Monday, February 9, 2009

Tucker's Kobolds

How many times have you heard a player say, "but they can't be THAT smart! They're just dumb monsters!" - or words to that effect? Translated, what that really means is, "I can't believe monsters would use every tool at their disposal to survive!"

It is essentially an argument for making life easier for the players. Hey, c'mon, we're the heroes - gimme a biscuit. I don't like this argument for at least two reasons. One reason is that it stems from the information given in The Monster Manual for AD&D 1st Edition - every monster got an intelligence rating, and players memorized that information to use to argue with the referee. As has been noted elsewhere this is the sort of thing that leads eventually to every monster having a stat block and the game turning into an exceedingly complicated simulation (but potentially not a very fun game, or so it seems to me).

But there is also a deeper philosophical argument here I want to make: the player characters are NOT heroes. Far from it, insofar as D&D is concerned. If anything, player characters have the chance to become heroes, by displaying heroic behavior. And heroic behavior should not be easy. Monsters ought to be implacable foes, ready, willing, and able to do their worst to survive. Otherwise you might as well let the players do whatever they want.

After reading some of the background on Tucker's Kobolds, I immediately thought of players making the argument that monsters simply would not be smart enough to be a "real" challenge. Such an argument actually cheapens any accomplishment by the players over their foes, so I found myself beginning to think more about how to make monster encounters tougher - if that's the direction required. After all, player characters need to be able to tell the difference between knowing when to fight, and when to fight another day, if they really want to be heroes.


  1. "The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part, I have saved my life." As said by Falstaff in Henry IV, by some hack named Shakespeare.

    "But they can't be THAT smart" as quoted by Custer's men, and by the British when faced with the bull-horn formation Zulus.

    Any race, be it men or monsters, might be able to display learned combat tactics or strategic acumen given their war-like nature. A knowledge of battle or survival which has allowed them to survive in such a violent milieu.

    If you allow the 1E Intelligence score to hold sway, there's no real world analogy. There are no low Intelligence societies in real life. To me, that means they can certainly employ traps, nets, flaming oil, missiles, etc.

    Tucker's Kobolds is nothing earth-shattering. Back in the day many a humanoid race employed sound battle tactics in our games. It's common sense. If nothing else, Kobolds are certainly good at stealing ideas that were once used against them. They might not be original, but they are smart enough to mimic.

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  3. I doubt many players would enjoy being told their Fighter couldn't choose a particular action / strategy because THEY weren't that smart. :)

    Also - the intelligence stat isn't necessarily the same thing as cunning.

  4. This is good. But how did the Kobolds get the resources and wherewithal to build that complex? And if someone invested that kind of gold into it, then to what purpose?

  5. You are forgetting something. This is a dungeon, other fools have gone there before and lost their lives.

    It's called looting.

    Also you can make grain alcohol fairly easily.

    They didn't buy the stuff they scavenged. And as for digging out their caves. Miners used stone tools for that long before metal tools came out. The Egyptian built the pyramids using granite balls to carve out limestone blocks

  6. Even if you go by the printed intelligence score, a lot of monsters have a higher-than-average wisdom score. And the wise are generally better prepared than the smart.