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Origins of the PCs: Kobold

Kobolds: the bane of lower-level adventurers the world over. Few adventuring parties can honestly say that they haven't faced these weak, but extremely numerous, dragon-kin at least once. There's little that can be said about the kobold to make them appear to be an attractive option for player characters. Physically they are pathetically fragile, yet they also lack the higher mental functions that many spellcasting classes require. It may be that their only true strength lies in their cunning and guile.

The sworn enemies of gnome-kind everywhere, kobolds resemble short bipedal reptiles with vaguely draconic features. Originally introducted in the Monster Manual, these creatures later received their later place as a true character race in Races of the Dragon, which also served to expand some of the kobold's racial features.

While the kobold's poor abilities and weak physical state might religate them to the background when drafting a race for your character, they should instead be embraced as a challenge. It's one thing to play a kobold character. It's another thing to play a kobold character and survive!

Note: When writing this article, we were fully aware of the existence of Pun Pun. For the sake of the sanity of Dungeon Masters the world over, forget that it EVER happened.

Kobold Strengths

  • High Dexterity score
  • 30 foot base speed (while this isn't normally a strength, the kobold is small creature, making them faster than the av-er-age gnome)
  • Small-size
  • Bonuses to Craft (trapmaking), Profession (miner) and Search checks
  • Natural armor bonus

Kobold Weaknesses

  • Very low Strength score
  • Low Constitution score
  • Dazzled by daylight and other kinds of bright light

Playing a Kobold
Most races have even ability score adjustments; that is to say that for every -2 penalty to an ability score, they receive a +2 bonus to a different one. Many powerful races, have positive ability score adjustments, meaning that they have more bonuses than penalties. Kobolds on the other-hand are one of the very few races in Dungeons and Dragons that actually have more penalties to their ability scores than bonuses.

Their very low Strength score means that kobolds can't be expected to carry huge weapons. They tend to shy away from heavy armor, and even many larger weapons. This means that fighting in hand-to-hand combat is rarely a winning proposition for the kobold. The kobold's Constitution is also low and as many 1st level adventuring parties can testify to: kobolds are pretty darn easy to kill. Kobold characters will therefore want to stay out of harm's way, which is another reason for shying away from melee combat.

On the other hand, kobolds tend to have higher Dexterity scores, and thank goodness, since they don't have much else going for them. This extra lightness to their steps, combined with their small stature and their natural armor makes them somewhat difficult to hit. Kobold characters should consider using ranged weapons, such as crossbows, in order to deal damage without having to get in harm's way. One quick glance at the kobold's skill bonuses should make their true potential become apparent.

Kobolds learned long ago that if you can't win in a fair fight, you should learn to play dirty. Their bonuses to trapmaking and Search checks make them excellent at setting up both traps and ambushes (and consequently knowing when those same tricks are being used against them). In addition, their higher speed allows them to move much faster than other creatures of their size, making harrying maneuvers an attractive option for them.

Unless your character is planning on only adventuring at night, they will need to figure a way around their light sensitivity. Shaded glasses can cost a pretty penny, but can allow your kobold character to interact with others during the daytime. In addition, there are some feats available (see below) which can help to accomplish the same thing, but without the monetary investment, chance of it failing or penalty to Spot checks.

Kobold Variations
The kobold presented in Races of the Dragon and the Monster Manual is only the garden-variety kobold available to players. If you're looking for a little something extra, check out these variant kobolds from Unearthed Arcana.

Aquatic: Aquatic kobolds don't have a whole lot going for them other than a swim speed. Since this will likely cause an increase to level adjustment in a non-aquatic setting, this race can be avoided.

Arctic: The kobolds of the north are stronger than their kin, but they are easily swayed. These kobolds are much better in melee combat, which is to say that they're still mediocre.

Desert: Desert kobolds don't suffer from light sensitivity, but they suffer from even more negative ability scores than normal. These should be avoided.

