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June 3, 2015

D&D 5e Dragonborn Breath Weapon: Geometry Matters

Dungeons and Dragons

As you all know I am playing as a dragonborn, which is cool because normally I play humans or elves in fantasy games so the change is welcomed. The main reason I chose dragonborn was because of the breath weapon. It’s a fun ability and can deal a lot of damage in the early levels of D&D 5e.

When choosing your draconic ancestry as a dragonborn, you have a decision between what type of damage you’d like to do (and have resistance to!) as well as what type of AoE attack you would like it to be. I wrote a post detailing what the best draconic ancestry is for you min/maxers out there!

A grid gives us a 2-D view of the battlefield. We are going to assume that the grid accounts for each square being 5 ft. by 5 ft. or 25 sq ft. in size.

We are not accounting for how high the line or the cone will reach, simply because well, it’s irrelevant. Everything can be done on a 2-dimensional plane because we are hitting enemies in front of us in some way. All we care about is if the Dragon Breath will reach them at all.

Our Breath Weapon Choices

Breath Weapon: a 5 by 30ft. line OR a 15ft cone

The damage type choice is not the point of this post, but we’ll say Fire as it can be easily comparable in this post since it has a choice of being a line or a cone. This is where the geometry portion of the post comes into play.

Which one will do more damage? Trick question, they both do the same damage dice!

Which one covers more space and subsequently will hit more enemies and therefore do more damage? That’s the question we’ll hopefully have an answer to.

Godzilla uses a line breath weapon.

Godzilla uses a line breath weapon.

Our Formulas

Basically this will require us to find the area of each shape. Now we’ll have to simplify the cone quite a bit, but thankfully the player’s handbook and some other D&D resources did all that for us.

We also must consider that we are going to be comparing both of the Breath Weapons in their largest form, meaning that they will not be shot diagonally, but instead from a cardinal direction (N,S,E,W) so they will not lose any area.

The 5 x 30 ft. Line

The 5 x 30ft line is extremely easy. In fact the formula is given to us in the name. Basically, the line is not exactly a line, but a rectangle. It is a rectangle because it has 4 sides. The width is 5ft on both sides of the line, and the length is 30ft long on both sides. A rectangle is a shape with 2 sets of parallel sides (4 sides total) and this matches the description perfectly. Therefore the formula is simply the area formula of a rectangle:

Area of a Rectangle = base x height

The base in this case is the width, and the height is the length.

The 15 ft. Cone

I tried quite a few different equations to determine the area of the cone, but the numbers never came out correctly. Then I read the rules pertaining to cones in the spellcasting section of the Player’s Handbook.

“A cone’s width at a given point along its length is equal to that point’s distance from the point of origin. A cone’s area of effect specifies its maximum length. A cone’s point of origin is not included in the cone’s area of effect, unless you decide otherwise.” -pg 186

This means that a cone in D&D rules is not a formula, but a summation (a few numbers added together). The further the fire travels out of the Dragonborn’s mouth, the more it expands. It adds a block of space on our grid for each block it travels until it reaches the end of its length of 15ft. This will be easier to explain by doing the math out rather than attempting to make a formula.

5 ft. x 30 ft. Line Math

Let’s start with the easy math. The 5 x 30 ft. line of fire would be a dragonborn of brass draconic ancestry. According to our formula we’d have to find the length and the width to find the area. Well, thankfully this part is plain as day so we have our values right from the get go. Let’s plug in our values to the equation and solve:

Brass Dragon Breath Weapon = 5 ft. x 30 ft. line of fire damage
= 150 sq ft. of fire damage

So, the line will hit 150 square feet worth of enemies. That’s a pretty decent sized line. Since we’re using a grid, this means that it’s 6 squares long if we shoot it in a straight line. Below this paragraph is a great visual of what I’m talking about.

dragonborn breath weapon 5e

Two examples of using a 5 x 30 ft. line.

15 ft. Cone Math

If we decided to choose gold or red draconic ancestry, we’d have a 15 ft. cone of fire as our Breath Weapon. This means that our cone begins at the mouth and extends out 15 ft. (height) and has a diameter of 15 ft. at its base.

The 5e Player’s Handbook has laid out the rules for how cones work in D&D. Essentially, the further the fire travels out of the dragonborn’s mouth, the more it expands. Therefore we add a block of space on our grid for each block the Breath Weapon travels until it reaches the end of its length of 15 ft.:

Gold/Red Dragon Breath Weapon = 5 ft. * 1 block + 10 ft. * 2 blocks + 15 ft. * 3 blocks
= 150 sq ft of fire damage

150 sq ft. of fire damage? That means it’s still only 6 blocks of space.Unlike other editions of D&D angles are no longer considered when shooting out a cone attack. Instead, you use the specified length of the cone to determine how many blocks are in the last line of the cone.

It’s difficult to explain in words, so check out the diagrams I made down below.

dragonborn 5e breath weapon attack

A few examples of a 15 ft. cone.

Which is better?

No matter how you aim either attack you’ll be able to hit a maximum of 6 squares of creatures. Mathematically speaking, they’re equal so neither of which is necessarily better.

In practice however, I feel that the 15 ft. cone gives you the most bang for your buck, especially as a front-line character. You’re able to get in the thick of things and can have more opportunities for groups of enemies to swarm in front of you.

As shown by the diagrams you also get a bit more creativity with the 15 ft. cone. You can decide where to put that second set of squares. Either on the right or the left. The 5 x 30 ft. cone is more at the mercy of the space that you’re in and you don’t have as many different ways to shoot the breath weapon.

That being said, if you are in a hallway the 5 x 30 ft. will be able to reach much further down the hallway than the cone could at 15 ft.

Unfortunately this is one of those scenarios where better is subjective. My personal preference is going to be the cone attack, but there’s no theoretical difference.

If you enjoyed what you read be sure to check out my ongoing review for all of the official D&D 5e books!

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3 Comments on “D&D 5e Dragonborn Breath Weapon: Geometry Matters

Hexidecimark
December 4, 2017 at 11:29 pm

I’d say it’s also important to factor blunt range in here, and allies. If one has a party with another close-combatant, then it’s vital to recall that the breath is indiscriminate, and the ray performs more precisely. (So too, in hostage situations) Further, 30 ft. out-ranges the standard throwing axe distance of 20 ft.- which means that you’ll have the ability to get an extra hit in before rushing into battle.

So in cases where solo crowd control isn’t the desired impact (further still, the ray will also have the capacity to multi-hit these denser groups) it would seem that the ray attacks are indeed more desirable.

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Paul T Palmer
September 29, 2018 at 2:19 pm

awesome information, the only real question I have is the difference in space covered in regards to cardinal direction. In a real life setting, no matter what direction you face it could be considered “North” so why would it change the number of targets hit?

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Eldadres
September 29, 2018 at 6:40 pm

I had to do a bit of digging for an answer since I wrote this post a bit ago!

I actually learned a bit more. In 5e cones aren’t affected by the angle you shoot them at. So you’re right, cardinal direction doesn’t affect it. It is 6 blocks either way you slice it!

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