D&D 5e: Kobold Race Guide
“[T]he kobold approached, walking out of the dusty distance” – Terry Pratchett, The Long War
I have a long-standing love and appreciation for Kobolds. Numbers of their kind I have slain range well into the upper hundreds across dozens of campaigns and even more characters. After spending that much time around a creature, you grow to love it. They’re adorable in the “so gross they’re cute” way. Perhaps you have had a similar experience with the Kobold and want to pay your respects to them by trying to keep them alive for a change. WoTC has made their playable Kobold an absolute riot to play. Their mechanics are flavorful and funny, and they have some truly surprising versatility.
A piece of anecdotal evidence: one of the few characters I have seen grow from level 1 to 20 was a Kobold Rogue and they demolished everything in front of them.
The Kobold: the new frontier of playable monster races.
–ASI: +2 DEX. That’s all. Is it great? Well, I think it’s fantastic because DEX is the “god-stat” in Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition, though it is a sad thing to know that you don’t get anything else. So, just be aware that you’ll really only be leaning into the more dexterity-focused classes if you plan on doing well (basically, you’ll be playing a Rogue).
-Age: Adulthood by 6 and live up to 120 years, but Volo’s Guide to Monsters cheekily adds that they “rarely” live that long. Even in the Kobold’s racial features, they are considered chaff.
-Size: Small, standing between 2 and 3ft weighing between 25 and 35 pounds.
–Speed: 30ft. Average, but for a small race, 30ft is a happy sight.
–Darkvision: Standard 60ft darkvision. Always comes in handy.
–Grovel, Cower, and Beg: Using an action, you can distract nearby foes within 10ft of you. Allies get advantage on all attack rolls (melee and ranged) against those enemies until the end of your next turn. This is especially good if your allies have attacks that they can use as reactions. The fact that you can only use this once per short or long rest is sad. In an Unearthed Arcana, we could see that WoTC was playing with the idea of using it a number of times per day equal to a character’s proficiency score which I think is a wise choice and a good homebrew alternative.
–Pack Tactics: Advantage on attack rolls if you have an ally within 5ft of the creature and isn’t down. Sneak attack say HELLOOOO! Also, this works for melee or ranged attacks, so you are exceptionally rewarded for playing a ranged Rogue since you can avoid the hits.
–Sunlight Sensitivity: The worst racial trait in the game that is most frequently homebrewed out of games. Disadvantage on Perception checks and attack rolls when the thing you’re targeting is in direct sunlight. Nothing good about it. If your DM enforces it, be on the lookout for some nicely tinted goggles or dark-themed campaigns.
-Languages: Common and Draconic. Good languages and solid thematic fit to the most loathed servants of the Dragon Tyrant, Tiamat.
There are no subraces for the Kobold just yet, and I am not sure we’ll ever see any added.
Best Classes and Archetypes for Kobold
Let’s chat about how I determined these rankings. Generally speaking, I assume that your Ability Score array is not already maximized with 18’s from perfect score rolls at character creation and that you plan to lean into the existing strengths of the Kobold: Dexterity and advantage manipulation. Due to their Pack Tactics ability, they aren’t outright awful at any one thing, they just need party members to be engaged in melee combat. At the end of the day, the reasoning comes down to three things:
1) Does the race satisfy the expectations of the class?
2) Does the class synergize with subclass abilities?
3) How easy would it be to get started with this race-class/subclass combo?
As a stipulation, I will say, be extra wary about playing any “meh” combos here because your only purpose in those classes will be to give your party members advantage as often as possible with your Grovel, Cower, Beg ability and you don’t get that too often unless you rest regularly.
You can try to turn D&D 5e into as much of an exact science as you want, but at the end of the day, you need to figure out what works best for your playstyle, your campaign, and your playgroup. Alrighty, here we go!
Alchemist, Artillerist, and Battle Smith are a waste of your time. You need to focus on YOU right now, and they are too worried about other people. Boost your INT soon and choose Armorer.
Alchemist: No INT and the Alchemist uses a lot of spells and utility focused on its INT. Your DEX isn’t super useful to you here.
