RPG Review – Advanced Races 6: Kobolds
There we go – the 6th installment in Kobold Press’ Advanced Races series is devoted to our favourite scaly miners/trapsmiths at an unprecedented 32 pages of length, of which 1 page is devoted to front cover, 1 to ToC/editorial, 1 to advertisement and 2/3 of a page to the SRD, leaving us with a whopping28 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?
“Me against my egg-clutch, my egg-clutch and me against other kobolds, we as kobolds against the rest of the world” – this maxim sums pretty much up how kobolds tend to view the world and, probably having escaped death at least once upon reaching adolescence and having probably witnessed the death of at least some fellow kobolds, these hardy beings come into adult life sans many illusions of their place in society and exhibit thus an opportunistic go-getter mentality. Speaking of mentality – as egg-laying reptilians, kobolds don’t exhibit the same attachment to their brood as mammalian races do – after all, it is not uncommon for more than half of a clutch not living past the first year and thus, closer attachment would probably yield rather devastating results for the parental psyche. Apprenticeship and adulthood come soon, at a mere 3-4 years of age and the final stages of kobold life are also depicted – a rare thing, btw.
Next would be a first among the Advanced Races-series, one particularity of the Midgard setting- race-specific masks of the god (see my review of the campaign setting for details on the concept): 2 deities thus get a full write-up and in a “further” section, relationships with other divinities are also covered before we delve into a neat section on Kobolds in various regions of Midgard – from Zobeck to Mharot to the subterranean realms, we get a nice little overview on how they interact with areas of significant kobold population.
The first piece of crunch comes in the guise of sobriquet traits – a total of 10 are provided and deliver access to class-skills, +1 to hit and damage versus one type of humanoid – you know the drill. Rules-wise, there’s nothing wrong here, though personally, I think the bonuses listed should be trait bonuses instead of untyped, but since the context makes it obvious, no strike against the pdf here. What makes these traits special, then? Well, the next couple of pages are mostly devoted to a massive d%-table that helps you create names – one column name roots, one for the first word of a sobriquet, one for the second word of the sobriquet and one for the m/f name suffix – including the appropriate sobriquet trait for the combination, though the latter not in all of the massive 100 entries. I LOVE this table – being a fan of cohesive nomenclature and significance, the linguistic nerd in me relished and rejoiced at this table and immediately longed for other installments of the series to feature this level of detail as well – awesome! The sheer beauty of this table offsets the absence of the imho rather crucial age, height and weight-table, though I still hope for the latter to be added.
Next up would be a total of 7 different alternate racial traits for e.g. decreased light sensitivity (but also diminished darkvision), one that reduced base movement speed to 20 feet, but nets you the endurance feat, one that grants you scent, one that increases the potency of form of the dragon spells and increased resistance to inhaled and ingested poisons – all in all solid racial traits, though there is a plural s missing in one of them. A total of 26 feats (including a handy table) are next: And some of these actually are awesome – from retrieving unattended objects as swift actions to ricochet sling-bullets, gaining a solid breath weapon (thankfully with a daily limit) to better climbing, several of the feats herein are actually great – what’s not so great would be the eye-gouge feat – allowing you to temporarily blind foes denied their dex-bonus if they fail a rather difficult ref-save. Notice something? It’s essentially an alternative to one of the effects of the dirty trick maneuver, so why not go that way? Having two wildly different mechanical representations of the same basic effect can prove to be confusing – the same goes for a nauseating effect. One feat that allows you to add your breath weapon to your bites mentions “Draconic Breath” as a prerequisite – I assume this should be the Breath Weapon feat?
One feat I wouldn’t allow in my game allows you to use Draconic to provide the verbal components of spells – spells with only verbal components hence do not provoke AoOs. While not terribly OP, in context with some options/spells out there, this one can have some unpleasant additional repercussions – what would e.g. happen to a still spell that only retains the somatic component? Logic would dictate the spell no longer provokes AoOs, rules RAW, it still would. Kobolds with the feat “Small but Fierce” can use dex-mod to add to atk and damage with light or one-handed melee weapons. Thing is, low str-scores still can reduce damage, but not atk – which is not standard: Either apply str for full benefits or don’t. The feat also fails to specify whether dex replaces str or stacks with it (in the latter case: Op) and lacks the bold “Benefits”-line. Speaking of lack – the feat that nets you a bite attack lacks information on whether it’s a primary or secondary attack – at least in the first feat netting a bite attack -as soon as you take the follow up feat for claw attacks, you actually get this information, so I won’t hold that against the pdf. Unfortunately, there is also a feat that fails the bag of kittens-test: By reducing a helpless creature to 0 hp, you gain +1 temporary hp per level and +1 to AC, atk and damage – while the benefits are not that OP and while I actually can see kobolds carrying bags of kittens around, I still think there should be some limit for this feat.
Other than that, not much to complain.
