While mulling over the whole ‘beastman problem’, I had some ideas about the goblins. At first they were just one more variety of beastman, but that quickly went away. For them I wanted something different.
In a lot of modern games, goblins are either treated as comic relief or granted weird tinkering techno abilities (often supplanting the dwarves as the preeminent anachronistic engineers and scientists of the setting). I’m not fond of this. I don’t like the comic angle because, frankly, I feel it’s quite meta. If the little toothy bastards are trying to stab you or rob you, there is little humorous about them. I feel that the ‘humor’ that arises from such characterizations is too postmodern for my tastes.
To put it another way, if the majority of players did not view them as so inconsequential after years of slaughtering them, these comic iterations wouldn’t be so prevalent. Players do not view them as a threat, and so you can make them comedic without any great effort. Goblins are a joke, they die in droves, so let’s riff on that and make them even more funny and irrelevant.
So, without changing stats, what could I do to make them more menacing?
I decided I wanted to keep the fey connection from legend, so they aren’t ‘beastmen’ at all. These creatures are ‘fey’ in origin, which means they are linked to the Tryshallan. Originally slaves of the Winter Court Tryshallans, these creatures were spirits of Chaos summoned and bound into living flesh to serve the whims of their immortal masters. The Goblins performed functions the haughty immortals would never deign to do.
In time, they were even bred for war, a disposable slave species that was thrown at the foes of the immortals so that they needn’t risk themselves. Unlike the Tryshallan, the Goblins were protected from iron’s bite by their robe of mortal flesh, so they could even ravage human settlements that grew too arrogant. These soldiers also served as proxies for the forbidden act of warring upon other immortals. Two Tryshallan who had some disagreement might pit their stable of HobGoblins against each other, as humans might have fought a duel, and the winner would be the one who had any HobGoblins still left alive.
The secret of their procreation was held originally by the Tryshallan, and they made more of them when and as they needed. In time, some masters grew too lazy even to oversee that and so they were taught the rituals and methods of creating more of themselves so that the Tryshallan could devote their attention to more aesthetically pleasing activities. This mistake, perhaps more even than man’s rapacious nature, led to the downfall of the Tryshallan civilization.
Goblin’s are driven to procreate. It is an element inherent in their chaotic nature that they seek to spread, to bring more chaos into an otherwise stable environment. Unfortunately for every other mortal species, their procreation is a most horrible process that requires the young of other races. Goblins spread their nature by ‘infecting’ hosts with their essence.
And the horror doesn’t stop there. They can use the young of ANY mortal species to do this, even animals. Goblins are essentially a mystical virus that, if unchecked, would spread until all mortal life is replaced by goblin kind.
The Valasian Empire grew tired of the constant threat of goblin and hobgoblin raids stealing away their children. Villages were attacked by goblins seeking more stock to imprint themselves upon. Finally granted the justification they needed, the Valasians turned their hungry eyes on the forests and vales of the immortals.
Because they can come from so many different stock, their nature and appearance is quite varied. Goblins spawned from herd animals are often dimmer than the rest of the species. Those that are spawned from predators are the most ferocious. Those that come from humanity or the dun are the most prized, for they are the smartest, strongest, and most mystically inclined.
Hobgoblins come about in a few different ways. Hobgoblins can create more of their own kind just as goblins do. In addition, some goblins, typically spawned from humans, can ‘evolve’ into hobgoblins over time if they survive long enough. Even goblins don’t understand this process. If goblins can steal a beastman young, they almost always develop into hobgoblins, leading to even beastmen tribes having great disdain and hatred for goblins (though some tribes trade ‘weak’ offspring, or the offspring of their enemies, to goblins for some service).
This process takes a variable amount of time, but usually at least a week or two. The size of the goblin community seems to be the largest influence (the larger the goblin population, the faster the change takes place). Ironically, because of their means of procreation, goblins treat the young of other creatures (once captured) extremely well, at least until the transformation finishes. It is possible to reverse the process if the creature has not completely turned into a goblin, but this usually takes powerful magic (like a Remove Curse cast by a 9th level caster).