Monday, April 5, 2010

More races of Mystoerth: Goblins

I have been thinking a bit about races, or rather species, in my world.  Last time I talked about D&D 4e and their 25 races.  I felt that was a bit much, but I got to thinking that my own home-brew efforts were just as bad. I have honestly no clue how many different types of elves I have.  And I don't just mean odd ones like grey, valley and grugach, but gypsy, rain-forest, snow and night elves too. I have at least 5 or 6 halfling subtypes and a couple of gnomes.

Hob-noblin with the Goblins

I have talked about races/species in general and a bit on orcs and elves.  But lately my thoughts have turned to Goblins.  I have to blame the work I did in Ghosts of Albion.  Pick up that game and you will see what my thoughts are currently on the various goblin type.  I have also been influenced of late by the goblins in Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic.  Part of the reasons too are that for the most part the monsters in D&D are taken from myth, legend and folklore, but a lot of monsters have more than one name and the same name sometime applies to very different creatures.  I talked about this briefly in my Succubus posts. Zak over at "Playing D&D With Porn Stars" is going over all this now with his alphabetical monster thing, and the posts on  Bugbears and Hobgoblins in particular.   Of course he is not the only one, we have ideas from Warhammer, regions from Greyhawk Grognard,  and the Asian inspired Hobgoblin.
I have also produced, mostly for Ghosts of Albion, a few goblin types such as the Blood Goblin and the goblin that is not a goblin at all, the Corn Goblin.


Goblins in my world, and this is usually regardless of system, but *D&D, Ghosts of Albion and WitchGirls Adventures in particular, are short little nasties related to the faeries.  Goblins in fact share the same relationship to the fae that Tolkien Orcs share with Elves.  My initial concept of them was of course the 1986 Labyrinth movie.  Goblins are not outright evil, but certainly mischievous and opportunistic. They love commerce, not just the money, but all that brings with it; corruption, graft, drugs, crime.  So needless to say goblins are found in (and fond of) cities in my worlds. Back in the day we were playing in a lot of urban settings as opposed to dungeons per se.  Goblins were a big part of that.  As I moved on my goblins were influenced by Ferengi from Star Trek: TNG, GURPS Goblins, a bunch of other books and just a need to have a monster/humanoid type there.  So I like the Pathfinder Goblins better than the 4e ones, but they are really not that far off from each other.
In 4e and Ghosts of Albion, I place goblins in the Feywild and Avalon, respectively (different names for essentially the same thing).  Of course being goblins keeping them in one place is like trying to herd rats and they get out every chance they get.
Goblins have high infant mortality rates, which is probably a good thing given how quickly they reproduce.

In Ghosts of Albion and other modern supernatural games I run there is the Goblin Market.  Hidden from mundane eyes nearly everything and anything found in a magical world can be found here, for a price.  In *D&D the Market is more open, and more dangerous.  I will work this up one day, just need to figure out how to do it justice.


Somewhere along the line a hobgoblin went from trickster spirits like Puck to larger, military style goblins.  Of course we could thank (or blame) the Monster Manual for that, but it looks more like it is another bit of Tolkien in D&D. They do serve a certain roll in the game world.  Hobgoblins are larger, meaner, and certainly more evil. Maybe the Hob of Hobgoblin is not a "spirit" but "old Hob", the Devil.  In the 1st Ed Monster Manual they are lawful evil.  They are militaristic, big, evil, have redding skin.  Hobgoblins are devil-goblins.  Pretty easy I think. Plus I like the idea.  If we can have tieflings, alu-demons and cambions all as races then why not Hobgoblins as devil spawn among goblins.
Mağlubiyet,the god of the goblins then could be a type of devil. Maybe even a cast down fey god.

Maybe that helps explain why some goblins look so different, but most Hobgoblins all look the same.  The strict hierarchy and breeding program of the devils forces them to be more alike.  Now I would say that some of the more evil goblins, maybe the standard "D&D" goblin are goblin/hobgoblin hybrids. Or something.
The one thing they seem to be missing is horns.  I think Hobgoblins should have horns.  Like some of the orcs in the cartoon version of the Hobbit.

