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Campaign Concepts: Glory for Goblinkind!

July 17, 2016

High concept: David Ben-Gurion meets Peter the Great, but with goblins instead of Zionists or bearded Cossacks.

For thousands upon thousands of years, the mighty goblin empire of Dhakaan ruled all of Khorvaire with an iron fist. They valued martial prowess and personal honor above all else, and worshiped not spirits or gods but their own greatness. But an otherworldly invasion broke the empire’s back, and their civilization slid into a slow decline. Strife and civil war shattered the once-indomitable empire.

Time passed. The first human invaders arrived on Khorvaire’s eastern shores, and found its inhabitants to be weak. Scattered. Unorganized. Goblinkind was enslaved or driven into darkness, and the humans seized the goblins’ land for themselves. As the centuries wore on, these civilized folk grew powerful and arrogant. But when their final king breathed his final breath, his children fell to fighting over the throne, and their empire crumbled, too.

During that great, Last War of succession between the human nations, the goblin clans were called forth from their hovels and holes and paid to fight and die in the humans’ battle. And, proud warriors that they were, the goblins were glad to do so; to display their might, their skill, their honor on the battlefield. The civilized people were duly impressed. They hired more and more clans, and were shocked by the sheer number of goblins that had been hiding in the darkness for all this time.

But what were the clan warriors fighting for? To see which human would rule the lands that rightfully belonged to goblinkind? For many, it was enough just to be able to fight and be paid. However, for a clever and mighty warlord named Haruuc, this question of purpose consumed his days. He turned it over and over in his mind, until finally he came to an answer. And after securing the secret allegiance of the other goblin chiefs and warlords, his answer was ready to be heard by the usurpers.

So it came to pass that some thirty years ago, all the goblin mercenaries near the Cyre – Breland border rose up and slew the civilized soldiers that thought the goblins to be their allies. And they slew the civilized knights, and the peasants, and the lords, and all those of the hated races that had spit on and kicked and enslaved them. And Haruuc declared that land to be Darguun, the new homeland of all goblinkind. Goblins across Khorvaire knew hope that day. They knew that there was glory to be found in the future, and not just in the past. They knew that someday their kind – our kind – would rule Khorvaire again, with strength and with honor.

The Last War is over. The human empire has been broken. Our time has come again. Will you serve the Lhesh Haruuc’s vision of a new goblin empire? Or will you work against his designs to further your own greed and ambition?

This was a campaign idea that held onto me for a long time. Eberron is my favorite published setting, and my previous group spent a lot of time playing in its sandbox. At some point, I was inspired by the description of Darguun, a recently-established goblin nation that had come into being during the chaos of a 100-year war of succession. The goblins had taken the land by force – but then, had it not been taken from them by force so long ago? They had a proud and ancient history, although their present circumstances were a far cry from how their people had once been. Thousands of years of occupation and oppression had warped their culture and turned many into brutes and savages. But now the goblinoids had a seat at the table of the human(ish) nations, and had to prove to the bastards that goblins were just as smart and cultured and capable as them, if not better.

I was also inspired by 4e D&D, which made the different varieties of goblinoids – goblin, hobgoblin, bugbear – all playable from 1st level, and each covering their own conceptual/mechanical space. 4e also did away with the need for a party cleric, which was important for the atheistic Dhakaani goblinoids. I envisioned a campaign with either all goblinoids, or all but one if someone wanted to play an outsider. The group would start off in the service of Lhesh Haruuc, trying to preserve the fragile unity of the clans and to push the savage tribes into being part of a modern kingdom. The intention was to test the PCs against divisions within and threats without along the way. Where do their loyalties lie – with the untested notion of a unified goblin nation state? Or with their own family and clan? What do they do when the aims of clan and country are at odds?

The problem was that my players at the time didn’t care for 4e, and the game didn’t seem possible to run using 3e, which is what we mostly played at the time. Looking at it now, I would fix the race issue by just coming up with new mechanics for goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears as PCs. Anyway, that group fell apart, and my current group is not interested in Eberron. Plus we’re doing this whole Kingmaker thing…

What follows is from a player handout I wrote for the campaign, which of course never got to be handed out. I should note, for those unfamiliar with Eberron, that a lot of the following is just a repackaging of what was already in the 3e Eberron Campaign Setting book; I didn’t come up with the different tribes or their character.

