Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Great Kobold Debate

Now that the orc alignment/racism thing seems to have blown over, time to move on to a more pressing question about D&D humanoids: Kobolds -- dog-men or mini dragon men?

Starting with Mentzer, I took the dog-like description as more telling than the hairless & scaly description (like I thought that meant they were mangy and diseased) but when later editions made them specifically little crappy dragonmen I didn't oppose it since it was an interesting twist. Anyway, here's the evolution of the kobold for the first 30 years or so. Feel free to chime in in the comments about how you view them.
In Chainmail, they're interchangeable with goblins, and no description given.

In OD&D, they're still just slightly weaker goblins.

Holmes goes with the folkloric description. Interestingly, they've got a save bonus to everything EXCEPT dragon breath.
In AD&D 1E, we get a lot of description, and for the first time they are described as hairless, scaly, and with small horns. The Sutherland illustrations have very dog-like faces, but the bodies are scaly (or wearing chain mail?)

Moldvay is the first time the kobold is described as dog-like. The Errol Otis illustration seems to support my 'diseased' assumption. Mentzer was the first set I owned, but I had seen BX before I got it. So maybe this picture colored my view?
Mentzer's text is nearly identical to Moldvay, but there is no illustration.

AD&D 2E of course gives us more information on kobolds than most people really need, although a lot of it is identical to the 1E information. The DiTerlizzi picture is definitely a hybrid dog-lizard here, which likely shaped their future development by WotC.
And in the Rules Cyclopedia, of course the text is again nearly identical to Mentzer, only adding in the note about spellcasters (from Mentzer's Masters Set).

And in 3E and forward, the kobold is finally specifically tagged as "reptilian" and given the draconic heritage. The heads are still described as dog-like, though.

The indie (and very fun) Kobolds Ate My Baby rejected the reptilian/draconic angle, and made them little furry nasties. I really appreciated that. I don't have a copy of that game to post, though.

Are they dog men? Mini dragon men? Something in-between? Or do you go to the folklore sources and make them evil little fae like redcaps? Something original?


  1. Errol Otis is king, so I have to go with the description attached to his art!

  2. Warcraft made the kobolds as mammalian rat-like humanoids, and the later art by Tony DiTerlizzi from REALMS had them distinctly showing as doglike mammals with thick tails. In my home games they tend to be thin and spindly mammals with features like a Chinese crested dog.

  3. I started out with Moldvay Basic, so the Otus model has always informed my koboldry. Lately I'm leaning more toward the classic folklore version, though.

  4. I like them being the weirder dog lizards than the less weird small dragon men.

  5. Now, these are my favourite kobolds & coloured my impression of them ever after- degenerate, diseased, waning, feirce but so lowly forced into caution & desepration/depravity.

    The appearance is disturbingly in between genres for PC's & more in line with the folklore of kobolds as tiny mine trolls...


  6. I found this post very informative, for obvious reasons :-D

  7. I started with 2E and DiTerlizzi's dog-men, and for a long time I completely rejected the reptilian thing out-of-hand. More recently, I've come to decide that they can both be kobolds. Actual medieval naturalists often had conflicting descriptions of animals, and without even getting into mythical animals, they frequently attributed magical powers to otherwise-real animals. Many considered bats to be a variety of bird, since they're a non-insect that can fly. So it makes sense to me that an adventurer, having heard the description of kobolds as 3' tall hairless, scaly dog-men that live in mines, caves, and dungeons, could meet up with an unrelated species of 3' tall hairless, scaly reptilians that lives in mines, caves, and dungeons and come to the conclusion that these things must also be kobolds despite the discrepancies.

  8. Ditto what waywardfarer wrote: I knew of "goblins" from folklore long before D&D, but Moldvay (with its dog-man description/EO illo) was my first exposure to the term "kobold" and informed my perception. These days, I've gone back to folklore (and the Chainmail/OD&D descriptions) and treat them as small goblins...kind of an "anti-gnome." In fact, in my campaign setting there is a shared heritage between goblins, kobolds, dwarves, and gnomes.

  9. From the “Quest for Glory Wiki”:

    “ Kobolds are distant relatives of dwarves, although neither will admit it. They live in caves deep underground and shun sunlight and outsiders. Small and spindly, they do not fight very well. However, they can be powerful magic users and enchanters, so it best to be cautious around them.

    Kobolds are a race of ugly, miserly creatures known for their skill in Magic.[1] They are known to eat poisonous toadstools which are inedible to humans.[2]

    Kobolds come in brown and green variants.

    Kobolds are dressed in ragged clothes. They have large, pale eyes. Most likely due to spending their entire lives living inside caves.”

    I think it’s cool to have some kobolds ride around on goats.