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How to Run Kobolds

Snap. The tripwire releases and a blade swings, narrowly missing the group of adventurers. They instinctively dodge to either side. Click-click. The scout and knight freeze as sections of ground depress under their feet. Their eyes anxiously turn in hopes that the other has a plan. But neither has an answer. From several steps behind, the wizard watches on. He sees as poison darts shoot from concealed gaps and a sheet of sharpened spikes descends, wincing away to avoid witnessing his friends’ fate. Chills prickle his neck as another set of gloating sniggers shuffle in the darkness of the cave.

Finally, we come to our guide on planning and running kobolds. We have already done the same for goblins and released a list of kobold encounters, so its time to cover every other detail of the cunning critters. Our focus is on planning their dens, tactics, and relationships, as well as how that should all coalesce in your games. They should seem realistic and integrated into your world in ways that are fun and interesting for players and that set them apart from goblinoids and other races. Hopefully, this will contain everything you need to know.

If you’re looking for ways to apply everything we talk about, have a look at our ‘10 Kobold Encounters‘. Each one was written with the race’s character and traits in mind, making use of the many opportunities they give you.

Who Are They

To first begin planning how a race functions, we look at the concrete information. Official rulebooks of the most recent edition show the kobold as a small, lawful-evil humanoid. They are impressively dextrous, balanced by every other stat being below an average person’s. This means they are not durable and are individually weak and unintelligent, by human standards. Their speed also matches most player races, despite the size difference. Finally, kobolds have the Sunlight Sensitivity and Pack Tactics abilities, as well as darkvision. These are owed to their reptilian physiology and the tunnels in which they live.

We can then build from this. Their size and individual strength are similar to goblins, meaning that they too must rely on cunning and sheer numbers when against larger enemies. One of the differences is in their mental stats, where kobolds lag behind. This makes them less organized and less able to make snap judgments. They also do not wear armor and carry only basic weaponry, as that is not their focus. Similarly, kobolds lack the goblins’ affinity for stealth. This might make them seem like dumber, less stealthy goblins, which is why the key difference is in their behavior and tactics. But more on that later. Finally, a lawful-evil alignment means that kobolds will act for the good of their den community without much regard for others, though not pushing that to the point of malice. It is in these dens that kobolds become cleverer, craftier, and more dangerous.

The combination of their stats and abilities is what leads to the way that kobolds are often played: as non-dangerous, somewhat inept goofballs. Their less insidious and violent nature makes them a better fit for humor and jokes than goblins, which can lead to wonderfully creative encounters. But sometimes you want them to be deadly. This is where we bring in something that a simple statblock does not cover: kobolds are expert trappers. They possess an innate aptitude for tricks and traps of all kinds, which they will use in both offense and defense. This skill feeds into and makes up for their physical ineptitude to give you more options for using them.

Lastly, kobolds are written as worshippers and minions of evil dragons. This, along with a love for shiny things, is a great start for later working out a den’s motivations in an encounter. But it can also be very limiting. We will cover kobolds that worship a particular being but will also expand it beyond just dragons and to those that don’t worship anything. This should help give more opportunities for encounter design, as well as helping to see them as more than just minions to a greater threat.

These are only the basics of what to know of the race. From here, you are able to begin creating your own groups and dens and planning more minutely how they act. Try to maintain these factors as you move forward to ensure the realism and cohesion of your dens. Each step in planning should relate back to and build upon these basics.

Out of Combat

The next step is to take the information from the statblocks and any other knowledge of kobolds and use that to plan them in your own game. We will begin with the design of the dens themselves, and how the kobolds act, before covering how to translate it all into combat. This allows you to understand the reasons behind the kobolds’ actions before they make them. Keep their motivations in mind, as their work for the survival and betterment of the den should be visible in their actions. Operating in groups also grants kobolds strength beyond what their statblock can show.

The Den Itself

We mentioned it above, but perhaps the most important aspect to remember for kobolds is the difference between a kobold and a kobold den. This seems obvious at first, but kobolds acting in groups become exponentially more deadly. An individual might be dumb, but a den is not. Working as a group not only grants them Pack Tactics but also translates into the collective intelligence that grants their proclivity for traps. This is not only a strength of the dens but also a reason for them.

