Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pity The Poor K's

All the monsters, one letter at a time...

K monsters demand both patience and sympathy from the DM.

Perhaps more than this DM has.


"The coat of the ki-rin is luminous gold, much as a sunrise on a clear day."
Mandy says it sounds like a My Little Pony.

Much like the gold dragon--and unlike the My Little Pony--the ki-rin always appears locked into a tight mesh of stylized and vortexlike clouds. Unlike the gold dragon, the ki-rin seems to lack any motive for getting in the players way in any interesting sense.

If the characters are bad the D&D version of a ki-rin--with its 18 wizard-levels and "4 major and 6 minor psionic disciplines"--will just come around and kick their asses. With good characters--or at least characters whose actions might conceivably contribute to whatever ethereal and Eastern version of the greater good the ki-rin represents--the thing seems to lack the awe-inspiring inscrutability that makes paying a visit to the magnanimous gilded throne room of a gold dragon or a couatl compelling. It's hard for me to really picture a ki-rin doing anything but descending from the sky, impressing everybody, and then going home.


I imagine I work on Ellis Island. Here's comes this little bastard, dragging his suitcase, wearing a hobnailed collander for a hat, filling out his immigration forms: Place of Origin: "BlaCk foreSt, BaVarria", Name? "K. O. B. O. L. D."

So I take him into my office and sit him down.

"Listen, buddy, 'Kobold' is another one of those words that means something terribly specific to people who play D&D and means nothing at all to anybody else. (Except for maybe very old and very superstitious Germans.) The trouble with you people is the web of associations is very very small: I say 'kobold' and your average player thinks, at best, 'one of those usually very poorly drawn dogdragongoblinmidget things in D&D' or, at worst, (if you're new to the game) nothing at all.

"And yes, I remember how TSR's excruciating Dragon Mountain adventure seemed to think it was very clever for making you seem like formidable foes--but that's thinking very small--a dangerous kobold is only a surprise if all you ever think about is canonical D&D. Dangerous bunnies, dangerous blades of grass, dangerous woodchips--this is surprising. Maybe.

"Ok, little guy, don't cry--see, this is even more of a drag because a little dogdragonmidgetgoblin isn't such a bad monster and--for the girls-the obvious association with the little spiky-helmeted bastards in Labyrinth is bound to be compelling. So, yes, I do have a job for you, little pike-wielding muppetmonster, though here at DnDWP Isle we're changing this fancy German name, got it?--from now on you're a Thorn Goblin or Scaled Goblin or Bastard Goblin. Welcome to America."


Going against old school type, I think crow men are way better than the Fiend Folio's original budgie men.

I recognize two species: the human-size Boschian crow people like on the cover of Stephen King's The Stand, and little ones about a foot-and-a-half tall that run around stealing shit, usually when the party has decided it needs eight hours of rest to get its spells back.

My only problem with the kenku is that crows themselves make such good monsters--as both Odin and Edgar Allan Poe would point out.


I think the H.P Lovecraft's Deep Ones are the least interesting of all his inventions, and I think that the mogwai-looking, diapered kuo-toa are the least interesting descendant of the deep ones, and I think that the official D&D minis of them are the least interesting version of the Kuo-toa, but whenever I'm sifting through the box trying to find something to represent a dire wolf or a demon dog and one of the girls catches sight of the kuo-toa mini one of them always grabs one of the goofy gesticulating frogmen and talks about how cute it is.

For this and similar reasons, I both anticipate and dread the day when one of my players decides to DM. I do hope I can get it on tape.


I was going to write something about the kraken but it made me think of the old Clash of the Titans movie which then made me think of the new Clash of the Titans movie and that made me think about CG movies and then I got so depressed that I decided to stop writing and go outside.


mordicai said...

Kenku are Tengu are the same thing as Odin's birds-- basically can't they just be a crowperson if they wanna?

Also, somehow kuo-toa are the only guys in DnD with a culture? They've got Whips & Moniters & NAMES for shit?

Ki-rin only make sense when I think of them like this: "It is a dragon & a unicorn at the same time. Actually...maybe unicorns are just a kind of dragon."

Anonymous said...

The thing that always bugged me about kobolds is that there is always someone at the table who insists on calling them "Cobalts"
It's the D&D equivalent of "nucular"

Rod said...

I picture the kirin as showing up after a battle to pour the weary heros a frosty glass of imported lager.

letsdamage said...

In the Official AD&D Coloring Album, written by Gary Gygax and illustrated by the awesome Greg Irons, a ki-rin is secretly manipulating a bunch of treasure-seeking assholes into stopping Demogorgon. Or Tiamat. Or something.

squidman said...

