The Stonelands and the Goblin Marches
Part Two: The Vanishing Wildlife
Hard as it is to believe if one has actually visited the stony skeletons that pass for wilderness now, once the empty wastes of the Goblin Marches and the Stonelands teemed with life of all kinds. Herds of antelope, deer, wild oxen, and sheep roamed a green-furred countryside, the air darkened with birds, and shy, defensive animals, such as rabbits, foxes, and badgers dug their homes in the coarse soil. Even mighty dinosaurs and those huge mammals, the titanotheres and woolly rhinos, coexisted with the more common sorts of wildlife.
Wolves, the occasional bear, giant owls, and eagles were the region's major predators. Less commonly a firedrake or a giant spider cast its fearsome shadow across a meadow, and thinned the ranks of an unlucky herd. The area was balanced in respect to predators and prey, and all species flourished.
That idyllic time, however, was thousands of years ago. Change always comes. With humankind's interference, it oftentimes comes sooner and more abruptly than nature can adapt. Human empires with powerful magic arose, such as Netheril and its successor states. Their proximity to the wilderness brought an influx of dragons, chimerae, medusae, perytons, and other "unnatural" predators to the undeveloped land.
The Marches and the Stonelands were never lush, but they were full. The new monsters swung the balance from occasional fright to frequent terror. Life in the area became more of a struggle, both for the herbivores to survive, and for the native predators to find suitable prey.
The beginning of the end of any harmony in the ecosystem truly came as the goblinoids and their allies (gnolls, ogres, etc.) increased in number. Predators stalk prey to feed themselves. Once they have gorged, they abandon the hunt. Goblinkin show no such restraint. They kill everything they are able to, out of spite and contempt. Even creatures they do not need to eat are slain and left to rot.
Now, after centuries of the most abandoned husbandry by callous killers, and over-crowding by too many, overly-efficient predators, the region has been completely depleted of many species of game. The results are what you might expect. Prey is scarce for hunters, both intelligent and natural. Now, the predators have begun preying on each other.
The goblins and their kind, in their murderous slaughter of all of the lower animals, have by default placed themselves as the major food source remaining to the larger predatory monsters. They have remade the food chain, and in their short-sightedness, short-temperedness, and stupidity, exchanged their right to a top link for one near the bottom.
Although an adventurer can still find wildlife in the area, trust me, it is scarcer here than a Sembian merchant's altruism. Those creatures that still survive are often those more equipped to defend themselves, such as the giant forms of common animals - badgers, porcupines, skunks, etc. Titanotheres, axebeaks, balucitherium, phororhacos, and woolly rhinos, with size and natural defenses on their side, still frequent the area as well. Dinosaurs roam the plains, at least in the summer months - but their numbers dwindle like those of everything else.
Many natural predators, particularly wolves and bears, have moved out of the area. These mere physical beasts are unable to compete with the fiery breath of the chimera or the skill and power of the hieracosphinx. Two influences are poised to save the area's ecology from completely falling apart. First, as I noted before, the predators now prey upon each other. Second, human, dwarf, and elf heroes are moving into both the Marches and the Stonelands, and slaying the monsters as they come. The indigenous wildlife is not altogether gone - yet. A sharp decrease in the number of carnivorous beasts might still allow the natural, grazing animals a chance to repopulate.
Part Three: The Goblin Threat
The Purple Dragons' Goblin Joke Scroll
How many goblins does it take to break through a siege wall?
One hundred. Ninety-nine to soak up the boiling oil, and one to tunnel underneath.
Two goblins rode out hunting for the tribe's dinner. For days, all they could bring back were skinny lizards. Then, somehow, they found themselves in a hidden valley. Antelope grazed unperturbed, trout leaped in a crystal lake. In no time, the hunters caught all they could carry.
"We have to come back," said the first goblin, "But how will we find this place again?"
The second goblin thought a moment, then dipped his fingers in the scum on the lakeshore. He wiped a grimy green "X" on his dire wolf's fur.
"What's that for?" the first asked curiously.
"That marks our spot. You figure out how we get the same wolves tomorrow."
A goblin slinks into a mercenary dive, and orders Suzale. Pretty soon, another goblin joins him. The second goblin says, "I'll bet you two coppers you can't make me flinch."
"You're on," says the first. "What do we do?" The second goblin spreads his fingers out against the stone wall next to the bar. "I'll hold my hand like this, and you punch it. If I flinch, you get the two coppers."
Like lightning, the first throws his fist forward. The second jerks his hand back, and the first goblin's fist crunches hard against the stone wall. He howls and rubs his aching knuckles. "I flinched," the second goblin grins, tossing the first two coppers as he leaves.
Slowly, the first goblin's anger - and his pain - fades. Looking around the tavern, he spies a lone orc at a table in the middle of the room. He decides to try out his new trick. Swaggering over to the orc's table, he plants his feet wide. "I'll bet you two coppers you can't make me flinch," he crows, spreading his fingers in front of his face.