The makeup of the den itself will fall under two categories: an established den or a dungeon. The former is the home of the kobolds, filled with their non-combatants, supplies, and living areas. It is the equivalent of a kobold town. The latter is an area that the kobolds are not established in. This will usually be a forward camp, set in a dungeon or cave that they have more recently moved into and primarily occupied by fighters and trappers. It is the more likely location for an encounter or delve, and will feature a denser presence of traps and other dangers.

Dwarven Hermitage Dungeon Map, Color
Maps like the Dwarven Hermitage are great starting points to build a den from. You can find the map here, and keep reading for more ideas and resources…

Most often, a den will include both of these. The trapped dungeon tunnels will act as defenses to a deeper, established den. This is the format that we will cover them in. If you wish to separate the two and use only combative kobolds in a dungeon delve, you can do just that: place the fighter units and their necessary tunnels and rooms, leaving out the unnecessary groups. You may wish to show the first steps of establishing a den, efforts made to reach a goal further in the dungeon, or tunnels that connect to their den some distance away. These all work to explain why the kobolds are there and develop them beyond ‘enemy unit #45’.

Basic Structure

The specifics of which rooms and inhabitants you include in your kobold den will depend on its purpose, theme, and possible leader or idol. Before we cover that, we will go over the general design and needs of a den. In essence, a kobold den is a network of caves that the kobolds have made their home in. Kobolds are subterranean scavengers, so they will choose areas that are abandoned or that allow the den to coexist with other residents and build their tunnels from there. They lack military ability and are not nomadic, making it important for them to avoid being under constant threat. Once they have a den, they will hold on to it.

When planning these dens, we find it best to start with the pre-existing location. Map out the dungeon or cave prior to the den’s presence, then move on to the next step of plotting their den’s tunnels. After that would come any traps and other additions they make. This helps your map appear and feel realistic, displaying the divide between the original structure and the den, as well as the kobolds’ growing control.

Kobolds that have a dungeon or cave under their control will add to the structure with interconnecting tunnels. These will be large enough for them to move through but too small for medium-sized creatures. The tunnels will connect in a confusing web that requires familiarity to navigate. This will allow for hidden patrols and ambushes, behind the scenes work on traps, as well as limiting access to important areas of the den’s center. Some will connect rooms for quicker movement, while others will run alongside a hallway to provide archer windows. Ideally, kobolds would never have to move through the preexisting tunnels and risk setting off their own traps.

When plotting your den’s rooms, think of basic goals that any race might share. The kobolds will seek to protect their den-mates and children, so it is unlikely that those individuals would be close to the tunnel entrances. Instead, their homes, eating areas, and places of worship should exist towards the back of the caverns. Keep in mind that most kobolds will only loosely follow a humanoid familial structure. They may mate for life, but dens’ layouts do not allow for individual huts for each family. Communal resting areas will be protected by the tunnels that connect to the dungeon or surface, where traps will be most frequent. To put it simply, anything worth protecting will be deeper in and harder to access. Finally, Include some extra tunnels for any hunters leaving the den or even in the case of an evacuation.

Traps are hugely important for kobolds and their homes. While they do relate to the construction of the den, they are primarily combat-focused. This means we will cover them later when we get to kobold battle tactics.

Dungeons, sewers, and larger cave systems are great places for kobolds to build their dens from…

Gods, Leaders, and Residents

With an understanding of the general layout and function of a den, it comes time to populate it. This leadership is hugely important for encounters, as they tend to be the origins of any gimmick or unique twist. They are also who the players will be interacting with. You should have a clear picture of their character and influence on the rest of the population, who will be broken into relevant groups. Balance your planning efforts around the order of importance for players to save you from wasting time or effort on details that will be missed.

An Influential Figure

Like many other groups, kobold dens will often form around a single, influential leader. They also have the aforementioned propensity for worshipping dragons and other great reptiles. The effects that these individuals have on the den should be added either in the initial planning or once the den is set up, depending on when in the story this leadership came about. Either way, it is important for this influence to be seen.

The most obvious example of this is a den coexisting with a dragon or beast. In this case, the kobolds will most likely live within the creature’s existing home and reflect its morality and ideals. Plan this space out first, with thought for the creature’s wants and needs. A dragon’s lair will tend to be thematically tied to the type of dragon but may include a sleeping area, somewhere to eat, and of course its hoard. By contrast, a giant snake’s burrow will usually be a single chamber with one or more tunnels leading out. If you’re struggling to plan this out, look at real-life examples or simply think of three things the creature would need to survive, and have your map accommodate them.

