Let’s face it – love it or loathe it, 4th Edition D&D gets a lot of things right. It’s a far easier system than 3e to GM both on and off the table with encounter design and monster customization/creation particular high points. Gone are the days scratching your head over CR/EL calculation or having to spend an hour creating that Big Bad Villain who’s gone within 5 combat rounds. Unless you want to, of course – 4e still offers the option of crafting NPCs as fully statted creations, but it also presents other, simpler and faster alternatives. I know what I’m going to choose, 99% of the time.
However, 3rd Edition is the better supported system by far with almost a decade’s worth of supplements, adventures, monster manuals and more under it’s belt. While 4e is a better system for the GM, 3e is a better system for the Player with it’s multitude of options, races, classes, equipment and more. There’s tons of fully fleshed campaign settings and adventures ripe for the taking too, and thanks to the wonders of the OGL that’s not likely to change any time soon. 3e D&D is going to be around for a long while yet. In contrast, the third-party crippling 4e GSL means it’s going to be an age before 4e comes close to this level of support with only a few brave companies willing to accept the terms and release 4e-compliant goodies. With some companies explicitly ignoring the GSL, maybe that’ll change. We’ll see.
In the meantime though, there is a way to have the best of both worlds by adapting some of 4e’s methodologies to your 3e game. Myth Merchant Press’ Fantasy Fiends: Kobolds does just that, taking the 3e Kobold race and giving them a fresh gloss of 4e paint. Here’s a quick disclaimer – my own Riding Rat makes an appearance and Steve Muchow (the author) has kindly been feeding me preview releases for the past few months. Thanks, Steve!
Fantasy Fiends: Kobolds presents 6 complete Kobold write-ups (in addition to the OGL Kobold, also provided for comparison) – the Kobold Footman, Grunt, Thrower, Wyrmward, Dragonmouth and Matron (complete with Riding Rat). Each write-up is presented as a 4e-style statblock, and also as a quick-combat sheet with room for multiple Init, Ammo (where needed) and HP values. There’s also ready-to-use Sample Encounter Groups for ELs 2 to 8 along with – and here’s the great part – advice and tactical notes. Here’s a snippet for one of the EL 2 encounters:
- A small scouting party caught far away from the lair or ambushers lying in wait to make a surprise attack. Initially, only 9 Footmen and the Grunts engage. If the battle goes poorly in the f irst few rounds, the 10th Footman attempts to escape and find reinforcements.
Now, isn’t that better than just a list of “what makes an EL”?
These aren’t your 3e Kobolds put through the Monster Advancement wringer though – oh no. They’re given new Feats (Foots?), Special and Spell-like Abilities to implement 4e-style shifty-little-bugger Kobolds in your 3e game. With tricks up their sleeve like Mob Mentality, Slidestep and Group Frenzy there’s good reason for your players to respect – if not fear – Kobolds in your game too. All of these abilities can be easily lifted for your own creations too; don’t you just love the power of OGL? Shame Wizards’ don’t any more. Ah well. Their loss.
Each Kobold entry is different; the Footman is a 1hp Minion whose Mob Mentality ability means they’re going to attack en masse, probably driven on by tougher foes. The Grunt is a re-written “generic” Kobold Warrior with the new abilities grafted on, and the Thrower is a sling-wielding Kobold with some cunning ammo up it’s sleeve. Wyrmwards are the big hitters – 3rd level Kobold Fighters that you just know your players will under-estimate – especially when you’ve got ‘em mixed in with Kobold Footmen This guy can go toe-to-toe against your low-level Fighter and hold his own. Nice.
It’s not all spear and slings though – the Kobold Dragonmouth, an Adept with a couple of Draconic surprises of his very own. I won’t reveal them here Finally, there’s the Matron and her Riding Rat. I like the idea of Kobolds being a matriarchal society – it’s the little touches like this that help make this product stand out. The PDF is rounded out with counters for all of the critters – just add a battlemat and you’ve got a good evening’s play, right there. While this product focuses on giving 3e Kobolds a 4e facelift, there’s plenty of goodness within even if you’re not a fan of battlemat play (I’m on the fence with this myself), so if you prefer imaginitive play over pushing figures around a board, there’s plenty here to keep you happy too.
There’s not a lot to fault in this product, especially considering the price ($2.50! Cheap!). It does exactly what it says on the tin, offering 4e-style Kobolds that can be dropped straight into your game. Where it stands out is the sheer usefulness – all of the information needed to run each critter is right there on the page, from special abilities to full spell write-ups. This takes it beyond being “just another set of monsters” into being something that’s a GM’s dream to use. Whether you’re populating a Kobold Warren or just want to give your complacent players a Kobold Surprise, Fantasy Fiends: Kobolds is worth every penny.
Me, I want a sequel (Steve? You listening?) with a map of a Kobold Lair and Koboldic (is that a word?) junk-treasure. I want flying Kobolds. I want Kobold War Machines. And I want Goblins given the same treatment. And Orcs. And Gnolls. And…. And…..
Oh, and watch out for Myth Merchant’s next release – the SORD. I’ll be keeping a very close eye on this one……..