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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Types of Goblinoids

Yeah, I took a break. Mostly, because I couldn't think of anything I had a pressing desire to say. I've got some things I'm mulling over for future posts, but the only "current events" are some big froo-frah about Kickstarter campaigns and a forum troll-thread about dungeons. I almost posted about those, but then I thought, "Nah, I'll watch TV instead."

But I did think I ought to revisit my post on goblinoids and talk about how I see a couple of the subtypes. Part of this was prompted by Dan's post on goblin hordes, which don't seem dangerous enough for him. He's interpreting them as a standard army of 40 to 400 savage green warriors, but with less than one hit die. The problem is that these goblins ought to be easy to fight off if they make a direct assault; even a village of 3 or 4 hundred people with farm implements as improvised weapons ought to be able to massacre the invaders, although they'd probably take heavy losses themselves.

But I'm not seeing goblins making that kind of attack. The standard rules say goblins are weaker in daylight and more likely to break morale and run; combine that with their creepy role in folklore, and I'm seeing them more as evil little assassins than a horde of warriors. When goblins invade an area, the first sign is livestock being stolen or mutilated in the night. Then, maybe a bedridden old man is found in his own bedroom with his throat slit. Children get snatched. Anyone walking alone at night is jumped by six to eight goblins. In every case, goblins attack by surprise, under cover of darkness, and with superior numbers, isolating the weakest targets first.

Basically, the skulking, murderous goblin fills a niche between the kobold and the hobgoblin. The original rules don't distinguish kobolds from goblins except by hit dice, and there's no mention of their penchant for traps, but it's not too hard to imagine that a really weak goblinoid like a kobold would not confront bigger creatures at all, but would focus on indirect damage, like traps. They are sort of like medieval gremlins, causing havoc in secret. On the other end of the goblinoid scale, the hobgoblin is more brutish and direct; the average hobgoblin has more hit points than the average human, and they have better morale, so these are the guys who would actually raid small villages for slaves and resources. In fact, since hobgoblins bully weaker goblinoids, you could imagine a migration wave of terror as a mobile band of hobgoblins drive weaker creatures in front of them; first, there would be minor thefts and death traps as kobolds move through the area, on the run from the goblins; then, the goblins come in and snatch some children, murder the infirm, and cause a little more terror before the hobgoblins arrive to slaughter and conquer.

Bugbears are even bigger, but travel in smaller groups. They act a little more like goblins, killing people off in ones and twos, but they don't bother with the weak and sickly as much, since a single bugbear is a reasonable threat to a single average man, even one who's a mercenary.

There would be other goblinoids who specialize in specific kinds of terror. One kind might travel underwater in the rivers, pulling unwary travelers into the waters to drown them or occasionally raiding fishing villages. Another might hide in the tops of trees in a thick forest, lowering nooses to strangle victims for their supper.  Some of these goblinoids might not be so frightening in a fair fight... but then, that's the point, isn't it?


  1. I think you've captured the essence of gobliny quite nicely.

  2. Your description reminds me the "little people" of Arthur Machen...

  3. When I run Goblins as an encounter, especially for characters who are higher than 2nd or 3rd level, I will try to accommodate by making the Goblins especially sneaky or employing special weapons and tactics (for instance - a thrown hive full of angry bees; fire; stampeding farm animals; sabotaging PC equipment; etc). Oops, I just ascribed a SWAT capability to Goblins...