Friday, 6 November 2020

Trap-Dog Laboratory

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


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...


  • GLUE - loony tunes glue, strong stuff.
  • Springs/ejection - sends you flying away somewhere to presumably not break all your bones on impact.
  • Hypno-wheel.
  • 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.


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.


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.....


  1. Maybe they gain their power from some sort of H-space connecting all houses. like Pratchett's L-space. So they see people as intruding on their space because all houses are part of one house? They might have originated as the guardians of said space and see themselves as ancient powerful beings rather than cuties.

    1. Hmm Hearth Spirits are likely going to be a part of the world and background so that fits. Maybe they lived in the first, original, house, and so that connects them to all homes. Maybe they are a punishment for not treating your house well.

  2. So: my mind on reading about these Trap-Dogs goes to the Shih-Tzu and the Pekingese (and not just because of having to look after the yappy things for a relative). Court dogs, bred to resemble the lion.

    Obviously, anything on the Kobold mode is not living in any kind of court. They are utterly out of their intended context; cute dog-people for the palace and estates (or to act as the dragon's household and entourage?). However, the civilisation that birthed them has dissolved generations ago. They have gone from being something like White Russian exiles* to embittered outlaws, trading on their nimbleness and adroit use of space.

    They are possessive of their few scraps. The Trap-Dogs remember (doubtless through rose-tinted dog-goggles) their place in the courts of the Golden Pheasant Emperor (or whoever). They despise their distance from the centre of power, and their physical slightness that would be no hindrance there.

    Their cuteness is in such a case rather a curse, like a footman being medically altered to have curled wig-like hair. No wonder they don't like it being made much of. (Is this too dark? It likely needs finesse).

    This doesn't quite land us in Batman '66 territory. But sham-aristocratic conmen and pranksters have a fair heritage, which may direct us to that side of things.

    *Why does this make me think of George Smiley funding a Kobold émigré group? I need to think on this further.

    1. Dragons breeding dogs to be like people and then dumping them is a pleasing but maybe too dark counterpoint to Emperors breeding Dogs to be like lions.

  3. I feel that a game with Geese as treasure needs kobolds to be larcenous scheming foxes. Besides the traps I imagine them being con artists somehow. Perhaps they run their schemes in disguise and then once they have the gold, the goods, or the Goose they unmask and mock you with screechy fox laughter before running off? They should be saner and less magical than goblins because they are just the cleverest foxes imaginable, rather than magical beings. I think their weakness might be their ego, as they are so convinced of their own cleverness that they don't believe you are able to trick them and take few or no precautions against counter-trickery.

    1. Oh yeah!! There definitely needs to be fox-badguys! But perhaps that should be another creature, I like the kobold dog concept.

      - Jason Thompson, who should probably create his own google account and not just use the house account to post on RPG blogs

    2. Too many good ideas in this thread. Maybe 'Theiflings' can be foxes? I still don't know what those are. Maybe hooded fox people. Or maybe 'The _Master Theif_ is a fox, or has a court or gang of fox bandits and fox-con men he hangs out with and tells crime stories to?

  4. so they're masters of trompe l'oeil - that suggests some gameable stuff.
    - they could constantly be seeking out new weird pigments and paint additives.
    - culturally, do they compete with each other through this? (Parrhasius vs. Zeuxis)
    - will they sell their tricks? for what price?

    and i think i remember something from a previous post that geese here have the monopoly on violence. so how do geese react to these kinds of traps? the players might end up learning they can "safely" set this kind of trap to solve problems, which sounds like a feature rather than a bug?

    few more non-lethal trap ideas:
    - fireworks (alert other things, spook your animals)
    - water balloons/bladders (douse torches, ruin paper/food)
    - feathers, even without sticky stuff, are sneezy and tickly and get in _everything_. for that matter, sneezing/itching powder.
    - perspective-bending floor paintings

    1. Those are all good trap ideas, thanks!

      'Trompe Dogs' hmmm.

      Suspect Geese are pretty easy to fool, makes them easier to steal, but they will FREAK OUT if they see through a scam.

  5. See here fore the missing attribution:

    Given the historical context of Kobolds, they are probably beings you need to placate rather than defeat. If you do fight them you be having problems with missing or sabotaged equipment for the rest of the game.

    1. Thank you for the attribution. Have added.

      Think we are a long way from the original mine-dwelling Kobald'. The D&D version was already a massive shift and I am drawing from and altering that version.

  6. It might be interesting to make their motivation the same as many misbehaving dogs, attention. The kobolds want you to pay attention, positive or negative, to them. If you yell at them or complement them or follow them around they will be very happy. If you pet them they will wiggle and wag their tails and if you stop they will poke you with a stick and mock you. This also makes them pair well with monsters that prey on distracted people, as the kobolds need to distract you. I also imagine them abducting people to pet them, groom them, and throw sticks and balls for them, possible requiring a rescue mission from the players.

    1. Hmm a simultaneous desire for attention and fear of being seen might be interesting.

  7. I thought that maybe a neat kobold trap would be to spray someone with something that attracts an actually dangerous monster (or just rings an enormous dinner bell for same), but then I realized that the worst thing that the most marginalized population could do would be to *turn the party into kobolds*. Which is the central plot point of Out of Placers, if you're into indy web comics:

  8. The cute-dog kobolds might break into houses of people they dislike and poo in their beds or destroy books and furniture. They leave incredibly stinky poos as threats on doorsteps.

    People could make amends with them by leaving out milk or scraps of food. Conflict arises when gifts aren't forthcoming.

    There might be the local Kobold lady, like a cat lady but with Kobolds. Her house was broken into by a Kobold gang, but she liked the company. So she offered to cook for them in exchange for a promise of good hygiene. Her neighbours complain bitterly about the extortion racket being run by the gang and that they shit everywhere. The disgruntled neighbours gather some coin to hire a group of cheap amoral adventurers willing to slaughter puppy people.

    1. Dog poop and a Kobold Lady are both good ideas. Maybe they are symbiotic with hoarders and that's where an infestation starts, but to get rid of them you really have to help the hoarder with their mental health..