Once you have this space, plan the kobold den as a modification to it, the same as with dungeons. Dig new tunnels and create areas for the kobolds themselves, as well as planting traps that will protect the den and beast. Again, this will depend on the specific beast chosen. Think about what the two parties have to gain from each other and how they work together.

Displaying the existence of a kobold leader will tend to be more subtle. Aside from their own chamber that densely displays their character, their decisions should be shown in changes made to a regular den. This makes it important to limit the leader and encounter to a core idea or gimmick, like in our Kobold Encounters 6 and 8. Try to avoid overcomplicating your job and making it unclear for players. Take this idea and spread it through the den however you can, whether it be modifying their traps and strategies, or in murals, shrines, and other evidence for players to find. It can start sparse but your ultimate goal is for players to be able to figure out most of what is happening before they encounter the leader. This allows them to plan intelligently or can help set up a subversion like in Encounter 6.

These points all go doubly for kobolds worshipping a particular creature. You should use both of these strategies, in this case, thinking about how kobolds would worship and protect what they believe to be a god literally living amongst them. The ‘god’ would also have command over the kobolds, depending on its own intelligence. How does it use them? How do they view it? What does their worship entail? A powerful entity might even reward them for their service by granting them abilities similar to its own.

Snake Den RPG Battle Map - Featured Image
Our Snake Den battle map is one example of how kobolds might take over a snake’s burrow. It was originally a nest for the serpent, before its death. A small den can now use the tunnels it had dug and even the snake’s skeleton to fortify their central chamber. You can find it here, and consider including extra, hidden tunnels for the kobolds.

A Populated Pit

Kobold dens are significantly less structured and militant than goblin clans. Despite their lower intelligence, they function more like a human society and with less focus on combat readiness. The residents of a den will still be assigned general roles, though these will rarely be as strict or caste-like as goblins. Once again, these may also vary depending on a den’s leadership, capabilities, and resources. Think about what they would need and what is feasible for them to accomplish.

We find it best to start with the kobolds that players are most likely to interact with in some way. The most physically capable of them will be their fighters, trappers, and scavengers. These units will act as guards and patrols within the front-most tunnels. Kobolds rarely train in the same way as other races, so the only dedicated space they require is a resting area between the main den and defense tunnels. Their weapons are light and basic, not requiring much storage space, and the creation of new gadgets and traps will usually fall to the next group. Scavengers will need a room for offloading, within the den’s protection, before items are sorted to other groups or into the hoard. They may spend their days patrolling if the den has intelligent leadership, or otherwise seeking prey to lure into traps.

The reason for separating fighters, trappers, and scavengers from each other is to show a level of basic organization learned from their limitations. Kobolds are not strong, so carrying the necessary weapons, materials, and bags to fulfill all three jobs is unviable. Fighters will be the most common, as a patrolling group may only require a single scavenger. Trappers are only needed to reset or repair traps and would need to carry the most supplies. All of this allows for a more interesting combat structure, as a scavenger can rush to a player’s loose belongings while others distract them. Similarly, you can vary your creature descriptions to avoid them becoming repetitive while also helping inform players. It enhances realism and shows the kobolds’ preparedness.

Bandic Camp Assets and Battle Map, Preview
Kobolds will not have entire structures within their dens but they will have whatever they have stolen. Our Bandit Camp Assets are great for decorating dens with ill-gotten tents and materials. You can find all 71 assets here.

Bridging the gap between combatants and non-combatants is what we call ‘specialists’. These are the kobolds that have a special role within the den that directly supports the combat units. The most basic are the tinkerers and tamers. Tinkerers are the kobold masterminds behind their gadgets and traps, responsible for developing new technologies. Tamers are, as the name suggests, kobolds tasked with taming and breeding their various beasts. These could be intended for food or as part of traps. Both of these examples would need separate stations, closer to the fighters than living quarters, owing to the inherent risks of their work. Socially, while they may not possess a higher ‘rank’, they would be treated with importance (though not everyone may like them).

Adding other specialists is a great way to differentiate a den and emphasize its theme. A shaman or draconic priest might act as a prophet to their god, setting up a central worship chamber and living with or close to the beast itself. The kobolds from our Encounter 9 might have a director, living in a room of stolen mirrors, costumes, and theatre supplies. Use these specialists like goblin lieutenants to add unique character to your dens.

