On Playing a Dragonborn in the Forgotten Realms: Part 1

Yesterday, someone asked me the following:

Erin could you help me please? I’m starting a D&D adventure on Facebook and my partner wants to be a Dragonborn Noble Sorceress and I’m wondering if Dragonborn have noble/royal bloodlines? I want to keep it as true to the realms as I can and I feel you are the expert on Dragonborn.

Because it was on Facebook, I answered in approximately eighty-six replies. So, at the advice of the inestimable Joe Carriker, here they are, summarized for your reading pleasure. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, get thee to a library or bookstore and catch up on the Brimstone Angels saga!)

**Asterisks mean there’s a clarifying answer coming further down.**

 

PICKING A CLAN
The short answer is that they do not have royal/noble bloodlines. Bloodlines are grouped into clans. Clans elect a Vanquisher every ten years, who is essentially a benevolent, light-touch dictator, and it’s not always the same clan that s/he comes from. Ideally Vanquishers embody all the values of the Vayemniri*–strength, military prowess, (a bunch of things that can be translated as filial piety*), ingenuity/adaptability, and, let’s call it, “right-acting.”

Not every Vanquisher is awesome at all of this, and obviously, not every election goes without scandal. Still, every clan’s head elder (Patriarch/Matriarch) gets a vote in the end–but they can’t vote for their own candidate.

That said, while all clans are equal in their vote, they are not all equal in their power. So if what a player wants is a dragonborn from a venerable, wealthy, powerful bloodline, that is easy to get.

The first bloodline that comes to mind is Kepeshkmolik. Kepeshkmolik (means “lightning hide”) is old, wealthy, and powerful. Their most famous semi-Torillian member is Thymara, daughter of Kharadid, of the line of Shasphur*, who founded Djerad Thymar (“Thymara’s fortress”). That’s probably the closest you have to a royal family, though they don’t get any special laws or things the way queens or kings, etc., might. If this was your partner’s pick, she would be either three or four generations from Thymara. The current patriarch is Kepeshkmolik Narghon. His scion is Kepeshkmolik Uadjit (female). As of 1486 DR, she’s the clear favorite for a Vanquisher run, as Narghon’s young and she’s not going to need to be matriarch of Kepeshkmolik soon. (Vanquisher elections will come in early 1488 DR.)

Other options: Verthisathurgiesh (“the crippled mountain*’) can possibly claim to be one of the first clans, established way back in Abeir. At one point it definitely had the most bloodlines in it. It’s still powerful, still wealthy, but the last patriarch, Pandjed, was an abusive tyrant and exiled just about everyone who annoyed him. If you want to be a tragically exiled noble, this is a good family to pick. This is Mehen’s family. The current matriarch is Anala, daughter of Gharizani, of the line of Khorsaya (Mehen’s aunt).

Linxakasendalor is the family of the “current” Vanquisher, Tarhun. This is not technically canonical, but it makes sense, given the Vanquisher wears gold piercings* beneath the eyes and in descriptions, Tarhun doesn’t have visible empty piercings. So his clan might wear similarly placed piercings. (I don’t write much about Linxakasendalor and what has been written–the excellent Brotherhood of the Griffon series by Richard Lee Byers–has shown them in the background), so you’re wide open here insofar as further details.

**Shestandeliath is another well-established clan with serious bona fides in the city of Djerad Thymar. Not only did their ancestor Thuchir Who-Would-Be-Shestandeliath assist Verthisathurgiesh’s in the Battle of the Crippled Mountain, but they guard a powerful artifact, stolen from the grave of a titan, called the Breath of Petron, which can manipulate stone and helped to build Djerad Thymar. Their patriarch is Shestandeliath Geshthax, Son of Orothain, of the line of Haizverad. (Geshthax, if you decide to depict him, is missing his right arm)

.If you want a “special group” more than a powerful family, s/he could also be an Adjudicator. This is more like being a member of a religious group. An abbot/abbess or something. These are the Vanquishers court and agents. They are given by their clans to become Adjudicators as children, and so they’re pierced only with the gold piercings. Kind of like a police class for conflicts that aren’t under the control of a single clan (i.e. you take care of your own family’s shit, but if it spills out into the city? if it involves more than one clan? You may be looking at a visit from the Adjudicators). Rules apply differently to them, but they’re not technically supposed to marry–so that’s less royal.

