Goblins are individually weak, and they know it. They band together out of fear of stronger beings rather than any feeling of camaraderie. They are classic bullies, and will never pass on an opportunity to humiliate or dominate those weaker than themselves. This bullying is the basis of goblin ‘society’, with a troop being made up of various levels and groups of bullies and bullied and ultimately lead by the goblin most able to cow the others. Should the chief ever be shown up by a subservient, they will lose their status, and can be assured that no injury or insult they dished out during their time at the top will have been forgotten…
A goblin chief is not necessarily the strongest physically (although this is often the case); goblins respect trickery and cunning just as much. If a goblin masters rudimentary forms of psychological intimidation, deception and manipulation, he can climb the ranks just as quickly with veiled threats and outright lies.
Goblins’ reflexive cruelty extends to other races and species; should a goblin troop take prisoners, they will face vicious beatings and torture which may last for months or even years if the goblins can keep them restrained (and remember to feed them). Less intelligent creatures may be forced into servitude; some particularly bold, strong or just plain lucky goblin troops keep trolls or ogres (blinded and shackled, naturally) and will drive them into a battle frenzy with cruel hooked poles and red hot pokers before unleashing them on their foes.
All goblins are small, with none but the very largest exceeding four feet in height. Males are lean rather than muscular, with long, grasping fingers. Their ears are large, taper to a point, and never stop growing; you can roughly tell the age of a goblin by the size of its ears (and nose). Female goblins on the other hand, tend to be sedentary and can obtain prodigious size (in girth at least) assuming the troop can provide enough food.
After a five month gestation period, goblins produce litters of around ten young (the largest litter recorded being twenty-eight) which mature quickly, achieving adulthood at around three years of age assuming they survive infancy, which is by no means guaranteed as young goblins are treated little better than vermin by the rest of the troop.
Beyond these common features, the environment has shaped the physiology of the three most commonly encountered varieties: forest goblins, stealthy guerrilla hunters and trappers; hill goblins, the most organized and martial variety; and cave goblins, a degenerate and twisted breed living deep underground.
The basic goblin language favors hard consonants and sharp vowels with short, clicking syllables. It is a far simpler dialect than those of hobgoblins or bugbears, with which it shares a root, though the three are able to understand one another even if some of the finer details are lost. Names in that tongue are short and harsh, much like the creatures bearing them.
Examples of Goblin Names: Azkak, Daznak, Dizgik, Fikzik, Gezzik, Glakik, Kishtok, Kripkik, Niktiz, Pizkrik, Pokzok, Razzag, Remmik, Rishkig, Roktik, Wezzig, Zimkrik
As a rule, goblins are uncomfortable in open spaces, preferring to dwell in darker places where they can easily escape the notice of the multitude of potential threats facing them. Of all the varieties, forest goblins spend the most time above ground, with the combination of shadow from the canopy and their own dark green skins allowing them to melt away in their forest home. Their wiry frames and particularly long, thin arms allow them to swing ape-like through branches if they need to move quickly, although they tend to creep silently through the undergrowth to draw less attention unless need is desperate.
Forest goblins dress in rough armor of hide and leather, occasionally stitching in leaves and branches to aid their camouflage. Their ability to craft is limited, as are the materials available to them, so sharpened wooden spears are their most available melee weapon, although they prefer to attack from a safe distance with bows reinforced with bone, horn and sinew.
Their natural habitat often brings them into conflict with elven tribes. Given the elves’ affinity with the forest and the goblins’ natural stealth and cunning, guerrilla warfare between groups can be a drawn-out affair, pitting generations of goblins against their long-lived foes, each more sneaky and savage than the last.
Forest goblins are the most ‘devout’ of their race. All goblins fear and cower from their gods, but the forest goblin pantheon is flexible enough to include thousands of things to fear, and is constantly growing. They will worship powerful beasts and oddly shaped trees; it is not unknown for them to look up to a clear sky warily with the memory of a particularly angry-looking cloud. Forest goblins are more capable with the magical arts than their cave and hill kin, possibly due to the relative abundance of ambient magic usually found in forests, and these magic users are often looked up to as prophets of their many gods’ wills.
Forest goblins are the most in tune with their environment and, to a certain extent, live in balance as a natural part of the ecosystem; they have learnt that it is to their benefit to heed the signs of nature. Some troops utilize the root systems of larger trees as easily defensible lairs, while others make use of the verticality uniquely available to them and string together precarious platforms just below canopy level, hiding them from prying eyes on the forest floor and giving them an excellent vantage point to scope out easy prey. Many of these platforms will be rigged to collapse (preferably into a staked pit or similar) should anything larger than a goblin attempt to use them; “You first” in goblin society is a measure of well-founded paranoia, not politeness.
