Friday, 19 February 2021

Kobolds

Kobolds 

"Speaking as a fellow kobold, I'll be as direct as possible. The odds of you dying by adventurer are high. So high, in fact, that if you accidentally drank a quart of poison it would only reduce your chance of dying at the hands of an adventurer by five percent."
— Mokumok the Shaman
Dragon #342 (2006)

Kobolds, Vicious and Evil
We all know what kobolds are: one of the first organized monster we are likely to encounter. They are small, tiny even, despite being vicious, and undeniably evil. They infest almost every part of the Flanaess, because burgeoning adventurers of all corners of the map need something other than giant rats to kill.
Sound familiar?
Were they your stepping stone to goblins, before tackling orcs, and then hobgoblins, in turn? Very likely.
But they can be more, so much more.
But what are they, exactly?
The kobolds, also named celbit, are small, vicious, reptilian scavengers, picked on by every larger race. Their most numerous tribes include the Torturers, the Impalers, the Gougers, the Cripplers, and the Mutilators. Like goblins, they are found in many places. [LGG]
 
Where did they come from, anyway? I’m not talking D&D here; I’m talking origins. Where did Gary Gygax get the idea for them? From mythology, where else?

Origin
Kobolds originated as small helper spirits in Teutonic Germany, where they can be found in carvings dating to the 13th Century. They are spirits, or of the faerie realm, and are most commonly found in woods or mines.
Although they are helpers, once attached to a particular human or place they refuse to leave. If angered then the help turns to hindrance, and the kobold becomes an annoying prankster bent on making life miserable for those it once helped.

History
There are three types of kobolds, all of which are considered to be beneficial helpers unless provoked. The first are household helpers, coaxed from the woods they inhabited by offerings at their tree and carvings at the homes that desired their presence. The second are associated with mines and other underground domains. Finally there are the Klabautermann, associated with ships and seafaring.
All three are shape shifters, capable of taking any form, although they remain short of stature when they transform into humans. They are also capable of invisibility, so will often attach themselves to a human without their knowledge. The unfortunate upshot of this is that the human can offend the kobold without ever being aware of its presence, and then suffer the consequences.

Wood You Be My Helper [?]
Wood spirit kobolds were often sought out as household helpers, and are one of the origins of the house spirit. They can be coaxed from their trees with offerings of honey or water. Although the kobold may take in instant liking to the petitioner, it is more likely to take several attempts to coax the kobold from its tree. In order to facilitate the transaction, a portion of the tree can be taken, while being careful not to upset the residing kobold, and removed to the house where the petitioner wants the kobold to live.
The petitioner will know that their offerings have been answered when branches fall at their feet. The kobold will then follow them home and live in that house forever, assisting in any way it can.

Do You Mine?
Subterranean kobolds are similar to wood kobolds, but instead of living solitary lives they live in communities or kingdoms. This is where the ability to turn invisible really comes in handy, because they can disappear if someone ventures into their domain that they do not want to associate with, they simply disappear.
Unlike wood kobolds, if a mine kobold takes a liking to a human that travels into their domain, they will follow them home, often remaining invisible for the journey. They will then take up residence in the house and help with chores and in other ways, sometimes using their magic in beneficial manners. In the mines, they are known to lead miners to good veins by knocking. The more knocks, the better the vein that is being shown.
The mine kobolds can vary from being beneficial to being harmful. They are blamed for causing mining accidents, replacing good ore with worthless (or even poisonous) ore, and causing all manner of trouble for miners that they see as invaders and thieves.

Koboldly Onto the High Seas
Klabautermann reside on ships, helping to maintain the ship. This is especially helpful in times of stress, as they will hammer at leaks until the crew can fix them properly. They are also known to arrange cargo in the most efficient manner, and to generally help the crew when sailing.
These kobolds are most likely related to the wood dwelling kobolds, as they are believed to arrive via the wood used to construct the ship.
If the three types, they are the ones best left unseen, because to see one is an omen of impending death, either of the crewman that sees the kobold or of the entire ship sinking.

You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry
For the most part, kobolds seem to like helping humans, as long as that help is appreciated. However, if they become offended, ignored, or are outright asked to leave, their mood turns from friendly to foul.
Kobolds should receive regular offerings to show that their help is appreciated. When they do not, they become angry. Asking a kobold to leave creates similar offense, because it also indicates that their help is not appreciated.
When a kobold is angry or offended, all the help they were providing reverses. An example would be that if they used to turn milk into butter during the night, now they would cause the milk to sour for no reason. They might pull thatch from a roof at night, causing a need for repairs. On ships they might tangle the ropes or sails, or distract the crew with laughter and jeers. In mines, the beneficial kobolds will take on the traits of the evil kobolds described above, although not as vicious or deadly.
Even an angry kobold is not considered to be dangerous. They will cause all manner of mischief, but will not generally cause outright harm to humans.

