Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dragonborn suck

Actually, they're pretty awesome.

For starters, they look really cool and inspired some of the best artwork in the 4E books.

Mechanically, they're not all bad. The bonus to healing surges is a real boon. I also like their rage mechanic if only because it gives me a tactical decision to make. Do I hold off on taking a healing word for a little while longer so that I can have that +1 to hit? How long do I risk running on fewer than half my hit points?

Yet, for all that, they truly suck in two crucial ways.

First of all is the breath weapon. For a racial ability that seems so iconic, so central to the race, it is by far the most pathetic piece of crap any race gets. It's just flat out weak. Almost to the point of being utterly useless.

My dragonborn fighter/wizard hybrid has used his breath weapon exactly once, and that was just for shits'n'giggles. Granted the rarity in it's use is due entirely to his having the wizard At-will "Thunderwave". Same burst and damage but with an added push factor. Compared to the breath weapon that's a no-brainer.

However, even if I was to take away "Thunderwave" I still fail to see any appeal in this racial power. It's just so bland and uninteresting. I look at the elf with his re-roll a missed attack, and the eladrin with his teleport, and I'm jealous. Even the halfling has a better racial power. Halflings! WTF!

The sad thing is that all WotC had to do was give the breath weapon some small additional effect dependant on the energy type chosen. Something like 1 point of ongoing fire or acid or poison damage, or slow in the case of a cold based breath weapon, or 1 point of damage to adjacent enemies for electricity. That's all it would take to make the breath weapon not only stand out but shine with distinction. Simple right? So why hasn't WotC done this yet?

The obvious answer is that they're planning a Dragonborn book which will be chock full of feats and powers that'll give the breath weapon some appeal. That's fine by me, but the PHB could've had a little something on the original.

My other beef is with their history. It just feels so tacked on and hackneyed. Was it written by an intern?

The whole 'they had a great and glorious empire that for some reason no one in whatever world you're in has ever heard of' is awkward to say the least. Then, in piling on the suckiness, they forge an even lamer story of a great war between their empire and a similar empire of teiflings. Oh my... the teiflings had an empire too? Was their a sale on empires? Buy one get one free? And is this supposed to stoke up the fires of intra-party tension should there be a dragonborn and a teifling together? Only it's not because that war was a long, long time ago and there are no hard feelings between the races any more. Got it?

The only part of that mash-up story is the possible tension it might have created between dragonborn and tiefling characters. The part they trivialized under the crushing sands of time. Even though plenty of settings have histories of warfare between races and nations. Eberron's entire story is centered around a huge war. Yet generic dnd world has one big conflict but because it happened so long ago it's irrelevant. Nice.

My point is that there are plenty of other tropes that would have made for a seamless fit into whatever world. A pocket plane comes to mind. Or a distant land way off across the big water. Heck, give them a feudal Japan flavor and you've got your ready made intro for the inevitable samurai, ninja, and shugenja classes.

For the centerpiece new race in 4E's flagship book, it has the look of a slapped together hash job that fell far short of it's promise.

14 comments:

Carsonist said...

Do you realize that the Dragonbreath is a Minor Action? Also, there are quite a few feats you can take to boost your breath, mine is a blast 5 that rolls D10s. You may have missed the Dragon Magazine that gives you more feat options for Dragonborn. As usual, most of them are worthless, but some are good.

Mike Karkabe-Olson said...

Actually, I have been running a Dragonborn fighter and I have found the breath attack very useful and effective. I use it whenever I find myself in a situation that places my Dragonborn against several enemies in range of the breath weapon. It is especially effective against groups of minions.

I see your point, though, that it is not as useful to a wizard who may have a similar at-will spell available already (of course, you can select a DIFFERENT at-will power for the wizard instead... and that would, in essence, provide you with three different attack options for each encounter to pick from instead of two).

Alexandra Erin said...

True fact: While I'll defend almost every aspect of 4E's design, the "default setting"'s racial histories (and the FR and Eberron ports' attempts to explain where all the races no one noticed before came from) just make my eyes glaze over. So bleh. So blah. Even the stuff I like (the fey races being more explicitly fey) is poorly written.

I have a suspicion that WOTC actually has the same basic opinion of the power as you do, except I'd imagine they'd phrase it more positively. The Dragonborn were intended to replace overpowered half-dragon templates from previous editions, so they give you a breath weapon that starts out as nothing more than an average minion-mop at-will power you only get once per encounter, and then make you spend feats to bring it up to a more useful level.

The fact that Enlarged Breath and Empowered Breath were both core feats is very suggestive of this, as is the fact that every * Power book that's come out so far has class/source specific feats for extending Dragon Breath.

The guy who likes Dragonborn in my face-to-face group gets a lot of mileage out of his breath, but then, he does spend a lot of feats to extend its usefulness (I believe he has Hurl Breath, Expand Breath, and Empowered Breath)... and he's also playing a Barbarian. Being able to do a close blast or ranged burst attack once per encounter is a bigger deal to a Barbarian. It definitely adds the least to a Wizard's repertoire... though the fact that it's a minor means that at the very least you could be layering it in the same turn as a thunderwave.

Considering how many feats they've added already, I wouldn't be at all surprised if WOTC did come out with feats that give an elemental-themed extra effect in a Dragon article or a Dragonborn-specific manual.

