Kobold (Dungeons & Dragons)
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An illustration of two kobolds
|First appearance||the Dungeons & Dragons "white box" set (1974)|
|Alignment||Usually Lawful Evil|
Kobolds are a fictional species featured in the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. Aggressive, xenophobic, yet industrious small humanoid creatures, kobolds are noted for their skill at building traps and preparing ambushes. In the original Dungeons & Dragons game, kobolds were goblinoids, but they have been depicted as reptilian humanoids in later editions of the game.
- 1 Publication history
- 1.1 Dungeons & Dragons (1974–1976)
- 1.2 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition (1977–1988)
- 1.3 Dungeons & Dragons (1977–1999)
- 1.4 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition (1989–1999)
- 1.5 Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 edition (2000–2002)
- 1.6 Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition (2003–2007)
- 1.7 Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition (2008–2014)
- 1.8 Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (2014–)
- 2 Ecology
- 3 Society
- 4 Kobold subraces
- 5 History
- 6 Other publishers
- 7 Reception
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
The kobolds of Dungeons & Dragons were inspired by the Kobold sprites of German folklore, but, aside from their shared association with mining and their small stature, the creatures have little in common.[original research?]
Dungeons & Dragons (1974–1976)
The kobold was one of the first monsters introduced in the earliest edition of the game, in the Dungeons & Dragons "white box" set (1974), where they were described simply as similar to goblins, but weaker. Kobolds were further detailed in Supplement II: Blackmoor (1975).
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition (1977–1988)
A few years later, in Roger Moore's editorial "Tucker's kobolds" in Dragon #127 (November 1987), a scenario is described where a band of well-prepared kobolds uses guerrilla tactics to significantly challenge a far more powerful party of adventurers.
In the article "Hey, Wanna Be a Kobold?" by Joseph Clay in Dragon #141 (January 1989), kobolds, xvarts, goblins, and orcs were presented as player character races along with two new character classes the "Shaman" and the "Witch Doctor".
Dungeons & Dragons (1977–1999)
This edition of the D&D game included its own version of the kobold, in the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (1977, 1981, 1983). The kobold was featured as a player character race in the Orcs of Thar gazetteer (1989). Kobolds were also later featured in the Dungeons & Dragons Game set (1991), the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia (1991), the Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game set (1994), and the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Game set (1999).
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition (1989–1999)
The kobold appears first in the Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989), which also introduced the urd, a winged version of the kobold. The kobold and urd are reprinted in the Monstrous Manual (1993).
The Dragon Mountain kobold appeared in the Dragon Mountain adventure set (1993).
The kobold is detailed as a playable character race in The Complete Book of Humanoids (1993). The kobold is later presented as a playable character race again in Player's Option: Skills & Powers (1995).
Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 edition (2000–2002)
The kobold appears in the Monster Manual for this edition (2000).
Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition (2003–2007)
The kobold appears in the revised Monster Manual for this edition (2003).
The kobold was detailed in Dragon #332 (June 2005), in the "Ecology of the Kobold".
The kobold is detailed as a player character race in Races of the Dragon (2006).
Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition (2008–2014)
The kobold appears in the Monster Manual for this edition (2008), including the kobold minion, the kobold skirmisher, the kobold slinger armed with a variety deadly thrown pots, the armored kobold dragonshield, and the roguish kobold slyblade. The rules for this edition allow kobolds to shift easily around enemies and grant them bonuses when they mob together against a single target. The backgrounds states they tend to form cults that worship local dragons, and sometimes serve them if the dragon deigns to take notice.
In addition, the article "Creature Incarnations: Kobolds" in Dragon issue 364 contains a variety of additional kobolds, including the kobold chieftain (level 5 soldier [leader]), kobold wild mage (controller), kobold piker (level 2 brute), kobold spiker (level 3 controller), kobold vermin handler (level 3 artillery), kobold rat master (level 4 elite soldier), kobold horde (level 6 skirmisher), and kobold war priest (level 5 controller). This article also describes kobold lairs, and the kobold reaction if they (unexpectedly) fell one of their player-character opponents.
Finally, Kobolds reappear in Monster Vault (2010), including the kobold tunneler (minion), the kobold skirmisher, the kobold dragonshield and the kobold quickblade. The lore in this book emphasizes the kobold predilection for traps and stealthy theft, as well as their often suicidal reverences for dragons.
Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (2014–)
The kobold appears in the Monster Manual for this edition (2014), as well as the winged kobold (or 'urd'). Kobolds in this edition suffer a penalty when exposed to sunlight, but are granted bonuses when they mob up against a single opponent.
In addition, Volo's Guide to Monsters (2016) adds the returning kobold dragonshield, the magical kobold scale sorcerer, and the crafty kobold inventor,  as well as adding the kobold as a playable race.
