For much of D&D’s history, it has had plenty of races whose whole identities and stories basically revolved around them being always-evil villainous humanoid mooks that the players can kill without having to deal with any sort of moral ramifications for mass-murdering them (Point 1 of evidence). Among the most iconic of these in the game are Orcs and Goblinoids, both heavily influenced by their depictions in J.R.R. Tokien’s stories in Middle Earth (the Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, the Silmarillion). Both of these creatures have roots in European folklore that Tolkien took inspiration from and adapted to fit his world and the stories he wanted to tell with it. When Gary Gygax was creating Dungeons and Dragons, he “borrowed” many creatures (Hobbits, Balrogs, Orcs, Goblins/Hobgoblins, Ents, Elves, and many others) from J.R.R. Tolkien’s works and plopped them straight into the D&D Multiverse with barely a second thought. Due to the process that Goblinoids got inserted into D&D, as well as decades of clinging to tradition and Tolkien’s works, Goblinoids have deviated little in the core lore of D&D from the (misinterpreted) Tolkien-version of them, aside from the addition of Bugbears to the Goblin/Hobgoblin duo and a small pantheon of minor gods that rule the Goblinoids.
(Edit: I just want to add a note that Goblins and Hobgoblins in Middle Earth were actually just Orcs. Many people have misinterpreted their inclusion in the Hobbit as them being an entirely separate race from Orcs, which is likely where the D&D version of Goblins and Hobgoblins got their roots. “Goblin” was just a human name for the Orcs, and “Hobgoblins” were a larger breed of Goblins, probably being the Uruk-Hai or a different breed of Orcs that is larger than the typical. However, this understandably has caused a lot of confusion over the years, especially because Goblins and Hobgoblins are different from Orcs in the Hobbit movies.)
Recently, this has changed. 5e has quite a bit of information about Goblinoids in the Monster Manual and Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and now Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse, that show what the true colors of these three races and their overall story in the base D&D Multiverse. Now, this is quite a big story, so I’ll give you a hint: the Goblinoids are actually the victims in the D&D Multiverse. They’re quite possibly the single most victimized race/group of races in the D&D Multiverse (only being surpassed by the Duergar).
I recognize that this is quite a big claim, and that I have a lot of heavy lifting to do to convince many of you of this, so let’s get started.
What, Precisely, is a “Goblinoid”?
Here we are, don’t turn away now
We are the goblins that razed this town
Here we are, don’t turn away now
We are the goblins that razed this town . . . to dust
Goblinoids in D&D 5e are a group of “monstrous” humanoid races ruled over by Maglubiyet, a tyrannical, warmongering god that seeks to conquer every other race and become the king of the gods (pretty stereotypical for an evil conqueror god, but it works). So far in 5e, there are only three races that are classified as “Goblinoids”; the Goblins (duh), Hobgoblins (also duh), and Bugbears. In previous editions there were even more races of Goblinoids, such as the Bakemono, Varag, Dekanter Goblins, and a few others (Orcs and Kobolds were even classified as Goblinoids at some point), but 5e mostly focuses on these three main goblinoids, with very few exceptions (Verdan, Koalinths, Norkers, Barghests).
The main reason for there being 3 different main variations of Goblinoids in D&D 5e is almost undoubtedly due to them filling all of the types of evil alignments perfectly (Goblins as Neutral Evil, Hobgoblins as Lawful Evil, Bugbears as Chaotic Evil), but there also is a folklore justification for them being classified similarly (all of them were meddlesome fey house spirits with similar descriptions and behaviors).
While the different goblinoid races in the folklore (and many others) had notable similarities that would make one assume that the creatures were related, D&D’s takes on these monsters doesn’t tend to share these links. Goblins are tricksy cowards and constant liars, Hobgoblins are disciplined and militaristic warlords, and Bugbears are savage Sasquatch-like humanoids with primal characteristics and uncannily long limbs. Besides the naming similarities between Goblins and Hobgoblins, there’s really not much between these different races to make someone assume that they’re all that closely related. And this is actually justified in D&D 5e’s lore. Volo’s Guide to Monsters says the following:
Maglubiyet is truly the Conquering God. He stiffens the spines of cowardly goblins. He rouses bugbears from their lazy slumber. He sets the thunderous step of hobgoblin legions. Maglubiyet takes three races and turns them into one people.
