View Full Version : D&D 3.x Other So You Want To Kill A Goblin (Fluff)

2014-05-20, 01:43 PM
So you want to kill a goblin? Then read on.

Goblins are not just trivial chunks of XP for low-level characters. Too often, we contextualize common monsters as predictable, laughable murderhobo fodder. Goblins are treated as squishable speedbumps not worth further consideration beyond all but the lowest levels of the game.

So what are goblins, then? In this companion piece to my earlier elf article (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?258370-So-You-Want-To-Play-An-Elf-(3-5-Fluff)), I will delve into the nature of the goblin race and supply a foundation from which to draw on when making a goblin encounter.

Table of Contents

The Enemy (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?350307-So-You-Want-To-Kill-A-Goblin&p=17496629&viewfull=1#post17496629)
○○○○ Stinking Cowardly Wolf-Monkeys
○○○○ And Gallantly He Chickened Out
○○○○ I Love The Way Your Foul Little Mind Works
The Culture
○○○○ Goblins Are The Most Untrustworthy Race!... Except For All The Others
○○○○ I'm Thpartacuth
○○○○ Da Ba Dee
The Challenge
The World

2014-05-20, 01:44 PM
The Enemy

Stinking Cowardly Wolf-Monkeys

Goblins are built differently from most humanoids. Their flat faces have a broad nose, with large nostrils its chief discernible feature. The characteristic wide mouth and protruding fangs conceal advanced dentition that can contend with extremely tough plant matter, bone and sinew. Goblins have longer arms than most other humanoids, roughly equivalent to the length of a forearm again beyond that of a human arm, adjusted for size. These arms hang down almost to the kneecap even when the goblin stands upright; however, goblins are usually hunched over or squatting, bringing their arms closer to the ground to aid in movement and stealth. Goblin movement is at once coarse and startlingly fluid, as fast as a human despite the shorter gait.

In terms of size, goblins rest between gnomes and halflings, though they are closer to the former. Goblins stand between three and three and a half feet in height (2'10" + 2d4") and weigh roughly 40-45 lbs. Males and females are of similar size. Goblin skin tones are predicated on phytopigments in their diet, and range from pale yellows through to deep reds. Green is not a normal goblin skin tone. This pigmentation also affects their eyes, which appear dull and glazed but run the same gamut of colors. Goblins have broad, pointed ears and coarse, matted hair (usually black).

And Gallantly He Chickened Out

Goblins have a particularly downtrodden reputation among both ally and foe races. Often derided as being stupid, weak and cowardly, goblins will cheerfully own up to the latter two. However, goblins are just as intelligent as dwarves, elves and humans; what they lack is not common sense or intellect, but rather appreciation for large-scale strategic planning. Oh yes, also bravery. That noise is for suckers.

Goblins find the proud races (humans, elves, dwarves and the like) to be not just ugly (you've got lumps sticking out of the middle of your faces!) but also incredibly foolish. For while humans venerate any number of gods who demand service to a higher cause, and dwarves were fathered by a proud god who will call the fallen warriors to his great hall, and elves by a god who prizes the works of civilization above the people that made them, goblins are the creations of Maglubiyet, god of caution and suspicion. The Fire-Eyed God may carry "Battle Lord" as an epithet, but he has no use nor place for fools who let the blood he gave them spill at the hands of an obviously superior enemy. While Gruumsh and Vaprak and Annam strove to best one another with creations ever larger and stronger, the father of goblinkind worked his cunning, investing nothing of himself into his creations save his caution; granting them no power individually, that they might be claimed by other deities, but keeping them subservient to himself. Goblins have no word for cowardice, since the term implies that there was a better option than saving one's own hide. Any plan that calls, even in the abstract, for the clear risking or loss of life that might very well be one's own - well, that's a bad plan.

Goblins may have no head for strategy, in the sense of an overarching plan of action for approaching a goal; what they do have, however, is a keen head for tactics. Goblins possess a downright nasty cunning and ingenuity; they understand how to exploit their size and numbers to ensure that they're never caught in a fair fight. It's hard to outthink goblins simply because they know you know their methods - but they're just so straightforward that it's hard to deal with them.