Otherwise, there’s not much reason you can’t choose any clan you want to from the PHB. There’s a lot of clans and not a lot of writing about most of them. would steer clear of Yrjixtilex, because they’re a really big clan that’s spread into farms and ranches and stuff–less high-brow, more willing to get their hands dirty. I’d probably also stay away from Daardendrien, who have been shown to be open enough to things like god-worship, that it makes them seem a little bit like upstarts, forgetting what’s important, to clans like Kepeshkmolik. (Different clans interpret that “adaptability” thing differently).

HOW TO BE “HIGH-BORN”
Now, if you want to be a high-brow dragonborn, you need more than just a clan. First they need to know their “full name”: that’s clan name, given name, parental distinction, and line. Example: Verthisathurgiesh Anala, daughter of Gharziani, of the line of Khorsaya.

The first two bits should be clear by now. The parental distinction is the parent who comes from the clan you belong to. You KNOW who your other parent is–that’s just not your identity. In a Vayemniri* marriage, part of the brokerage is which clan gets how many eggs.

The line declares which bloodline you descend from, naming an ancestor around whom that bloodline crystalizes. Khorsaya is the dragonborn from the story Farideh tells Dahl at The Dragon’s Last Drink in Fire in the Blood (see below). Another Verthisathurgiesh line is Reshvemi’s. These people are related on one level, but not on another (e.g. Mehen and Arjhani are both Verthisathurgiesh, but Mehen is of Khorsaya’s line and Arjhani is of Reshvemi’s. They share allegiance, they don’t share blood.) You can marry within your clan (although there’s a certain amount of “why would you bother?” You can’t build alliances or share strength that way. This is hatchling thinking!*) but you would never marry in your bloodline.

(Note: There’s a certain degree of “cross cousins” vs. “parallel cousins” distinction here, your off-parent’s bloodline isn’t your bloodline, but that’s some anthro geekery levels that you probably don’t need.)

When you meet someone who’s not dragonborn, you’d introduce yourself with just your given name (“Anala”) or–more formally–with your clan name and your given name (“Kepeshkmolik Anala”). Your WHOLE name is really for dragonborn, because all those maunthreki* have no idea what the rest of it means.

Another thing (or things) your character might want/need are ancestor stories. These are like dragonborn nursery stories–but they are not cute. They are hard. You’ll have heard these basically since you broke the shell, and they shape a lot of really fundamental things. Art. Sayings. The way your parents yell at you. They are also good for making maunthreki wig out a little. As such (from Fire in the Blood):

“I never understood that about dragonborn,” Dahl said, skirting the topic. He knew all too well the signs of a confession that burst its way out, that you wished you’d held your tongue over. “The gods are there. There’s no arguing it. What’s to be gained by ignoring them?”

Farideh was quiet a long time. “I grew up on stories of how my father’s clan survived in Abeir under the cruelty of the dragons there, of how they threw off those shackles, raised armies out of slaves and won their freedom at terrible cost. His great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Khorsaya Who-Would-Be-Verthisathurgiesh, killed the favored offspring of Emycharianatris, the Jewel-Born Empress, with a bowl of her own fermented blood and a knife carved out of her father’s thighbone and magic. Drugged him and then stabbed him through the gullet. The gods had nothing to do with it.”

A shiver ran over Dahl. “Gods’ books. He put you to bed with that?”

Farideh shrugged. “It’s what they lived with.”

If you’re a proper dragonborn, you also need facial piercings to indicate your clan. You get these when you’re grown enough to officially join your clan, and you can lose them if you piss off your elders enough to get exiled. For dragonborn in Djerad Thymar, having empty piercings is a bit like having a jailhouse tattoo–people are thinking “What did they do?”