Jungle: Jungle kobolds don't suffer altitude sickness and are excellent climbers, but lack most of their racial skill bonuses and are stupider than their kin. These do not make a great choice.

Earth: Kobolds hailing from the Elemental Plane of Earth are stronger, but less agile, and are better at making stone traps. This race can make an excellent extraplanar character in settings where this is more common, such as Planescape.

Class Suggestions
Clearly the best class choice for kobold characters is the barbarian. Hopefully the image of a lightly armored kobold rushing suicidally at an enemy should be enough to make your fellow players collapse into fits of laughter, and allowing you to snake the last slice of pizza for yourself.

All kidding aside, kobolds should be aware that they are fragile and consider their class choices appropriately. Think to yourself: "I'm a short, angry creature that breaks like fine porcelain. How do I get around that?"

Probably one of the last roles you should be taking, at least early on, is a front-line fighter. That being said, kobold fighters can be quite effective. You'll want to focus on hit-and-run tactics, and movement. Also, if you have access, consider taking the kobold fighter substitution levels from Races of the Dragon. Not only does it provide a blanket Weapon Focus style ability useful with any spear-like weapon, it also provides the character with bonuses to Strength and Constitution, which will make them as tough as the average human, and only about as weak as a halfling.

Because they are given to trap making, rangers make a fairly good class for kobolds. Their spellcasting and animal companions provide them with extra layers of stealth and defense, and their favored enemy bonuses can be a boon if chosen correctly, especially to the Strength-poor kobold. Consider taking levels in the kobold ranger from Races of the Dragon. It provides some extra bonuses that characters will almost certainly want to take advantage of. Kobold rangers will want to focus on two-weapon combat, which is counter-intuitive given their relative frailty. At the same time, they'll definitely want to take the Dragon Tail feat. For an explanation of this madness, see the feats section below.

Much like the ranger, the rogue is a natural choice for the kobold. Kobold rogues are amazing trap-finders, especially if they have substitution levels in kobold rogue (Races of the Dragon). Kobold rogues are more defensive than many of their kin, and many will want to take levels in a prestige class that provides them with trapmaking options (see below).

The sorcerer is the default kobold spellcasting class. In addition to providing a distinct benefit when paired with the kobold paragon class, or with the dragon devotee or dragon disciple prestige classes, kobolds often benefit from taking draconic feats and channeling their magic into them. Even multiclass fighter/sorcerer characters can turn a meager amount of arcane energy into powerful benefits. Consider taking substitution levels in dragonblood sorcerer (Races of the Dragon) as they provide several powerful benefits a kobold would want to take advantage of.

Deekin Scalesinger proved that kobold bards can be effective. In addition, to being slightly tougher than a sorcerer, bards also have their song abilities which can be used to boost the party's abilities. They can also qualify to become dragon disciples, but lack the offensive capabilities that a sorcerer's magic provides.

Kobolds might also turn from sorcery and take up the path of a warlock (Complete Arcane). These characters benefit from becoming much tougher to kill, but lack the variety that ordinary magic provides. Still, the invocations that they learn can help a kobold warlock overcome any number of obstacles and their eldritch blast allows them to defeat enemies from a safe distance.

Like the warlock, the dragonfire adept (Dragon Magic) learns several invocations that can become useful in a number of situations. These powers are dragon-based though, which can be more appealing to the kobold. They gain breath weapons, damage reduction and natural armor bonuses to help them survive threats, and their invocations can allow them to fly or even project a frightful presence like a true dragon would.

Much like the rogue, the scout class (Complete Adventurer) can be very appealing to a kobold character. These characters still possess skill over traps, and may fall into the same prestige classes as a kobold rogue, but they are much more offensive. Since they're able to take advantage of their small size and quick speed, kobold scouts can be notoriously hard to capture or kill. Unlike rangers, these characters will likely want to take advantage of ranged weaponry.