Current Influence
Kobolds remain important in German folklore as house spirits, guardians of the homes they inhabit. They can be most easily coaxed to your home on Midsummer’s Eve, and unlike most other house spirits they appreciate gifts. Clothing is their favorite, and is certain to keep a kobold from feeling neglected or underappreciated.

They began as sprites, akin to brownies and goblins, when those terms were somewhat interchangeable. That’s all interesting and esoteric, and far removed from fantasy gameplay. They are not fey in Dungeons and Dragons, and never have been; and they are certainly not beneficial or helpful. They are evil beings, whatever their origins, and they hate all life. Why? Because they are evil, that’s why. They are not a noble draconic race; they are not craven, yet industrious slaves who only hate those who enslave them—maybe they are, if you’re new-school, but I’m old school, and monsters were created to be at odds with the world at large (blame Tolkien and a whole host of other writers of the past for that). So, why do kobolds hate all other races? Probably because most other evil races enslave and abuse them. Orcs did, because kobolds speak orcish in AD&D: slaves need understand their master’s commands. They speak goblin, too; and I would suggest that they speak hobgoblin, as well, even if they are not said to, because goblins and hobgoblins and orcs speak kobold. Dwarves do too, and gnomes. No mention was ever given as to why. Or how. One would wonder who taught them?
In addition to the tongues of lawful evil and kobolds, these monsters can usually (75%) speak goblin and orcish. [MM1e]
Kobolds speak their own language; some (75%) speak orc and goblin. [MM2e]

That makes more sense, what with those species enslaving kobolds for their uses.
3rd edition dispenses with some of the prior logic.
Kobolds speak Draconic with a voice that sounds like that of a yapping dog. [MM3e]
3e does not dismiss whether certain kobold speak orcish or goblin or hobgoblin, or ever common, for that matter. I would suggest that some kobolds, headmen and shamans and sorcerers might know more than one.

Because kobolds are so abused, they hate all other species so much they rejoice in inflicting torture upon them, if and when they can capture them. (Maybe not all others, but more on that later.) They hate fey above all others. And gnomes. Particularly gnomes. And gnomes hate them.
Kobolds hate most other life, delighting in killing and torture. They particularly hate such creatures as brownies, pixies, sprites and gnomes. They war continually with the latter, and will attack them on sight. [MM1e]
[The gnomes’] great hatred of kobolds and goblins, their traditional enemies, gives them a +1 on their attack rolls when fighting these beings. [MM2e]

2e Kobold (really?)
Why might that be? Might gnomes be distantly related to fey? Could they be fey dwarves, as it were?
There is idle speculation that kobolds are related to goblinoids, but I would take that with a grain of salt:
It is possible that goblins are distantly related to kobolds. Like the latter, goblins enjoy dwelling in dismal surroundings, although they tend to inhabit coves and similar underground places in preference to any habitation above ground. They too hate full daylight and attack at a -1 when in sunlight. [MM1e]
1e Goblin
I find it this highly unlikely. Whichever sage wrote that has never ventured far from the Free City of Greyhawk. Kobolds lay eggs. Goblins do not. It’s far more plausible (to my mind) that kobolds could be draconic fey than goblinoid, that they, and maybe dragons—their more likely distant kin—have fey origins. Imagine that they were cast down, and out of the feywild…. That would explain their hatred of all fey. And gnomes, for that matter…. No matter; that’s idle speculation.
What we do know is that the gnome god, Garl Glittergold, played a trick on the kobold god, Kurtulmak, and they have hated one another since.
However, there is another side to Garl than that of the witty adventurer who collapsed the Kobold King's cavern. [Deities_1e]

Garl Glittergold, deity of the gnomes, once collapsed Kurtulmak’s cavernous home as a joke. The event wounded Kurtulmak’s pride on two fronts, as he considered himself both an expert trickster and a miner without equal. Since then Kurtulmak has hated Garl and all gnomes. [Deities 3e]

Back to the question at hand. What are kobolds, exactly, in game terms?
Kobolds are the “weakest” of foes in D&D.
Kobolds, goblins, orcs, etc. are all powerless to affect elementals because they have neither magical property nor four or more hit dice. [MM1e]

