This is the first in a series of weekly (bi-weekly?) posts about monsters, where I expand upon their ecology or talk about an alternate way of using/thinking about a particular monster. The idea is sort of inspired by my love for the old “Ecology of…” articles from Dragon Magazine. I’ve got notes and ideas for about half a dozen monsters so far, so there will at least be six of these! This week, I’m talking about goblins, and presenting a different background for these common creatures, one that I like to use in my games.
Deep in a cavern where no light had ever shown, far beneath the mountains, there was nothing but darkness and silence. Then there was a stirring, a malevolence born from across the void, and a hundred red, hateful eyes opened in the darkness. Where once there was nothing, a new brood of goblins now filled the silence with their bloodthirsty shrieks.
It is a matter of common knowledge among sages that goblins are a form of demon, though it is a matter of contention how exactly they spawn upon the prime material plane. Many scholars contend that the boundaries between planes wax and wane, growing stronger in some areas while stretching thin in others. Some hypothesize that when these boundaries are weak enough between the Abyss and the Prime, the seething hatred that demons possess for all living things crosses the void, and a brood of goblins is spawned. These points of weakness are almost always deep beneath the earth, in places of utter darkness. Then, like a bile, these goblins rise from these dark places and terrorize the surface world.
Using these rules, goblins are Chaotic Evil, driven by an instinctual malice and loathing of all things. These creatures are generally male in appearance, but have no sex organs and cannot reproduce. Goblin broods are always tied to a particular demon, and tribes of goblins represent the followers of several subordinate demons under the sway of a more powerful demon. Thankfully, their very nature insures that they spend almost as much time fighting one another as they do wreaking havoc on civilized lands, with tribal alliances shifting as often as demonic fortunes rise and fall in the Abyss. Occasionally a truly powerful demon will amass a horde of goblins with the potential to threaten whole kingdoms; such a horde will inevitably collapse upon itself and be torn apart by infighting, but often not before causing considerable damage.
Occasionally, a large enough group of goblins will contain a member with innate spell casting ability, known as a shaman among goblins, but drawing their spells and abilities from the Warlock class, and their patron is always “The Fiend.” Such goblins almost never progress beyond 3rd level, but there have been rare exceptions. It is also said that larger tribes of goblins (at least 100), under the ministrations of one or more shamans, are capable of harnessing their innate demonic energies and actually summoning a demon from the abyss. Such a demon would typically be of the type I or, rarely, type II variety, but larger hordes of goblins are certainly capable of summoning even more powerful demons. Such summoned demons quickly assume command of the goblin tribe and direct them towards the tribes of their rivals or, worse, at the settlements of civilized races.
Design Note: This idea partly came about because I was always bothered by older adventures that included lairs with monster babies. I generally prefer to avoid questions about whether a goblin is evil because of nature or nurture, and I’d rather avoid baby killing – even goblin babies. Of course, the easy way to do that is to just not have non-combatants in lairs. I do that too, but this is another way I thought of to avoid that dilemma with one race of humanoids, and I thought it was pretty cool.