There are playable races for a number of monsters, for example you can play a Bugbear, Duergar, Goblin, Goblin, Hobgoblin, Kenku, Kobold, Lizardfolk, or Orc, and Satyr all of which are directly available as monsters.

Some features of the playable races differ from the traits the monster has. For example, for the Goblin, both are small, have a speed of 30 feet and 60 feet darkvision and Nimble Escape, and the playable race gains Fey Ancestry and Fury of the Small in additon. In many cases, the playable race is like this: it emulates the monster's traits, and adds some extras.

Others have wondered why, or if they should not rather be the same? My take is that it would be nice if they could, but the game designers were looking to make the playable race more interesting and to play better, so that is not really my question.

What is more interesting to me is how to explain it in-universe. I think you can justify it by claiming that the player characters are special. Not everyone gets ability score increases like the PCs do either — the commoner of any humanoid race has just flat 10s across the board. Being special may translate into additional abilities, or even be the lack of a common ability.

Still, that several PCs of the same race would be special in the same way may be harder to suspend disbelief on, and explaining away the differences feels off, especially when the features are very different, like for the Kobold — all kobolds are sensitive to sunlight, but somehow the PCs are not.

For Kobolds, both the race and the monster are small humanoids with darkvision, and 30 feet speed, but the monster has Sunlight Sensitivity and Pack Tactics, instead of the race (Monsters of the Universe, p. 25), which

  • gets a Draconic Cry that gives both them and their allies a benefit similar to Pack Tactics a few times per day,

  • gains Kobold Legacy for their pick of a skill proficiency, cantrip, or advantage on saves against being Frightened, and

  • lacks Sunlight Sensitivity.

My question is: would it be balanced to instead of Draconic Cry and Kobold Legacy give the kobold race Pack Tactics and Sunlight Sensitivity?


2 Answers 2


It's balanced if it's not minmaxed or played around.

Most fights in most games i've seen occur in the day, with some strings of fights occurring underground. Player characters are sometimes adjacent, sometimes not, even if trying to stick together for reason of feats like Sentinel.

If it's minmaxed into semi-permanent advantage, it can be sometimes on par with aarocokra or variant human.

However it's not better. There are ways to get semi-permanent advantage. Familiars giving help, barbarians attacking recklessly, warlocks in darkness. Lots of ways. And advantage doesn't stack. It's also vaguely annoying to minmax this - the best way of doing it, the darkness spell, already gives advantage if you can see through it and requires 3 levels in a spellcasting class and your concentration. Getting Blind Fighting fighting style and fog cloud or w/e wastes your action a lot of the time. Compare to reckless attack which Just Works or familiars who use their own action to help you etc.

On top of that, you mostly want semi-permanent advantage for either sharpshooter or great weapon mastery. Kobolds are Small, and thus can't use Heavy weapons without Disadvantage. Blind fighting style requires being within 10' which means an advantage of sharpshooter, aka long range attacks, is mostly negated. It's not ideal.

Essentially, it will only be unbalanced if your table is bad at optimizing and figures out how to use this to get advantage but doesn't know about/figure out any of the other ways to get advantage. Hidden desynergies with most optimization that would empower the Pack Tactics ability leave it much less powerful than it seems at first glance.


Pack Tactics is a very strong feature, but its real problem is that it can negatively affect how others play the game.

I've played the original Kobold race in two different campaigns. It is really good. I'm not going to labor over the specifics of the numbers, as the advantages of having advantage all the time are well documented elsewhere on the site and around the internet. Instead, I will focus more generally on what Pack Tactics amounts to when it is put into play: combat revolves around getting Pack Tactics going for the Kobold, with the caveat that it is much better for some builds than others.

First, I'll address an objection I've seen, because it will lead me into the point I'm trying to make. I have seen the comparison made between the Kobold's Pack Tactics and the barbarian's Reckless Attack feature. With a cursory examination, they do seem quite similar. The barbarian can get advantage on any attacks they want using Reckless Attack:

Starting at 2nd level, you can throw aside all concern for defense to attack with fierce desperation. When you make your first attack on your turn, you can decide to attack recklessly. Doing so gives you advantage on melee weapon attack rolls using Strength during this turn, but attack rolls against you have advantage until your next turn.