Being unpierced is kind of unnerving–it would be like meeting someone who won’t tell you their name. But for dragonborn who live further afield, the piercings aren’t as necessary–either you’re isolated enough that everyone knows who you are, or you live with non-dragonborn and they don’t really know what it means.  So if you come from the homesteads out in the countryside or you were born in Waterdeep, you might not be pierced. After all you can’t be spared if you get an infection come harvest time, and if you’re in a human city, who’s going to do it? But if you go to the City Bastion, everyone will know you’re kind of a bumpkin.

Here’s a short list of established piercings:

  • Verthisathurgiesh: dark jade plugs along right jaw frill.
  • Kepeshkmolik: mother-of-pearl disks that resemble the waxing then waning moon across the brow.
  • Daardendrien: six bone/ivory studs piercing the left profile.
  • Ophinshtalajiir: Two light jade rings on right side of neck.
  • Shestendeliath: Silver chains from left nostril piercings to frill along left ear.
  • Fenkenkabradon:Branching steel piercings like miniature antlers jut from the temples.
  • Kanjentelllequor: silver skewers through the jawline
  • Yrjixtilex: Red jasper axe-heads along the right brow.
  • Prexijandilin: Enamel primroses pierced into cheeks and–for females–the tips of the “plumes”
  • Linxakasendalor: copper owl-shaped piercings in face
  • Clethtinthtiallor: silver falcons on right side.

CLARIFYING QUESTIONS
WHAT’S A VAYEMNIRI?
Look, dragonborn is a terrible name for dragonborn in the Forgotten Realms. They hate dragons for making them and enslaving them for centuries, they wouldn’t want to claim them as their origin. However, I think it’s plausible for people in the Realms to call them dragonborn. They sort of look like Dragonborn of Bahamut, right? So the common word is dragonborn, and the dragoborn have just accepted that that’s what these squishy people call them. It would be rude to say “Change your language for me!” especially as they don’t care all that much to be running around getting in everyone’s business, correcting every rando that comes up with this idea that they call them “dragonborn.” They call themselves the Vayemniri, which means “the ash-marked.’ And, you guessed it, that comes from a battle recounted in ancestor stories, the Tale of the Crippled Mountain.

WHAT’S A MAUNTHREKI?
That’s a kind of rude way to say “non-dragonborn.” It’s not like “the M-word” level of rude, but it’s othering. Havilar gets really mad when a dragonborn calls her and Brin this. Brin is unbothered and kind of amused.
WHY DID YOU STAR “FILIAL PIETY”? I KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS.
Well because there’s several kinds of filial piety.

  • Omin’ iejirsjighen—“What the clan writes on the blood;” the things you owe your clan because you were taught their importance. (e.g.serving your two in the Lance Defenders would fall under this, or being a good host*)
  • omin’ iejirkkessh—“The clan that is in the blood;” the things you owe your clan which you shouldn’t need to be taught (e.g. respecting your clan elders, the importance of the past, having a drive to be a good defender)
  • throtominarr—“the clan repeated” the honor you show your ancestors by improving on what they created (e.g. increasing your clan’s status, building a better mousetrap, making a trade agreement that was lost in previous generations) The art here is considered to be improving, but not undoing.

Failing at the second is worse than the first, and the third is kind of a specific application of the first two. The same way modern people might say no one should have to teach you not to murder someone, but maybe you have to be taught not to take things that aren’t yours, and then you have to make sure your children understand both of these things.

I starred the idea of being a good host, because it doesn’t make sense at first glance. They survived centuries of slavery and rose up by brutal uprising and not by being friendly. But given that, and given the clan system, the dragonborn of Djerad Thymar would have to realize one thing above all: you need allies to get by. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So anyone new is treated with cautious optimism in traditional Vayemniri culture. They are kind and accomodating, while being kind of suspicious in their thoughts. Offer guests tea, but ask why they’re visiting. Give them a place to stay, because that way you are protecting them and keeping an eye on them.