Armorer: When you start, use your DEX instead of INT in your powered suit and you’ll be able to kick some butt. You will need an INT boost for your core abilities and you will want to lean into it down the line as your primary stat.
Artillerist: Your Eldritch Cannon doesn’t count as an ally unless your DM rules otherwise, so it can’t benefit from your groveling nor does it share your pack tactics. In short, poor synergy.
Battle Smith: The Steel Defender: It’s friendly, but mechanically, it isn’t considered an ally. So it’s a similar issue to the artillerist.
No STR. No CON. No Deal.
DEX and Barbarians are on good terms. It’s awesome for your AC, but it just isn’t where you want to be focusing your attention when you lose out on massive parts of your kit like CON (i.e. your ability to take a hit and to make the most of your d12 hit die).
Ancestral Guardian: Despite how much I love the Barbarian, the Kobold just doesn’t fit as a viable option. The Ancestral Guardian, however, does have a solid focus on actively supporting your teammates while doing damage, so it’s a fine choice.
Battlerager: Dwarves only. Plus they’re wildly underpowered.
Beast: Transformations are a favorite option for me in 5e, but this is not the way.
Berserker: Classic Barbarian. Kobold would just emphasize its weaknesses.
Depths: Unless you’re on the water it’s extra bad.
Juggernaut: Breaking things requires STR.
Storm Herald: Love weather effects and environment interaction, but you need to be able to hold your own, which a Kobold Barbarian will struggle to do.
Totem Warrior – Bear: Your best chance at soaking damage.
Totem Warrior – Eagle: Kobold flight. You earned it. You’ll likely be flying to your death though.
Totem Warrior – Elk: Needs super STR to knock people over.
Totem Warrior – Tiger: Just the lamest of all the Totems. Cool theme, poor execution.
Totem Warrior – Wolf: Fits Kobold theming brilliantly (i.e. advantage manipulation).
Wild Magic: This is what I would do. Enjoy the random effects and have a laugh.
Zealot: You’re best chance to not die. You’ll struggle to keep up dealing damage.
While Bards are cool and all, you’re going to be struggling to meet the social expectations of the class until you focus on your CHA at multiple ASI opportunities. I’d avoid it unless you want to lean into the theme of groveling and play a pathetic bard.
Creation: Might be a decent option for you if you want to play creatively. If you take this combo, chances are that’s what you were after in the first place.
Eloquence: Amazing bard option. Never waste a Bardic Inspiration die again. It needs CHA which you don’t have.
Glamour: Requires CHA to even function and you don’t have it.
Lore: Wants more INT and WIS for skills on top of CHA… pass.
Maestro: Hungry for Bardic Inspiration die. Otherwise, it’s okay.
Swords: You might stand a chance in a scuffle, but your spellcasting will be pitiful.
Valor: Bad subclass generally. Don’t waste your time.
Whispers: Without CHA your social skills (a major theme of the class) are garbage. Skip this.
The Blood Hunter is a mixed bag of tricks. Their attacks largely focus on STR or DEX (which luckily you have plenty of the latter). They have some things that want WIS or even INT. And they want CON to survive since they tend toward the melee side of things. In this case, you won’t be optimally engaging with those WIS/INT abilities, and you won’t want to be in the middle of melee combat since you won’t tank as many hits. Go Ranged. It is a viable option since your Crimson Rite can be used on ranged weapons.
Ghostslayer: Stellar killing undead. Have some fun with the alternate Crimson Rite options.
Lycan: Dig on the lycanthropy. Transforming is cool, but I feel like the Lycan wants to be in melee whereas a Kobold leans toward ranged.
Mutant: One of my favorite generalist subclasses. Pretty much anything can work here if you’re willing to suffer momentary consequences.
Profane Soul: Your spellcasting is going to be shameful. Go Warlock before going this route.
No WIS, but Pack Tactics’ advantage on your attacks could be massive to making you a formidable foe. For example, getting advantage on Guiding Bolt at any level is almost guaranteed GIGANTIC damage.
Favor putting a larger score on your WIS during character creation and boost it at the nearest opportunity.
