Now updated with the Gem Totem Dragon after the release of Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons. Check the changelog below for the full list of alterations.
I know what you’re thinking; “But Jeff, you already have a homebrew about the dragon shaman. It’s a barbarian subclass, remember?”
I do, imaginary reader. But, I’m not really happy with it. The dragon shaman is such a cool class from 3.5e, it deserves to be more than just a subclass, losing much of what made it interesting and different. The dragon shaman was always this cool mix of tank, party face, “okay” damage, and light healer. All of that is difficult to put into a subclass (I might have seen better results with a paladin subclass, but even then I think a full class is necessary to really make the dragon shaman shine).
Originally, I had a lot of difficulty with the full-class attempt (which is the reason why I started looking at subclasses). I found that same difficulty on this attempt. Most (read: all) of that difficulty came from designing proper subclasses for the dragon shaman class. For a time, I made every kind of totem dragon its own subclass. So when you hit the appropriate level, you’d chose red dragon, or silver dragon, or copper dragon, or blue dragon, or whatever, the same way a paladin chooses their oath or a wizard chooses their arcane tradition. But that resulted in a lot of bloat, and I had difficulty figuring out proper features for each dragon type that justified the many subclasses.
When I considered that, I realized that I could probably reduce the number of subclasses to 2, one for chromatic dragons and one for metallic dragons. This made it much easier to distinguish between the two, as metallic dragons already have built-in similarities; they all get some kind of second breath weapon, and they can all transform into other creatures. Metallic dragon shamans, therefore, get similar features. Chromatic dragon shamans, by comparison, get features which highlight the aggressive and violent natures of chromatic dragons, such as a Frightful Presence, and the ability to reset their breath weapon when they reach 50% HP (something inspired by 4e monster mechanics).
The features the two subclasses do share still highlight the differences between dragon types and chromatic and metallic dragons. The skills, for example, granted by chromatic dragons tend to be more aggressive, like Intimidation, Athletics, and Deception. The skills granted by metallic dragons, by comparison, lean more towards knowledge and passiveness; Persuasion, History, and Insight. There is some overlap here as dragon types are all different, but in the end chromatic dragon shamans tend to be more aggressive with features focused on damage and combat, while metallic dragon shamans have features that help them a bit more with social encounters or beating opponents in ways besides out-right killing them.
The core features give you a “draconic breath” which is identical in concept to the dragonborn’s breath weapon, eventually out-competing it by a bit at lvl 20. Note that the name difference is on purpose; a dragonborn dragon shaman can use their draconic breath and their breath weapon. I felt it would be unduly punishing if they were forced to pick between one or the other. One is their own natural ability, and one is bestowed upon them as they attempt to walk the path of the dragon.
The Dragon Scales AC bonus will need to be closely monitored for balance. Right now, at lvl 17 a dragon shaman’s AC will cap at 21 (with half-plate, a shield, and a Dex of at least 1). That’s slightly higher than most other medium-armor classes, which tend to cap at 19, but identical to Defense Fighting Style fighters and slightly lower than a maxed-out barbarian AC. Again, we’ll playtesting will be needed to determine if this needs to be changed.
If you were a fan of my barbarian subclass, or the dragon shaman of 3.5e, I hope you’ll give this new class a shot. If you prefer the barbarian subclass, I no longer have it available publicly, but if you need a copy of it simply contact me and I’ll be happy to send it to you.
Check out our Draconomicon for 5e, which contains information regarding more dragon species and has addtional options for the Chromatic, Gem, and Metallic Totem Dragons.
Anything I release through The Arcane Athenæum for D&D will be available completely for free, though you can donate to any project I upload at the “pay what you want” price on DMsGuild if you’d like.
Version 4.0 01Nov2021
- Re-worked a bit of the flavor of the class, leaning more heavily into the idea that a dragon shaman’s totem dragon is more like a spirit guide that bonds its soul to the dragon shaman’s soul, altering the dragon shaman’s nature in a spiritual way which facilitates the physical changes that they undergo.
- Redesigned the draconic breath to work similarly to the breath weapons for the dragonborn in Fizban’s Guide to Dragons. Now, you can use your breath weapon a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus each long rest, and you can use your breath weapon in place of a single weapon attack. As a result of this change, the damage scaling of the draconic breath has been lowered back to pre-v3.1 levels, starting at 2d6 at lvl 1 and reaching 6d6 at lvl 20.
- Added a new feature at lvl 9 called “Enlarged Breath”, which allows you to expend two uses of your draconic breath at once to double the size/length of your draconic breath.
- Due to the changes to draconic breath, changed the class’ capstone feature. Now whenever you take a short rest you can regain, at minimum, 1 of your breath uses. But there’s also the possibility, if you’ve already used it 6 times, that you could get all 6 uses back.
- Added the Gem Totem Dragon subclass, allowing you to choose from the gem dragons released in Fizban’s (amethyst, crystal, emerald, sapphire, and topaz).
Chromatic Totem Dragon
- Due to the changes to draconic breath, the subclass’s Bloodied Breath feature no longer lets you regain your breath weapon. Instead, whenever you are at half your hit points or fewer, you can roll d10s for your draconic breath instead of d6s (so, at lvl 15 when you gain the feature, you can roll 5d10 instead of 5d6).
