A Cowardly Annoyance

I’ve been listening to the “Mines of Madness” podcast over on the Dungeons & Dragons site and could listen to Greg Bisland voice the goblin Hughug for hours. It was endlessly entertaining. At the same time, I’m also beginning to skim the beginning of Rise of the Runelords in preparation to run that campaign. Both these things have got me thinking about goblins.

Jon Schindehette’s column on the D&D Site, Dragon’s Eye View, did two articles on goblins, and there was James Wyatt’s piece on the flavour of goblins. Both seem to be trying hard to distance D&D goblins away from Pathfinder’s goblins, which have become the iconic monster of Paizo. The 4e and now the 5e goblins are being presented a serious menace, albeit a small one. They’re a cowardly yet bullying monster that is not a threat alone but dangerous in numbers. They’re not a comedic monster but a real menace.

I’m not sure I like this latter approach to goblins. They were kinda goofy looking in 2e and 3e, and “goblins” are generally portrayed in film and folklore as beings of malign mischief, a form of dark comedy. And, frankly, the game needs some kind of comic relief monsters. Monsters you want to laugh at as they do something silly, monsters you can mock, and monsters the DM can use for tension breaking slapstick. Sometimes you need a Pathfinder goblin or World of Warcraft murloc or kobold (“you no take candle!”)

This is really part of a larger attempt to make D&D “more serious” and less of a silly game. The more overtly silly monsters (flail snail, flumph, disenchanter) cease to be updated and great pains are made to salvage formerly comedic monsters like the owlbear, making them appear menacing. Goblins and kobolds are real threats and serious monsters. And therefore D&D itself is something to be taken seriously and is absolutely not “just some silly game”. Despite the fact there’s something innately silly about people running around pretending to be elves (be it around a table, in the woods, or via a computer) and it’s always going to be a game where a group of friends hang around a table and spend 80% of their time cracking jokes.

Y’know, like every other game.