In bygone times the goblinoids were distinct from one another, with separate faiths and different customs. Then Maglubiyet came and conquered all who stood before him, mortals and deities alike. Gods and heroes who wouldn’t bend to his will were broken and discarded. He put his foot on the neck of mighty Khurgorbaeyag, bound the will of intractable Hruggek, and forced sadistic Nomog-Geaya to fall in line. What the goblins, the bugbears, and the hobgoblins were before their gods bowed to Maglubiyet no longer matters. Now they are, first of all, followers of Maglubiyet.
As we can see here, a “Goblinoid” is just the name applied to the loosely-related races of people that Maglubiyet has (so far) conquered and assimilated into one culture and people. All of the three different Goblinoid races have distinct ancestries, Maglubiyet just managed to kill most of their previous pantheons, take control of the gods from these old pantheons that survived, and dominate the cultures of these three different races in order to force them to serve his will. And Maglubiyet has not stopped his conquest, he is continuing his wars with other gods in Acheron where he’s trying to conquer the Orcish pantheon and take control of the Orcs that follow Gruumsh. It is possible that if Maglubiyet succeeds in his conquest of the Orcish Pantheon that the Orcs will become the fourth major race to be classified as a “Goblinoid”, but (thankfully) for now, Orcs are not numbered among Maglubiyet’s mortal ranks.
Who Were the Goblinoids Before Maglubiyet Conquered Them?
If it hadn’t been for Goblin-Eye Joe
I’d been married long time ago
Where did you come from, where did you go?
Where did you come from, Goblin-Eye Joe?
Apparently they were Fey (taking a note from the folklore, for once). With the recent mechanical changes to the Goblinoid races from Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse, it has become canon due to their added Fey Ancestry trait that all three of the Goblinoid races are descended from Fey, similarly to Elves. This adds a lot to their origins that we previously did not know anything about. Apparently Volo was lying when he said “what [the Goblinoids] were before their gods bowed to Maglubiyet no longer matters”, because the fact that the Goblinoids have ancestral roots in the Feywild is quite important to them, both mechanically and lore-wise.
Now that we’ve answered what creature type they were before becoming the Goblinoids, we need to answer another question: what type of Fey they were? To me, the answer is clearly Unseelie, because the distinction between the two Fey Courts generally falls into “If they’re pretty, they’re Seelie, if they’re ugly, they’re Unseelie”, making the all of the Goblinoid races fall pretty easily into having ancestors from the Unseelie Fey. Now, there is more to being an Unseelie Fey than just being ugly, but most of the other notable traits of the Unseelie Fey (excessively cruel, slavers, malicious pranksters) also match up well with what we know of Goblinoids.
Furthermore, while this was almost definitely not intentional, there are way more Seelie Archfey that have been named in D&D products than Unseelie (this also predates 5e). There’s Queen Titania, King Oberon, their three Daughters of Delight (that were corrupted by the Prince of Frost, but still count), Nathair, Skerrit, Verenestra, Damh, and more. For the Unseelie Archfey, there’s only the Queen of Air and Darkness and Nintra Siotta (there’s a few others that might be in the court, but aren’t explicitly stated to be, like Baba Yaga, the Prince of Frost, and Neifion). With so few Unseelie Archfey listed, one has to question “why?”, and the Goblinoids possibly having roots in the Unseelie Court provides an in-universe answer to that. Maglubiyet killed them. If the Goblinoids used to be their own races, members of the various types of Fey in the Feywild, followers of the Unseelie Court’s Archfey, and we combine that with what we know of how Maglubiyet conquered the Goblinoids . . . it’s pretty clear what happened to the rest of the Unseelie Archfey.