I Love The Way Your Foul Little Mind Works

The mind of a goblin is wired for caution and suspicion; however, though they're legendary cowards in combat, they have no more predilection to fear than most other humanoids. Goblins will walk unfazed through a camp bristling with slavering worgs and dreadful bonedrinkers without giving them a second thought. The flight impulse that keeps a goblin's skin intact is something they understand to a malicious degree; goblins enjoy and make great use of psychological warfare to weaken and break foes. War drums keep villages awake and on edge, waiting for a goblin attack that never comes. A handful of scouts making their presence known can cause paranoia in small settlements. A goblin is just as swift as a human, orc or elf and can easily outpace even lightly-armored dwarves, gnomes and halflings; this speed is instrumental in fleeing from dangerous situations to regroup and strike again, and also useful for kiting foes with javelins.

When it comes time to attack, goblins push every advantage they can muster. The distrust they have for one another means goblin "formations" are often perimeters and single ranks, side by side to catch potential treachery and spot any possible cue to run off until a better opportunity presents itself. Wickedly stealthy, most goblins can move more quietly than elves if they take the time to get a feel for the terrain, and many can move at effective cross-country speeds while still being all but undetectable to the average humanoid ear. Even trained guard dogs have a difficult time hearing a force of goblins approaching, and enough bands have dealt with the sensitive noses of bugbears to have methods of concealing their smell. The time to fear goblins is the night when everything seems most still and at rest. When nothing disturbs the dark - that is their time, and they will arrive in shadow and silence.

The most infamous assets of a goblin war band are their mounts and guardians, the dreadful worgs. Halfway between normal wolves and their dire cousins in size and strength, worgs are far more fierce, cunning and vile, possessed of an intellect beyond that of normal animals. The allegiance of these unpleasant beasts gives goblins powerful and relentless trackers with a predilection for vicious ambush attacks to use as mounts and to guard settlements. Worgs move somewhat more quietly than goblins, and can carry one or two on their backs without any loss of stealth and mobility. Using their worgs, goblins can engage in blitzkrieg strikes, rushing in with javelins to take down priority targets, then dismounting to let their vicious pets loose as meat shields while the raid and pillage takes place. Goblins can command their worgs to ignore prized prey such as cows and horses for a time in order to prioritize potential threats first.

The goblins' combat playbook is simple, straightforward and easy to predict, but it still sees a lot of success. Why? Because it's awfully hard to deal with superior numbers, superior mobility and practiced stealth when all three are united in one brutal tactic. Those who manage to fight back effectively often find, come morning, that the spoils of their victory are a dead worg or two alongside losses more severe than were paid in kind.

And the goblins will only return.

2014-05-20, 01:46 PM
The Culture

Goblins Are The Most Untrustworthy Race!... Except For All The Others

Goblins have a most unusual mindset that can make their culture appear anarchic and petty, for they are one of the very few races without a sense of racial self-worth. Orcs are proud of being orcs, elves are proud of being elves, but goblins are in permanent discord. There's nothing about the fact that another party is also a goblin that will engender any sort of real camaraderie or espirit-de-camp among their kind, for as a cautious, highly suspicious race out to survive at any cost, every single goblin knows that they cannot trust other goblins.

How is it, then, that goblin tribes numbering in the hundreds of members can function at all? Simple: while goblins don't trust one another, they trust everyone else less. Goblins have an amazing capacity for empathy and reason compared to, say, orcs. They are familiar with the basic impulses and motives of other goblins, because they share those same instincts. Goblins are able to work in unison because they know that they are weak individually, and because of the distrust and contempt they have for stronger races that will bully them. No goblin wants to be "the goblin" when dealing with brutal overmasters; the fact that likelihood of survival increases dramatically via safety in numbers does not escape them, and they've learned that it doesn't pay to be the first one to step out of line in a culture where everyone's paranoid and ready to rat you out to save their own skins.

