Review: Player’s Handbook Races: Dragonborn

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Wizards of the Coast recently released Player’s Handbook Races: Dragonborn, a supplement that differs from previous supplements in many ways.

First of all, it’s in a floppy ole softcover format rather than in hardcover form; this is probably because 32 pages of content can’t justify the cost of a hardbound spine. Second, it concentrates on developing one particular race rather than campaign settings, power sources or the outer ccosmology. Third, most of the content is devoted towards non-mechanical things like backgrounds, history and flavour (i.e. it’s a book of more fluff, less crunch.)

The last difference is an interesting one, as it reflects the recent trend towards incorporating more fluff into the new supplements than previous supplements had. The signifying example of this trend is Primal Power, which is hands down my favorite power source book because it enriches the understanding of classes that had heretofore been known as tree-hugging derivations of legacy classes with nature themed spells.

I’ve always thought that the dragonborn were a cool addition to 4E. Some naysayers think it’s a stupid concession to people who want to play generic bad-asses (which begs me to ask, “And what are the drow for?”) Some believe that the description “Play a dragonborn if you want to… look like a dragon,” is evidence of the shallowness of the idea. I however, believe it is a distillation of how awesome dragonborn are. As Dante of Stupid Ranger pointed out, the dragonborn are actually the D&D version of a Klingon.

In any case, Player’s Handbook Races: Dragonborn is a welcome supplement that is useful to both DMs and players, simply because unlike elves and dwarves, the dragonborn are not as firmly developed among players of prior editions of D&D. The book opens with cultural and historical fluff, discusses backgrounds and paragon paths to develop your character according to any power source, introduces a number of feats & items and ends with interesting and race-relevant quests for a dragonborn to pursue.

In “Blood of Io,” the book goes into detail about the heritage of the dragonborn. Rather than being a dry account of the cultural and historical ties that the race has with the draconic deities, the chapter focuses on the various origin legends that surround the emergence of the dragonborn. Here, the intention seems to be to assist players in developing a moral outlook for their dragonborn character. This is, as far as the writers seem to be concerned, of critical importance, since dragonborn are not a people who are inclined towards ambivalence or ethical and moral compromise.

The more recent past of the dragonborn is discussed in “Scions of Arkhosia.” Here, the book looks at how the rise and fall of the dragonborn empire of Arkhosia (and its rival, the tiefling empire of Bael Turath) can consciously and unconsciously influence the goals of the dragonborn, as well as shape their self-image. A number of sidebars are also devoted to other fluff aspects such as how names are used in dragonborn society, how to speak like a dragonborn and how the virtues of honor and patience manifest in dragonborn individuals.

Snippets of the book are recycled from “Ecology of the Dragonborn,” from Dragon #365, most notably the art. However, the most value of the book comes from the fact that it can really help players get under the skin of their characters simply because it gives them a better idea of dragonborn identity and behavior and where these traits come from. The quests and paragon paths also make long-term goals for their characters clearer than they had been before. Simply put, the book is useful for DMs who want to find more meaningful ways to bring dragonborn into focus in their campaigns.

One could argue that between the pamphlet-esque format and the $9.95, this is just an excuse for Wizards to continue to act like ‘money-grubbing whores.’ I honestly think they could have done better with a “Player’s Handbook: Guide to Races,” to fluff up all the races together and charge less per page. (Haters would have probably said “Why wasn’t this in teh PHBs in teh first place?!” anyway, but you can’t please everyone.) Still, if you have any place for dragonborn in your game, you won’t be getting a raw deal.

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4 Responses to “Review: Player’s Handbook Races: Dragonborn”
  1. Ken says:

    “…most of the content is devoted towards non-mechanical things like backgrounds, history and flavour (i.e. it’s a book of more fluff, less crunch.)”

    In your view, what’s the difference between “crunch” and “fluff”?

    • Matthew the DM's Little Helper says:

      Insofar as 4e is concerned:

      Crunch is related to mechanics and gameplay. Fluff is that which is abstract in relation to its effect on the actual mechanic in play.

      For example, the level 1 at-will power Thunderwave.

      CRUNCH: Allows a wizard to deal a minor amount of damage to a group of enemies and push them a number of squares equal to his INT modifier.

      FLUFF: Loq claps his hands together and a loud shockwave repelling the horde of kruthiks which threaten to swarm him.

      You could refluff it for fun and call it “Dance Shock!” (exclamation point included) and say “Loq snaps his fingers, yowls and taps his toes on the floor at the same time, creating an instant blast of pure dance energy that causes his enemies to step back in awe.” The fluff of the power has changed, but crunch-wise it’s still the same power.

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