Maglubiyet killed most of them, and adopted the few survivors that defected into his own pantheon. If this were true, Khurgorbaeyag (the sole survivor of the old Goblin pantheon), Hruggek and Grankhul (the last two gods of the old Bugbear pantheon), Nomog-Geaya, and Bargrivyek (the only two survivors of the old Hobgoblin pantheon), and possibly even Maglubiyet, all used to be Archfey of the Unseelie Court.
Side Note: We know of precisely one god from the old Goblinoid pantheons that Maglubiyet killed; the prankster spirit that is the vestige of a former Goblin god of trickery that creates Nilbogs. We don’t know their name, but know that they were a god of trickery, are now a vestige that can possess any goblin, but chooses only the most unhinged/unruly goblins in its clan, and is trying to cause disorder and chaos amongst Maglubiyet’s ranks to get back for his conquest of the original Goblin pantheon. This god sound a lot like an Archfey, being a chaotic trickster spirit out for revenge against another that has wronged them. Maglubiyet is Lawful Evil and despises chaos, and Archfey are notable for their chaotic behavior, which further explains why Maglubiyet left so few members of the previous pantheons of the Goblinoids alive (and also why he now wants to conquer the Orcs, who are known for being Chaotic Evil).
As a summary, the Goblinoids were probably Fey of the Unseelie Court before Maglubiyet came in, murdered their pantheons (the Unseelie Archfey), completely changed their culture and nature (turning them into humanoids as a way to “tame” them and get the more chaotic elements from their fey nature out of them), and turned them into a minions that he uses in his battle against the Orcs and their pantheon to try and conquer and “tame” even more races.
(The names of the different races also probably changed from the time that they were Fey to the present day, due to Maglubiyet erasing their cultural heritage and changing their fundamental nature. I personally use “Gremlin” as the fey version of Goblins, “Hob” for the fey version of Hobgoblins, and “Boggart” for the fey version of Bugbears, but none of this is supported in any official 5e books and is purely my own headcanon.)
How Does Maglubiyet Treat the Goblinoids?
You’re my biggest fan
You’ll follow me until you love me
Baby, there’s no other pantheons
I know that you’ll be
My Goblin-Goblin Nazis
Long story short: not well. While some of the goblinoids are definitely treated better than others (Hobgoblins when compared to the lowly Goblins), the centuries of brainwashing, eugenics, and cultural genocide that all of the Goblinoid races have undergone have resulted in their society being . . . a bit extreme. If you want a more in-depth description of how it functions, you can go read their section in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, but this is the basics of how each race in the Goblinoid family is treated in the culture Maglubiyet has fostered for them:
- Goblins are taught that the world is a place where you have to take advantage of others, or you will be taken advantage of. They’re oppressed by the Hobgoblins and sometimes by lazy Bugbears, and this has created a cycle of oppression in their caste system, where they’re constantly being oppressed, while also oppressing others below them in status (including their slaves and pets). Because they’re constantly being beaten, robbed, mocked, and excluded, they do all of those same things to their pets (which makes them super vicious), to their slaves (which is extremely traumatizing to any survivors of being enslaved by goblins), and other goblins that are lower in station.
- Bugbears aren’t built for long periods of exertion, don’t have many children, and basically have to hibernate every now and then, so most people think that they’re lazy. Due to this, they live in tribes, similar to many animals, and are basically just ambush predators in humanoid form. Their two gods are of bravery/power and stealth/watchfulness, and they believe that murder is a holy tradition, and also believe that any bugbear that shows signs of cowardice is being possessed by “the Bogeyman”, and shun any members of their tribes that have “betrayed their gods” by running away from a losing battle, or something along those lines.
- Hobgoblins are taught that their only purpose in life is to be pawns in Maglubiyet’s war against the Orcish Pantheon (which is true from a certain point of view, because Maglubiyet would have killed them all if he couldn’t make use of them), and are extremely militaristic due to this. They’re (culturally) like a mix of Nazis and Romans, and for some reason also Samurai/Ninjas, focusing mainly on honor, which they believe can only be achieved on the battlefield. They don’t see the point in any of the arts (because they can’t give them “honor”), believe that their individual lives do not matter (only their wars do), and have a strict hierarchical caste system that, you guessed it, entirely revolves around how accomplished they are on the battlefield.