Next up would be 7 archetypes: The first would be the Arcanomechanist – an alchemist that creates small devices instead of extracts -said devices can be used by anyone as a standard action that provokes an AoO from the user – that means the archetype has the whole infusion-discovery abilities built in. The arcanomechanist may also craft special grafts to apply to creature that net them level-dependant benefits ranging from skill bonuses to later even DR and SR, but only a maximum of 4 (at 16th level) can remain active at one time. They may also shrug off cursed items and becomes a masters of item creation, but at the total cost of never gaining access to mutagens, poison etc. – all in all an interesting archetype that at first elicited a kneejerk “OMG OP”-reaction from me, but was quickly mitigated down to a more moderate reaction – so yeah, neat.
The second archetype would be the Bravo rogue, who essentially gets a variant of grit – fighting against large or multiple opponents for example nets a bravado point, with each day offering cha-mod starting points. Problem here: The text does not specify the kobold has to fight in melee against the adversaries, which somewhat defeats the intent of this caveat and makes regaining bravo very easy. Oh well, at least this particular ability passes the kitten-test via various restrictions – whether its instigating combat with giant opponents, making successful, eluding damage/imprisonment etc., springing traps, romancing creatures or using dirty tricks – surprisingly, the designers got all of them right and left no exploits in this complex environment open – kudos where kudos are due! The bravo also gets 6 deeds to use with bravado, and unfortunately, the wording isn’t as precise here – dirty attack lets you spend 3 points to make a “dirty trick action”, which, when successful, allows you to add sneak attack as an immediate action. So…is that +sneak attack damage? An additional attack? At what BAB? What type of option is using this deed? Does it provoke AoOs? This deed needs a more precise wording, which is particularly annoying since I love the archetype’s idea and the imprecise wording extends to the final revenge strike the bravo gains at 10th level. Please fix this one!
Next up would be the Clockwork Alchemist, who substitutes so-called complications, essentially a mechanical variant of mutagens – complications can be used by non clockwork alchemists, but require a save against a prolonged nausea. Unfortunately, the wording comes completely apart in this ability, making it extremely hard to understand how this is supposed to work:
“A non-clockwork alchemist who attaches a complication must make a Fortitude save (DC 10 + 1/2 the clockwork alchemist’s level + the clockwork alchemist’s Intelligence modifier) or become nauseated for 1 hour. This is a distinction from more traditional alchemy—a non-clockwork alchemist can never gain the benefit of a mutagen, but a clockwork alchemist can gain the effects of another clockwork alchemist’s mutagen if he drinks it (although if the other clockwork alchemist creates a different mutagen, the effects of the “stolen” mutagen immediately cease.)” – Non-clockwork alchemists can gain the benefits of mutagens. Clockwork Alchemists have complications, no mutagens. They can’t drink them, I assumed. Can Clockwork Alchemists benefit from a complication and a mutagen? This ability-complex needs a tighter wording that clearly distinguishes between mutagens and complications.
These alchemists also create bombs that need to be immediately thrown and deal slashing damage and can enhance these via 8 new discoveries that allow the bombs to become alchemical silver, cold iron, bludgeoning damage etc. or throw bombs that repair constructs in their blast. Unfortunately, errors have crept in here: Axiomatic clockwork bombs sport an excerpt from the text on alchemical silver bombs – no idea what they’re supposed to do. Then, the text of chaotic bombs is intact and specifies that they ” do chaotic damage. The clockwork alchemist may choose only one special damage discovery to apply to any individual clockwork bomb.” There is no such thing as chaotic damage. I don’t have the slightest idea of how these discoveries are supposed to work. Also: can regular bomb discoveries be added to clockwork bombs? I assume so, but the pdf fails to specify. Essentially, the clockwork alchemist needs a thorough cleaning up.
The Grudge Rager barbarian offsets the penalties of being small and draws strength from being hit – that one’s okay. Scrap Warrior Fighters may Use Magic Devices and may temporarily change damage type of weapons and repair mundane equipment – which is cool per se-only, the archetype does not limit the damage-types available. I assume only slashing, piercing and bludgeoning were intended, but RAW any type of exotic damage, profane or holy, elemental damage – all would be possible. And that is slightly too strong at 2nd level for my tastes. Rather interesting – the kobold may also reuse potions that have been used by others, gaining half the initial benefit – per se cool. What about discarded vials of poison? Also half potency? Relevant for DMs laying traps for the fellows… The archetype also learns to squeeze last uses out of magic items and repair things/improvise tools. All in all, a very cool archetype here.
Next up would be the Spike Monk, who uses a new weapon, the kobold spike – essentially a combination of shuriken and caltrop. They deal 1d3 points for small, 1d4 for medium weapons. They may flurry with these and spread 4 on a field to duplicate the effect of caltrops as one attack that can be taken as part of a flurry. Look at that damage output. While shuriken have thankfully been nerfed, this still is evil, surpassing them by quite a bit – not counting as ammunition helps, though. At 4th level, the archetype gets quick draw – the signature spikes count as weapons, after all. How that interacts with flurry, though, remains slightly opaque – can a Spike Monk only have 2 spikes readied for a flurry (one per hand?) before gaining the feat? How does the caltrop scattering work then? Also: What if the monk already has Quick Draw? (The latter extends to e.g. precise shot and similar prescribed bonus feats the class gets, btw.) Also weird – these monks may expend ki and drill their spikes in matter, gaining +20 to acrobatics-checks for high jumps or helping with climbing – what about combat? Could the spike monk drill these spikes into e.g. enemy shields? If so, does he provoke AoOs?
