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Plain and simple:

Are there "good" goblins?

Every goblin I've seen is always evil aligned in the DnD 4e Monster Manuals. I know this could apply to other RPGs but as DnD is what I'm familiar with, I'm tagging it as such.

In the group I DM for, the goblins of my world are outcast. There are three main islands which encompass what the PCs know, each with different races originating from there.

How it works in my homebrew

On Ethis, the island where goblinoids, orcs, and dragonborn are from, the orcs and dragonborn are constantly at war and use the goblins as slaves and for other things (minions).

Many goblins fled the island to get to Camaros (where dwarves and elves originate, but humans had made there way there a while back), where they are viewed as lesser beings. Because of the racial stereotypes and prejudices they face, they either live as peasants and beggars or search for whoever will hire the, which is bad people most of the time.

Back to the point

This is a homebrew world so obviously it's up to me, but in the terms of an official "world", could there be good gobies?

By the way, this goes with orcs as well (not half-orcs, mind you). I mean, why are all their dieties evil (though that is probably for another question altogether).

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Would a good goblin or Orc still be a goblin? Wouldn't it be a fairie of some kind or just a big ugly dude? The evil Orc/goblin stereotype comes from Tolkien, where Orcs are unrepentantly evil. –  RobertF Jun 20 at 14:52

5 Answers 5

up vote 22 down vote accepted

It really is up to you. There's nothing in the rules that'd prevent it - 4e doesn't enforce alignments. That's a departure from earlier editions, where alignments had mechanical meaning. In 4e, they are there purely for flavor and you don't need to worry about breaking something by changing them.

There's nothing in the nature of goblins that makes them evil, and even if there was you could change that as it's your world. Even in some other editions, when they say "Always Evil", that's meaningless. If that line bothers you, make up goodlins. There are, after all, good undead in D&D 3.5.

Not everything is quite as variable, though. Demons are usually beings of pure evil. Saying demons can be good has ramifications. No one cares about the goblins.

So why are goblins evil? Because that's the stereotype, and a game has to fulfill stereotypes before it can deviate from them, or at least that's the approach D&D tends to follow. In the world you describe, most would perhaps be evil because those are their cultural norms, reinforced by social injustices of others. A goblin's strive for goodness against such forces would make for a compelling story.

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+1, especially for the last paragraph; Explaining why things are the way they are provides a very valuable tool to those planning to change them. –  GMJoe Jun 19 at 7:03
You could argue there are a few good goblins out there - but they're either murdered at an early age by more ruthless goblins in their tribe, or slaughtered like all the rest while defending their home from rampaging adventurers :(. –  RobertF Jun 20 at 15:22

There is an example in the Drizzt Do-urdon books (himself being a highly unusual good-aligned Drow) where he meets a good aligned Goblin. I can't remember which book it was but it was one of the later ones, certainly not part of the first 6 books he was in.

It's certainly very rare though and I seem to remember that Goblin wasn't having a particularly happy life. At least while Drow may be hated they are also feared...

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Alignment should always be thought of as a stereotype, technically independent from a character/npc/enemies' motivation of the moment. It just doesn't make much sense otherwise.

It may be a stereotype carried by centuries and centuries of history (centuries of goblin raids, for example, or goblin ambushes), but even [evil] goblins have to sleep. They can't be [evil] 24/7. They can't be killing the next goblin generation in the cradle even when you're not watching them. But the stereotype, that -can- be persistently active. And if there is a civilization of dwarves that automatically considers goblins to be evil, all the time, even while they're not at war, that is how the alignment system can make sense.

So don't bother changing goblin alignment! Let individual goblins be good, do good, pretend to be friendly, or really, actually be motivated by friendliness. The PCs should be able to have complex and non-traditional contact with evil aligned races and have the contact turn out in a friendly or neutral way. So let them make friends with that goblin, or play a PC goblin that does good acts and helps it's allies.

But don't forget what happens when that goblin walks into a strange tavern full of dwarves and dwarf allied-humans. That's when the effects of the stereotype that is alignment should kick into full gear, regardless of the internal & invisible motivation of that individual goblin character.

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This case

Simply, yes. Gobies--"goblins" can be good. I could be wrong (read more).

Generic rule

You've got to give the people what they want. This is the rule of DMing that I live by because: in any job, the customer is always right, or your boss is always right. I look at the DM as someone providing a service. I'm not saying you should overly suppress your creativity or rely on sensationalism because long-term, people won't enjoy that, IMO. But if someone is adamant that goblins can't be good, you only have two options:

  1. Accept that.
  2. Alienate the player.

Each player is relying on you to help her completely envelop herself in a fantasy world. Unless the player is skillful enough to make the dissonance organic to the world in her own mind, and the conflict intrinsic to the champion, you risk awakening the player from the fantasy!

