Pib and Zarf – Kobold Dragon Mages

Motivations

Let’s begin by jumping into an encounter as an example with Pib and Zarf, two kobold dragon mages (moderate CR 2) from the first book of Age of Ashes. Paizo does a pretty good job of describing their motivations: 

  1. they’re starving and 
  2. they want to be respected as dragons, 
  3. but will surrender if necessary.

Unfortunately portrays them as almost suicidally stupid as they’re willing give up their element of surprise by charging the PCs yelling “We are dragons, we wants your meats!” – presumably in draconic.

Lets contrast that with the kobolds described in the ancestry guide:

“If you want a character with oversized confidence, deadly cunning, and the ancient power of dragons flowing through their veins, you should play a kobold.” 

Kobold Ancestry

Knowledge

These specific kobolds also have an +2 intelligence (so a net score of 14 or 15). They know their abilities and those of common opponents (goblins, orcs and humans). 

So what specifically do they know?

  • They have sneak attack but no way of triggering it without flanking with each other (except their 1/day special ability). They NEED each other to survive. 
  • They have been rationing their food to survive, they will also ration spell slots, and special abilities until they have no choice but to use them.
  • They’re outnumbered – their best best is to scare off the PCs, then kill the weakest one and steal their food. 
  • Humans cannot see in the dark. Kobolds can. Most humanoids speak common.
  • Their best damage spell is a 3A magic missile (1d4+1×3) which they will focus fire on the highest AC PC. They will only bother melee clawing if their target is flat footed – otherwise keeping range and magic missile is always a better option for them.
  • Kobolds have -CON, they won’t finish their turn in melee with a martial, especially one with an AOO.
  • This room is full of tables sized for medium creatures, small kobolds can get cover by running underneath them. You know what doesn’t care about cover? Magic Missile.
  • They are prepared INT casters (wizards). They are highly intelligent, understand magic, want to get more of it and know the value of their local knowledge.

What do they believe?

  • They’re the biggest, baddest draconic motherfuckers in this castle, and they have recently been disrespected by the CInderclaws: They have a Kobold-sized chip on their shoulders and something to prove. At least until one of them takes a hit.

So if we follow Paizo’s description of them from the AP what will their first round likely be (if they have the jump on the PCs)?

Tactics

Author’s Note: This is NOT an optimal opening strategy, but it IS true to their motivations (as written).

Round 1: Shock and Awe 

Aim:

  • Assert dominance & get respect through fear whilst staying close enough to each other to allow flanking if someone closes with them

Actions:

  • 2A Fear (DC20 WILL SAVE) Against the scariest martial target in the party with weak will (likely a fighter or alchemist, followed by a ranger and any non-WIS martial). They want a crit fail here – fighters will have probably a +5 to WILL at this level and clerics/druids with a +10).
  • 1A Demoralise (+8 INTIMIDATION) on a different target (frightened doesnt stack from different sources)

Explanation:

  • Being outnumbered, their best bet is to eliminate the weakest member, steal their food and scare off the rest.

Round 2: ‘Pick off the weakest’ or ‘Oh no we miscalculated’

Aim: This all depends if anyone has closed on them. If not:

  • Knock out the PC most likely to be carrying food or the easiest target. If a martial has closed on them, then skip to R3

Actions:

  • 3A magic missile – both focus fire on a single target (or 2A MM and move)

Explanation: 

  • Knocking down a PC might cause other PCs to flee, also it plays to their power fantasy. 

Round 3: ‘FLEE AND COWER’

Aim: Defend!

  • Try to recover from the mess they have got themselves into

Actions:

  • If an enemy is in melee then Illusory retreat (even if doing so provokes)
  • Or keep at range and focus fire 2A Magic missile and whoever is chasing you.

Explanation:

  • At this point Pib and Zarf have likely realised they they have bitten off more than they can chew. They no longer care about food, but survival.

Round 4: Surrender?

Aim: Take down weaker opponents or surrender

  • Try to placate the PCs whilst still appear threatening

Actions:

  • If invisible – they will move to different targets with low AC (casters and sneak attack with claws). They want to be close enough to each other that they can flank an opponent next round if necessary.
  • If visible – keep at range and focus fire magic missile at that nasty martial.
  • If they are out of spell slots then electric arc the two PCs with the weakest reflex (barbarian, or champion)
  • If either is below 50% HP at any time they both surrender. They can negotiate using their knowledge of the castle and its inhabitants. Also remember – bribery is a form of respect…

Explanation:

  • Pib and Zarf’s survival is more important to them than anything else. Enough said. They will only fight to the death if given no choice.

In our game, these little delights got about 2 rounds in before one of them surrendered and then used his knowledge of this level to barter for the freedom of his buddy. They ultimately became friends of the PCs and are currently training under the tutelage of a dragon to become even more powerful wizards. Our game was all the richer because these guys valued their lives enough to know when they were beaten.

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