You'd consider Kuo-Toa, if one of your players had a horrible frog phobia (dunno bout the minis though)


Unknown said...

@BillionSix: Cobalt's etymology is from the German Kobold:

Eric M said...

Maybe you could call them Double Goblins, and treat them like the opposite of a demilich. Yeah, you know how a demilich is more powerful than a regular lich? A double goblin is WAY weaker than a goblin.

Paradigm Traveler said...

I've always had a soft spot for the reptilian incarnation of kobolds. You can't go up against dragons at low levels, but you can sure beat on their distant cousins.

Rick Marshall said...

My Little Ki-rin? Yes, I'm afraid Mandy's right. The full description includes "Its horn and hooves are golden pink. Its eyes are violet."

As for kobolds, the ones from German folklore (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kobold) are a lot more interesting than either the AD&D dogdragonmidgetgoblin (which are too easy to dismiss as mooks) or the later littledragoncousins (which although more interesting in some ways also unfortunately demystify dragons as simply a species rather than a supernatural phenomena). Having kobolds as personifications of the relationship between people and their environment, being personified omens, can be wonderfully creepy. I like the idea of mine kobolds living within the rock and mining from the other side. I really love the idea of the ship kobold inherited from the wood used to build the ship and working invisibly to help hold the ship together—only showing itself to those about to die, and if everyone can see it then the ship is doomed. Good stuff.

Still, if one keeps the little Gygax/Sutherland doglizards, then I have to agree with you Zak that they want to be something like a thorn goblin, not a separate, level-appropriate species of mook. Goblins are most interesting when they come in lots of shapes and moods, like twisted muppets, which certainly leaves room for koboldy goblins.

Jason said...

i know what a Kobold is; i sure as hell painted enough of them. There are no bad Monsters/only poorly utilized ones! Think i found a new favorite board to follow here, love it.

Rick Marshall said...

Also, little carved wooden kobolds in people's houses can be cool. Maybe they watch you with their carved wooden eyes and grin their enormous grins at you. Maybe if they like the owners of the house they hinder your attempts to rob the place, sabotaging your luck left and right. Maybe if they don't like the owners they help you, make the drawer with the best silver silently slide open to attract your attention.

Tom Fitzgerald said...

Gygax apparently originally meant for Kobolds to be folklorically derived little evil wizened anti-gnomes rather than scaly dog midgets. It got somehow twisted in someone's interpretation. I don't know how this led to the scalies and hence to the loathsome mini-dragon interpretation.

Diminutive and sadistic geriatrics have much more potential to terrify, in my opinion.

Blue Gargantua said...
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Blue Gargantua said...
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SirAllen said...

Let's celebrate the K's by thinking about most lovely and talented KK. I certainly will.

Capheind said...

I love the Kobold as originally drawn. Not the little lizardman/dragon-thing but rather, the thing that looked like a bug eyed little dog (french bulldogish) sans the fur, and with two antennae like horns.

I always pictured one walking up to a party, looking small and scared, and just when one reaches down to touch it BAM it bites off their fingers while another burst from hiding and stabs one of their companions eyes out with a spear.

ravenconspiracy said...

Here here on CG hate/ new Clash of the Titans crap.

My kobolds look like this:


and speak with deep, grating, evil, vaguely russian/hispanic accents.

As far as renaming, nothing wrong with that, but even if players don't understand or care for the significance of an out-dated name like "Kobold" there is something to be said for strange and vaguely evocative names.

Think about the monster names in The Dying Earth or (by extension) the Zork games.

Sometimes announcing an unknown monster by name, with no description, can spark insane images in the player's brains.

Kuo-Toa are 'meh', but "horrible fishmen" (alway referred to as "horrible fishmen") have always been a hit in my games.

William said...

A friend of mine wrote a convention game called "How Tough Can Kobolds Be?". I think it was AD&D rules and it was one of the most punishing adventures you can imagine. You were tenth level, and had to play smart as all hell to get out of the dungeon alive. Against more-or-less baseline kobolds. Level 1 monsters. As a result I have respect for almost everything in the Monster Manuals because I know how a good DM can make almost anything into a dangerous and frightening foe.

Zak Sabbath said...


a good DM (or a bad one) can make a dust mite a frightening foe. that's easy.

this isn't a blog about making monsters tough, though, this is a blog about making monsters interesting.

Logan said...

Place of Origin: "BlaCk foreSt, BaVarria",
Not true. The Blackforest is in Baden-W├╝rttemberg, not Bavaria.


Sorry, I can't resist. ;)

But really good and cool work, Mr. Zak!

Logan - The Bavarian Barbarian ;)