Goblinoids in D&D

Goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears

There are 3 types of goblinoids; goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears. While on the surface, they appear to be as distinct in nature as dwarves, elves and halflings, they are in fact united by their worship of Maglubiyet, a conquering god who conquered the gods of these 3 races to unite them under one banner. While different in race, goblinoids are united in their worship of Maglubiyet and will not meet as strangers or foes, but as allies, brought together by Maglubiyet’s will.


Goblin culture

As one of the “weaker” races, goblins occupy a difficult place in a dangerous world. They are cunning and cruel when in combat or when they taste victory, but when defeated, become fawning and servile. They occupy the lowest status within goblinoid culture though even within goblin hierarchy, a caste system is in place where lesser goblins are servants of greater goblins.

Outside of goblinoid culture, goblins are self-aware enough to know that they are weaker, less intelligent and less powerful than many other creatures. They are easily defeated by the larger races giving them a short life span. It is this realisation that compels them to try to dominate other creatures where they can. For this reason, goblins will set traps and snares for miles around their lairs to attempt to capture and enslave any creatures that might wander into their territory. When they come across a settlement, they will also try to capture people, but are cautious of those that might be more powerful than they are. For this reason, goblins will first attempt to steal objects from such settlements, and, if unpunished, will then attempt to steal people and creatures.

For goblins, their captured slaves are one of the few opportunities for them to stamp authority on others. They take great pleasure in playing the role of a superior being, maltreating the slave while allowing them to remain capable enough to perform the work they need. Some slaves may become favoured and will be treated like a favourite pet (though will likely be given occasional beatings to keep them in line).

Typically, goblins will have wolves and rats in their servitude, but anything they can capture and beat into submission will be enslaved. This could be from among the intelligent races and while goblins might struggle to defeat a group of humans or dwarves, it wouldn’t be unusual for them to use their cunning to capture an individual from these races and keep them enslaved.

Goblin hierarchy

Goblins operate under a caste system with different goblins having different roles and those of high-ranking families keeping their knowledge and skills carefully guarded from lower castes to maintain their status. An outsider might find this confusing, for instance, a single human warrior might encounter a dozen goblin gatherers, causing them to flee before being attacked by just 2 goblin hunters. Someone caught in a goblin trap might be passed be several goblins that completely ignore them until a group of gatherers show up to retrieve the captured victims.

The different statuses held by goblins include:


Lashers are the closest thing that goblins have to a class of nobility. They are formed from families of highly trained goblins, versed in the arts of battle, trap-building, beast taming, mining, smelting, forging, religion and sometimes, even magic. Lashers are the ones that enforce the will of the boss upon the rest of the tribe, often using brute force to ensure the boss’ will is enacted. They operate as leaders among goblins and carefully guard their knowledge from other goblin familiaes to help maintain their position in the tribe.


Hunters come from those families that are skilled in combat but not knowledgeable in other matters as lashers are. They are not only skilled with weaponry, but also capable riders, using wolves as steeds (and an additional danger to foes). It is hunters that know most about the territory around the tribe, often acting as scouts but also hunting game allowing them to become familiar with their surroundings. During times of war, they can be relied upon as capable foot soldiers and cavalry.


Gatherers and the caste below them, pariahs, give goblins their reputation for cowardice. They lack knowledge of combat and are fearful of engaging in it. Instead, they operate as finders of food, perform the little farming goblins are capable of, check the traps for victims, cook and make poison for war. They don’t tend to carry weapons more dangerous than a knife or a sling and are fearful of hunters and lashers due to their superior status and the gatherers’ relatively weak physicality.


Pariahs are the outcasts of goblin society. They are seen to have no special skills so receive the most unskilled and least liked jobs of all such as mucking out animal pens, digging mines, cleaning and any other hard labour. If the tribe has been fortunate enough to enslave another creature, pariahs may be fortunate enough to supervise and dominate such creatures which have an even lowlier status than they do.

The boss

Goblins follow the ruling pattern of their God, Khurgorbaeyag, who rules autocratically as a tyrant, demanding that all others bend to his will alone. Goblin bosses will follow this method of ruling. Like with most tyrants though, goblin bosses are often betrayed and murdered for the power of becoming the new boss (or to put a stop to their cruel rule). When this happens, there’s a mad scramble by each of the lasher families to establish themselves as the ones to rule, often leading to backstabbing and all-out combat. The victor of such contests becomes the new boss and the allies of the old boss are reduced to becoming pariahs (or worse) under the new ruler.

Other creatures might become rulers of a goblin tribe if that creature kills the existing boss. Most goblins will bend to the will of the new boss (despite their lack of goblin heritage) but if the creature is not clever, lashers may start to rise against the boss to bring back a goblin leader to the tribe.


Goblins have little familiarity with magic. It’s rare for goblins to be born with the capacity and discipline to train as a wizard, and even then, to actually find someone to teach them would be incredibly difficult. Sorcerors are rarely born among goblins, perhaps because Khurgorbaeyag does not like sharing his divine powers with his followers. There are also few patrons interested in gifting magic to goblins seeing little likelihood in a return from their investment.

