In Dungeons & Dragons, goblins make up the lowest rung of a group of related humanoids: goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears. Occasionally, we refer to them all as “goblinoids”. It’s quite common when designing adventures to have a hobgoblin or bugbear leading a group of goblins, and that is the case here. What’s particularly interesting is that the hobgoblin ruler, Durnn, usurped the leadership of the goblins from Grenl, a goblin shaman. This allows you to play out the confrontation with the goblins in ways that don’t just involve slaughtering goblins.
The exact method you use will depend on what your players want to do. If you’ve got a group that just likes combat, there’s no need to complicate the game. The goblins make for interesting opponents. Their distinguishing ability is Nimble Escape, which allows them to use Disengage or Hide as a bonus action. Goblins know they can’t survive in melee combat, and so Nimble Escape allows them to stay out of it as long as possible. There are two basic tactics for goblins:
- If not in melee, attack a character with a short bow from cover, then use Nimble Escape to hide.
- If in melee, use Nimble Escape to disengage and run away, then use the short bow to attack.
Goblins engage in melee combat only if they have to. Most fighters will be able to slay goblins with a single strike, so their reluctance to stand toe-to-toe is quite understandable. The layout of the dungeon does mean they’ll often be at much closer range than they’d like. It’s also worth noting that these goblins take prisoners, and if the adventurers are forced to retreat and leave their dying friends behind, their friends are likely to wake up in the goblin prison.
A tip about hidden enemies: They can move when hidden, as long as they can’t be seen clearly. After a goblin hides, it should move to a different location, so the adventurers don’t know exactly where it is.
If you have a group that wishes to talk to the goblins, they’ll have to capture and interrogate them. The goblins know a basic set of information about recent events – the adventure refers you to what their prisoner, Erky Timbers, knows – but you can add in additional information as you see fit. I’d bring up the following points:
- The goblins consider the Sunless Citadel to be theirs, and the kobolds are evil invaders that need to be driven out!
- “Durnn is our great and glorious leader!” However, a successful DC 9 Insight check would reveal the goblin doesn’t believe that, allowing the next bit of information to be revealed.
- “Grenl was our leader. She was great. Then Durnn took over, and he makes us work!”
Durnn, the hobgoblin leader, doesn’t want to die. This is an important note if you want to promote role-playing in these encounters. If the adventurers enter and are obviously strong – or if they kill a couple of goblins – then you can have Durnn try to negotiate with them for his survival. However, as the adventure notes, Durnn doesn’t want to appear weak. I’d handle this as follows:
- Durnn introduces him as the leader of the great Goblin Tribe of the Sunless Citadel, with innumerable goblins under his command.
- Durnn respects strength and the adventurers have proven themselves to be worthy opponents. After praising their fighting ability, he offers a truce.
- Together, the goblins and adventurers could wipe out the kobolds and split their treasure!
- Durnn likes the druid below because the druid gives him gifts.
- Durnn wouldn’t accept a deal that puts him in a role which makes him look weak; if that occurred, the truce would be off and he’d command the goblins to fight to the death. While he lives, they’ll do so.
Grenl is interesting. She’s not about to betray Durnn because she fears him too much, but if the players kill the hobgoblin before her, I’d have her switch sides, call upon her goblins to attack the hobgoblins, and seek an alliance with the adventurers. Another approach would be for her to offer her services as a negotiator between Durnn and the adventurers, and once she could talk privately, offer an alliance with the goblins in exchange for Durnn’s death.
Grenl does share an enmity with Durnn, however: She wants the kobolds gone. She also wants the druid gone, as he supports Durnn’s rulership.
With these motivations in mind, you have the potential for some interesting interactions.