Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Some Notes on Hobgoblins, Adventure Structure, and Monster Factions

In our last installment, we sketched out some kobold situations and encounters. They happened to be at the entrance of some kind of dungeon, but what was beyond them? And if the monsters further in are so scary, how do the kobolds get along with them? And if there’s loot to be had, why don’t the kobolds help themselves instead of just waiting to heckle the player characters?

I don’t have these answers. I try to think of stuff, but I can’t answer the larger questions that new adventure material would dredge up. I think I’m blocking on this because you don’t just stock a dungeon. Sure, there’s some implied setting in all those random tables… but that’s not how people actually create adventures. There are elements of the setting that have to be worked out before serious construction can be begin. I don’t know what all would even go into that, so I’ll work in from the edges.

First, some observations about the classic didactic modules:

  • B2’s “Caves of Chaos” is essentially a sort of Monsterville. It is a smorgasbord of adventure options… and the freedom of choice outweighs the inherent absurdity of the premise. The exact same set of lairs could be distributed over a wilderness map and the bulk of the fun would be retained with great gains in “realism” and only a marginal loss of convenience. The game is not set up that way in the first place because the Basic Set rules it was designed for arbitrarily exclude the hexcrawling rules in favor of quick jaunts between town and dungeon.
  • X1’s “Isle of Dread” shares many of the qualities of Megadungeons. The fact that its inhabitants are mostly encountered from the wandering monster tables mean you cannot “clean it out.” A round trip between dungeon and town here is something more on the order of fifty days or so. If you actually went back again to continue your 15 minute workday routine, there’s no telling what would be different!
  • G1’s Hill Giants are simply idiotic. I understand that they are all drunk… and I get that high level parties are a massive wild card… but they could do so much better than they do here. The kobolds and goblins of B2 actually have more of a game plan. You mean to tell me that this many giants, ogres, and wolves can’t patrol the vicinity of their steading in any kind of efficient manner? They don’t have any sort of magic item or allies that could help them stymie interlopers…? Eh.

The lessons from these modules should inform our overall structure. Let’s move on to monster culture… specifically that of the hobgoblins. Does it make any sense to put them inside a dungeon beyond our kobold caves…?

  • First off… the hobgoblins are organized, trained, and disciplined. They are derivative of Tolkien’s Half-Orcs– they’re bigger and stronger than orcs and they don’t quail in sunlight.
  • But… why do they look vaguely Japanese in the old artwork? I dunno… but take it and go with it. (It is the AD&D Monster Manual, after all.) Male hobgoblins are raised from birth to be warriors. They have a warrior ethic of some kind… hopefully without coming off as being stereotypically Klingon. I can’t see them being some sort of divine emperor cult, though. So maybe they’re actually closer to the Spartans than they are to the Japanese.
  • Another thing: D&D tends not to have monster nations. Certainly, B2 gives the impression that the frontier consists of many tribes of monsters operating in the same territory. It’s an overall theme of chaos and monsterdom in general. This is the default setting for most D&D games… with Saruman and Sauron effectively being ommitted as an organizing force.
  • Hobgoblins are heavy infantry. They know the value of combined arms. At a minimum they will be coordinating with goblin wolf-riders that function as light cavalry… and then several more goblin units functioning as light infantry. They will also want trolls as a sort of elephant type unit if they can get it. I can’t see them working closely with Giants for some reason– must be due to the orc-slaves in G1. They will understand the need for some kind of artillery even if they don’t have it. If they loot some adventurers to get ahold of some serious magic items, look for them to save it back for the next keep assault.

Taken together, the hobgoblins are going to be somewhere else on the map. They’re just not going to be next door neighbors with kobolds. And I can’t see kobolds working closely with hobgoblins or even forming up some sort of real military type unit. I don’t know exactly what kobolds want beyond just to be let alone.

The hobgoblins, on the other hand, are a major threat to human settlements. And given how the average adventurer treats orc babies, you shouldn’t be surprised if they give no quarter when they finally get a chance to even the score. The hobgoblin outpost is not something I see people wanting to try to sack. I guess it depends on the party’s strength, but the rumor mill should indicate that this is not some sort of G1 style turkey shoot. Orcs and goblins tend to behave more like brigands or a rabble. Hobgoblins are going to apply pressure to the strategic weak point… and probably burn it to the ground at some point.

The connection between the kobolds and the hobgoblins is that there is a back entrance to the hobgoblin camp via the underground. It is long and treacherous… and a party getting though it is liable to be going in depleted. The element of surprise may not even be worth the cost… but it would require the game master to put in a secret passage somewhere that the hobgoblins don’t know about. Is that even believable…? Do hobgoblins even like caves…? I see them more as being outdoors with a palisade around their utilitarian buildings. Maybe the underground river comes out near the camp…?

Anyway… this settles one thing about the kobold caves. Yeah, there’s got to be something more to it than what I’ve written… but there’s not going to be a bunch of goblinoid races hanging out in there. Goblin Town is in a mountain pass somewhere else. Hobgoblins don’t live in caves. Orcs are going to be offering roadside assistance in a more traveled area that’s unpatrolled by human military forces. And so on….

This doesn’t stock our dungeon, but it does bring the area map into focus a bit more….

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4 responses to “Some Notes on Hobgoblins, Adventure Structure, and Monster Factions

  1. MishaBurnett February 12, 2014 at 7:29 am

    Do you follow Rich Burlew’s “Order Of The Stick” webcomic? One of the most interesting continuing characters is a goblin leader who manages to found a goblinoid homeland and the political machinations involved in running it. http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0001.html

  2. Jason Packer February 12, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Hobgoblins live in Roman Legion style encampments, I think. Earthen berms, via principalis, The whole nine. It’s permanent, but utilitarian. The goblins camp in rude tents outside of it, and only go inside the palisade when they’re under siege.

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