D&D Dragonborn Illustrate Why the Reason Why Matters

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Making a Pact with Warlock Patreon from Kobold Press

The inclusion of breasts on dragonborn in Dungeons & Dragons is a subject that I’ve noticed come up on occasion. I’m aware that it’s a thing that was included in fourth edition D&D dragonborn, but they’ve since been removed from fifth edition D&D. This is official canon, coming straight from the mouth of the developers themselves:

While it’s a thing that I’m going to allow in my world, which I’m still trying to figure out to what extent, and how it’ll actually work, I understand why Wizards of the Coast made the decision. Actually, I understand why they made the first decision to include dragonborn breasts in fourth edition D&D before removing them for fifth edition.

The reason why is because the reason why they are used matters. In a vacuum, breasts on a dragonborn are a completely innocuous inclusion. However, we don’t live in a vacuum, and sexual objectification is a problem. What makes the problem more of a problem is that there is a lot of confusion about sex-positive feminism, which is about empowering women through their femininity and sexuality, and there are those that try to conflate the two subjects. Moreover, there are efforts by some to force women into limited suppliant roles through the use of sexual objectification and gender stereotypes.

So, while breasts can be a positive force of feminine power, the inclusion of them, especially in areas where there’s no biological imperative, such as with the dragonborn, because of the many ways that they can be abused, it’s more than understandable why Wizards of the Coast chose to exclude them in fifth edition.

Reasons matter everywhere

That’s not the end of the story. Frankly, this is a good launching point for the discussion of the reason why something can be okay in some circumstances, but not in others, and the reason why is the motive or intent of the inclusion of something. It’s a discussion that needs to happen, because there’s a lot of confusion, in general, about why the same things are acceptable or unacceptable in various situations. Frankly even at the end of all of this, the answer may still be very murky for some, but I hope I can clear some things up when all is said and done.

Nuance

Teamwork business concept – cube and blocks.

As a building block, I want to talk about nuance. This is going to be very important, because in everything nuance plays a role, and some people have a difficult time seeing the nuance, or they choose to purposefully ignore it in a logical fallacy in order to convince others that they’re right or their actions are justifiable. Nuance is “a subtle difference in or shade of meaning, expression, or sound.” That definition matters, because nuance distinguishes between two very similar things, and is important when those subtle differences have larger impacts and implications.

Nuance can be easy to miss, which is why they’re subtle differences, and not obvious differences. Familiarity with a subject will affect your ability to distinguish nuances, too. The same nuance can be more obvious for some people, while it can be nearly imperceptible to others. That’s going to make it hard for some, especially those unfamiliar with a subject, to understand those nuances. That’s also why it’s up to us to recognize when we’re not as aware, and listen to those who are educated in those subtleties.

Intent

The Slants (left to right: Joe X Jiang, Ken Shima, Tyler Chen, Simon “Young” Tam, Joe X Jiang).
Courtesy of Simon Tam

Intent matters a lot. Intent can be that subtle difference between acceptable and unacceptable. Stepping outside of the table for a parallel example, The Slants vs. the Redskins is a prime example. Under most circumstances “slants” is a derogatory term about Asians, and shouldn’t be used, but the all-Asian band chose to call themselves that to reappropriate the word, and to take away its power. However, saying something like, “I don’t like those slants, The Slants,” is still not acceptable. The Slants are using the name intentionally, and with a specific positive intent. On the other side, with no intent at all, and not being owned by Native Americans, the Redskins name doesn’t attempt to do anything that would remove the racist implications.

It’s that same intent that’s going to guide the appropriateness in tabletop RPGs. What we include should be guided by why we’re including it. The reason why I’m okay with allowing breasts on dragonborn in my game is because of one of my previous players. When we were building her character, she had a singular driving force of being the biggest, strongest, badass character possible. We eventually landed on dragonborn paladin, originally following the Raven Queen. (When she hit 3rd level, she opted to take a different Oath than what she first wanted to). The way that she described herself, she was big, muscular, and noble. However, it was equally important to her that she have very large breasts.

The way she explained it, it was important to her that she have them. In essence it was a sign of her feminine strength. Her intention was to not lose her feminine identity, and maybe even show her power as a woman. That explanation was an important distinction for me, and why I’m looking into implementing it in my world at some level. However, I have to also be aware of people who are looking to use dragonborn breasts for sexual objectification. So as I develop my world-building, I have to figure out the best balance against the two intents.

Implementation

A female dragonborn depicted with breasts from fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” No matter what you mean to do, the outcome can end up equally problematic. In the past, I’ve discussed postmodernism, social empathy, diversity, and slavery, and what I believe the advantages are of including them. Implemented well, they have great potential to improve your gaming experience, but they also have the potential to have negative impacts, if they’re not done properly. The reason why will mostly likely come from a lack of knowledge. Without proper understanding of a subject, sensitivities, or a characteristic, the implementation could be intentionally misinformative, but that more plays into intent.