HATCHLINGS ARE…BABY DRAGONBORN?
Sort of. You’re not considered an adult until you’ve done your Lance Defender service (i.e. compulsory military service of two years). In the olden days, you would have had to kill or help kill a dragon too, but realistically, that’s harder in this world. Until that point (and even after for very grumpy elders) you’d be referred to as a hatchling, even though you’re more like a teenager/young adult. You can do your service as early as about fifteen, but it’s possible to delay that for a few years and it could be delayed by TPTB if your cohort/age group is pretty big or if there’s a large number of people who’ve gone career (You can always become a Lance Defender for life!) and there’s not an immediate need for more bodies (This is probably not true in the post-Sundering timeline as shit happens during the Sundering, but it’s possible!)

ARE SAURIALS DRAGONBORN?
No. They are saurials! There are definitely factors that these reptilian humanoids have in common, but physically they’re dramatically different, and they’ve got nothing to do with each other, geographically or in a planar sense. Saurials haven’t come up much, to my knowledge, since the Spellplague. There’s room to elaborate. Maybe there could be a saurial quarter of Djerad Thymar post-Sundering?

But this touches on a point I feel strongly about: visual similarities don’t make for good connections alone. There was an element in 4E that some dragonborn had started to worship Bahamut, for example, and to me, that’s not a good fit. Bahamut may look the most like them, but that’s a double-rejection of what their culture is founded on; namely, that dragons (and really all tyrants) are the enemy and you (and your clan) can handle things alone. Shackling yourself to a god, who wants things from you and whose promises and return payment aren’t terribly testable, is like spitting in the eyes of your ancestors who fought and died to free you. Scaly doesn’t mean good. (An individual could certainly do it, but there’d be the same level of backlash, I think, as there would be if you became a pro-slavery Royalist in modern America. People are going to think you’re crazy, at best.)

Honestly, I feel like if dragonborn were going to worship a god, it would be like the Red Knight. Or really, a cult to (previously) dead Mystra, since if she hadn’t died, they’d still be stuck fighting off dragon attacks in Abeir. Or maybe someone else who could make the right offers…

Enjoy this breakdown of dragonborn culture? Consider pre-ordering Ashes of the Tyrant, the upcoming Farideh novel that ties into the Rage of Demons storyline and returns to Djerad Thymar. 

Have more questions about dragonborn? Ask ’em here, or use the contact form and I’ll write another post.

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7 Responses to On Playing a Dragonborn in the Forgotten Realms: Part 1

  1. Micha says:

    So, the vayemniri don’t care for dragons. How is the relationship with metalic dragons? I would assume that the tyrranical dragons of Abir were chromatic. Do they see a difference, or have both dragon types been lumped together? Since we have a new world that lacks a history of dragon overlords, would a visiting dragon be treated with hospitality, or are we talking prejudice? How would the vayemniri look at the dragon worshipping kobold?

    And what about the Wall of the Faithless? I assume that is still around, and I imagine its demonstratably real.

  2. erin says:

    Micha, would you be okay if I answered this as another blog post?

  3. Viktor says:

    Wow, I really like this writeup. Some things that caught my eye:
    “Linxakasendalor is the family of the “current” Vanquisher, Tarhun. This is not technically canonical” What would it take to make it canonical?

    “your off-parent’s bloodline isn’t your bloodline” Could this result in two dragonborn having mutual grandparents marrying if they are of different clans, but not if they were of the same clan and thus bloodline?

    “ancestor stories. These are like dragonborn nursery stories–but they are not cute. They are hard. You’ll have heard these basically since you broke the shell, and they shape a lot of really fundamental things. Art. Sayings. The way your parents yell at you.” This got me really curious. Since I really like how Dahl uses “Oghma’s bloody papercuts” I would love to see even more dragonborn ancestor stories and how they shape sayings and art. Would that possibly even qualify as a column on the WotC site? In particular, I would love to know more about “the Tale of the Crippled Mountain.” If that particular tale is already included in either of the books I really look forward to reading them (I just started rereading the entire series to find the gems I missed for all the tension and inability to put away the books at all).

