Goblin PCs Suck! (Or Do They?)

If you are a Pathfinder player you would have to live under a rock to not know about the new edition blitzkrieging toward the community.


One of the most controversial aspects of Pathfinder 2nd Edition thus far is the potential inclusion of goblin PCs. Some people love the idea, and some people hate the idea. We won’t know much about their mechanics and suchlike until the playtest rules are public in August, but that hasn’t stopped lots of gamers passionately arguing both sides.

I was initially of the opinion that goblin PCs wouldn’t work in my campaign. That’s wasn’t a mechanic-based decision—as we haven’t seen any yet really—but more of a game world feel decision. As you might know, I’m a huge Greyhawk fan and goblin PCs just don’t work in many areas of the Flanaess. (In most areas they would be set upon and slain as soon as they entered any civilised settlement). However, that said, they probably would work in campaigns set in the Great Kingdom, the Horned Society, Iuz, the Pomarj, the Wild Coast and other evil-held locales.

That all said, though, I believe every problem has a solution. I’m not one to (often) throw my hands up in the air and flee while screaming the sky is falling.

So, I have hit upon a cunning plan. As you might recall, I designed Village Backdrop: Lanthorn some years ago. The village is atypical because a tribe of goblins dwell there serving a small wizard’s guild. At the time it was little more than a fun experiment.

Here’s Lanthorn’s blurb:

High up in the mountains, and often besieged by packs of murderous trolls, the village of Lanthorn stands as civilisation’s last glimmering light in an otherwise bleak and barren mountain range. A strange alliance of wizards—the Grand Conclave of Sublime Artificers—and a gaggle of (almost) civilised goblins—the Flaming Skull tribe—dwells in a bizarre atmosphere that is both scholarly and anarchic. Protected by high walls and gigantic magical lanterns imbued with potent fire magic, the wizards craft the mundane and wondrous items for which they are famed. Without the walls brave—or foolhardy—goblin “miners” search the nearby troll-haunted mines for lead and silver—some of which is reputed to have magical properties.

Thus, in the village, I have already designed a quasi-civilised tribe of goblins who are well known for their strange, atypical ways. Better yet, the village stands astride a remote mountain pass surrounded by troll-infested mines.

You absolutely could run a (playtest) campaign there!

Sadly, the original locale was somewhat constrained by the tyranny of page count and deadlines. The potential arrival of goblin PCs, however, seems like the perfect excuse to revise and expand the village (which is one of my favourites).

That’s why I’ve added version 2.0 of Village Backdrop: Lanthorn to the schedule for an August 13 release. It should be out mere days (or perhaps a week) after the 2nd playtest rules become available. If you are thinking of including some goblin PCs as part of your playtest, Lanthorn might be just the place to do it!

A Final Aside

While I was proofing this article, I realised I’d also published another supplement potentially suitable for goblin PCs—Town Backdrop: Deksport, a pirate settlement dominated by rival bands of orc, goblin and human pirates. I wonder if I should take a stab at updating Deksport as well! (Let me know, in the comments below).

What Do You Think?

Is releasing Village Backdrop: Lanthorn 2.0 a good idea? Do you like the idea of goblin PCs in your campaign? Do you hate it? Let me know below, but please keep it civil!


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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

20 thoughts on “Goblin PCs Suck! (Or Do They?)”

  1. I have few problems with goblin PCs. My favorite D&D world remains the Birthright setting, and goblin-human relations were a little less antagonistic. One could have diplomatic relations with goblin nations, and goblins could have class levels. It seemed to me that goblin PCs were a possibility, although they would still have heavy social penalties. Of course, that’s a setting in which elves would have similar social penalties among most human societies.

    Your two village ideas seem plausible to me, therefore.

  2. It all depend on what kind of game world you’ve got, whether it’s possible or not. Paizo might make golblins a regular PC race, but that doesn’t mean a gamemaster should allow players to take golblins. Cause the social impact of such characters would be massive.
    Then again, a gamemaster should always be able to put restrictions on the races and classes that his players can pick from (not to say that he always should).

    Personally I would be more bothered if one of my players would pick an alchemist as class. I’m not completely comfortable dealing with their kind in a campaign.

    1. Exactly! I find this controversy fairly mystifying. A GM can just restrict the race. After all, goblins as PCs is a topic that has been addressed in Pathfinder since the first Bestiary, and it is covered in depth in the Advanced Race Guide, Goblins of Golarion, and, I expect, in Inner Sea Races.

