Traders and Tricksters: Kobolds and their Angelships

Angelship. Source: Beyond the Moons Spelljammer Website.

~ From “Goblin Gear” by Adam “Night Druid” Miller

The backbone of the kobold navies was the Angelship, a spelljammer with the general shape of an angel.  Elven propaganda speaks of the evil kobolds mocking celestials.  Halflings claim kobolds used ships that put good-aligned races at ease.  Merchants point to the large cargo capacity and air-worthiness as why kobolds built Angelships.

Angelships are surprisingly easy to build and maintain.  The kobolds lay out a strong keel and use hardwoods to construct a simple frame.  Some later ships were covered over with a layer of thick, strong planks.  Much more commonly several layers of dried reeds, woven together were used.  Reed-built ships proved surprisingly strong, as sturdy as thick wood but a fraction of the cost.  Oil treatments reduced the threat of fire somewhat, but such ships were always tinderboxes (1).  Reed-ships cost a third the standard prices (i.e. 11,000 gp for an Angelship) and repairs are half standard prices.  Reed ships vary in hull thickness, so an Angelship using the standard deckplan can vary from 30 to 35 tons.  Master kobold shipwrights could create Angelships ranging from 20 to 50 tons and retain the overall Angelship design.

The wings are made much like rest of the ship, reeds covering a wooden frame.  Woven reed walls divide the wings into dozens of tiny sleeping cubbies for kobolds.  The weaving is left loose, allowing air to circulate and keep the crew from suffocating.

The main part of the craft is long and broad.  In between the wings are the galley, mess, and bridge.  Wedged directly behind the ram is a room shared by the chief and his trusted sub-chiefs.  The aft is a large cargo hold, as is the entire lower deck.  Access to this cavernous hold is by means of a pair of open holes cut on the top deck, at the aft-most part of the ship.  Both decks are shorter than standard, but the thick layers of reeds makes the ship taller than its interior space should indicate.

Sails are triangular and supported by two thick masts.  A multitude of ratlines run from the top of the masts to the deck, and even between the masts.  Fifteen kobolds work these lines, with one more kobold necessary as a helmsman to make the ship sail.  Always fond of devilishly clever and deadly machinery, kobolds sometimes make use of strange mechanical ship weapons.  Armament is usually two ballistas, a catapult, and the blunt ram.  False decks and fake weapons that make the ship look bigger and divert attacks from important parts of the ship is a common tactic.  Ships armed with Greek fire projectors or bombards rarely last long.

As small creatures with slow metabolisms, as many as six kobolds could cram into the same space occupied by another medium-sized humanoid.  Thus, as many as two hundred kobolds could cram aboard a standard Angelship, and larger ships could carry as many as three hundred, without taxing the air envelope.  Thus an entire tribe could survive aboard a single ship.  Larger tribes made use of 2-5 ships, traveling together for protection.  In some dangerous regions, 2-8 tribes would ban together for mutual defense.  Such alliances were ruled by the strongest and craftiest kobold.  The largest fleets known, with as many as forty ships, were almost small kingdoms in their own right.

Angelships avoided combat unless they had the edge in size, numbers, or both.  The best method of dealing with kobolds was a strong, determined defense, which could scatter the cowardly creatures.  Some preferred to cut loose a barge full of loot, which would cause the kobolds to stop and loot that instead of pursuing an escaping tradesman.

A favorite tactic was to cut small arrow-slits along the wing edges and the sides of the ship.  Through these holes kobold archers could fire from behind cover.  A ship might have as many as two-dozen such slits per wing.  Volleys of missile-fire would “soften-up” a target before any boarding actions took place, hopefully clearing the decks of any defenders.

Kobolds were fond of boarding tactics, given their numbers.  Whenever possible, multiple Angelships will grapple a single ship, and then send overwhelming waves of boarders to attack.  The large wings are excellent for this tactic, providing a sturdy platform to fight but too flimsy to support many human-sized creatures (who fall through into the wings, where even more kobolds away to catch them by surprise).  Additional ships could approach and unload even more kobolds onto the wings of the grappled craft.  When faced with ten-to-one odds at the very least, few could stand up to such odds.

Another favorite tactic was to cut small slits along the wing edges and the sides of the ship.  These holes had the same effect as arrow-slits, allowing kobold archers to fire from behind cover.  A ship might have as many as two-dozen such slits per wing, through which kobolds could pour murderous fire into a hapless ship.

Boarding an Angelship was risky.  Not only were they loaded with many, many kobolds, there were many booby-traps as well.  Many would-be heroes met their grisly demise at the clever traps on an Angelship.  Some examples of these include:

  • Small blades and nails are embedded in the ceiling.  Creatures taller than 4’ suffer penalties to fight or risk taking damaged (2).
  • Gaps in walls were used as murder holes, through which defenders fired crossbows or thrust spears.
  • Pet poisonous creatures, such as snakes, scorpions, and centipedes, could be turned loose on attackers.
  • Weak floors would give way when something heavier than 100 lbs pass over it, pinning the creature at the waist and vulnerable to attacks (loss of all dexterity bonuses and a +5 bonus to hit the pinned creature, to boot!).
  • Loosely woven floors through which kobolds can thrust spears, creating an instant spike-pit-like attack that most (demi-) humans cannot avoid (3).  The best place for such a trap is around the stairs (just like a magician thrusting swords into a basket!)
  • A gamut of trip-wires, spear traps, trapped chests and doors, and sink-bombs that impede and slay foes as they enter.