Arcana: Wizardry Cleric is cool, but you need the WIS to make it work.
Blood: Begs you to have a good WIS score.
Death: Can’t be a good necromancer without the WIS.
Forge: Utility is limited without a good WIS score.
Grave: You’ll be in a grave pretty quick without a better WIS score.
Knowledge: Focuses on WIS and INT skills. Bad.
Life: Healing is always going to be welcome, but you’re not going to be doing as good a job at it as you could be.
Light: Spell Saves are going to suck without a good WIS. Also, you might impose Sunlight Sensitivity on yourself.
Nature: Needs a WIS boost badly. This is a Kobold that might run a free landfill.
Order: While it might sound like a good combo, giving advantage and reaction attacks to your allies, you need an action to either do the former or cast a 1st-level spell (or higher) to do the latter. The synergy falls short.
You won’t have great spellcasting, but your core abilities are nice.
Peace: I absolutely love this subclass option. Immense power paired with fantastic team-building synergies. Golden choice once you have better WIS.
Tempest: Though the Tempest Cleric is epic, it is not great for you. Your spells are going to suck and you’re not going to hit as hard as you’d like to. Plus, you are expected to be in melee.
Trickery: Thematically, this is a solid fit. Mechanically, I’d pass.
Twilight: Useful as a single level dip to multiclass, otherwise, pass.
War: You’ll be putting yourself in the queue for a brutal death (as all War Clerics are called to do), but getting a plus +10 to hit with advantage is going to feel amazing while you’re alive.
No WIS, but Pack Tactics advantage on your attacks could be absolutely massive to making you a formidable foe. Favor putting a larger score on your WIS during character creation and boost it at the nearest opportunity.
Dreams: The spells here are a lot of fun, but you need a high spell save DC for it to be really fun.
Land: Outdone by many of the new Druid subclasses (and that is not likely to change).
Moon: This may sound silly, but you still have access to your racial Pack Tactics feature (and possibly your Grovel, Cower, and Beg depending on how your DM rules it). So, this is actually pretty amazing for you. Advantage on all your Wild Shape attacks so long as you have buddies alongside you… amazing.
Shepherd: Love summoning. Powers are much better than the Conjurist Wizard until about level 14.
Spores: Might be a good option for you, second to the Circle of the Moon druid. Solid crankiness. Good utility. Fairly enjoyable gameplay.
Stars: Super powerful at the best of times. Mediocre without high WIS. Boost it and boost it HIGH.
Wildfire: Arson is cool, guys. No doubt. And Kobolds love a good fire. Abilities are cool, but the companion is a bit lackluster if you face a lot of creatures with fire resistance.
Love a DEX fighter. But DEX on its own does not a well-rounded fighter make. You’ll have two options as you level up: 1) lean into DEX as your primary stat and lose out on bigger bonuses elsewhere or 2) spread yourself thin across DEX, CON, and any tertiary abilities you need/want.
Arcane Archer: Needs INT to succeed but loves the DEX. Boost INT at level 4 and you should be pretty happy.
Battle Master: Endless variety in the subclass, but the Kobold has one mode of play it really wants to focus on: ranged annihilation.
Cavalier: You’re small so there are more things to ride, but it wants a high STR score for your Unwavering Mark.
Champion: More crits mean a happier Kobold. If you get to level 15, criting on an 18-20 is kind of unheard of. However, you’ll be taking the Barbarian approach to most fights “hit, hit, hit”.
Echo Knight: If you’re DM rules your echo as an ally, you’re going to destroy everything. If not, the subclass is solid and pretty engaging to tinker with.
Eldritch Knight: Needs INT to succeed, but can make use of the DEX to overcome its shortcomings until you boost INT.
Gunslinger: Will absolutely destroy using the +2 DEX bonus. A gun-toting, little dragon person sounds like a whole lot of fun. The roleplaying opportunities will be hilarious.
Psi Warrior: This would like INT to hit smarter not harder, but can make use of the DEX to make up the slack. Boost INT ASAP.
Purple Dragon Knight: Loves boosting allies. This fits with the Kobold theme of “the party matters” and your abilities synergize pretty well.