Finally, you have the rest of the population, essentially boiling down to every role that we have not already covered. Many of the skills required will be shared by almost all of the kobolds so you do not need to divide them into specific groups. These will include tunneling, any farming that the environment allows, and tending to and training children. Simply set aside areas for these, making up much of the central den. Tunnelers will need basic storage and tools kept near where they are working, while farmers should have an open, controlled environment to harvest mushrooms, moss, and whatever else they can get their claws on. Children are naturally hard to contain but will be kept in the safest corner of the den, where there should be evidence of their teaching.

The Outside World

Kobolds’ impact on the world around them is much less direct than goblin clans. We can see this from their goals, morality, and defensive and often insular nature. They do not go out and hunt or ambush passersby and will certainly not raid villages. But that does not mean that their presence is not recognized. Rather, information about them will come down to reputation or knowledge of where not to tread, rather than direct threat or confrontation.

Unlike goblins, kobolds can have very little impact on the surrounding landscape. Not only do they remain almost exclusively underground, but they also prefer to scavenge and thieve for supplies rather than industriously logging or mining. The efficiency of their traps relies on people not being immediately aware of them, so this may even extend to hiding their presence entirely. Doing this helps a den to remain unnoticed until they can establish a greater foothold and claim the territory. Once they have, the threat of their defenses serves to dissuade attackers and prey on the unaware.

Reputations and Reactions

The party’s first source of information for an encounter will often come from a nearby character or town. This could come down to those that simply know about the kobolds and those that have faced them. The former will encompass most regular people, as kobolds will not directly interact with nearby towns. General townsfolk might know that a den has moved into a cave or ruin but will lack specific knowledge. They will also rarely feel threatened, treating the den as a nuisance and something to be avoided. Don’t mess with them and they won’t mess with you. People in this group will rarely seek the den’s destruction, as they do not see the kobolds as outwardly dangerous or evil. They may even argue against it, to prevent the possibility of the den striking back or moving to a worse location.

Mercantile Tokens, rpg virtual table top
The most common effect of a nearby den is thefts from stores and caravans, which can lead to growing frustrations and hostilities. Be sure to show these effects, especially through loot within the den. Our Mercantile Tokens are great for this and can be found here.

The latter group will, of course, have more information. Interaction with them should show more of the true danger in a den, though you may wish to limit their knowledge depending on how much you want the party knowing. The number of these characters should likewise be limited, most likely to whichever poor soul(s) discovered the den and informed the rest, or perhaps a group seeking to access the dungeon. This changes if the kobolds are stealing from a town or if their den’s location is an active problem (in the sewers, stolen land, etc.). They will still see them as an annoyance or pest, though one that is dangerous to approach. This means they will seek out help in removing the den, most likely leading to the party’s involvement.

This all changes if a ‘god’ or certain leader is present. As we discussed, these individuals tend to change the entire den around them and shape them in their image. This can lead to them being more violent or confident, with their reputation shifting to center on the leader themself. This is even more important for dragons and other great beasts, as their threat to nearby people dwarfs the kobolds’. In this case, focus more on the creature itself with the den as an additional danger. Unfortunately, the specific details of all of these changes are hard to define, as they depend on the leader. Consider how their actions and goals would make others view them, as well as how much of a reputation they have garnered, and build from there.

In Combat

By this point, you should hopefully be able to easily and effectively plan your entire kobold den. This brings us to how they will play out in your game, whether that be in combat or interactions. Each step should continue to link back to everything you have written thus far, to maintain cohesive realism and inform your players. We will begin with the different units and traps involved, before moving into a more direct explanation of how encounters will play out.

Pets and Unit Variation

When planning the units for a kobold encounter, it is important to realize two major differences between them and goblins: kobolds are not warriors and are rarely accompanied by other races. This links back to their prioritization of traps over direct attacks and means that most of your combat units will simply be basic kobolds. Most of your variation will come from the traps and their battlefield control. That said, there are ways to expand the kobolds’ roster without sacrificing what makes them special.

The first answer is to use the den’s pets. Kobolds, even those without an allied beast, will breed smaller vermin, reptiles, and insects for use in traps. They may have jars or cages hidden around the map or even carried with them, giving quick access to chaotic reinforcements. Swarms of bats, rats, insects, and poisonous snakes are fitting places to start. Dens with skilled tamers or that live alongside other beasts might then have larger versions, even up to giant poisonous/constrictor snakes or giant centipedes. Think about the animals present in the den’s region and try to stick to the theme of vermin, rodents, pests, and animals that can produce venom for the kobolds to use.

