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The Scaly Things
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

T hree scaly, reptilian humanoids have been an important part of D&D from the beginning, and they’re our topic for this week: lizardfolk (or lizard men, as they were called before 3rd Edition), troglodytes, and kobolds. (We’ll talk about yuan-ti next week.) Jon will discuss getting the visual look of these races right in his column, and he’ll particularly focus on distinguishing lizardfolk and troglodytes. I’ll focus on what makes them unique in the story of the D&D world.


First up, the lowly kobold.

As described in the earliest versions of D&D, kobolds are even weaker than goblins, and in many games they provide the same sort of comic relief that goblins do. The 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual notes, “Because of the kobolds’ fondness for wearing raggedy garb of red and orange, their non-prehensile rat-like tails, and their language (which sounds like small dogs yapping), these fell creatures are often not taken seriously.” The text goes on to say, “This is often a fatal mistake, for what they lack in sire and strength they make up in ferocity and tenacity.”

Perhaps the single defining feature of kobolds’ behavior is their fondness for traps—particularly traps that inflict a great deal of pain and torment. They’re skilled with mechanical contraptions, such as trip wires that loose crossbows or that drop caged scorpions upon intruders. They also excavate pit traps, plant hidden spikes, and make use of alchemical fire or acid to hurt and maim any who intrude on their lairs.

The other thing that makes kobolds particularly dangerous is their numbers. An individual kobold is little threat, but in a swarm they can bring down much larger foes.

Their tribes are led not by the biggest and strongest (as with most of the other races we’ve discussed so far), but by the smartest and cleverest. The kobold that devises the most cunning traps, that directs the kobold swarms with the most effective tactics, and that outsmarts its rivals for the position can claim the leadership of a kobold tribe.

Otherwise, kobolds aren’t very good at anything. They are small, nimble, and mobile (with high Dexterity scores), but their other statistics are average at best. Their leaders have higher Intelligence scores, but it’s rare for a kobold’s Strength scores or Constitution scores to even approach the human average.

Like goblins and orcs, kobolds hate bright light, and their attacks are less effective when their eyes are blinking in the sun.

One last peculiar characteristic of kobolds is that they claim that the blood of dragons courses through their veins. They believe that their god, Kurtulmak, was created by Tiamat, and Kurtulmak in turn infused some of his draconic essence into the race he created. That might just be empty boasting, but occasional dragon-winged kobolds (called urds) appear among kobold tribes, a mutation that tends to run along family lines. Regardless of the truth of this assertion, kobolds often serve and worship dragons.

When they can’t find a dragon with which to live, kobolds use rats and weasels as pets and guardians. Like rats, they live in underground warrens with numerous chambers, each with a specialized purpose, and with traps throughout to ward off intrusions. Most of the tunnels in a kobold warren are too small for human-sized creatures to move through them easily.

Kobolds are neutral evil, like goblins. They live in large tribes and follow the smartest leader, but they’re not nearly as regimented as hobgoblins, and they are not as interested in dominating the world around them. They’re opportunistic scavengers with a sadistic streak and just enough brains to survive in a world filled with much larger monsters who consider them little more than tasty morsels.

Interestingly, some descriptions of kobolds suggest that they have ties to what we would call fey creatures. Their particular enemies, described in the original Monster Manual, are “such creatures as brownies, pixies, sprites, and gnomes.” That’s probably an allusion to the legendary origin of their name, where they’re akin to brownies themselves. In any event, their antipathy to gnomes at least is established in the game.


How on earth would you tell a lizard man from a lizard woman? Perhaps because it’s impossible, the term “lizardfolk” has become singular as well as plural.

Lizardfolk are primitive even in comparison to orcs, and they largely rely on their own natural weapons and scaled hides rather than manufactured arms and armor. Even the occasional tribes that are considered “advanced” use only blowguns, clubs made of bone (sometimes with a stone head lashed to the bone shaft), and shields made from the shells of large swamp-dwelling turtles.

Lizardfolk can be very deadly thanks to their use of poison and guerilla tactics. Their natural camouflage and ability to swim makes it easy for them to strike from hiding, disappear into the swamp, and strike again as soon as their quarry relaxes. Or they might instead return when their poison has taken its toll. Lizardfolk are very strong (high Strength scores) but not at all bright (low Intelligence scores).

These creatures can be, if not peaceful, then at least complacent. Their god, Semuanya, is torpid, and lizardfolk can be equally sluggish—especially during colder weather. They’re neutral in alignment, and they’re dangerous predators, but usually not sadistic or malicious. They don’t typically raid nearby settlements unless prey becomes scarce, though they do attack humans who intrude into their swamps. Their leaders are druids, whose doctrine is survival in balance with the natural cycles.

Once in a while, though, lizardfolk take a definite turn toward evil thanks to the influence of a lizard king—a larger, meaner variety of lizardfolk thought to have demonic blood. Lizard kings are servants of the demon prince Sess’inek, and they demand human sacrifices that drive the lizardfolk to make raids on nearby settlements. The influence of a lizard king can transform the swamps around their homes into a place similar to the Abyssal home of their demon prince, causing the area to become tainted with corrupted plants and fiendish animals.