Renegade: Your life is the same as the Gunslinger (except you’re played by Clint Eastwood).
Rune Knight: It’s kind of a “meh” subclass just on its own, but it has some decent options. You can go straight from Small to Large. Scales poorly in the long run.
Samurai: Without CHA, you will lack a major social component of the class. But a Kobold Samurai would be both hilarious and a bit frightening.
Though you don’t have the WIS, you’ll be in a similar position to the Ranger (see below) with the exception that you mostly need to be in melee combat*. Your AC wants WIS, so boost it at level 4 and you’ll be in a good position.
*There are some notable exceptions I will address hereafter.
Ascendant Dragon: For a Kobold that aspires to true dragon-hood, this is an exceptional thematic choice! Mechanically, they are pretty badass too.
Astral Self: The powers are simple but powerful. Enjoy!
Cobalt Soul: Punch the truth out of enemies. Great for turning a combat scenario into a roleplaying opportunity.
Drunken Master: It’s just Jackie Chan. It feels great to play mechanically and immensely fun to roleplay.
Four Elements: I think the Four Elements Monk is a bit clunky mechanically. They basically apply the Dungeon Master’s Guide variant spellcasting, but with Ki points instead.
Kensei: This subclass can enjoy a lot of ranged options with your Kensei weapon specializations. For a Kobold, this is excellent.
Long Death: Brutal attacks and strong utility. Thumbs up.
Mercy: Punch the souls back into people. Is it a bit silly? Maybe, but I like it.
Open Hand: Classic monk. More interesting options have come up since it first came out, but I like the simplicity and ease of access.
Shadow: Unbeatable in dark-setting campaigns. Like… seriously unrivaled.
Sun Soul: Top-tier pick for a Kobold. The ranged blasts fit perfectly with how you want to play, and there is a fascinating thematic element to explore in why a creature dwelling in the dark radiates with the power of the SUN!
It’s been said elsewhere, by myself and others, that the DEX Paladin is one of the more powerful paths they can take. However, with no core abilities for an efficient Paladin like CHA or CON, or skill-heavy states like WIS or INT, you’re not in a great position to succeed outright. You can build your CHA and CON over Ability Score Improvements and with magic items, but those are few and far between. It’ll take a while to be useful and you’ll frequently be putting yourself in harm’s way.
Ancients: The Aura of Warding may be one of the most useful Paladin auras in the game. Resistance to ALL spell damage is huge.
Conquest: Just be a War Cleric for some better spell choices. You’ll most frequently be running into your death, but it will be glorious.
Crown: Great combat options but your spellcasting will suck.
Devotion: Just be a Cleric of Order or Peace. You’ll be in a much better position.
Glory: Gives you one of the best mobility boosts in the entire game and your allies can benefit, but you have to make it to the mid-game. Also, the utility of giving temp HP after using your divine smites is immense. You won’t be as sad to have a crappy CHA, but you’ll still want to boost it.
Oathbreaker: In the right scenario, this can be one of the strongest Paladin subclasses, however, I think they tend to be beaten out by the Conquest Paladin.
Open Sea: Works best at sea. Otherwise, pass.
Redemption: The Rebuke the Violent Channel Divinity used against a powerful enemy is huge. But you’ll want a very high spell DC to make the save harder to pass. Boost your CHA!
Vengeance: The mobility is great, but you have to make it to level 7 to benefit. Decent pick for a Kobold that wants to survive!
Watchers: Solid class skills but needs to be used in a planar campaign. With the Spelljammer setting, this will likely see a lot more play.
You’ll only be a ranged attack Ranger and that’s okay. There is still plenty of damage potential, just a slightly diminished versatility since you don’t want to be up close and personal. However, if you do find yourself surrounded, the Grovel, Cower, Beg ability is a great flavor move to try and get the DM to take pity on you and wonderful mechanically to give your allies a nice attack buff.
Beast Master: Needs to make use of all the Tasha’s optional features to be viable.
Drakewarden: At level 7 you can ride a dragon. Hot Diggity! This is every Kobold’s dream.
