Buried Gods: Reconcepting Dragonborn

I have spoken already about the challenge of integrating the Dragonborn and Dwarves into the setting of Cobrin’Seil. These two extremely strong, heavily supported character heritages, so I don’t want to take them away from players, but they’re also hard to integrate into the world the way I want it to be. For dwarves, the problem is that they didn’t bring anything to the world that humans didn’t, and I solved that problem by reconcepting them as what I’ve called a ‘pocket heritage’ – small communities whose biological oddness is explained by a feywild origin.

Dragonborn’s problem is a little more tricky. They provide some things I do want (mechanically robust heritage that can be used for a variety of classes in interesting and distinct ways) and some things I don’t care about (fuckable dragon people). They also bring with it some worldbuilding questions, which the default setting answers with a shrug of ‘a God Did It,’ and what’s more that god is Bahamut, against whom I will never not have a grudge. I know these days he’s changed his names and now he’s a monk, no, really, he was always a cool guy, but Bahamut is still always going to be a Lawful Good God who’s meant to be Super Powerful but Doesn’t Fix Things because That Would Be Hard.

He’s also very much defined by his Faerunian depiction, and that world’s gods are awful.

Dragonborn can’t just be transplanted wholesale into another species group, or remade as like, bear people, because their mechanics have all been very good about reinforcing the flavour of being ‘a dragon that’s like, a guy.’   That means they have wings, breath weapons, bites, specific references to elemental energies through their scales, and relationships to other species based on ‘being a dragon.’ Whatever I choose for the dragonborn still has to be possible for any given player to grab their existing dragonborn character art and, more or less, plonk it into the world without feeling like they can’t ‘be’ the way they want to be in the world.

Also, there’s an added problem: Kobolds. Kobolds are an extant heritage in Cobrin’Seil, and they’re popular, and they’re useful for showing something about dragons and the world as it is. I like Kobolds a lot, and when looking at the world as a whole I had to answer the question: Why Aren’t Dragonborn Just Big Kobolds?

That was a thought, for a while there. I did seriously consider Dragonborn as like, Kobolds who had been selected to be defenders or guardians and were changed somehow, but that process seemed something I didn’t want in the world as something common enough entire heritages got it. Plus, it did open a balance door, of like, well, why can’t dragonborn and kobolds share feats? That seems strange, and lords I didn’t want to give dragonborns more options.

Here then are the parameters for defining the Dragonborn of Cobrin’Seil:

  • Allow players to feel like existing Dragonborn work,
  • Open up to more options that are more appropriate to the world
  • Don’t make Bahamut a requirement
  • Have a new, clear hook as to why a player might want to play one
  • Not Just Big Kobolds

Let me tell you about an empire of the sun.

Let me tell you about the children of the scale.

Let me tell you about the Dragonborn of Cobrin’Seil.

Glossary Note: Conventionally, the term used in D&D for this mechanical package is race. This is the typical term, and in most conversations about this game system, the term you’re going to wind up using is race. For backwards compatibility and searchability, I am including this passage here. The term I use for this player option is heritage.

What does ‘dragon’ mean?

Across the continents of Bidestra and Arnea, there is a clear distinction of what Dragon means. People speak of large, powerful, dangerous, scaled creatures with four limbs and two wings, long necks, and great, powerful minds that can wield magic or psionic powers. This isn’t to say that’s all that counts, because there’s also wyverns, and dragonnes, and dragon turtles, and linnorms and pseudodragons and half-dragon creatures and brainstealers and dzalmu and abishai and scalamagdrion and a lot of things that are types of dragon but also not dragon dragons, not the things people mean when they say dragon, which is to say, a dragon is a great big, powerful thing that is scaled, and it probably has wings except when it doesn’t and it has a breath weapon, except when it doesn’t, and it has four limbs, except when it doesn’t.

And sure, there are academics who will pontificate that a wyvern isn’t a true dragon and all that but that doesn’t serve as any comfort at all when a wyvern is eating your leg and you’re able to go ‘well at least it’s not a true dragon’ when you want the people in your village you shout the word at to come at you and holler.