Conversely, they will also alter their patch of forest significantly, typically filling their range with snares, spiked pits and other ingenious, if crude, traps designed to cripple, pin or capture their quarry, allowing them to finish it off at their leisure.
Whenever possible, forest goblins engage their enemies at range and from hiding. Where these conditions cannot be met, they tend to not involve themselves in combat and are usually smart enough to restrain themselves, even if they spot a target with some valuable looking possessions. Forest goblins will usually only allow themselves to be seen when leading foes into a trap, whether an ambush or something involving spikes.
Like all goblins, they lack any sense of honor and will attack whatever they view as the weakest target first to swing the numbers in their favor before ganging up on the rest. Unless a serious dent has been made in the enemy’s numbers, it only takes a few dead goblins to trigger a full-blown rout among the survivors.
Forest goblins are easily impressed by displays of magic, which they associate with their gods. Unlike hill goblins, they have something which approaches loyalty to their shamans, bordering on respect (though will still cut them dead if their life is on the line). They are suspicious of anything unknown, and particularly hateful of elves, who they will usually kill (or rather, drag away to be tortured) on sight.
Particularly shifty, even by goblin standards, forest goblins are notorious for being dishonest, unreliable, and evasive. They are less happy being trampled underfoot on their way up the pecking order than others, and their bowing and scraping before their betters is usually undercut with mumbled threats and insults.
About three-and-a-half feet tall, skin tending towards an orange tan, oversized ears, bulbous, porcine nose and a particularly nasty attitude; the subrace most familiar to civilized peoples (and most cursed by caravaneers the world over), hill goblins are the goblin as far as most are concerned.
On the whole the best equipped goblins, given the better quality of the materials they are able to loot, it is not uncommon for hill troops to be decked out in bits and pieces of fine-quality leather and steel. Some enterprising troops even have the facilities (and faculties) to craft their own metal weapons and armor which will generally be barbed, hooked, or otherwise unnecessarily injurious. This gives them far greater variability in arms, so scimitars, axes and other bladed weapons are common which, along with superior armor, allow hill goblins to become the dominant subrace where multiple goblin groups cohabit.
Hill goblins are the most organized subrace, taking some inspiration from their hobgoblin cousins, though with none of their discipline or physical power. For example, they constantly ‘drill’ their troops, a process which consists mainly of stronger goblins beating weaker ones until they get tired, and attempt hobgoblin strategies in battle, though goblins tend to become distracted by more immediate threats and opportunities too much for these to be used effectively, not to mention their cowardice far outweighs their respect for authority.
Of all the goblins, hill goblins are the most likely to keep captive other races and animals. Wolves or worgs are a favorite, with most troops’ chiefs keeping one or two, or even a whole pack, both to ward against external threats and to keep underlings in line. Their favored form of entertainment is pitting their captives against one another, and against more bloodthirsty (or unlucky) members of the troop, in fighting pits. Although watching prisoners get torn apart by wolves is amusing enough for most, there is a constant hunger for novelty in their entertainment; some troops become very well traveled in their search for strange and exotic beasts to bring back for the pit fights.
Hill goblins have no real preference to the environment they inhabit. The only requirements are a few caves or other shady, hidden areas scattered around well-trafficked roads. For this reason, a hill goblin troop is quite portable, so they suffer less from being displaced or driven out of an area. The troop will generally take over a cavern complex, or a ruined fort if they’re lucky, as a base of operations where they will store their scavenged wealth and prisoners.
Where such features do not already exist, hill goblins will dig out, or crudely construct, a series of interlinking escape tunnels. These tunnels are designed to be a squeeze for a typical goblin and nigh on impossible for larger races to fit into, let alone navigate through the pitch blackness and intentionally confusing layout.
From their central base, scouting parties will range out by night looking for promising and well-traveled ambush sites, spending their days hiding in crevices or undergrowth. Temporary camp will then be established around the site, in a nearby cave if possible, and work will begin on preparing the area. In this, if nothing else, hill goblins are remarkably sophisticated and adaptable, using their environment to the best advantage they can. In hilly areas, rockslides will be rigged, forested areas will have trees ready to fall, garrotes strung between trunks, and spiked rams prepared to swing into the path. In almost every instance, the track will be undermined and ready to collapse into spiked pits, and hunting blinds will be erected, allowing the goblins to attack their victims at a disadvantage, at range, and while hidden.
Hill goblins enjoy the feeling of power, even if they don’t always know what to do with it. They have no real sense of personal loyalty, and will do anything it takes to get a taste of power, provided they have a reasonable chance of getting away with it without consequences. They are easily manipulated if they feel as though they have the upper hand, and will often pause to lord it over anything beneath them, giving an enemy time to formulate a plan.
Subservient goblins are boot-lickers of the highest order, hoping to worm their way close to their superiors for rewards of power, and to become trusted enough to stab them in the back should the opportunity arise.