Jungle Temple RPG battle map, color
Try to keep your kobolds’ pets and abilities to a consistent theme and avoid randomness. A den set in our Jungle Temple, found here, might use a variety of poisons and plant magic, for example.

While it should rarely be the focus of kobolds, there are ways to expand the little reptiles themselves with new abilities. The simplest way is to just give them varied weapons and armor. This not only gives them additional options in combat but also helps each encounter feel different as their strategies change. Just keep in mind that the traps are still their priority. You can further this idea by having the den’s tinkerer provide them with different gadgets. You can find examples like caltrops in official rulebooks, or look at magical items and spells for inspiration. Basic formulae or single-use devices could replicate the effects of first and second-level spells. Coating their feet in adhesive could act like Spider Climb, while throwing a jar of it might catch opponents in a Web or Grease.

A more involved method is by adding to the kobolds’ physiology. Look at other reptiles and the abilities they possess and incorporate level-appropriate versions into your kobolds. We would advise not overwhelming yourself, so keep these additions simple and easy to track. Kobolds with wings don’t need anything beyond a flying speed that matches their regular speed, for example. You could reskin their dagger as a bite and add the venom of a poisonous snake, or give them a scorpion’s Sting. Perhaps some kobolds have become crazed and rabid, lashing out mindlessly but gaining the Blood Frenzy of a hunter shark or sahuagin. An allied dragon or ‘god’ beast could grant similar additions, as we mentioned, though try to keep these thematically similar to the creature itself.

Finally, you can always give them magic and other abilities. In addition to unique gimmicks like our Encounter 10, your kobolds might have limited access to player classes and abilities, such as those of the Dragonborn, a Rock Gnome’s Tinker, or the draconic sorcerer class. Use these sparingly and be sure to keep them thematically linked to the rest of the kobolds’ kit. A kobold sorcerer, for example, might have several levels in the sorcerer class. They would gain improved AC, limited metamagic, and a handful of fire, poison, and movement/stealth-based spells. You can do the same for a fighter, rogue, ranger, or even warlock. Just remember to adjust the necessary stats to make them useful. If you wish to avoid some of the minutiae, take the basic humanoid statblocks and adjust them as we did with our goblins, only with a kobold flavor.

As always, remember to balance around your players and encounter. The main reason we limit adding to the kobolds themselves is because the party will be facing a battle of attrition against traps. Having to also face powerful units can exponentially hike the encounter’s difficulty. Likewise, be sure to represent additional abilities in your visual descriptions. They can be as simple as robes and a component pouch or deftly twirling a dagger. This is to give players subtle hints and avoid them feeling duped.

Tricks, Traps, and Tucker

Finally, we come to the kobolds’ true specialty. Traps are where the race excels and where you get to use as much creativity and variety possible. They will form the basis of the kobolds’ movement and actions in combat, contributing far more danger and damage than the reptiles themselves. Much of this stems from an old editorial by Roger E. Moore that recounts his party’s attempts to face a particular den of kobolds, now referred to as ‘Tucker’s Kobolds’. We will not repeat the story itself but would advise finding an online copy as it’s a great read. Instead, we will focus on key points and what can be learned from Tucker and his kobolds.

The basic idea of Tucker’s kobolds is to challenge a powerful party and their henchmen with only the titular race. They did this by exerting total control of their level of the dungeon, covering every hallway and surface in different traps. The kobolds played it smart and safe, never facing the party directly. Instead, they herded them through fire, crossbow bolts, and dead-end pathways. They were like a den comprised entirely of Batman, prepared for any plan or action the party might try. This is how we elevate a basic creature beyond its challenge rating and force players to think about every move they make.

The Forgotten Crypt is another great setting for a den. The kobolds could use illusory ghosts or even carefully herded zombies. Find the map here.

This forms the basis for how your kobolds should approach combat. All of their resources will go into ensuring that the players can never even reach them to attack. Concentrate your traps and defenses in the dungeon tunnels that protect the den, with kobold patrols ready to react to trap triggers or sounds of movement. Their density and level of control can vary depending on how long the kobolds have been present. Keep in mind, though, that this setup is often their first priority in new territory. The longer a den has been present, the more opportunity they have to rig the dungeon and equip themselves.

Just like Tucker’s, your kobolds should also be involved in the traps. They can use them for cover, grant intelligence to their timing, or simply shoot at the distracted party. We will cover this further as part of their tactics, but you should keep the kobolds’ actions in mind when designing and balancing your traps.