The Campaign

Available races are goblins (small and sneaky), hobgoblins (martial and tough), and bugbear (brutal and sneaky). Up to one non-goblin would be permissible; the most likely choices there would be human, changeling, or warforged, but most any race could work. Darguun is still a harsh place where life is cheap and non-goblins are often enslaved, so any so-called civilized folk found there are usually attached to a merchant enterprise (like the Dragonmark houses) or are running away from a dark past. Or are spies & saboteurs for the other nations or factions.

This is not an evil campaign. Many goblins are raiders because it’s what they know, and Haruuc is attempting to rapidly bring them up to the level of the other nations (similar to Peter the Great’s social reforms in Russia, in a way – only much more drastic). But many forces within and without Darguun work against him in this.

Sample Motivations

Here’s a sampling of possible motivations for a character. This is not an exhaustive list!

  • The True Believer. You have bought into the Lhesh Haruuc’s vision of a powerful goblin nation that is equal of the Five Nations. Perhaps you seek a restoration of the glory days of the past goblin empire. Or maybe you have embraced the Five Nations way of life, and wish to see your kin move away from savagery. Alternatively, you share Haruuc’s goal of a great and powerful Darguun, but disagree about the shape of the future goblin civilization, or wish to see someone other than Haruuc in charge (see the Spy / Saboteur, below).
  • The Spy and/or the Saboteur. On the surface, you support Haruuc’s mission, but in reality your loyalties lie with another power group (another clan, a secret conspiracy, an outside nation or mercantile house, etc.). They want information on the Lhesh’s movements for their own reasons. At the extreme end, you might be tasked with sabotaging Haruuc’s efforts when you’re able to do so without revealing your true masters. Alternatively, you could be a victim (or related to one) of Darguun’s birthing pains – the goblins seized a lot of land from Cyre, killing many and displacing more. You could be a non-goblin posing as a mercenary (or even posing as a goblin, if you’re a changeling!) while secretly working towards getting your revenge.
  • The Mercenary. You don’t care much about who is in charge or the direction of the nation, as long as you get paid. You might have lines that you won’t cross, a personal code of conduct even, but for the most part you leave the thinking to others.
  • The Ambitious One. Related to the Mercenary above, but with bigger goals than simply getting paid. This is a common motivation for non-goblins working in Darguun, but many goblinoids are eager to prove themselves and seize some power in the fledgling nation. Non-goblins could be working for a Dragonmark house (or some other mercantile operation), taking a risky assignment to a dangerous locale with the hopes of rapid advancement within their organization.
  • The Dark Past. You came to the lawless territory of Darguun to flee justice and/or shame for some act from your past. Criminals, deserters, the wrongfully accused, or even those Who Knew Too Much have come to the fledgling goblin nation to lay low. In Darguun they have found a harsh and unforgiving home, but one where they can live in obscurity.

Goblin Background

There are three great tribes in the Darguun region, each of which is comprised of many clans. Countless goblins are born and raised outside of Darguun, as well, and find their way to the goblin nation later in life.

Ghaal’dar: The most numerous of the three great tribes and Haruuc’s main supporters, many of the Ghaal’dar served in the Last War as mercenaries. Ghaal’dar clans are typically led by hobgoblins, with bugbears serving as muscle and goblins as laborers, scouts, or as expendable infantry. Generally speaking, the Ghaal’dar value strength and cleverness, but the tribe is very diverse.

  • Classes: Most any class can be found within the various and diverse Ghaal’dar clans, but the studied magic of wizards, artificers, and swordmages is very rare.
  • Religion: Over the millennia of human subjugation, the outcast goblins have come to worship the outcast deities of the Dark Six. However, Haruuc has introduced the more socially acceptable gods of the Sovereign Host to his people – particularly Dol Dorn (battle), Dol Arrah (honor), and Balinor (beasts, hunting) – and is attempting to convert them.
  • Example Clan Names: Bone Hammers, Hidden Knives, the Merciless, Razor Crown (goblin: Rhukaan Taash), Shields of Night, Wind Trackers. Ghaal’dar clan names are usually descriptive of what the clan is known for, or how it sees itself. Clans are sometimes named instead for an important relic, or for the deeds of the founder.

