There are a number of things that affect the nature of any encounter and make it fun and interesting. Examples of these include exciting and novel creatures, eclectic terrain and terrain features, good plot and story details, strong background details, strong encounter motivation, the sense that the encounter outcome if important, and no doubt a long list of other aspects. More importantly, keeping the encounter dynamic is an excellent way to ensure that players and their PCs stay on their feet, don't become complacent and prepare for the unexpected. This pdf, Breathe Life Into #1 - Kobolds, aims to address some of these issues with encounter design related to kobolds.
Breathe Life Into #1 - Kobolds is the first product in the new Breathe Life Into series. This series focuses on providing information that will allow GMs to spice up their encounters with useful information on the behaviour and ecology of creatures. This first offering features kobolds, and provides the GM with information on combat behaviour, society, personality, interaction and other useful ecology details that allow one to roleplay the kobold during combat encounters. This product is designed for the 3.5e OGL system, although small portions of it will be equally suitable to other game systems that feature kobolds.
This product comes as a single 10 page pdf file, of which only 5 pages are devoted to content, while the remainder are devoted to the front and back covers, licences and a page left blank. The product is fairly well presented, with some good art in the interior, and useful layout. The interior, though, is somewhat disappointing, particularly from an editing perspective. Sections of the pdf could be separated better (by, for example, changing the font size in headings), while the writing was poor and clumsy in places with several rather noticeable errors. The general cohesion of the pdf is not terribly good either, and the reading doesn't flow. Indeed in several sequential sections the reader is constantly reminded that kobolds are rarely found alone. Overall structuring of the pdf content could've been better, although the covers and the art are fairly good.
What does this pdf offer the GM, then, in terms of spicing up the encounters? Like most pdfs of this nature, the take on kobolds is unique in places, but fairly standard in others. For example, here kobolds loathe fey creatures, but are still trap creating little critters which is fairly common for kobolds. By and large the pdf hasn't tried to reinvent kobolds, but rather adds to them, particularly related to roleplaying potential and roleplaying during combat encounters. Lots of useful information is provided on how kobolds should react in certain situations, how they behave under different circumstances, and in general what one would expect when you throw a kobold into the deep end.
Aside from this, there is some useful information on kobold society and their relationships to their monarchs, details on kobold young, and information on typical kobold living areas. From here the pdf looks at two 'different' types of kobolds - mountain kobolds and forest kobolds. Each type is briefly explained, and each section contains a series of ideas for typical kobold encounters and typical kobold traps within these environments. The product details more than half a dozen traps for kobolds that the GM can use to flesh out encounters within kobold territory. The pdf concludes with a useful brief summary of the important points to remember regarding roleplaying kobolds.
I think this pdf has set off to do something quite worthwhile in creating dynamic and interesting encounters, but the execution if not the best. I found it hard to get a clear vision of what the author intended the kobolds to behave like. That's not to say that there weren't any useful ideas and implementations here, and in fact a lot of this information can be used to craft interesting encounters. But at the same time the structure and cohesion is not the best, and not helped by the layout which could've been better. Dynamic and exciting encounters are those that players and GMs remember, and while I think this pdf is a fair aid to achieve that aim, I think it could've used a little more work to make it better. Overall, some good ideas, but editing and pdf structure let the product down.
[3 of 5 Stars!]