Youtube Many Faces Of Goblins

Real World Myth
D&D (Greyhawk) – 1st, 2nd, 3rd
Greyhawk 4th and 5th

  • At end of video, quick Goblin centric adventure ideas. Booyahg whip.

Warhammer Fantasy/AoS
Dark Sun
Elder Scrolls
Goblins! Life through their eyes Webcomic
Goblin Quest by Jim C Hines
Dwarf Fortress
Goblin Slayer Anime


Goblins, the perpetual level one player's nemesis. Treated as everything from goofy comic relief; to deadly and cunning slavers; shrewd inventors and traders; bumbling space pirates; or unlikely cowardly heroes. The goblins have filled many roles over their years as one of the most common creatures for any character to encounter upon leaving their starting town, adventurer's guild, or tavern, with "Clear out the Goblin Camp" being one of the most uttered tutorial questlines surely only below "Slay the rats in this basement".
In this series I intend to break down the many appearances of the versatile green, or well at least sometimes green, skins; discussing their many similiarities and differences. Perhaps by doing so you'll find some new way to look at goblins in your own setting, or a new way to portray a goblin villain, or even hero, in your games. So with that said, on we go to look at The Many Faces… of Goblins!

Real World

If we're looking at any mythological creature turned D&D baddie, it's probably only appropriate that we begin with the real world myth that inspired it. The name Goblin is attributed to a monstrous creature from vague middle ages era European folklore, and doesn't so much describe a singular creature as being used as a catchall for many different kinds of small, grotesque, greedy, and mischievous, beasts. They're often magical, and if you were to compare their traits in folklore to the rest of the beasts in the Bestiary/Monster Manual, they're more likely actually members of the Fey, similar to pixies, redcaps, and leprechauns, instead of the more mundane monstrous humanoids that they morphed into over time.


The next major appearance of the Goblin would be, of course, with Tolkien's works. In the Hobbit, when Thorin and company venture beneath the Misty Mountains, these creatures infested the halls of the many strongholds built below. He describes them as big and ugly creatures, who are cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted. Now this might seem a bit of a departure from what you're expecting, I mean when you say Goblin, Big is the exact opposite term that comes to mind. Now that's because what he's actually referring to in the books are Orcs; and he was calling them Goblins because that was the Hobbits' name for them. The movie version of The Hobbit plays this off as though they were a different species however, with Goblins being as small as the dwarves and hobbits and living a tribal life. They have a fear of light and will generally not step out in daylight. There's two types of Goblins that you see in the Peter Jackson movies; the flesh coloured deformed Misty Mountain goblins, and the green-skinned, pointy eared, goblins with big bulbous eyes seen below Moria.
Now though Tolkien himself said that Goblin was simply another name for Orc, I personally like to see them as two different species, with Orcs perhaps being a stage of evolution in the Tolkien goblinoid tribes line. I have a couple points of note which would make this make sense. First, the Uruk-hai. The Uruk-Hai are basically the Orc Ubermensch, stronger, faster, better. These monsters were bred by Saruman the white, possibly through breeding Orcs and Men, or possibly simply by infusing them with raw magic until they evolved into a new true breeding species. This indicates that the Orcs are capable of evolving into more powerful forms within their lineage. Second; the difference between Misty Mountain and Moria Goblins. As it shows, the moria goblins slowly accumulated a greenish tinge to their skin and physically diverged from the pale Misty Mountain Goblins, again demonstrating the ability to branch off within their species, with the Moria Goblins likely being precursors to the orcs of Moria that would later emerge with Azog. Third; Azog the Goblin. Yep, he sure looks like an Orc doesn't he? However, in the Hobbit he is referred to as Azog the Goblin, which to me, places him a firm link between the evolutionary chains of Goblin and Orc. Azog is interesting on his own as well, because a good chunk of his traits were split evenly between Goblinoids and Orcs as they're seen in conventional roleplaying settings. For example; his renowned Warg riding (Goblins), his preference for savage mace combat (Orcs), and his militaristic leadership and disdain for anything not of his species (Hobgoblin).