Of course, giving your enemies advantage on all attacks against you gives this feature a cost, but that cost is usually going to be offset by the barbarian's rage, giving resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing. So a naked comparison of what these features do seems to line up: they both give a character advantage on many attacks with little downsides. The argument finishes with "see, the barbarian can do it, and the barbarian is balanced, so Pack Tactics must be balanced."

But we need to be more thoughtful about our examination. In particular, one observation makes this comparison fall apart: Pack Tactics is a racial trait, Reckless Attack is a class feature. What does this mean practically? The barbarian uses a class feature slot for Reckless Attack, but the Kobold gets a whole host of class features on top of Pack Tactics. The issue is that the Kobold gets all of the features of their chosen class, plus a racial trait that functions similarly to one of the barbarians best features - it's a class feature masquerading as a racial trait.

Read through other races: racial traits generally are not particularly powerful. Unless you are playing a Variant Human, getting a free feat at 1st level (and also nothing else), combat does not revolve around utilizing your racial traits. But the problem with Pack Tactics paired with a class that makes good use of it is that it not only defines the way you play your character, its cooperative nature defines how the other player characters operate in combat. In one of my campaigns, I played a Kobold Rogue. You should already recognize the synergy - advantage for the rogue doubles the chance of scoring a critical hit with Sneak Attack. Obviously, being a rogue already gives your allies an incentive to engage in melee with your targets, but having Pack Tactics on top of it doubles this incentive and starts to redefine how your allies make decisions. And that's another reason the comparison to Reckless Attack doesn't hold up - the barbarian is going to do her thing and it doesn't change how you play your character. You will also see this same problem with Kobold Paladins (or warlocks with Eldritch Smite). A critical hit Divine Smite is a thing to behold, and playing with a Kobold Paladin means you have a strong motivation to help them make that happen.

The cooperative nature of Pack Tactics makes it a potential source of conflict. At the end of one fight as my Kobold Rogue, when discussing how things went with the rest of the party, I found myself criticizing another player for not helping me crit fish with Pack Tactics. Being a good friend, he had no qualms about telling me "well it isn't all about you", and he was right. Pack Tactics had made an ass out of me. Working together is good, obviously, but we just have to be very careful not to make others feel like they have to play a certain way in order to play into our character choices. This is, of course, a player problem at its core, but it is a player problem that is given a chance to manifest when Pack Tactics is in play.

I know we often resort to quantitative analysis when talking about how good something is in combat, and we could certainly do that with Pack Tactics. But I think the more concerning issue with the feature is not quantitative in nature; it is a design element with effects that can ripple strongly around the table. This isn't to say it should be avoided, but knowing how you might go wrong playing a Kobold could help you to avoid its chief pitfall.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I like the answer as it shares meaningful experience that may be more important than just the balance aspect in real life. It’s a different kind of unbalancing. I have one nitpick: at least the Aaracokra race has a race feature that dominates how that race plays in combat, too. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 20:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin It becomes less interesting pretty early if the party can acquire magical flight. And I also just ban Aarakocra at my tables. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 20:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ (1/2) In our next game, I am planning on playing a Volo's Kobold Rogue; our DM raised the concern about Pack Tactics; neither of us has played / played with a kobold before. My initial defense was that first, it seemed like much of the time the advantage from PT would be offset by disadvantage from Sunlight Sensitivity, something that no other race would have (no one is planning to play a drow). And second, that PT was not synergistic with a Rogue as much as it was redundant. By second level, every Rogue in my experience is using a Bonus Hide to get advantage every round... \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 2:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ (2/2)...anyway. Lightfoot Halflings and Wood Elves even more so, with racial abilities that often assure they can have advantage every round. At least, that was my argument in theory. I'd be really interested in you addressing these points from your experience. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Nov 5, 2022 at 2:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 from me for bringing up a problem I would probably miss before it's too late. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Commented Nov 6, 2022 at 1:36

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