Friday, February 6, 2009

Using Goblins As A Player Character

One thing I always admired about Palladium Fantasy was how it really made the typical monster races playable character races as well. (To be sure, books like Savage Species also address this possibility, but it somehow seems less labored and more natural in Palladium Fantasy). The first few times I was GMing in my homebrew world of Irrin, I really felt like adding 1-2 races as player options that they usually don't have access to. Enter the goblin.

As a proud supporter of the Goblin Defense Fund, I haven't been too wild about recent iterations of the goblin race in D&D. Kobolds are usually my default Magic Missile fodder, to be honest. I wanted my goblins to be a challenge to role-play. I didn't just want green cutesy mischances halflings. I wanted a race barely holding on the lower rungs of civilization, used to being beaten down at every turn. Below is how I describe them to my players:

"Long considered a pestilence by mankind (as well as the other races), many goblins still are bandits and thieves preying on travelers and the like, or slaves and servants across Irrin. However, 90 years ago, one band of slaves on a ship destined for Cerras [a cut-throat sort of merchant's haven] managed to fight off their slavers, and wrecked upon the rocky shores near the High Elves’ Elder Forest [not a good place for most non-elven races to be]. Amazingly, these goblins succeeded in creating a miniature society. They took to fishing, scavenging, and basically to living a modest, simple life.

Somehow, word spread of this goblin settlement, and many escaped slaves attempted to make their way there (though most died along the way). Cerras was determined to wipe out this embarrassing settlement, but couldn’t, for two reasons: first, it was too close to High Elf territory, and they did not wish to present a show of force in the High Elves’ backyard. Second, Hastal [an amalgamation of sea principalities that are the main rival of Cerras], seeing a chance to humiliate their long-time rival, put the settlement at least nominally under their protection.

The civilized goblins are still very few in number, and will often (though not always) be treated poorly in every area except their new homeland. Most others encountered are servant and slaves, with a very few practicing (mostly in slums) as free tradespeople. At the goblin's free settlement, their defense consists largely in the potent shamanistic and elementalist traditions of their religion. Lifespan is 35-50 years, much less in the wild".

In short, being a goblin in our campaign isn't easy. Most folks think of you as low-class vermin, and even if you are a free goblin, you know there are many places in the world, you would be clapped in irons for the slave market straightaway. Yet for all that, it remains a fairly popular choice in our games, which I suppose speaks a bit to our "zero-to-hero" preference in play.

Do any of you allow goblins or other "monster" races in your settings?


Bonemaster said...

So I guess goblins can be new anti-heroes for PCs to play.

Ryan said...

Generally, I don't allow "monster" races as player characters, but after your post, I might consider it in the future. However, I'd probably only allow one monstrous character per party, otherwise it might be so difficult to do ordinary things (like get a room at the inn or even just gain entry into a city in the first place) that it would hamper the campaign.

I like your goblin idea. Good work.

John said...

I had two players play goblins in my OD&D Verbosh campaign. It was a grand addition to the party. Unfortunately they got TPK'd on a crypt level, caught between ghouls and a gelatinous cube...

Grant Woodward said...

Actually, in our group's games it's nearly a 50/50 split between 'normal' player races and monstrous races. Our normal GM is a huge fan of the Savage Species book and tends to create various piecemeal monstrosities from it; the game he's currently running has an ogre, avoral, naga, satyr and centaur as various PCs or cohorts. (That's 3.5E D&D, of course.)

I'm doing prep work for a 4E Eberron game right now, trying to convert everything over so that it's ready to go. While none of my players have chosen goblinoids for their PC's race, I made it very clear that it was an option, and a pretty good one. Goblinoids in Eberron have a VERY different society than the 'default' social structure in most games. Likewise, there's a new nation in the Eberron setting run by a trio of hags and claiming to be a haven for other intelligent monsters. Hopefully when/if some of my PCs die, they'll choose one of those options for their new character.

Chgowiz said...


Thank YOU!!!!

In my Dark Ages, littlelings (halflings) are damn close to what you describe as goblins. They are reviled by humans as little more than rodents.

I never thought of them as slaves or hired help.

Thank you again! I'm going to link this blog for my campaign group to see. One of my players is introducing a littleling next game and your post gives us a LOT of thought.

cryo said...

This reminds me of a webcomic I used to read. It always made me want to play in (or run) an orc/goblin-centric campaign.

Goblins webcomic

Psynister said...

I've let monsters in as player races for years and never had any problem with it. Sometimes it just doesn't fit in with the story and/or the rest of the group, but overall it works just fine.

It worked in D&D 3.0, it worked in 3.5, and it still works in 4e.

Zachary The First said...

@bonemaster: If folks would like, sure. Playing them as an honest individual trying to scratch beyond their perceived station in life seems to work nicely.

@ryan: Very true. I always warn my players that playing an Ogre or Goblin can make mundane tasks challenging, and that it is a role-playing challenge.

@john: Well, I hope they at least had a good run! :)

@grant: Very true. Eberron does offer a different take on goblins and the like. You can't just go around hacking at them with impunity--there can be legal and political condequences!

@chgowitz: You are very welcome! Happy if I've helped in any way.

@cryo: Thanks for the link!

@psynister: Good deal. I do think the concept can be easily adapted in a number of games/system.

Chgowiz said...

It cracks me up when you call me "witz" :D

Zachary The First said...

lol...glad I can entertain! I do well to spell my own name. :)

Alex Schroeder said...

In my current Alder King game the players start out on the side of the forest king trying to get rid of all the humans encroaching on its territory. They live in Gretzneck ripped from Rappan Athuk, a goblin city. I said goblins were a player race and one of them did pick a goblin. It's working out great. I'm thinking of the goblin city from the Crumrin comics as we play.

Mark Gedak said...

We've used Blue in our games. We have a very psionic-friendly table.

starbuck said...

i am thinking about using a bakugan from the oriental adventure books as a pc, since he has been captured as a pet by my shaman i thought it would be fun, this post gives me some place to go with that, ie some lofty goal for the pc to have

Anonymous said...

What racial modifiers and traits do you use?