D&D 1st & 2nd

This brings us to where the Goblins truly started getting an identity all of their own; Dungeons and Dragons. Goblins were one of the first creatures introduced in the initial game, back in 1974, known as the White Box; where they were simply described as small creatures, but they were expanded on in 1982 in Dragon #63 (Dragon 63 Img 1) in an article called The Humanoids (Dragon 63 Img 2) which somewhat expanded on their societal structure. Interestingly thegoblins are described as leaning more towards the lawful alignment than any of the other monstrous humanoids and are the only humanoid race that seems to make any effort to get along with the others in order to deal with their hated foes; Humans, Dwarves, and Gnomes. They have a desire to enslave and rule others, but also don't want to appear as a threat to more dangerous creatures like Bugbears, and they're respectful of authority figures. All of this points to a lawful evil monster, somewhat at odds with the chaotic junk monkeys that they're often portrayed as. It makes a bit more sense when you look at their tribal structure and gods however.
Goblin settlements are typically run by their chiefs and tribal shamans, enforcing a rigid tribal structure, while the Shamans, typically of Maglubiyet the god of Goblinoids, serve as intermediaries between the Goblins and the larger Hobgoblins and Bugbear allies. The dedicated Goblin God, Khurgorbaeyag, was also referred to as the Overseer, and it's his shamans who preach the concept of capturing live slaves for later use, particularly of their hated humanoid rivals. He disliked sharing his divine magic, meaning any Goblin shamans who did use magic were typically devoted to Maglubiyet. Instead Khurgorbaeyag gifted his shamans enchanted whips, known as Booyahg Whips, which are honestly pretty bad ass; either acting as a rope of entanglement, or inflicting the effects of a Symbol of Hopelessness. I liked the idea so much that I had to convert them to Pathfinder rules, which I'll share at the end of the video.
The next big time we see them mentioned is in 1989, Dragon Magazine #141, in an article entitled "Hey, Wanna be a Kobold?" Which I'm sure I've said to my players before. I do love those runty little lizards. The article presented not just Kobolds, but also Orcs, Xvarts, and of course Goblins. As a quick side note, I had completely forgotten about the Xvarts in Baldur's Gate and had no idea who these guys were, but they're basically little blue vermin worshipping corrupted gnomes. They're like smurfs with Gargamel's face. But anyway, back to Goblins! This is a pretty neat little article, ruleswise, and has some interesting points to note; Goblin Strength can be up to just below Orc's, but can greatly exceed Kobolds and Xvarts (Which are the same stats wise), and in Intelligence and Dexterity they exceed the other 3 races, making Goblins potentially the most cunning and sneaky of the early monstrous humanoids, which lends itself well to their preferred tactic of laying complex ambushes. They can also somewhat control dogs, wolves, and wargs, calling off attacks with a charisma roll; just like Azog the Goblin and his riding warg. They're detailed as hating gnomes and dwarves, likely hearkening back to the hobbit's version of Goblins, while Orcs hate elves, as an allusion to the Uruk-hai of Lord of the Rings, further separating the two races. They can be fighters, shamans, magic-users, thieves, assassins, or thief/acrobats; however in 2nd edition, though they are again a playable race, they are restricted from playing as Wizards. So all the ingredients are there to make some truly cunning opponents, or even player characters, relying on the use of canine companions, traps, and planned ambushes to take their opponents by surprise and capture them to serve their Goblin masters.

