Deep Dive - The Kobold
We started a Patreon! This helps the blog and can get you even more Deep Dives!
This one’s for you Stephen.
The Kobold. Those annoying little rat-like creatures that have somehow survived through the editions, even though they only have 1-4 hit points. It’s probably because there are so many of them… and that makes it nearly impossible to kill them all off. Just when you think you have all 200 of the little lizard things wiped out, those last fifty or so scurry away to breed and live to fight another day.
This deep dive will be about the kobold development in history, lore and fighting techniques. Being cannon fodder hasn’t changed much for these guys, but the creature has transformed from being a complete pushover and compared to a goblin, to now being involved in the lore of Tiamat.
OD&D - Kobold
Number Appearing: 40-400
Armor Class: 6/7
Move in Inches: 6
Hit Dice: 1- 1 1/2
% in Lair: 50%
Type or amount of Treasure: 1-6 G.P. ea.
Even though the kobold was one of the original creatures in D&D, it didn't even merit a unique description of itself, as it was described as the weaker cousin to the goblin. This is pretty pathetic considering how weak the goblin was. And we all know that calling someone a goblin is extremely rude. Not only is this a slight against the majestic kobold, this is also a personal attack against Dump Stat. We here at Dump Stat, at least Stephen, thinks they are the greatest creature to ever spring to life on the pages of the monster manual… Chris has other opinions.
Like many of the monsters in OD&D, information is pretty sparse. It is worth noticing that the number appearing is 40-400. Can you say pack tactics anyone? Kobolds on their own, or in small groups, will run or be quickly slaughtered by even 1st level adventurers. Forty kobolds… well that’s another story altogether, though the fact that the barbarian gets a horde at higher levels means that even 400 kobolds aren’t much of an issue. Information on the kobold is pretty limited in OD&D, but that is not uncommon in the original version.
What little information we have on them was released in the White Box (1974). They are listed as a Chaos monster and the DM was told to treat them as a goblin… but weaker. Not a bright day for the Kobold back then, which is pry for the best since they took a -1 to their attacks in daylight.
AD&D 1e - Kobold
Before we begin… I would like to address a horrible slight that the Kobolds experienced in 1e, and I’m not talking about the fact that they look like weird dog/rat/reptile creatures. It’s that the 1e Monster Manual says: It is possible that goblins are distantly related to kobolds. Is there no end to the suffering the awesome kobold must endure? Anyway, here are the stats:
No. Appearing: 40-400
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 1-4 hit points
% in Lair: 40%
Treasure Type: Individuals J, O, Q (x5) in lair
No. of Attacks: 1
Damage/Attack: 1-4 or by weapon
Special Attacks: Nil
Special Defenses: Nil
Magic resistance: Nil
Intelligence: Average (low)
Alignment: Lawful Evil
Size: S (3' tall)
Psionic Ability: Nil
Attack/Defense modes: Nil
So now we get a little more information on these little bastards. The Kobold starts to get fleshed out a little more, but you have to hunt for some of the information. They are broken into tribes, and the powerful tribes rule with an iron hand and force the weaker tribes to work for them. Since they hate bright light, they are usually found in the deep dark forest or in underground lairs. They are little creatures filled with hate, and love to kill and torture. It is made very clear that they hate gnomes. They will attack them on sight. Based on some of the sparse lore, they have been at war with the gnomes for a long time.
The root cause of this hatred comes from a conflict between the Kobold god Kurtulmak and the Gnome god Garl Glittergold (Deities & Demigods, pg. 109-110). There is a one line mentioning of Glittergold collapsing the Kurtulmak’s cavern in his description. It’s a one line explanation that leaves a lot to be desired, but we know a kernel of the lore behind why they hate each other. So, if your party has a gnome in it, be prepared to be attacked.
Remember those 40-400 kobolds? That number per encounter hasn’t changed, but now we have them fleshed out a bit more. They have the option to wield a variety of weapons (a chart is given in the AD&D MM, pg. 57) and will be led by a leader and his two guards. These three will have max hit points of 4, an AC of 6 and do 1-6 points of damage.
If you find their lair, we are talking 200-400 kobolds milling about with their 30-300 eggs - yes, kobolds are hatched. Leading this mob of Kobolds is the Chieftain, who interestingly enough gets no stats in the Monster Manual, many more guards and a 65% chance that there will be pets/mounts there that will also fight, either 2-5 wild boars, or 1-4 giant weasels.
I know that many of you are thinking that one or two well placed fireballs could wipe out most of the threat and the rest would flee. You are probably right. We know that kobolds aren’t the smartest of creatures, but that doesn’t mean they are completely stupid and don’t know how to fight and survive. It is noted under the Kurtulmak description that he taught the kobolds the ways of mining, ambushing and looting. I can envision roaming groups of kobolds, laying in wait for unsuspecting adventures, striking quick, then fleeing to regroup if the battle turns against them. This is widely popularized in Tucker’s Kobolds, a tale of brave Kobolds protecting their lair from high level adventurers to great effect.