The area known as the Goblin Marches can merely skirt the southern lip of Anauroch, or it can stretch to embrace the whole empty vastness of the High Moors and the Farsea Marshes, depending on whom you ask. It is primarily a flat, untamed plain. The place is named for its most predominant .if not its most universally reviled. residents, the goblinkin.
In the days of the great kingdom of Anauria (over 1,000 years ago), a powerful goblin nation existed here, made up for the most part of goblins, kobolds, orcs, hobgoblins, and gnolls, and leavened by a few bugbears and the occasional human. A powerful, sorcerous being from another plane controlled the vast forces of this dark nation. To them, it was named Hlundadim.
Little is known about this being. What history goblins keep is difficult for a human sage to gain access to, for what I hope are obvious reasons; what history they have lost is doubtless beyond recreation. Even whether the controlling being was male or female (or neither) remains a mystery.
But I should not heap too much contempt on the goblinkin. Their loyalty to this being defies all reports of cowardice, stupidity, and shallow loyalty. The goblins and their ilk still evoke Great Hlundadim when in peril. To listen to them, one would think Hlundadim actually cared for the miserable creatures.
In those far-gone days, both orcs and goblins attacked their neighboring human nations in huge armies. Often enough, they won. In its glory, the ancient goblin realm sacked great cities and devoured traveling caravans.
Orc shamans, in units called ularim, held their own against many human wizards. You may well snort your disbelief - but I have seen the records writ by the ancient sages. I have studied their spellbooks. Only well-organized armies supported by powerful wizards were able to stop them. Hlundadim's power was great, and its cunning tactics and battle lore were greater yet. The goblinoids were based in a huge fortress called Araugul, or Goblin Mount, constructed in the center of what is now the Goblin Marches. They had other strongholds as well, of course. Goblinkin commanded a powerful presence in the areas then known as the Border Forest, the Hunter's Hills, and even the Teshan Mountains (now called the Desertsmouth Mountains).
When the Great Desert to the north began to expand, huge clouds of loosened earth blew into this ancient goblin realm. And some things seem never to change. For all their power and cunning, for all their master's control, the ancient goblinkin were not braver than the sniveling specimens we battle today. Terrified by the roiling clouds raining earth and stone, the goblins fled from what most believed was their impending doom.
Well, perhaps I can't blame them entirely; the effects must have been spectacular, and even I have chosen to seek safety first, and complete my calculations later, on occasion. Anauroch did indeed swallow the northernmost portion of the goblins. realm. But the desert did not come as far south as they had feared.
The damage was done, however. Hlundadim had disappeared, the goblin strongholds had been abandoned, and their organization was lost. Many goblinoids returned to their homes, once the weather normalized. But far more stayed cowering in the Stonelands, the Storm Horn Mountains, and the western lands to which they had fled.
It took years - many, many years of continual work - for the goblins that returned to feel they were succeeding in restoring their great past. That they even tried is what intrigues me. Tenacity is not the first trait on anyone's lips when they speak of goblins. Perhaps the breed has degenerated as history grows older. Perhaps the best and brightest, if one can imagine goblinkin harboring any such creatures, are too often the first to fall.
Whatever the case, the more steadfast, more greedy, more power-hungry natives of the Goblin Marches made an attempt to recapture their old heights of glory. Three hundred years ago, a great army of orcs, goblins, hobgoblins and kobolds amassed within Skull Gorge and prepared to make war against the lands to the west. Orc shamans, once again formed into ularim, managed to summon fiends and tanar'ri to aid them. A combined force of humans and elves opposed the monsters at what is now referred to as the Battle of Bones.
Though they inflicted great losses upon their foes, the goblins and their allies were thwarted at the last. Only a tenth of the once-massive army remained alive and able to flee back into the Marches. All semblance of organization was lost. Remember what I said about the best and brightest? Here lies proof of that speculation. Only minor attempts have been made to unite the dark forces since the infamous Battle of Bones.
The Goblin Tribes Today
At first glance, it would appear there is little to say regarding goblins and their allies after so many defeats. Though they are constantly on the minds of merchants transporting their goods, as well as in the nightmares of those people living in small, undefended villages near goblin territory, the horrid creatures have gained an almost comedic reputation within certain circles. Cormyrean Purple Dragons (as the soldiers of my native land are known) serving as border guards in the north have a whole barrelful of jokes about the stupidity and ineptness of goblins.
I admit, I am as guilty as the next person of mentioning goblins with contempt. But I have more than rumors and tavern tales on which to base my opinions. While it may be true that a large goblin attack force with no proper leadership could be held off by a small unit of Purple Dragons, there is much more to the creatures than most people allow. They are not brilliant, but they are cunning.and vindictive. If the local settlements are not careful, another goblin invasion could figure in their futures.