Marguul: In the Marguul tradition, the strong rule, and that means bugbears. Hobgoblins often serve as advisors or foot soldiers, and goblins occupy their usual niche. The Marguul mostly occupy the Seawall mountains that mark Darguun’s western border. Brutality and sneakiness are highly valued traits in this tribe’s culture.

  • Classes: Martial, primal, and Strength-based divine classes are very common. Arcane traditions are unknown to the Marguul, aside from the warlock and sorcerer classes, which are common.
  • Religion: Marguul clans are most likely to worship the Dark Six gods, especially the deities known as the Shadow (corruption, dark magic) and the Mockery (treachery, war).
  • Example Clan Names: Cagash, Kalkor, Luulg, Moprak, Raal, Tagor. Marguul clans are named after the bugbear that established the clan long ago. As a result, the clan names are short & brutish-sounding relative to the other tribes, and have no real meaning.

Dhakaani: Deep beneath the Seawall mountains lie the homes and forts of the secretive Dhakaani clans. The Dhakaani consider themselves the true heirs of the ancient goblin empire, and try to keep the old ways alive. As a result, they hold military might and personal honor as the traits most worthy of respect. Currently the clans are engaged in a struggle for overall leadership, but once that is settled the tribe will surely challenge Haruuc’s vision for Darguun. As with the Ghaal’dar, hobgoblins lead the clans, with bugbears and then goblins beneath them in the pecking order.

  • Classes: The Dhakaani follow martial (and ki) traditions. They do not practice magic, aside from their dirge singers (bards), and do not worship gods (no divine classes). Primal classes are likewise not to be found among these highly cultured goblinoids.
  • Religion: None. The closest they come to religion is a reverence for the great deeds of their past, but the Dhakaani do not actually worship their ancestors.
  • Example Clan Names: Bladebearers (goblin: Kech Shaarat), Razorsong, Steadfast Legion, Thousand Arrows, Triumphant Blades, Wordbearers (goblin: Kech Volaar). As with the Ghaal’dar, Dhakaani clan names are descriptive of the clan’s nature. Dhakaani names, however, are centered around honor, battle, and/or song.

Outsiders: Goblins can be found all across Khorvaire, and many flocked to Darguun in the wake of its creation. Offshoots of the tribes listed above, as well as wholly different ones, exist in scattered pockets either above or below the earth. Tribes outside of Darguun will generally be similar in character to either the Ghaal’dar, Marguul, or Dhakaani tribes detailed above, so refer to those entries for class & religion information and example clan names. Or work with the DM to create your own – tribes existing in unusual areas might have developed different traditions in the thousands of years since the collapse of the old empire.

In addition, major human cities will often have a goblin underclass. These “city goblins” tend to be destitute or enslaved and exist outside the tribal structure. To leave behind the poverty and oppression for the promised land of Darguun is many a city goblin’s dream.

  • Classes: City goblins have been exposed to the wonder and variety of the Five Nations and beyond. As a result, they could conceivably be of any class, although they are less likely to follow a primal path. Far-flung tribes could likewise harbor almost any tradition, as with the Ghaal’dar.
  • Religion: Any, although the gods of the Dark Six are more common than other faiths.
  • Example Clan Names: Most city goblins have no clan. Poor goblins existing at the margins of human society often form into gangs in a crude imitation of clan and tribe. Such gangs will be based more on shared circumstance rather than blood, and might not be limited to goblinkind. Minor tribes could have any sort of name.

Goblin Culture

The culture of Darguun in being pulled in many directions by different forces. Here is a sample of some of the conflicts. Where does your character stand on these issues?

