February 10, 2014
Iconic Antagonists: Goblins
It has been a while since our last look at an iconic antagonist of tabletop gaming, so this time let’s examine the one monster that I dare say might just be more iconic to fantasy gaming than even the mighty and terrible dragon. What foul beast might this be, you ask? It is none other than the humble yet savage goblin.
These little beasts of myth and legend come to us from ancient tales from England, France, Germany, and much of Europe, although for the fantasy enthusiast, we glean much of our knowledge of goblins from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. While he was not the creator of these creatures, their appearances in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, where the terms “goblin” and “orc” were often used interchangeably, have defined what we see the goblin as today. For many, this is a small, green-skinned little humanoid with dark eyes, sharp teeth, a high pitched shriek, and a love for doing all things evil. Truth be told, often they are not even seen as all that much of a threat. These are often the first monsters that players ever encounter in games like Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder for wet behind the ears level-one adventurers, and even then these wicked little imps are rarely much of a challenge. One good hit with a sword, a blast of a magic missile spell, or even the “thwack” of a cleric’s mace, is usually all it takes to bring them down.
Even so, as players we love these little guys.
There is just something inherently both silly and charming about these monsters, in the way they are so evil and so cruel, and yet so blundering. More than once I have head players laugh out loud as they imagine their characters ridding the world of another goblin menace, the Gamemaster making pathetic little squeaking death-cries to illustrate the fiendish little wretches meeting their end. It is actually kind of sick and twisted to think about, but that hardly makes it any less fun. These creatures are rarely seen as having any redeeming qualities to them. Naturally evil and cruel, it is a kindness to all that is good and pure in the fantasy world to slay them. Because of this, there is hardly ever any thought as to the wrongness of it as there is with having your characters kill other player-based races. Even so, there have been many attempts to bring the goblins into a more positive light in the last few years. The recent Hobbit films have made goblins much less silly and more imposing, though again these could easily be viewed as “orc” rather than “goblins,” though the two were really one-and-the-same (for the most part) in Middle Earth. There is also a very amusing web-comic, titled Goblins, by Tarol Hunt (or “Thunt”) where the main characters are actually goblins strait out of a fantasy role-playing game, even making references to the very game in which they are living inside of. If you are a fan of fantasy role-playing games and web-comics, I highly recommend checking it out.
Goblins, love them or hate them, it is hard to deny the impact they have had on table-top gaming as some of the most fun and most recurring monsters to ever ambush a level-one adventuring party.
Thanks for reading and I wish everyone good gaming.
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