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I have painted myself into a bit of a corner here.

My party is approaching an encounter with a gang of Kobold thieves who have been stealing from local church groups - they've been tasked by the 'mob boss' of the area to catch these kobolds in the act and put an end to their thieving ways.

The issue is...this is a party of level 5 PCs. Kobolds are a little below their weight class.

While I've set up hints that the kobolds have access to bomb-making supplies to help them stage their break-ins, I'm afraid I have no idea how to really make this encounter challenging for my party.

Note that the kobolds are planning a raid on a church, which the PCs have been hired to protect, so hunting down their hideout is out of the question for the PCs.

What can I do with these Kobolds to make them a proper challenge for a (slightly overpowered) Level 5 party of four?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You can join chat, I've got an idea that might work for you, but it isnt really appropriate as an answer. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21 '21 at 17:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov I cannot - I posted this on break at work and I can't really stick around in chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Jun 21 '21 at 17:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you define what you want when you say "challenging"? \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Jun 21 '21 at 18:24
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The classic advice is to follow the way of Tucker's Kobolds. (You can find a PDF of the full editorial on Wizards of the Coast's website.) As summarized on the linked wiki article:

While normally kobolds are considered extremely weak monsters of no significant threat, Tucker's kobolds were intimately familiar with their home territory and were well prepared to repel invaders using devious traps and ambushes. Tactics described in the editorial included trapping the party in a corridor filled with flammable materials that they then set on fire, shooting crossbows at the party through murder holes or from sniper positions with prepared escape routes, and hurling Molotov cocktails at the party from behind the cover of flaming barricades that groups of kobolds pushed ahead of them with metal poles. The party's hirelings and henchmen were all killed and they had to abandon their donkeys and many of their supplies in their hurry to get through the kobolds' territory. The party ultimately "escaped" down an air shaft that led to a very deep level of the dungeon inhabited by demons.

So have the kobolds lead the party towards traps, towards local monsters, set up fortification to attack with, throw bombs from cover, and do all sorts of unfair fighting.

They can use the stolen cleric spell scrolls and items to buff themselves up and give certain fighters an advantage against your PCs.

Since they are attacking, they can use tunnels to their advantage. They can pop out in unusual places, tossing explosives at the PCs, leading trains of monsters towards them, and trying to lure the PCs underground where they have a home field advantage.

To make the fight work well, here's a basic plan, heavily based off quotes of Sun Tzu's art of war.

“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”

The key thing is to have tactically smart kobolds who know their terrain and their enemy and use their advantages to get what they want.

On the surface they are weak, and must appear strong. Underground they are strong, and must appear weak.

Have them scout out the area, to find out what's at the temple.

Have them use an underground assault to set fire to outlying buildings, and lead some minor monsters to the temple grounds. These are there to draw off the player characters for a fight. They're expendable, and look strong, even if they will quickly be destroyed by player characters.

Meanwhile, have them use a silence spell scroll to hide them using explosives to blast a hole from underground. They can send the kobolds up to grab as many supplies as they can.

If any kobolds are discovered doing this, have them run screaming underground. If the PCs follow, they can be tucker's kobolds.

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

Some parts of the temple will no doubt have valuable treasures that can't easily be reached, so they will need to use deception.

A weak sorcerer or wizard or bard kobold could easily do so. Use minor illusion to summon the sound of some dark and terrible demon, to scare the temple guards away from key locations. This lets them loot the inner areas without opposition.

“There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare.”

If they get caught, run away. They can't compete with a level 5 party, and will be crushed. Show this off. Have some of them make mistakes, and give the PCs the chance to crush low level mobs easily.

Of course, a well prepared level 5 party likely has the spell and health flexibility to survive this sort of thing, so long as they scout out the place well and prepare spells well. If they do very well, they could seize a great deal of stolen treasure and have an easy fight. If they just charge in, they will easily crush the monster distractions while the kobolds steal away with all the wealth of the church.

Bounded accuracy means that they can compete with good enough preparation, advantage, expensive expendables, and local preparation.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jun 26 '21 at 10:19
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Interesting doesn't have to mean mechanically hard to kill

There are so much more to DnD than the PCs worrying about dying. Make killing the Kobolds have repercussions that the party get some hints about beforehand.

Some ideas (based on campaigns I've run):

  • The Kobolds are part of a bigger, spread out group
  • The Kobolds are hired by someone to collect seemingly mundane items - the party are interfering with something bigger than they thought
  • The party find the Kobolds already dead - who did it?
  • The Kobolds are actually protecting some poor orphans (unlikely given the evil alignment but you get the idea)

Its your world, you'll know how best to tie this in. I could keep going on creating them but without knowing more, most of them won't hit.


An example encounter I ran:

From my experience as a DM I've found the players enjoy an encounter much more when they feel like they've uncovered a piece of a story whilst doing it. The difficulty of the fight can make it interesting but the why of the fight makes it much better. In a similar situation I had a party fighting a low level band of goblins who had been sneaking into town and associated with the disappearance of several high ranking officials. The goblins were actually serving a banished mage who was having them deliver messages to the officials informing them that their scheme was soon to be discovered. Killing the goblins would have been a walk in the park but also lost the party their best leads.

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When I'm trying to create an interesting and challenging combat encounter, the first place I look for advice is the blog "The Monsters Know What They're Doing." The stated theory behind the site is that:

Any creature that has evolved to survive in a given environment instinctively knows how to make the best use of its particular adaptations.

The site takes an "evolutionary approach" to figuring out what combat tactics each type of monster might have developed given its natural abilities and weaknesses. These tactics have the added bonus of making the monsters quite a bit more threatening in combat encounters. The site has two articles on kobolds, one pretty basic, and one that is much more interesting.

The main thrust of the basic version is that kobolds are cowardly ambush fighters who use swarm tactics and strength in numbers to preserve an advantage over their enemies, refuse to fight in daylight, and flee when outnumbered. They lean heavily on their Pack Tactics ability, basically. This might make them a challenge for a lower-level group, but for a 5th-level group, you're going to need to do more. That's where the second article comes in.

The second article is basically a response to the Kobold entry in Volo's Guide to Monsters. I'd suggest reading the post itself for a complete list of suggestions (or, honestly, reading Volo's), but as a good starting point I'm just going to reproduce the quote that the author takes verbatim from Volo's Guide, because it's "so perfect":

Kobolds avoid combat on a large scale, instead sticking to hit-and-run raids using smaller groups of warriors. If they have time, they prepare the battlefield with small bolt-holes for them to hide in and simple pit traps to hamper their opponents.

Standard kobold tactics include the following:

Attacking light sources to extinguish them, so the kobolds can use their darkvision to best advantage.

Leaving one defender in a room to lure invaders into a trap or an ambush. Often this bait is a sick or weak kobold who is otherwise unable to contribute to the tribe’s needs.

Using hit-and-run maneuvers, fleeing between attacks to better or more secure vantage points. Often their goal is to attract enemies and draw the foes into greater danger, which can be especially effective if the invaders have made camp, are injured, or are otherwise compromised (such as having to move by climbing or swimming).

Using poison, usually harvested from vermin such as centipedes and spiders. They might extract the poison and use it on their weapons, or leave a chest or clay pot full of the vermin in obvious places as false “treasure,” prompting intruders to open the container and release a swarm.

Volo's also contains some new types of Kobolds with special abilities, which you can incorporate to create more of a challenge, as well as tips for designing a Kobold lair in order to maximize their tactical advantages.

Hopefully these resources help you design the most challenging encounter possible!

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