Dragon Hide is the second of two 5E feats for Dragonborn introduced in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything for 5th Edition D&D. Like many of the racial feats in this core book, it is strong in flavor and embracing creating a more in-depth immersion into a high fantasy world, but does it hold up on the mechanical side of things?
The Dragonhide feat is a 5E feat for dragonborn characters that grants a +1 ability score boost to Strength, Constitution, or Charisma; increases a character’s unarmored AC; and improves unarmed attack thanks to dragon scales and claws.
So how does this feat stack up with an actual character and what type of builds should consider adding the Dragon Hide feat to their next character build?
Breaking Down the Dragon Hide Racial Feat
The Dragon Hide feat actually has quite a few moving parts compared to most racial feats. Let’s start with our in-depth breakdown of this racial feat by looking at the exact wording from the book.
Directly from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything:
You manifest scales and claws reminiscent of your draconic ancestors. You gain the following benefits:
- Increase your Strength, Constitution, or Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20
- Your scales harden. While you aren’t wearing armor, you can calculate your AC as 13 + your Dexterity modifier. You can use a shield and still gain this benefit.
- You grow retractable claws from the tips of your fingers. Extending or retracting the claws requires no action. The claws are natural weapons, which you can use to make unarmed strikes. If you hit with them, you deal slashing damage equal to a d4 + your Strength modifier, instead of the normal bludgeoning damage for an unarmed strike.
P.74, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
Some interesting stuff here, but it ends up running into a lot of potential mechanical issues with the classic unarmored choices of monk or barbarian. Let’s break down each benefit of the 5E Dragon Hide feat and then dive into how it compares as a whole, and some creative or homebrew DM rulings that can make it a little more interesting (and viable) as part of a build.
Benefit #1: Increase your Strength, Constitution, or Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
Dragonborn is one of the many 5E half feats among the racial feats in D&D, where there is a +1 stat boost to choose from. I do like the versatility of this as these are diverse ability scores that do a lot of different things, and therefore can apply to many different classes and builds. Constitution is also always useful as a boost, giving it a little bit extra over most base ability score boosts.
Benefit #2: Hardened scales create an unarmored AC of 13 + Dexterity, which can be used with a shield for an unarmored shield build of up to an AC of 20 in most games (or higher with a magic shield or Tome to boost Dex above 20).
This is a very good early unarmored setup as the +3 right off the bat to AC is a very good boost in the early levels. The biggest issue will be that at middle to high levels being able to add both Wisdom and Dexterity to unarmored AC as monks allows them to overtake that number, and with barbarians light armor + dexterity modifier will be about the same as the unarmored boost.
So if you’re committed to running unarmored, it is an undeniable early game boost for players but that does fade as characters (and enemies) level up.
With Rules as Written, the various unarmored elements don’t stack – whichever one is highest is the one that takes precedence.
Benefit #3: Retractable claws give an unarmed strike that is d4 + Strength Modifier and delivers slashing damage instead of bludgeoning damage.
Good unarmed attack that is comparable to the tavern brawler feat, can be further boosted by the slasher feat, and although it does get “leveled out” by the monk at high enough levels, it’s a really interesting addition that can extremely dangerous in the hands of a low level monk going nuts with Flurry of Blows or a survival campaign where maybe a prison break is necessary or players might find themselves temporarily unarmed.
How Good Is the Dragon Hide Feat?
In a low level or mid level campaign it can still give some pretty good juice, especially if your DM is willing to homebrew the rules about one unarmored replacing another, and just allow the AC 13 from scales to become the new starting point for monk or barbarian unarmored boosts (which is a home rule I would actually allow as DM because it makes sense to me – your skin is armor, after all) it will be overcome in those mid-levels.
This takes out one of the main features of the feat. The unarmed attack is good for unarmed attack, but there’s a reason everyone carries weapons. The +1 is a good spread as Charisma and Strength cover many different classes, and Constitution is always a good score to boost because of its attachment to hit points.
The unarmed attack is interesting but will be more useful for a monk because of flurry of blows which makes it extremely niche. Well that, and you can also shred a net with your slashing attack in 5E which I suppose can be situationally useful.
- Great flavor text – this FEELS like a viable and realistic Dragonborn feat and fits into the classes most likely to take this feat very well.