If you're in an Asian setting, consider the concept of the kobold ninja. Ninjas (Complete Adventurer) are rarely hampered by a low Strength score, and their abilities are designed to instead take advantage of a higher Dexterity score. Like rogues and scouts, kobold ninjas will want to take advantage of trap making, perhaps combining it with their skill at infiltration in order to trap a victim's home.

For the dragon-worshipping kobolds, the dragon shaman class (Player's Handbook II) is a natural choice. These characters forgo the possible transformations that kobold shamans perform by becoming dragon disciples, and instead immediately take on draconic traits. Their breath weapon s, draconic adaptations and auras are all extremely useful in combat. Outside of combat, they learn several abilities that provide them with skill bonuses, consult with spirits and even heal the sick or dying.

Another option to consider is the kobold spellthief (Complete Adventurer). These characters combine spellcasting with rogue-like abilities, giving the character a nice mix of options. This is also easily multiclassed with sorcerer, with the help of the Master Spellthief feat (see Complete Scoundrel) to provide a little extra 'kick'. Kobold spellthieves tend to be harriers that target those with magic or other similar abilities, striking to disable their targets, then retreating away to use whatever ability they stole.

The kobold paragon (Click Here) class is a good choice for kobold characters who have at least one level of sorcerer and, ideally are taking levels as a fighter (with the substitution levels; see above). Not only is such a character a natural adventurer, but they also have potential to be more powerful spellcasters and leaders.

Feat Suggestions
Despite not having much material devoted to them, kobolds have a surprising number of feat options that they can take advantage of.

I Can See!
Kobolds suffer from light sensitivity. Unless your character lives underground, only adventures at night or has invested in some goggles to help protect their eyes, they'll need a solution to this problem. The Daylight Adaptation feat (Races of Eberron) allows the kobold to walk around in the sunshine without being dazzled. This feat is found in several other books (such as the Player's Guide to Faerûn), all with different prerequisites. The most recent prerequisites for this feat are that the character has either light blindness or light sensitivity.

Racial Feats
Kobolds have three separate options for racial feats, all available in Races of the Dragon.

Dragon-wrought provides you with several draconic abilities, as well as allow you to take the Dragon Wings feat at a later level than normal. By changing your type to Dragon, you gain immunity to several spells, such as charm person. If you're looking to later take a prestige class that turns you into a dragon, such as dragon devotee, you'll want to avoid this feat, as taking it makes you ineligible.

Kobold Endurance gives your character a number of bonuses that help to reduce the penalties caused by the kobold's low ability scores. Since it counts as Endurance for the purposes of meeting other prerequisites, you may want to look into taking this feat instead.

Kobold Foe Strike allows you to deal extra damage to unaware dwarves, gnomes and fey. Since this bonus damage is somewhat restricted, it's not a particularly attractive feat choice, unless you find yourself up against these kinds of creatures on a regular basis.

Flying High
Kobolds have access to the Dragon Wings feat, which when combined with the Improved Dragon Wings feat (both available in Races of the Dragon), allows the character to fly. This in turn opens up a myriad of flying feats, such as Flyby Attack (Monster Manual).

Beyond the feats a roguish character would normally take in order to ambush an opponent, kobolds can take the Chameleon Hide feat (Serpent Kingdoms). Doing so provides the kobold with a bonus to Hide and AC after they take a full-round action to change the color of their scales. This can come in extremely handy to a kobold assassin, or any other character who finds that they need to observe their enemies on a regular basis.

Kobolds who end up specializing in traps will want to take the Extraordinary Trapsmith feat (Races of the Dragon). This feat benefits kobolds more than any other race, allowing them to make traps for far less money and time than ordinary.