On the rare occasions that a goblin develops magical abilities, no distinction is made as to the type of magical power they wield. To goblins, all magic is booyahg and all magic wielders are booyahgs. They do however, reserve an elevated position within goblin hierarchy as goblins do like the idea of the power magic provides meaning that booyahgs often become lashers and even bosses.

Goblin lairs

Goblins can live in all sorts of areas and environments, but will often find themselves in forests or caves tending to seek easy access to the materials they require (food, ore, animals etc). They’re capable miners and will often dig for the resources they need but they’re also happy simply muscling in on an abandoned mine instead. Underground lairs tend to have low hanging roofs and narrow walls.

Goblin lairs will tend to have traps littered about the place, especially in natural pathways to capture any potential intruders. Wolves will often patrol the perimeter while goblin lookouts will take up vantage points in trees. Ambush points will often be created as well as a form of protection. Without the natural physicality of other races, goblins must use as much cunning as they possess to remain safe.


Many tales have been woven regarding the terror and savagery of bugbears, mostly to warn children from doing anything they shouldn’t. Most tales revolve around them catching people in the night, creeping in the shadows and chopping off their victims’ head and trapping their soul. While bugbears are sneaky and powerful creatures, they are no more likely to eat people than humans are and while they cut the heads off of leaders they capture, they do not have the knowledge or the ability to trap their souls.

Primarily, bugbears are lazy creatures that often require rousing to convince them to make much effort other than that required to survive. While strong, their physiology means that they’re designed for moments of quick, ferocious attack rather than extended combat. This makes them ambush specialists rather than experts in warfare. This laziness means that they rarely engage in things like agriculture or any other unnecessary work, preferring to bully lesser creatures into doing these things for them instead.

Bugbear families

Due to their general laziness, bugbears aren’t very widespread. Typically, they operate in small family groups of less than a dozen. Typically, these include siblings, their mates, their offspring and perhaps an elder or 2. They’ll tend to live in caves or abandoned dens of large animals such as bears. This home will form a sort of base of operations from which the bugbears can hunt and forage from.

A bugbear family operates like a gang. When things are going well, they’re a tight-knit group, co-operating when hunting, foraging or bullying other creatures. But when things don’t go well, bugbears can often turn on one another. They might become selfish in order to survive, attempt to eliminate opposition or exile a weaker or problematic member of the family. Fortunately, exiled bugbears tend to fend well for themselves on their own. Often, they’ll eventually find a new group they can become a part of. In the meantime, they’re capable hunters and can use rudimentary tools helping them operate in a similar way to a lone wolf.

Bugbear religion

Bugbears worship 2 brother gods; Hruggek and Grankhul. Hruggek is the strong, powerful, older sibling from whom bugbears say they gained their might. Grankhul is the younger, more cunning sibling whom bugbears say gifted them their stealth, but also sapped them of their stamina making them slothful. Bugbears are proud of the influence of both deities as from them, they have gained both strength and cunning, preventing them from simply being blundering ogres.

Bugbears view acts of murder, bullying and combat as acts of honour and worship to their deities. They do not distinguish between stealthy combat and open combat being greater or lesser than the other, as long as they lead to combat or killing, bugbears feel they have appeased their gods.

Bugbears also honour 2 other gods; Maglubiyet and Skiggaret. Maglubiyet defeated the bugbear gods of Hruggek and Grankhul, but instead of killing them, he showed mercy to them, setting them free, under his rule. By doing this, he knew that he would gain bugbear support. Bugbears know that when they join in combat with other goblinoids, that it is Maglubiyet who has brought them together and though they fight for Hruggek and Grankhul, it is ultimately Maglubiyet they pay tribute to.

Skiggaret is the bugbear equivalent of the bogeyman. He incites fear within them and when a bugbear finds itself in mortal danger, it is Skiggaret that brings terror into their hearts. Bugbears hate this feeling and will not talk of it after the event, fearing that it will bring back Skiggaret.

Bugbears have no need for priests, they know exactly how to worship their gods. Through combat. If their god is angry with them, they will let them know by striking them with lightning, inflicting blindness on them or killing them. Sometimes, they will worship by severing the head of an opponent and stitching open their eyes, presenting their mouths wide open and impaling the head on a spike to guard their lairs. An alarm spell is sometimes placed on the head allowing it to emit a shout when danger is nearby. The heads of enemy leaders are considered the greatest boon a bugbear can offer to their gods.


Hobgoblins live for war. The glories they attain in this life live with them in the eternities meaning that cowardice is feared more than death and glory in combat is sought ahead of all other endeavours. Their young will learn the art of combat as soon as they can walk. Every legion of hobgoblins stands forever ready for war.