    “(This is probably not true in the post-Sundering timeline as shit happens during the Sundering, but it’s possible!)” Since the Brimstone Angels are what got me interested in the Forgotten Realms I wonder if there is or will be a good way of learning all the relevant changes that happened during the Sundering that are relevant to your characters or their backgrounds. Is the Sundering even over yet? I guess that Ashes of the Tyrant will be where the list of gods in the PHB becomes correct.

    “Or maybe someone else who could make the right offers… […] Ashes of the Tyrant, the upcoming Farideh novel that ties into the Rage of Demons storyline and returns to Djerad Thymar. ” I really hope that this is foreshadowing! Now back to re-reading the already published novels…

  4. erin says:

    What would it take to make it canonical?
    Someone would have to write it down in a published source. :p It hasn’t come up yet. It might!

    Could this result in two dragonborn having mutual grandparents marrying if they are of different clans, but not if they were of the same clan and thus bloodline?
    I would think so. This is the cross-cousins vs. parallel cousins part. In some cultures you cannot marry within your lineage, but you can marry someone you’re technically cousins with, who exists outside your lineage. For example, in a patrilineal society (descent counts from your father’s side), I could not marry my father’s brother’s son (my parallel cousin), but I could marry my father’s sister’s son (cross cousin) because he doesn’t share the same lineage (he would descend from his father’s line). In some cultures, your cross-cousins are actually your preferred marriage options, while parallel cousins would be considered incestuous. There’s some interesting theories about the source and benefit of this. (There are also cultures for whom parallel cousins are preferable matches, notably some pastoral societies).

    Dragonborn are unilineal, so the descent group is determined by the bloodline/clan, and this system of cross/parallel cousins fits into it nicely. There’s probably a lot more interesting possibilities to mine, but that’s as much as I’ve had to think about.

    I would love to see even more dragonborn ancestor stories and how they shape sayings and art.
    You are in luck. Ashes of the Tyrant abounds with them–including “The Tale of the Crippled Mountain” and three other full ancestor stories.

    Is the Sundering even over yet? I guess that Ashes of the Tyrant will be where the list of gods in the PHB becomes correct.
    Not over yet within the Brimstone Angels Saga. The list is a starting place. Things will shift toward it, but it doesn’t have all the answers.

  5. Viktor says:

    Thanks a lot for the answers! I now look forward to the rest of the novels in the saga even more. Also, if the Sundering isn’t over in the novels I’ve read from the Brimstone Angels Saga I do not regard it as over.

  6. Micha says:

    I would absolutely love it! I know its a lot, but its something I’ve always been curious about with the dragonborn. Any insights you could give are greatly appreciated, especially with how busy you must be with GenCon coming up!

    I’d say that you’ll be my favorite author if you did, but its a little to late for that. Thank you so much for your work, and really looking forwards to Ashes!

  7. Lord_Toast says:

    Erin,
    When it came to 4E and Bahamut I had the same issues. In order to make it work for me, I had to think of it from the Bahamuts point of view. These new beings come into Toril, He seen all of the hardships they had endured and will endure in the end (Wall of Faithless) and deemed it wrong. He wants to help his adopted children survive in this new world and the next, so he sends out envoys to help them assimilate. Also, he asked other friendly deities to do the same. I imagined some of these special envoys originated from the dragon eggs that landed on Faerun in the Year of Lighting Storms. After scribbling all that down I created my 4E Sorcerer Dhrakar who worshipped Selune. Who was quite surprised one day in Waterdeep to see another of his kind he didn’t recognize at all.

    By the way in Erik Scott de Bie FR campaign the dragonborn called themselves Dhrakar.

    I look forward to your future blog about this topic.