I've Only Got Three Hands!
A first level kobold can take the Dragon Tail feat (Races of the Dragon). Doing so provides them with a tail slap attack, which deals fairly low damage. In later levels the character can take Two-Weapon Fighting in order to meet the prerequisites for Prehensile Tail (Races of the Dragon / Serpent Kingdoms). This feat allows the kobold to fight with three weapons and later take Multiweapon Fighting. If used in conjunction with the Swashbuckler class (Complete Warrior) and weapons with a high critical threat range (like the rapier or kukri), you can turn the physically weak kobold into a damage-dealing machine.

Unleashing the Beast
Kobold sorcerers could do a lot worse than selecting Draconic feats. Found in Dragon Magic, Races of the Dragon and Complete Arcane, many of these feats allow a sorcerer to spend spell-slots to gain temporary abilities or to gain temporary bonuses after casting a spell. While it goes without saying that all sorcerers may want to take advantage of these kinds of feats, Draconic feats are more thematically appropriate for kobolds than the Fiendish or Fey heritage feats introduced in Complete Mage.

Prestige Class Suggestions
Kobolds tend to do best when they focus on their key racial stereotypes: sorcery and traps. Although there are no prestige classes exclusive to the kobold race, there are still many attractive options available for kobold characters.

Trapsmith (Dungeonscape) - Requiring some skill with machinery, which can be provided by the rogue (or another similar) class, the trapsmith provides a number of useful abilities. They can set up quick booby traps, become quite capable of disarming, avoiding or surviving traps, and they gain a small number of arcane spells that supplement their skills.

Combat Trapsmith (Complete Scoundrel) - The combat trapsmith has much the same requirements as the trapsmith (see above). Their focus is decidedly more aggressive. They gain the ability to craft combat traps, which can be crafted and used fairly quickly. They also learn some other abilities that help them to craft cheaper traps, and avoid getting trapped themselves. All-in-all, it's not a great option, but it helps to augment the abilities of the trapsmith prestige class, making the two a very potent combination for trap-minded kobold characters.

Scaled Horror (Savage Species) - The scaled horror provides some interesting abilities that can help turn the kobold into tough, semi-aquatic warrior. While the ability to move freely and scent creatures underwater might not be appealing, a high number of hit points, access to ranger spells, damage reduction and a pair of metamagic feats make this a great grab-bag of a class for kobold characters.

Dragon Devotee (Races of the Dragon) - This lesser cousin to the Dragon Disciple (see below) allows a kobold character to transform into a draconic creature. It provides the character with a number of abilities, providing them with ability score increases, natural armor bonuses, some sorcerer spellcasting improvements and the option to either gain fighter bonus feats or improvements to sneak attacks (or similar abilities). This can then be augmented by the dragon disciple class for further bonuses.

Dragon Disciple (Dungeon Master's Guide) - This prestige class is very easy for a kobold sorcerer to meet the prerequisites for. Doing so provides the character with increases to natural armor, ability scores and access to bite attacks, claw attacks, blindsense, a breath weapon and wings. A kobold who has already been a dragon devotee can become a dragon disciple, but not the other way around (since completing the dragon disciple class makes the kobold ineligible to take levels in dragon devotee). Combining these two prestige classes is an excellent way to create a capable and powerful kobold spellcaster.

Dread Commando (Heroes of Battle) - Kobold warriors are fragile creatures, relatively speaking. The dread commando allows them to harness their natural ability for avoiding harm. The class provides sudden strike damage, bonuses to initiative for the character's party, the ability to make easier Hide and Move Silently checks and the ability to lessen armor check penalties. This class is a must have for kobolds who want to take a more direct approach when creating an ambush.

New Material

Scion of the Scaled Gods [Draconic, Racial]
You can use divine energy to reveal your inherited draconic abilities.
    Prerequisites: Kobold, ability to cast divine spells without preparation.
    Benefit: For the purposes of meeting the prerequisites of any draconic feat, you are treated as a sorcerer of level equal to your favored soul level.
    Draconic feats that provide you with a benefit for casting an arcane spell now provide you with the same benefit when you cast a divine spell.
    Draconic feats that provide you with a benefit for expending arcane spell slots now provide you with the same benefit for expending divine spell slots.