Fey Wanderer: Best in campaigns that involve the Feywild. Otherwise, their kit feels a little limited.
Gloom Stalker: Dread Ambusher is not limited to melee attacks. This is amazing and perhaps a bit broken. You should be getting advantage on all your attacks and putting out immense damage.
Horizon Walker: Like the Watcher Paladin. We will likely be seeing a lot more play in the coming years of D&D. Solid teleportation options in the mid-late game.
Hunter: Basic Ranger. They have a lot of options and can put out A LOT of damage in the right situation. The difficulty with them is that they basically ask you “when do you want to deal damage” and outside of that scenario, you might feel less capable.
Monster Slayer: You want a higher STR score for these guys, so this won’t be your optimal fit.
Swarmkeeper: In a word – mediocre. They have some solid control options against single targets, but these guys fall flat for me.
A positively stunning combination. You should be getting sneak attacks the likes of which no other rogue has dreamed (so long as you have someone bigger and stronger than you in the fray). This is Pack Tactics abuse in its greatest form ever. Additionally, with the Tasha’s option of “Steady Aim”, you’ll be able to give yourself advantage as a bonus action if you don’t move. So, you should be getting sneak attacks off 90% of the time. With that in mind, I highly recommend ranged combat since you are likely going to be more squishy given your lack of CON. You’ll also be able to use your Evasion to great effect, so that should help you mitigate a lot of area damage.
Arcane Trickster: Honestly, most of the benefits of this combo are described above. But I’ll just add here, that you’ll need a better INT to love this combo, but the Arcane Trickster was that level 20 Kobold’s subclass that I described earlier. It can work and be absolutely bonkers.
Assassin: Even more insane damage potential. I think this is a top-tier pick for eager Rogues that want to feel particularly brutal.
Inquisitive: You’ll want a better INT and WIS. Pass in this case.
Mastermind: Boy oh boy. This fits the vibe of the Kobold brilliantly thanks to your ability to use a Bonus Action and help your allies. You should be getting advantage, dealing great damage, and giving advantage to your allies all over the place.
Phantom: Solid pick. Perhaps a bit dull for the Kobold thematically, but if you want a Kobold that collects magic haunted dolls, this is for you.
Scout: Simply superior mobility options that allow you to be a melee class if you choose to be.
Soulknife: Loves a high DEX at much higher levels, so keep focusing on that.
Swashbuckler: Your ability to attack and get out of Opportunity Attacks means this can also be a great way for the Kobold to enter the melee zone and be safe (when it is otherwise unwise for them to be there).
Thief: Classic Rogue that loves a boost to DEX. Start collecting those magic items early and profit in the late game!
No CHA is pretty painful, and you’ll be taking more short rests than long rests as a Kobold (at least to operate at maximal efficiency). The Pack Tactics advantage is great for single-target spells.
Aberrant Mind: The abilities are solid, but they will always come off suboptimal without higher CHA.
Clockwork Soul: A fine pick if you want to multiclass for their level 1 ability but will suffer in the long run.
Divine Soul: There are better ways for you to heal (Life Cleric/Mercy Monk).
Draconic Bloodline: Love a dragon, especially for a Kobold. So, this could be a very fun thematic path to explore.
Rune Child: You will spend all your sorcery points trying to be barely useful.
Shadow Sorcery: Love the flavor of the subclass, but I don’t savor this combo.
Storm Sorcery: Like the clockwork soul, you might take this for the level one ability, and the mobility is nice, but your damage would always be garbage.
Wild Magic: The chaos of the fae is super exciting to play around with, but this is not the fit for you since Wild Magic seldom triggers.
The Kobold wants to short rest all the time anyway, so the Warlock is actually a decent fit for them. You’ll want a CHA boost at level 4, no doubt about it. And the added DEX will be nice for your AC.
Archfey: Love a misty escape. This can be used in tandem with your Grovel ability to set up some big attacks for your teammates. You’ll be all about the setup.
Celestial: Loads of utility packed into a cleric-ish package. Make your god-worshipping friend’s envious of your Patron that plays an active role in your life.
Fathomless: Wants a water-based campaign. Cool abilities that would make any DM wary of a pool of water.
