Dungeon Design as a Kobold

Hello and welcome to this week’s installment of “Only on Tuesday’s!” This week we will be analyzing Tucker’s Kobolds and what made that dungeon so scary and interesting. Tucker’s Kobolds is a huge success in both dungeon design and dungeon mastering and there is a lot to learn from this short editorial. The advice contained within is timeless and can help to elevate your own skill as a DM. If you have not read Tucker’s Kobolds before please give it a read before you continue any further as my article will be referencing it a lot. Without further adieu let’s begin!

Play to Your Strengths

Kobolds are one of the weakest monsters in the entire monster manual. They are small creatures with almost no hit points, and no special abilities going for them. In a world full of Dragons and Leviathans it is a wonder that they are not extinct yet. But despite these apparent weaknesses, Tucker’s Kobolds are one of the most terrifying enemies that a party could face, even at higher levels. How is it that one of the weakest characters in the Monster Manual could pose such a threat to these PCs? 
The answer lies in how Tucker utilizes kobolds. Rather than just blindly throwing them into the meat grinder that is the party, he is patient with them. He knows the kobolds would never win in a straight-up fight with the party so he never gives it to them. Instead, he plays to the strengths of the kobolds never letting the party have a fair fight. The kobolds will always attack from small tunnels, booby trap the halls, throw Molotov cocktails to flush the party out. The kobolds main weakness, that of being easy to kill, is negated by how hard it is to hit the damn things! Rarely does a kobold sit out in the open, it’s always behind some sort of cover such as a murder hole, a rock, or even flaming piles of rubbish. 

Never Fight Fairly

By analyzing the strengths of the kobolds he learned how to abuse it. Kobolds are simply small intelligent creatures who never fight fair. Their lair will can then be built with these strengths in mind. Small tunnels that only kobolds can squeeze through. Traps that only trigger from larger creatures stepping over it. Places where the kobolds can hit you but you can’t hit them. All of this combines together to make a devious dungeon where the player’s main strength of being combat gods, is turned against them as they are never allowed to even engage in combat with the kobolds in the first place.
And why should the kobolds fight fairly? These intruders dressed up in full plate armor and wearing magical swords just broke into your home. It makes no sense to step up to them one by one wielding stone daggers and hoping you will eventually defeat them. When the fight is unfair, to begin with, it is important to never give them a fair fight. Tucker does this by using hit and run tactics to chip away at the parties formidable defenses until they have no other option left besides running. 

Fight on the Run

Once your players start running the game becomes far easier for you. Now that the players have no other choice to run, they can only start running into more things such as traps and ambushes. This, of course, will make them want to run even more leading them into more and more traps. Once they realize that running only hurts them more they may attempt to stop giving you a perfect opportunity to have some kobolds rain hell on them from above. No matter what your players try to do in this situation they are caught between a rock and a hard place. Keep on pressuring them until they figure a way out of the dungeon or die in the process. But never let them catch their breaths, as this gives them a chance to mount a counterattack. 
Splitting up the party is another good way to make things more manageable for the kobolds as well. (And miserable for your PC’s too I guess). The old adage of “Never Split the Party” is doubly true in the lair of kobolds as they are quick enough to capitalize on the advantage of a missing party. A single party member is very similar to a single monster. Roger E. Moore points out the following in his article: “Singular monsters like tarrasques and liches are easy to gang up on; the party can concentrate its firepower on the target until the target falls down dead and wiggles its little feet in the air.” If your party member happens to be that singular monster to the kobolds, the kobolds won’t ever give them a chance to reunite. 

Conclusion

Tucker’s Kobolds are one of the meanest tricks that any DM can pull out to humble any party. They are terrifying to play against and will teach you and your party many new things about the game of Dnd. Tucker’s Kobolds are also one of the most interesting antagonists to ever place in front of your players as it challenges both you and your players. “Tucker’s kobolds were the worst things we could imagine. They ate all our donkeys and took our treasure and did everything they could to make us miserable, but they had style and brains and tenacity and courage. We respected them and loved them, sort of, because they were never boring.” Next time you want to challenge your players, don’t pull up the monster manual and find the appropriate Challenge Rating. See if your players have what it takes to face Tucker’s Kobolds.

Sample Traps for Devious DM’s

  • A pressure plate set to trigger only when 50 or more pounds walks across it. (Kobolds fortunately only weigh about 40 pounds.)
  • Kobold Commandos with spell scrolls on them. Little does the party know that these spell scrolls carry Explosive Runes.
  • Small holes in the ceiling to drop nasty things such as scorpions, alchemist’s fire, acid, and oil down onto the party.
  • Shieldwalls blocking passage with spearmen behind them.
  • Long hallways with crossbow murder holes at the ends.
  • Molotov Cocktails
  • A long rickety bridge that the kobolds set fire to while the party is passing.
  • Poisons of all shapes and sizes, but particularly paralysis poisons.
  • Rather than making some of the corridors small, make them all small.
  • Not only have they trapped the trap, but also the reactions to their traps! (If a boulder will make them run a certain direction, why not trap that too?)
  • Caltrops in all the main walkways.
  • And finally, Rust Monsters if you are feeling particularly evil.
Thank you for reading this week’s installment of “Only on Tuesday’s!” If you ever get the chance to use Tucker’s Kobolds let me know how it goes! Have any great stories you’d like to share? Write it in the comments below! Until next time, have a great week and an amazing Tuesday!