Three Kobolds in a Trench Coat: A Campaign

The “Totem Pole Trench” is a long-standing trope of cartoons and similarly goofy fiction, often portraying 2-3 children stacked atop one another to disguise themselves as an adult in order to gain access to places where might not otherwise be allowed due to their age. This trope has made its way into tabletop RPGs, but typically features small races like goblins, halflings, or kobolds.

This trope got some extra attention around the release of Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, resulting in WotC’s selling a Three Kobolds in a Trenchcoat Shirt to raise money for Extra Life (sadly no longer available), Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms posting a one-panel comic about the joke, and a piece of official promotional art for Rime of the Frostmaiden. The adventure even includes a stat block with rules for three kobolds passing themselves off as a human!

But after that, the world sort of let the joke go. Every once in a while it pops back into my head unbidden, though, and recently I tweeted this nonsense:

…which another user interpreted in a different but objectively better way, and now I have a crazy idea to share:

Three Kobolds in a Trench Coat: A Character

This was my original concept: Imagine a kobold as a player character. Laughable, I know. We certainly don’t have stats for them in DnD 3.x, DnD 5e, PF1, or PF2, so clearly this isn’t a thing people want. Now imagine that this kobold wants to be the top kobold in a “Three Kobolds in a Trenchcoat” scenario. Make up a reason why.

Now imagine that kobolds 2 and 3 provide mechanical benefits similar to magic items. One particularly sturdy kobold might provide the benefits of a Ring of Protection, while another might provide the benefits of a Wand of Missiles by casting Magic Missile a few times per day. A sneak kobold might provide the benefits of Boots of Elvenkind. Swapping out kobolds similarly to swapping magic items would allow you to change benefits.

This was originally a play on the joke “the real treasure is the friends we made along the way” because the other kobolds would be literally treated as treasure. You could drop this character into basically any campaign and it would work.

Three Kobolds in a Trench Coat: A Campaign

But what if we took that even further? What if each kobold were an independent character, and stacking them into a totem effectively stacked their classes into one character?

The mechanics here get a little complex, but I think this could actually work. The basic premise is that each player in the campaign controls a single trench coat totem, and assembles their character from a trio of kobolds. Your choice of kobolds determines your build, and rearranging your kobolds gives you a different build.

3.5, 5e, and PF1

The level mechanics for these systems are similar enough that we can use the same basic rules.

  • Each trench coat has a level, similar to levels in a class. This is the level cap for that coat’s totem, and becomes the total number of levels for the members of the totem.
  • Experience is awarded based on the number of totems in the party, rather than the number of kobolds
  • No kobold can multiclass. Each kobold is built as a single-class character. Multiclassing is handled by stacking kobolds.
  • Each individual kobold is 2 to 4 levels (depending on how many levels will be granted by kobolds 2 and 3 in each totem) behind the party’s “effective character level” and is built as an independent character so that they can serve as the top of the totem.
  • The top kobold in the totem is your primary class and gets most of your total levels in the totem. Kobolds 2 and 3 (the bottom two) add 1 to 2 levels each to the totem’s total level. This could be adjusted whenever a totem is formed or the party could agree to a fixed number when the campaign starts. You might allow one kobold to provide 1 level while the other provides 2. For example: One totem might have a wizard as the top kobold, a fighter as the second, and a rogue as the third. The player might choose one fighter level, two rogue levels, and the rest of their levels in wizard.
  • Wherever it matters (such as for proficiencies at level 1), the top kobold is always treated as the class taken at level 1. For example: In DnD 5e, saving throw proficiencies are determined by your class at level 1, so you use the top kobold’s class.
  • Each totem has the same magic item slots as a single character (though the kobolds might pass them around the trench coat or take turns with them). The totem counts as the classes of all three of its members whenever that matters.
  • A totem can be formed after a long rest and takes one hour of bickering and arguing between members of the totem.
  • In the event of death, only the top kobold is killed (usually). Any damage beyond what would have killed the top kobold is applied to the next kobold down the totem. Kobold 2 now becomes the top of the totem, and the player must quickly rebuild their character with that kobold as the top of the totem and only one additional kobold. If kobold 2 dies, kobold 3 becomes the top of the totem. Any surviving kobolds or those who are raised from the dead can form a new totem the next time that they complete daily preparations.
  • Optional Rule: Kobolds may not form a totem with any of the same three members more than one day in a row, and one kobold may not be the top of a totem for more than one day in a row. This is purely to encourage frequent switching of totems.

PF2

Pathfinder 2e doesn’t allow you to take levels in multiple classes; instead, multiclassing is handled by spending class feats to take multiclass dedication feats in order to take “archetypes”. This necessitates a different system from the systems addressed above, but also offers some really neat opportunities.

Instead of a kobold offering class levels, they offer feats from an archetype. Kobolds might have a class, so a sorcerer might offer levels in the sorcerer multiclass archetype, but kobolds might also be from a non-multiclass archetype such as Celebrity or Pirate. In this case, the kobold can’t be the top of the totem because they don’t have a base class.

  • Experience is awarded based on the number of totems in the party, rather than the number of kobolds
  • Each kobold with a class is built as an independent character, selecting their own feats, etc. so that they can serve as the top of the totem.
  • The top kobold in the totem is the basis of your build, and feats provided by kobolds 2 and 3 are added in when the totem is formed.
  • Kobolds 2 and 3 provides feats from their archetype. You could use two or three feats, or you might just apply the “Free Archetype” variant rule twice to represent kobolds 2 and 3. Discuss it with your party and agree to an answer at the beginning of the campaign.
  • A totem can be formed during daily preparations and takes one hour of bickering and arguing between members of the totem.
  • In the event of death during a day, only the top-most kobold is killed (usually). Any damage beyond what would have killed the top kobold is applied to the next kobold down the totem. Kobold 2 now becomes the top of the totem, and the player must quickly rebuild their character with that kobold as the top of the totem and only one additional kobold. If kobold 2 is not eligible to be the top (because they’re an archetype kobold, not a kobold with a class) or if they die, kobold 3 becomes the top. If no more kobolds are eligible to be the top of the totem, the remaining kobolds flee. Any surviving kobolds or those who are raised from the dead can form a new totem the next time that they complete daily preparations.
  • Optional Rule: Kobolds may not form a totem with any of the same three members more than one day in a row, and one kobold may not be the top of a totem for more than one day in a row. This is purely to encourage frequent switching of totems.

Conclusion

This idea is honestly crazy. I think it could work, but your players will need to be very comfortable building and rebuilding characters. The mechanics of juggling 12+ kobolds in a 4-person party is nuts, but for a party that loves to build characters I think this could be a really fun game.

6 Comments

  1. Bruce Alan Greenwood July 20, 2021
  2. Michael Tavares July 20, 2021
  3. battlemusic July 20, 2021
    • RPGBOT July 20, 2021
      • battlemusic July 20, 2021
  4. Valerie July 21, 2021

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