Fiend: Very sustainable in the early game with some insane damage options into the late game. Saying the words “10d10” will make any DM quiver.
Genie: Needs CHA for your Genie Vessel. Love the flavor.
Great Old One: You’ll need to boost your CHA or your controlling spells are going to suck.
Hexblade: Boost your CHA and then you’re looking forward to making the Hexblade as broken as every DM thinks it is.
Undying: Way cool in undead campaigns. Hard to take down because they’ll be able to redirect undead attacks. Outside of undead campaigns, they’ll be just fine.
With no INT boost in sight, your only saving grace is that your ranged spells will likely come with advantage thanks to Pack Tactics, but only if you have allies in the area. You’ll want to be taking single-target spells to make the most of your attack advantage. So, prepare wisely and this could be fine. An INT boost is required at level 4. Your concentration checks aren’t ever likely to be that great.
Abjuration: Love the defensive options. This could be beneficial to you, but you’ll likely lose spell slots to concentration check failures.
Artificer: Just play the Artificer class.
Bladesinging: Technically Elf only. You’ll need a good INT to make your AC worthwhile.
Chronurgist: My favorite subclass right now. Forcing rerolls is amazing, and I just adore being able to add INT to initiative (which you won’t really love until level 4 when you can boost it).
Conjuration: Superb in the late game. Fine in the early levels.
Divination: Amazingly powerful abilities. Pair it with the lucky feat and some single target spells and you’ll have a great ol’ time.
Enchantment: Without higher INT, you won’t get control of anyone.
Evocation: Advantage on single target spells is great, but your Fireball needs a high spell save DC. You’re in desperate need of a stat boost to INT.
Graviturgist: Requires a lot of set-up, but that fits the Kobold’s vibe. You’ll help your allies by moving people across the battlefield and literally lightening their load.
Illusion: Some cool abilities. Illusion magic is best suited in the hands of players that feel comfortable with some creative, lateral thinking.
Necromancy: Play a Death Cleric or an Oathbreaker Paladin.
Order of Scribes: Collect ALL the spells! This turns on amazing defensive options later.
Transmutation: Just play the Artificer class.
War Magic: Needs INT for their initiative. You’ll feel like a waste of time.
Racial Feats/Best Feats
The Kobold has no racial feats, and likely won’t be getting any down the line (the core races get the most attention, so we’ll just have to hope monstrous races get some more love in coming years). Depending on your GM, you might be able to pull off getting access to the Dragonborn racial feats of Dragon Fear and Dragon Hide. Nevertheless, Kobolds massively benefit from several general feats. Here are a few!
-Lucky: This feat is what some might call “beyond busted”. One of my current DMs has banned this feat from all of his games just because of how powerful it is. Rerolls in a game that entirely revolves around random number generation is massive. Sure, you might not always succeed with a reroll, but you majorly boost your probability to do so.
-Alert: Your main role as a Kobold is going to be setting up opportunities to grant advantage for yourself AND your allies. Getting a +5 boost to initiative will give you huge flexibility in determining how you want to respond to any given situation. In cases where you don’t want to act yet, you’ll want to brush up on the Ready action. You can maintain your place initiative (likely toward the top) by using your reaction. It might look like this: “I’ll ready an action. When X moves next to the creature, I’ll fire my longbow at them”.
-Shadow Touched: This is a feat I haven’t seen too much discussion about. It’s an INT, WIS, or CHA booster (by one) which already makes it a pretty appealing feat for spellcasters to take. However, the biggest boon is that this feat gives you the Invisibility spell (as well as a 1st level illusion or necromancy spell). Invisibility is a crazy good spell to get access to, especially if you’re not a caster. I mean, this is perfect for anyone that wants to set up some major moves, get out of danger, or just pull some pranks. I love this spell and I think it’s amazing that this feat gives it to you for free. You can only use these spells once per long rest, but they don’t take spell slots, and freeing up that economy is glorious. Also, for your bonus spell, I highly recommend Inflict Wounds. In the case that someone does get up close to you, popping 3d10 necrotic damage is a very attractive option.