Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Half-dragons are a staple in the fantasy world of Dungeons and Dragons. In the old days of 1st and 2nd editions, a half-dragon was its own type of monster. In 3e, the template tool was created, and we had the means to turn any creature into a half-dragon version of itself. And it worked for every type of character! Half-dragon ooze, half-dragon mind flayer, half-dragon pixie! For some reason, dragons could mate with anyone – even those things that don’t exactly mate.
I guess when you’re eternal and can cast polymorph, love knows no bounds.
In Dungeons and Dragons 5e, Half-Dragon is a template that can only be applied to a few different types of monsters and, also unlike 3e, the template only grants you a handful of mechanics instead of a complete retooling of your character. In this post, we will go over how to use the Half-Dragon template as a player, how to act when you are facing off against creatures with the Half-Dragon template, and how, as a DM, to use the Half-Dragon template in your game.
What Is a Half-Dragon in DnD 5e?
Half-Dragon is a template you can apply to any beast, humanoid, or monstrosity that grants it a damage resistance, a breath weapon, and some improved senses.
A Half-Dragon most closely resembles the creature which is receiving the template. For example, a half-dragon owlbear looks mostly like an owlbear, except with scales and wings.
A half-dragon unicorn looks like a scaly, horned horse demon that can breathe fire.
For players, this means your elven half-dragon, your orcish half-dragon, or even your dragonborn half-dragon looks like a member of their original race but with draconic features, scales, and perhaps a lizard-shaped head and/or a tail. Mechanically speaking, you do not gain a fly speed or a natural attack, so you probably don’t get wings or claws, sadly.
Let’s check out the stat block for the Half-Red Dragon Veteran:
Medium Humanoid (Human), Any Alignment
- Armor Class: 18 (plate)
- Hit Points: 65 (10d8 + 20)
- Speed: 30 ft.
- STR 16 (+3), DEX 13 (+1), CON 14 (+2), INT 10 (+0), WIS 11 (+0), CHA 10 (+0)
- Skills: Athletics +5, Perception +2
- Damage Resistances: Fire
- Senses: Blindsight 10 ft., Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 12
- Languages: Common, Draconic
- Challenge: 5 (1,800 XP)
- Proficiency Bonus: +3
Multiattack. The veteran makes two longsword attacks. If it has a shortsword drawn, it can also make a shortsword attack.
Longsword. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d8 + 3) slashing damage, or 8 (1d10 + 3) slashing damage if used with two hands.
Shortsword. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6 + 3) piercing damage.
Heavy Crossbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, range 100/400 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d10 + 1) piercing damage.
Fire Breath (Recharge 5–6). The veteran exhales fire in a 15-foot cone. Each creature in that area must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw, taking 24 (7d6) fire damage on a failed save or half as much damage on a successful one.
This creature is essentially just a melee combatant. With a CR of 5, he’s kind of like a tier II warrior class without all of the nifty abilities fighters or barbarians can get. There is nothing special about his HP or weapon attacks that come from the half-dragon template.
All he gets that makes him better than a bandit captain is blindsight, fire resistance, and a breath weapon. These things come from the half-dragon template. The fire resistance and the fire-based breath weapon are specific to him being a half-red dragon.
His breath weapon is identical to that of a red dragon Wyrmling, which tracks because this guy’s CR is 5, and the template says he would need a CR of 7 in order to have a stronger breath weapon. So, in short, if you want to play a half-dragon, you will get an energy resistance and a breath weapon.
Those are fairly cool bonuses to get, but why not just play a Dragonborn? Well, let’s talk about that.
Half-Dragon vs. Dragonborn
They’re different. Mechanically speaking, the breath weapon for a half-dragon is better, recharging on a roll of 5-6 and forcing a DC that is set fairly high instead of being dependent on your Constitution. Furthermore, as a half-dragon, you get blindsight, which is a fairly difficult sensory ability to come by.
However, as a dragonborn, your breath weapon will have a bit more versatility instead of just being a semi-dependable cone of destruction. You could use it to make a frightening presence action or potentially cause additional conditions on your enemies, albeit at a lower saving throw. Also, as a dragonborn, you will get an additional ability at 5th level that reflects your draconic heritage. Not so with the half-dragon.
But, as a half-dragon, you still get the abilities of your original race, allowing you to mix and match some fun combinations with that breath weapon and damage resistance. So, don’t just assume that they are the same. Take your time, and make the choice that is right for you and your character.
How To Play a Half-Dragon
Half-dragons are people too, which means their personalities can run into any variation you need.
Like in real life, some people might say, “Well, I am of such and such ancestry, which means I am this kind of person because I like fulfilling stereotypes.” At the same time, others might say, “Well, my family is of such and such ancestry, and they always act like it, so I make sure I never do x, y, and z thing.” See? Everyone is different.
