Thursday, June 2, 2011

Kobolds

Over at Blood of Prokopius, Fr Dave has been producing an excellent series of posts about amalgamating "the two Blue Books" -- Holmes's Basic Set and Cook's Expert Rules. Recently, he pointed out a passage in Holmes whose implications never really occurred to me till now. Holmes's description of kobolds notes that they are "evil dwarf-like creatures." For some reason, I'd always taken this simply to mean that kobolds were short in stature rather than, literally, much like dwarves in appearance.

Thinking on it, I rather like the idea, both because it presents a different take on kobolds than either the little dog men of the Monster Manual or the little dragon men of later editions and because it ties in nicely with the knockers of the Dwimmermount setting, about which I've been thinking about lately. It's funny that I'd read that passage in the Blue Book more times than I can count and it was only now, after Fr Dave pointed out an obvious conclusion, that I had an "aha!" moment about these puniest of dungeon monsters.

Funny how that can happen.

23 comments:

  1. I sent my players into a Kobold den once. Imagine the tomb of horrors, only created by tiny dog-men with a fondness for scorpions.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My players have learned to love and loathe kobolds in our Stonehell campaign. Honestly, I had never even used them apart from once or twice back in the early '90s, so it's a refreshing change of pace.

    I wonder how many folks have entirely avoided the use of "signature" monster types in their campaigns for one reason or another?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have always portrayed Kobolds as akin to the Nomes from Baum's Oz.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Kobolds of folklore are "dwarf like" and I think it was another miscommunication with an artist that lead to them becoming little dog/lizard men, much like the pumpkin headed bugbears.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Kobolds of folklore are "dwarf like" and I think it was another miscommunication with an artist that lead to them becoming little dog/lizard men, much like the pumpkin headed bugbears.

    That seems plausible. And while I do like the little dog men, if only because of nostalgia, I'm increasingly coming round to the notion that a fixed and canonized appearance for D&D's monsters isn't actually a good thing.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Actually folklore Knockers and kobolds are from the same family bush...and only distantly related to the family tree that dwarves belong to.

    http://yellowdingosappendix.blogspot.com/2010/08/unhuman-family-for-my-kriegspiel-rpg.html

    ReplyDelete
  7. Having just nudged kobolds over into an elemental race slot for my Ygg setting, I like this.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Actually they were never meant to be little dog/lizard men. I discussed this with Gary several years ago on ENWORLD in one of his "ask gary" threads. According to Gary in that thread basically Sutherland just came up with his own idea, somehow it slipped by and it got printed in the original MM- Gary had intended for them to indeed be the little evil dwarf/gnome like creatures.

    I do not have the search function available to me over there (ENworld) otherwise I would post the link.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Here's what Gary said about kobolds:

    "It was indeed Dave sutherland that decided to give the kobolds a dog-like visage, likely because I had described gnolls as hyena-like. I had actually originally envisaged them as more impish ot countenence, but I went along with the depiction, as it made no difference to the game's play."

    ReplyDelete
  10. I like Higgins Nome idea, I might have to steal that. I use Kobolds in 4th ed often, but not in my Laby Lord games. The Fourth ed Kobold is the funnest monster in the Manual IMO.

    ReplyDelete
  11. ...I went along with the depiction, as it made no difference to the game's play."

    But it did make a difference to me; I never liked dog-like kobolds, so never used the critters. Making them like diabolic dwarves makes them much more appealing.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Have you seen this illustration by Russ Nicholson of a Kobold as a degenerate form of gnome? 2nd. down http://russnicholson.blogspot.com/2010/11/new-boys-and-old-fellows-part-2.html

    ReplyDelete
  13. Cant believe noone has posted the wikipedia article yet. It's full of useful and inspirational material. For example, did you know kobolds have an element named after them (Cobalt, co, atom number 27)? It's a good read. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kobold

    ReplyDelete
  14. I remember kobolds being portrayed virtually the same as dwarfs in the 90's videogame RPG "Darklands"...a horrible bugged game I still really love.

    Anyway, it was the first time I'd ever heard of kobolds outside of a DnD setting. Found it off-putting at first, but grew to appreciate the differences. Gnomes, for example, were basically earth elementals roused by dwarfs and kobolds. It was interesting to open up my otherwise DnD-centered world.

    ReplyDelete
  15. For some reason, I'd always taken this simply to mean that kobolds were short in stature rather than, literally, much like dwarves in appearance.

    I guess this is what happens when you get into mythology through D&D, rather than the other way around...

    ReplyDelete
  16. @Coldstream:

    I loved "Darklands!" And yes, it was buggy as heck. But, being a WFRP fan, I couldn't help but love the setting. :)

    ReplyDelete
  17. Makes sense that the dog-like kobold may be the result of Sutherland's own initiative. The various humanoids in D&D had very distinctive appearances. I can see a designer/artist wanting them to be visually discernible from a distance. The same way that Donald Duck and Daffy Duck are very easy to tell apart from a distance. It may be the reason these creatures became iconic. Personally I get dizzy trying to keep all the dwarfs straight ... Azers, Duergar, and so on. It was like all the different kinds of elves that kept cropping up.

    ReplyDelete
  18. There was an OSR blogger whose name escapes me who recently re-interpreted orcs as a kind of degenerate humans, whose physical appearance had changed to reflect their lack of morality, from a medieval perspective. I built on this when I introduced kobolds into my campaign, where they are basically humans who've been driven to live underground by the weight of some unconfessed sin or crime. So I envision them as similar in appearance to Gollum or the Martense family in Lovecraft's "Creeping death".

    ReplyDelete
  19. Try along the line of the film: Hemoglobin (Bleeders) staring Rutger Haur.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Kobolds being "evil dwarf-like creatures" does make them much more like the subterranean kobolds of myth and legend.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kobold#Mine_spirits

    ReplyDelete
  21. See, I knew about them from mythology and folklore first. My intro to D&D is much more recent, and I didn't know how D&D got the idea that they were dog or dragonlike at all. Thanks for the Gygax quote about it being Sutherland's fault.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Holmes may have added this because there are no descriptive features in OD&D that distinguish Kobolds from Goblins. Goblins would be more familiar to new players from the The Hobbit, or folk-tales etc (most kids have heard the term goblin). In Chainmail there are strong statements about Goblins and Kobolds being the natural enemies of Dwarves. (Monsters & Treasure refers back to Chainmail for the description of Goblins, and says that Kobolds are treated as Goblins). So to distinguish Kobolds, Holmes may have added the quick statement essentially placing them as "evil dwarves". Holmes also adds that Kobolds are highly resistant to magic and get a +3 on saves (except Dragon Breath), perhaps because this then brings their Saves to the same level as Dwarves. I don't see this feature in either OD&D or the Monster Manual.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Kobolds in AD&D are basically evil gnomes with little horns if you read the text and ignore the illustrations. I've been playing them that way for some time now.

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.