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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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  • \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't answer your question, but it's a deep discussion into Dragonborn in 5e youtube.com/watch?v=UA1xWDaV6Mk \$\endgroup\$ – Kirk Oct 6 '14 at 21:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, I don't think that the second picture is of a Dragonborn. That page is in the Sorcerer class description. Because of the proximity, I've always assumed that it depicted a Sorcerer whose Origin is Draconic Bloodline. I might recommend you put up a confirmed Dragonborn picture, but since this (possible) error sort of demonstrates your point, that might not even be necessary. \$\endgroup\$ – trekkieyk Nov 21 '15 at 0:39
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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. This has remained their story for 5e.

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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(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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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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Half-Dragons are literally half-dragon, as the name implies. A dragon, likely shape-shifted, ends up showing the proclivities of Zeus and beds a 'lesser creature', thus producing offspring that is half-dragon and half-something else.

Dragonborn have a variety of lore available to them depending on which edition you play, but one thing is distinctly true. They are not the direct offspring of a dragon and another species. They may or may not be able to breed with each other, but they are hatched rather than born, and are fundamentally different from half-dragons.

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.

Update

Since the release of the DMG, we discovered that Wizards' initial statements about including the Kender and Warforged in the DMG was not correct. They stated that there were page restrictions, thus the only examples of races that appeared in the DMG were the Aasimar and the Elf(Eladrin).

Instead, the Warforged, Shifters, and more were released in a free pdf on a Wizard's webpage article called Unearthed Arcana. Current releases of this include Eberron and Mass Combat rules. We can expect that they will eventually release one for Dragonlance, thus covering the Draconians.

Ultimately, the Draconians appeared to be the first 'Dragonborn' species introduced to the game, and although the name 'Dragonborn' does not fit the Draconians in the fluff of each, they are still a humanoid dragon-race that is not really a hybrid with other races, thus they do fit in a broad sense, and the death throes are a good substitution for the breath-weapons, though limited in use (basically only when you die).

They aren't a perfect fit, but close enough that they can be a reskin or a subrace of Dragonborn and work reasonably within the rules.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Aug 26 '14 at 6:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ Such is the ontological danger of refluffing. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 26 '14 at 6:50
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Allow me to put in 5e specific lore:

A) A Half-Dragons can be both a birth or an acquired template. It can be the result of a polymorphed dragon mating with a non-dragon (which does not always result in a Half-Dragon), or the result of a magic ritual. Half-Dragons cannot breed, but live twice as much as others of the race of the non-dragon parent or base creature turned into a Half-Dragon. Thus, as unable to breed, they are not a race, rather than a magical mutation. They get a breath weapon more similar to an actual dragon.

B) As the case above, if a Dragon breeds with a humanoid, the result can also be a Dragon bloodline Sorcerer. This can also occur as a spell/ritual from a dragon bestowing Draconic powers to someone. Specifics are unclear, but theories include:

  1. If mother is dragon and father non-dragon, the result is Half-Dragon, wile if Father is a dragon and mother non-dragon, the result is a sorcerous origin (or vice-versa). I suggest the proposed, as Half-Dragons are referenced in Hoard of the Dragon Queen as coming from a "Hatchery", witch would mean they are born from an egg, thus being created in a Draconic Body makes more sense biologically speaking.

  2. Half-Dragon specifies it occurs "sometimes" as opposed to always, further enhancing the theory that it is a mutation, wile the "cannon" result is a Draconic Bloodline.

  3. Ritual for Half-Dragon is specified as a ritual bath in dragon Blood. Dragon Bloodline might include a transfusion instead (personal suggestion).

    In the Sorcerer entry, there is a Dragon-Humanoid, but it's not specified as a Dragon Bloodline Sorcerer, and could be a Dragonborn Sorcerer. There is a lack of evidence Dragon Bloodline Sorcerers have anything other than their scales and latter wings in common with Dragons. It's really up to the DM and/or player to decide.

C) Dragonborn is specified as an independent humanoid Race. They were created by Dragon Gods and follow them. While they look just like Half-Dragons, they lack a tail, and can't use their Breath Weapon that often.

D) Finally, Draconians are born by perverting metallic dragon eggs with foul magic, which results in a creature similar to the Dragonborn. They lack the Breath Weapon however, and instead have unspecified spellcasting abilities, possibly hinting a Draconic-Origin Sorcerer progression. Due to their foul magical origin, they are inherently evil, as opposed to Dragonborn, who consciously choose their alignment.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Are Draconians even in 5e? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 9 '18 at 0:43

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