As you go on DMing through your life, you will meet all kind of player, and each player will request a different style of DMing. It's best to always give way to more experienced DM's and to player requests because then, you can get another DM gig, and another, and another, and another, easily: just say "I know that style".


  • Environment shapes behavior.

One thing students of Psychology learn in their Behavioral Shaping class (save for the students going to hack schools), is that "management" is always stronger than "insight". You can tell a consumer "you have this problem", and you can verify understanding, but it's highly unlikely that this will end in "behavioral extinction". Rather, an environmental change must be made--management.

For example,

  1. Having a consumer repeat: "I have a smoking problem". - Unsuccessful.
  2. Having the consumer's family participate in decreasing the number of daily cigarettes over time. - More successful.

Essentially, the environment shapes the organism; therefore, if goblins grew up in an area that nurtured goodness well, it's likely that many of them would be shaped into goodness.

  • The evolutionary perspective

In our world, we find certain elements of psychology to be shared between most organisms. For example, if an organism is caused pain, it almost always reacts with violence. But as creatures become more intelligent, they become better able to control themselves despite antecedents.

Since Freud, and perhaps before (i.e., since the writing of Pandora), Psychologists have believed that humans have "evil" implicit behaviors. For example, from Freud, the Oedipus complex, and its counterpart, the Electra complex. It is also believed that we are naturally 'prejudice' towards those who look different from the ones we grow up around (due to the nature of our attributions of behaviors to prejudices).

That said, why shouldn't an intelligent organism such as a goblin be able to overcome its implicit desires/urges?

Background that says 'no'

The background info I find that says 'no' agrees well with the above. You can see, in

  • Token: Goblins are often thought to symbolize the Nazi's--these were people brought up in an environment that nurtured evil. What can we blame other than the environment? We cannot blame humanity because we have not all done such atrocities. We cannot blame race because not all Germans have done such atrocities. Ah--we've already mentioned everything that can be connected to goblins (species and race). And this is really where DND goblins come from.
  • Grimm: Goblins are the ghosts of the haunted forest, a force of death, and/or a devil. In the first case, 'haunting' is supposibly evil; in the second, 'a force of death' is one whose job is to cause death--causing death is evil; in the third, a devil has a purpose which it considers good, though most consider the purpose evil. Only in this last case can we assume that a goblin is beyond being good. This is the nature of taint: an affliction that ultimately leads to a party member's loss due to her becoming irreversibly evil.

Personal applications

I created an orc, adopted by monks, whose dream was to become a paladin. Although many spurned him with dry looks and unfair treatment, he had been trained since his adoption that the strength of his anger was an indication as to how much he must give himself to his deity and use his mind to overcome violence. The players really connected to him, and he was really really great for a hack-and-slash in Ravenloft. He went well with his Drunken Master mate, Rogue wife, and Archer/cartographer university adviser. It made for a wonderful story, too.

*But remember, there are always times it will be inappropriate to surprise a sensitive player with an out-of-the-ordinary combination like this! If you get complains, I recommend going with popular or other-participant consensus!

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"Good" is a relative term, but in RPGs it is usually taken to mean something "absolute". E.g. D&D sets up "good" as meaning a certain set of things, while "evil" means another set of things. That's D&D's choice.

Take an RPG like the classic Paranoia: what is "good" in Paranoia? If there was a goblin in Paranoia, would it be "good"? Why?

What about Harry Potter? Goblins are not depicted as being necessarily good or evil, just businesslike and possibly greedy.

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Whilst what you've said is accurate, the question is about D&D's framework and its absolutes. Are you able to say more about that framework itself, and how this stuff relates to it? –  Jonathan Hobbs Jun 20 at 3:29
It's fun treating Goblins less as evil incarnate and more like the Ferengi in Star Trek (though to some such hard capitalists are evil incarnate of sorts too). This works well in Eberron since Goblins there used to have huge empires and even now have big numbers in Sharn and other places. And that doesn't work if they are as a whole "evil". Also think about how people of one of the 5 nations might think the other nations (peoples) are evil too. Or in our old History consider France, Spain, Germany, Britain, etc. –  Simanos Jul 8 at 10:16
I like to think about how the monsters in my campaigns evolved. What evolutionary forces led to goblins? What species do they compete with resources for? What kind of diseases and parasites are specific to them? What species did they descend from and why? What major variations and sub-groups are there within the species? Etc. –  CommaToast Jul 9 at 21:56

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