Kobolds have been a part of Dungeons & Dragons since before D&D was even called D&D.
These diminutive little monsters (based on fairy-like household spirits from German folklore) were a part of the original fantasy supplement that Dungeons & Dragons’ creator Gary Gygax wrote for the medieval wargame Chainmail.
Aside from goblins, Kobolds are probably the most iconic low-level enemy in the game, and many players’ debut adventure (including mine, now that I think about it) involved wading through a pack of the scaly little buggers to get their first taste of victory (and treasure, of course).
In Dungeons & Dragons 5e, Kobolds remain among the list of classic low-level bad guys (alongside skeletons, mimics, goblins, and the evergreen gelatinous cube).
However, thanks to Volo’s Guide to Monsters – which introduced rules for turning goblins, orcs, bugbears, and other “monstrous races” into playable characters – you can now play D&D 5e as a Kobold.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at Kobolds as a species, as well as their history, the mechanical benefits and drawbacks of playing one, and which classes the humble Kobold is best suited to.
You can jump to any of those sections using the table of contents below, or just dive right in with a short note on why I freaking love Kobolds so dang much.
In Defense of the Humble Kobold
Ok, if I told you that Kobolds might be one of my favorite D&D monsters, you’d probably think I was having a laugh. Kobolds – if you don’t know – are stumpy, selfish little dragon folk known for being second only to the goblin as a low-level punching bag.
The 5e Monster Manual calls them “craven reptilian humanoids that worship evil dragons as demigods and serve them as minions and toadies.”
Born into the dark, far beneath the earth, your average Kobold has to contend with an existence pretty close to the bottom of the food chain, cursed with the prospect of a few years scratching out a bleak existence in a cramped tunnel complex before being unceremoniously skewered by a passing adventurer.
However, Kobolds aren’t the sort of creatures to take a raw deal lying down. Adversity has turned them into some of the most cunning and resourceful creatures in D&D.
Too small to defend yourself? Gather in vast colonies deep beneath the earth. Too weak to take on even the lowest level adventurer? Festoon every tunnel, doorway, and cave with deadly, ingenious, maddening traps.
Constantly underestimated by just about any wandering monster, carnivorous beast, or bloodthirsty adventuring party that comes across them, Kobolds have grown adaptable, dangerous, and more than capable of giving any threat that’s foolish enough to enter their territory a nasty surprise.
“NOOOOOO!!!” screamed the party leader. “It’s THEM. Run!!!”
In 1987, the editor of Dragon Magazine, Roger E. Moore, published a short article titled “Tucker’s Kobolds”, detailing the way in which a friend of his turned CR ⅛ fireball fodder into the most dreaded foes in all of his high-level campaign.
If you’re a DM looking to put Kobolds into your game, or a player thinking about making a Kobold character, I urge you to read the article in full.
From ingenious traps, murder holes, secret tunnels, and snipers, to piles of flaming debris, Tucker’s Kobolds are a masterclass in how a little ingenuity and a home-turf advantage can turn weaklings and underdogs into the meanest little bastards imaginable. It’s some real inspiring stuff.
To play a Kobold – a species which other sentient races in the world of D&D seem to treat as some kind of sub-humanoid pest, and any carnivore regards as a viable food source – is definitely an interesting challenge from both a roleplaying and mechanical perspective.
Let’s dive into the Kobold’s racial abilities and abilities.
Breakdown: Kobold Racial Abilities and Traits
From a game design point of view, Kobolds are an interesting anomaly in D&D 5e. While earlier editions of the game more commonly featured races with mechanical disadvantages baked in, in 5e, the drawbacks inherent to playing a particular species (like Tieflings) are usually handled narratively.
Kobolds and Orcs (also introduced as part of Volo’s Guide to Monsters) are the only races in 5e with inherent ability score disadvantages as well as bonuses. The trade-off, for Kobolds at least, is that they also get some of the most potent mechanical advantages in the game, which make them a challenging but interesting option to play.
Source: Volo’s Guide to Monsters
Ability Score Increase: Your Dexterity score increases by 2, and your Strength score decreases by 2.
Age: Kobolds reach adulthood at age 6 and can live up to 120 years but rarely do so.
Alignment. Kobolds are fundamentally selfish, making them evil, but their reliance on the strength of their group makes them trend toward law.
