D&D 5e: Goblins with Subraces 8


In my Aurikesh campaign, the PCs have just gone to a demiplane called the Great Warren, which is purportedly the homeland of the first goblins. It’s tiny and entirely underground – as far as anyone can prove, the Great Warren has no sky. Maybe it is a splinter off of the Plane of Earth? Anyway, they had a three-session adventure there, at the end of which they freed the goblins (and hobgoblins and bugbears) from their overlords. I decided that this opened all three goblinoids should be available as new characters. As you’ll see, I’ve moved bugbears into being a subrace of hobgoblins, for reasons.

As a central note: goblinoids in Aurikesh are no more good or evil than anyone else. They don’t have a reputation for stupidity, savagery, or anything else. Outside of the Great Warren, goblin-fey are the only kind of goblinoid that almost anyone has heard of, for various story reasons. I’m scrapping the mechanics from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, particularly because I need to create space for subraces.

Races of Aurikesh | Goblins with Subraces

Goblins

The only features of goblins that I’m completely attached to using are their Small size. It’s also important that in Aurikesh, they have an affinity for firearms, just like Aurikesh humans do. Their culture emphasizes that the survival of the tribe as a whole is every individual’s responsibility. Goblin skin tones include many shades of green, brown, and yellow

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2.
  • Age. Goblins reach adulthood at age 15 and can live up to 150 years.
  • Alignment. I am not answering this on the grounds that racial alignment is a universally bad idea.
  • Size. Goblins are 3½ to 4½ feet tall and weigh 50 to 100 pounds. Your size is Small.
  • Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
  • Instinctive Tinker. You have proficiency with all firearms and your choice of one of the following: smith’s tools, thieves’ tools, or tinker’s tools.
  • Small Target. When you fail a Dexterity saving throw, you can choose to roll again. You must keep the new result. Once you use this feature, you can’t do so again until you finish a short or long rest.
  • The Tribe Comes First. As a reaction when a friendly creature within 5 feet of you provokes an opportunity attack, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the attack. If it hits, the damage is halved.
  • Languages. Goblin and one other language of your choice.

Earthen Goblins

These are “true” goblins, those born of the Great Warren who were never changed by the fey, the powers of Hell, or anything else.

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 1.
  • Low-light vision. You can see in dim light within 60 feet as if it were bright light.
  • Wizened Flesh. You gain resistance against acid damage, and your age can’t be changed by magic.
  • Languages. You can speak, read, and write Terran.

Goblin-Fey

The overwhelming majority of goblins in Aurikesh and the Hidden World are goblin-fey. They or their ancestors were conscripted by the fey at some point in the past untold thousands of years. While they do not rise to elevated rank within the Courts of the Hidden World, nor are they slaves or creatures of scorn there. Their main visual distinction from earthen goblins is their much longer, pointed ears.

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 1.
  • Heart’s Desire. As an action, one creature of your choice that you can see must roll a Charisma saving throw. The target rolls with advantage if they are not currently engaged in conversation, or if they are aware of you and consciously hiding their motives. A creature that you or any of your companions has dealt damage to in the last 24 hours automatically succeeds this saving throw. On a failure, you learn one of the target’s deeply-held desires, which might be abstract (such as affection from a specific person or a sense of safety) or concrete (such as a precious gemstone or a rare steak). An individual can have more than one deeply-held desire, and is not always consciously aware of their own desires. On a success, the target is immune to your Heart’s Desire for 24 hours.
  • Languages. You can speak, read, and write Sylvan.

Fyr-Genga (Goblin-Fiends, Scathelings)

When one of the fey overlords of the Great Warren was replaced with a daemon, the goblins of that tribe were corrupted into what are now called fyr-genga (fire-going ones), goblin-fiends, hellkin, or scathelings. NPC fyr-genga are known to spoil foodstuffs by their presence, though PC fyr-genga are not necessarily bound to this drawback. Their eyes set them apart from other goblins: the sclera are red or black, while their irises are a contrasting red or white.

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 1.
  • Firewalker. You gain resistance to fire damage.
  • Flametouch. You can cast the produce flame cantrip. You can choose Intelligence or Charisma as your spellcasting ability score for this spell.
  • Languages. You can speak, read, and write Infernal.

Hobgoblins

Now goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears are all one people, and a hobgoblin can be born to any goblinkind mother or father. They are, however, somewhat more likely when one or both parents are hobgoblins. Hobgoblins are the backbone of a tribe’s defense. In appearance, hobgoblins have vaguely leonine features, with skin tones ranging from black to brown to light gray.

