Kobolds - ANOTHER of the top-ten most-emblematic D&D monsters which, on examination, doesn't seem that good.
The Owlbear, while pleasingly ridiculous in central concept, didn't do anything interesting relating to either bears or owls. It was _distinct_ though. The central concept leaves a strong impression.
The Kobold though. Essentially Goblins-But-Not.
A conceptually-amorphous and unclear monster Kobolds are. Perhaps the most unclear in their central concept. They famously change from edition to edition. Sometimes little dog-men, sometimes little dragon men or lizard people.
The one thing that sticks in my mind about the place of Kobolds in D&D is that they are emblematic of weakness and a kind of petty failure to threaten in a way Goblins are not, and that their most memorable instantiations are moments of counterpoint.
Yes, the adventure says, these are Kobolds, the weakest bitches in the game, but THESE Kobolds.. etc etc etc
PUPPY GOBLIN VIETCONG
I only came up with one even-workable concept for Kobolds; anime-cute puppy/dog people who are just super UwU and fluffy, but they make use of utterly ruthless Vietcong-style traps, arranged with dark perversity.
Not a great idea; a one note joke, but maybe kids would like it, and something that is interesting is - how to make traps that are fiendish and feel dangerous and horrible, but without them being lethal or too horrifically violent?
That would actually be a challenge great enough to validate the effort made.
(At some point with this game I am going to hit a hard limit of things that you can take away from child adventurers that aren't blood and flesh.)
So, here is my brainstorm of...
NON (OR LESS) VIOLENT TRAPS
- GLUE - loony tunes glue, strong stuff.
- Springs/ejection - sends you flying away somewhere to presumably not break all your bones on impact.
- Thumb tacks - this might be too hardcore for kids but fuck it.
- Super-magnets? I guess these could either pin you or swoop stuff from your pockets.
- Curtains of illusion - like Kobolds can construct stage scenery super fast so they can hang a curtain across a door painted to look exactly like the room inside, but really behind it the room is full of Kobolds.
- Pit Traps - Ok you fall, but what happens then? Do you climb out? Do the Kobolds come to get you? Kobolds painting the bottom of the trap to look like an infinite hole so if you don't fall in it you are like wft they can do *that*? But if you do fall in it it gives the game away about the Kobolds stage powers.
- Falling Pans - PANS, hard and clattery enough that no-one would want them to fall upon then, but still largely harmless.
- Slippy floors - leading to glue, webs or very strong tape. (Obviously Kobolds are going to be friends with Giant Spiders, they have the same defence posture)
- Re-painting walls so that doors and other things seem to be in different places.
- Hiding an elephant in the house, Banksy-style (I don't know where this is going). Probably hiding a crocodile in the house would be better. Maybe leave a note "tHERES i S AN invISIbcle cROkODIle iN Ur hooSE"
- Giant Buckets of water ready to wash you somewhere, like down some stairs. Maybe soapy water to make you slippy afterwards.
- Giant buckets of piss. Emissions always matters of hilarity to children.
- Blowdarts with frog sweat that make you trip out.
- Exploding food - both gunpowder primed and also perfect simulacra inflatable food that pops when you bite into it.
- Stairways and ladders to "nowhere" - tapestries on squeaky rollers on both sides of the stairs and when you think you are climbing up the kobolds just cycle the stairs down and kobolds spinning levers on each side just roll the view while sniggering - also they completely re-engineered the stairs somehow?
- Stairs-go-flat trap this is turning out a LOT like an Adam West Batman episode. Are Kobolds basically Cesar Romeros Joker?
- Gas obviously, I suppose they would need to use the very-obvious GREEN gas that billows from a lamp or door knocker shaped like a mouth. Gas has a special role in genre fiction. Almost the classic you-are-caught-but-its-only-the-second-act tool of choice.
- God I hate thinking of traps.
- Lift-you-up balloon traps, like a snare but its attached to a weather balloon, bye bye motherfucker!
- A classic snare is also good though.
- And that star-wars net trap, which I think is basically a different form of snare.
- Beds or chairs with hidden springs that tilt over and trap you.
- Also sofas etc which open up the pillows and suck you down.
- SLIME - children seem to love it. An inoffensive mucusy but still fundamentally harmless deterrent. But if we are willing to slime children are we not willing to simply label it 'GIANT SNOT'?
- A cannon loaded only with gunpowder so it turns your face black and blows your hair off. Add some extra weird shit by saying that it can actually blow off parts of your face but they survive and can be recovered later.
- An x-ray trap that turns your flesh invisible, making you seem like a skeleton, perhaps even a glowing skeleton so everyone thinks you are a ghoul or ghost.
- Super fast growing vines. They pin you down, grow inside your clothes, even up your nose. Possibly beans that come from a can.
- BEEEEEES - dropping a beehive on someone is apparently instant hilarity and despite being potentially lethal.