A rare sight was the kobold Night Angel, which they considered a “heavy warship.”  Guardians of the kobold fleets, these ships packed as many as five hundred warriors into their hulls (disregarding air and sanitation conditions).  The use of Darklight spells (4) made the ships all but invisible in space (5).  Patchwork armor was added to provide additional protection (+1 bonus to armor rating), and they were crammed with as many as a dozen ship weapons.  Night Angel captains were notorious for their boldness and gun-ho attitude, a trait mirrored by the crew.

Most Angelships were propelled by sorcerers using spells.  Rarely, the kobolds were able to salvage discarded or stolen helms and install them on their ships.  Most tribes had a distaste for lifejammers, as many kobolds perished in such devices on orcish ships.

Golden Wings (Example Angelship)

Tonnage: 35 Tons
Hull Points: 35
Crew: 50
Maneuverability Class: C
Landing: Land and Water
Armor Rating: 6
Saves As: Thick wood
Power Type: Minor helm
Ship’s Rating: As helmsman

Standard Armament:

2 medium ballista, crew 2 each
1 medium catapult, crew 3
Blunt ram
Cargo Capacity: 21 tons
Keel Length:  130’
Beam Width: 135’

The Golden Wings is a typical kobold trade ship.  It was build in the Bramble shipyards in 4300 OC, and became part of the Fallen Angel tribe.  The ship has served the Fallen Angels loyally ever since, and makes numerous trade runs between the Black Fang and Blood Saber orc tribes.  It is often encountered on a trade run, filled to the gunwales with junk stolen by the orcs and sold to the kobolds.

Ship’s Key

  1. Ballista: Each of these ballista is of medium size and a rack by each has 20 spears.
  2. Catapult: A medium catapult is located here with a chest with 20 catapult stones.  The chest is warded by a glyph of warding that explodes for 7d4 points of damage to anyone not speaking the password before opening.
  3. Skylights: These holes in the ship’s deck provide light for lower decks.
  4. Cargo Doors: These twin doors allow access to the cargo bay.  They are protected by glyphs of warding that cause blindness to those to open them without speaking the password, cast at 7th level.
  5. Ram: The ship’s ram has the shape of a comely human head.
  6. Crew Quarters: All officers and warrior kobolds live in this room.  Each has a small rug, pouch for personal possessions, and a spare weapon.  Half of the kobolds sleep in hammocks strung from the ceiling.
  7. Helm and Bridge: The minor helm is found here, roughly in the center of the room.  The helm is smaller than normal, and cannot be used by humans or larger creatures.  An elf or dwarf could squeeze into the helm if needed.  Charts of the sphere hang on the walls, and a chart table sits in one corner.  At all times, each door is guarded by a warrior armed with a short sword and a light crossbow.
  8. Mess: The kobolds take their meals in this room.  The room is dominated by a low table and two benches.  There is a meal every three hours, with one quarter of the crew having a meal at any given time.
  9. Galley: This large room is where the kobolds prepare their meals.  It is rarely inactive.
  10. Pantry: Filled to the rafters with nuts, berries, and vegetables, this room has enough food to feed the crew for three months.
  11. Aft Hold: The hold is filled with a wide assortment of junk, from food, clothes, lumber, and pottery to jewelry, gemstones, and even magic items.
  12. Cubbies: These small rooms serve as the sleeping rooms for the majority of the crew.  They all have beds or hammocks, a pouch for personal possessions, and a spare weapon.
  13. Crawlways: The connecting tunnels are very small, allowing passage for only kobold-sized creatures.  If the ship is boarded, kobolds will retreat to these crawlways and use their light crossbows to pelt boarders until driven from the tunnels.
  14. Ammunition storage: Spare bolts and light crossbows are stored here, as well as several short swords, maces, and daggers.  Twelve sealed pouches have poison, enough to tip 100 bolts.


Chief Zeek kobold male F4

AC: 6; HP: 20; THAC0: 17;
Str 14, Int 14.

Weapons: Exceptional short sword, fine light crossbow.

Equipment: shield, studded leather

Leader of the Wildwing Clan, Zeek is a skilled negotiator.  He has a particular like for colorful pieces of glass, which he collects.  Zeek’s collection of blown and cut glass is growing quite large, with his favorite pieces found on the bridge and mess hall.  If cleaned, the collection could fetch a price of 3,800 gp for all 25 pieces.

If the Wings is engaged in battle, Zeek is found on the deck, barking orders to his crew.  Zeek is unusually brave for his kind, and believes in leading the charge against foes.  He likes to bark orders to his crew while hopping up and down, sword in hand.

Shaman Laoul kobold male P5

AC: 7; HP: 14; THAC0: 18;
Wis 15

Weapons: mace, staff

Equipment: studded leather

Spells: 5/4/1

Head helmsman of the Wings, Laoul is a no-nonsense, middle-aged kobold.  He is a sour and cranky kobold, who often beats younger kobolds over the head with his staff.  Laoul has little initiative and has grown accustomed to his position.  Few crewmen like him and he has little doubt that if he tries to overthrow Zeek, the crew would revolt against him, including the other helmsmen.

Shaman K’cak & Rdurn kobold males P2

AC: 7; HP: 5 & 6; THAC0: 20;
Wis 14

Weapons: staff

Equipment: studded leather

Spells: 4

Laoul’s two apprentices, K’cack and Rdurn hate their master.  Both hope for the day that Zeek tires of the cranky old kobold and will dispose of him.  Until then, these kobolds gain experience and grow in abilities.

Warrior kobolds (20): AC 7; F1 (marine kit); hp 8 each; THAC0 20; studded leather armor, short sword, light crossbow, 25 bolts.  All have skill in one large weapon and zero-gravity combat.

Sailor kobolds (16): AC 8; F1; hp 4 each; THAC0 20; leather armor, short sword, light crossbow, 10 bolts.  All are skilled in sail manipulation and carpentry.


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