D&D 3rd Edition

So, moving on to where I first truly encountered them personally, 3rd edition. I should probably note that 3rd/3.5 edition covers a number of settings; namely Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Dragonlance, among several others, with Greyhawk being the default setting for this edition. As such, that's where I'm going to start.
Goblins in the 1st monster manual are described as being small sized, standing usually 3 to 3.5 ft tall, and weighing 40 to 45 lbs. Interestingly, and a point I somehow glossed over when I was younger, they're not green skinned, but rather all the goblinoids, (Namely Goblin, Hobgobling, and Bugbear) are instead a range of yellow, orange, and red skinned, with their colour generally being consistent within their tribal units. They're also described as quick breeding nuisances, overwhelming their opponents usually with sheer numbers, and given a measly 1/3 challenge rating. This is a bit at odds with their stat block, and how they've been treated up to this point. I mean in the example stat block their strength, dexterity, and constitution are all above that of an average human despite their small stature, and their intelligence is on par with the average. Yet they're described as nuisances? I'd hazard to wager that if a squad of buff 3 ft tall wolf riding goblins that could beat me in a wrestling match rode into a village with numbers equal to that of the villagers, let alone overwhelming numbers, they'd pretty handily beat them into submission and have those villagers in shackles in short order. Now when they're described below for use as player characters they do have -2 Strength, +2 Dex, and -2 Charisma, but honestly that's not massively significant as a combat disadvantage, especially when taking into account how much harder they are to hit with the Dex bonus and Small Size, and that the only thing really suffering is their damage output.
They're also described in the text as having a poor grasp of strategy, fleeing the battlefield if things don't go their way; only being able to lay effective ambushes under supervision, likely that of a hobgoblin commander. Now I understand that they made this change in order to give the three goblinoid races a kind of hierarchy to follow for encounters, which game balance wise makes sense, but I feel like they sort of glossed over the potential with them as an enemy on their own in this case. I mean rather than having to rely on hobgoblins to act as big bosses in Goblin camps, you could very easily just have a couple with class levels, and a big boss who is a higher level smarter Shaman or Cleric.
But moving on, they're said to be very tribal, with no concept of privacy, living and sleeping in large common areas, which are generally wherever they can find; dank caves, dismal ruins, old abandoned barns, or temples, and they are absolutely filthy and smelly due to a lack of hygiene or sanitation. Once a tribe has thoroughly exploited and despoiled a locale it packs up and moves on to the next convenient area; usually near civilized areas that they can raid for food, livestock, tools, weapons and supplies. Though they are crafty and cunning, they are not skilled at making their own weapons and tools and so tend to rely on waylaying travellers, raiding settlements, or forcing captured slaves to make their goods for them. Hobgoblins and Bugbears can also be found among their company, usually as overbearing bullies and leaders, and they often form alliances with worgs to carry them into combat. Also, interestingly, they're Neutral Evil in this version, with Bugbears being aggressive and Chaotic Evil, and Hobgoblins being their Lawful Evil militaristic cousins.
Now, from a player perspective, ruleswise, one of the biggest weaknesses for this version of goblin would have to be their low strength and small size, meaning you can grab onto them and they're not going anywhere; however, this is something that can be easily overcome with their cunning traps, overwhelming numbers, worg companions, and the fact that they have darkvision and prefer to fight at night. I would be hesitant to fight a dozen of these things stabbing at me in the dark, unsure of where to step in case I fall into a spike trap, while we're circled by howling intelligent evil wolves. As mentioned above though, they are cowardly, and uncharismatic, so they can easily be intimidated and threatened into revealing their dispositions, camp strength and layout, trap locations, secrets, etc. Dms should note though, if you're playing these guys as dumb little raiders, how much information would a captive know or be able to remember? So make a choice going into it; either they're smart enough to lay complex ambushes and can be interrogated to avoid them effectively, or they're gangs of many dumb little nuisance monsters who can be beaten into submission, but really don't know anything if pressed beyond "don't step over near that rock, that's how Blipyup died." I personally prefer the first, but the second has it's place and can be more than fun.

Blues were introduced in the Expanded Psionics Handbook, and was one of my personal favourites. I had one of my players who telepathically mind controlled goblins frequently accidentally mutate one of his henchmen goblins into a Blue and he became one of my fondest characters. At it's most basic, Blues are simply Psionic Goblins, typically of the Psion class, with their skin being noticeably blue tinged from birth. They're often ostracized by their goblin parent tribes, if not outright killed out of fear, so they're fairly rare, and almost never directly in charge of a group of goblins if left alive. They may rule from the shadows, mind controlling the leader, or act in a supporting role buffing warriors and mind controlling opponents. It mentions how if a tribe contains more than one blue they may form a Blue Council and secretly gain control, manipulate things from behind the scenes, and that is just an awesome set up for me. If used in a battle they should primarily focus their powers on self preservation, and then subjugating their opponents, enslaving them, as is the goblin way, by any means necessary.