      I’m currently running a homebrew campaign in a homebrew setting with players strongly encouraged to select only humans (in the early levels, at least). This is just simple world-building. If Pathfinder’s options are too overwhelming for you as a GM or as a player, use fewer of them!

      1. Not all GMs can restrict the race, however. Due to several constraints, I am mainly restricted to Society play for the moment. Which means that as a GM, I have to go with what is sanctioned for the campaign. And, regardless of how Goblins are portrayed in the core rules, there are several local players who have shown themselves to be the sort who will play them as the homicidal pyromaniacs they have been portrayed as in the past. This leads to either a Starfinder style situation (‘What? I can’t play an Elf without a boon? But they are in the core rulebook.’), or to there being one less way to control those problem players.

        I fully support the option to play Goblins in a supplement, preferably devoted specifically to Goblins, where certain options are sanctioned for Society play, and others are not. But I feel that the decision to put them in the core rulebook was made for the wrong reasons, based on developer statements for what the reasons were.

  3. Having recently read the original Village Backdrop: Lanthorn, I’m excited to see an expanded version!

  4. I’m perfectly fine with goblin PCs, but I know a lot of people who aren’t. The We Be Goblins series has been my all time favourite module series that comes out during Free RPG Day, and I know my players love it too. Many of them with the one-time goblin boon was available for PFS again. In my Mummy’s Mask campaign we have a goblin alchemist in the party, and I was totally down with it even though one party member constantly reacts negatively to it, and has his PC react even worse to it. I’ve talked with him about it, more so since the player left (due to personal reasons but he’s hoping to come back). In the game I’m playing in I wouldn’t dare have a goblin PC because I know exactly how the other players would react and I wouldn’t want to be the butt of their jokes, or constantly put under surveillance. And in Critical Role, one of their male players is not only playing a goblin, but a female one that has a motherly tendency towards another character in the party. And that game world hates goblins. How that goes about is a great way to portray the prejudice. That, yes, you can play one despite the government and its people questioning your existence so you hide under a mask. I’m expecting a big pay off by the end of the campaign too.

  5. I’m looking forward to the expanded Backdrop.

    I run a 2ED Al-Qadim campaign, so goblins wouldn’t raise many eye-browse, as long as they’re Enlightened (buy into local cultural mores). I don’t have any goblin PCs, but I’ve designed a few NPCs, and the players like’em.

    I’m curious to see what happens.

  6. I think a one-off village is certainly worth doing. In my homebrew setting for my family I actually have a town that is run by hobgoblins, the result of a series of circumstances. So, as far as providing source material that may be off the beaten path, I’m all for it.

    For me, the controversy around Paizo’s decision to make goblins a playable race is more along the lines of, “Why stop there?” I have read many treatises on why naysayers may have racist tendencies, etc. But I can’t buy that. If goblins could suddenly become civilized, then why not hobgoblins? Orcs? Lizardfolk? Ogres? The list goes on. But soon there won’t be much left to fight.

    I’m likely oversimplifying it, but at the end of a busy work week, my players tend to not want to always be wrapped up in moral conundrums and difficult decisions. They often, but not always, like to know that evil is evil, regardless of the race, and that vanquishing evil is good.

    So I’m convinced Paizo just did it as a publicity stunt, to be honest. Their fascination with goblins is well-documented so they took it one step further. Whatever. Their game, go for it. But the silly part seems to be that they only did it for goblins, when, there’s no credible reason why only goblins would suddenly become polite company and not a host of other monsters. Depends on the kind of game you want to play. Want every race to get along? Perfect. Want a basically Tolkein-based setting where monsters are still the baddies? Perfect.

  7. I am very laid back when it comes to restrictions and more about the roleplay. I see the issues with a single goblin pc in a human (ish) party but the current campaign i am running is an all goblin party where they are doing typically goblin things and the adventures are based around that. No save the princess dungeon crawls for these guys.
    Saying that the level of fun and excitement around the table is great, everyone is very invested and really roleplaying the game well. The treasure hunting and food gathering has become great fun, watching people fight over who gets a make up kit and mirror has been really good. The whole aspect of playing a goblin doesnt really fit into the normal party idea i agree as they end up being just another character, but as a full party of the little s**** they are great characters to play.
    When i release the ‘Against the Goblins’ properly for sale i would love to see peoples opinions then too.

