build: Your maximum Constitution score is 22 instead of 20. However, for each point that you raise your Constitution above 20 using this trait you also reduce your maximum Dexterity by 1.
  • Cold Aversion: You are adapted living in places of extreme heat. Unless you have resistance to Cold damage, your aversion to the cold manifests in two ways:
    • You have Disadvantage on Constitution saves made against Extreme Cold (DMG P.110)
    • When you take a Long Rest you require an ambient temperature of at least 25°C (77°F) for at least 6 hours, otherwise you suffer 1 level of exhaustion after finishing the rest. (Resting near a fire or keeping a lit brazier in your room or tent will provide adequate heat in most climates.) Exhaustion sustained this way can be recovered from normally, but not during the same rest that it was incurred.
  • Breath Weapon: You may use your action to exhale a fiery blast in a cone whose size is equal to your Constitution score. If playing on a grid, round up or down to the nearest 5'. Each creature targeted by this attack must make a Dexterity saving roll of 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Constitution modifier, taking 2D6 fire damage on a failed save or half as much on a successful one. This damage increases by 1D6 at 5th level (3d6), 11th level (4d6), and 17th level (5d6). You may use this feature a number of times equal to your Constitution modifier (minimum of 1), and you regain all spent uses after a short or long rest.
  • Fiery Assault: If you have the Extra Attack feature, you may choose to replace one of your attacks with your breath weapon. (Clarification: Other features that grant additional attacks do not benefit from Fiery Assault)
  • Fiery Nature: Even though your breath weapon is not a spell, when you use your action to use your breath weapon you may treat it as though it were a 2nd level Evocation spell with a range of Self for the purposes of any features you have that can modify or enhance spell effects. For example, your breath weapon can be enhanced by a sorcerer's Metamagic, a School of Evocation wizard's Sculpt Spell ability, and benefit from the Elemental Adept feat. In addition, as a bonus action you may spend a spell slot of 2nd level or higher to recharge your inner flame, regaining a number of uses of your breath weapon equal to the level of the spell slot divided by 2, rounded down.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Pedantic point: 25°C is 77°F, not 70°F. Pretty important distinction, as that puts it markedly above "room temperature" (especially at night in most temperate or cooler climates for most of the year); that fire will be necessary in most locales, most of the time. If you were targeting room temperature, you want 20°C (68°F). \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowRanger May 11 at 22:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Whoops! Thanks for catching a bad conversion to degrees-American :) The temperature is supposed to be "Gah! How can you stand this?" hot and be a bit more than the average Canadian would find comfortable. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave B May 11 at 22:56
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I wouldn't allow it at my table, but not for balance reasons.

In a game with 1st level characters being able to fly constantly, if they will pick the right race, I don't believe it would throw the game out of balance too much.

The reason I wouldn't allow it, and the reason I find it hard to judge balance-wise, is that it is really huge for a race. A lot of text, a lot of rules, for a race.

I'll take it point by point, using both your question and self-answer.

Design Goals

I can't really argue with that, especially when it wouldn't even end up in the race rules or description. But I'll point out one goal I believe you failed to meet:

  • The rules should be clearly written and easy to use.

The Stats

Fire Resistance

  • Fire Resistance: You have resistance to fire damage. In addition, while you have fire resistance from another source (such as a spell, magic item or class feature) this trait grants you immunity to fire damage instead.

This goes against the principle of keeping things simple and not stacking in 5e. Also, it leaves it open to debate if effects that grants you resistance to all damage count? And what about resistance to all spells, when the spell happens to be a fireball?

All other races are either resistant or immune to things, period. You introduced a new mechanics, not found in any race1 and hardly, if ever2 used in the game.

+3 pts The ability to permanently upgrade this to fire immunity is potentially powerful, but to get permanent fire immunity will require either spending a class feature on fire resistance (which could have been used to gain a different resistance instead) or a magic item, which would be under the control of the DM. I assessed this as a powerful feature (4), minus 1 for the opportunity cost of needing to gain the resistance again from another source.

This is a powerful feature and you can count on players taking this race just to gain immunity to the most popular spell damage type. Gaining a resistance from another source will not be an "opportunity cost". It will be something well planned and agreed upfront by DM, or it will be something player feels DM denies him to nerf his PC specifically. Drama alert!.