This mentality makes goblins tricky to negotiate with or divide from within; goblins can be easily convinced that someone is out to get them or that another goblin is capable of betraying them. What they won't believe, however, is that anyone would bother risking their own hide to do so. The ensuing chain reaction would almost certainly leave the perpetrator dead as well. Goblins will abandon one another if it means survival, but in a society filled with such a thick and palpable tension, there's an almost reassuring understanding of mutually assured destruction at the first toe out of line.

Trying to appeal to racial pride doesn't work on a goblin (-4 circumstance penalty to Bluff and Diplomacy checks), and trying to motivate them to take a risk that could backfire has similar problems. Ultimately, it's hard to divide goblins with anything less than simple, forceful threats, and you can be assured that a threatened goblin is one planning to weasel its way out of potential harm as soon as is feasible.

I'm Thpartacuth

There are five tiers of leadership among goblins, and which ones appear in any given tribe can vary wildly. It's possible that a tribe will have only a warchief, or only a shaman; perhaps a particular tribe has all forms of leader. From weakest to strongest, they can roughly be summarized as The Idea Guy, The Strong Guy, The Religious Guy, The Monster, and The Man Behind The Man.

The first kind of leader is the most common and hardest to deal with; this will be whatever goblin in the tribe can convince the most others that a given plan of action is best. Once enough members are committed, everyone else falls into line rather than risk an ugly and immediate fate. Outsiders find this leader difficult to deal with because his identity is irrelevant - kill one goblin with a plan and the role immediately passes to whoever has a better way to avoid you than the first goblin did. A goblin tribe in need of a leader never lacks for one.

The second kind of leader is the most commonly encountered by adventurers: the warchief, occasionally a strong goblin warrior but typically a powerful thuggish member of another vile humanoid race. Warchiefs hold authority based on the simple premise that they can and will kill someone for defying them, and that they in turn can and will be killed by enemies seeking to cut off the head of the tribe. Goblins will suffer a competent warchief indefinitely, but have malicious and creative ways of eliminating incompetents.

Religious leaders such as shamans and clerics are the third tier of leadership; to a lesser extent this rung would include arcane casters, but adepts tend to be more common and hold sway among smaller populations and clerics of Maglubiyet, Khurgorbaeyag and (to a lesser extent) Bargrivyek are unquestioned when it comes to right to lead. Such leaders use divine favor to curry loyalty among the ranks, and the simple ability to heal can have a powerful influence on goblins when it comes from one of their own.

It's rare, but not unheard of, for other entities to command a goblin tribe. Dragons rarely bother, seeing goblins as thoroughly beneath them, but some fiends find them useful as fodder for destructive tasks, particularly the wicked and vile barghests. Barghests tend to avoid goblin bands with religious leaders in them, as they risk crossing the powerful clergy of Maglubiyet and getting banished back to the Lower Planes. They may pose as goblin warchiefs, however, and will gladly serve the strongest rung of goblin leadership.

You see, behind the many veils of command, from the independent thinkers up to the clerics and fiends who exert supernatural influence over a tribe, there remains one shadowy influence that plays a key role in the success of goblin tribes and the outcomes of their most serious and vicious attacks.

Da Ba Dee

It is said of the god Maglubiyet that there is no other deity so paranoid and suspicious. The very concept of trust is utterly unknown to the Mighty One, who pits his chosen children against one another and thrives on war, strife and tension. This extends even to his own clerics, who channel his divine gifts and spread his dogma. The Fire-Eyed God would never allow anything to potentially undermine his own rule, including the possibility that his priesthood could effectively replace all of goblin leadership if given the chance.

This, at least, is one of the more popular stories other races tell about the ungainly mutant stock that form the secret backbone of goblin power. Others say that Maglubiyet in his cunning gifted a portion of his children with a strange power of which the other gods were ignorant; it is certainly true that none of the other major races display such a sizeable population capable of wielding the mysterious and rare powers of the mind.

