Newest 5E D&D Unearthed Arcana Provides Path to Draconic Power
New playtest documents for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons have been rolling out recently and presenting new options for characters to explore. Unearthed Arcana 2021 — Draconic Options is the latest one to continue the trend with new race options, which revamps the dragonborn and kobold races for players. Both of these, especially the former, have widely been considered weak options despite the great affection players hold for them. It’s also interesting to note the alternating approaches as either lineage or race. Along with these fresh takes on draconic races this Unearthed Arcana presents a handful of feats and seven new spells for 5E D&D. So let’s get into it.
Draconic race options for 5E D&D
It’s really difficult not to look at Unearthed Arcana 2021 — Draconic Options without feeling like the power creep is strong with this one in the same way Gothic Lineages felt. This is particularly the case with the draconic race options since both already exist in 5E D&D. Say what you will — and believe me plenty of people already have — when two versions of something exist and there’s no practical reason to ever choose one over the other then it really negates half the equation. It’s long been my understanding this is a situation Wizards of the Coast strove to avoid and to be fair Unearthed Arcana are playtest documents and not the final versions of any content.
“The situation where updates to a game introduce more powerful units or abilities, leaving the older ones underpowered.”— Power creep definition
At the same time as 5E D&D content creators ourselves when I see official material pushing the boundaries of the game system as well as expanding the scope of the game’s core intent it’s a relief in many ways. New directions for the experiences 5E D&D seeks to provide and the tools and resources WotC produces to achieve these goals unburdens us from striving to stay in a narrower lane with the content we create. This iteration of D&D has been around for close to seven years now and with the game’s stewards broadening the parameters it lends more legitimacy to third party creators who’ve helped propel the game to the heights it’s been enjoying for a while now.
When it comes to dragons in particular in D&D I’m much more enamored of the legendary creatures from a Dungeon Master perspective. For me the appeal of playing a draconic hero isn’t there. Dragonborn are cool and all. Incorporating this character option in fourth edition D&D was a great idea (like the rest of 4E D&D, which is the best edition of course!). Kobolds on the other hand have never been a monster I had any affection for and I’ve got zero interest in playing one. But playing draconic heroes is thrilling for tons of players and I totally get it — no judgement. I’m still riding high on Unearthed Arcana 2021 — Folk of the Feywild and while I love me some dragons in my D&D the Dreaming World of the fey holds much more wonder. Nevertheless I’m here to take a closer look at Unearthed Arcana 2021 — Draconic Options.
Fans of the power of the classic colorful evil (can we still say this?) dragons find a lot to love here. I’ve never played with or heard of anyone playing an original dragonborn whose scales didn’t match the color of their draconic ancestry but now it’s official. Presumably to support the move towards removing whatever vestigial importance alignment holds completely chromatic dragons are described more by their representation of elemental power.
Mechanically these dragonborn possess features very similar to the original version — a breath weapon and defenses against whatever energy type this exhalation produces. Except now they can do it more often and more easily and it deals more damage. In addition these dragonborn can briefly turn their resistance into immunity.
Nearly note for note identical to their chromatic counterparts these dragonborn manifest elemental power in a way that sounds much more amiable. Chromatic dragonborn scorch enemies with the power of volcanoes and biting arctic winds while metallic dragonborn’s draconic breath is more akin to the fire of a hearth or crisp mountain air. However you imagine these things a character still exhales deadly energy.
Unlike chromatic dragonborn and their potential energy immunity a metallic dragonborn can toggle their Breath Weapon to a less dangerous version like their metallic dragon progenitors. There’s a couple of options and if I’m honest in a final version I’d love to see these possibilities mimic the true dragon versions.
I’ve got no special love for gem dragons or really any deep knowledge of them from D&D history but the concept is really cool. Long associated with psionics the gem dragonborn illustrate this trait as well and I’m totally here for it. Like the original dragonborn and now chromatic and metallic varieties a gem dragonborn gets a Breath Weapon and their options reflect the remaining damage types, which is way cooler than the standard elemental damage types. Gem dragonborn also demonstrate telepathy and limited flight.
Truth be told I’d rather leave the chromatic and metallic dragonborn on the cutting room floor and see this one developed and released on its own. In this scenario the Breath Weapon damage and usage would align with the existing dragonborn Breath Weapon mechanics. Despite the outcry for better dragonborn and the wails that would surely ensue if these new versions never became official people have been playing dragonborn for years already.
Congratulations kobold fans! You can have your cake and eat it too. For folks who fell in love with the weak little draconic people but want to play one without the drawbacks of being a weakling the kobold race here is perfect. Innate spellcasting, natural weapons, defense against being frightened and a miniature Zealous Presence provide a much greater opportunity to become a powerful hero. I kinda like how the designers took Grovel, Cower, and Beg and with basically changed the flavor but kept the mechanics and made it easier to let out the Draconic Roar as a bonus action.
Each of the three new dragonborn in this Unearthed Arcana have a matching feat although a character need not be of those races to choose any of these. It could be incredibly cool for lots of characters to elect to choose these feats. Divorced from the draconic quality they’re just very useful feats with great features.
Gift of the Chromatic Dragon is basically a limited elemental weapon spell along with providing resistance to elemental damage as a reaction. It’s worth noting when a character uses their reaction this way it can apply to any elemental damage — acid, cold, fire, lightning or poison — and not just a single type associated with a particular chromatic dragon.
