Hobgoblins live to make war; not the chaotic pillaging and destruction of many other monstrous races, but full-fledged, organized war. Every facet of their society is geared towards it; their strict social hierarchy, harsh punishments, even their naming conventions all aid in their martial endeavors.
Unlike its goblin kin, an individual hobgoblin is more than able to hold its own against any of the civilized races. As a unit in formation though, hobgoblins are almost without peer. Their unbreakable shield walls are legendary as both an offensive and defensive formation among those who have faced them. Other common formations include Kraana (‘the teeth’), a staggered front line for luring in cavalry to be enveloped, Jaashk (‘the spear’), a wedge for piercing through an enemy line, and Jaakja (‘the hedgehog’), a bristling pike formation used to deny areas of the battlefield to the enemy.
Hobgoblins stand around six feet tall, with an athletic physique that comes with a lifetime of hard drilling, their skin is leathery, tending towards greys, or even purples with flecks of orange or reddish tan. Like goblins, their ears and nose do not stop growing but, unlike their smaller cousins, males are capable of growing facial hair around the chin and corners of the mouth. As with most things, this feature is used to denote rank and status, with senior hobgoblins growing longer beards than those under their command. It has been suggested that lower ranking hobgoblins are physically incapable of growing beards; either seniors exude some sort of suppressive pheromone, or promotion to command stimulates the increase of hormones necessary for longer beard growth.
Clothing is practical, mass-produced and, for the most part, unadorned. Their fondness for the simple hobnailed boot gives them their name amongst civilized folk. A few generals and warlords like to flaunt their success by adding flourishes to their armor, but this focus on the impractical is viewed as an eccentricity by most. Hobgoblins would much prefer to receive good quality equipment as a reward than gold which, amongst themselves, they view as an unnecessary step in the process of refining their efficiency as a fighter. However, they do understand the value of gold when dealing with other races (generally for slaves and steel), and as a measure of successful conquest.
Slaves are the true measure of an individual’s worth in hobgoblin culture, and exist in two distinct castes; schett personal slaves, and schaaf the lower, public slaves. Personal slaves are the property of the officer who captured them, and are expected to carry out tasks unbefitting of a warrior, such as writing and carrying missives, stitching clothes, tending to fires and carrying supplies. While treatment of personal slaves differs from officer to officer, it is uncommon for them to be treated any better than cattle. Some enjoy doling out severe beatings for minor (or invented) offenses, others like to organize gladiatorial games, and some show little interest in their property. While the latter may seem optimal for the slaves in question, disinterest can prove deadly if the master doesn’t bother to apply for their food rations.
Public slaves vastly outnumber hobgoblins in any settlement, and occupy every non-military role needed; they tend to livestock, work the mines, and carry out the bulk of the hard labor needed to maintain defenses. They lead miserable lives, and the hobgoblins do all they can to stamp out any spark of resistance. It is common, for example, for a slave to have a set number of beatings a month, regardless of wrongdoing, and even to ‘declare war’ for a few days each year, during which time no hobgoblin will face punishment for killing a slave.
Hobgoblin females of high rank generally see it as their duty to pass on their evidently strong genes to the next generation and the difficulties of fighting whilst pregnant usually keep them out of active service. Unlike most non-combatants though, high-ranking females are still awarded a great deal of respect (dependent on their previous martial reputation). Wars have been fought and kingdoms have been sacked as dowries for particularly desirable females.
Children are raised communally, often becoming the responsibility of a lower ranking individual angling for a promotion, until they are five years of age. At this point they are segregated from other members of society and undergo a brutal system of training known as Kraachka; ‘the forging’. Youngsters are divided into units of ten, grouping together strangers where possible. These units go through the forging together, swearing loyalty as one, and answerable as one. Soldiers-in-training are intentionally underfed to acclimate them to the possibility of starvation while on campaign, and to encourage them to use their cunning if they want a full belly. Stealing is expected, but any caught doing so will be punished severely along with the rest of the unit. They are trained to take these beatings without showing pain or weakness.
After ten years of drilling, and spending winters out in the wilderness with only their wits to warm themselves, the students take the final test Graat, ‘the anvil’; a militia is raised from the strongest slaves and, armed, armored and commanded by their masters, a war is declared against the young hobgoblins. Given basic supplies and a day’s head start, they must emerge victorious, or the survivors must take their place among the slaves.
Hobgoblins have a profound impact on their environment. Once they establish a base, they will move outwards like a plague of ravenous insects, stripping all resources from the land if given the opportunity. After months or years, the army will depart with its spoils, leaving in its wake desolate fields and dry riverbeds; wastelands to be picked over by feral dogs, carrion birds, and the desperate few survivors not marched away in chains.
As well as the large-scale consumption of their surroundings, hobgoblins make huge changes on a local level; their fortifications are second to none. Upon occupying a new area, every hobgoblin and slave’s efforts will be focused on digging lines of trenches, clearing surrounding forest to remove cover and provide wood for lines of stakes, and serviceable stockades can spring up in a matter of a few days. Over time, if the hobgoblins remain, this wooden skeleton will be reinforced with clay or mud or, in some cases, replaced piece by piece with stonework if they are able.
Hobgoblins are hard, unrelenting and uncompromising, but they are not fools. It is not unheard of for them to cooperate with other races if their aims overlap, or even for a tribe to be employed as a large scale mercenary force if the reward is good enough, regardless of the ideals of their employer.
Pragmatic and cold, hobgoblins are not the world’s best conversationalists; small talk is more or less unheard of, and an outsider can only realistically expect to hear boasts, war stories, and impassioned discussion of preferred combat tactics. Most hobgoblins take the view that other races are needlessly decadent and that theirs is a superior and purer way of life, making little effort to hide these views in mixed company. This understandably leads to some ill will from others, and a few hobgoblins take joy in goading others to the point that weapons are drawn as a demonstration of their own restraint and their opponent’s lack of discipline.
Hobgoblins speak plainly, and their language reflects this. It is less clipped and chattering than basal Goblin, but still favors hard consonants. It is rare for a word to have more than one meaning, and existing words are clumped together to describe new concepts. Hobgoblins bear short, sharp names, easy to bark orders to and differentiate in battle, multisyllabic names are rare, and generally only found amongst high ranking officers.
Examples of Hobgoblin Names: Borkol, Daksh, Garl, Gorshk, Grak, Karsh, Korb, Krach, Rachka, Rakst, Skaal, Stol, Trosk, Zask
Hobgoblins excel at fighting as an efficient unit and maintain their discipline in the face of all but the most unusually fierce opposition. They coordinate their varied skills to best suit the situation, most commonly using an advancing line of shields to allow ranged troops to keep up a constant volley or to force foes together for more lightly-equipped skirmishers to harry. If their formations are broken up, they will attempt to make the best of the situation by flanking their enemy with two smaller units.
In large scale combat, their most common formations are Kraana, (‘the teeth’, where seemingly weak areas of the front line are presented to draw in an attack; when the enemy drives these areas back, the stronger units to either side close in and envelope them) Jaashk (‘the spear’, where the strongest and most heavily armored units are concentrated in a spear point to force an opening in enemy lines), and Jaakja (‘the hedgehog’, where the infamous pikewalls are used to drive enemies towards unfavorable terrain).
If their losses begin to mount up, or the chances of victory begin to slim, hobgoblins are not too proud to withdraw to fight another day. It is incredibly rare for this to take the form of a disorganized rout as with most races; hobgoblin battle-plans usually account for a chance of failure, so there will be provisions in place to fall back to a defensible position in an orderly fashion once things start to turn against them.