Kobolds eventually become a playable race in 1989 thanks to Joseph Clay in Dragon #141. I have one last, final note about these 1e Kobolds… they can live up to 135 years. For such weak little guys, they sure do cling to life pretty hard.
2e - Kobold
Climate/Terrain: Any land
Activity Cycle: Night
Intelligence: Average (8-10)
Treasure J,O (Qx5)
Alignment: Lawful Evil
No. Appearing: 5-20 (5d4)
Armor Class: 7 (10)
Hit Dice: 1/2 (1-4 HP)
No. of Attacks: 1
Damage/Attack: 1-4 or 1-6 (by weapon)
Special Attacks: Nil
Special Defenses: Nil
Magic Resistance: Nil
Size: S (3' tall)
Morale: Average (8-10)
XP Value: 7
And the information on the kobold continues to get more developed. The opening description of the kobold in 2e goes into some depth:
“Kobolds are a cowardly, sadistic race of short humanoids that vigorously contest the human and demi-human races for living space and food. They especially dislike gnomes and attack them on sight.
Barely clearing 3 feet in height, kobolds have scaly hides that range from dark, rusty brown to a rusty black. They smell of damp dogs and stagnant water. Their eyes glow like a bright red spark and they have two small horns ranging from tan to white. Because of the kobolds’ fondness for wearing raggedy garb of red and orange, their non-prehensile rat-like tails, and their language (which sounds like small dogs yapping), these fell creatures are often not taken seriously. This is often a fatal mistake, for what they lack in size and strength they make up in ferocity and tenacity.”
I love it. The detail that was put into making them look and feel like little evil creatures is fantastic, and the last line starts to clearly state how badly a pack of kobolds can fuck up your day. No longer should we view the kobold as a tiny little rodent that will run at the first sign of a fight (unless it’s a gnome of course), but an intelligent tribe of evil little bastards that shouldn’t be underestimated. Even if they look like they got their picture swapped for hideous goblins.
The 2e Monstrous Manual goes into depth about combat for each monster and the kobold is no exception. They now have guerrilla tactics available to them when they fight. Smartly, kobolds will attack at a distance whenever possible, as they can now use javelins and spears. When the kobolds have overwhelming numbers on an enemy, they will attack in waves. I would venture to say that over the years of fighting and the knowledge that kobolds are naturally wary of all spell casters, they would not group tightly together when swarming a party. I bet that they have learned that those pesky AoE spells hurt… a lot.
And we get even more detail on what happens when the party stumbles into the kobold lair. Along with the same information we had in 1e, we get an approximate number of guards (5-20 or 5d4), improved stats for the chieftain and his guards (AC 5, HP 7 and increased damage to 1-8), and the possibility of shaman(s) being present, giving the tribe some basic spell casting at their disposal. Again, it’s not like a kobold with 4 HP is scary, but when there are 400 of them with their leader, his bodyguards and a couple Wild Boars… well, there is a certain quality in quantity.
We are also given a description of how kobolds love traps. This fits in perfectly with everything we have learned about the little rat… dog… things… They seem like the type of creature that would have you fall into a pit of spikes, and kick you while you're impaled. The Monstrous Manual states that they like to set up pits, crossbows and mechanical traps. To us, this gives the sense that the kobolds are more intelligent than their earlier brethren, as even simple mechanical traps require an average level intelligence. To add to the evil flavor of the kobold, they will even have murder holes close by to watch from and then they will pour flaming oil, shoot arrows or even drop poisonous insects on the victims of their traps. Who the hell would think of dropping a tarantula on someone stuck in a pit, already skewered by a spike?
Kobolds, that’s who.