Tough Build

Tough Build: Your maximum Constitution score is 22 instead of 20. However, for each point that you raise your Constitution above 20 using this trait you also reduce your maximum Dexterity by 1.

First of all, there is no one maximum Constitution score4. Feats and Ability Score Improvement, ioun stones etc. each say they increase "to a maximum of 20." so you would need to word this feature to override these specific caps as well, otherwise it is useless.

The other issue I have with this that going over 20 is only possible for Barbarian at 20th level or as a part of Epic Boons, that require being at 20th level, or possibly magic items, but only the rarest, most expensive ones, with availability DM-dependent and only affordable at high levels if at all. You are giving this to a 1st level character. That's a no-go for me.

for each point that you raise your Constitution above 20 using this trait you also reduce your maximum Dexterity by 1.

Maximum dexterity is 20. Without bonuses or ASI character won't have more than 18 there. With most of the character generation methods even 16 is unlikely and 18 DEX and 18+2 CON straight impossible. For all practical purposes this reduction of maximum dexterity will never matter, so for the sake of simplicity it shouldn't exist.

Cold Aversion

  • Cold Aversion: You are adapted living in places of extreme heat. Unless you have resistance to Cold damage, your aversion to the cold manifests in two ways:
    • You have Disadvantage on Constitution saves made against Extreme Cold (DMG P.110)
    • When you take a Long Rest you require an ambient temperature of at least 25°C (77°F) for at least 6 hours, otherwise you suffer 1 level of exhaustion after finishing the rest. (Resting near a fire or keeping a lit brazier in your room or tent will provide adequate heat in most climates.) Exhaustion sustained this way can be recovered from normally, but not during the same rest that it was incurred.

-1 pt This is a very situational vulnerability that is more for flavour.

Remember the Locathah? They die if they are 4 hours out of water. It was meant to offset the fact that they get a lot of advantages against various conditions. But from what I've seen3 they are simply not played outside of the swamp, shoreline or sea campaigns. Getting them water outside of such campaigns turned out to be a chore no one wanted, not a flavor or power factor.

Your Long Rest limitation has the same problem. I'd say it is not an -1 feature. It is either a -0 or -∞. Also, what about characters that just avoid taking a long rest?

Also, "Exhaustion sustained this way can be recovered from normally, but not during the same rest that it was incurred." - So, if it is cold and you get one level of exhaustion, then the next long rest you recover that level, but get another one to replace it? Are you briefly at two levels of exhaustion? Or at 0 levels? It is unclear and for no good reason.

I suggest you should just leave the Disadvantage on Constitution saves made against Extreme Cold.

Breath Weapon

  • Breath Weapon: You may use your action to exhale a fiery blast in a cone whose size is equal to your Constitution score. If playing on a grid, round up or down to the nearest 5'. Each creature targeted by this attack must make a Dexterity saving roll of 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Constitution modifier, taking 2D6 fire damage on a failed save or half as much on a successful one. This damage increases by 1D6 at 5th level (3d6), 11th level (4d6), and 17th level (5d6). You may use this feature a number of times equal to your Constitution modifier (minimum of 1), and you regain all spent uses after a short or long rest.

Oh my. A lot of text here. Simple cone or line got a really complicated. let's take it apart.

size is equal to your Constitution score

Not bad in itself, but it'll change with all CON changes. Belts, magic items etc. Not so hard to do, but one more thing to remember. Also, it breaks the usual 5' increments for spells and powers, more on that below.

If playing on a grid, round up or down to the nearest 5'.

There are already rules for cones on the grid, DMG page 251. You are introducing an alternative for no good reason. See this question for details.

Please, do not change existing mechanics without a really, really good reason. Having a cone that behaves differently than all other cones in the game is definitely not a good thing, as it is one more thing player and DM are forced to remember.

My suggestion: Find a way to make it 5' increments and do not say anything about how it behaves on the grid.

Fiery Assault

Makes action economy better for a weapon-focused characters and does not help magic users at all. Pretty OK for what this race will probably be used most, but does nothing to action economy for more unorthodox concept, like a sorcerer that clearly draws his power from his draconic ancestry.