Breast-shaped armor, if the intent isn’t sexual objectification, can fall into that category. Even if the intentions are pure, such as my player’s desire to have breasts on her dragonborn, a lack of an understanding of how things function creates problems. Breast armor is an easy example. It’s something I wouldn’t have let my player have, assuming she ever brought it up, because they’re counterproductive. They’re also super impractical, even if they were functional, because breasts come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Conforming armor would require nearly individual development, as anyone who has gone bra shopping will be able to tell you.

It doesn’t have to be that obvious. Enough people have experiences with catching glaring mistakes made in movies by filmmakers who don’t correctly implement the subjects of the story. Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill (2014) is a perfect example for me. I worked as a mission coordinator for the MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers for over three years during my time in the Air Force. There is so much wrong with that movie that I find it aggravating. I get the point of it, and some of the messages that they were trying to convey aren’t wrong. There is a huge disconnect that happens when you spend 12 hours a day in a war zone, and then drive home to your family, where you’re expected to function like a normal person. However, there are so many things that they got wrong, especially things that were key components to the story, that it simply rings as hollow to me, and I think there’s enough of it that it makes it a false narrative.

Sometimes a lack of proper understanding doesn’t come from a lack of knowledge, but from missing the wider-reaching impacts. Maybe you thought something was innocuous, and maybe never even considered it, which turns out to have further implications, or opens it up for abuse. Sometimes it’s the best people, with the best intentions, that end up with the worst outcomes.

Depiction and characterization

The reason why you make your decisions are going to come through in the end, and they’ll be noticeable. Maybe not to you, or maybe not to those at your table, but they’ll be noticeable. The difference between sexual exploitation and a strong sexual identity will play through the small moments, even if you aren’t overt about it. The truth of your story will come through based on the reasons you have for telling it, for better or for worse.

I hope you’ll consider this going forward, and think about why you make the decisions that you do. It’s important, even if it’s not to you. How you practice is how you play, and depicting something in the wrong way, because you have the wrong reasons for doing it, is going to affect how you see the world, and it’s going to play out in your everyday life. Which, of course, assumes that you aren’t observed outside of your group, or what happens at the table stays there, which is almost assuredly never going to happen.  So, it matters.

Until next time, stay nerdy!

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Follow Joshua Brickley:
Despite looking so young, I'm in my mid-30s (36, to be exact). Up until I was 21, I focused a lot of my attention on stage acting, mostly local and school theater. At some point, I felt a need to change my life's direction, so I joined the Air Force. After 10 years, where I was an Intelligence Analyst and Mission Coordinator, I was medically retired. I went back to school and got my Bachelor's in English, focusing mostly on literary theory and rhetorical criticism, at the University of the Incarnate Word. In this next chapter of my life, I'm turning my attention towards tabletop RPGs.

5 Responses

  1. Megan R. Miller
    | Reply

    This is very well put and definitely something more people need to consider. Thank you for writing about this experience, Joshua, you definitely hit the nail on the head here.

  2. Dragon Sorcerer X
    | Reply

    Dragonborn wasn’t included in 4th Edition! It already existed in 3rd Edition as the Dragonborn of Bahamut from the awesome book Races of the Dragon, it was some sort of “racial template”, it was basically a template but it did not had an LA+ or a CR+ and you could become a Dragonborn by being from any race and answering the call of Bahamut.

    • Doug Vehovec
      | Reply

      Thank you for your comment. The author is using a comparison between fourth and fifth editions of Dungeons & Dragons to track a change in this particular now-core race option presentation. Dragonborn of Bahamut were indeed a neat roleplaying opportunity from Races of the Dragon!

  3. Chris Longley
    | Reply

    Lol this was stupid and pandering to feminist anti-intelligent crying. Sexual objectification is not a problem in fantasy mediums, it’s THEIR problem if they feel “sexually inferior” to a dragon lady with tits. We don’t need to have a discussion on biology in a setting where “magical beast” is as common as seeing dog crap on the ground. Explain “biology” behind magic sorcerer blood that let’s them stretch their arms and grow scales among a slew other biologically inapplicable things. “Oh but that’s straight magic!” Okay, so are dragons as they are technically magical beasts who are important enough to have their own creature type. Dragons are known for polymorphing, why WOULDN”T a dragon creature want to take on aspects of a humanoid race to be more attractive to other races that may also have those traits?

    “Why do dragonborn have tits” Because they can, it’s their game. If people hate it that much, fluff it out of your campaign if you’re really that concerned with female magic dragon people having inconsequential fatty glands on their chests. A good number of feminist idiots don’t even play have the shit they complain is being “objectifying”.

    • Doug Vehovec
      | Reply

      Thank you for your time reading and reflecting on the content on our site! With all the posts on here I hope you find more agreeable posts to balance your experience with this one. We’ll keep doing our best to provide a wide variety of stuff on here!

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