Thinkin’ ‘Bout Goblins

Anyone that’s followed me for any length of time, knows that I can be easily distracted. I might be heavily into a discussion about one topic, and then switch abruptly to something else. This is one of those times.

Over the past several months, I’ve been watching all of the Star Trek series on Netflix. I started with the Original Series, then watched the Animated Cartoon, then The Next Generation. One of the things I’ve unconsciously done while watching the various Star Trek series, is to draw parallels between the species shown on the show, and common species used in games like Dungeons and Dragons. Vulcans = Elves, Romulans = Drow, Klingons  = Orcs, that kind of thing. Currently, I’m working through all of the episodes of Deep Space Nine. One of the main characters on that show, Quark, is a Ferengi; a species of short, big-eared humanoids who have seemingly mastered “The Art of the Deal”.

I’m only now reaching the end of the second season, but as the series explores Quark’s character (and his species) further, it occurred to me that there is one D&D species that might match up perfectly with the Ferengi – Goblins.

Like Ferengi, Goblins are short, and not terribly attractive by human standards. Both species can be aggressive, but cower in the face of an obviously superior foe. However, I think Goblins in D&D are sold (if you’ll pardon the expression) short. They should be more than just annoying low-level barbaric humanoids. I think Goblins should be given a higher purpose, and I intend to do so in my campaigns from here on, basing a lot of their “re-tooling” on the Ferengi in Star Trek.

Visualizing Goblins as deal makers isn’t entirely a new idea. Anyone familiar with World of Warcraft will immediately realize that Goblins are excellent at trade-craft. However, before anyone jumps on me saying “you’re just ripping off WoW”, I want to emphasize that MY Goblins are more traders than crafters. Gnomes (at least in my campaigns) are more than capable of blowing stuff up, so my Goblins don’t need to be doing the same thing. However, my Goblins will certainly make you a great deal on the Gnomish invention sitting in the corner.

Another difference between the Ferengi and traditional Goblins is the caste system Goblins seem to have. The Monster Vault™ establishes pretty clearly that Goblins, Hobgoblins, & Bugbears are all really the same species, just different castes. While the Ferengi have a definite hierarchical arrangement, it’s not represented by a different body type. I’m okay with keeping the Goblins’ caste system intact, but at the same time, reducing  their brutality. In my vision, Goblins are a merchant caste, Hobgoblins are a warrior caste, and Bugbears are a hero/royalty class. These changes don’t represent extensive adjustments for how  Hobgoblins and Bugbears are already presented, but they do become a little more respectable. You still don’t want to face an army of them, but they aren’t savages anymore, either.

So now, as Quark the Goblin pours you another drink, it is worth noting that one aspect of the Goblin/Ferengi conversion is problematic. As portrayed on Deep Space Nine, the Ferengi are a horribly sexist race. Their women are subservient, blocked out of commerce, and are even forced to go unclothed at home. For my campaign, that’s a little too restrictive. Instead, I propose that Goblin pairs always have one dominant and one submissive partner. The dominant one can be either male or female. Essentially, one partner works the trade, and the other partner stays home to raise & educate the little Goblins. Clothing choice is up to the Goblins. I don’t really want to pry. Of course, for your own campaigns, you can simply hand-wave that element of the Ferengi/Goblin conversion. It’s not really a big part of the equation.

For those DMs that think that I’m taking Goblins out of the picture by making them merchants, you’re going to be okay. We have Kobolds. If you want a nasty short humanoid race bent on fouling up everything they touch, use Kobolds. Besides, imagine a smuggler’s guild made up of nothing but Goblin types. Merchant Goblins using heavily armed Hobgoblin guards, perhaps all ruled by a Heroic Bugbear merchant prince.

Wait…I think I have an adventure to write now.


My name is Randall Walker and This is My Game


PS: Someone might comment on this, so I’ll try to be proactive. I have NO idea how the Pathfinder® Goblins fit into all of this. I know they can be used as a character race in that game, but I don’t know Pathfinder well enough to make the appropriate comparisons or suggestions.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. R.M. Walker, who can be found in numerous places on the internet as “DeadOrcs”, is a long time gamer with some 30 years experience playing RPGs. Despite occasional forays into the bizarre, Randall has always come back to Dungeons & Dragons.

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About DeadOrcs

R.M. Walker, who can be found in numerous places on the internet as “DeadOrcs”, is a long time gamer with some 30 years experience playing RPGs. Despite occasional forays into the bizarre, Randall has always come back to Dungeons & Dragons.
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7 Responses

  1. I don’t know about the player race, but I <3 pathfinder goblins, and they definitely don't come across as an intelligent or mercantile race. They remind me more of rather dim-witted and barbaric savages. Fear of horses, riding dogs, simple language skills, etc.

    And they sing ^_^

  2. Awesome. Their is nothing saying you can’t have both types of goblins about.

    Example, I did something similar with Kobolds. I split them into two types wild kobolds that deny the authority of the Empires and those that have been domesticated (from the dragonborn’s point of view anyway).

    As the lower-caste of two warring Dragonborn empires they find themselves caught in the middle. The domestics are servants such as valets, cooks, kitchen boys, shoe shiners, laborers, garbage collectors etc. They find themselves as the unnoticed help in both empires. Oft the higher ups ignore them completely. This makes them the perfect spies and informants for the other side, PCs, or wild free kobolds. Meanwhile, the wild kobolds are rebellious blood thirsty caravan raiders.

    The “domesticated” kobolds are called Teckla in homage to Stephen Brust where the idea was originally sparked in my mind.

  3. Gasp! my heart is broken.
    I love the idea of taking a “monster” and raising it, but kobolds would be an even more interesting thing to play with. they live underground, and are good at traps and mining. i have always wanted to play a kobold character but my DM wont let me.

  4. I dig it. But I probably won’t use it as I’m in love with the Paizo portray of goblins.
    But the “Yankee traders” race could also be filledby gnomes, who do need a solid “hook”. Many people don’t like tinkerer gnomes so traders and hagglers works. I can also easily see gnomes as information brokers as well.

  5. Why bother? Why not just find a race of humans stereotypically known for being prosperous and often engaging in trade and base your goblins off them? Then you can join J.K. Rowlings in being accused of being a racist.

    If Goblins are nothing more than “ugly short people who buy and sell stuff”, there’s no real point to them being “goblins” at all.

    Why can’t they have a culture that’s entirely different to humans – they don’t live the way they do because they’re weak, poor, or ineffectual. They simply don’t even understand why humans would even want to exchange shiny metal for things that have no reason to be used in the first place.

    At the risk of disparaging Star Trek, their aliens tended to be “human stereotype with a bumpy nose”. I’m not saying it’s a bad show, but deriving our RPG races from Star Trek caricatures seems like the easy option.

  6. Cool. I think it fits perfectly with Harry Potter style Goblins too. Goblins run the banks there. I guess money changers are different than merchants.

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