Last time I looked at goblins, one of Dungeons & Dragons’ basic cannon-fodder humanoid monsters; in this article, I’ll examine another, the kobold.
Kobolds differ from goblins in significant ways. Their Intelligence, Wisdom and Constitution are all lower. They have Sunlight Sensitivity, which means that while goblins may prefer to dwell in the dark, kobolds must. Like goblins, kobolds set traps; unlike goblins, they’re not nimble or stealthy. What’s most distinctive about kobolds is their Pack Tactics feature, which gives them advantage on attacks when ganging up on a target. And that’s the crux of how kobolds ought to fight.
A kobold attack begins as an ambush: hiding kobolds (who aren’t exceptionally stealthy but will probably gain the element of surprise anyway, since they have decently high Dexterity and live in dark places) pop up and pelt the party with sling stones from 20 to 30 feet away in order to soften them up. This lasts until the player characters close with the kobolds or the kobolds no longer have any advantage over the PCs (such as their being restrained by a trap or blinded by darkness). At this point, the kobolds surge forward and engage in melee.
Kobold melee combat is all about swarming. No kobold will ever fight an enemy hand-to-hand by itself, not even one its own size. Any kobold who’s the only one left fighting a single foe retreats, possibly regrouping with other kobolds fighting a different foe. However, a seriously wounded kobold (1 or 2 hp remaining) turns and runs. It’s not smart enough to Disengage to avoid an opportunity attack; it Dashes instead. If at any point the attacking kobolds no longer outnumber the frontline PCs by at least 3 to 1, they’ll withdraw. They can’t do much damage on their own—on average, just 4 hp per hit—so they have to make every attack count. But kobolds using Pack Tactics against a chain mail–wearing target can still land a hit two times out of three.
And that’s basically it. Kobolds don’t get bonus actions or reactions (other than opportunity attacks) that might increase the complexity of their behavior. They have Pack Tactics, so they attack in packs. When attacking as a pack no longer works, they cut their losses. They’re no Clausewitzes, but they know to do that much. They also know to stay out of bright sunlight. If their enemies retreat into a well-lit area, kobolds simply will not pursue. And kobolds who retreat won’t bother switching to ranged attacks, because their slings don’t have enough range to keep target PCs from closing with them again.
Winged kobolds are only slightly better. Because they can fly, they can sustain the ranged-ambush phase longer . . . provided they have access to rocks they can throw. (Their flying movement is enough to allow them to swoop down, grab a rock, swoop back up and throw the rock.) If they’re out of rocks, or if the PCs block their access to the rocks, so much for that. They also have two more hit points than regular kobolds, but that makes no difference with respect to when they’ll flee.
If kobolds are lucky enough to defeat a whole party of adventurers, they’ll haul them off as prisoners and taunt them for entertainment.