Fiery Nature

when you use your action to use your breath weapon

And you pretty much always will, it is quite unlikely for a character to have both extra attack and metamagic etc. And if someone will multiclass to get them both, I believe it would be OK to reward it by allowing them to use both Fiery Nature and Assault together. Such PC would be behind single-class characters in many ways, so it's only fair to let them shine in some specific situations. Plus, removing it would reduce amount of text and increase simplicity a bit at no real cost, and that's a good thing.

Other than that, it looks like a pretty neat little feature for magic users. It is totally not in line with where all this was going so far, but it is OK.

For the sake of simplicity, I would just allow using the spell slot of level 2 or higher to exhale fire when you are out of your daily. Having number of breaths as one more thing you need to keep track of on your character sheet is not a chore I'd like to be bothered with.

For relevance at higher levels I'd also made it count as a magic damage for overcoming resistances.


1 It is hard to prove a negative but I did my best to find one and I didn't.

2 I am not able to search thorough all the D&D 5e material, but I never encountered it in play, or on the Internet.

3 In my groups when creating characters, and in the Internet when researching for exotic races none of us seen in play yet.

4 OK, there is one really really hard cap at 30 and nothing in the game is allowed to go higher, but that's besides the point here.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 thanks, added relevant footnote :) \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot May 12 at 13:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Excellent feedback, thank-you! \$\endgroup\$ – Dave B May 12 at 13:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DaveB Always glad to help :D \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot May 12 at 13:58
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Original-Poster's Rough Assessment

From my experience so far, here is how I feel the improvements shake down on the Detect Balance scoreboard, but there is certainly a chance that I have grossly miscalculated somewhere!

Fire Resistance: +3 pts The ability to permanently upgrade this to fire immunity is potentially powerful, but to get permanent fire immunity will require either spending a class feature on fire resistance (which could have been used to gain a different resistance instead) or a magic item, which would be under the control of the DM. I assessed this as a powerful feature (4), minus 1 for the opportunity cost of needing to gain the resistance again from another source.

Tough Build: +2 pts This seems like a sometimes-useful feature. Not many builds benefit very much from pushing CON this high, and a Barbarian wouldn't be able to use this to boost their Unarmoured Defense because of the corresponding penalty to max DEX if it is taken advantage of. It does synergize with the breath weapon modifications, otherwise I would be inclined to rate this as +1

Cold Aversion: -1 pt This is a very situational vulnerability that is more for flavour.

Breath Weapon Improvements (Including Fiery Assault/Fiery Nature): +4 pts The original breath attack is rated as a 6-point feature in Detect Balance. By scaling more of the features with CON and allowing it to interact with other class features, a character could conceivably be built around their breath attack as their signature gimmick. I can't think of any builds that get Extra Attack that also have ready access to interesting features that can modify spell effects, so I don't think there is much synergy between Fiery Assault and Fiery Nature. I feel this makes for "A frequently useful, or powerful feature" in addition to the base breath attack.

Total: +8 over the base score of the Dragonborn presented in the PHB, or 29 points

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "I can't think of any builds that get Extra Attack that also have ready access to interesting features that can modify spell effects, so I don't think there is much synergy between Fiery Assault and Fiery Nature." Does a Warlock's Thirsting Blade count as Extra Attack for this purpose? If so, bladelocks could both mix pact weapon attacks with breath attacks, and eventually burn their slots to get up to eight additional breath weapon attacks per short rest. That's... a lot. Not sure if it's major synergy, but it's something. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowRanger May 11 at 22:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh! Good catch - Somehow forgot about that option a warlock could take, and yeah - warlocks also regenerating spell slots on a short rest definitely throws that calculus out beyond what I was expecting. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave B May 11 at 23:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ The "Thirsting Blade" feature isn't explicitly the "Extra Attack" feature, and no - my intent isn't that a warlock would be able to flame away all day like that. I think I'll keep it the way it is but add a footnote clarifying that Thirsting Blade doesn't qualify. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave B May 11 at 23:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ From my experience, adding drawbacks to balance powers does not work in D&D / d20 family. Players will either have heat at night or end up tired with the DM or race. Thus, I find that -1 point unjustified. It won't be -1, it'll be flavor only, or a deal breaker. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot May 12 at 0:16

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