What is it that makes goblinoids different from non-goblinoids?

Haiku Elvis

Knuckle-dusters, glass jaws and wooden hearts.
I've never got on with Bugbears and have never used them.
I think it's the fluffy Saturday morning kid's cartoon sounding name.
"What's that Bugbear? I should be more accepting, less picky, and learn the power of friendship?
Screw you Bugbear!"

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I was hoping this thread wouldn't get sidetracked into that. But by all means, if anyone hasn't read it, go read it - it's an interesting read, but specific to one edition of D&D, rather than an overall consideration of goblinoids across settings, editions, and products. Maglubiyet's conquests are only relevent to the Forgotten Realms (and whichever homebrews want to also use that lore).

Mechanically goblinoids filling the evil alignment is also a good point, but my question is more of a philosophical or worldbuilding bent. After all, if a goblin is neutral good, he doesn't stop being a goblin. So mechanics aren't the essence of goblin-ness, any more than typical drow being evil making them "lose" their elf-ness.

Hand of Evil

As said above it will be culture or their origin. I like my goblins to be evil, so I make them as creation of Hags. They are 'cooked' up in a pot and encoded to protect the Hag as their mother. They are cannibalistic, enjoy torturing things, and have a bloodlust about them. In most cases they are sexless, going through a molting (if they survive) every few years, becoming Hobs, then Bugbears. A hag will sometimes select one for special alterations to be a changeling.


Ah, but elves are much easier - they at least
1. Live a long time
2. Have a special connection to something (whether nature, or magic itself, or spiders, or something else)
3. Have some sort of wisdom that we humans lack - like an elder sibling
4. Are separated from standard society in some way - whether by isolation, or by attitude, or emotionally, or by rank - they are just a bit - distant.
EDIT: forgot one -
5. Elves are very attractive by human standards

Pretty much applies in any fantasy setting I can think of. Unless we're talking about Santa's elves or Keebler elves. All very Tolkienesque, I guess.

Goblinoids are harder. I guess they
1. Are shorter-lived
2. Are gregarious, living in large groups (but then again bugbears aren't-but bugbears are weird. Call it the exception that proves the rule)
Anything else? These two could apply to almost anything/anyone
3. Are particularly ugly by human standards.

As far as the default for goblinoids goes I probably can't go much deeper than that because it starts getting into personal lore rather than accepted canon lore. My goblins are tricksters and pranksters, tend to not be outright evil (at least no more than elves are outright good), and prefer to go to war with each other more than with anyone else. They also are often found as servants to archfey and elven lords paying off debts owed for slights against their "lords". But that's 30 years of homebrew campaigns, fantasy fiction, and European folklore that have led me to that point, not necessarily anything from the canon. But my goblins definitely fill a niche that other humanoids don't.


He Who Lurks Beyond The Veil
I’ve two different homebrew worlds that treat it in two different ways. In the other one goblins are magic-corrupted gnomes and hobgoblins are magic-corrupted elves. And thats it.

My other homebrew treats it broadly as genetics. Goblinoids can interbreed. Humanoids can interbreed. Goblinoids can’t breed with humanoids.

Neither is canon, but if you like them, feel free to use them.


A suffusion of yellow
That's a great example!
Jointed skulls, different number of chromosomes, being raised above ground, and several physical differences. Rabbits and Hares are very different creatures, and we can explain exactly why they are different creatures.

Is there some way we can do that with goblinoids, at least better than "I'll know it when I see it"? Your goblinoids are different stages of the life cycle of a single creature, but still very goblinoid. How can that be? What makes them so recognizeable as a group no matter how different they are, whether they are green or orange, different ancestries or stages in the same life-cycle?
We could even go really unusual: make them hatch from eggs - still goblinoid. Make them have four arms, live in my garage and eat toothpaste - still goblinoid. Very distinctive, no matter how much we put our own spin on them. How can we nail down that distinctiveness?
my Goblins are amphibians and so thats what makes them distinct from the mammalian races (ie Orcs), they evolved in the swamp, begin life as voracious tadpoles but are now adapted to the dumps and sewers of cities where they are decrepit outcast scavengers. Hobgoblins are a mountain dwelling goblin species, Norkers are the subterranean variant.

imc Bugbears arent goblins though, but the confusion arises due to Hobgoblins taming Varag (goblin hounds) as warbeasts

I prefer to cut back to a minimum of non-human races, so I usually have the Gobliniods (Goblins, Hobgoblins, and Orcs) as variations on a central DNA type, and some variation of beastmen for the evil races; possibly with gnolls thrown in as I like them, and that's it,

the Jester

In my games, the answer is pretty simple. Goblinoids have a shared common ancestor that isn't shared by other humanoids. Alternatively, they were created by the same deity (which I would argue is sort of the same thing).


Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
I use kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, and bugbears to represent the various void-corrupted peoples which dark lords have from time to time raised up in their image to overwhelm, enslave, and replace the free elves, halflings, humans, gnomes, and dwarves of the world. They are differentiated from the free peoples by their loathsome unnatural appearance, horrible repulsive manners, and fondness for darkness and shadow.
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