Wednesday, August 3, 2011

New and Improved Goblins

I was listening to a podcast last week (I can't recall which one) and the subject of flying mounts for small creatures came up.  I had a sudden flash of inspiration, that I want to capture here.  Conveniently enough, it ties in with this month's RPG Blog Carnival topic, which is animals in RPGs.

As a result of Tolkien's influence, we often see goblins riding worgs, or some other kind of large wolf.  What if we extended that connection to other types of animals?  Goblins riding giant bats or even wyverns?  Goblins using trained rats or spiders?  There is a lot of potential here, I think.

I do have a bit of inspiration going into this.  In addition to Tolkien's worgs, I'm inspired by the Simvan monster riders from Rifts.  These are beings whose entire schtick is that they are able to bond with, tame, and ride exceptional creatures.  It's a pretty damned cool schtick.  I'm also reminded of the Marat from Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series.  They have a bit of the noble savage thing going on.  They arrange themselves in tribes, in which each tribe is associated with a particular animal.  Each member of the tribe bonds with a particular animal at their adulthood ceremony.

So, you would end up with a variety of goblin tribes, each one dedicated to a particular type of animal.  Each goblin has been trained from birth to handle that animal, and bonds with one particular one.  You could either have goblin communities include members from several tribes, recognizing that each brings a different strength to the whole, or be restricted to only a single tribe.

The game mechanics wouldn't be terribly hard.  If you're using D&D 3.5, each goblin gains an animal companion as though a druid of 1/2 his character level.  If the goblin take a class that grants an animal companion or familiar, the goblin does not gain a second animal, but is instead considered to have +2 class level for determining special abilities.  Also, the goblin may add his character level as a competence bonus to any Handle Animal check targeting a member of his totem species.

The list of possible animals opens up some nifty options.  Our minds might initially jump to more fantastic beasts, such as rust monsters or displacer beasts.  But, regular animals, and especially their giant cousins, can be a lot of fun, too.  Wolves and boars have a lot of combat potential, and are small enough to possibly allow mounted combat inside many dungeon environments.  Giant eagles, giant bats, and giant bees add the ever-important third dimension.  Smaller animals have significant advantages, too, generally as scouts and helpers.  I'm pretty sure that everyone leaves the Black Widow and Pit Viper tribes alone.  Could oozes count as animals for this purpose, and can they be tamed?  And how fearsome would the Woolly Mammoth tribe be?

While some of these options might be a bit too much to put in the hands of the PCs, especially at low levels, it can make goblins a true force to be reckoned with in your campaign world.


  1. Goblin Cavaliers! For some reason the Rust Monster tribe has me seeing the PCs screaming like little girls and running as fast as they can.

    And since I'm running Rifts, I can also use Goblin Mechanized Cavalry, motocross style. I know, they're not as intimidating as Fury Beetle Tribe, but they're still impressive.

  2. You want to really mess with your players? Introduce them to the Lurker Above Tribe.

    Or the Gelatinous Cube Tribe, in which the goblins have developed some sort of immunity (natural? an ointment? a shamanic blessing?) to the digestive enzymes and can ride around inside the cubes.

  3. I don't think I want to go with the Gelatinous Cube tribe, but the Wyvern tribe, yes!

    Also, I wound up with the image of biker goblins for some reason.

  4. It's very easy to go to biker goblins. Even the goblins in M:tG skirt that line. I'm not entirely sure that's a bad thing. Basically, you'd be outfitting them all in studded leather. The leather would just be dyed black, and the studs would be spikes. The line between bikers and nomad bandits is pretty fine already.

    The only problem is that the stereotypical scary biker is huge. Goblins don't really have that working for them. Of course, that may be compensated by wolves being a little scarier that Harleys.

  5. The goblin bikers don't worry me, but the ogre bikers do. Besides, playing the goblins as more than Fighter Fodder and Fireball Bait will help immensely. Still, you are right, the PCs won't take goblin bikers seriously, but after ages of being 1 HD creatures, I don't see them ever getting respect.