Creating 5E D&D Beastlands Goblins Through Worldbuilding
Over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted take a look at the small, black-hearted, selfish humanoids that lair in caves, abandoned mines, despoiled dungeons, and other dismal settings in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. Goblins have been a staple of D&D and fantasy in general forever, usually as a threat to heroes because of their vast numbers and malice. Interestingly enough 5E D&D hasn’t expanded a whole lot on goblins beyond the regular old goblin in the Basic Rules and goblin boss in the Monster Manual, mechanically anyway. Instead goblins are explored more culturally like the Batiri goblins from Tomb of Annihilation and this is exactly the kind of path Dave and Ted take even further in the video to illustrate how any creatures — even ubiquitous ones like goblins — can be reimagined in exciting new ways for players and Dungeons Masters alike by adding just a few simple details.
Make 5E D&D goblins your own
The heart of the video discussion really comes down to worldbuilding. In a game all about celebrating your imagination this is one of the most enjoyable aspects for so many players. Worldbuilding is a broad term and on the surface sounds pretty daunting. Creating an entire world seems really intimidating! But the fact is players and DMs alike engage in worldbuilding all the time, both during game sessions and between them.
Whether your 5E D&D adventures take place in deeply detailed campaign settings like Forgotten Realms or Exandria, or in a setting made whole cloth by a single player or group the way Dave and Ted’s Ultheganya world developed, the moment you embark on adventures you’ve made it your own. For my own games I followed the tried and true advice of starting small when it comes to worldbuilding and came up with a starting town where adventurers begin their journey. Beyond this small community the world remains intentionally unknown — including by me! As characters explore and travel further from their starting point I sort of procedurally generate whatever else is out there.
Oddly enough I’ve yet to introduce goblins into the world. One group of Adventurers of Adventure discovered a giant tree integral to birdfolk cultures and shortly thereafter entered the Dreaming World (what I call the Feywild), never to return to the Waking World. Another group became embroiled in a dark tale involving a mythical yeth hound and a dusk hag named Thessaly Threefaces. These two campaigns quickly took off into high fantasy stories and I find myself feeling the dearth of more grounded creatures like goblins. So let’s do some worldbuilding and come up with a new way to goblin for my own 5E D&D games.
I’m going to use my favorite 5E D&D book for this one. The Dungeon Master’s Guide contains a tremendous amount of material, including lots of tables and charts I’ll put to the task for this exercise. I don’t have to go very far into the DMG, starting with Chapter 1: A World of Your Own. So let’s get into it.
Better goblins through randomness
For starters the goblin culture in my setting needs a form of government. This will represent how their society is structured, who holds power and what is important to these goblins. I’ll be rolling on a bunch of tables and charts and when all the rolls are made I’ll see what emerges. I’m literally just flipping through the DMG and stopping to roll on various tables when I see them. Many of these tables have nothing to do with either goblins or worldbuilding but I’m going to make them work for these purposes anyway!
“Dictatorship. One supreme ruler holds absolute authority, but his or her rule isn’t necessarily dynastic. In other respects this resembles an autocracy. In the Greyhawk campaign setting, a half-demon named Iuz is the dictator of a conquered land that bears his name.”
- World shaking event: Extinction or depletion — A people (family line, clan, culture, race)
- Leader type: Religious
- Cataclysmic disaster: Storm (hurricane, tornado, tsunami)
- Invading forces: Monsters or a unique monster
- New organization: Military/knightly order
- Discovery: New land (island, continent, lost world, demiplane)
- Astral Color Pool: The Beastlands — Emerald green
- Psychic Wind Effect: Blown off course; add 3d10 hours to travel time and short-term madness
- Ethereal Curtain: Material Plane — Bright turquoise
- Ether Cyclone: Extended journey
- Time Warp: Days become weeks
- Despair: Apathy
- Corruption: Bloodlust
- Goals: Parley, find person who disappeared, stop monsters from raiding caravans and farms, retrieve an object
- Important figure: Humanoid cultist
- Allies: Soldier
- Patron: Local ruler
Putting it together through worldbuilding
In my setting interaction between the planes is not uncommon. This list of random elements touches on planar stuff quite a bit (yay!) and ideas began to form with each roll of the die. When Adventurers of Adventure encounter goblins for the first time I’ll have a rich wealth of context to draw on and even though I’m not making any mechanical changes or creating a whole new type of goblin I feel pretty confident they’ll stand out from what players might otherwise expect.
The goblins trace their origins to The Beastlands, a plane of nature unbound. On their home plane they are pack hunters like standard goblins except greatly intensified because of that plane’s quality as a Hunter’s Paradise. The goblins are hunters first and foremost, sharing a deep connection to the beasts they hunt. Whenever a special beast is slain there, the slayer might transform into one of those beasts.
At some point in their history a humanoid cultist brought about a terrible storm that drove the goblins’ sacred beasts to extinction. In their despair these goblins grew apathetic until a powerful leader emerged espousing faith in Maglubiyet, the greater god of goblinoids. This leader became a supreme ruler holding absolute authority and rallied the Beastlands goblins to their cause — joining the ranks of Maglubiyet’s army on the plane of Acheron.
Embarking on a pilgrimage to a establish themselves on this other plane they were blown off course by an ether cyclone that deposited the entire goblin population on the Material Plane. There they discovered a new land populated entirely by monstrosities! Quickly coming to understand these monsters were much more dangerous than even the sacred beasts they once hunted, a military organization developed.
Whether it is an effect of the Material Plane or some other factor the Beastlands goblins grew more bloodthirsty, eager to slay these monsters and forgoing their more sustainable hunting ways. For these goblins time seems to move much more quickly. In the Beastlands their hunts would take several days to track and kill their quarry. Now, here in the Material Plane the compulsion to hunt is much stronger.
Their first encounter with any creature that wasn’t a monstrosity came in the form of a single soldier from a nearby land. The soldier was with a unit sent to this Monster Isle to try and find out why the monsters were growing more aggressive and starting to encroach on civilization. The soldier described a humanoid cultist they believed may be behind the aggression and they believe this entity dwells somewhere on Monster Isle.
The religiously minded supreme goblin leader, seeing the changes to their people caused by the tremendous upheaval to their culture, recognized an opportunity. The soldier arranged a parley between this leader and the local ruler from their own homeland. The Beastlands goblins would work to quell aggression spilling over from Monster Isle to nearby lands in exchange for aid. The goblins would also stay alert for signs of this powerful cultist who they shared a mutual interest in finding.
And there you have it! A few rolls on some random charts and a few minutes connecting all the elements and we’ve got a pretty cool goblin culture for my campaign setting along with an intriguing new location — Monster Isle. I like the idea of an island populated only by monsters with these planar goblins carving out an existence there too. Now whenever Adventurers of Adventure travel to this place they can fight monsters and encounter these Beastlands goblins. There’s plenty of fantastic elements in their story to hook characters and lots of different directions things can go, and we didn’t have to do any sort of game design.