Also, lots of kobolds will happily point out to you that they are dragons, too, so whatever definition you use has to handle that, good luck.

It’s also a Common word – not a word of many specific regional language, which can be in many cases, very specific. And it’s a word that some cultures use to signify not just the ambiguous Dragons (often ‘True Dragons’ and ‘Dragons’), but they also use it to refer to anything enormous, scaly, and dangerous. Like, well, dinosaurs.

When the first explorers made contact with the people of Shar Turoc, they sure thought they’d encountered a heritage of people who were born of dragon stock — and when they called them ‘the dragonborn,’ it made sense to them. After all, to them, dragon was a word those people use to refer to a scaled, powerful creature which knows things.

Weird that they use that term for wyverns, but the Dragonborn have always thought those people are weird.

Dragonborn Heritage Traits

Cobrin’Seil’s Dragonborn have all the traits of the Dragonborn presented in , and are considered mechanically the same things as Dragonborn. In a setting where Dragonborn are a player option, the DM should consider permitting players to play the Cobrin’Seil Dragonborn, a distinct and discrete heritage with different lore.

Spread throughout the adventurers of Cobrin’Seil, one is going to meet a Dragonborn eventually. Humanoids of scale and muscle, the Dragonborn have spread from their origin city in Shar Turoc, to be common enough that most people have seen them, but rarely know about the culture that gave rise to their presence.

The headwaters of the Dragonborn is a lost city, hidden in a valley amongst the mountains of what was thought to be an empty continent, where volcanic vents and seismic activity turn stark and sterile mountains into a beautiful, fulgent valley. This city, known as Shar Turoc, is a beautiful land of stonework and crystal, with an ancient culture of cosmopolitan, erudite people, who have, since the city was discovered, loved to travel the world, seeking out the greatest of foes the world has, and burying them.

Play a Dragonborn if you want…

  • To look like a rad dinosaur person
  • To be a scion of a culture separated from the predominant
  • To share in an ancient culture-wide pledge
  • To know what it takes to kill a god.
  • To have benefits if you play the Paladin, Warrior or Warlord classes.

Physical Qualities

Dragonborn have a variety of gross physical constructions. There’s the form that’s most commonly used to describe ‘the Dragonborn,’ which look yes, like anthropomorphic wingless dragons, but the physical form of them has a lot more variance. Some of them are slender, whiplike, and covered in brightly coloured, extravagent feathers, some are heavy and stocky, and much more like crocodilians.

This wild variance means that some Dragonborn are heavy set, powerhouse characters who can reach up to two meters tall, and some are closer to one and a half meters tall. Their weight is even more varied — some extremely slender dragonborn have hollow bones, and weigh little even compared to other humanoids. Some are much more like the flat-footed saurians of their home valley, and weigh even more than their hefty frames would imply.

If you want inspiration for how different Dragonborn look, check out all the different, beautiful vibrant colours and styles we can see on birds and reptiles these days. They could be as bright as tropical birds, or completely featherless and show scale and beak and brawn.

Playing a Dragonborn

What you want to decide when you make a Dragonborn, is what kind of thing you want the character to evoke. If you want to look big and brawny and tough, you could go with a crocodile, cerotaur, or the like kind of aesthetic. You could go for a look more like a skink or poisonous lizard, or even a snake.

Many Dragonborn, since Shar Turoc opened, grew up outside of the Great City, but are still aware of it, and welcome to return and learn about it.

Dragonborn are sometimes mistaken as a type of ‘lizardfolk’ — which they generally see as probably likely? — and therefore spend a lot of time dealing with outsiders who think they’re a kind of swamp-dweller, people who lack sophistication or culture. This is obviously not true, and even if it was true, it’s definitely something that lets you work out how the community around you are assholes.