- Sticking something big and ridiculous on over your head and face, like a massive top hat or large boot. Its glued on so you will need to cut holes to see and eat through.
- Releasing spiders onto people, biting ants would work better I think.
- A house-tilting lever that can send invaders spinning across the soapy floor and right out of the window or door.
- A whole bunch of monkeys stitched into a human-sized human-shaped pillow and forced into human clothes with a mask put on, but if you touch it the stitches unravel and all the monkeys spill out in a bad state.
- A giant mousetrap that pins you in place.
- A less-lethal bear-trap that doesn't necessarily break your leg.
- Covering someone in sticky stuff and then in feathers or something is a classic.
- By comic-book rules electrocuting people is both fun and harmless but I'm not sure I want to face that court case when kids try it in real life.
- Slingshots seem like an appropriate Kobold weapon, firing thumb tacks or wads of paper.
- A shrink ray makes the adventure a whole new deal. Same with a de-dimensionaliser.
- Should I be going for comic-book super science and more magical effects or keep it closer to pseudo-real? I feel like the opportunities of magical effects make everything slightly boring and formless..
- A hypnotising snake or frog? These all seem like variations on the hypno-disk,,
- Giant hour glass which fills with something or other.
- Sneezing powder.
- Itching powder.
- Walls and doors that spin round on axels, putting you in a bad situation!
- Freeze rays - have I already used that?
- A knitted knotting thing that tightens if you struggle against it.
- Finger trap.
FICTIONAL CONFLUENCE HERE
What on earth happened here? If you read through you probably started thinking; "He's just ripping off the old Batman TV series but NOT SO, at least not consciously. I did go to a website for the last handful and start reading through lists of the old Batman traps, but it was only then, with most of the list done, that I realised that I had, either unconsciously, or through parallel thought, actually mimicked a lot of those mechanisms.
Still, some very clear confluences must include; Batman TV Series, Loony Tunes, Home Alone, possibly Funfairs. None of these were deliberate influences and I can't tell if I drew from then accidentally or just thought alongside them.
A difficult polarity the list brings up is the marginal space between realistic physics, unlikely physics, cartoon but still intuitive physics, and surreal or utterly ridiculous reality warping.
I instinctively want to keep the Trap Dogs more within the real and pseudo-real 'Home Alone' space rather than them being Wyle E. Coyote. It feels appropriate. But I don't think I could give up on at least a few of those painted walls or retracting stairs.
Top-level Kobolds can disguise themselves as common objects so perfectly that that’s all you can see. So the final boss or major Kobold villain you encounter at the end might be a shoe, or a rubber tyre...
Kobolds gaining in reality-warping slapstick as they gain in power might be a useful limiter/diegetic expression that lets me use some whacky stuff but still have problems solvable. Like if you want to stop the ACME Company traps you must find 'The Black Boot'!
Another; Kobolds are squatters. Home invaders. While the PCs are out and about adventuring, the Kobolds invade their home and turn it into some Home-Alone shit with the PCs as the invaders. Pleasing elements of this are that it creates a mission of TAKE BACK THE HOUSE, which is intuitively clear, emotionally compelling and tactically coherent. The home base is now a tricksy tactical space and the PCs can use their knowledge of their home to outwit the baddies. Also if you defeat the Kobolds you can re-purpose all the traps for your own designs.
WHAT STRANGE GYGAXIAN CULTURE SPRINGS FROM THIS?
All of these ideas are based around useful play, but what happens if we jam them all together and assume them to be a coherent whole which actually describes a real culture
- Still seem to be in some sense, cowardly, or at least, craven.
- Friends with spiders.
- Obsessed with property.
- Reactive defence posture.
- Masters of simulacra and non-magical illusion.
- Why to they all look like puppies?
- High level masters have reality-bending disguise powers.
- Seem to have borderline loony-tunes levels of construction.
- And acme-levels of resource acquisition.
- (Possible access to Hammer Space).
- Use slingshots.
- Stay out of sight.
- A bit like batman villains, bugs bunny and the Macster from Home Alone.
A simple answer to the home situation is that they are jealous of not having one.
Jealousy, ressentiment and feelings of weakness explain a lot of their other patterns as well. The hide because they don't want people to see them. Maybe because they are SO CUTE!! and whenever people see them they just pick them up and touch them, pet them, and the Trap-Dogs HATE IT.
Probably they are also fearful, like small dogs are always yapping at everything because everything triggers a threat response. They know they suffer an intense inborn fear response and they HATE that too because it makes them feel weak.
They just want to be feared and respected. Maybe they even have low self-esteem related delusions of grandeur. Obviously its not enough for them to use their crazy powers to build their own house. They want YOUR house, because they need to prove themselves better than YOU. Its more important to take your things than it is simply to have things.
Honestly they seem surprisingly sympathetic monsters. Perhaps near-redeemable monsters and, (christ curse me for writing a moral lesson), a good example for children of toxic low self-esteem.
Feel three to throw ideas and concepts in the comments.....