Putting Magic Back Into Monsters: Hobgoblins  

Posted by GaelicVigil

I've always hated the way these guys are depicted in D&D:

Hobgoblins are larger cousins of goblins. Hobgoblins' hair color ranges from dark reddish-brown to dark gray... 
-Labyrinth Lord.

Bleh...I feel like we already have a creature just like this with Bugbears, Ogres or even Orcs. It seems silly to have so many Goblinoids with such similar descriptions. Must we turn every monster in the game into big weapon wielding brutes? Turns out their historical description is a little different. There are a few interesting things to note in this entry.

1. Tolkien admits to have made a mistake in LotR by depicting these as larger Goblins, when they are actually smaller than Goblins, "the statement that hobgoblins were 'a larger kind' [of goblins] is the reverse of the original truth".  Also notice that "Hob"bits share the same root word as "Hob"goblins.  And "hobbling" something means to inhibit or diminish something.  Hobbits are considered shorter humans, so it makes sense that Hobgoblins would be the same coming from Tolkien's works.  Interesting mistake from the Professor of Linguistics!

2. Folk lore describes them as the size of brownies (smaller than Goblins). In the book, Finn Family Moomintroll, it is unclear as to whether the "Hobgoblin" is a race of creatures, or a single creature.

3. Here's my favorite. The word "Hob", in folklore, refers to a "spirit" creature causing mischief around the household.

Is it possible the entire line of Hobgoblins in D&D, and therefore the depiction of the creature in nearly every video game since, was founded based on a mistake later admitted by Tolkien himself? An oversized, hairy goblin/orc thing may be highly inaccurate as far as its origins go. Now, I don't have a problem with D&D changing up things in its later incarnations (since I don't consider modern D&D anything resembling the original game anway), but I want the classic game to feel a heavy, accurate, influence from its roots.

Now let's paint a picture from the points above. A Hobgoblin is a hairy, but smaller Goblin possessed by a mischievous spirit. Mischievous as a trait can mean a lot of things. I take it to mean that this creature is smarter than its larger cousin, in other words, it knows how to "push your buttons". It also means that it isn't necessarily evil, but can be. It can also be a good creature that can provide help, even if the help is a little inconsistent.

I would go even further and not even make them a separate race of Goblinoids. I envision them as a rarer sort of aberrant Goblin, possessed by a spirit living too deep within the Fey world to present itself without a host from the material plane. It's using a Goblin to manifest itself, but has had some adverse effects on it (size reduction and hair growth).

Like Trolls, we can easily make our RPG monsters more genuine and true to historical folklore simply by doing a little research.  We don't simply have to accept popcorn-fantasy's definitions of such things.  The result is a game that has far more character, magic and depth.

This entry was posted on 1/25/2013 at 1/25/2013 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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