Friday, 24 August 2012

A Fresh-ish look at Goblins

After a year long hiatus I'm back at work hanging more meat on the bones of my campaign world.  A long time ago I decided to have one of the land masses, Khorngeldte, inhabited by the goblinoid races who were locked in an incessant war with their neighbhours, the teutonic humans of Wulfschlossen.  This has been largely restricted to both sides forming raiding parties which cross the narrow Straits of Desperation.

In my last campaign I hacked an old Dungeon Magazine scenario for the Therran Campaign (The Secrets of the Towers) in order to visit Korngeldte and introduce two new characters, a Wulfschlossian Knight and his enslaved Half-Orc tracker of undetermined orgin.  Essentially the towers became a convenient plot device allowing the PCs to escape numerous pursuers, cheat death and travel great distances quickly, but importantly, it allowed me to break ground on an untravelled section of my campaign world.

Inevitably this caused me to think about the bigger picture and how the goblinoid races fit into the world, and in the best traditions of world building, do something different which the players won't be expecting.

Goblin by Marcus Dublin
Revisiting Goblinoid Stats

When looking at the D20 SRD we find that as stats go goblins are the weakest goblinoid races, but what they lose in physical strength they make up for in cunning and dexterity.  This lead me to the conclusion that if they are to be able to build (and sustain) a kingdom capable of waging war across the straits of desperation then they must rely on either technology or magic.  

A similar concept is seen in the Lord of The Rings movies where the goblins essentially assist Saruman in the construction of his Uruk army as blacksmiths, engineers and medieval geneticists.

Comparing the stat blocks for the major goblin/orc races shows that in every case goblins do not suffer an INT penalty making them far more likely to develop technologies to compensate for their small size and weak nature.

GOBLIN -2 - 2 - - -2 40-400 Rogue
HOB-GOBLIN - - 2 2 - - 30-300 Fighter
BUGBEAR 4 - 2 2 - -2 0-20 Rogue
ORC 4 -2 - - -2 -2 30-100 Barbarian
HALF-ORC 2 -2 - - - -2 - Barbarian

Goblin Blacksmith from
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Goblins only have an improved DEX stat but their Rogue class leanings lends nicely to the idea that they are tinkerers and inventors as well as skulking backstabbers.  This is supported in the Warhammer universe where the goblins are seen to be quite inventive in nature and get all manner of cool, if shoddily constructed, war machines like the Spear Chukka, the Skull Crusher and the Man Mangoler.  One of my favourite depictions of a goblin was in the movie Hellboy II: The Golden Army where the Elf King employed the goblins to manufacture an unstoppable army of robots to wage war on humanity. 

Another popular goblin trope is that of the Warg or Wolf riding goblin which suggests they have become accomplished animal handlers in order to seize a tactical advantage.  Using animals as beasts of burden and ultimately as a power source for machinery is a necessary step upon the ladder of technological evolution.

Hob-Goblins are slightly less numerous and do not suffer the CHA penalty which hints at a possible demi-human connection.  Their Fighter class makes them likely to resolve conflict through arms rather than cunning so I can quite happily see them being turned into some sort of specially bred warrior class.

Bugbears are the rarest of all the goblins and their propensity for living in caves in very small tribes esssentially writes them off for me as a potential leader.

Orcs are basically big, strong, dumb, savage, barbarians and have significantly smaller tribe sizes than goblins which leads me to conclude that an organised goblin leader could control these creatures in small numbers if he found suitable forms of leverage as a reward for loyalty such as an addiction to a psychotropic brew or some other delicacy that the Orcs enjoyed but could not manufacture for themselves... human flesh perhaps?

Half-Orcs occupy an uncomfortable middle ground in my world, they are despised by both Humans and Orcs for not being Human or Orc enough but are an unhappy by-product of Orc raids.  I have already used a Half-Orc PC as an enslaved tracker and suspect that the goblins will have some sort of menial place for those Half-Orcs that escape the clutches of the their trueblood bretheren.

The Goblin King

Putting David Bowie's portrayal of the Goblin King Jhared aside, the concept of a Goblin King features in many myths and legends.  Some etymological research suggests that the word "Gob" or "Ghob" refers specifically to the King of the Gnomes and that Goblings are lesser gnomes.  I need a Goblin King to rule my Goblin Kingdom and see this role being filled by a goblin of unnatural intelligence, cunning and deceit.  A goblin society founded on the meritocrious principle that any goblin could rise to be the ruler through cunning, deceit and backstabbery might also produce a peculiar class of goblin politicians which I find perversely appealing.

Goblin King by Tristan HaoHao


In order cross the Straits of Desperation, my goblin war bands would need boats, these could be orc powered in the form of a bireme or longship, but if the goblins have started their own industrial revolution then a more fitting form of transport would be crude steamships.  My background for the goblin capital Tak Mor has this situated between the "Iron Tree Forest" which supplies the ore for smelting and the "Fetid Sea" which the goblins are polluting with their oil waste.

I am particularly enamoured by the Empire Landship models produced by Warhammer Forge.  I'm sure that any Wulfschlossonian villagers would be terrified if they saw one of these monstrosities lurching out of the sea on its paddle-wheels.

Marienburg Class Empire Landship - expertly painted by James Wappel
I know I'm not the first person to suggest the concept of intelligent goblins, but I feel that their current niche in the fantasy bestiary as monster minions just doesn't do them justice.

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