In the 3rd edition of the game, kobolds are distantly related to dragons, and are often found serving them as minions. Kobolds speak a version of the Draconic tongue, with a yipping accent. In their original appearance in the canon, kobolds were described as dog-like humanoids with ratlike tails, horns and hairless scaly skin, and were not associated with dragons. They were called goblinoids, although the word had a broader sense than it was later to acquire; in the Monstrous Compendium series and Monster Mythology the goblinoid category included not only goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears but also orcs, xvarts and gremlins. From the third edition, the term "goblinoid" has been reserved for goblins, hobgoblins, norkers, and similar creatures. Kobolds are much more explicitly reptilian in current editions, though they were egg-layers as far back as first edition AD&D. The Greyhawk Player's Guide said they have "certain features that are both reptilian and doglike."
Kobolds are omnivores with no scruples about what or whom they eat. They can digest bark, dirt, leather, eggshells, or their own younger siblings if they are desperate enough.
Kobolds are extremely fecund egg-layers, having the highest birth rate (and death rate) of all humanoid species. A female kobold will lay a clutch of hard-shelled eggs two weeks after fertilization; the eggs must be incubated for an additional 60 days before hatching. Kobolds reach maturity by the age of eight or nine and are considered "great wyrms" by the age of 121. They live up to 135 years. While they do bond with one another, they have no concept of monogamy.
Kobolds have an extreme hatred for gnomes, with whom they compete for the same areas and mining rights, as well as pixies, brownies, and sprites. They are often at war with goblins, and the numerous kobold-goblin wars help keep the populations of both races down to a manageable level. Xvarts often act as intermediaries between kobolds and goblins, usually dominating and taking out their aggression on the kobolds.
Kobolds are found in all climates. They seem to prefer dark, damp underground lairs and overgrown forests. They are industrious miners and if left to their own devices can carve out massive tunnel complexes, which they quickly fill to capacity thanks to their rapid rate of reproduction – which would explain their use as cannon fodder enemies.
Many kobold lairs are guarded by boars or giant weasels. Their lairs are fluid, with new tunnels continually being excavated and old ones collapsed. Most lairs include a temple or shrine, a kiln, an egg hatchery, and a place for storing food. Larger ones also contain places for cultivating food and livestock.
Typical physical characteristics
Kobolds vary in height between 2'-2'8" in 3.5 edition, and 3'6"-4'0" in 4th edition, with scaly, hairless hides, reptilian heads, and tails, and weigh over 30 pounds (14 kg) in 3.5 edition and about 40 pounds (18 kg) in 4th edition. Males are about three inches taller and ten pounds heavier than most females. Their hides are typically a rust-brown or reddish black color, with ivory-colored horns. Their heads are described as dog-like, but in recent editions they are illustrated as looking more like crocodiles. Their eyes glow red, and they can see accurately even in lightless conditions up to 60 feet away. Kobolds are described as smelling like a cross between damp dogs and stagnant water.
Unlike dragons, kobolds are cold-blooded. The scales covering their bodies are like that of an iguana or other large lizard. The scales that cover their tails are very fine, so that they resemble the naked tails of rats. Kobolds lose and gain new teeth throughout their lives, often saving and making necklaces from them. Kobolds favor raggedy-looking red or orange clothing made from leather or the silk of giant spiders. They never wear shoes, but they are fond of jewelry and other ornamentation.
Kobolds shed their skin about once a season, in patches, over the course of a week. They keep themselves well-groomed, regularly polishing their horns, claws, and teeth.
Kobolds are usually lawful evil. Exceptions are more likely to be non-evil than non-lawful. In the 4th edition of the game, their alignment is given simply as evil, though this implies orderliness in the 4th edition alignment system. Neutral (unaligned) kobolds also exist, usually the servants of good or unaligned metallic dragons.
Kobold society is influenced by their lawful evil alignment. They will plan and dig mines industriously, while laying cruel traps for interlopers. If they must confront an enemy, they will mass their troops for an ambush. Among the monstrous humanoids, they are known for cunning plans; unlike many, they also share those plans among the tribe. General plans and goals are common knowledge, and detailed plans are shared with all who ask, to allow them to work fruitfully for the good of the tribe. Kobolds have a natural hatred of other non-draconic creatures because of mistreatment of their race.
Kobolds have specialized laborers, yet the majority of kobolds are miners. The most coveted careers are trapmaker, sorcerer, caretaker, and warrior. Kobolds typically apprentice in their chosen profession at the age of three. A kobold's job may change over the years based on the needs of the tribe. Kobold tribes are gerontocracies, ruled by their eldest member, who is known as the All-Watcher. Often this leader is a powerful sorcerer. Kobold laws may change along with their leaders. Kobolds prefer exile to execution, and in some disputes, kobolds tribes will split in order to spread their kind over a larger region. Kobolds often lay eggs in a common nest, with specialized foster parents to watch over the eggs and wyrmlings (young under one year).
