D&D 5e: The Goblin Personality


I’ve been working for a good while now on unique personality features for each race. The exact implementation of these ideas is left to each DM – maybe you pick two or so of these and the rest from your actual Background, maybe you get additional personality features. The DMG is pretty loosey-goosey on how you gain Inspiration, so I don’t feel too bad about doing the same here. Anyway, this post covers goblins, because I’m guessing they’re one of the most popular “monster” races to play as a PC.

Elves | Dwarves | Halflings | Gnomes | Half-orcs | Homunculi | Dragonborn | Tieflings | Goblins
There are a ton of different views and iterations of goblins, sometimes more than one in a single setting. Personally, I see them as the coulda-woulda-shoulda of PC races – they’re not evil to their core, they’ve just been cast out, rejected, and forced into villain-like circumstances. In my Aurikesh setting, goblins are one of the fey kindreds, and they are primarily merchants, artisans, and scroungers for the Highlords. The PCs in my campaign have encountered goblin-fey probably half a dozen times, and have yet to find a reason to fight them.
I’m sure there are two dozen different homebrewed rules blocks for goblin PCs online, and we’ll have an official one in Volo’s Guide to Monsters this November.

Personality Traits

d8 Personality Traits
1 My pockets are always full of forgotten pieces of things I encounter in my travels.
2 I speak in heavily accented Common… the specific accent changes constantly.
3 My table manners are shocking: I take tea like a noble, but wolf down my food.
4 Of course I kick ’em when they’re down, it’s the best time to kick ’em.
5 No bathing. I ain’t going in the soup!
6 My sense of humor appeals to everyone. Well, everyone under the age of ten.
7 I can spend hours telling stories that I heard from my great-great-aunt Matilda.
8 Goblins don’t get too attached. In the tribe, we’re all disposable.

Ideals

d6 Ideals
1 Community: The survival of the tribe is more important than any dozen goblins. (Lawful)
2 Change: Goblins been gettin’ the short end of the stick since forever. That’s gonna change soon. (Chaotic)
3 Might: It doesn’t matter what I have to do, as long as it makes me stronger than our enemies. (Evil)
4 Greater Good: The world’s a shithole, and all we have is each other to climb out of it. (Good)
5 Beauty: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” — Oscar Wilde (Neutral)
6 Vitality: Life is short and we may be forgotten. Hold nothing back for tomorrow. (Any)

Bonds

d6 Bonds
1 My tribe is indebted to a big scary. I’m looking for a way to erase that debt.
2 No one else should have to endure what goblins go through.
3 My tribe got wiped out by a bunch of heroes. Payback may take years, but it will come.
4 I owe my life to the arbitrary mercy of an adventurer. I plan to repay her in full.
5 I believe that goblins built wondrous, mighty things once, and I mean to find and repair them.
6 The gods made us to be their playthings, and I seek a way to return the favor.

Flaws

d6 Flaws
1 If I’m outmatched, I’ll try to surrender or escape rather than fight to the end.
2 Fair fights are for when there are too many goblins in the tribe. Never fight fair.
3 I wouldn’t completely trust me own grandmother. Why in the hells would I trust YOU?
4 Whenever I lose a wager, I can’t help but follow it with, “Double or nothing?”
5 I’m convinced that any number of unsavory things are going to be delicious.
6 I just really like to see other creatures bleed a bit.

Design Notes

What I enjoy about doing racial personality features is that it lets me think about each race from their own perspective, not as an individual, but as several different individuals with contrasting outlooks. Other than Pathfinder‘s psychotic goblins, I tend to find goblins fairly sympathetic in games – World of Warcraft’s sleazy merchant/pirate goblins, Sir Terry’s scum-of-the-earth but intensely hardworking and awesome goblins (I especially like their naming scheme), and so on. I can enjoy a game in which goblins are evil through and through, but it’s not my favorite vision. A bit of gallows humor (a redundancy, to be sure!) just makes them more fun.

What I’ve tried to present here is a version of goblins that have internalized and reframed cowardice (let a few goblins die so the rest of the tribe survives), constant desperation and deprivation, just a soupçon of sadism, and none of the niceties of “civilized” people, but could still make pretty good adventurers. The contrasts between goblins, half-orcs, and tieflings are particularly interesting to me – they’re all treated like dirt, but in different ways, and they respond to that treatment differently.

Also, I read the Goblins webcomic for years, so I’m like an expert or something.

Do you have a favorite interpretation of goblins in gaming? Tell me about it in the comments!

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