Francis Bousho said...

I'm not going to touch on the utility of the dragonborn breath weapon too much, just give an example of when it rocks.

Your a bloodied dragonborn fighter, about to die actually and want to take your second wind action, but you don't want to lose the mark you've been cultivating for the last few turns. So, you attack with dragon breath (while bloodied for the +1 to damage) and then use second wind. You're healed, your mark is still there, and best of all the enemy took a little bit of damage.

All that having been said, expect some new feats and such coming our way in January via the Player's Handbook Races: Dragonborn book.

matthew-lane said...

Yeah. I'm not a great fan of the Dragonborn, just due to the kind of fuzzy background that was given. If i had to choose between half-dragons and dragonborn i would choose the Half Dragon, because to me that route seems more interesting & more unique.

Its completely a personal flavour thing. But statistically the dragonborn aren't a disinteresting race, but the breath weapon seems a little restrictive, even with feats to improve it.

-M

Griff said...

My first thought here was to bullshit my way through and cover my noobish gaff with a "well, yeah, it's a minor but..."

The truth is that the whole minor action thing was a surprise. I mean, I vaguely remember thinking that was a handy feature when I first rolled up the character. But then I promptly forgot that little detail and mentally filed it as a standard action, simply because it "feels" like a standard. My bad.

It still sucks though. ;-)

(but... I will chain it with Thunderwave for a possible double damage effect. So ta to all our vigilent readers.)

Crwth said...

I have to side with Griff on this: my mindset (probably because of 3.5) is that powers are standard actions (except ones that are very obviously interrupts); move actions and minor actions are things like stand from prone, draw/sheathe a weapon, drink a potion, etc. Every time I use my healing word, I'm again surprised that it's a minor action.

I blame the pretty power cards for not being more obvious about it... Griff can't use that excuse, though, because he refuses to use them.

Alexandra Erin said...

I think it's a side effect of the more standardized and less conversational tone of the core books, which is light on reader asides. A lot of roleplaying game books of various systems and editions past would point out the logical consequences/obvious synergies of things, giving readers some idea how they're meant to be used/leveraged most effectively.

An attack that's a minor action is a remarkable exception, but it passes without remark. That defies expectations.

Anyway, I'd just like to note that the Bahamut feature in Dragon that just went up a few days ago includes yet another breath expanding feat, one that I believe adds radiant damage to the breath attack for a divine character. That's kind of concept-specific, but it's yet another permutation of the trend of breath enhancing feats. I'll be really surprised if the Dragonborn handbook doesn't include element-by-element ones.

Griff said...

@Alexandra, I too will be utterly shocked if the upcoming Dragonborn book isn't chock full of breath weapon candy. It's the first thing that came to mind when I saw it in the product announcement.

Still, it strikes me as yet more vindication that the original PHB was intentionally clipped to leave things for later releases. A fine marketing/money making strategy but I can't help but feel a little robbed by it at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Heh. Dragonborn get a lot of great racial feats. Sure, a Dragonborn *wizard* doesn't get much out of being a Dragonborn, but that hardly makes the race suck.
Fighters can mark multiple foes with Dragonbreath - one of the few true multi-target powers available to the fighter. Additionally, the number of Dragonborn-only Feats that go well with fighters and Paladins and Inspiring Warlords (such as those which knock people prone and do extra damage with a push power) make Dragonborn one of the premiere choices for those classes.

Anonymous said...

No, dragonborn do suck. Hate the name, the artwork, the concept, the powers, and the background.

They're a big hint that the guys "designing" d&d nowadays are incompetent, IMO.

Anonymous said...

dragon born rock the breath is a minor action and it is +2 to hit and is based on ur best physical stat. the dmg is a little low but im a Sorc so all i have to do is take a feat and it counts as a arcane spell letting me add my str mod to my dmg roll, then if ur bloodied u have +1 to hit every one in ur close blast 3. if u have the feat u also get +2 dmg, there are tons of feats to modify it. one in the dragon born book lets u change the base stat to any other one , so i as a Sorc have a 18 Chr so i could switch it to my chr roll instead of str( i have a 16 str) so on turn one i use draogn breath as a minor use my lighting daily that 1/2 dmg on a missand then blow a action point to use my acid encounter power , giving me 3 close blast 3 in one turn. and they make even better paladins then they do sorc

Anonymous said...

dragon born rock the breath is a minor action and it is +2 to hit and is based on ur best physical stat. the dmg is a little low but im a Sorc so all i have to do is take a feat and it counts as a arcane spell letting me add my str mod to my dmg roll, then if ur bloodied u have +1 to hit every one in ur close blast 3. if u have the feat u also get +2 dmg, there are tons of feats to modify it. one in the dragon born book lets u change the base stat to any other one , so i as a Sorc have a 18 Chr so i could switch it to my chr roll instead of str( i have a 16 str) so on turn one i use draogn breath as a minor use my lighting daily that 1/2 dmg on a missand then blow a action point to use my acid encounter power , giving me 3 close blast 3 in one turn. and they make even better paladins then they do sorc

Anonymous said...

I actually have a pretty good acid breath for my Dragonborn. I'm able to do 13 continuing acid damage over time and if I use an action point, I can do around 28 acid continuing damage. Not to mention I have Dragon Blast which does wonders for hords of minions.