Learning the Secret History of Hobgoblins
Never one to leave a writing series dangling, I promised in The Secret History of Merfolk to follow up with the third and final book in the series by Ari Berk. The Secret History of Hobgoblins presents another tapestry of folklore and kitschy monster stuff filled with captivating ideas to inspire fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons games. There’s nothing gamey about these wonderful interactive children’s mythology books but the wealth of story, character, setting and lore nestled in the pages captures your imagination and can definitely enrich your game experiences. Let’s poke around The Secret History of Hobgoblins and discover some 5E D&D treasures.
Discovering hidden hobgoblins
“Those that Hobgoblin call you and sweet Puck, You do their work, and they shall have good luck.” — William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Both hobs and goblins pop up in myths and stories here in the real world stretching back pretty far, and hobgoblins too. But the hobgoblins of our folklore share similarities with D&D hobgoblins in name only. Hobgoblins of folklore make mischief rather than war and live secretly in human homes and dwellings. There’s a long list of mythological creatures in the hobgoblin family from boggarts to Tom-tumblers and even more than giants and merfolk these household spirits encompass a lot of concepts and creatures in 5E D&D terms. The idea of hobgoblins in folklore is so broad in fact that a great deal of D&D creatures can trace their roots back to these Secret Folk. Oddly enough, the D&D hobgoblin is not one of them, having remained mostly the same since the beginning of the game, which shares pretty much zero similarity with hobgoblin folklore. What captivates me about The Secret History of Hobgoblins is all the tidbits of rules and customs of hobgoblins written as a collection of research from the Order of the Golden Quills. The organization of archivists and scribes guard knowledge very similar to our own Order of the Wizened. It’s a fun theme for the book series and an awesome idea to add to a D&D campaign.
Like the previous entries in the series The Secret History of Hobgoblins reveals more about the Order of the Golden Quills and their centuries old castle, this time detailing the Hobgoblin Hall of Hearth and Home. Like the Oceanic Council researching the mysteries of the deep, the Council of Domestic Mysteries collects and preserves rituals of hospitality and similar customs between humans and Secret Folk. The book is filled with tidbits like the fold out Laws of Hospitality, which would make a fine starting point for developing ground rules of a 5E D&D campaign. I like the idea of players taking the roles of the Secret Folk much like in the merfolk examination and here the characters could uphold these laws while they go about whatever secretive activities hobgoblins pursue. I would provide players with the book and work with them to develop their hobgoblin characters, encouraging them to incorporate things like A Dictionary of Ol’ Hobbish and details like hobgoblin garb.
Before going on it’s important to note for this sort of campaign I’d rely on hobgoblins in name only — players would not be restricted to the codified hobgoblin race. Instead all the characters would be considered hobgoblins culturally. For an interesting twist consider this: adventurers are essentially invisible to Regular Folk. They’d work with the Order of the Golden Quills to explore and discover more about their own secret history. It would be fun to provide players opportunities for adventure but work within a framework of folklore. Hobgoblins keep up with duties around the home during in-between moments like dawn and dusk, so while they might venture out to accomplish tasks given by the Order there’s still chores to be done at the house. Perhaps the party all live in the same house, and each character is responsible for certain chores. I like the idea of say, a firbolg of the group who is a stalwart warrior during an adventure but they really need to get home and straighten the highys (master bedroom). All the hobs in the party need to get their chores done and find their bothe (hiding place) without the family seeing.
Magic abounds in hobgoblin culture, with a lot of everyday objects holding special importance and enchantment for these creatures. Take a hag stone for example, This is a regular stone with a hole bored through it due to natural causes creating its own magic enabling Regular Folk who look through the hole to see the secret world around them. Imagine a nefarious human getting a hold of such a stone. A party of hobs might need to gear up and leave the house to investigate. Clothing likewise holds special magic for hobs, like the Blue Burches worn by shapeshifting prankster hobs. Details like this are perfect to incorporate into character creation. A changeling hob or warlock with Mask of Many Faces could be a Blue Burch playing tricks on Regular Folk.
Playing with the dichotomy of magical house hobs secretly living in dwellings to manage household duties and alternately going on quests at the behest of the Order gives tons of opportunities for roleplaying and variety of adventures. With a bit of luck the players come to care about the Regular Folk whose homes they inhabit. There could be large threats out there in the wild, but what about the human family’s needs? There’s the old barn to repair, grass to cut, shoes need mending and the children’s sniffles might turn into a bad cold.
Hobs are not averse to danger and violence either because remember, hobgoblins encompass things like red caps and other grim or cruel creatures. In addition to conventional weapons like swords and spears hobs utilize household implements as weapons. This is another area where players can develop characters of any sort into hobs with a bit of reflavoring and reskinning. A hob knight might use a button for a shield and a kebab skewer for a rapier for example. Players and Dungeon Masters can work together to customize characters in unique ways.
To get the ball rolling for adventures outside the home there’s even a section on household allies and enemies. Mice, dogs, birds and cats feature here but also ghosts and other supernatural threats and more broadly anything that threatens the safety and tranquility of the house. What will the adventuring hobs do when the mice they normally get along with begin acting aggressively? A nearby wererat could be the culprit.
Like the previous two books every page in The Secret History of Hobgoblins holds tidbits to inspire 5E D&D players and DMs alike, and at the end of the day its simply an enjoyable book to read too. Adding details and folklore to a campaign or character is never a bad idea. If you’re intrigued by The Secret History of Hobgoblins and how it can relate to your D&D game check out my thoughts on Secret History of Giants and Secret History of Mermaids and Creatures of the Deep.