(this was originally published on my Patreon on April 22, 2017)
In the standard fantasy world, kobolds are weak creatures, subservient to dragons or anyone else that intimidates them. However, without changing the nature of kobolds, they could easily become the dominant power in their world. Granted it would require a lot of things to go almost perfectly, but it would certainly be possible. Here’s how.
Kobolds are numerous and reproduce rapidly. Otherwise the species would have died out ages ago. Particularly prosperous dragon dens are populated by hundreds or thousands of kobolds, who serve the dragons fearfully and/or faithfully. However, the relationship is rarely beneficial for the kobolds. The dragons might tell them that it protects them, but it really lets the kobolds be its first line of defense against adventurers, who will certainly overwhelm them and exhaust themselves before reaching the dragon.
Kobolds are also clever. Not brilliant by any standard, but they are resourceful and skilled with traps and technology (google “Tucker’s Kobolds” for an example of this). Kobolds use their traps to protect their homes against intruders, but what if they turned these against their dragon masters?
It would take a single charismatic kobold coming up with the idea that kobolds should be free of their dragon masters to bring this to pass. Clever kobolds could formulate a means of long-distance communication, sharing their plans with other kobold warrens for their liberation plan. As easily as rigging the lair with traps for adventurers, the kobolds could rig the lair with traps for dragons, though they would need to be significantly powerful. If dragons paid more heed to the kobolds their shenanigans would be spotted immediately, but kobolds are too lowly for a dragon to give anything more than a passing glance. The kobolds could spend weeks or months perfecting their deathtraps, and when they are finally ready, they spring them on their master dragons, killing them in the best case scenario or driving them away if that fails.
With the majority of the kobold warrens freed in this scenario, the kobolds would then have to defend their warrens against vengeful dragons, but defending their warrens from outsiders is a kobold’s specialty. Other opportunistic monsters (or humanoids) would see the lack of a dragon as an opportunity to strike and steal the dragons’ treasure, but they’d be met by countless traps. In a short amount of time, it will be understood that the kobold warrens are well-defended and all but the most powerful and/or foolhardy creatures will leave them be.
Without the dragons forcing them to work against their interests, the kobolds would then amass treasure and technology that they could put to use for their own needs rather than simply storing in a dragon’s hoard. Kobold warrens would expand as their numbers increase and their means of supporting greater and greater numbers increase, and their technological advances would make them valuable to the outside world, as they’d want their new technologies. However, the rapidly expanding kobolds would soon make the other kingdoms nervous, and eventually the humans, dwarves, elves, and perhaps other dominant races would declare war on the kobolds.
And they would lose. Kobolds would have a significant numbers and technological advantage, even if all three races allied (an unlikely circumstance in the first place), and their warrens would be easily defended from attack. While a single human warrior might be stronger than a single kobold warrior, if the kobolds acted defensively they wouldn’t even need to come to blows, instead luring the humans, elves, and dwarves into traps and killing them with little risk to themselves. If the kobolds decided to go on the offensive, they would face considerably more problems, but they would still have a significant numbers advantage, and if they used their technology to invent war machines they could steamroll the humans with the right tech.
When the war ends in the kobolds’ favor, the kobold would not even have to exterminate their rivals. The kobolds would be recognized as the dominant military force, and more and more people would seek them for trade and perhaps even mercenaries, if their war machines prove valuable. In the end their lost rivals will simply become irrelevant and their empires will collapse or shrink, and kobolds would at last be the dominant power in the world.