Designing a Kobolds’ Lair for a D&D Adventure
From The Keep on the Borderlands to Hoard of the Dragon Queen, kobolds have been the Dungeon Master’s go-to cannon fodder for 1st-level D&D parties. But these pesky little creatures can be so much more than a new party’s first foes. Though their Monster Manual entry is short, there is enough there to design an exciting dungeon that’s more than just a platform for monster-smashing.
Every encounter is an opportunity for you to immerse your players in the game world, to reveal some backstory or provide context for the world’s ecology and society. If kobolds are just little containers of XP in a cave, you’re not getting the most out of each encounter. Thinking about a monster’s ecological and social interactions can help you create a fun and meaningful dungeon.
Kobolds lay eggs, so they must find safe places to lay them. In the real world, most reptile species don’t guard their eggs as birds do, instead of burying them in sand or leaving them in areas protected by rocks. Kobolds are a little more intelligent than your typical iguana, though, so they would probably periodically check on their well-hidden eggs. Adventurers shouldn’t stumble upon a clutch of eggs unless they know where to look and are actively searching.
Kobolds likely eat whatever they can find, scavenging the kills of stronger monsters or feasting on insects, fish, and subterranean fungi. The latter delicacies may be reserved for the more powerful members of kobold society.
Food is a great way to convey information to players by showing rather than telling. When the PCs explore a kobold dining hall, do they see (and smell) the messy remains of an otyugh heaped in the corner, or a lovely stew of giant beetles and mushrooms simmering in a cauldron?
When drawing up a kobold lair map, it helps to imagine kobolds as the anti-gnome, an antagonism reflected in their mythology. Gnomes play pranks; kobolds construct devious traps. Gnomes tinker and invent; kobolds scavenge and repurpose. The gnome aesthetic is equal parts hippie and steampunk; the kobold aesthetic is dumpster-diving, squatting crust punk.
Also, since kobolds find strength in numbers and must band together to survive, it makes sense to construct a kobold lair around this communal tendency.
Rooms in a Kobold Lair
Barracks: Chambers close to lava tubes or hot springs where kobolds can huddle together.
Dining Halls: Large chambers where kobolds all eat from the same kill or feed themselves from the same pot.
Workshops: Places where kobolds rebuild and re-purpose scavenged and stolen objects into traps, tools, and works of art. Objects found here might include scraps of wood, metal, and rope; bear traps and snares stolen from forests; rails and carts scavenged from old mines.
Mine Shafts: Kobolds are miners, often working in service of a stronger monster race, though they would likely hoard anything shiny they came across.
Temples: Shamans enjoy a place of reverence in kobold society, keeping their lawful evil tribal society running smoothly.
Treasure Hoard: Accessible only by the group leader or leaders. A pale imitation of a dragon’s hoard, full of copper pieces, chipped and cracked pottery and dinnerware, rusted metal trinkets, bone figurines, etc.
A single kobold is small and weak, easy prey for predators, other monsters, and adventurers alike. Their survival as a species is linked to their ability to work and fight in a group.
Kobolds are masters of the home-field advantage. Their lairs are riddled with kobold-sized burrows that facilitate ambushes, skirmishing, and quick escapes. When designing a kobold lair, think about ways to use the terrain advantageously:
Vertical spaces: Stalactites, cliffs, floor pits in upper levels, and other places where kobolds can drop rocks or boiling liquid on intruders and winged kobolds can swoop down to harass them.
Chokepoints: Narrow hallways, doorways, canyons, and water crossings are all excellent places to lay traps and spring ambushes. Crafty kobolds can hide the true entrance to their lair and lead intruders into a chokepoint or blind alley, collapsing the exit behind the intruders or laying traps all along a narrow path.
Traps: Everybody knows that kobolds lay traps. Even a novice party will have their guard up when invading a kobold lair. Keep your players on their toes with traps such as a bear trap hidden in the carcass of a carrion crawler or a pile of debris or tripwires at human and elf neck-level so kobolds can retreat under them.
Cowardice: Kobolds aren’t going to stand and fight. They know they can’t win. If they’re cunning enough, the party might never even see them. Orcs might fight to the death, but when kobolds lose the advantage, they will flee, hoping to lure the enemy into a trap.
Rather than being easy pickings for novice adventurers, kobolds should frustrate even veteran dungeon-delvers. What other tactics or traps have you used to make your players shout, “come out and face us, you cowards?"