Size: Kobolds are between 2 and 3 feet tall and weigh between 25 and 35 pounds. Your size is Small.
Speed: Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Darkvision: You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Grovel, Cower, and Beg: As an action on your turn, you can cower pathetically to distract nearby foes. Until the end of your next turn, your allies gain advantage on attack rolls against enemies within 10 feet of you that can see you. Once you use this trait, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
Pack Tactics: You have advantage on an attack roll against a creature if at least one of your allies is within 5 feet of the creature and the ally isn’t incapacitated.
Sunlight Sensitivity: You have disadvantage on attack rolls and on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight when you, the target of your attack, or whatever you are trying to perceive is in direct sunlight.
Languages: You can speak, read, and write Common and Draconic.
Let’s talk about the drawbacks first. A lifetime underground has given the Kobold (like the Drow) sunlight sensitivity – although you get darkvision as a trade-off.
Now, unless you’re playing in a pretty unique campaign, it’s worth remembering that most encounters take place in dungeons, not traditionally known for their abundant sources of bright light.
Even if you have to spend a lot of time outside, lots of DMs tend towards being lenient in the face of creative solutions, from homemade sunglasses to a parasol.
While sunlight sensitivity can be an annoyance, it’s the Kobold’s -2 modifier to their Strength that’s the most obvious and impactful drawback. This disadvantage has the effect of driving Kobold builds in the direction of Dexterity-based classes, like Rogues.
You’re never going to be a particularly physically powerful adventurer, but if Kobolds are anything, it’s able to work with what they’ve got.
In exchange for their two potent debuffs, Kobolds not only get a meaty +2 bonus to Dexterity but also access to some unique abilities usually kept off the table for playable races.
First, your Grovel, Cower, and Beg ability is fantastic. Not only does it thematically play into the preconceived notions your enemies probably have about Kobolds, but it’s a powerful way to set up your allies to inflict a devastating flurry of attacks early on in combat.
However, it’s your Pack Tactics ability that really makes the Kobold a force to be reckoned with, especially if you’re playing a class that gets multiple attacks, like a Fighter or Paladin.
The ability to gain advantage on attack rolls just by dint of having an ally within 5ft of an enemy is incredibly powerful.
Playing a Kobold
When it comes to choosing a class for your Kobold character, anything with the potential to be Dexterity-based can be extremely powerful.
Because Pack Tactics require the character to make a weapon attack in order to get advantage, any class that gives you a fistful of weapon attacks is a viable option, making the Fighter the obvious choice.
A Kobold Fighter that uses ranged or finesse weapons (like a rapier or two daggers) can be a formidable melee combattant. Because of your high Dexterity, you may want to forgo Heavy Armor in favor of Medium Armor so you don’t incur disadvantage on stealth checks.
The other class that’s a contender for the highest number of melee weapon attacks per round, Monks are a fantastic Dexterity-focused class.
A level 5 Kobold Monk with an ally backing them up can burn a Ki Point to make an eye-watering four attacks at advantage every round, for near-guaranteed damage. I’m also convinced that this build is basically Yoda.
Because scoring a critical hit allows Paladins to roll double their dice when Smiting, giving yourself advantage through Pack Tactics is going to mean more critical hits and more smite damage as a result. Paladins traditionally choose Strength as their primary ability score, but Dexterity-based Paladins are absolutely viable.
Also, the idea of a Kobold Paladin is a fascinating idea. Were you taken in by an order of knights that slaughtered your people but couldn’t bear to kill a child? Are there orders of Kobold Paladins, sworn to serve as elite (but laughably unnecessary) bodyguards to their dragon queen?
One of the best ways to guarantee your Pack Tactics advantage is with a companion like a familiar or, in the case of the Beastmaster Ranger (or maybe the Swarmkeeper if your DM is willing), an animal companion. Choose an animal companion with Pack Tactics for even more rolls at advantage.
Rogues can get Sneak Attack in a few ways that often overlap with how you get advantage from Pack Tactics, which means you’re more likely to hit and apply more damage more often, which helps compensate for the fact that Rogues only get one attack per turn.
Roleplaying a Kobold is actually a lot like playing a Drow. They’re a species that’s commonly considered to be evil, and may struggle to overcome this perception in towns and cities.