3.5e - Kobold
Kobold, 1st-Level Warrior
Size/Type: Small Humanoid (Reptilian)
Hit Dice: 1d8 (4 hp)
Speed: 30 ft. (6 squares)
Armor Class: 15 (+1 size, +1 Dex, +1 natural, +2 leather), touch 12, flat-footed 14
Base Attack/Grapple: +1/-4
Attack: Spear +1 melee (1d6-1/×3) or sling +3 ranged (1d3-1)
Full Attack: Spear +1 melee (1d6-1/×3) or sling +3 ranged (1d3-1)
Space/Reach: 5 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: —
Special Qualities: Darkvision 60 ft., light sensitivity
Saves: Fort +2, Ref +1, Will -1
Abilities: Str 9, Dex 13, Con 10, Int 10, Wis 9, Cha 8
Skills: Craft (trapmaking) +2, Hide +6, Listen +2, Move Silently +2, Profession (miner) +2, Search +2, Spot +2
Environment: Temperate forests
Organization: Gang (4-9), band (10-100 plus 100% noncombatants plus 1 3rd-level sergeant per 20 adults and 1 leader of 4th-6th level), warband (10-24 plus 2-4 dire weasels), tribe (40-400 plus 1 3rd-level sergeant per 20 adults, 1 or 2 lieutenants of 4th or 5th level, 1 leader of 6th-8th level, and 5-8 dire weasels)
Challenge Rating: ¼
Alignment: Usually lawful evil
Advancement: By character class
Level Adjustment: +0
3e gives the kobold some buffs that, while not making them much of a threat when there are only 5-10, makes them much more interesting when you run into a band of 50 kobolds. They now have an average of 4 HP instead of 2, and can each have a maximum of 8 if the DM so wishes. That’s a pretty big increase for what amounts to fodder. I get that a party of five 4th levels character can still defeat them, but when they attack in large numbers, you better have those AoE spells ready.
The pesky little lizards also get a nice buff to their AC. An AC15 makes them harder to hit than in previous editions. Though, once you get past level 5 you’re probably only going to miss on a 1. The real threat is for lower level characters without magic weapons and limited spells, they will need to think out their tactics very carefully when they are being attacked by a warband of kobolds. If one character gets surrounded by 5 or 6 kobolds, it could result in death in just a round.
We like the new organization breakdown; since the kobold are listed as 1st level warriors, the DM gets valuable information just glancing at the top of their stat block. No rummaging around stat blocks trying to figure out when you are supposed to use this creature. It’s a nice quality of life change, and one that all DMs appreciate. Our stats are also better starting to mirror how things are done in 5e, and makes altering monsters from past editions to 5e a lot easier.
These little guys were released in the first Monster Manual and are still at war with the Gnomes. Interestingly, the Gnomes have a bit of text that states that they try to not kill their enemies… unless they are kobolds. Which is pretty rude seeing how it is the Gnomes’ fault for this hate anyways. Visually, our kobolds are looking more reptile like than a dog, which is a huge relief, but the Monster Manual makes mention that they speak Draconic like a yapping dog… when will this injustice ever end?
More of these guys were released in Unearthed Arcana (2004): the Aquatic, Arctic, Desert, Earth & Jungle kobold with slight reflavoring and adjusted stats.
4e - Kobold
Kobold Minion - Level 1 Minion
Small natural humanoid, XP 25
Initiative +3 / Senses Perception +1, darkvision
HP A minion dies when hit by an attack that deals damage
AC 15; Fortitude 11, Reflex 13, Will 11; see also trap sense
Spear (standard; at-will) • Weapon +5 vs. AC; 2 damage.
Spear (standard; at-will) • Weapon Range 10/20; +5 vs. AC; 2 damage.
Shifty (minor, at-will) The kobold shifts 1 square as a minor action.
Trap Sense The kobold gains a +2 bonus to all defenses against traps.
Alignment Evil / Languages Draconic
Skills Stealth +5, Thievery +5
Str 8 (-1) Dex 16 (+3) Wis 12 (+1) Con 12 (+1) Int 9 (-1) Cha 10 (+0)
Equipment hide armor, light shield, 3 spears
Our kobolds have grown into… minions! This means death the moment someone sneezes a bit too hard around them. While I know that that is a bit of an unfair characterization when they had several different versions of kobold, it still stands that the kobold really and truly is just a minion in any game. Very few kobolds are going to be much of a challenge unless you get 40 of them in a room together, and even then… one fireball and they all go poof.
In the Monster Manual, we only get but a small chunk of information, but now they resemble the dragons they now revere and worship, and if the dragon pays them enough attention, the dragon will lead these little cowards. They are sneaky and love their traps, and if they fail leading adventurers into a trap they will sneak up and attack them in huge numbers. In the Monster Manual they detail several different kobolds for your group of unfortunate adventurers to be ambushed by:
Kobold Skirmisher, Level 1 Skirmisher - 27 HP
A mean kobold built for close fighting with their Mob Attacks, +1 to attack rolls for each kobold adjacent to their target, and their ability to shift around their opponents allows them to move about the battlefield causing havoc. When the going gets too tough, they’ll run away through trap-leaden tunnels.
Kobold Slinger, Level 1 Artillery - 24 HP
Ranged attacks get deadly in the hands of these badasses. They have a Special Attack where they can launch specialized ammunition that can immobilize, inflict fire damage or cause a penalty to attack rolls.
Kobold Dragonshield, Level 2 Soldier - 36 HP
The first kobold with a decent AC of 18 and a nice boost to their HP. They not only get Mob Attacks, but whenever their enemy shifts around them, they can immediately shift with their enemy. It’s pretty impressive for these little guys to be following you around the battlefield when all you want to do is get away. They also get resistance to a specific damage type based on the dragon they serve, i.e. blue dragon gives lightning resistance.
