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A player wants to try to play the 3 Kobolds in a Trenchcoat meme. I'm inclined to allow it to add some lighthearted content to our next campaign (Curse of Strahd). I came up with this, based largely on a 3 Halflings in a Trenchcoat player sheet that someone else had created. I suspect this is unbalanced, but I'm not sure by how much. I tried to score it in the Detect Balance spreadsheet, but I wasn't sure what score to give to features such as the Power of Six Arms and Multi-Form Technique.

Base Kobold features

  • Ability Score Increase Your Dexterity score increases by 2, and your Strength score decreases by 2.
  • Age Kobolds reach adulthood at age 6 and can live up to 120 years but rarely do so.
  • Size Small
  • Speed 25 feet base walking speed (Changed from base of 30 due to focus on keeping balance)
  • Darkvision You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
  • Grovel, Cower, and Beg As an action on your turn, you can cower pathetically to distract nearby foes. Until the end of your next turn, your allies gain advantage on attack rolls against enemies within 10 feet of you that can see you. Once you use this trait, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
  • Pack Tactics You have advantage on an attack roll against a creature if at least one of your allies is within 5 feet of the creature and the ally isn’t incapacitated. The player does not get the Pack Tactics bonus from the three Kobolds alone when in the Single Form
  • Sunlight Sensitivity You have disadvantage on attack rolls and on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight when you, the target of your attack, or whatever you are trying to perceive is in direct sunlight.
  • Languages You can speak, read, and write Common and Draconic

3 Kobolds in a Trenchcoat Additions

  • The Price of Power Your Dexterity is focused on keeping balance. All dexterity checks or saves have a disadvantage. You cannot add a proficiency bonus to any dexterity skills. Finesse weapons cannot use dex properties. When knocked prone or grappled, you must succeed on a DC10 Acrobatics/Athletics check in order to keep your Single Form. Any attacks made with a two-handed weapon are made with disadvantage.

  • Power of Six Arms If within melee range, you can make three attacks each action. When you do so, you must make a slight of hand check to avoid other characters noticing. This must beat other characters' passive perception score or they will notice that you have more than the two hands of a normal human.

  • Multi-form Technique At 3rd level, you can use a free action to split into three kobolds and surround an attacker to make an attack. This feature can only be used twice per short rest, if there are no hostile witnesses beyond the enemy who is being attacked. While separated, you do not suffer the Price of Power, but each Kobold's HP is 1/3 of the total. If a Kobold dies while in Multi-form Technique, the Character's Max HP is permanently reduced by 1/3.

  • Incognito You have profiency in the Performance skill and with disguise kits. You have advantage on any check made to disguise yourself or convince someone that you are, in fact, just a tall person.

  • Quick Swipe As an object interaction on your turn, you can pull an item from your space into your coat and replace it with an item from your coat. The item must be small enough to fit in a 1-foot cube. It might look like you just grabbed it with an extra green arm, poking out of the jacket for only a second, but that's just a trick of the light.

  • Flavor The character speaks awkwardly, as if trying to emulate a human. Their name is most likely something that emphasizes the fact that they are in fact a human, such as: Tomas A. Hooman, Ima Wu-man, etc.

I'm most concerned with the combination of Pack Tactics with the Multi-Form Technique and also with the Power of Six Arms feature. The Power of Six Arms is slightly counteracted by the fact that all attacks are made with Strength and the Base Kobold has a Strength decrease of 2.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @smbailey I believe Volo's originally included this, though it was removed later on. belloflostsouls.net/2020/10/… \$\endgroup\$
    – kuhl
    Apr 13 at 19:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ah yeah, I see it listed in the errata. Guess I have one of the Volo printings from after that change. \$\endgroup\$
    – smbailey
    Apr 13 at 19:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Thomas Yeah, looks like it was errata'd in October 2020, going by the link kuhl posted. \$\endgroup\$
    – smbailey
    Apr 13 at 20:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a suggestion, what I’ve done in a game: play a Kobold Knight. The other Kobolds are just retainers. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 14 at 22:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TheDragonOfFlame I love this solution. Build your character as a single kobold with class features, and make Three Kobolds In A Trenchcoat a custom background with the Retainers ability from Knight to represent the lower 2/3rds. They engage in combat only in as far as they're holding you up, and if toppled, they flee by the quickest and safest route. You can re-stack once it's safe. If one is killed, you can try to recruit a new retainer from a local kobold enclave. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 15 at 13:05

