Tuesday, May 29, 2012

War of the Dragonborn

On May 21st the publisher of the videogame Skyrim filed a trademark request for the word "Dragonborn".

In 2007 I was called out to the Wizards of the Coast D&D offices in Renton Washington to help concept this race and so I feel a particular fondness for the scaly brutes, kind of like a godfather. I remember struggling with the design because it could not have any draconic features (horns, wings, tails, long necks, etc.) and it was looking too much like reptile men.  I finally pulled from more of a cultural context than a visual one.  I thought of a cross between Klingons and the Gorillas from Planet of the Apes, but Dragon-Men!, and the rest drew itself.  I've always liked them, (except for the Boobs.  You try having heated debate  in an office board room on why Dragons don't have breasts, and you realize how surreal this job is.)Also, I conceived that this race would be steeped in ancient tradition and tribal custom.  For that I drew upon an Asian aesthetic to their costuming.  Overlapping scales and plates, with no use of buckles would make them look different and older than the other races.

Both companies have a rightful claim to trademark anything they want.  WotC was there first, but it doesn't possess a trademark, and its likely that Skyrim's trademark will not effect D&D.  If Skyrim's trademark effects D&D then this race will go extinct in 5th Edition. To whoever wins the War of the Dragonborn I wanted to share a few images from their inception during the early development of 4th Edition.  My little dragon babies, they grow up so fast!

Enjoy. (click on images for larger view)

If you have any questions about the concepting of this race, please leave a comment.





  1. The dragonborns have a great design! I found very inspiring all your artworks for the 4th edition of D&D, especially the ones used as presentation for the races. I love the savage aspect of your dragonborns, they seem so ancient and strong. Watching at the head shape you can understand immediatly that they are not simple reptile men but dragon men, and the fleshy hair-like structures are simply awesome. There are only two little things that I don't like:
    1) also for me the presence of the breast is a little bit strange (but I understand that to show a dragonborn female could be difficult with their not-humanoid faces)
    2) blade's shape of their weapons is too much serrate and makes me thing that in a fight they will get stuck in the opponent armour.
    As I said they are two very little things! Indeed I love your artworks and you are definitively one of my preferred illustrators.

    1. Frederico-
      Thanks for your feedback. I can completely understand your concern with the serrated edges of the weapons. That was an aesthetic decision to make them appear more "tribal"and ferocious. Weapons made from bone I drew upon some native cultures of the South Pacific and Africa where they use teeth and bone in there weaponry. Thanks. Bill

  2. Also: The scaly "dreadlocks" were an unabashed take-off of "predator", which also has that ancient tribal aesthetic...

  3. I really love your work! This is pretty amazing stuff. I was wondering, would it be okay to use one of these pics for a character? The picture matches so well, and it would only be for personal use... I would give credit to you of course. If you don't mind, that would be awesome!

  4. I got back into D&D after a 10yr hiatus mainly because of 4th Edition's fantastic art, specifically your work with the Dragonborn race. Your piece with the warrior in full red platemail is iconic and is the image that comes to my mind whenever the word "Dragonborn" is uttered. Is there an influence of samurai warrior culture in that particular suit of armor? Thank you for your work and I'm enjoying your Dracopedia Book as well! Cheers!

  5. I'd been talking with some friends about dragonborn; they carry a mix of dragon physical traits, but you can't really guess a dragonborn's age from physical size the way the really old dragons are the really huge dragons, and if you go with the idea that females don't have breasts, their gender isn't easily visible either (I agree with your blog post! There's no reason a reptilian creature needs breasts). Source material also describes them as being fairly opinionated and adamant about identity.

    Did you design them with any particular costume cues towards age, gender, social status, etc? And, if not, do you think they'd have some sort of costume based identifiers like that?

    1. I came up with costume designs for different "color" clans that corrosponded to different dragon species..."Blue Clan, White Clan, Red Clan, etc, and those costumes made them look like that kind of dragon, but the idea was declined. I think the designers wanted to give the players the freedom to create their own cultural context. The red armored dragon was my design for a warrior from the Red Dragon Clan. Thanks.