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[D&D] Tucker's Kobolds

cshadow42cshadow42 Registered User regular
edited June 2009 in Critical Failures
Tycho's discussion today brought to mind the infamous "Tucker's Kobolds". For those folk who aren't in the know, Tucker's Kobolds is when the DM runs low level monsters to the hilt. They may be weak and die with one hit, but these monsters are cunning, ruthless bastards. Take this article by Roger E. Moore from Dragon Magazine #127:

Tucker's kobolds

This month's editorial is about Tucker's kobolds. We get letters on occasion asking for advice on creating high-level AD&D game adventures, and Tucker's kobolds seem to fit the bill.

Many high-level characters have little to do because they're not challenged. They yawn at tarrasques and must be forcibly kept awake when a lich appears. The DMs involved don't know what to do, so they stop dealing with the problem and the characters go into Character Limbo. Getting to high level is hard, but doing anything once you get there is worse.

One of the key problems in adventure design lies in creating opponents who can challenge powerful characters. Singular monsters like tarrasques and liches are easy to gang up on; the party can concentrate its firepower on the target until the target falls down dead and wiggles its little feet in the air. Designing monsters more powerful than a tarrasque is self-defeating; if the group kills your super-monster, what will you do next—send in its mother? That didn't work on Beowulf, and it probably won't work here.

Worse yet, singular supermonsters rarely have to think. They just use their trusty, predictable claw/claw/bite. This shouldn't be the measure of a campaign. These games fall apart because there's no challenge to them, no mental stimulation - no danger.

In all the games that I've seen, the worst, most horrible, most awful beyond-comparison opponents ever seen were often weaker than the characters who fought them. They were simply well-armed and intelligent beings who were played by the DM to be utterly ruthless and clever. Tucker's kobolds were like that.

Tucker ran an incredibly dangerous dungeon in the days I was stationed at Ft. Bragg, N.C. This dungeon had corridors that changed all of your donkeys into huge flaming demons or dropped the whole party into acid baths, but the demons were wienies compared to the kobolds on Level One. These kobolds were just regular kobolds, with 1-4 hp and all that, but they were mean. When I say they were mean, I mean they were bad, Jim. They graduated magna cum laude from the Sauron Institute for the Criminally Vicious.

When I joined the gaming group, some of the PCs had already met Tucker's kobolds, and they were not eager to repeat the experience. The party leader went over the penciled map of the dungeon and tried to find ways to avoid the little critters, but it was not possible. The group resigned itself to making a run for it through Level One to get to the elevators, where we could go down to Level Ten and fight "okay" monsters like huge flaming demons.

It didn't work. The kobolds caught us about 60' into the dungeon and locked the door behind us and barred it. Then they set the corridor on fire, while we were still in it.

"NOOOOOO!!!" screamed the party leader. "It's THEM! Run!!!"

Thus encouraged, our party scrambled down a side passage, only to be ambushed by more kobolds firing with light crossbows through murder holes in the walls and ceilings. Kobolds with metal armor and shields flung Molotov cocktails at us from the other sides of huge piles of flaming debris, which other kobolds pushed ahead of their formation using long metal poles like broomsticks. There was no mistake about it. These kobolds were bad.

We turned to our group leader for advice.

"AAAAAAGH!!!" he cried, hands clasped over his face to shut out the tactical situation.

We abandoned most of our carried items and donkeys to speed our flight toward the elevators, but we were cut off by kobold snipers who could split-move and fire, ducking back behind stones and corners after launching steel-tipped bolts and arrows, javelins, hand axes, and more flaming oil bottles. We ran into an unexplored section of Level One, taking damage all the time. It was then we discovered that these kobolds had honeycombed the first level with small tunnels to speed their movements. Kobold commandos were everywhere. All of our hirelings died. Most of our henchmen followed. We were next.

I recall we had a 12th-level magic user with us, and we asked him to throw a spell or something. "Blast 'em!" we yelled as we ran. "Fireball 'em! Get those little @#+$%;*&!!"

"What, in these narrow corridors? " he yelled back. "You want I should burn us all up instead of them?"

Our panicked flight suddenly took us to a dead-end corridor, where a giant air shaft dropped straight down into unspeakable darkness, far past Level Ten. Here we hastily pounded spikes into the floors and walls, flung ropes over the ledge, and climbed straight down into that unspeakable darkness, because anything we met down there was sure to be better than those kobolds.

We escaped, met some huge flaming demons on Level Ten, and even managed to kill one after about an hour of combat and the lives of half the group. We felt pretty good, but the group leader could not be cheered up.

"We still have to go out the way we came in," he said as he gloomily prepared to divide up the treasure.

Tucker's kobolds were the worst things we could imagine. They ate all our donkeys and took our treasure and did everything they could to make us miserable, but they had style and brains and tenacity and courage. We respected them and loved them, sort of, because they were never boring.

If kobolds could do this to a group of PCs from 6th to 12th level, picture what a few orcs and some low level NPCs could do to a 12th-16th level group, or a gang of mid-level NPCs and monsters to groups of up to 20th level. Then give it a try. Sometimes, it's the little things used well that count.

Roger E. Moore

Anyone have any Tucker's Kobolds stories they want to share?

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cshadow42 on


  • Gabriel_PittGabriel_Pitt (effective against Russian warships) Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    A mighty old Beholder had a subterranean lair, and he knew sooner or later adventurers would be coming through. Access to it was through a cave system which ended in a vertical chimney that dropped 100 feet into the beholder's home.

    The setup went like this: at the cavern atop the shaft lived an outcast drow. If anything threatening came along, he was to jump down the shaft and warn the beholder. Along the walls of the shaft were a couple of tunnels hidden by Illusory Walls within which lesser beholders took position, ready to pop out and hit descending adventurers with their anti-magic eye, dropping them down the shaft, and into the pit holding a large black pudding at the bottom.

    And just to make sure that the adventurers went down the shaft using magic, instead of rope, or climbing, the drow kept a wand of levitation at his desk, which he would conveniently leave for the adventurers to find after he fled.

    I had a mated pair of red dragons who kept iron golems as guards. The dragons would keep their distance, and use their flame breath to scorch any invaders while healing their golems.

    Gabriel_Pitt on
  • TofystedethTofystedeth Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    My tabletop group in college was kind of Tucker's playerss. Nothing quite as clever as what you guys described, but we often would spend hours planning our battles. Or in some cases, planning how to avoid battle.

    In one campaign, we had taken ownership (through murder and some blackmail) of a tower which through the centuries had passed through the hands of many mighty wizards. In one of the sub-basements (reachable by a magic door, so who really knows where it was) was a massive hole. Several dozens of feet across at least, and extremely deep. I don't remember how deep, but it was at least a significant fraction of a mile. At the bottom of the hole lived something.

    I don't remember what it was, and took a lot of work for us to find out, but it was nasty. It was some kind of aberration of a god, that even at our ridiculous level of power we wanted nothing to do with. SO we decided to bury it. We were a group composed of 8 nerds of varying type, so between us, we got the volume of the chasm calculated, and figured out how long it would take it to fill it if we opened up a portal to the Plane of Water (something on the order of months, at least with the pressure we assumed a space made entirely of water would have.) and whether the thing down there was strong enough to overcome that much water hitting him from so high.

    I don't think we ever went through with it, as our group got called away to more pressing concerns, and then end of year stuff hit so the campaign was retired, but it was lots of fun.

    Tofystedeth on
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