Version 3.2 21Sep2020
- The subclass feature which was originally at 14th level has been moved to 15th level. Reason being, I think it’s more mechanically balanced and less feature heavy at that lvl; lvl 14 gives you wings (which can significantly affect how you approach a fight), while 15th level just increases your breath weapon damage. So I believe adding a new feature at 15th rather than 14th is less complicated.
- Added a clause to the dragon scales feature which establishes that you can wield a shield and still gain the benefits of the feature. Note that wielding a shield is not the same as wearing armor; if you are just wielding a shield with no other armor you would use the AC = 13 + Dex calculation. If you were wielding a shield while also wearing armor you’d take the +1 bonus AC.
Version 3.1 27Aug2020
- The initial damage and damage progression of the Draconic Breath feature has been updated a bit to be a tad more powerful. The original damage was based on the dragonborn’s breath weapon damage progression, but in all honestly it’s generally agreed that the dragonborn trait isn’t particularly strong. This change starts the damage a bit higher and leaves it at 6d6 at lvl 15 and 7d6 max at lvl 20, compared to the dragonborn’s max of 5d6 at 16. As a class feature, and something of a core one, I think it needs a bit more oomph to make it more impactful. Honestly, it could potentially even go higher; at lvl 11 you’re doing an average of 17 damage to an average of 3 targets once per short rest; not exactly amazing, but not nothing either. It’s only at the capstone that we’re looking at an almost-fireball-like ability (average of 24 damage) roughly every 3 rounds.
Version 3.0 02Feb2019
- Document has been updated with the new formatting that all of my content will have going forward. As a result, much of the art assets have been removed.
Metallic Totem Dragon
- The 10th and 14th level features have been switched; you now gain the Alter Appearance ability at lvl 10, and your second breath weapon at lvl 14. This was partly because Alter Appearance wasn’t a powerful enough feature to justify the high level to attain it, while a second breath weapon is certainly much stronger. Additionally, this falls in line with the Chromatic Totem Dragon scaling, where they get a breath weapon-affecting feature at lvl 14 as well.
Version 2.5 20Sep2018
- The levels when you gain the Double Draconic Aura (now called just “Dual Aura”) and Commune with Dragon Spirit features have been swapped; Commune is lvl 13 and Dual Aura is lvl 17. As much as I would love to have that earlier double aura, being that I’m currently playing a Dragon Shaman myself, that is quite a strong feature and I think deserves to be higher up. Besides that, commune is a 5th level spell, and Totem Barbarians get access to a similar 5th level spell in commune with nature at 10th level, so I’d like the similar feature to be access around a similar time. That, and 17th level just seems too high for it.
- The Toughness draconic aura has been changed. Due to a misunderstanding on my part with how certain 3.5e features worked, the aura as I wrote it was providing completely the opposite kind of benefit to it’s intended one; to protect against nonmagical damage. Now it works similarly to the Heavy Armor Master feat, as it is supposed to.
- With the change to Toughness, I decided to add a 10th aura; Magic Resistance, which does what the old Toughness did.
Version 2.4 10Sep2018
- Someone pointed out that the way certain Draconic Auras were working with Totem Dragon features (like associated energy types) created issues, since at lvl 1 you don’t get any associated energy type for Energy Shield or Resistance. After thinking about it more, and considering the design philosophy behind whether you gain your subclass at 1st, 2nd, or 3rd level, I decided to swap around the Totem Dragon and Draconic Aura features. Now at 1st level you pick your subclass/Totem Dragon and gain some skill proficiencies, and at 2nd level you get your Draconic Auras. Ultimately I think this makes a bit more sense; first you pick your dragon, then you start getting draconic features. Honestly, not sure what my logic was before hand.
- Draconic Adaptation now grants darkvision for everyone when you get it. I always felt it was a bit wonky that a human or dragonborn who becomes more draconic doesn’t get better eyesight, considering that’s a hallmark of dragons. So now even they get to see in the dark.
Metallic Totem Dragon
- The 14th level feature which allows the individual to change their apperance has been made at-will, to bring it up to actual usefulness at the higher level.
Version 2.3 28Aug2018
- Altered the starting equipment a tad; now you get a martial weapon and a shield, or two melee weapons. In all honesty; the exact “rules” about how starting gear should work are a bit wonky beyond armor, but I think this change allows a tad more freedom.
- “Dragon Lore” was meant to give advantage on Charisma checks with dragons (Persuasion, Deception, etc.). For some reason, it was giving a bonus to Wisdom (Perception) checks. That’s silly. Fixed now.
Version 2.2 29Jul2018
- Turns out I had doubled one of the chromatic dragon features, so it was appearing twice. That’s been fixed.
Version 2.1 22Jun2018
- Would you believe I forgot to include multiclassing information with the first version of this class? Because I would totally believe that I forgot to include multiclassing information with the first version of this class. But that’s fixed now.
- Note that the Draconic Auras have been moved to come after the subclasses, due to new formatting needed with the multiclassing rules.
Version 2.0 11Jun2018
- Taken flight.