Gift of the Metallic Dragon lets you cast cure wounds (because why?) once for free along with adding it to known spells so that any spell slot can be used to cast it additional times. Like Gift of the Chromatic Dragonborn this feat also provides a reaction option in the form of a quasi-Protection fighting style effect.
Gift of the Gem Dragon takes the top spot for my favorite of these feats. There’s an ability score bump to either Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma, which is always nice. On top of this it also provides a reaction available when the character with the feat takes damage, which enables them to cause force damage to the attacker and push them away.
There’s a bunch of new spells and I’ve already seem many discussion online getting deep into the noodly mechanics of them. I’m not nearly as analytical as this so instead here’s a preview of them all with a few brief thoughts. The Unearthed Arcana document also includes a handy chart noting whether a spell requires concentration, is a ritual and what classes have it available. Nice touch!
- Draconic Transformation. Whoa. Blindsight, flying speed and a bonus action 30 foot cone of 3d8 force damage every turn for 1 minute sounds awesome! The breath weapon part could be cooler as an effect wholly different than the amethyst gem dragonborn or any of the other dragonborn breath weapons. Maybe something with an unusual effect? But at the end of the day this is a fun and flavorful 7th level spell.
- Fizban’s Platinum Shield. Let the Dragonlance rumors fly! This awesome spell creates several incredible defensive benefits for a creature, not the least of which is providing half cover. Elemental damage resistance and Evasion for the protected creature cover so many bases and best of all the caster can transfer these benefits to another creature as a bonus action. Tight!
- Flame Stride. I sure do dig me some 5E D&D stuff with multiple benefits from a single source. This time around the caster gains a 20 foot speed boost, ignores opportunity attacks and burns any creatures within 5 feet. I could see this expanding in a revision to let the caster choose the damage type instead of being only fire.
- Icingdeath’s Frost. Hmmm… I’m feeling rather suspect about this spell and it feels like it’s missing some important language too. A 30 foot cone of 3d8 cold damage that also reduces creatures’ speed to 0 for 1 minute (no additional saving throws to break free?!) sounds a bit over powered to me. Even considering the typo — it’s shown as a 15 foot cone elsewhere in the description — still seems a tad much.
- Nathair’s Mischief. Did this get left off the Folk of the Feywild document? It seems to me like the draconic part of filling a 20 foot cube with fey and draconic magic got shoehorned in to fit with these Draconic Options because I have no idea how else this fits with the rest of the content in this one. Maybe a tenuous link with the faerie dragon? Still feels pretty weak to me. At any rate the Mischievous Surge effects for those in the cube, which the caster can move for free at the start of their turn and immediately affect those within, is pretty darned neat. [NERDITOR’S NOTE: I searched for Nathair later and learned his god of pseudodragons and faerie dragons is a member of Queen Titania’s Seelie Court from second edition AD&D.]
- Raulothim’s Psychic Lance. I’ve seen many people saying this one is much too powerful so I’m skeptical heading in although people on the internet say a lot of stuff I rarely agree with so I’m anxious to see for myself. It’s got really long range but not unprecedented (looking at you phantasmal killer) and zips around like Darkseid’s Omega Effect, which scores points with me for causing me to think of this at all. The damage seems on the high side but on the other hand PK on average deals 90 points of damage and keeps the target frightened. This is a one and done leaving the target incapacitated until the start of the caster’s next turn. This doesn’t make me clutch my pearls the way I’ve seen from others. And it led me to learn about the spell’s namesake emerald dragon, which I enjoyed.
- Summon Draconic Spirit. Geez the 5E D&D team really loves spells and features with associated variable stat blocks! Players seem to really love this direction but for me it’s not very exciting. I’ve never been a huge fan of the summoner concept but of course I understand a huge number of people are so things like this are great. It’s gotta be much more manageable for players to have this information right with the spell rather than requiring another resource. The closest comparison is Summon Celestial and this Draconic Spirit blows it away in every way except as a source of healing.
Unearthed Arcana 2021 — Draconic Options final thoughts
I’ve never been shy about incorporating dragons into my games and at the end of the day all these pathways for players to embrace draconic power and create the kinds of amazing heroes they imagine are a great idea. Truth be told there’s so much 5E D&D content out there considering official sources, Dungeon Masters Guild products and tremendous amounts of third party material — our own included! — that I don’t get as enthusiastic about new stuff from WotC as I used to. But I’m still a D&D fanboy who loves dragons so if they want to put together an entire book of draconic content I’m 100% behind the effort.
Nods to Dragonlance whether indirectly (new dragonborn are laying the groundwork for Dragonlance draconians!) or directly (Fizban!) sound encouraging. I dug Dragonlance immensely back in the day and it would be pretty cool to see a 5E D&D iteration of the beloved franchise. But honestly what excites me much more is gem dragons. Not only does their association with psionics bode well for this prickly part of D&D gem dragons also represent a really intriguing dynamic between their chromatic and metallic counterparts. If Dragonlance does loom on the horizon it’d be fantastic to see the setting fast forward past what’s been explored in literature and present a fresh Krynn with all it’s draconic glory — including gem dragons.
What do you think? If you haven’t yet checked out Unearthed Arcana 2021 — Draconic Options I recommend seeing what these race options, feats and spells can add to your 5E D&D games and share your thoughts and perspectives. Get to it and as always, stay nerdy!
*Featured image — The sapphire dragon is one of the gem dragons, powerful psionic dragons from D&D lore and my pick for the coolest kind of dragonborn. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]