Scion of the Gemmed Dragons [Draconic, Psionic, Racial]
You can expend psionic energy to invoke your draconic heritage.
    Prerequisites: Kobold, ability to manifest psionic power.
    Benefit: For the purposes of meeting the prerequisites of any draconic feat, you are treated as a sorcerer of level equal to the highest level you possess in any class that allows you to manifest psionic powers.
    If you take the draconic heritage feat, you must select a gem dragon as your heritage (amethyst, crystal, emerald, sapphire or topaz).
    Draconic feats that provide you with a benefit for casting an arcane spell now provide you with the same benefit for manifesting a psionic power.
    Draconic feats that provide you with a benefit for expending arcane spell slots now provide you with the same benefit for expending power points (see Table 1-01). You may only expend as many power points as your manifester level.
    Special: If you later take the Draconic Legacy feat, you add the psionic powers indicated in Table 1-02 to your list of powers known instead of the normal benefit.

Table 1-01: PP Cost for Draconic Feats
Spell Level
Point Cost
1st-level 1
2nd-level 3
3rd-level 5
4th-level 7
5th-level 9
6th-level 11
7th-level 13
8th-level 15
9th-level 17
Table 1-02: Draconic Legacy Psionic Powers
Dragon Kind Psionic Powers Known
Amethyst Body equilibrium, cloud mind, psionic suggestion
Crystal Control air, energy arc*, psionic dominate
Emerald Cloud mind, inertial armor, object reading
Sapphire Detect teleportation, psionic teleport, skate
Topaz Catfall, control light, energy bolt
     * See Complete Psionic

Flour Trap
Kobold engineers have designed this ingenious trap to exclusively target creatures that must rely on light sources to see when underground. When a creature activates this trap, a light cloud of finely milled flour that has been alchemically treated are released into the air. For creatures that use darkvision or magical light, this proves to be nothing more than a minor annoyance. However, when exposed to flame, usually in the form of a lit torch, the cloud ignites violently. On it's own, the cloud of fire deals no damage, and dissipates on its own within one minute.

Flour Trap: CR 2; mechanical; location trigger to activate cloud, proximity trigger (any source of fire) to deal damage; automatic reset; DC 15 Reflex save avoids; 3d4 fire; multiple targets (all targets within a 10 ft. radius); Search DC 22; Disable Device DC 17. Market Price: 1,100 gp.

Snakes on a Plane
Kobolds have a somewhat disturbing sense of humor as a race, and their practical jokes, though few, are invariably dangerous to the target. Snakes on a plane, is a very simple trap. When tripped, the trap opens a small chute above the head of the target, dropping snakes, usually poisonous onto them. Kobolds also use these traps for sowing confusion during battle.

Snakes on a Plane: CR 2; mechanical; location trigger; repair reset; 1d6 tiny vipers; multiple targets (all targets within a 5 ft. radius); Search DC 25; Disable Device DC 12. Market Price: 800 gp.

Dropped Ceiling
This trap doesn't deal any damage to the victim, but instead drops the ceiling's height. Medium creatures drop prone and must crawl in order to pass through the area. Larger-sized creatures are effectively prevented from passing through the area. Small-size, or smaller creatures are unaffected and can pass through the area without hinderance.

Kobolds use dropped ceiling traps to hinder victims who wander too close to their warrens. They particularly enjoy using this trap because it allows them to kill the victims themselves, which can be a rare pleasure for the bloodthirsty creatures.

Dropped Ceiling: CR 2; mechanical; proximity trigger; repair reset; knocks Medium-sized or larger creatures prone, Large-size and larger creatures must make an Escape Artist check (DC 15) to move through the area; DC 15 Reflex save avoids; multiple targets (all targets in 4 adjacent 5-ft. squares); Search DC 20; Disable Device DC 25. Market Price: 2,300 gp.

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