D&D Ideas — Kobolds
Welcome once again to the weekly newsletter. This week’s topic is kobolds, which we discussed in our live chat. We hangout every Monday evening at 8 p.m. EST on Nerdarchy Live to talk about D&D, RPGs, gaming, life and whatever nerdy stuff comes up. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy, by signing up here. Speaking of kobolds in Wooden Dragon a group of kobolds keep the legacy of their dragon overlord alive after a group of adventurers do what they do through some crafty carpentry and a magic ring. You can find this gorgeously illustrated encounter and map along with 54 other dynamic scenarios to drop right into your game in Out of the Box. Find out more about it here.
Even bad luck is better than no luck at all in the week that was! Adventure with the best of ’em even when your dice leave you out to dry, scare the heck out of your players, reimagine what kobolds mean to your world plus more including new live chats with creative folks and industry pros and live play RPGs rounding out this week’s Nerdy News. Check it out here.
Delving Dave’s Dungeon
Kobolds are a super popular monster and a playable race now in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. This is one of those monsters that have really evolved over the years and editions. In the earliest editions of the game they were small doglike creatures with scales, horns and rat tails. With each edition they got more reptilian and then draconic.
Looking up the folklore around kobolds paints them as quite a different type of monster. They appear in German folklore as a type of sprite. They can take the form of an animal, fire, a human being and a candle. This is much different than our beloved D&D kobold. They also come in different varieties.
There are legends of three major types of kobolds.
- House spirits that can be chaotic in nature, one day helping and the next playing nasty tricks.
- There are others kind of like D&D kobolds. They haunt underground lairs and miners.
- Then there is a type that lives on ships and helps sailors.
All of these remind me more of fey than the kobold we are used to in D&D. That is fine for a couple of reasons.
- Maybe you just want to switch it up and don’t want to have the same old kobolds. You can bring them back to their folklore roots.
- Another fun way to use the original folklore instead of the D&D lore is to use them as new monsters in your game. I’m not saying replacing the D&D monsters with their folklore versions. Straight up use them as new monsters with either different names or even the same names but are different creatures.
There are even other fun ways staying within the confines of D&D lore to put some interesting twists on them. I’ve seen the idea floated of tying kobolds even closer to dragons than the lore now suggests. What if kobolds came in different colors based on the chromatic and metallic dragons of D&D?
This is super easy:
- Step 1: Cosmetics just change their scale color.
- Step 2: Mechanical change giving them the elemental resistance of the corresponding dragon.
- Step 3: Personality upgrade by letting their personalities be a little closer to the dragon that matches their scales.
The other way to play with kobolds within the confines of D&D lore is just make kobolds culturally different by region. In one region there are multiple clans that are warring with each other. A different area of your world there is a Kobold King who reigns over many clans. Two dramatically different approaches will shape these different clans of kobolds. There are many different cultural shifts that could be applied to them.
What if you took tinker gnomes from Dragonlance and made them kobolds instead? You could transport those kobolds into any campaign. Kobolds are already a bit tinkery so it wouldn’t be that far of stretch. Maybe small families travel in vardos offering their services as tinkers wherever they go.
These are just some ideas to tweak kobolds in your 5E D&D games.
From Ted’s Head
Kobolds are so much a part of Dungeons & Dragons that they are used in just about every low level campaign. Over the editions of D&D they have changed quite drastically from the doglike furry creatures typically called rat dogs into scaly dragon serving creatures. All the while they retained their ability to be inferior to small cats in regards of their challenge.
I have been fortunate to play a board game all about fighting kobolds. I have played Kobolds Ate my Baby — all hail King Torg! I have played kobold D&D characters and I have run games with kobolds beating adventurers up with traps and attacks from almost total cover. If you look beyond the official D&D material Kobold Press has loads of kobolds throughout their books, as you would expect with a name like that.
But what are your options from here? It is easy to go ahead and combine kobold with any NPC and this gives you a more powerful creature, but will it make sense within the confines of what the kobolds are? Kobolds are supposedly descendants of dragons and in our campaign setting we truly incorporate this idea. What if kobolds evolved and gained abilities like a Draconic Bloodline sorcerer?
The following mutations can make kobolds more useful and interesting. They could easily have resistance to the element related to the dragon they are serving. Above this what if they had a breath weapon they could use like dragonborn? (Though like we do in our home games they can use it as a bonus action.) And above that they can also develop wings and a fly speed, sharper claws or any number of other abilities.
Part of the fun about gaming with so many veteran players is they are always keeping me on my toes. I have to modify just about everything they face so it is always a surprise. And as a little secret there are times I have and do come up with new twists during the fight.
Dave might be mentioning the old style of kobolds and how he is using them in our current game but instead of them being an offshoot what if the current scaled kobold was an evolution of the species and what if the furry rat dog kobold was a more primitive version and every so often a egg or clutch of eggs hatch with the old version? What would happen with this? How would the community respond? Would they be driven out, resulting in a second community of these different kobolds competing over land and resources? What kind of adventures could be had and what kind of stories could be told with these different type of kobolds?
From the Nerditor’s desk
Full disclosure: I’ve never liked kobolds very much. Whether they’re the rat dog creatures from earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons or the draconic creatures they evolved into since they just held no interest for me.
However, one thing I do appreciate about kobolds is the ingenuity they’ve developed in D&D lore. Kobolds might be small and weak but they survive in a world of larger and more dangerous creatures through guile.
Kobold craftiness most often manifests through mechanical means. Traps seem to be their specialty and they employ such artifice to protect themselves and their underground homes. The kobold inventor from Volo’s Guide to Monsters illustrates how kobolds use their environment on an individual level too, weaponizing some of the natural threats they face in their subterranean world.
In the free encounter we created as a preview for Out of the Box I took this notion in a different direction. The kobolds encountered in Seizing the Means explore their link to dragons on a much deeper level by tinkering with their own evolution. These kobolds develop unusual traits by harvesting and experimenting with dragon blood thanks to their discovery of a dragon in some sort of magical stasis.
Developing the encounter was not only a lot of fun but also instilled in me a new appreciation for kobolds. To me they evoke a sense of adaptability. Through craft and ingenuity they make the most of any situation or environment. Kobolds might be found in any sort of scenario, making the most of whatever resources they have at hand — even extraplanar circumstances!
If you want to get yourself a free 5E D&D encounter showcasing some unusual new kobolds and a dragon to drop right into your game, check it out here.