Last Updated on January 22, 2023
The Dragon Disciple is one of the most iconic class concepts hearkening back to Dungeons and Dragons 3e. In this post we will discuss what it was and how it has been brought into 5e.
What Is the Dragon Disciple Prestige Class?
The Dragon Disciple was a prestige class in 3rd edition that increased your character’s physical and spellcasting abilities with dragon-flavored improvements over the course of 10 levels that ended with your character becoming a half-dragon.
Dragon Disciples were just that – non-dragons so devoted to the personality and power of what it meant to be a dragon that they would in time magically and permanently transform themselves into a half-dragon.
They accomplished this transformation by growing in three areas:
1. Physical Ability
The dragon disciple became physically stronger, gaining bonuses to their Strength, Constitution, and Intelligence.
The dragon disciple also gained a natural armor bonus, claws, a bite attack, and wings.
Let’s face it. Dragons are just stronger, tougher, and smarter than most other creatures around. And they can fly. Think: furnace with wings!
In Dungeons and Dragons 3e, the dragon was a spellcaster. They gained sorcerer spellcasting levels in relation to their age and challenge rating.
Scrapping that rule in 5e was controversial enough that there is an official variant rule in the Monster Manual that informs Dungeon Masters how to include dragons as spellcasters if they preferred.
For the Dragon Disciple prestige class in 3e, it was important to address this, and so a character had to be able to cast arcane spells in order to even take levels in the class.
As the character gained levels in dragon disciple, they gained bonus spell slots.
3. Breath Weapon
This is simple enough to understand. Dragon, breath weapon; breath weapon, dragon. The dragon disciple got a rather powerful one that improved as they gained levels.
On the battle map, the dragon disciple was a rarity: a melee capable spell caster. Typically, a dragon disciple was a multiclass monk (sometimes Barbarian).
This allowed it to take full advantage of all its bonuses, and, as we all know, spell casting dragon kung fu is simply awesome.
As any dragon disciple concept moves into 5e, it will have to address these four things.
Official 5e Almost Does It
The Way of the Ascendant Dragon monk subclass as put out in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons almost recreates the dragon disciple, even going so far as to name the subclass’s 3rd-level ability Draconic Disciple.
Clearly, this was Wizards of the Coast’s goal. And yes, the subclass is amazing!
You get total freedom to do energy damage with your unarmed strikes so you never have to worry about damage resistance, you gain a flying speed when you use your step of the wind feature, and you even gain a breath weapon.
You do not gain any bonus spell casting, however, nor do you gain any one-off spells.
While your ki abilities do enhance in a semi-magical way, you just simply can’t cast spells without multiclassing. While this does jive with 5e’s stance on dragons casting spells, it still falls short of the original dragon disciple class.
There is no progressive transformation ending in a permanent state of draconic awesomeness.
Similarly, The Draconic Origin sorcerer subclass almost does it as well.
You gain the spells and a bit of the physical transformation via wings and natural armor, but you are still a wimpy d6 Hit Die spellcaster with no breath weapon outside of whatever spells you have.
Three Homebrew Options
To remedy this feeling of dragon disciple emptiness in our blackened little hearts here at the citadel, one of our players whipped up a couple of homebrew subclasses for your use and enjoyment.
They are housed at DnDBeyond, but feel free to print these out if you run on paper.
Dragons are legendary creatures with raw innate magical prowess and physical might. To understand power, they must simply understand themselves.
You can relate. You gain basic, yet powerful spellcasting and develop an aura that pushes your ki past your limits. Finally, you can simply transform into a dragon of you choosing.
You gain spells and spell slots as a half-caster (identical to an Arcane Trickster or Eldritch Knight). Your modifier for your spells is Wisdom, and your spell list is the sorcerer spell list.
You do not need an arcane focus or material components as your spells are a part of your martial arts practice.
You may do slashing or piercing damage with your unarmed strike. Additionally, whenever you cast a cantrip, you may make an unarmed strike as a bonus action.
Choose one feat from this list (if you have access to it on DnD beyond) and gain the benefits even if you do not meet the prerequisites:
- Elemental Affinity
- Gift of the Metallic Dragon
- Gift of the Chromatic Dragon
- Gift of the Gem Dragon
- Dragon Hide
- Dragon Fear
In addition, you gain a breath weapon. When you gain this ability, choose one elemental energy type (Fire, Thunder, Cold, Lightning, Acid, Poison) and choose either a 15-foot cone or a 30-foot by 5-foot line.
Once you make these choices, they cannot be changed. The damage of your breath weapon is equal to your unarmed strike damage. As an action you may make a breath weapon using the specifics you chose.
