Last Updated: September 20, 2023
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 original version of the Kobold was 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 featured an ability decrease, but they’re later in the alphabet so kobolds still count as first). Of course, this was later removed.
They also feature the powerful Pack Tactics trait which is typically reserved for weak creatures designed to be threatening in a group but negligible on their own. This is partially offset by Sunlight Sensitivity, but players are typically clever enough to offset Sunlight Sensitivity somehow, so it wasn’t much of a problem.
Despite the strength of Pack Tactics, the original Kobold is very limited. With only a single ability score increase, anything that couldn’t survive almost exclusively on Dexterity was a difficult choice without the custom origin rules.
The updated version of the Kobold published in Monsters of the Multiverse completely reworked their design, removing both Pack Tactics and Sunlight Sensitivity, which was met with much skepticism from people who enjoyed Pack Tactics. That was loss was certainly tragic, the new version of the Kobold is interesting, versatile, and very playable. If we had gotten this as the original version of the Kobold, I think people would have really liked it.
While the concept of subraces has gone away, the Kobold’s Kobold Legacy trait functions similarly to a subrace, offering one additional decision point within your race to customize your kobold to your liking.
Table of Contents
- Kobold Versions
- Pack Tactics
- Kobold Classes (MMom)
- Kobold Classes (Customizable Origins)
- Kobold Classes (Classic Rules)
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. Nearly never useful.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
- : Good options. Useful often.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.
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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 the article will be updated accordingly as time allows.
The Kobold effectively has 4 versions. The original version was published in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and included a Strength decrease as party of the Kobold’s racial traits. This decrease was removed in errata, which we’ll call version 1.1.
The introduction of the custom origin rules in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything gave us the third version of the Kobold, allowing players to move the single +2 increase to other places. This made any SAD class viable for the Kobold without suffering through poor ability scores for most of your career.
Most recently, Monsters of the Multiverse gave us the Kobold’s fourth version. This was a complete rewrite, abandoning the previous version of the Kobold’s traits in favor of some exciting new ideas. Draconic Cry calls back to Grovel, Cower, and Beg, but rather than assuming cowardice, you’re free to described it as groveling or as a mighty draconic roar. Grovel, Cower, and Beg also previously only benefited your allies and took an Action, while Draconic Cry is a Bonus Action and also benefits you. This makes it an easy way to get Advantage in a hurry, though the 10-foot range is a problem for ranged attacker. Kobold Legacy offers a decision point which makes the Kobold appealing on nearly any class.
If you are using the version of the Kobold published in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, you will need to understand the implications of Pack Tactics.
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 but you still don’t want to use the updated version of the Kobold, 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.
Kobold Classes (MMom)
A great choice for melee builds where Draconic Cry’s short range is easy to achieve safely. Any of the Kobold Ancestry options work depending on your needs, but default to Defiance if you’re not sure what to pick.
Small size limits your weapon options, Draconic Cry is partially redundant with Reckless Attack, and your options with Kobold Legacy are limited. Even so, a totem barbarian kobold that reskinned the totems as dragons would be really neat.
Faerie Fire is an easier source of Advantage than Draconic Cry, but that doesn’t actually make it a terrible option. Take Kobold Legacy (Draconic Sorcery) and you can turn a lore bard into a decent melee threat with Booming Blade or Green-Flame Blade, bringing you into close quarters where you’re in range for Draconic Cry.
Kobold Legacy (Draconic Sorcery) offers easy access to Booming Blade or Green-Flame Blade, either of which will make using a weapon justifiable despite the Cleric’s difficulties making weapons useful. Grab a domain which grants heavy armor proficiency, march into melee, and use Draconic Cry to support your allies.
Draconic Cry typically drags you into melee, which is a hard prospect for the Druid due to their persistent durability issues. You could go for Circle of Spores and use Kobold Legacy (Draconic Sorcery) to get Booming Blade or Green-Flame Blade and stack it with your bonus damage from Symbiotic Entity. You could also go for Circle of the Moon. I think Draconic Cry works while using Wild Shape, but check with your DM.
A good choice for melee builds, and any version of Kobold Legacy could be useful. Craftiness will help make you useful outside of combat. Defiance will protect against a common mental status effect that is frequently a huge problem for fighters. Draconic Sorcery can get you Booming Blade, giving eldritch knights a small damage boost until Extra Attack comes online. Then when you get War Magic you can go back to Booming Blade.