Yes, there are weaker monsters, but we are discussing organized groups here and not ear grubs and the like. So, how weak are they? They are not particularly hearty, 1-4 hp, not even 1HD. That’s rather fragile, by all accounts, and would also explain their high birthrate.
But they are not much weaker than your average 0-level human.
What they are is dexterous, fleet of foot; you would be too if you were the wiping boy of the underoerth.
They aren’t stupid, either, always noted to be of average intelligence (8-10). They may not be genius, but they are smart as the average 0-level human.
But they are seen as stupid, are they? Only the foolish would believe it.
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. [MM2e]
Cowardly? Don't you believe that for an instant. What they are is tenacious tinkerers. They persevere. Despite their supposed weakness.
Sadistic? Maybe. Most likely.

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 nor taken seriously. This is often a fatal mistake, for what they lack in sire and strength they make up in ferocity and tenacity. [MM2e]

That’s fairly vague. One requires a picture to truly describe them. They’re described as scaly, and smelling like damp dogs, and in early days they were always described as being so—maybe not in text, but certainly around the table—although the artwork begs to differ. In the picture panels, they might look somewhat canine, but they really look draconic, or reptilian, at the very least.

That’s barely more than what was written in the AD&D Monster Manual:
The hide of kobolds runs from very dark rusty brown to a rusty black. They have no hair. Their eyes are reddish and their small horns are tan to white. They favor red or orange garb. Kobolds live for up to 135 years. [MM1e]
That’s long-lived by most reckoning, considering their high birth rate, which usually indicates a need to replenish their numbers quickly.
30-300 eggs. [MM1e]

KoboIds are egg-laying creatures. They mature quickly and can live to be "great wyrms" more than a century old. However, many kobolds perish before they reach the end of their first decade. Physically weak, they are easy prey for predators. This vulnerability forces them to band together. Their superior numbers can win battles against powerful adversaries, but often with massive casualties on the kobold side. [MM5e] 

How then, are they so long lived? Because they are reptilian? Cold-blooded? That’s unlikely, considering how many climates they infest. Might it be because they are intelligent, tribal, and cooperative, that they are duty-driven, and rabidly devoted to the survival of their tribe; willing to sacrifice their very lives to ensure the survival of their kin? Might their longevity be owed to that?
The society of these creatures is tribal with war bonds based on gens. The stronger tribes rule weaker ones. Kobolds are usually found in dank, dark places such as dismal overgrown forests or subterranean settings. They hate bright sunlight, not being able to see well in it, but their night vision is excellent, and they have infra-red vision which operates well up to 60'. If they are in bright sunlight they have a lesser chance to fight well (-1 from dice rolls to hit opponents). [MM1e] 

They do not seem particularly adept at metallurgy.
A force of kobolds is typically equipped as follows:
5%          short sword and javelin
10%        short sword and spear
10%        short sword
20%        axe
30%        spiked wooden club
15%        javelins (2-3)
10%        spear
 Chief and guard types always have the best available weapons. All kobold shields are of wood or wickerwork.
[MM1e]

Swords are likely pillaged from raids and ambushes, where javelins and spears and axes would be crafted from stick and stone.

3e Kobold
3rd Edition gets a little more specific:
Kobolds are short, reptilian humanoids with cowardly and sadistic tendencies.
A kobold’s scaly skin ranges from dark rusty brown to a rusty black color. [This might be the first time they are specifically referred to as reptilian.] It has glowing red eyes. Its tail is nonprehensile. Kobolds wear ragged clothing, favoring red and orange.
Kobolds usually consume plants or animals but are not averse to eating intelligent beings. They spend most of their time fortifying the land around their lairs with traps and warning devices (such as spiked pits, tripwires attached to crossbows, and other mechanical contraptions).
Kobolds hate almost every other sort of humanoid or fey, especially gnomes and sprites. A kobold is 2 to 2-1/2 feet tall and weighs 35 to 45 pounds. [MM3e]

—Special Qualities (see above): Light sensitivity.
—Automatic Languages: Draconic. Bonus Languages: Common, Undercommon.
—Favored Class: Sorcerer.
They are Draconic.
[MM3e]
They are also noted as reptilian and humanoid.

4e Kobolds
This is not to say that they are homogenous. Indeed, they are an old species; a very old species, indeed. They’ve evolved into an abundance of types: there are mountain varieties, swamp and forest and arctic, evolved and adapted to every climate imaginable. And they evolved biological castes: minions, skirmishers, slingers, dragonshields, wyrmpriests, and slyblades. [MM4e]
And urds.