4 Answers 4

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Balance is the least of your issues

Without even reading what you wrote or considering balance, this is way too many racial traits. Four to five abilities (the stuff like darkvision and pack tactics, not languages and speed and such) is about the maximum you can put in there before the race starts to overshadow class and specific character choices. You can have one or two more than that if, like the Dwarf, several of the traits are just "mark proficiency during character creation".

Now as far as the actual racial traits you're presenting here, I feel you need a lot more consideration and editing before you can even start to talk about balance.

A few points that come to mind right away:

  1. This is a complete spotlight stealer. Your trenchcoat-kobold is going to be constantly requiring extra rolls that in the end just don't matter that much. Imagine running this at the table, constantly making everyone make perception rolls for no reason other than to notice that there's a kobold in the party. Immediately this character becomes the center of every scene. It's not fun for the rest of the group.

  2. Price of Power is a bad idea that will make the character un-fun to play as they constantly fail important skill checks and saves, but fortunately they'll also die quickly, so at least the player can switch to a better character soon.

  3. I'm really confused by multi-form becoming available only at 3rd level. Are you implying the three kobolds can't unstack until then? If stacking and unstacking is this character's main schtick, you need to give the rules for how that works in general. Explain how the kobolds stack and unstack when they aren't immediately surrounding an opponent. You also need to consider how the kobold-in-a-trenchcoat's class features translate when they unstack -- do you get one kobold who can cast spells and two who can't? Can the unstacked trio each sneak attack separately? How do you handle barbarian rage? Lay on hands? Fighting styles? Wild shape? If you can suddenly go from one character to three, you need to explain how that's going to operate.

  4. Power of Six Arms is just broken, no arguments. Extra attack is one of the most powerful single features a class can grant, and you have it times two, at level 1.

What I would suggest

While the kobolds are stacked, forget they're kobolds. They can't cower, they can't use pack tactics, and so on. Write up the three-kobolds-in-a-trenchcoat as if it's a unique species. Give that species whatever stats and abilities you want, such as darkvision and sunlight sensitivity.

As a racial ability, they can split up into three kobolds, as you describe in Multiform. In that form, they have the stats of regular kobolds from the Monster Manual, except for HP. They lose access to any and all class features while in that state; they need to stack up to regain the ability to cast spells, use sneak attack, rage, or whatever. Consider whether they can maintain concentration while stacked and how to distribute magic items (especially attuned ones) when one character suddenly becomes three.

Get rid of Quick Swipe. That's just the basic use of the Sleight of Hand skill, leave it right there. Sleight of Hand already covers the fact that observers might notice what you're doing.

With some thought and reworking, I think this could get to a point where we can actually judge its balance.

The danger of extremes

As a side note (and thanks to DunBaloo for pointing this out in the comments), using huge weaknesses to offset huge strengths is generally bad design.

Big penalties paired with big bonuses are an invitation to minmax -- to find ways to ignore or work around the penalties while taking full advantage of the bonuses. Minmaxing can be fun and useful to some extent, but the bigger the benefits you're maximizing, the more unbalanced the result can become.

Even in the best case, it feels like the character isn't allowed to play certain classes -- "No half-orc wizards, no halfling fighters" was the rule in many previous editions of D&D, for example, because their stats and abilities were just very badly matched for those roles. 5e has done a lot to try to avoid that.