Kobold Wyrmpriest, Level 3 Artillery (Leader) - 36 HP
Our first kobold that can truly be feared with it’s magical attack, healing abilities and even a dragon breath attack. These guys are no joke, and they are happy to remind you of that when they shoot their breath attack that deals 1d10 + 3 of any type of damage that the dragon they revere is.
Kobold Slyblade, Level 4 Lurker - 42 HP
The final kobold in the Monster Manual, and he is certainly the last kobold you want to run into. When they have minion kobolds about, they can use their Sly Dodge to let a minion kobold take that damage for them. This kills the minion, but leaves the Slyblade free of damage, he then gets to go in and start delivering damage. Sneaky little dragon.
The 4e Kobolds are pretty awesome, and don’t forget that these guys may have a dragon as their leader, so once you’re done getting blasted by a kobold fire breath, you are already warmed up for the real thing.
5e - Kobold
Kobold / Small humanoid (kobold), lawful evil
Armor Class 12 / Hit Points 5 (2d6 - 2) / Speed 30 ft.
STR 7 (-2) | DEX 15 (+2) | CON 9 (-1) | INT 8 (-1) | WIS 7 (-2) | CHA 8 (-1)
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 8 / Languages Common, Draconic
Challenge 1/8 (25 XP)
Sunlight Sensitivity. While in sunlight, the kobold has disadvantage on attack rolls, as well as on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.
Pack Tactics. The kobold has advantage on an attack roll against a creature if at least one of the kobold's allies is within 5 feet of the creature and the ally isn't incapacitated.
Dagger. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d4 + 2) piercing damage.
Sling. Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, range 30/120 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d4 + 2) bludgeoning damage.
So now we come to the latest incarnation of the mighty kobold. While it is very much like its predecessor, a small little weakling, it has several things that help it shine. Mostly its Pack Tactics ability that gives them a greater chance of hitting their targets. Though, they should stay out of the light as sunlight is not their friend.
The kobold’s lore now gets a major upgrade from previous versions. Kurtulmak is still their primary god, but it turns out good old Kurtulmak was actually a vassal of Tiamat. As the legend goes, the sneaky little bastard Garl Glittergold managed to steal a small trinket from Tiamat’s hoard. Rightfully pissed off, Tiamat sent Kurtulmak to retrieve the item from Garl Glittergold. While still vague, lore has it that Garl pulled a trick on poor Kurtulmark and trapped him underground for all eternity. Kobolds still worship their trapped god, with kobold zealots determined to find and release Kurtulmak from his underground prison. If that was ever to happen, I’d hate to be a gnome… which isn’t to say I’d ever like being a gnome in the first place.
Left out of the 5e stat block is the number of kobolds appearing. I know 5e doesn’t include that in the monster descriptions, but I do miss that from previous editions. What it does tell you is that kobolds have pack tactics and that is a huge advantage to the little bastards. If six kobolds are all around you, each one would get advantage. Add the fact that they get +4 to hit and suddenly you may have a problem. A dagger won’t do that much damage but six daggers will, especially if you are a lower level.
And to make matters even worse, fifteen kobolds come out of the forest and surround your party of 5. Three per player may not seem like to much of a problem. Of course if you have gnome, it may be 15 versus 1, but that’s another matter. The kobolds split up and 5 go after the wizard, 5 after the rogue (they think he is a little trickster and they hate pranks, remember?) Now the other 5 split up amongst three other party members. If the wizard can get out or get assistance it isn’t too bad, right? Then out of the woods come five sling stones plummeting the poor wizard, because hiding in the woods are the ranged reinforcements, who get the same bonuses with their slings as their brethren attacking with daggers. Those other five little bastards could then give the melee attackers cover to escape if they started to get overwhelmed. Or they could come out of the forest to help pick your corpses clean. These little guys, while still pretty weak, really benefit when hanging out with their own and really only attack when they have superiority in numbers.
A nice addition to the kobolds, are the Winged Kobold. They are also known as Urds, and they have appeared as far back as 2e, but they are now given their own stats block and are described as distant relatives of the kobold. Plus, instead of being viewed as the sickly second cousins to the kobolds, they are now part of the mighty kobold race, and their wings are gifts from Tiamat herself.
The kobolds continue their expansion into 5e with Volo’s Guide to Monsters which gives players the ability to play as one, as well as giving information about the lairs of kobolds and just how tricky they can be with their traps.
And that wraps up the kobold. The once dog/rat creatures compared to weak goblins are now standing on their own feet, or wings, as worshippers of dragons and fierce warriors… so long as you get them in a pack. Otherwise, they’ll run away behind some traps.
Header Art Credit: WotC - Volo’s Guide to Monsters, 2016