Hobgoblin culture

Hobgoblins hold themselves to the highest levels of militaristic standards. This military tradition is passed down from generation to generation with the arts of war and tales of epic battles preserved through this method. The art of war is also maintained through these teachings, with hobgoblins teaching one another both martial and arcane arts of war.

Hobgoblins maintain the highest standards of militaristic law with swift brutality. Infractions are quickly and harshly punished. The art of war is practiced ruthlessly on the legions of hobgoblins in preparation to execute their methods upon their enemies. The only artistry that hobgoblins recognise is that found in combat, the finesse of wielding a sword acrobatically or the powerful majesty that comes from the casting of a devastating spell.

Hobgoblins obtain honour and glory by following their racial code.7 4 The lowliest of legions can attain great status by bringing victory to their race, though in practice, the greatest legions will position themselves in places where they can have the greatest military accomplishments, therefore, perpetuating their position in hobgoblin hierarchy. Other acts can also bring honour to a hobgoblin (though not as much as bringing glory in combat). Discovering a rich vein of ore, an item of magical power, writing a ballad of some victory or constructing impressive defences all contribute to the honour held by hobgoblins.

All hobgoblins follow some general precepts of honour within their code. These include:

Follow orders – The punishment for disobeying orders is death and orders are considered crucial to the discipline required to gain victory.

Honour the gods – Hobgoblins ensure that they always pay respects to their gods, petitioning them for victory in battle

Suffer nor give insult –  Respect is given to others both within hobgoblin society and outside of it. Even a foe is treated with respect. But an insult should never go unanswered with relations often quickly deteriorating when incivility occurs towards hobgoblins

Reward glorious action – Those that deserve honour and increased rank should be granted it. Hobgoblins will rarely deny those that have earnt increased status

Uphold the legion – The legion is more important than the individual. Often legions will fight each other out of pride or feuds over territory or resources

Hobgoblin combat mastery

Some hobgoblins have mastered a form of unarmed combat called the Path of the Iron Shadow. Those that master this art become a form of secret police, serving the priests and ensuring that law and order is kept in hobgoblin society. Such hobgoblins also have a form of shadow magic at their disposal which can hide their true nature. When operating publicly, Iron Shadows wear a mask with the leering face of a devil.

Other hobgoblins know the value of arcane magic in warfare. It is rare to find a hobgoblin that can master the arcane arts, meaning that all hobgoblins are thoroughly tested to determine who among their ranks can attain to such abilities. Such individuals are enrolled in the Academy of Devastation and trained to become devastators. Such students must undergo rigorous training and study from a very young age in order to become a powerful weapon of war. Most devastators have little use for spells that cannot be used in combat. This means that they typically lack the versatility of elven or human spellcasters but can bring about a devastating barrage of spells against their enemies.

Hobgoblin rank and status

To keep strict order within the hierarchy, each hobgoblin has a rank so that it knows its place in the pecking order with officers acting as leaders among the legion. The ranks a hobgoblin might attain to are:

Warlord – 1st rank

General – 2nd rank

Captain – 3rd rank

Fatal axe – 4th rank

Spear – 5th rank

Fist – 6th rank

Soldier – 7th rank

A legion is organised into smaller family groups known as banners. These can be of any size and are typically led by a captain. Each banner also occupies a differing position or status with higher ranking banners having authority over lower ranking banners.

Hobgoblin Religion

The hobgoblin pantheon was decimated by Maglubiyet with only 2 of these gods surviving or even being remembered. Nomog-Geaya is the greater of the 2 and more frequently honoured. He is a cold, stoic tyrant that expects similar behaviour from his subjects. The other is Bargrivyek, a god of duty, discipline and unity who rewards those that display such principles. These 2 gods are the only survivors of Margrubiyek’s decimation. Nomog-Geaya utilises Bargrivyek as his second in command, though he wishes another had survived to fill this role.

While Maglubiyet is the superior to both the hobgoblin gods, he allows them some measure of autonomy due to their similar goals and philosophies. Hobgoblins don’t build temples to their gods, though they do maintain small shrines. Nomog-Geaya’s priests wield a sword and an axe and are responsible for martial training among hobgoblins. Bargrivyek’s worshippers form a police of sorts among the people, wielding a flail dipped in white paint. They ensure that honour and discipline occurs throughout a hobgoblin legion.

Hobgoblin lairs

Hobgoblin lairs take the form of military style encampments where they can train and prepare for their next conquest. Typically, hobgoblins will find secluded places for their settlements such as old dungeons. Worgs and ravens will be used to pass messages between encampments so that legions can coordinate with one another.

You can learn more about goblinoids and other creatures of the D&D universe by buying a copy of Volo’s Guide to Monsters.

Published by DM Ben

Ben is an experienced dungeon master and player who's been immersed in the D&D universe since he was a teenager over 20 years ago. When he's not writing for Dungeon Mister, Ben loves creating fiendish puzzles and devious dungeons for his players. He's an especially big fan of the Ravenloft and Dragonlance settings.