A Kobold adventurer is likely to live life way outside of their comfort zone basically all the time, and the unique perspective you bring to an adventuring party can be a great source of drama, comedy, and unique solutions.
I think the most important thing is to embrace a Kobold’s propensity for lateral thinking. You probably never encountered a problem in your life that you could just brute force your way through, which means there’s a lot of potential for playing your character as a wily, underhanded survivor.
Set up traps to take enemies unawares, use your surroundings to your advantage, and make liberal use of your Grovel, Cower, and Beg ability to get the drop on your foes. Basically, make sure that underestimating you is the last mistake your opponents ever make.
Kobold culture centres around their (distant) draconic heritage, and they tend to have more lawful, structured societies than outsiders might expect.
Despite their small stature, Kobolds are dedicated workers and fierce opponents, at least when they’re able to work together. If left alone, Kobold societies tend to strive towards nothing more than living in peace, digging tunnels, and raising their young within their underground warrens.
Of course, their relationship with dragons, not to mention the threat of more powerful monsters, often makes that difficult.
One really interesting interpretation I’ve come across before is that Kobolds are a symptom of dragons. When a dragon takes up residence in an area, Kobolds just begin to appear in nearby caves and ruins, their population growing in proportion to the size and age of the dragon they serve.
In addition to dragon-worship (which often leads Kobold populations to genuflect before the altar of the queen of evil dragons, Tiamat) Kobolds also worship a lesser-known deity known as 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.”Monster Manual, page 142
A Kobold who has to learn to work alongside a prank-loving gnome is apparently all I want from my next campaign. Who knew?
The Kobold Look: Physical Appearance
Kobolds tend to stand about three feet tall, have long, snout-like faces somewhere between a dog and a monitor lizard, with scaly skin and red eyes that glow in torchlight like an alligator.
They tend towards being represented with reddish scales. However, dragons come in a dizzying array of colors (which speak to their alignment), so why can’t Kobolds?
You could even use draconic color alignments to inform your own Kobold’s personality; a green Kobold might be vicious and chaotic, whereas a brass Kobold might be curious and friendly.
Of course, overcoming your natural predilections is also a deep well of inspiration when it comes to deciding how to roleplay a Kobold.
Speaking of roleplaying, a lifetime at the bottom of the food chain makes pretty much all the Kobolds in my own games either incurably skittish or perpetually belligerent. They’re basically chihuahuas; either trembling in fear, trying to fight anything they perceive as a threat or some combination of the two.
Interestingly, Kobolds can live for a very long time – as long as 120 years, although the vast majority of them don’t make it that long.
A Kobold that reaches advanced age likely becomes much bigger than the average member of its species, growing into a “great wyrm” according to their entry in the Monster Manual, potentially even transforming into a creature that more closely resembles a dragon than a small, reptilian humanoid.
This would probably require tinkering around with a Kobold’s starting abilities using the Custom Lineage section from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything – although this means you lose access to the Kobold’s Pack Tactics and Grovel, Cower, and Beg features.
Because Kobolds are born from communally laid clutches of eggs, their culture has a unique conception of parenthood. As such, Kobold names are granted by the community or are something they choose themselves.
Because of their long snouts and forked, lizard-like tongues, Kobolds are much more suited to draconic speech than common and tend to speak with a pronounced, hissing lisp.
Their names tend to be short, monosyllabic, and make no distinction between genders.
In my games, Kobolds have a three-syllable name. The first syllable is the clan they belong to, the second is a generational name shared by all the kobolds who hatched around the same time (you could also use numbers or words in draconic), and the last is a personal name usually chosen by the Kobold themself upon coming of ages – typically just a word they like or a nickname that sticks. I stole the broad framework for this from Korean naming conventions.
Example Kobold Clan Names: Deepdelver, Nightwatcher, Cavecreeper, Shinstabber, Darkling, Underwarren, Fast River, Razorpaw, Farmraider.
Example Kobold Generational Names: Sniv, Hix, Krat, Wyn, K’rok, Shek, Ix, Ir, Do, Kaal, Trih, Bak.
Example Kobold Personal Names: Dart, Flame, Dig, Trap, Dirt, Quick, Click, Axe, Pick, Skitter, Bite, Spot, Rash, Worm, Snick, Drake, Gold, Rat, Bat, Snake, Claw, Hiss.