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 2.
  • Age. Hobgoblins reach adulthood at age 15 and can live up to 90 years.
  • Size. Hobgoblins are 5½ to 6½ feet tall and weigh 150 to 280 pounds.
  • Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
  • Courage of the Tribe. You gain advantage on saving throws against the frightened condition. When one or more creatures within 10 feet of you fail a saving throw against the frightened condition, you can use your reaction to let roll again. They must use the new result. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
  • Resistant to Fatigue. You gain advantage on Constitution saving throws against exhaustion. Starting at 3rd level, when you have one or more levels of exhaustion and you finish a short rest, you can spend three Hit Dice to remove one level of exhaustion. Once you do so, you can’t use this part of this feature again until you finish a long rest.
  • Languages. You speak, read, and write Goblin and one other language.

Earthen Hobgoblins

These, again, are “true” hobgoblins, the original kind that were born of goblins. If you believe goblins existed before hobgoblins, that is. It’s anyone’s guess, and goblinkind don’t tend to find the question interesting.

  • Ability Score Increase. Your choice of either your Strength or Wisdom score increases by 1.
  • Low-light vision. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light.
  • Stone-skinned. Your unarmed strikes deal 1d4 damage, and while you are wearing light or no armor, your Armor Class equals 10 + your Constitution modifier + any magical bonuses from armor you are wearing. You can use a shield and still gain this benefit.
  • Unmoved. When an effect moves you against your will without teleporting you, you can use your reaction to ignore 10 feet of that movement.
  • Languages. You can speak, read, and write Terran.

Harrower

The few hobgoblins who were conscripted and transformed by the fey have become harrowers, and the danger of their role has kept them rare. Their features are more fully leonine and silver-gray than other hobgoblins, with the long, pointed ears of goblin-fey.

  • Ability Score Increase. Your choice of either your Dexterity or Charisma score increases by 1.
  • Pursuer. Your walking speed increases by 5 feet, and you have a climbing speed equal to your walking speed. When you use the Dash action, your jumping distance is doubled.
  • Beast-Touched. With posture, sounds, and gestures, you can communicate with Small and Medium predatory beasts.
  • Languages. You can speak, read, and write Sylvan.

Bugbears

A bugbear is a mutated form of a hobgoblin, undergone deliberately in their youth. It bulks them up, makes their faces more ursine, and causes them to grow thick tufts of fur on the tops of their heads, necks, and shoulders. Almost all male bugbears grow thick beards, in which they take great pride. Their physique is the core of their role in the tribe, and bugbears of insufficient strength often struggle to find a way to contribute.

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2.
  • Low-light vision. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light.
  • Furred. You gain resistance to cold damage.
  • Powerful Build. You count as one size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.
  • Languages. You can speak, read, and write Terran.

Design Notes

I was originally going to have bugbears as their own fully independent line of goblins. Then I started thinking about what I was going to say about them, and I thought it would be cool if they were mutated by various forces from hobgoblins. I think it ties them in better to the all-important fabric of the tribe.

Obviously, I’m telling a very different set of stories about who goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears are. I really like goblins as a character aesthetic – they look a lot like Captain Marvel Skrulls, just shorter – and I love them as permanent underdogs. Slavers, brutes, violence aesthetes? No, I don’t like that at all.

I tried to see them from their own perspective when I wrote their personality features (though that version is closer to D&D-normal than this is, because I wrote it a long time before I had the ideas in this post), and I’m trying to do the same here. If the story I’m telling with the races and subraces as a whole doesn’t make sense, well, trust that it does work a bit better for Aurikesh. (If you’re an Aurikesh player and don’t see what I’m doing or why, well, tell me that.) This is a first draft, in any case, and open to change.


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8 thoughts on “D&D 5e: Goblins with Subraces

  • Sean Holland

    Interesting stuff. While I do not use goblins, well, not D&D goblins, in the Sea of Stars it is nice to see a different take on them.

    Mechanics question, how would the Earth-hobgoblin’s stone-skin combine (or not) with the Barbarian’s unarmored defense ability?

    • Brandes Stoddard Post author

      I figure that – as with all features that give you multiple ways to calculate AC, such as a barbarian multiclassed with monk – you can pick whichever one gives you the best AC.

      This one is intended more as a backstop for times when you don’t have armor than as your primary form of AC. It’s likely to get tweaked or completely rewritten in a future draft.

  • Ray

    I forget – have you expounded on racial alignments in a previous post? Is your hesitance to lean into racial alignments a stereotyping issue? E.g. PHB Tieflings are very quickly typecast as nefarious or, at the very least, devious. In my own worldbuilding, I’ve tried to approach this subject via cultural background and cultural values. Thus, tying “alignment” to a culture as a whole and giving agency to the individual PC to choose their own path – at least that’s how I hope it comes across to my players.

