Goblins occupy an uneasy place in a dangerous world, and they react by lashing out at any creatures they believe they can bully. Cunning in battle and cruel in victory, goblins are fawning and servile in defeat, just as in their own society lower castes must scrape before those of greater status and as goblin tribes bow before other goblinoids.
Beast Masters and Slave Drivers
Goblins know they are a weak, unsophisticated race that can be easily dominated by bigger, smarter, more organized, more ferocious, or more magical creatures. Their god was conquered by Maglubiyet, after all, and now when the Mighty One calls for it, even their souls are forfeit. It is this realization that drives them to dominate other creatures whenever they can — for goblins, life is short.
Goblins seek to trap and enslave any creatures they encounter, but they flee from the opposition that seems too daunting. For miles around their lair, they employ pit traps, snares, and nets to catch the unwary, and when their hunting patrols encounter other beings, they always look for ways to capture their foes instead of killing them. Goblins that run up against the fringes of society first test their defenses by stealing objects, and if these crimes go unpunished, they begin stealing people.
Enslaved creatures receive the worst treatment the goblins can dish out while still getting decent performance out of the slaves. But humanoids and monsters that are especially capable or that provide unusual services find themselves treated like favored (though occasionally abused) pets.
Virtually any kind of creature that can be browbeaten into service might be found with a goblin tribe, but rats and wolves are nearly always present. Both have lived in concert with goblins for at least as long as humans have worked with dogs and horses, and in goblin society, those two animals serve similar purposes.
A goblin tribe is organized in a four-tiered caste system made up of lashers, hunters, gatherers, and pariahs. The status of every family in the tribe is based on its importance to the tribe’s survival. Families that belong to the higher-ranking castes keep their status by not sharing their knowledge and skills with other families, while those in the lower castes have little hope of escaping their plight.
Outsiders who don’t understand the goblins’ social system are sometimes surprised by how different castes interact with them. A single human warrior might frighten away a dozen gatherers, only to be shocked when two hunters viciously attack. A captured group of invaders might hang in a net while dozens of goblins pass by and pay them no heed until a group of gatherers shows up.
Lashers. The closest thing a goblin tribe has to nobility is the caste of lashers — families of goblins trained in the ways of battle, and also possessed of key skills such as strategy, trap-building, beast taming, mining, smelting, forging, and religion. If the tribe has any spellcasters, this caste includes them. Lashers follow the lead of the tribe’s boss and enforce their will on other goblins with whips.
Hunters. The families of goblins that are skilled in the use of weapons but not privy to any other special knowledge have the second-highest status in the tribe. Hunters are often the best wolf riders and know the most about the territory farthest from the tribe’s lair. These individuals hunt game in peaceful times, and in combat, they serve as scouts, foot soldiers, and cavalry.
Gatherers. Families in the second-lowest caste are responsible for getting food from the surrounding area, taking what’s naturally available, or stealing whatever they can. Gatherers also do the little amount of farming of which goblins are capable and are charged with checking traps for captured people or beasts. Gatherers aren’t usually armed with weapons more deadly than a sling or a knife, but they frequently carry nets, caltrops, lassos, and nooses on poles for controlling captured creatures. These goblins cook for the tribe, and in times of war, they are also responsible for making poison.
Gatherers, and the pariahs beneath them, greatly fear for their lives in battle, believing that the lashers and the hunters have special knowledge of how to survive. It is the members of the lower castes that give goblins their reputation for cowardice.
Pariahs. Some goblin families are the lowest of the low, composed of the most dimwitted, least educated, and weakest goblins. They get the worst jobs: mucking out animal pens, cleaning up after other goblins, and doing any hard labor such as digging mines. If the goblin tribe has slaves to do some of this work, the pariah families enjoy the opportunity to supervise and dominate such creatures, which have no status at all.