In the extreme case, the player creates a character that utterly dominates one aspect of the game (combat, social interactions, stealth, etc) and is useless at all other times. Instead of everyone having fun most of the time, you get one player who gets to have fun when their favorite thing is happening (usually at the expense of everyone else having less fun), and then they get bored when it isn't because they can't contribute. This often leads to a toxic behavior pattern of trying to force every situation into whatever specific thing the character is good at, no matter what the rest of the party would like to do -- trying to turn every conversation into a fight or trying to negotiate every combat are the most common manifestations..

Other forms of minmaxing can lead to lopsided characters that become useless or even die when the dice just fall wrong. As an absurd example, imagine a character with AC 27 who deals 600 damage every turn but has only 1 HP. Extreme strength balanced by extreme weakness! That's balance, right? ...well, obviously not. There's no balance at all here, it's just broken in two different ways at the same time.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I linked a stat block for the meme, and it doesn't have 6 Arms. I wonder if that'd change your evaluation: knowyourmeme.com/photos/1864677-dungeons-and-dragons \$\endgroup\$
    – Malady
    Apr 14 at 1:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm entirely aware of the meme stat block -- even used it in my home game. Why would it change my evaluation? There are often things that are fine in a monster that would not be okay for a PC. My evaluation is based on what I see here that would be a problem at the table, not whether it matches some specific monster stat listing. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 14 at 3:33
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Power of Six Arms is wildly overpowered.

Adding additional attacks to the Attack action is generally a feature reserved for classes and subclasses. Notably, no other race grants additional attacks per Attack action. Classes that lack the Extra Attack class feature must commit to at least a five-level multiclass to gain even one additional attack per attack action. This feature alone is powerful enough to warrant the phrase "broken", but when paired with Pack Tactics, we might call it "utterly broken". Pack Tactics, at worst, offsets the disadvantage from Sunlight Sensitivity, and where sunlight isn't a factor, will typically grant advantage on every attack, assuming at least some level of cooperation with other party members.

Additionally, with a dose of irony, this feature actually fades from relevance for Fighters, as they get a third attack via Extra Attack at 11th level. But for other classes that might make use of additional attacks, this feature retains its utility at every level of play.

The Price of Power simply fails to offset the advantage here.

What happens if they are knocked over?

The Price of Power states:

When knocked prone or grappled, you must succeed on a DC10 Acrobatics/Athletics check in order to keep your Single Form.

The Multi-form Technique feature can be used twice per short rest. But what happens if the kobolds, you know, just unstack themselves? Or get knocked over in combat? The traits list provides no guidance for such a situation, despite explicitly telling us that it can happen. Totally overpowered feature notwithstanding, the design here is much too problematic, leaving far too many ambiguities as written.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the feedback, Thomas. The Price of Power piece of it was intended to say that they must restack themselves, (since they didn't use their MFT feature), and so a failure would allow any who saw it to recognize their true form. \$\endgroup\$
    – kuhl
    Apr 13 at 18:27
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There is already an official variant for this.

Rime of the Frostmaiden's icewind kobolds have the ability to stack up and be indistinguishable from a humanoid.

When the kobolds don’t feel safe, they acquire heavy winter clothing and disguise themselves as humans by standing on one another’s shoulders. Three kobolds in cold weather gear can pass themselves off as a clumsy human with a successful group Charisma (Deception) check, the DC of which equals the onlooker’s Wisdom (Insight) check result.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This seems more like a comment, I don’t see how this really answers the question, even as a frame challenge. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 15 at 0:09
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Consider playing three undead kobolds in a trench-coat instead.

The Reborn race from Van Richter's Guide to Ravenloft states the following:

Other reborn are marvels of magic or science, being stitched together from disparate beings

Additionally, the Reborn Origins table states the following:

Stitches bind your body's mismatched pieces, and your memories come from multiple different lives.

As such, it's entirely possible that a Reborn might be made from the corpses of three kobolds stacked on top of each other and stitched together, and then reanimated through magic or dark science- and this would allow you to play such a character without needing to home-brew up a custom race of dubious balance.

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