Lizardfolk dwell in swamps, making their homes in ruins or partially flooded caves. They might have crocodiles or plant monsters (such as shambling mounds) as pets, and if a naga or black dragon lives in the same swamp, lizardfolk often serve or ally with such creatures.


Troglodytes are similar to lizardfolk, because of this, some say that these creatures are a degenerate offshoot of lizardfolk that has adapted to life in the Underdark. If lizardfolk are a simple race whose primary concern is survival, troglodytes are a perversion of that simple need, driven by a constant, insatiable hunger. To misappropriate the words of Socrates, lizardfolk eat to live, but troglodytes live to eat.

The defining characteristic of troglodytes is their stench, which they emit when roused for battle. The terrible odor sickens most other creatures that smell it. Their thick skin provides good protection, and it also changes colors to help them blend in with their subterranean environment.

Troglodytes use javelins to attack from a distance before closing to melee range, and, once in close combat, they attack with their claws and bites, stone-headed axes or clubs, or steel weapons stolen in their raids on other races. They have high Constitution scores, but little in the way of Dexterity scores, Intelligence scores, and Charisma scores.

Trogs ally with other Underdark creatures that can tolerate their stench and don’t make good food—otyughs, giant beetles, and other vermin. Their leaders are the largest and strongest of their kind, but a few rare troglodytes are attuned to the forces of elemental earth. Even their elemental shamans are corrupt and degenerate, and they are easily drawn to the forces of elemental evil or the Elder Elemental Eye.

The Other Scaled Folk

Reptiles aren’t the only scaled creatures in the D&D world, and when you take a look at the world’s oceans and seas, you can add another group to them: the aquatic races of sahuagin, locathah, and merfolk (even if they’re only half scaled). I won’t go into detail in discussing these races, but there’s one key question I want to ask about them: How important are they to your game? Some of my own campaigns make significant use of aquatic races, but everyone does not necessarily share my opinion. Sahuagin are at least useful for coastal raiding, but locathah and merfolk are useless on land. In the poll below, let us know what role these races play in your game.

What Do You Think?

Let’s get right to the polls. As always, feel free to expand on your thoughts in the comments.

This Week's Polls

 How well do the kobolds we’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D kobold?  
1—That’s no kobold. Not even close.
2—It’s kobold-adjacent, at least.
3—I can see kobold from here.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a kobold.
5—That’s more kobold than any past kobold has ever been.

 How well do the lizardfolk we’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D lizardfolk?  
1—If that’s a lizardfolk, I’m a lizard.
2—Well, you got the lizard part right.
3—It’s a lizard something—getting there.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a lizardfolk.
5—That is the ultimate expression of lizardfolk!

 How well do the troglodytes we’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D troglodyte?  
1—It smells as bad as a real troglodyte.
2—Lizard, check. Stench, check. The rest, start over.
3—That’s starting to smell like a troglodyte.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a troglodyte.
5—Oh, yeah. That’s it. Good enough to eat!

 What’s the role of aquatic humanoids in the game?  
I have no use for them. They belong in a supplement that focuses on aquatic adventuring.
Sahuagin are useful for coastal raids, but locathah and merfolk are useless.
I use sahuagin, and I use mermaids for luring ships off course, but if I never see a locathah again I won’t miss them.
If they were good enough for Gary Gygax, they’re good enough for me! Put them in the core game!

Previous Poll Results

When is a goblin a goblinoid?
These three monsters are related, but that doesn't mean they live and work together. 1578 60.3%
These three monsters are all goblins/goblinoids, and I expect to see them living and fighting together. 784 30.0%
These three monsters belong in a larger category (giant class or goblin races, for example), with no special connection among them. 255 9.7%
Total 2617 100.0%

How well do the goblins we’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D goblin?
4 -- Yeah, I recognize that as a goblin. 1592 66.9%
5 -- It is everything a goblin should be and more. 390 16.4%
3 -- You got the small and sneaky part right, at least. 312 13.1%
2 -- Well, it's oid but I don't think it's goblin. 58 2.4%
1 -- I've seen garden gnomes that look more like goblins. 26 1.1%
Total 2278 100.0%

How well do the bugbears we’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D bugbear?
4 -- Yeah, I recognize that as a bugbear. 1484 64.0%
3 -- You got the big hairy goblin part right, at least. 379 16.3%
5 -- I cower before the ultimate bugbear! 276 11.9%
2 -- There's something there that might be bugbearish. 143 6.2%
1 -- I see neither bug nor bear. 38 1.6%
Total 2320 100.0%

How well do the hobgoblins we’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D hobgoblin?
4 -- Yeah, I recognize that as a hobgoblin. 1163 48.8%
5 -- I'd march in that hobgoblin army. 949 39.8%
3 -- It might be some kind of oblin, at least. 181 7.6%
2 -- It has some vague hobgoblinish features. 64 2.7%
1 -- I think you misspelled hogboglin. 26 1.1%
Total 2383 100.0%
James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
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