Urd
A few koboIds are born with leathery wings and can fly. Known as urds, they like to lurk on high ledges and drop rocks on passersby. Although the urds' wings are seen as gifts from Tiamat, the dragon Queen, wingless kobolds are envious of those gifts and don't get along with the urds. [MM5e]

Urds are distant relatives of kobolds. Three feet tall, with short ivory horns. their bodies are frail and covered with mottled yellow to brick red scaler. Their leathery, batlike wings span 8 feet.
Urds have 60-foot infravision and prefer to hunt at night, dropping jagged stones (2-3 pounds each) from the air. Unsuspecting victims are AC 10 for the attack roll. Actively dodging opponents are considered AC 2 before modifications to Dexterity. Rocks cause 2d4 points of damage. Some urds (25%) carry light spears (1d4 damage).
A band of 20 urds is accompanied by a subchieftain (AC 7, 7 hp). Urd flocks of 100 or more include the chieftain (10 hp, 50% have magical leather armor). Urd lairs contain ld6 shamans able to speak with bats as per speak with animals. Urd life spans can exceed 100 years, but they rarely live past 50. [MM2e]

Despite their diversity, they are primarily subterranean.
Kobolds live in dark places, usually underground locations and overgrown forests. They are good miners and often live in the mines they are developing. A kobold tribe sends out warbands that patrol within a 10-mile radius from the lair, attacking any intelligent creatures that enter their territory. Kobolds usually kill prisoners for food but occasionally sell some of them as slaves. Their nasty habits and their distrust of most other beings mean that they have many enemies.
A kobold lair has one noncombatant child and one egg per ten adults.
The patron deity of the kobolds is Kurtulmak, who despises all living creatures except kobolds. [MM3e]

Cautious, Calculating, Cunning
The stronger races might describe them as cowardly; and to the strong, they would certainly seem so; but in truth, they are only smaller and weaker, and thus more cautious, and calculating. They would have to be, or they would have been wiped of the face of the oerth long ago. Why should they attack a stronger foe on anything other than their own terms?
Kobolds like to attack with overwhelming odds—at least two to one—or trickery; should the odds fall below this threshold, they usually flee. However, they attack gnomes on sight if their numbers are equal.
They begin a fight by slinging bullets, closing only when they can see that their foes have been weakened. Whenever they can, kobolds set up ambushes near trapped areas. They aim to drive enemies into the traps, where other kobolds wait to pour flaming oil over them, shoot them, or drop poisonous vermin onto them. [MM3e]

4e Kobold
One would, and should, expect small creatures to use terrain and lair design against their enemies. They would utilize pack tactics, luring their enemies down blind alleys, and yeah, into traps.
Kobolds make up for their physical ineptitude with a cleverness for trap making and tunneling. Their lairs consist of low tunnels through which they move easily but which hinder larger humanoids. Kobolds also riddle their lairs with traps. The most insidious kobold traps make use of natural hazards and other creatures. A trip wire might connect to a spring-loaded trap that hurls clay pots of flesheating green slime or flings crates of venomous giant centipedes at intruders. [MM5e]

One might be led to believe that their lairs are rife with traps. And set to be triggered by weight greater than their own.
This diminutive race also enjoys setting up concealed pits with spikes, crossbows, and other mechanical traps. They usually have view ports and murder holes near these traps so they can follow them up by pouring flaming oil, firing missile weapons or dropping poisonous insects on their victims. [MM2e]

I would also go so far as to suggest that kobolds would not make it easy for the larger folk to get around in their liars. I envision 3’ high tunnels, no wider than 2’, with pinch points and crawlspaces fortifying entrances to key places, and gates set to drop fore and aft of invaders in these tight spots, with only “temples” and “palaces” being “vast” and “spacious.”
No, on second thought, they would excavate neat 10’x10’ passages. That’s standard in every manual. And they are a Lawful bunch, aren't they?

They also seek the protection of other, stronger species. This is never an equitable relationship. The kobolds are always of lesser status, inevitably servile; but living in the shadow of such powerful beings affords protection, and what’s a little grovelling if the tribe is safe and secure?
Those beings are usually reptilian, in one aspect or another. Like nagas:
Nagas often work closely with yuan-ti, guarding their vaults and temples. A lone naga sometimes rules a primitive tribe of kobolds, lizardfolk, or troglodytes who regard it as a god. [MM4e]

And they most certainly, preferentially, seek out dragons:
Kobolds often dwell near a dragon’s lair, maintaining a safe distance but bringing sacrificial offerings to their “god.” Most dragons ignore kobolds, as a crocodile ignores the birds that pick its teeth clean. Once in a great while, however, a young dragon takes an interest in its kobold cult, which then becomes a real menace to the dragon’s enemies. [MM4e] 