Kobold society is tribal with war bands based on clans. As many as ten families can be part of a clan. Each clan is responsible for patrolling a ten-mile radius. The most numerous kobold tribes include the Torturers, the Impalers, the Gougers, the Cripplers, and the Mutilators.
The main deity of the kobolds is Kurtulmak, the god of war and mining. The other main god worshipped by kobolds is Gaknulak, the god of protection, stealth, trickery, and traps. A lesser-known kobold demigod is Dakarnok. Individual kobolds and kobold tribes may worship other deities of the draconic pantheon; Tiamat and Io often play a significant role in their creation myths. Kobolds and gnomes have an instinctual hate of each other because of a "prank" played upon Kurtulmak by the gnomish deity Garl Glittergold. According to some kobold myths, Garl collapsed Kurtulmak's cave because the gnome god saw that they were likely to become the dominant race in the world. The draconic god Io offered Kurtulmak the chance to become the god of his race or to give him the strength to clear the mine. Kurtulmak chose to lead his race in the form of a god. The gnomes, naturally, have their own version of the myth which casts their god in a considerably better light.
Clerics of Kurtulmak are known as the Eyes of Kurtulmak. They rarely live long enough to become chieftains, but they have a great deal of power and influence, serving as mine supervisors and directing the tribe toward "divinely inspired" goals. Organized worship services are almost nonexistent, but most kobolds recite small prayers throughout the day.
Many kobolds believe in reincarnation, which Kurtulmak may use as either reward or punishment depending on one's service to one's tribe. One of the duties of a cleric is to watch over eggs and hatchlings thought to be the reincarnation of a distinguished kobold.
Kobolds speak a version of the Draconic tongue, with a yipping accent (their voices are said to resemble the sound of small dogs barking). Some also learn to speak Common, Goblin, Orcish, and Undercommon.
The written form of Draconic was originally developed by kobolds in the service of dragons, as dragons themselves see little reason to write.
- Deekin Scalesinger is a Kobold bard who is an NPC minion found in several of the expansions to Neverwinter Nights. Deekin is a shopkeeper in Neverwinter Nights 2 as well.
- Rhix is a Kobold Merchant NPC in the MMORPG Game Neverwinter. He can be found next to the Seven Suns Coster Market.
- Kol XIV was the high doge of Kol in the Broken Lands region of the Mystara campaign setting. Born Constantin Diocletius, he inherited his rulership from his parents. As a skilled politician he prevented the domination of Kol by King Thar making Kol an ally of Thar's. After the Wrath of the Immortals he became the prince of New Kolland in Glantri, the first humanoid to become a prince in that country. Kol XIV is middle aged and stands at four and a half. He has a thin white mustache. Usually he wears a red Toga and a crown made of fungi.
- Klobt-A-Lozn appeared in the AD&D first edition module In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords as the leader of a forgotten kobold tribe in the caverns below Drachen Keep, in the Pomarj region of the World of Greyhawk campaign setting.
- Meepo is a Kobold who shows up in the 3rd Edition adventure module, The Sunless Citadel, and as a miniature in the War of the Dragon Queen set for Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures.
- Tucker's kobolds were a tribe of kobolds featured in Roger E. Moore's editorial in Dragon issue 127. They were used by a Dungeon Master, Tucker, who ran an adventure for high level characters featuring an ordinary tribe of kobolds who utilised traps, ambushes and local knowledge to significantly challenge the party, going against the stereotype of kobolds posing no significant threat. Tucker's kobolds became a famous part of Dungeons & Dragons lore, often referred to as an example of how cunning and local knowledge can be used by physically weak opponents to overcome much more powerful adversaries.
- In Eye of the Beholder, the kobolds are led by an undead kobold named Albrik.
In third edition, urds seem to have been replaced with a subset of kobolds known as the dragonwrought kobolds, who occasionally have wings or other draconic qualities, and hold an elevated status in kobold society.
The aquatic kobold, the arctic kobold, the desert kobold, the earth kobold, and the jungle kobold were all introduced in Unearthed Arcana (2004).
Kobolds have a scattered history, turning up in isolated regions with no apparent connection to one another. Even given the often nomadic nature of kobolds, divine agency is often evoked to explain how kobolds spread so far. Kobolds are thought to have begun their existence as the servants of dragons.
Paizo also published Kobolds of Golarion a 32-page booklet detailing Kobold sociology, physiology and psychology, along with several variant traits, feats and class archetypes, while also introducing several new spells, traps and items.
Screen Rant compiled a list of the game's "10 Most Powerful (And 10 Weakest) Monsters, Ranked" in 2018, calling this one of the weakest, saying "When a dungeon master has run several low-level Dungeons & Dragons adventures, they will inevitably grow weary of using the same creatures from before and will want to shake things up. That's the moment when they prepare to paint over the serial numbers and replace the goblins with kobolds."
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