I’ve been writing a series on personality features for each individual non-human race for awhile now, and today – thanks to a request from a reader – I’m covering kobolds, one of the only remotely PC-playable races that even goblins can look down on. The lore around kobolds has changed a lot over the years, but for this post I’m embracing the draconic connection, rather than digging too much into kobolds of Germanic legend. (The Germanic concept is cool too, but far from the default shown in the Monster Manual or most D&D settings.)
Edit: Please note that this post has been re-edited and released in Through Their Own Eyes, now available on DriveThruRPG.
One of the real challenges of this post is that I’ve already tried to sell goblins as generally cowardly (let’s say they have a strong strategic preference for mitigating personal risk), and kobolds need to be the same but a lot more so. At the same time, I don’t want them to be entirely despicable, because if you’re using these charts, you plan to be a protagonist – or you’re a DM trying to make a kobold NPC stand out, so some exceptionalism is fine.
What I have here, then, is a species and culture obsessed with dragons, but never really able to share in the dragon’s wealth, power, or prestige. Because metallic dragons don’t generally seek out whole tribes of servitors in settings other than Council of Wyrms, and because of irreconcilable differences with Kurtulmak, metallics have rejected kobolds. At least from the kobold perspective, this is a sign that metallics aren’t as virtuous as everyone thinks. Based on this species-wide endemic poverty and culture of the oppressed, then, I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the Urchin background – again, much like goblins, but more so.
|1||Personal valor is overrated. I don’t go anywhere alone.|
|2||I’m obsessed with my hoard of small knick-knacks, and I go Big Dragon on anyone who tries to take them.|
|3||I’m the kind of kobold who talks about going Big Dragon on an enemies, strangers, and inanimate objects.|
|4||At mealtimes, I just about insist on a bite… or two… of everyone else’s food.|
|5||I don’t worry too much about defense. I’d rather get my enemy down on the ground and start the kicking early.|
|6||I get gods and dragons mixed up in conversation.|
|7||I fervently collect recipes so that someday I can go home and improve my tribe’s cooking.|
|8||Setting people up to underestimate me is a cherished cultural virtue.|
|1||Tradition: The gods and dragons have watched over us for ages, and we owe them obedience and sacrifice. (Lawful)|
|2||Creativity: Like a miner attacking bedrock, I’ll work at a problem from every angle for my whole life if I have to. (Any)|
|3||Greed: I had to share everything when I lived with my tribe. Now, what’s mine is MINE. (Evil)|
|4||Honesty: If you would lie to your own family or tribe, you are lower than beetle dung. (Lawful)|
|5||Generosity: Willingness to share freely – even when you have almost nothing – is all that keeps the tribe alive. (Good)|
|6||Transcendence: If I can cheat death and gather enough power, I won’t have to be afraid ever again. (Neutral)|
|1||I was born in filth and squalor. I won’t retire until I have one perfect, beautiful thing of my own.|
|2||I want to show the metallic dragons that they should have kobold tribes of their own.|
|3||I want to find a new protector for my tribe. I’m even willing to consider non-dragons.|
|4||I’m the last survivor of my tribe, and our protector died, so I’m responsible for carrying on our stories and traditions.|
|5||I got separated from my tribe in a disaster, and I will spend my life searching for them if I must.|
|6||I want to explore the world more than a few miles from our caves, unlike the rest of my tribe.|
|1||Groveling and sniveling are time-honored tactics among my people when we’re outmatched.|
|2||I try to go Big Dragon whenever we have someone outnumbered – even in peaceful situations.|
|3||I reflexively spit and bare my teeth whenever gnomes are mentioned.|
|4||My self-preservation goes out the window when powerful magic is afoot. It’s just… so… interesting!|
|5||I don’t do well with complicated plans. I throw out the plan and go with instinct, every time.|
|6||I would do anything to earn a dragon’s favor.|
I’ve said this with every post in this series so far, and it’s true here as well. A lot of these personality features set you up to be unpleasant to be around, because they’re intended to drive small conflicts as well as larger ones. Use these sparingly, and pay close attention to your group’s dynamic and how much intra-party conflict is okay. No amount of “it’s what my character would do” balances out ruining the fun of other people at the table.
There are a lot of little in-jokes sprinkled through the list. Trait 2, for example, could be rephrased as “You no take candle!” with no change in meaning. Trait 4 is a fond reference to a late friend of mine who always wound up preferring what other people ordered at restaurants. And so on.
I think one of the core virtues of kobolds is individual as well as generational persistence. I mean, their stat block indicates one of the most vulnerable creatures that still passes for sapient, right? The general course of the narrative involves adventurers slaughtering them by the dozens or tens of dozens; humans and other races think of them in about the same terms as particularly undesirable rats. A lot of kobolds die by violence, but the ones that survive just never. give. up. They have an almost pathological tenacity. Not in the heat of battle, but afterward, the moment they’re safe again, they go back to pursuing the same goal as before, but with adjustments in location, approach, or leadership. For most tribes, this goal is a blend of Make More Kobolds and whatever their draconic master has assigned them to do. For a PC, it’s more like looking at every problem as a system to test and never over-committing to a conflict. Remember, you worked hard to get your current set of allies, but the only thing that can stop you from replacing them is being dead.