Goblins vs. humanoids

I’ve long felt that the “goblinoid races” (goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears, and norkers) form a sort of sub-group within the broader category of humanoids in the implied (A)D&D universe, but this implicit unifying feature has almost always been ignored. I think that portraying goblins and their kin as keeping themselves aloof from the other humanoid races (gnolls, kobolds, orcs, and xvarts) gives them a sort of character and differentiating feature that is often sorely lacking.

While the goblinoids can be used as a coherent whole, there is definitely a hierarchy amongst them, with goblins being at the bottom of the totem pole, followed by hobgoblins, norkers, and finally bugbears at the top of the list. The “Humanoid Racial Preferences Table” from p. 106 of the original DMG is illustrative of the dynamic:

Bugbears prefer bugbears, have goodwill towards goblins, and will bully hobgoblins.

Hobgoblins (and presumably norkers) tolerate bugbears, bully goblins, and hate hobgoblins belonging to other tribes.

Goblins have goodwill towards bugbears, prefer the company of other goblins, and tolerate the bullying of the hobgoblins.

This leads me to think that the bugbears don’t like the way that the hobgoblins bully the goblins, and will interfere with such if given the chance, and the goblins reciprocate by fawning over the bugbears. The hobgoblins, caught in the middle, resent the bugbears as being more powerful, as well as for interfering with their own bullying of the goblins.

Given the fact that the non-goblinoid races never seem to get along with the goblinoid races (with the exception of goblins and kobolds, who doubtless get along because they’re both on the bottom end of the totem pole, strength-wise), a dynamic of goblinoids vs. the other humanoids does seem to be implied.

In a campaign setting, this has obvious utility. One could see relatively unified goblinoid settlements and even nations, who aren’t particularly friendly with the local orcs, kobolds, and gnolls (and vice versa). I vastly prefer this to the relatively undifferentiated “humanoid stew” that one usually sees, where orcs, goblins, etc. all mill around shoulder-to-shoulder under some strong leader. It certainly gives a little more color to the vast ranks of the humanoids, which I always like.

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Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

5 thoughts on “Goblins vs. humanoids

  1. good setup D&D has more than enough potential monster groupings to allow for more significant arrangements than the simple monster stew of the classical Men (and demiHumans) vs Giant-Kind (giants, ogres, trolls, and mist humanoids).

  2. I always thought the Warhammer take on this — "goblinoids" covers a range of things from "snotlings" to "black orcs" and possibly trolls — to be so derivative of Tolkien. I like having a thicker border between goblins & orcs, if only to have room for both Tolkein-style orcs and fairy-tale goblins.

    & How sweet of the bugbears to look after their little cousins. I knew they were getting a bad rap! 🙂

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