Regional Humanoids

Lots of people wonder why there are so many different types of humanoids in D&D; kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, gnolls, bugbears, and (in AD&D) flinds, norkers, and xverts. They’re all clustered in the 2 HD-or-under end of the pool, and the overwhelming majority are lawful evil, so it’s not to provide a nice and comprehensive diversity among the population. There are just a lot of different species of humanoids out there.

In the original Greyhawk campaign, they were stuffed together cheek-to-jowl. Castle Greyhawk featured all of the various types in relatively close proximity. The DMG even gave us a table to tell us how one type of humanoid felt about another; hobgoblins tolerate bugbears, but bugbears actively dislike and will bully hobgoblins.

It occurred to me that a better explanation for the variety of humanoid races might be geographical diversity. Rather than the Caves of Chaos, with a tribe of bugbears a hundred yards from a tribe of kobolds, the humanoid races would be distributed geographically. In the southeast of the continent would be orc country, while in the north would be found the many kobold tribes. The further westward one went, one would encounter first goblins, then hobgoblins, and finally their fearsome cousins the bugbears. And so forth.

This doesn’t mean that there couldn’t be extraordinary individuals (or small groups) out of place, but they would be extraordinary. If you encountered a group of goblins in what should be gnoll country, it would be something to remark on and wonder why they were there.

I don’t have anything concrete with this notion, just throwing it out there as a possible way to give the otherwise difficult-to-differentiate stew of humanoids a bit more difference.

(Yes, I touched on this a few years ago, but some more thoughts sort of crystalized so I wanted to get it out there.)

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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.

8 thoughts on “Regional Humanoids

  1. I agree. This is a much more reasonable explanation and better fits my campaign world.

    Using the Caves of Chaos as an example, the Caves would prove "Chaotic" for the simple reason that all these species would be fighting each other for dominance.

    The whole "Oh, they only fight each other until the 'humans' arrive" never did work for me.

    The enemy of my enemy is NOT necessarily my "friend."

  2. Geographical diversity works for me.

    The way I DM, there are ancient & ancestral homelands, ceded lands, "neutral zones", "no-go" areas, etc.

    I tend to "toughen up" any kobolds or goblins who are in regions controlled by hobgoblins & gnolls. Giving them some extra HPs, better weapons & tactics, works. And also a definite reason for being in someone else's territory.

  3. I like the fairy-feel of a whole bunch of goblins, bugbears and kobolds living in an underground dungeon, bullying and squabbling and fighting. It's only once you take them out of the dungeon and start pretending they're part of a natural ecosystem that it strains credibility.

    If I was running the Caves of Chaos, I'd stick a "portal to Chaos" leaking humanoids in the underground temple, and call the place a staging ground for the disorganised armies of evil.

  4. I think that 'blobs' of just one creature in one place may seem a bit odd. Quite a few of them are related to each other, so they may end up sharing areas. Or if we think of them as being like animals in a habitat, you could have them all in one area but having different niches in that area, perhaps with some overlap. Another thing to consider is whether they prey on each other for food. Some creatures are based on folkloric ones, so you may be able to use the same theme – i.e. certain creatures within an area prefer caves, or hills, or wooded areas, etc..

  5. That certainly makes sense, you could even have forest kobolds and mountain orcs to further differentiate their cultures. But as most of them are great slave takers, one of the explanations for kobolds in orc lands would be escaped slaves.

    Which also makes me like the idea of Ogre Magi as traveling slave traders.

  6. This is in fact exactly what I did with the Olden Lands. Each race has an original homeland from which, like humans, they radiated out in migrations over long centuries of war and raids.

    Kobolds do not even exist in the region; they are found far to the West (the "Oriental Lands" so to speak);

    Goblins are native to the mountains and hills of the Middle Realms;

    Hobgoblins are native to the Toxoth Swamp in the Northern Wilds;

    Bugbears to the cold plains of the Vahendhath west of the Northern Wilds;

    Gnolls to the far south in Manday;

    Ogres are from the Gorge of Ogroth in the eastern Northern Wilds;

    and Orcs are from the western lands of Nhorr.

    Over centuries, they have all settled in smaller groups in the lands around their homelands, and through the Underworld can be found in smaller groups most anywhere else (this is the source of the few kobolds encountered in the region).

    Due to its many connections to the Underworld, all races are notably and appropriately found in the dungeons under Castle Adlerstein in the land of Gyrax…

  7. I will say this briefly due to lack of time to extrapolate further, but why should we assume that the baddies (bugbears, goblins, orcs, et al.) are merely in areas such as the Caves of Chaos as unwitting fodder for adventurers to slay? Could it not be conceivable that groups of these adventurers have also formed ragtag teams of adventurers, as base and rough as they might be, also in search of plunder and lucre?
    As I said: no time to delve further into this atm, but perhaps this comment could spur some further ideas? Or searing criticism. Either way, it will have spurred something! Cheers, Gronards!

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