  • Religion: The ancient empire of Dhakaan did not worship gods, and neither does the current-day Dhakaani tribe. Most other modern goblinoids follow some or all of the evil dieties of the Dark Six. The Lhesh seeks to convert his people to worship the socially-acceptable gods of the Sovereign Host. As with many other downtrodden “monster” races, the Church of the Silver Flame is hated by goblinoids. Does your character follow a faith? Why or why not? How strongly do you seek to bring others to your point of view?
  • “Civilization” vs “Savagery”: The Lhesh is trying to get his subjects to emulate the attitudes of the other nations: a respect for law & order, valuing wisdom over physical strength, and finding worth in pursuits that are not directly related to warfare. Some have seen or heard of the wonders present in the Five Nations and are willing to change their way of life to make Darguun better. Others, especially the Marguul, cling to the old ways of might makes right. The Dhakaani are somewhere in the middle, holding fast to an ordered society that is nonetheless stagnant and bound by tradition. How do you see the society of Darguun looking in the future?
  • Clan and Country: Haruuc was the one who hatched the plot that created Darguun, sure, but why should he or his tribe get to be in charge? The various goblin tribes and clans do not have a good track record of working together, and a thousand resentments litter their past. Now that the war is over and Darguun’s borders have been settled by treaty, it is very likely that the different factions will turn against one another. Aside from the tribal rivalries, there are also groups of “city goblins” who were raised in human lands and who came to Darguun seeking the promised land. Some have welcomed them and many have treated them as outcasts. How do you feel about the prospect of a united goblin kingdom? How does your clan feel about the idea, if you have one? What other tribes, clans, or factions do you have alliances or rivalries with? What do you think of the clan-less goblins, or new goblin immigrants?
  1. Interesting, though I’m not familiar enough with eberon to know much anything of use 🙂

    Not sure why you think you couldn’t make it run in Pathfinder though?

    • Goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears are all different power levels as PC races, which is problematic if you want a mixed group (and I did). The need to have a divine healer in the party also crimped the style of certain groups, like the atheistic clan that doesn’t have divine casters. In 4e, a party can make do with any kind of healer, and from a world-building perspective I liked what that said about the different sub-cultures. The martial, atheist Dhakaani would produce warlords and bards, the savage Marguul would be heavy on the primal shaman, and the diverse Ghaal’dar might have clerics of the acceptable gods, or clerics of the dark gods that the goblins turned to during their oppression, or any of the above. Arcane casters would be heavy on the warlocks with some sorcerers thrown in. Etc. The racial mechanics in 4e for the goblinoids supported and reinforced that class selection in what I thought was an elegant way. Goblins made good rogues, warlocks, sorcerers. Hobgoblins made good warlords, bards, warlocks. Bugbears made good barbarians, rangers, fighters.

      I guess the short answer is that monsters-as-PCs doesn’t work so great in 3e/PF, and I just really like 4e’s race mechanics and how 4e allows for divine-less parties.

      In a normal campaign, none of that is a big deal. But for this campaign, they add up to the idea not working as well in 3e/PF as they would in 4e, IMO.

      • Can’t really claim to be familiar with the race mechanics (or really any other aspect) of the 4th edition 😉
        Goblins and hobgoblins work pretty OK in PF I think. No, they don’t have perfect stat adjustments for many of the classical classes, but that can be fun too.

        The idea that you need a theist as healer in PF is… flawed. Alchemists can heal, bards can heal, witches can heal. Almost any spellcaster except Sorceror/Wizard can heal I think – and even they have a way I think.
        Plus you can have atheist clerics in PF – even a cleric of atheist, little as that makes sense.

        The bugbears I’ll happily admit I was just ignoring.

        But if it works better in 4th ed, yay for that! 🙂

      • Well, when I came up with this idea I didn’t have a Pathfinder group and even if I did, those classes (aside from bard, who can heal but aren’t very good at it) didn’t exist yet! So maybe it could work in PF now, but… no time, and my current group isn’t familiar with Eberron so I dunno if they’d be interested at all.

      • That makes sense. And I have to say, I like core of the idea! 🙂

  2. BoostyMcBoostface permalink

    The campaign idea is simply wonderful.

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