Kobolds are craven reptilian humanoids that worship evil dragons as demigods and serve them as minions and toadies. Kobolds inhabit dragons' lairs when they can but more commonly infest dungeons, gathering treasures and trinkets to add to their own tiny hoards. [MM5e] 

KOBOLDS REVERE DRAGONS and tend to dwell in and around places where dragons are known to lair. They skulk in the darkness, hiding from stronger foes and swarming to overwhelm weaker ones. Kobolds are cowardly and usually flee once bloodied unless a strong leader is present.
Kobolds like to set traps and ambushes. If they can’t get their enemies to walk into a trap, they try to sneak up as close as they can and then attack in a sudden rush. [MM4e] 

Kobolds are skilled at making traps, which they use to capture prey and to acquire sacrifices for their dragon lords. [MM4e] 

Kobolds infest the lairs of many black dragons like vermin. They become as cruel as their dark masters, often torturing and weakening captives with centipede bites and scorpion stings before delivering them to sate the dragon's hunger. [MM5e] 

Green dragons accept the servitude of sentient creatures such as goblinoids, ettercaps, ettins, kobolds, orcs, and yuan-ti. They also delight in corrupting and bending elves to their will. A green dragon sometimes wracks its minions' minds with fear to the point of insanity, with the fog that spreads throughout its forest reflecting those minions' tortured dreams. [MM5e] 

The only creatures that typically serve a white dragon are intelligent humanoids that demonstrate enough strength to assuage the dragon's wrath, and can put up with sustaining regular losses as a result of its hunger. This includes dragon-worshiping kobolds, which are commonly found in their lairs. [MM5e] 

In addition to the dragons they revere, kobolds worship a lesser god named Kurtulmak. Legends speak of how Kurtulmak served as Tiamat's vassal in the Nine Hells until Garl Glittergold, the god of gnomes, stole a trinket from the Dragon Queen's hoard. Tiamat sent Kurtulmak to retrieve the trinket, but Garl Glittergold played a trick on him, collapsing the earth and trapping the kobold god in an underground maze for eternity. For this reason, kobolds hate gnomes and pranks of any kind. Kurtulmak's most devoted worshipers dedicate themselves to finding and releasing their lost god from his prison-maze. [MM5e] 

 

What have we learned about these supposedly low beasts?
Simply, that they are not beasts at all. They are artisans! True, they are not as bright as a great many other foes, but they make up for that with cleverness and guile.
And they are somewhat symbiotic to other “greater” reptilian beings. That makes them low HD, high level monsters. It is a very brave and foolhardy adventurer that would delve into their lair. Because he would surely not return. It matters not how may kobold he kills. There are always more. 

“The chief once asked me what kobold warriors could do to counter the tactics of adventurers. All I could come up with was, ‘Kill themselves to deprive the adventurers of the pleasure.’”
— Mokumok the Shaman
Dragon #342 (2006)

Mokumok the Shaman


 



One must always give credit where credit is due. This post is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them. 

The Art:
Kobold illustration, from 1e Monster Manual, by David C. Sutherland III (?), 1978, 1979
Kobold illustration, from 2e Monstrous Compendium, by Jim Holloway, 1978, 1979
Goblin illustration, from 1e Monster Manual , by D.A. Trampier, 1978, 1979
Garl Glittergold illustration, from 1e Deities & Demigods, by Jeff Dee, 1980
Kobold illustration, from 3e Monster Manual, by Anthony Waters (?), 2000
Kobolds illustration, from 4e Monster Manual, 2008
Kobold illustration, from 4e Monster Manual, 2008
Kurtulmak illustration, from 1e Deities & Demigods, by Erol Otus, 1980

 
Copyright:
The selected art is the sole property of the artist.
All source material presented within this post is owned and copyrighted by WotC, and Paizo.
The use of this material is not intended to challenge the rights of WotC and Paizo.
This document is fan content and presented solely for the personal use of those individuals who game within the Greyhawk Setting.

 
Sources:
1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
2009 Monster Manual, 1e, 1978, 1979
2013 Deities and Demigods 1e, 1980
2102 Monstrous Compendium, Volume 1, 2e, 1989
11552 Monster Manual, 3e, 2000
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazeteer, 2000
Deities and Demigods 3e, 2002
Monster Manual, 4e, 2008
Monster Manual, 5e, 2014
Dragon Magazine 342

  

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