Hill goblins enjoy combat more than other kinds of goblin, part of the inspiration taken from their hobgoblin cousins, and don’t mind wading into melee so long as the numbers are on their side. They work together to a reasonable degree out of a desire to retain numerical supremacy rather than a concern for the wellbeing of their fellow goblin. Higher-status goblins work hard to keep face in front of their underlings, and use combat as a way to demonstrate their superiority and as proof for later threats (“See what I did to that elf? That’s what I’ll do to you if you don’t fetch me some supper.”)
Goblins’ enjoyment of the suffering of others can get them through a battle they would otherwise flee from, but can also work against them; it is common for a goblin to make such a display of gloating over a fallen enemy that they are blind to events unfolding around them (or even taking long enough for the enemy to recover their senses). It does not take much for hill goblins to flee; a few fallen high-ranking goblins, or severe injuries to half their number or so, is usually enough to convince them a battle is not worth fighting until they can muster more troops.
Cave goblins are the most derived subrace. Living their entire lives in the pitch-blackness underground for generations has warped this strain considerably. Their skin is devoid of pigment, almost translucent, with a sparse covering of thin hair. Often, their sensitive skin is raw and blistered where they have encountered strong light, or marred with tumorous sores from simple lack of genetic diversity. In most cases, the eyes have shrunken to a near-vestigial state from lack of use, but in a few lines, they have magnified to enormous proportions to catch whatever light they can.
Cave goblin body types vary dramatically as well. There is debate as to whether goblins of particular physiology undertake certain roles in the troop that they are suited for or whether, like some insect colonies, their bodies develop to fulfill different tasks. Either way, it is difficult to describe a ‘typical’ cave goblin, as even two individuals of the same caste or designation will look very different.
It is rare to see cave goblins dressed in any more than a few rags but—given the rarity of supplies—they can make a little material go a long way, utilizing every scrap of leather, cloth, or twine they can lay their hands on.
Rather than the typical goblin hierarchy, cave goblins are made up of hundreds, or even thousands, of equally subservient members serving a single “king”. This king grows fat on the tribute of his subjects, most of whom are his descendants, being the only reproductive male, and commands an almost religious veneration, with first pick of the food and goods gathered by the troop. In many cases, the king is not a purebred cave goblin, with many kings having a dash or more of hobgoblin, orc, ogre, or even troll at some point in their lineage. Cave goblins flock to strength, so it is not uncommon to see an entirely different subterranean species with a troop of deferential cave goblins in tow.
In the event of the king’s death, what little structure the troop had dies with him. In some cases, the largest remaining goblin will, quite literally, expand to fill the role, but it is just as common for the troop to simply collapse and dissolve. If they are lucky, some goblins will find an existing troop to join and a new king to serve. Given the vast size of the caves below, many simply wander, little more than feral beasts.
While other goblins shape their environment to a certain extent, cave goblins are shaped by it. They barely build any structures of their own more complicated than a rickety bridge over a chasm, but instead refine and expand natural caverns, spreading out into honeycombed warrens spanning miles underground. Cave goblins will attempt to eat any potential food item; pickings are slim enough below that they can’t afford to be choosy. Most troops are able to eke out a living mostly on subterranean fungus species and cave molds, but any meat they can catch will be enthusiastically devoured before the thought of cooking it can occur.
An individual cave goblin has little personality, and is quite animalistic in its tendencies. As a group, however, they have an unnerving synchronicity, as if they share a common intelligence. This effect increases the more goblins there are in an area, so even huge troops of cave goblins can decide on a course of action as a whole. Whether this is due to some psychic connection, pheromones, or some other strange method of communication is unknown.
Cave goblin kings, on the other hand, tend to be grandiose, viewing themselves as supreme rulers of their own empire and, with hundreds or thousands of thoughtlessly loyal servants at their command, there is an argument to be made that they are right. Those who stroke their egos may only find themselves insulted and patronized before being banished from the kingdom rather than being executed and possibly eaten.
Fighting cave goblins is less like fighting an army and more like fighting the tide; they do not fight as individuals, but as one enormous body. They pay little heed to self-preservation but, like a colony of insects, fight in the manner which best serves the troop as a whole and the safety of the king in particular. Larger cave goblins in particular are bred to fight, and serve no purpose other than to defend the troop with their lives. Their numbers are usually so vast that losses from any one skirmish are incidental, so they can afford to simply throw bodies at the problem until it goes away.
Morale is usually not a problem, but cave goblins will retreat if significant losses would make them less able to defend a more strategically important location. Unlike other goblins, a cave goblin retreat is relatively organized, with smaller goblins simultaneously breaking away from combat while larger goblins cover their escape. If they are retreating to deal with another threat, the opposite is true; the larger goblins move to deal with the new problem, and the smaller goblins attempt to bog down any pursuers with weight of numbers.