- Great low level to mid level feat that offers legitimate boosts to playability
- Great variety of choices for the +1 stat boost
- Power falls off immensely in high middle to late game as a feat
- Very situational and much better for a couple classes versus all Dragonborn characters
Who Should Take Dragon Hide?
While this isn’t necessarily a must-take, there are a few builds of Draconic characters that should consider this:
- Dragonborn Monks
- Dragonborn Barbarians
- Dragonborn Druids
- Dragonborn Paladins (more flavor-choice)
This is a feat that clearly is catering to unarmored and rough and tumble options like monks and barbarians. It can actually be quite useful for a Druid build, and again makes an awesome amount of sense when it comes to storytelling and how the character came to learn this feat by connecting to their inner nature.
This also allows them to be a bit choosier with when to use Wild Shape.
Paladins make less sense from an optimized standpoint, but it can be a great part of roleplaying, or for a “paladin in penance” or paladin who refuses to use heavy armor as part of an oath. This is a clear non-optimized build, but it can be part of a really interesting story arc, which as we all know can make for some of the most memorable game moments.
Dragon Hide is an interesting racial feat that definitely has its strong points, and while it won’t be right for every Dragonborn character build it is a nice addition to the various feat options found in 5th Edition.
How I Would Make 5E Dragon Hide More Interesting
I think a simple homebrew could make the Dragon Hide feat more interesting, or even a very powerful feat, and that’s with two changes to the feat compared to rules as written in the The Player’s Handbook or Dungeon Master’s Guide.
- Make the base AC of 13 the new base for figuring out Monk or Barbarian unarmored AC, as well
- Add the d4 of slashing damage to higher monk levels instead of just replacing it, so there’s still an additional damage bonus for having claws
These are fairly common sense changes and while that can make Dragon Hide a very strong feat for certain classes, there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, isn’t sharpshooter clearly for rangers? Isn’t war caster for all the casting classes?
These changes would make a truly in-tune Dragonborn monk or barbarian terrifying, a druid more feral, and would make the unarmed attack a lasting benefit.
This also prevents the stacking of Dragonborn sorcerer AC with the Dragon Hide boost, which makes sense since both of those get the boost from hardened scales so there’s no reason or that to happen twice.
Dragon Hide Feat FAQ
Is the Dragon Hide unarmed brawl added to tavern brawler or monk unarmed attacks?
With rules as written, the answer is no, they don’t stack.
Do you still add the wisdom modifier to the monk’s unarmored for a Dragon Hide dragonborn monk?
No. You use whichever unarmored formula gives you the best AC. So it’s fully possible you use the Dragon Hide in early game, and then switch to the monk’s equation for mid to late game.
Is Dragon Hide a good feat?
Overall Dragon Hide is okay, but nothing extremely special in most campaigns. Flavor-wise, it’s excellent and fits into Dragonborn characters extremely well. This is also a better feat for barbarians, druids, and to a lesser extent, monks, which again fits into the flavor of the feat and race well since it’s a feat gained from further connecting to the heart of your race or people.
However, without some homebrewing, it’s going to fall short once you get past low level campaigns. In early mid-levels it can still work to an extent, especially if you can get a boosted shield, but in double digit levels and beyond the benefits are going to start falling behind. So if the campaign is level 13 or lower, go for it.
Otherwise, if you’re sprinting to level 20 unless you’re really into the idea of a barbaric, one with the ancestry Dragonborn, there are other feats and ability score boosts that will serve you better.
Does Dragon Hide and Draconic Resilience stack?
As much as the idea of a sorcerer starting with an AC 16 + Dex unarmored score tickles me, no, the various bonuses to AC do not stack with rules as written in 5E D&D so no naturally super armored sorcerers. Sorry.
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Proud to embrace the locally created moniker of “Corrupt Overlord” from one of the all time great Lords of Waterdeep runs, Shane is one member of the Assorted Meeples crew and will be hard at work creating awesome content for the website. He is a long-time player of board games, one time semi-professional poker player, and tends to run to the quirky or RPG side of things when it comes to playing video games. He loves tabletop roleplaying systems like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Werewolf, Fate, and others, and not only has been a player but has run games as DM for years. You can find his other work in publications like Level Skip or Hobby Lark.