The next setting that gave the Goblins a treatment was the Forgotten Realms, or Faerun, with a new type of Goblin known as the Dekanter Goblins being introduced in Monsters of Faerun. These beasts were made by an Illithid Lich, or Alhoon, known as the Beast Lord in the mines of Dekanter. They were larger than their cousins, though still orange, and had a rhino-like horn. Honestly, these guys bore almost no resemblence to their ancestors aside from their skin colour so I'm not going to dwell on them.
Races of Faerun presented them in a little more detail as player characters, along with Hobgoblins, Bugbears, and their Rocksteady looking Dekanter cousins. They unfortunately didn't add too much flavour to them, mostly just reiterating what was said in the Monster Manual. They did note that females are typically not allowed to fight, being made to stay home and raise the young, and in times of scarcity they're known to slaughter and eat members of other races, with Bugbears and Hobgoblins even stooping to eating the smaller goblins if pressed. Their society is pretty cutthroat, with leaders being constantly usurped at the first sign of weakness, meaning old age is often an out of reach goal, and importantly; all goblinoids are illiterate unless they have player character classes. So quite often the leader of the smaller bands is simply the goblin who can read gud.

This brings us up to Monster Manual 3 and Unearthed Arcana in 2004. MM3 gave us the Forestkith Goblins, which were again, barely goblins. They were still the same size, but instead were more kind of like nomadic nocturnally hunting monkeys, running on all fours, living in the forest canopy and roaming a wide territory instead of having an established home. They're covered in dark fure, have very sharp teeth, and have long curved claws on their hands and feet for climbing. They typically fought with personally woven nets first in an attempt to catch their prey, and then went into a wild howler monkey style hooting frenzy to intimidate their targets before attempting to beat them senseless. They had light sensitivity, and one of the more interesting abilities I've seen, which I don't think I've seen elsewhere – Tree Shape. Yep, they can turn into a small tree, shrub, or limb, as per the spell as cast by a 12th level druid, which they often do just before daybreak. Imagine stumbling out back behind the tavern for a pee on a bush and then poof! Howler monkey goblin attack! There is also rules to play as one as a PC if you really want that +4 racial bonus to Craft (Weaving)…
Unearthed Arcana gave us a bunch of Environmental Racial Variants, usually used by players who just haaaad to play yet another special type of elf. For our goblin variants we got; Aquatic Goblins, as water breathing shark riding scavengers; Arctic Goblins who were just good at being cold (Seriously they didn't even mention them likely being allied to Winter Wolves or anything, just, they get Cold Endurance, wheee); Desert Goblins who could beat the summer heat and gossip; and Jungle Goblins who were like the tree dwelling forestkith except still looked like Goblins, couldn't turn into trees, and were for some reason better at climbing than their literal monkey cousins. Oh and Air Goblins, who were barely described, but were like, super agile and probably white skinned. Kinda like the Viper Clan in Goblins Comic. (Don't worry, I'm getting to that in due time)

4th and 5th edition didn't really build on the Goblins too much in my opinion, so I won't spend too much time on those. They included Bane as a possible god they pay reverance to, with them believing him to be the mightiest hobgoblin warchief. They also reveal that hobgoblins were master breeders, both mundane and magical, and are responsible for the creation of the Worgs, some drake breeds, and quite possibly Bugbears and Goblins themselves. Aside from that, their lore is pretty sparse.


So now we're going to pop back to around the time that Eberron was released, one of my all time favourite settings, and a super exciting place to play as a Goblin. Goblinoids here aren't just tribal savages raiding and scavenging; they have a whole nation of their own! After the Last War, a massive world war that is one of the defining points of the setting, a hobgoblin chief named Haruuc led many of the mercenary tribes in a revolt which formed the nation of Darguun. Darguun is a a haven for the goblinoids, with the tribes of Goblins, Hobgoblins, and Bugbears living alongside eachother once again, though shakily.

Darguun is itself an echo of a whole ancient Goblinoid empire that existed 5000 years earlier called Dhakaan, which repelled a planetary invasion from Xoriat, the Plane of Madness; an invasion that should it have succeeded would have condemned the entire world to a miserable existence as slaves or hosts to powerful alien beasts. Several of Eberron's great cities are built upon the ruins of the ancient Dhakaani Empire, and some of the most powerful artifacts kicking around are from that era; with great weapons made out of a metal known as Byeshk capable of inflicting grievous wounds on the aberrant outsiders known as the Daelkyr. All in all, they hold a vastly different role in society than in any prior iteration, and a refreshingly significant one at that. Whereas Faerun's history has legions of pretty elves defending their ancient cities from Devils with their shiny mithral armour and weapons, Eberron has armies of gritty militant goblinoids fending back the personifications of insanity with jagged purple Byeshk swords. Honestly, pretty awesome.

