DnD 5e - The Kobold Handbook
Last Updated: January 13th, 2020
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances.
- : Good options.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.
The Kobold is a favorite punching bag of low-level adventurers, allowing the DM to populate dungeons and other locales with numerous, low-CR humanoids without immediately overpowering low-level parties. At the same time, over the course of Dungeons and Dragons' real-world history they have come to be known for their clever usage of traps and contraptions, their sometimes absurd willingness to throw themselves on adventurer's weapons, and their paradoxical ability to outwit and outfight experienced, powerful adventurers. They are at the same time both pitiful and terrifying.
As a playable race, the Kobold is a significant design point in the evolution of race design in 5th edition. They were the first race to feature an ability decrease, which is a design decision which I assumed would be left on the ashes of 3rd edition (orcs also feature an ability decrease, but they're later in the alphabet so kobolds still count as first). They also feature the powerful Pack Tactics ability which is typically reserved for weak creatures designed to be threatening in a group but negligible on their own.
Kobolds are a challenging, yet enticing option. They suffer a Strength decrease and have Sunlight Sensitivity like the Drow, but if you're happy relying on Dexterity and you can manage Sunlight Sensitivity without too much difficulty, you may find that the kobold is an exciting challenge.
Pack Tactics is immensely dangerous as-written. Advantage should never be this easy to achieve. Sure, there are easy options like using an owl familiar to take the Help action, but even that can be easily negated by killing your familiar. Pack Tactics merely requires that "at least one of your allies is within 5 ft. of the creature and the ally isn't incapacitated". The ally does not need to be able to detect your or the target, you don't need to be able to detect either the ally or the target, and the target does not need to be aware of or able to detect either of you (other rules apply in all of those cases, of course).
To explain exactly how problematic this is, consider this case: A kobold fighter has a pet rat. Not a familiar, just a pet. They keep this rat in their pocket, where the rat is quite content to remain while combat takes place. This rat qualifies as an ally, and so long as it isn't napping or affected by something unpleasant it's not incapacitated. The DM could reasonably rule that the rat is Restrained and can't see out of the pocket, but neither of those things prevent the kobold from using the rat to qualify for Pack Tactics.
This means that our imaginary kobold can use Pack Tactics against anything within 5 ft., negating Disadvantage from any source (Sunlight Sensitivity, attack invisible foes, being fully blind, etc.) with no effort beyong keeping their rat safe and happy. Unless the kobold's foes learn about the rat, it's likely that the rat can only be harmed by accident. The kobold could take further precautions and keep the rat in a small sealed box to give it full cover, protecting it from area effects and blocking line of sight so that it can't be targeted.
This is clearly not how Pack Tactics was intended to be used, but it illustrates my point: Pack Tactics was written for monsters, not for players. It's too good to let players use it as-written.
If your group shares my concerns, here's what I recommend as a variant on Pack Tactics:
Pack Tactics. As a bonus action you may take advantage of the presence of your allies. You gain Advantage on the next attack roll you make this turn against a creature if at least one of your allies is within 5 feet of the creature and the ally can observe the creature and is able to take the Attack action.
This both limits the usage of Pack Tactics to once per turn (there is only one published monsters with more than one attack that also has Pack Tactics) and restricts the required ally to allies who would reasonably be to contribute to Pack Tactics.
Of course I can't assume that you'll accept my suggestions, so the advice below assumes that you're using the official version of Pack Tactics.
Classes (Default Rules)
This section assumes that you're not using the option "Customizing Your Origin" rules presented in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. If you are using those rules, scroll up to the previous section.
No Intelligence increase.
A penalty to Strength is debilitating for the Barbarian.
The Kobold could manage a weapon-using build like College of Valor, but without a Charisma increase you'll lag behind other spellcasters and unless you're using weapons you're giving up Pack Tactics, which is the Kobold's biggest benefit.
While it's absolutely possible to build a high-Dexterity cleric, no cleric gets Extra Attack so Pack Tactics will stop mattering after low levels. Withut a Wisdom increase to support spellcasting, you'll be much less effective than other characters.
While you'll lag on spellcasting, Circle of the Moon may be an option. If your DM allows you to retain Pack Tactics while using Wild Shape (I think they should since Pack Tactics isn't a function of the Kobold's anatomy), it's a powerful addition to your Wild Shape forms. However, without a Wisdom increase I would avoid other druid circles.
Pack Tactics requires making attacks with weapons, and no one makes as many weapon attacks as the Fighter (except perhaps the Monk). Since getting Advantage is so easy with Pack Tactics, consider using Sharpshooter to significantly boost your damage output. Unfortunately there isn't a comparable melee option since kobolds are terrible with two-handed weapons, but a kobold will fare just fine in melee with a finesse weapon (or two if you want to build for two-weapon fighting).
A Dexterity increase is technically all that you need, and easy Advantage with Pack Tactics will help keep your attacks reliable. If your d8 hit dice proves insufficient and your hit points are dropping, use Grovel, Cower, and Beg to beg for your life and hope that your allies can turn the combat around while your enemies are affected.
Easily-accessible Advantage means that you're more likely to score critical hits, and critical hits with Divine smite are very effective. Dexterty-based paladin builds are absoutely possible, and keeping you in melee to use Grovel, Cower, and Beg is always a good idea.
I wish that the Beastmaster subclass was better because it makes so much sense as a complement to Pack Tactics, but even without a pet to fight alongside, ranger is a great option. Hunter's Mark and Pack Tactics mean that you'll deal consistent, reliable damage with a variety of build options, and capitalizing on options like Sharpshooter can further boost your damage thanks to reliable Advantage.
Rogues can get Sneak Attack by several means, including similar conditions to Pack Tactics, so there's some overlap in the two features. Attacking with reliable Advantage means that you're less reliant on two-weapon fighting or on other gimicks to improve your likelihood of hitting despite only getting one attack per turn.
No Charisma increase.
No Charisma increase.
No Intelligence increase.