The research that I do for entries like Kobolds this week is always interesting. Kobolds are old, old figures from germanic legend, where they are essentially a different breed of gnome or dwarf. But wait, an experienced gamer might say, aren’t they lizard-people? That apparently is sourced from a certain big-name RPG company. In other sources, kobolds have canine features. There are also nautical kobolds in the literature. Because why be simple?
As is my wont, I blended most of that all together into a big gloppy mess. Subterranean and scaled, but perpetually exiled from their ancestral caverns, kobolds have adapted wherever they have gone, scratching out a living on the margins. They travel in packs, exhibit tight loyalty, and have a thing for boats, even if they’re originally a cave people.
Does it all work together? Probably not, but neither does any monolithic description of “a people,” in reality or fantasy. I prefer the big gloppy mess that players get to pick and choose from when creating their worlds and stories.
Let’s dig in, huh?
This unfortunate people have a long history of displacement and discrimination. Originally from the southern reaches of the Kharzan mountains, kobolds were expelled by dwarven invaders millenia ago. While some fled south into Verdas, the bulk of the refugees were displaced into Outland; some travelled further north into Toriel and Wildermarch. Kobolds have been treated as outsiders or even vermin in many places, even in those places where they have lived for generations. In the Norsteppes, storytellers speculate on their culture hero Peshak’s people; they suggest nearly every people common to the region, but they never propose that the Rider was a kobold.
Kobolds possess floor-length tails, as well as a ridge of thorny scales that runs up their back from coccyx to neck. Patches of scales appear on their shoulders, elbows and knees, and range from nearly invisibly light to gnarled, keratinous protrusions. In some individuals these patches do not connect to the spine scales; in others, the patches connect or spread even further. Skin and scale colors range from dark green to pale blue.
Their hair grows in tufts of tight, dark, curls. While kobolds of all genders grow facial hair, kobold cultural mores dictate elaborate shaving. In Verdas, kobolds shave all their body hair, and many assume that kobolds are hairless. Kobold horns vary wildly, from tiny stubs to elaborate curls. Their ears are either small or absent, although more than one observer has mistaken horns for pointed ears. Despite rumors, kobold tongues are not forked.
While kobolds have a reputation for slight stature, those few adults who have enjoyed lifelong food security are taller than most orks.
Most kobold communities are found on the outskirts of larger settlements. Highly communal, kobolds prefer nothing more than ending their day with raucous camaraderie, song, storytelling, and boasting. This last activity is often misunderstood by outsiders, who see in the practice a propensity for lying. However, boasting contests are held in a specific time and place where the audience knows that what is said is not to be taken literally. The participants, usually called braggarts, take turns describing their own exploits, those of their household founders, or the beauty of their romantic partners, in increasingly ludicrous detail. When a story cannot be topped, the winner is toasted and another round begins.
Kobolds practice weavebonding on a grand scale, often forming households of twenty to thirty individuals. These households are more akin to tribes than families, with children weavebonding out of their natal household shortly after puberty. Romantic relationships are technically allowed with any willing adult member of one’s household, although networks of informal bonds are the norm. In many kobold communities, these details are never shared with those outside the household. The plight of the young kobold who joins a household to consummate a romantic liaison with a member who turns out to be disinterested is common fodder for kobold stories. Such disappointment is rare, however, if only because kobolds tell these cautionary tales so often. Despite outsiders deriding them as ‘packs’, kobold households often last for a century or more and rival noble dynasties for longevity.
While kobold burial practices tend to take on ritual elements of their neighbors, they often retain references to fire and water. Those kobolds who live around Farrouka Lake and on Mergather Gulf practice ship burial, where the dead are placed on a boat or raft of wicker, set out onto the lake surface, and immolated. Elsewhere, the kobold dead may be buried in the ground, but are surrounded by stones that form the rough shape of a ship, with a candle or lantern placed in the center. By contrast, the kobolds of the Wastecoastset out their dead for sky burial—returning their water to the sky—at the conjunction of ley lines, understood to be mystical fire.
As a scaled people, kobolds are often conflated with cuca, but it is uncertain how the two peoples might be related. Cuca are far older and there is no record of any population of size entering the Kharzan caverns. However, the only population of cuca outside of Verdas is found in Xenix Gorge, indicating that some number of cuca must have crossed the mountains at some point. This has led to some scholars proposing that kobolds are an offshoot of ancient migrating cuca. With absolutely no evidence to support such a claim, however, this remains nothing more than a theory.
Looking forward, we’ve got quite the grab bag for next week. What shall we look into then?