The kobold has been a part of Dungeons & Dragons since 1974. Like the orc and the goblin, it is the monster that most low-level adventurers will encounter. So it makes sense that they would release it as a Monster Card.
It is one of those monsters that has been evolved over time visually. Originally being lumped into the goblin family before evolving into something more reptilian. In 3rd Edition, the kobold took a giant leap forward. No longer would their lineage be tied to common goblins, no these kobolds were now distant relatives of dragons.
It was a welcome change that gave the kobold some personality. They were not just weak goblins, they were now the cousin of mighty dragons!
The Monster Card, with art by Jim Roslof, captures an earlier version of the kobold. Here we see a small, muscular creature, with scaly skin, pointy ears, black and green eyes, and clawed toes. This monster is ready for combat and with its scimitar and small shield, it looks like it could do some damage. The card’s background is grey, which makes the orange color of its skin pop more.
The stats for the Kobold on the card and in the 1st Edition Monster Manual are exactly the same, but the art by Dave Sutherland is very different. This version of the kobold is almost dog-like. According to Gary Gygax in ENWorld , this was a choice made by Sutherland.
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 countenance, but I went along with the depiction, as it made no difference to the game’s play.
This is a great example of an artist going against the designers thinking and influencing the game dramatically. Roslof’s art would be a lot closer to what Gygax has envisioned, but for many of us who were already playing, this dog-like depiction would be hard to shake.
The original art by Roslof was interesting to find online, not just to see how they cropped the work for the card, but because you can also see a color change. The Monster card is a much deeper orange red, while original painting is more of a goldish orange.
The visual evolution of the kobold is fascinating, but the real change to the kobold occurred in Dragon Magazine issue 127. In an editorial, Roger E. Moore discussed how a DM named Tucker, used a tribe of clever kobolds to challenge a much more powerful group of adventurers. These kobolds, Tucker’s Kobolds, would become shorthand for a more clever use of monster in the game. This resulted in more unpredictable play and the freedom to use almost any low level creature even as your party got more powerful. Read Tucker’s Kobold (Part 1, Part 2).
This more clever kobold would be represented in the 2nd Edition Monster Manual. This depiction by Jeff butler is wire thin and quick looking. What is most telling though is the prop given in its depiction. A scorpion on the end of a stick. It implies dastardly cleverness that is more Tucker Kobold than anything that came before it.
Kobolds are in the DNA of Dungeons & Dragons, so it makes sense that over time, they would evolve into the relations of the spokesmonster for the game. Easy or challenging, they can add much needed fun to the game. So as an aspiring DM, learn them early and don’t be afraid to throw them into your game. If you are a player, don’t dismiss them so easily, you never know what sort of tricks a clever DM or clever kobold might have up their sleeve.
Random Kobold Encounter
A group of kobolds have captured a very large bull. It has grown usually large and they are currently using it to rampage through the countryside. To do so they have built a rope harness and have fastened themselves to the bull. By using pain they are manipulating the poor animal into a rage and having it attack farmers who have settled near their den.
Can the party defeat the kobolds without killing the bull? It belongs to a local farmer who will give a heartfelt, but modest reward for its return.