Types of Traps

The idea of using as many varied traps as possible is easy to understand. It ensures they do not become predictable and avoids an encounter or delve feeling repetitive. But it can also lead to a rapid burnout of ideas. So how do you come up with which traps to use? We find the easiest way to find inspiration is by breaking the traps down into several factors and using each as a springboard for development. When one avenue dries up, try approaching from another angle and see if something new comes to you.

Perhaps the most basic is simply stepping back and looking at what the kobolds have access to. What resources does their environment provide? Do they have pets to incorporate? Have they taken anything from previous victims? An example of this is wood. Mountain, desert, or deeply subterranean dens are unlikely to have direct access to wood but they may have managed to secure carts and carriages from other travelers, giving them a limited supply. They might use it sparingly and avoid burning or breaking it. By contrast, a forest den can easily create smoke traps. What they will have easy access to are stone and soil. This can shift their focus from punji sticks and javelins to collapsable tiles, falling stones, and manufactured cave-ins. Adding in tamed snakes can create a classic ‘fake floor covering a 30-foot drop into a snake pit’ trap.

Remember to think about these factors realistically and in a timeline. The kobolds didn’t simply appear in the dungeon when the party opened the door. They may have taken it from another faction or a group of explorers, acquiring their belongings in the process. In the story of Tucker’s kobolds, the dungeon was multi-tiered and had more dangerous monsters deeper in. The kobolds knew this and forced the party to descend further, only to have to fight their way back up. Likewise, consider byproducts of the kobolds’ pets. A snake’s venom can allow for poisoned darts, water sources, or gases. It might be gross, but kobolds are not above fermenting their pets’ waste to create noxious, flammable gas. Fill a locked hallway with it and wait for your wizard to panic-Fireball.

Treasure Hoard RPG Map Assets, Preview
A successful kobold den is likely to have a hoard chamber. They also might know that the sight of loot disables adventurer’s brains, making it an ideal bait for traps. Download our Treasure Assets here and watch your players mindlessly rush to dig through it.

Another avenue of inspiration is to look at the dungeon and tunnels themselves. This is part of why we advise planning the rooms and halls prior to the kobolds’ presence. For a start, any good dungeon likely came with its own traps. These might not be as dense but can allow you to break away from the kobolds’ technology and make use of blades, darts, and even magical runes. An established den might have then added to these with their own flavor.

Next, look at your map and consider where triggers can be hidden, then what those might result in. A torch sconce might be a weight that triggers a trap if the torch is removed, releasing flammable powder over the person now holding the lit torch? Giant spider webs might be the only support for a crumbling ceiling. Pulling a door open could trigger a trap on the other side, like a swinging log. Or maybe the door has multiple locks, all but one of which are actually hidden triggers? Disarming the tripwire of one trap could even set off a secondary trap behind the player. Be as creative as you like, while keeping it realistic and fair. If you involve magic, your options are almost limitless!

We cannot stress enough that your traps still need to be fair and balanced. The first room of a dungeon should not be a TPK and players should always have the opportunity to discover and navigate around traps. Half the fun is having the party know that there are traps, but not where or what they are. The damage they deal should likewise be staggered. Your kobolds might wish to kill the party but that should not be your goal. Ultimately, the aim is always to have fun.

Battle Strategy

The reason that we put our explanation of the traps before the turn-by-turn battle strategy is because they make up most of the kobolds’ tactics. A kobold den acts more like one long, continuous encounter, in contrast to a quick goblin ambush or attack. Your players will spend most of their time dealing with traps while the kobolds act in the background striking opportunistically. This makes it more important to understand their intentions and capabilities than defined actions.

Cave Tunnels battle map tiles, demonstration
The kobold tunnels can be kept simple, as they are utilitarian and mostly hidden. Our tiling Cave Tunnels are perfect and are found here.

Kobolds will use their parallel tunnels to stalk intruders. When their prey is distracted, they will release a volley of arrows and then immediately use their movement to escape back into cover. They have no stealth advantage or Nimble Escape, meaning they are not suited to repeat attacks. This is why they use narrow openings in walls, attached to small-sized tunnels, to leave the fight rather than taking the hide action. They will, however, attempt to hide between volleys as a way to gain advantage on the next shot.