. . . That’s all not great. They’re trained to believe that this is the best that life can give them, and centuries of this propaganda and brainwashing have made there be very few insurgent goblinoids, to the point where basically every other humanoid race in the core of D&D considers them to be irredeemable monsters that want to kill/enslave all of them, and treats them accordingly. They’re the victims of being taken out of their previous lives, having their gods killed, and being used as pawns in an eternal war between their conqueror and every other god in every pantheon, basically turning from natural spirits of the Feywild into fantasy Nazis.
The Tragedy of 5e’s Goblinoids . . . the Wise
We walk a lonely road
The only one that we have ever known
We know where it goes
And it’s home to us, but we walk alone
I think it’s been made pretty clear throughout this post that the Goblinoids in D&D 5e’s base lore are victims, but let’s recap just to make it obvious. Here’s the steps of what it took to get the Goblinoids into the state that they are now.
- They were Fey, probably of the Unseelie Court, that lived in the Feywild and embodied many different ideals (trickery for Goblins, the laws of nature for Hobgoblins, the primal ferocity of nature for Bugbears). They had their own cultures, traditions, religions, and whole pantheons of what were probably the Unseelie Archfey that they worshipped.
- Maglubiyet came from somewhere and began conquering their pantheons, killing their gods, and probably many of their population that lived in the Feywild. He eventually won the war, converted a handful of their former gods to his side, and makes the Goblinoids form a mass exodus from the Feywild into the Material Plane.
- In order to perfect his new “children”, Maglubiyet spends centuries of eugenics, brainwashing, and spreading propaganda to turn Goblinoids from natural fey spirits into the “monstrous” humanoids that they are today, killing any that rebel and making them lose their Fey nature to try and cut off all of their ancestral roots to their previous cultures and pantheons.
- Maglubiyet tries to conquer the Orcs and their pantheon, igniting an eternal war in Acheron where dead Goblinoids and Orcs will forever fight against one another in an attempt to add another race of people into his flock and continue his crusade of becoming the ruler of all the gods in the D&D Multiverse.
- Due to this brainwashing and conditioning to his idea of a perfect world, nearly every other race in all of the D&D Multiverse shuns the Goblinoids and treats them as irredeemable monsters to be exterminated.
- Not only are Goblinoids rejected by every other race on the Material Plane, but they also oppress one another and are restrained by extraordinarily restrictive cultures in order to keep them under the control of Maglubiyet.
. . . That’s a pretty tragic story, if you ask me. They’re probably the single most victimized race (or group of races) in all of D&D 5e’s core lore (possibly being surpassed by the Duergar), and are almost universally hated in the D&D Multiverse. They’re stuck fighting an eternal war for an oppressive god that killed their own gods and genetically manipulated them to better serve his will, and they themselves don’t even know their origins. It’s sad and awful what has been done to them in-game, especially because they’re pretty interesting creatures, and I’m sure that whatever their Fey cultures/pantheons were like were interesting, as well.
What are your thoughts? Did I get anything wrong (in the context of D&D 5e’s lore)? Does anyone have something to add to this? Or do any of you already use a story like this?
Keep in mind that this is a (+) thread. This is not a thread to debate the ethics of killing Goblinoids, or ranting about how you hate the changes to Goblinoids in 5e, or otherwise going against the grain. I’m not saying that you have to use this story at all, this was just an analysis of their lore in 5e so far and pointing out how they’re actually the victims here, in the context of 5e’s lore about them. This is pretty setting-specific, but it works in any world that has Maglubiyet (or Bane for the Dawn War Pantheon could work as a replacement), the Goblinoid family of races, and an original plane for Fey. Feel free to ignore/use anything from this that you want, as well as to comment anything constructive that you think could add to the discussion.
Have a good day, and apologies for the awful song parodies.