  8. I just play a homebrew setting of my own creation where no sentient race is inherently psycho or noble or stubborn, it’s all cultural. IMO it’s really weird to think two groups of people at opposite ends of a continent with no relation to each other other than species would speak the same language or have the same culture, so there’s a nation in my setting where dwarves and goblinoids live side-by-side, intermarrying and working together. If you’re playing with friends and don’t want it, don’t allow it, and if you are in organized play you should already be okay with the negatives of playing or DMing the game by another person’s rules/setting.

  9. Releasing a Lanthorn 2.0 a good idea? Probably. I think there would be a market for it.

    Do I like the idea of goblin PCs? Not really. I am pretty new to PF and have long played 3.5 instead and still stick w/ 1.0 – 3.5 ideas as to what goblins are – nasty, dirty, filthy, etc. creatures that are inherently malevolent b/c of their culture (such as it is). I have allowed a hobgoblin PC and might allow a goblin PC if a) it was a goblin centered campaign or b) the character backstory and future goals are well suited to the story line.

  10. I would comment, however, the post seems Pathfinder specific.

    There have been such for awhile since the publication of _Volo’s Guide_. They’ve worked well. But I do not wish to disrupt your post by speaking of my experience with a different product.

    1. It is Pathfinder specific, but I’d still be interested in your view as I don’t believe the mechanics of the race are the problem for many people. Really, I think a lot of people’s problems with the idea stem from integrating PCs goblins into a “traditional” fantasy setting where goblins are normally the enemy.

  11. I think that both of your mentioned published pieces would work great.
    I’m running Fantasy Age, with both Goblin, and Orc PC options, as well as one very small enclave of ‘civilized’ Ogres, these all an homage to my life of the Confrontation/Cadwallon setting.

  12. I have actually played a Blue Cryptic in a campaign once & loved it so yeah I’d enjoy seeing a pc race of them. I believe in equal opportunity employment & payment to suit the job.

  13. Interesting. While I’ve never run a game that had what I call “the grixx” (humans, elves & dwarves slang for ‘the garbage races (orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, gnolls & kobolds) as PCs it sounds like it could be challenging as well as eye-opening. I don’t run evil games but that doesn’t mean the goblins HAVE to be that way either.

  14. I think my game will be 1E modified. I like the changes for the cleric, and that is about it. The game I run is still very-old school mindset. The bigotry of the non-player character types is pretty high, they repeat what they were told from a young age. Arcane casting is only for wizards, and maybe bards. Sorcerors are against the law in some provinces. The old guilds fear untapped power, and they do not appreciate their monopoly being upset.

    I’m of the mindset, goblins are experience points. You can retrieve such points by taking the toe tag off of the corpses (if there’s one left, sometimes they didn’t chew it off already). Goblins in my game are seen as a nuisance at best. It does not matter about how the goblins is aligned, or what god they worship, the people of the Lost Lands are fairly stubborn in their prejudices. The capacity for the party to be in a town somewhere and have an encounter is huge, potentially, “We just lost our goblin.” And they turn around and there’s a farmer, putting the party goblin through with a pitchfork.

    Maybe later, the farmer will use his newfound fame and ability to cultivate his farm to a commercial enterprise.

  15. This is perfect timing. My home game is starting up again, and I wanted to spin something unusual towards the players. Lanthorn is one of my very favorite locations from Raging Swan and I was thinking about reworking Lanthorn to a more Greyhawk friendly location.
    So I am offering the players a chance to swap any of their characters out for a goblin character.
    My Downmarket is in a ravine almost entirely covered by a giant boulder that rolled down from the mountains above. Several more stable goblin merchants have carved shops into the ravine walls.
    Lanthorns Conclave works as one of the FEW magic shops in the region, a few scrolls and items are nearly always for sale.
    Not only are the trolls an issue on one side but odd Dwarven patrol pass by the other side and most often slaughter any goblin they find.
    I am running Whitebox/BX D&D so I’ll likely do them up as sorta twisted Halflings. a bonus to AC instead of a bonus to ranged weapons, Lowlight vision and a 90% hide in caves/rocks instead of underbrush.

  16. I’d say expand both, heck, KS them, people will be hungry for Goblin related materials when the update comes out.

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