The Monk already leans heavily on their Bonus Action, but using Draconic Cry in place of a Bonus Action to attack may provide a bigger boost to your party’s damage output than just hitting your enemies one more time that turn. Draconic Legacy is hard, but Crafty may be your best bet despite the limited skill options.
Effective for all the same reasons as the Fighter. Paladins also don’t get as many attacks as fighters, so Kobold Legacy (Draconic Sorcery) to get Booming Blade or Green-Flame Blade can be a significant boost to your damage output even once Extra Attack comes online. Crafty looks tempting, but the skill options don’t work well for most paladins.
Rangers often lean heavily on their Bonus Action, and few of the Kobold Legacy options are great for the ranger. If you’re your party’s primary front-line martial character, go for Defiant. If you need skills, Craft may help despite the limited skill choices.
Draconic Cry provides easy Advantage to trigger Sneak Attack in a pinch, and Kobold Legacy (Draconic Sorcery) gets you Booming Blade so that you can use Cunning Action to perform easy hit-and-run tactics. You also get Darkvision, which is crucial for sneaking around in the dark.
Draconic Cry is dangerous because of its short range. Kobold Legacy offers a few useful options, but I would go for Crafty over the others. Fear is less of a problem when you don’t need to approach enemies or make attacks, and an extra sorcerer cantrip is nice but not essential.
As dangerous as it is, using Draconic Cry at short range before blasting an enemy with Eldritch Blast can be very effective. Or you can be a hexblade and shoot/stab people. Any of the Kobold Legacy options work fine, but I would skip Draconic Sorcery unless you desperately need just one more cantrip for some reason.
Being close enough to use Draconic Cry is dangerous for any wizard except a bladesinger. Draconic Legacy is decent, but doesn’t offer anything that the Wizard needs, even as a bladesinger.
Kobold Classes (Customizable Origins)
This section assumes that you’re using the option “Customizing Your Origin” rules presented in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. If you’re not using those rules, scroll down to the next section.
Battle smith is a great choice for the Kobold since your steel defender provides easy support for Pack Tactics, and you’re frequently in melee where Grovel, Cower, and Beg are useful.
Reckless Attack makes Pack Tactics mostly redundant. Pack Tactics isn’t as risky, but the different isn’t big enough to justify your race.
Bards don’t make enough attacks to justify Pack Tactics.
Clerics never make more than one attack per turn (war clerics are an exception, but even then it’s only a few times per day), so Pack Tactics is minimally useful.
Circle of the Moon is the obvious choice here. Pack Tactics doesn’t go away when you use Wild Shape, so you can turn into something with a bunch of attacks and dive into melee alongside a friend.
Pack Tactics is great. Build around Great Weapon Master or Sharpshooter, and Advantage mostly offsets the attack penalty, making it easy to do a bunch of damage reliably.
Pack Tactics on four attacks per turn as early as level 5. Way of Shadow’s ability to cast Darkness offers an easy way to negate Sunlight Sensitivity, but you can’t see in magical darkness, so use Pack Tactics to offset Disadvantage from being unable to see. Enemies will attack you at Disadvantage, but you’ll attack normally.
Pack Tactics nearly doubles your likelihood of scoring a critical hit, which means more critical smites. Grovel, Cower, and Beg feels odd on a paladin, but just ignore that.
Pack Tactics is great for a high-damage class like the Ranger. Build around archery and you almost can’t miss, resulting in a significant increase to your damage output. Sharpshooter is an easy addition.
Pack Tactics means easy Sneak Attack, and Darkvision is great for sneaking around in the dark.
Sorcerers don’t get enough attacks that matter to make Pack Tactics meaningful. Scorching Rays might be enough, but it doesn’t scale well enough to make that viable long-term.
Pack Tactics gives you the accuracy benefits of Shadow of Moil without spending a spell slot right from level one. Combine that with Hex, and you’re incredibly deadly.
Bladesingers are the only wizards that make a lot of attacks for their whole career, but even then it’s an occasional diversion between your big impactful spells.
Kobold Classes (Classic Rules)
This section assumes that you’re not using the option “Customizing Your Origin” rules presented in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything or the updated version of the race published in Mordenkainen’s Monsters of the Multiverse. 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.