Many years ago I had a TRS-80 Color Computer with a Speech Pak and my DM at the time wrote a program for running a D&D game.  I added the speech parts to it.  Well it would always pronounce Bugbears  as "bug-beer".  It always made me think, what the hell is a Bugbear anyway?  A giant hairy goblin according to most of the books. For the longest time I thought why not just merge Bugbears and Hobgoblins into the same creature, their stats are not that off from each other really with the only big difference is that one is chaotic evil and the other lawful evil.    Well as I got into researching more I discovered that "bugbear" come from the same phonology that gives us boogies, boogey-man, bugaboos and the buckwan.  So another English fey type.  They are more animal like than Hobgoblin, which they are obviously related to.
I have been saying this for years, but I am now convinced after seeing their new Pathfinder incarnations, Bugbears are the offspring of goblins and demons. I can even see a situation where demons began impregnating their goblin slaves over the millennia till bugbears were produced.  Millennia more of letting them run amok in the planes of mortals has produced a race that is more or less stable.  Bugbears are then larger, nighmarish goblins that tend towards acts of random chaotic violence.  Given their chaotic nature, I might even introduce random mutations.  I have seen these for demons and for Gamma World, maybe their are some good ideas in the pages of Mutant Future for this.

Not to be outdone the Arch Dukes of Hell produce Hobgoblins in a strict engineered breeding program.

Other Goblins
Goblins are ripe for sorts of fun.  From the annoying to the dangerous to the outright evil, goblins can run the gambit.  Many years ago, so many in fact I was a kid ridding my bike listening to Thomas Dolby on my Walkman, I came up with a monster.  I have stats for him for various AD&D systems, but here is the most recent version.  I might do some retro stats for the little beastie for the various OSR books out there too.

Blood Goblin
The thing was no larger than a child, but no child could have such a malevolent countenance. It was nearly doubled over, with a hump on it’s back. It’s long gangly arms caused it to drag it’s knuckles like that of an ape. It’s face was piched, it’s mouth full of cruel sharp teeth, and it’s eyes empty pools of some milky substance. It’s skin was slick and glistening, it was only under closer inspection that we realised it was in fact covered in blood. The thing spoke to us, but it was incomprehensible. Not that we needed to understand it’s words when it’s actions were clear enough.
--From the Journal of Tamara Swift

Blood Goblins are nasty little beasties. Nominally part of the faerie, their essences have been corrupted by demonic power. The ritual to turn a faerie into a blood goblin is unknown to most mortals, but what is known is it is dark and evil and requires the demon binding the potential blood goblin to feed it some of it’s own demonic blood.
Once complete the faerie undergoes a horrible transformation. Their form becomes a twisted parody of what it once was. Wings (if they had them) wither and fall off. Teeth grow long and sharp. Their skin takes on the unhealthy look of a bruise or rotting flesh and thick acidic blood weeps from their pores. Arms grow long and their now taloned hands drag the ground. Their eyes turn completely milky white with no pupils visible.
They can speak, but it is difficult to understand them.
Blood goblins are bound to their master and will do his bidding. The trouble is most are far too dimwitted to be anything other than a nasty little killers. The enjoy hiding in alleys or darkened paths and ambush their targets. They have a keen sense of smell so often they need something that smells like the intended victim in order to attack them. A blood goblin can track their victim using an Observation check, modified as the Director needs to climate conditions and the like. Once on a mission they are too dim witted and too frightened of their masters to do anything else but complete it. Goblins that do not often will go rogue, preferring not to return their master in failure.

Name: Blood Goblin
Motivation: To serve their master
Creature Type: Faerie (goblin)
Strength 4, Dexterity 3, Constitution 3, Intelligence 1, Perception 4, Willpower 2
Ability Scores:
Muscle 12, Combat 13, Brains 9
Life Points: 38
Drama Points: 1
Special Abilities: Burning Blood (1 LP damage per contact with bare skin); Emotional Problems (Cruel); Faerie, Reduced Size (freakishly small); Unattractive (2)
Name Score Damage Notes
Dodge 13 — Defence action
Grapple 15 — Resisted by Dodge
Punch 13 8 Bash
Knife 13 8 Slash/Stab


Anonymous said...

I have been enjoying your exploration of the myth and tropes behind the various monsters. Please continue.

Back in October, I wrote up stellar goblins for my campaign setting, they are displaced fey and may have some useful ideas for you.

Paizo/Pathfinder had a good take on bugbears as scary childstealers in their Classic Monster Revisited.

Timothy S. Brannan said...


And that is a very cool goblin. I like your background on it.

I have a few more vamps and undead and a rant about Dragonborn.


Havard: said...

Really interesting to hear about your take on the races Tim. Like you, I keep going back and forth between having but a few races or going wild with it. While I am attracted to more simple models, my players have commented on how my settings are always filled with all kinds of weird creatures, ranging from scary to plain silly ones. I like the idea of making the goblins Fey. Maybe having many races, but placing them into a few categories (Fey, Elemental etc) could allow us to have it both simple and complex at the same time?

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I like to do different things with monsters since I feel like some of the monsters are in 35+ year old ruts.

Complete the following: "The human village was raided by ______."
But isn't more interesting to see Orc bodyguards, goblin merchants, and demon spawned bugbears?

I think so.

That's why I keep doing it.