    • Brandes Stoddard Post author

      If I have, it would have been early in the blog. To recapitulate the line of argument here, declaring anything PC-playable as racially Evil, and the PCs are the rare exceptions, is deeply problematic and closely parallels “you’re one of the good ones” statements made to POC who conform to white expectations.

      Shifting from race to culture helps, but that still needs care and examination. Consider whether you’re presenting contrasting cultures of that race, or if the race is getting presented as a monoculture. Obviously I’m not taking you, personally, to task for anything here – I don’t play in your game and don’t know how you’re implementing any ideas. There’s no bad time for careful reflection on what you say with the things you’re creating, though.

      While we’re here, though, the simplification and implied judgment of alignment is hard to use in any non-corrosive way. Aurikesh applies alignment only to cosmic beings, and even then only with great reluctance.

      • Ray

        Lots to unpack here – definitely appreciate the thoughtful reply and no offense taken. The “one of the good ones” Kipling white man’s burden bit resonates with me. I just finished a leadership development course at work that focused heavily on diversity and inclusion. So this has got me thinking about how I perceive diversity in all areas of my life (e.g. at the d&d table).

        It is extremely easy to fall into traps with alignment and I’ve been interested for some time now in stepping away from them, so I’d love to hear more about how that works in Aurikesh. One line of thinking that I’m starting to explore is replacing alignments with ideals, particularly at the deities level.

        For example, suppose that one deity represents the ideals of Order & Tradition and opposite this deity is another representing Freedom & Progress. There is nothing innately good or evil about either of these pairings so these two deities needant necessarily be slotted into an alignment – though arguably there’s a lawful vs. chaotic paradigm at play here. Now, Order & Tradition can instill the virtues of honor, duty, and piety and create a sense of community and security. On the other hand, taken too far we may arrive at zealotry, intolerance, and oppression. We can, of course, then paint a similar spectrum for Freedom & Progress. To give credit where due, I’m borrowing an idea for pantheon generation from the AngryGM here and taking it a step further as a replacement for alignments.

        I would like to believe that this is a healthier way to solve the alignment problem, but acknowledge that it too has pitfalls. Under this schema it’s just as easy to typecast a society into the Order/Tradition fundamentalists who have dubious worldviews – e.g. the Drow or, in some settings, the Aasimar. However, my hope is that this setup gives both PCs and DMs a healthier, richer environment in which to explore the spectrum of these ideals than the SRD alignment system does currently.

        • Brandes Stoddard Post author

          My approach to alignment in Aurikesh is to not have it – not the Law/Chaos/Good/Evil model, nor any other. People might “align” themselves with the Gods or the Powers (Fey, Devils, Demons, Abominations, the Nightwalker, the Dark), but some serve unknowingly, or serve more than one, and it isn’t a stat that I want to track. I want people to make today’s decision today, not seven years ago when they created these characters, you know? My players and I have a pretty good shared understanding of what motivates the Gods and the Powers – both where they’re right/less-wrong and where they’re corrosive to the welfare of the world.

          I don’t extend this in any way to the cultures or races of the setting. The PC-playable races all live intermingled in cities across the continent – and that’s about to start including the goblins. Goblin-fey have strong fey ties, obviously enough, but that’s their starting point, not destiny. Likewise for the fyr-genga goblins and ties to Hell.

          That said, the Gods and their angels are (very, very loosely) Lawful and Good, Hell is Lawful Evil, and the Abyss is Chaotic Evil. (I love the Blood War, but this setting doesn’t have a Blood War.) The fey are the fey – neither lawful nor good nor chaotic nor evil. Some fey are pretty great, some are horrible jerks, and that only sometimes has anything to do with Seelie and Unseelie. And so on.

          • Ray

            Hmmm… How do you deal with Paladin oaths in that context? An oath should not change by the day but it can certainly change over time (with consequences).

          • Brandes Stoddard Post author

            A paladin could potentially change oaths, if they wanted. It hasn’t come up yet, but there are basically two different ways it could happen: your oath is to the Gods, and you want to change your role within the faith (say, from Devotion to Vengeance). This is fine – ideally we get a good roleplaying scene out of it where you talk to a priest, monk, or another paladin, and they help do the thing to confirm your change.

            But you can also be an Oath of the Ancients paladin sworn to the fey, an Oath of Vengeance or Conquest paladin sworn to Hell, and maybe one or two other options I haven’t thought through yet. (Because no one has asked.) Changing away from an Oath to one of the Powers is going to be a lot harder – Hell, the Fey, and some others are constitutionally incapable of forgiving. Leaving the Gods for one of the Powers is a lot easier.

            Does that make sense?