Problematic: ” At 5th level the spike monk may use a point of ki and use a standard action to make a single attack to throw a spike and pin an opponent within 30 ft. in place. If the spike monk’s attack against the target’s CMD succeeds, the target gains the entangled condition and is anchored. An anchored opponent can disentangle themselves with a Strength check or Escape Artist check equal to 10 + 1/2 the spike monk’s monk level + the monk’s Wisdom modifier. This ability replaces purity of body.” What does “Anchored” entail? Also: What attack? Regular attack? CMB? Don’t know. 10th level spike master may also cause bleed damage and stack it – the ability just fails to specify whether the bleed damage replaces the regular weapon damage. Essentially, the class tries to replace unarmed attacks with kobold spikes as signature weapons and generally, I like the idea – caltrops are underused. Still, a lot of issues that require fixing here…
The final archetype would be the Tunnel Harrier rogue, who actually WORKS! The idea is simple and cool: Add withdraw to any sneak attack as an immediate action – simple, elegant, cool and the other abilities complement this one well – that’s the way to go!
Next up would be 11 new spells: With delay traps, multiple sprung traps can be delayed in their onset and unleashed at a command. Level 1, duration 1 hour/level, 1 trap per level, no two of which may be further than 60 foot apart. Looks simple on paper, doesn’t it? Now start thinking – and bam, you realize how insanely broken this one is. Create a vast gauntlet of traps – lure enemies -> free-action, INFERNO. No disable device, no chance. Add to that another issue: What about complex, multi-effect traps? One trap? Component effects traps? This spell is broken in two ways.
Growing in size and shrinking are possible, as is smelting objects, as is a spell to add bleed to sneak attack, one to search for ore/gems in walls, one to create an animate tripping stick and one to change the voice into that of a dragon. Fans of Metal Gear Solid will like the stealth-enhancing spells that essentially conceal the target behind trash or shrubbery (instead of a box) and another spell can fire kobolds at foes – free movement + charge attack, but also the chance for the kobolds to fall prone. Why only kobolds? Why not e.g. goblins? Usually spells restricted to a race have a reason for being restricted in that they interact with some racial quality – not so here. There is no reason other small humanoids can’t be catapulted. Oh, and why can e.g. enlarged kobolds be catapulted just as easily? Here we need a rephrasing as well.
After that, we’re off to new items – suits helping against cold weather, a paste that temporarily makes stone soft, magnetized cobalt, tail sconces and scent chalk make for interesting items. On the magical front, we also get 6 new ones, which include a minor artifact, the gnomeskull and a neat focus on dire weasels in a selection of rather cool items. Let me also mention that the kobold street traps from the Zobeck Gazetteer have been included here – for what purpose, though, I can’t fathom: They do not adhere to standard trap-statblocks/lack crafting information for PCs and while I didn’t complain about them lacking that for DMs, as a player-supplement, this section imho constitutes SPOILERS and should be cut/replaced/made player-friendly at least.
Editing and formatting are no longer okay – while not as bad as it could have been, especially rules-editing is simply not precise enough – there are a lot of issues and ambiguities herein. Layout adheres to Kobold Press’ beautiful 2-column full-colour standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The artworks herein are nice b/w-pieces.
As (almost) always with Kobold Press, the fluff is superb – this book presents cool ideas galore in that department and the nomenclature-table is simply glorious, as are some of the smaller pieces of crunch herein, though ardent fans of the Midgard-setting will experience severe déjà-vu here and there, with several pieces already known from various other sources.
All right, I’ll cut right to it: I so HOPED that Kobold Press would take a very close look at the book that details the titular humanoids. Well, seems like some of the tasked kobolds celebrated “We no work day.” (Midgard-fans like yours truly hopefully got a chuckle out of this one…) Authors Nicholas Milasisch and Matt Blackie have crafted a supplement full of glorious ideas – the items, the sobriquet traits, the damn cool fluff – there is a lot to like, love even, herein. Unfortunately, a lot of this supplement is also very deeply flawed, to the point where some glitches/oversights render parts of the content utterly op or unusable. Which sucks. This is one of those sad reviews, where I look at a pdf of glorious potential and just shake my head. I won’t complain about the reused content, since it’s great, but I wish that e.g. the traps has been modified for player-use instead of just cut-copy-pasting them. In the end, though I do love so many ideas herein, I can’t even rate this as average anymore – the flaws are too pronounced and thus, I will settle on a final verdict of 2 stars – the good ideas herein don’t deserve being rated down to one.
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