Timing is hugely important for the kobolds’ attacks. Their dungeons and dens allow them to follow targets and wait for key moments to strike. These will be when the party is in a trap or fighting another group. Attacking when the players are preoccupied ensures that the party’s actions are already taken up by dealing with another foe or obstacle. This minimizes the risk of them retaliating against the kobolds. They will likewise attempt to divide the party and sow chaos for the same reason. These tactics also provide extra ways for the kobolds to gain advantage, by targeting restrained or blinded enemies or those already in a fight to make use of Pack Tactics. This, along with general damage and debilitating venoms, is a key reason for them to use disposable pets.

It is a common temptation to use kobolds and similar humanoids as cannon fodder for players but your tactics should be built on what the creatures themselves are thinking. Kobolds are not brave or courageous. At some point, the party is likely to attack them back, break into their tunnels, or otherwise retaliate. This is when the kobolds will retreat entirely and regroup. One might cover the others’ escape by triggering traps or slowing the party. If an individual is about to die, a group might distract the attackers to exfiltrate their ally before fleeing. Or they may just leave them behind. Ultimately, despite their fragile hit points, kobolds will rarely fight to the death. They do not possess the strategy or command structure of goblins and hobgoblins, nor the battle-hardened willingness to sacrifice troops.

Much of this can change when kobolds are in smaller groups, out of their dens, or simply when directly engaged. Your strategy for these instances becomes much more dependent on context. Our general advice would be to shift your focus onto the characters of the kobolds, whether they be goofy, cunning, prideful, or cowardly. These fights tend to lack the level of danger that dens possess and playing them to be more like character-driven interactions helps to fill that gap.

Conversation and Negotiation

Encounters rarely consist entirely of combat. There will come moments when players or other characters must speak with the kobolds. As with any other race, this is where you must know the den’s motivations and goals. Fortunately, the nature of kobolds and their lack of allied races makes this simpler than goblins. Kobold dens will work to protect and build their den, with little regard for anything else, only deviating for thieves with a love for shiny things. This can be a blessing and a curse for negotiations.

As always, do what you can to reduce the number of faces for players to remember. This might mean making use of a single leader or one figurehead for each viewpoint or group within the encounter. Dens formed around a dragon or intelligent beast might mean interaction with the creature itself, or a prophet or shaman that speaks on its behalf. The general purpose is to represent larger groups through a number of individuals that the party can remember and understand.

When it comes to a specific personality, keep your kobolds’ mental stats and alignment in mind. Their singular focus and lack of adaptability can make them particularly stubborn and ill-suited for nuanced discussion. This is worsened by them not being nomadic, meaning that attempts to coerce them into moving are unlikely to work. Ultimately, they are simply not built to be negotiated with, whether by players or other characters. Doing so can lead to frustration, further adding to the aforementioned ‘don’t mess with them and they won’t mess with you’ attitude that many nearby towns will tend to adopt.

Fortunately, this can all make playing kobolds a lot more fun. They are not especially smart and have no wish to conquer or dominate, which gives us the freedom to play into the fun and goofy side of them rather than making them deep, complex villains. This works especially well when kobolds are in smaller groups and outside of their dens, as these encounters are unlikely to be attached to a hallway of trap-based slaughter. They will focus more on characters. You can play into kobolds’ confident dimwittedness and contrasting cunning for some very enjoyable moments. Remember that your players will always be smarter than the kobolds, but that does not mean that the kobolds believe the players are smarter. Just be sure to balance this inside of dens, depending on how much you want to focus on jokes versus danger.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our ‘How to Run Goblins‘. We cover similar topics, from the structure and strategies of their clans to their step-by-step actions in combat.

What’s Next

That brings us to the end of our coverage of goblins and kobolds. You should now be ready to run kobold dens, adding extra flavor or gimmicks as you see fit. What have you thought of it? We hope it has succeeded in showing some fantastic and distinct ways to use the two races, as well as how to go about it. Our next written release will be the combined PDF of all these articles, packaged for ease-of-use and with some added extras (bonus statblocks and a section on streamlining and enhancing the mechanics of dens). While we put it together, we’d love to hear any feedback or opinions you have. Did you find the articles useful? Do you have anything to add? How have you used goblins and kobolds in your own games?

If you’d like early previews of our articles and PDFs, you might consider supporting my Patreon. Any support is appreciated and I always strive to make it worth your while!

Don’t let yourself be trapped by a lack of resources. Have a look at our other articles and gallery, before it’s too late…

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