Common Dragonborn Classes

The Paladin is the most obvious option for the Dragonborn. Typically, Dragonborn are physically very strong, which means that a heavily armoured character who can derive strength from their most intense of beliefs matches well with the culture. Dragonborn paladin are almost always derived directly from actualising their ideals, visions of justice, revenge, or protection, and rarely have any belief in or service to a god. Why? Weird question, why would you ask.

Dragonborn also take to the fighter well, and the Warlord – a lot of focus on material, physical combat classes that use weapons. Shar Turoc’s use of crystal, stone, bone, and magically treated wood made trade in metal one of the first things the community wanted, and that then became a sign of prestige and skill, with steel being one of the great signs of prestige in the community.

Shar Turoc: Please Hello

The place once known as Shar Turoc is a smudge on the map, too large to be an island, too small to be a continent, surely. Some consider it an archipelago, but the scrubby rocks around it are in many cases not even above the surface of the water during most storms. There are a host of small, flat, grassed knobs of ‘technically an island’ around the larger island, which is, itself, an absolutely awful little outcrop of rock. Explorers landed on the beaches of Shar Turoc, saw the vast cliffs about it, found it almost impossible to get up onto the mountains any way but by climbing, and considered the whole affair not worth it. There’s even a human fishing village in Shar Turoc.

The name is a mystery, though: All the neighbouring cultures know the island is called ‘Shar Turoc.’ They don’t know why they call it that, and that name didn’t match any of their languages.

Until one day, one of the cliffs opened and out came emissaries from Shar Turoc – a city, hidden in a valley, full of these scaled people, who had, using magic, looked at the world around them, and decided that you know what, yeah, we can handle it if you people get weird. Apparently, centuries of careful, defensive posture and build-up was part of a period where the people of Shar Turoc – who had named the city and island – revealed that they’ve decided, after literal centuries, to explore the world.

Like, the world has divination spells. Shar Turoc had been investigating the world, they’d been exploring remotely, they’d communicated with people at long range, and it was only once they were sure that Shar Turoc was safe, they would break the strange silence. They were here to share their culture, to explore the world, to fight great monsters, and to claim glory and teach the world how to kill gods.

See, that was one of the big surprises for Shar Turoc. Shar Turoc did not have gods. It explicitly was not a culture with gods. They worshipped their environment, and have churches structured in big runic shapes that derive power from the environment, like moisture catchers in the desert. These are runes that most Shar Turoc people imbue in their childhoods, which give them a potent elemental bond, which, yes, is how many of them breath fire. This absence of a religious tradition plays into how they react to other religious structures.

Gods, and their clerics, however, seem to have a principle of don’t annoy the Shar Turoc.

Because benath Shar Turoc is the grave of a god that sought to own them.

Bound, and chained and watched.

Just wait, some dickhead is going to read that and say ‘look, Talen made the Dragonborn into cops’ because I think ‘holding a god down while you seek to kill it’ is a carceral state.

This is how the Dragonborn, or Shar Turoc to themselves, work in Cobrin’Seil. This makes use of a name I had in the setting that I had already called a ‘Lost World’ but which was originally going to be like ‘Native America-land,’ which I’m not wild about now as an adult, but also, replaces a place where I said ‘this is where I hid the Oriental Adventures setting,’ which, you know, that’s not great either. Now the location and idea is being used for something that’s a bit less orientalist, but also a lot more hidden empire of rad dinosaurs.

The best thing about this idea is that it doesn’t require a lot of changes for what I’d consider ‘player interface.’ They don’t have to change the name of the culture, or even most of the aesthetic. Like, now, they’re more dinosaur but if your mental image of them is dragony you’re close anyway. The variety present in the Dragonborn gives you a whole range of Warhammer miniatures to rip off.

But even though the Children of the Scale do not consider themselves related to ‘dragons’ at all – because they’re not – they’re linguistically still able to accept Dragonborn. Because to their perspective, Dragons are like them, so they would assume that comparison was Dragons being compared to them, rather than they were being compared to dragons.

The art in this article come from either Magic: The Gathering art of dragonborn and dinosaurs, and OnePageRules’ STLs of some really neat looking dinosaur miniatures.