Targets must make a Dexterity save against your Spell Save DC, taking half damage on a success.
After you use this action, you may make an unarmed strike as a bonus action. This ability counts as a spell.
You either gain an aura of pure energy shaped like a dragon or you transform into a dragon hybrid. You gain two benefits.
You gain a flying speed equal to your movement speed whenever you use your step-of-the-wind class feature, and as a reaction when you take damage, you may roll your unarmed attack die and reduce the damage you take by that amount as you create a shield from your aura’s scales.
You gain the True Polymorph spell, which is usable once per day. You may only cast it on yourself, and you may only turn into a dragon that uses the same energy type as your breath weapon.
This class works because you gain the transformation to a dragon hybrid creature, you get spells as a half-caster subclass like Eldritch Knight or Arcane Trickster, and you gain a breath weapon.
In addition, the feats offered can also grant a bonus to Strength, Constitution, or Charisma.
You have made a contract with a legendary, ancient dragon. Or perhaps you are descended from one.
Either way, over time, you will embrace the dragon within. It starts with subtle physical changes and an affinity for one energy type before and ends with you embracing the transformative and magical powers of a legendary dragon.
The Wyrm lets you choose from an expanded list of spells when you learn a warlock spell. The following spells are added to the warlock spell list for you.
Wyrm Expanded Spells
Whenever you bring an enemy to 0 HP using a spell of the energy type associated with your patron energy type, you gain temporary HP equal to your CHA modifier + your warlock level.
In addition, your eldritch blast cantrip now does damage of the energy type associated with your patron or force damage as you choose.
You will have to note this change in your spell notes and customization options of your character sheet.
When you do damage with the elemental type that is associated with your dragon patron, you also gain the force, psychic, necrotic or radiant type added to that damage type.
For example, if your patron is an evil red dragon, any time you deal fire damage it also counts as psychic. If your patron is a good-aligned bronze dragon, your lightning damage is also considered radiant. DM discretion is required.
Because of this extra damage type, a creature must have resistance or immunity to both types to receive resistance or immunity to your attack.
For example, if the target has fire resistance and you cast burning hands as a Warlock of a good-aligned gold dragon, your burning hands spell is considered fire and radiant damage.
The target’s fire resistance does not apply against your burning hands because they have no resistance to radiant damage. If the target has immunity to fire but resistance to radiant, then the resistance applies but not the immunity.
Finally, every spell attack, weapon attack, or unarmed attack you make (including from magic items) deal an extra amount of this combined energy type equal to your Charisma modifier.
This applies even if the damage is of the opposite energy type. For example, if you deal a combined acid and necrotic damage but you cast Ray of Frost, you deal cold damage plus acid and necrotic equal to your Charisma modifier.
You gain an aura which grants some aspects of a dragon transformation, including wings and natural armor.
- A natural armor bonus to AC equal to your CHA modifier when you are not wearing armor.
- A fly speed equal to your walking speed.
Also, if you deal damage to a target, you can make an Intimidate check vs. their Charisma save as a bonus action against that target.
If they fail, they are frightened of you until they or their allies deal damage to you or 1 minute, whichever passes sooner. Pass or fail, a target can only be subjected to this check once every 24 hours.
Once per long rest, you may transform into a young adult dragon of the same type as your dragon patron. This ability functions exactly as True Polymorph. You may use your warlock spells and abilities while so transformed.
If you use this ability every day for a year, the duration extends to 8 hours.
If you use this ability every day for 10 years, your natural form becomes that of the dragon and your original form is what you transform into.
You age as a dragon ages, growing in size and power over time, thus granting you effective immortality. You are now, for all purposes, a dragon with warlock levels.
Much like the Dragon Disciple for monks above, this class grants bonus spellcasting, versatility to your dragon type, and a draconic transformation.
Dragon Disciples in Pathfinder
If you know about the rise of Pathfinder as a reaction to Dungeons and Dragons 4e, it is worth looking into.
For our purposes, it is worth mentioning because the dragon disciple made its way into Pathfinder and Pathfinder 2.0.
Like all Pathfinder options, this is not so much a class as it is a list of feats you can choose as you build your character.
First, you must meet the prerequisites for the first feat, Dragon Disciple Dedication.
As your character advances, you can do all the things the original Dragon Disciple does for you: a draconic transformation granting wings, scales, claws, bonus spell casting, and a breath weapon.
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I played the game a lot as a kid, back in first edition. Over the past few years since 5e was released, I’ve really started getting back into it. Currently, I run a campaign online for some friends and my brothers, and we also play a side-sesh just to mix things up.