That being said, a general rule of thumb is that dragons of different types tend to have specific personality traits — at least that’s what the dragons that the writers of those books met and interviewed were like if you want to stay in character. Wouldn’t it be just like Volo to meet one anti-social gold dragon and assume all gold dragons were like that? Typical.
So as a half-dragon, you have even more of a reason to be conflicted since your behavior is fairly well prescribed from both sides of your genetic divide. I mean, as a Tabaxi Crystal Half-Dragon, you’re supposed to be curious, aloof, and arrogant — like cats and dragons tend to be, according to the “rules.”
In truth? Just act like you want to act, and if you’re a jerk, you can’t blame it on your ancestry or “what your character would do.” Just have fun and interpret the cultural advice from the rules however you like.
What Are Half-Dragons Like in Combat?
That depends mostly on their racial and class abilities. The Half-Red Dragon Veteran is a very different combatant than the Half-Green Dragon Assassin, who would necessarily be very different from a hypothetical Half-Sapphire Dragon Warlock.
The things to remember are that these characters can not be snuck up on because of their blindsight ability and that they have very effective breath weapons. So don’t get in their melee space until after they use their breath weapon, and then keep an eye on when they have recharged that breath weapon so you can prepare to make a Dexterity saving throw. Have your cleric or druid keep their guidance handy just for that purpose.
If you are playing a half-dragon, then you’ll want to stay in mid to close range to make the best use of your breath weapon as enemies tend to group up. Remember, you can BLARGH-BLARGH-BLARGH with the best of them!
How To Use Half-Dragons as a DM
Half-Dragons are unique enough that you want to make them a set piece. This means there needs to be a reason for half-dragons to be there. Consider having the towns nearby a dragon’s lair be run and ruled by the half-dragon progeny.
Vorilexin’s Peaceful Takeover
Vorilexin is a red dragon of such poise, elegance, and intelligence that he once hatched a plan to take over all of the lower races on his continent and bring them into his living horde.
Vorilexin knew that the lesser races, humans in particular, placed much belief in the inheritance of wealth along genetic lines and that many of the lesser races looked to their genetic elders with respect and admiration. Rather than wage a campaign of fear and violence, Vorilexin decided on a much more peaceful and civilized solution.
He kidnapped the royal children who were of marriageable age. He kidnapped the princes or the princesses, took them back to his lair, and, using his well-honed magical skills, presented himself as a powerful and attractive member of their race. Once the royal children were swooned, Vorilexin would marry them in the proper ceremony of the lesser races and produce an heir – an obviously half-dragon heir.
Over a few decades, he managed to create false identities for several kingdoms and have his offspring in line for their respective crowns. If the royal families disagreed or took action against the half-dragon scion, then Vorilexin would assume his draconic form, cause a little destruction, and then remind the royal family that the child was of royal blood, and, according to their laws, they were bound.
As the children came of age, they all eventually outlived their rivals to their thrones and, with the threat of their parent Vorlixen, took power, and then named Vorilexin himself as their immortal heir. Thus, with love and half-dragons, Vorilexin was able to assume control of several human kingdoms without utterly destroying a single one.
A dragon-themed game can benefit from non-humanoid half-dragons in the encounter list. If the PC’s are tracking a dragon’s lair, consider having a herd of half-dragon horses roaming the valley outside the mountain or a giant half-dragon scorpion guarding the lair’s desert entrance.
If the lair is underwater, consider a half-dragon whale or even a half-dragon kraken! There are lots of ways to make a half-dragon, either through “magic” or the old-fashion way of producing offspring. Whatever works for you in your game is what works in the rules.
It is easy to build such a half-dragon on the fly.
Step 1: Pick a color or dragon type.
This should be an easy decision. All dragon types have an environmental preference, so this will limit your list of choices considerably. Also, if you know there is a dragon around, just use the same dragon type since dragon territories don’t overlap very often.
Step 2: Give the creature an energy resistance and a breath weapon based on the original creature’s CR.
Step 3: If the creature is smart enough to communicate, make them territorial and hostile in their conversation. If not, just make them attack in melee, using their breath weapon as often as you can.
That’s it! Easy-peasy dragon-squeezy.
There are loads of cool ways to incorporate half-dragons into any game, and the benefits of the template are so mild you should consider allowing your players to take the template.
It could be the equivalent of a magic weapon. In all honesty, the breath weapon is no more powerful than a wand of magic missiles or a necklace of fireballs. You could even inflict them with the template as a temporary, magical curse designed to get them through a specific trial.
Whatever you do, have fun. Roll on!
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Rich is an avid D&D player and DM. He has been playing since the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st and 2nd editions. He has run campaigns of various editions with family and friends for over 20 years. Playing DnD 5th Edition in person at local game stores and online with VTT’s over the past 10 years has provided a consistent connection to how the game has grown. He strongly believes in understanding the source material, but catering the games to your individual players. Feel free to ask anything in the comments or drop him an email: [email protected].