If a Goblin is seen in Eberron, there's a good chance that they are citizens of the nation of Darguun, or possibly the monstrous nation of Droaam. Most "city goblins" found elsewhere are likely descendents of goblinoid slaves taken before and during the Last War, and generally live peacefully among the other races, though often in the city slums or as second-class citizens. So you can have this wide range of goblin player character role playing possibilities that are very exciting. You can be a hopeful ex-slave who hopes to pull himself out of poverty by adventuring, possibly bring his large extended family up from the slums with him. You could be one of the rebels who brought Darguun into existence, likely a proud member of the Rhuukan Taash clan. Perhaps you're a member of the Kech Volaar, or Wordbearers looking to find relics from the Dhakaani Empire to proudly show off your ancient lineage. A free city goblin who was a mercenary but didn't rebel, his people seeing him as a race traitor, while he looks down on those not civilized by life in the metropolitan Sharn as he was.

Pathfinder (Golarion)

Starfinder (Golarion)

Pathfinder Conversions for Goblins

Booyahg Whip
Price: 10,000 gp
Aura: Moderate Enchantment CL 5th Weight 2 lbs.

This small sized whip is made of heavy leather strips woven together in an alternating yellow and red pattern; as the tail of the whip swishes through the air the sound of clattering chains and manacles follow it. This +1 Merciful Whip is designed to beat compliance into disobeying slaves, as well as recapture those attempting to flee. As such it grants a +4 bonus to trip or disarm attacks, and if an opponent is successfully struck by the whip, as a free action 3/day the wielder can choose to ensnare them with it. When this happens the whip snares out, growing impossibly long and wrapping around the victims legs and arms. The target is afflicted by a soul sucking hopelessness, as per the spell Suggestion with a Will Save 15+Wielder's Level. While ensnared the target is treated as if Entangled, but the hold can be broken with a Strength or Escape Artist check DC 15+Wielder's Level. The suggestion and entangled effect only lasts as long as the wielder holds the whip, and the whip is vulnerable to being sundered or broken by outside forces to rescue their captives.

Construction Requirements: Cost 5,000 gp
Craft Magic Arms and Armor, Entangle, Suggestion
Optional: Must be follower of Khurgorbaeyag

Goblin Adventures

1st to 3.5 Inspired
A local bailiff reports a drop in tax revenue due to livestock being stolen in the outskirts of town. When the party goes to investigate, they find that the whole farmhouse has been raided and it's inhabitants and livestock taken. They follow the trail of the attackers back to an old forest shrine that has been defiled and destroyed, with holy symbols smashed and made a mockery of, but no trace of the attackers unless they spot the worg riding goblin scout who was watching the shrine for followers. If they don't spot him, he leads them into an ambush along the trail to their actual location, an old mine shaft complex which is serving as the goblin camp, swarming with dozens of working orange skinned goblins but easily housing more who are sent out as raiding parties. Dwarven and Gnome slaves are put to work in the mines, being worked to death under the whips of their overseers, while young human slaves tend the livestock, and the older ones are made to smith weapons and armour for the goblins. The area around the camp is heavily trapped with pitfall traps, nets, logfall traps, and watched by roaming worgs and goblins in treestands 30-60 feet up. In the middle of the camp is a shrine to Khurgorbaeyag, and it's at this shrine where newly captured slaves are kept and their will broken by the slavemasters. Disobedient slaves are also brought here to be punished in front of the newer slaves as an example. Warrior shamans to Khurgorbaeyag are the primary slavers and are armed with Booyahg whips, keeping a keen eye on their charges for any sign of disobediance. The overall head of the camp is the leader, a dark red skinned old goblin who is the smartest of the bunch, a cunning Witch with an infernal contract to Maglubiyet. His secret weapon, and a source of great suspicion within the camp, is his right hand goblin; a mutant psionic blue skinned goblin that is kept out of sight of the rest of camp and it's true capability is only known to his personal guard.
If the camp is tipped off to the player characters being on to them they will pack up their slaves and goods and simply leave the area, retreating to the nearest cave to start again. This takes a few days, but is mostly complete, leaving behind anything too heavy to carry quickly in a locked room in the bottom of the mines, and they will leave a skeleton crew of goblins behind to finish trapping the rest of the mines to stymie any intruders for about a week. When the goblins feel sufficiently confident in their numbers and strength they will come back to the mines and pick up what loot they had to leave behind before branching out again.