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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Orthos's Observations: Kobolds

Back in the early-mid 2000s, probably around 2005, I got introduced to how awesome Kobolds were.

My then-roommate, who goes by the username Journeyman, taught me some of the ins-and-outs of GMing in those early days, back when the majority of my gaming experience was via Neverwinter Nights and my PnP participation was limited to a single game where I was playerside and a halfhearted GMing attempt that lasted maybe two months. In those early halcyon days, most of my time was occupied with trying to finagle out the differences between PnP gaming and NWN gaming (not to mention the differences between 3.5 and 3.0, respectively) so I appreciated having more experienced fellow players, particularly Journey, my future sister-in-law Belladonna/Ebon-Fyre, and the rest of that original group to give me tips, advice, corrections, and such-like.

Among the many other tips and tricks I received as a newbie player and GM, one that Journey seemed particularly fond of was the entry that was at the bottom of quite a few statblocks in the 3.5 Monster Manuals: "Advances by character class". He explained the usefulness of this in turning what could start as a relatively unimpressive opponent such as a goblin or kobold into a powerful challenge just by leveling them up, same as the normal player races. From there it was fairly simple to extract that if these creatures could be used as enemies built up with levels just like players, what's to say they can't actually BE a player's character? He was all too happy to display the answer to that unspoken question as well - one of the first campaigns we were in together was the root of a plot I would very much like to run again one day, Fimbulwinter Come, starring my half-fiend cleric (or possibly oracle, now) Alu'Vien Darkstar and his kobold sorcerer Cheel Vorastryx.

I ran the original version of FWC in NWN, creating Vien, Cheel, and their fey partner Frostwillow and wizard minion Delzomen as NPCs on the server and siccing them and their plans for an eternal winter on the unsuspecting citizens of Cormyr. It was the longest-running, farthest-spanning plot I'd ever run, almost always an ad-lib event or two from time to time, building up rivalries and enmity with various members of the adventurer population and such, eventually brewing up to some major large-scale events. And it was during this time that WotC released Races of the Dragon - a book that easily ranks among the top-ten 3.5 products I ever purchased.

Man I loved that book. I loved almost everything in it. I wasn't ever really impressed by Spellscales, admittedly, but everything else? Dragonborn! Bahamut and Tiamat! Expansions on stuff from Draconomicon! Half-Dragons! Cool prestige classes! And KOBOLDS! Kobold culture! Kobold society! Kobold mindsets! Kobold traps! Kobold magic! Kobold history! I must have read RotD a hundred or more times. Even now, years later and having moved on mostly to Pathfinder and no longer using any setting but Finiens, I still find myself referring back to stuff out of RotD.

Reading RotD and working on stuff for the Fimbulwinter plot - which, when minions were necessary, almost always fell to either Cheel's kobold tribe or Delzomen's constructs - solidified and permanized my love of the Kobold race. And unlike many of their fans, it wasn't their "eternal underdog" nature that made me love them, though I am rather fond of it as mentioned in prior posts. Rather, it was their craftiness, their cunning, and their penchant for sorcery. So when the time came for me to turn my back on other settings and begin the work on crafting my own, I knew without a doubt that Kobolds would play a major part in it.

The question was what to do with them.

Well, if you've read the preceding articles, you already know the answer to that. With Kobolds no longer being a "monstrous" race but rather a normal part of civilization, there was a sudden crowding in the "underground-dwelling, mining-and-creation-based culture" niche for the world, which was solved by the relocating of Dwarves to being seafaring traders and pirates. After that, Kobolds slid into their niche in the world without a problem. Honestly, judging by comments in places like RotD, all we really did was set up the Kobold race the way they'd started in settings such as FR and Greyhawk, and just removed the douche move by Garl Glittergold of collapsing their primary tunnel-city and setting Kurtulmak on the road of revenge that led to Kobolds being Lawful Evil as a species and not having a chance to enter normal advanced society.

As a result we also removed the built-in enmity between Kobolds and Gnomes, which frankly doesn't make sense without the imbecilic "Garl why are you performing genocide as a 'prank' and otherwise not acting Good-aligned" story anyway, and with Paizo's brilliant re-imagining of Gnomes I have no idea why that rivalry, or the mechanical bonus against reptilian humanoids, is still in their statblock (which it isn't, for Finiens Gnomes, which I'll get to in time).

Kobolds being as numerous and wide-spread as they are in Finiens is, admittedly, done mostly for my own amusement, and so I can have a Kobold show up in almost any part of the world without a second glance. I like that they, much like Halflings, can live underfoot almost anywhere, and that between them and the handful of other Small-sized races Finiens has (such as the Gnomes and Runari) there can be this sort of "under-civilization" in almost any location that caters to the vertically-challenged. And, despite their lack of physical impressiveness, their skill at craftsmanship and smithing is renown almost anywhere, much like the tradition of Dwarves having the greatest metalcraft in a setting - it seemed only fitting that if we were going to give Kobolds the traditional Dwarven niche, they should have it in full.

So that's the long and short of it. If nothing else, the peoples of Finiens can probably rest easy knowing that more often than not, Tucker's Kobolds are going to be on their side in this setting, rather than fending off the latest adventurer invasion.

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