Whatever their origin, the blues, as they are called, are the secret leaders of goblinkind. Blessed with intellect surpassing that of the elves, dwarves and humans and naturally attuned to the mental powers known as psionics, blues offer goblins a new dimension of warfare while remaining a secret most other goblins, to say nothing of other races, do not know anything about. While blues are willing to pose as councillors and advisers to warchiefs and priests, the power they wield and their natural cunning mark them out as a true force to be reckoned with. A goblin tribe with a handful of blues backing it can pose an incredible threat even before considering the likely presence of clerics, a warchief and a complement of worgs. Blues are frequently telepaths, capable of manipulating other "leaders" using aversion, psionic suggestion and similar powers to subtly determine a course of action without provoking suspicion.

You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling

Goblins do not experience "love." The emotion has no word in their language, no bearing on their cultures or lifestyles. The closest equivalent in goblin culture is "trust," which is how they translate the word from other languages. Needless to say, given the perception of trust in goblin culture, love songs are considered either perverse or tremendously hilarious, and other races are looked on with confusion, derision and even pity for the value they place in "trust."

Devoid of love, goblin culture functions with surprising efficiency, for love in all its forms is unknown to goblins. Not just romantic love, but familial love. Children of goblins are referred to as the child of the mother, and will bear that identifier only so long as is warranted; a mother without much status won't give any long-lasting stamp to those she whelps, and she likes it fine that way. Children are raised by the mother until weaned and then abandoned to the community. It is exceedingly rare for a father to attempt to identify his own child, let alone take any interest in the child. At best, a goblin who demonstrates some of the excellence associated with an elder might elicit notes of "that must be Buyuk's son, he's very large" or "Guklu's blood in her, I'd bet, how strong she is" in much the same way one remarks on the weather. They just don't care.

Lust, on the other hand, is a major factor in goblin culture. Whereas attachment is a weakness that reduces numbers and compromises the race, the fiery hungers that Maglubiyet has filled his chosen with are necessary to keep the population high. A goblin female can conceive with multiple partners and whelp up to three children at once (four is not unheard of, but rare and usually fatal to the mother). Sexual dominance is purely a numbers game; whichever gender is more numerous takes the lead.

It is a very rare and odd thing for goblins to forge actual trust, with each other or with anyone else. Most goblins will go their whole lives never trusting any other being. It's not a thing spoken of in goblin culture, for it is acknowledged as a weakness. Even two goblins with a trust relationship are not likely to mention it, leaving it completely unspoken and unacknowledged outside of deeds and actions that make it clear in subtle ways.

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

Goblin females are frequently with child, and they are generally discouraged from joining Maglubiyet's priesthood, but that does not discount their role in the mainstream of goblin culture. Where males are more frequently scouts, raiders and priests of the Fire-Eyed God, females frequently pursue roles in the clergy of Khurgorbaeyag the Overseer, training the wolves and taking slaves. Females are also more inclined to dabble in wizardry, and female blues are more potent psions. While males lead the raid, females form the occupation force, a slower-moving and devoutly melee horde that rolls into a broken settlement and proceeds to enslave or massacre any survivors while pillaging everything of value. Almost all females are expected to participate in this force.

Female goblins are frequently nearsighted (with the appropriate trait) and often more intelligent than males; males in turn are often farsighted (likewise) and may have higher Wisdom. Females may be found in leadership roles just as often as males. The only exception is when a goblin horde is being ruled over by others, in which case the stronger leaders' attitude toward females may prevail out of necessity for survival. Eventually, though, the blues will always prevail, and the males know it. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of the blues' revenge for sexist behavior.

2014-05-20, 01:48 PM
Reserved for Challenge

2014-05-20, 01:49 PM
Reserved for World

2014-05-21, 06:58 PM
Updated with first part of Culture.

2014-05-22, 07:41 AM
Good to see you got this up. Looking forward to the rest.

2014-07-16, 12:50 PM
Updated Culture section.