Although not even the goblins themselves know exactly how many tribes there are in the Marches, I have encountered or heard of at least 48. Given the typical size of those clans I have run into, and the culture I have observed, I would estimate from this figure there are at least 7,000 adult goblins in the Goblin Marches - and that does not include orcs, kobolds, and other goblinkin.
My time adventuring has made me something of a scholar about goblins and their ilk, from self-preservation and from my native curiosity about the world. You might almost say I am a connoisseur, not of wines or silks, but of monsters. Ah, that conjures a picture. How amusing it would be, to trade anecdotes on goblins in the fashionable noble houses of Cormyr. But I digress.
The Goblin Lair
Each tribe controls an area of from 10 to 30 square miles - depending on the size of the tribe - with their main lair in more or less the center of their territory. Anyone entering the area should expect it to be patrolled. Goblins are not that stupid. Most goblin territories sport at least one small, secondary lair which is used solely as a military camp. These secondary lairs are often situated in small, wooded areas or highplaced caves - generally locations that have a good command of the surrounding area and yet still remain concealed.
Particularly now, the goblins' strength does not lie in force of arms. Instead, subterfuge, hit-and-run tactics, and an intimate knowledge of the lay of the land are their chief advantages, against both predators and adventuring parties looking for an easy target to practice upon. Lairs are the focus of, and a chief tool in, exploiting these advantages. The Marches region is riddled with natural, small tunnel and cave complexes that lie very near to the surface. This bounty was a major factor in the ancient goblins. original decision to settle the area over a thousand years ago. Goblins have always preferred to lair in caves.
A goblin lair has a number of entrances and exits. Not all of these are obvious, and at least one is extremely well hidden. Favorite sites for this hidden egress include next to a small stream, under or behind an outcropping of rock, or in the midst of a thicket of thorny trees common to the area. Choose a place that looks innocent of disruption or impossible to traverse. It's a good bet goblins have marked it for a secret exit.
Exits include both naturally occurring caves and goblin-dug tunnels. Every exit is guarded, or at the very least watched. A lair never has more openings than a tribe can handle. If their numbers dwindle, unguardable exits are filled in. The tribe cannot risk an enemy or a monster gaining access to its lair.
It is in a goblin's nature to attack, destroy and kill. Out of necessity, he has learned to defend. Still, a goblin likes to be able to let his guard down when in his lair even as a drover likes to share a pint in his tavern without worrying about his stock, or a lady likes to putter about in her garden without fear of kidnaping or invasion. Lairs are made to be defensible without a lot of work or attention from those goblins otherwise occupied inside.
First of all, lairs are difficult to find. Goblins are never seen simply milling about outside their lairs. They have too much cunning for that, whatever a Purple Dragon tells you. They rarely even come and go except under cover of darkness. Oftentimes, the entrance to a lair is specifically placed in a rocky area or where the ground is very hard, to avoid any possibility of tracks leading right up to the front door, as it were.
If this luxury of location is not possible, or, if it is winter and there is fresh snow to reveal even the most careful woodsman's trail, the residents do their best to cover up the tracks or disguise them. Some Marches goblins have displayed amazing ingenuity in disguising their footprints to resemble deer, bear, or similar animal tracks.
Second, lair entrances are very small, compared to the more standard door width and height in a human dwelling. Entrances are often so small that most of the tribe has to crouch or even crawl to get in (crawling is not considered awkward or unseemly by goblin standards). This keeps out large predators and most goblin foes like humans or elves. Obviously, meager size cannot prevent dwarves, gnomes, halflings and the most common goblin foe - other goblins - from gaining access, but it is easier by far to defend an entrance when the attackers are forced to scramble in on all fours.
Almost all goblin lairs have one large entrance, or one that can be made large quickly either by rolling aside a boulder or perhaps tripping a simple mechanism- driven gate, so that vast numbers of the tribe can get in or out quickly. Naturally, these entrances are always the most heavily guarded. directly in the wolves' den.
Entrances are very often trapped. Though goblin brains are not clever at designing a new trap, goblins. nimble fingers are good for building simple mechanisms they have been taught or they have seen and copied. Some goblin trap-lore extends back hundreds of years to the time of Hlundadim's reign, when they attacked and gained control of dwarven holds.
The most common styles of entrance traps found around a goblin lair are in fact the oldest standards in defense the Realms over: leaf or litter-covered pits, large stones suspended or wedged above a portal and connected to a trip wire, or any of the number of similar unsubtle, simplistic tricks that fall in a builder's repertoire.
Those goblins that employ traps are, of course, quick to take advantage of their victims' predicaments. They do not hesitate to attack foes pinned under rocks and to fire missiles down at victims at the bottom of a pit. I have many times seen goblins link their traps and "house pets" in a gruesome combination: for instance, a tribe which kept dire wolves in its lair rigged up pit traps that dumped their victims
Lastly, to keep the entrances to a lair secret, every tribe occasionally, and randomly, changes them. The original entrances are blocked with boulders and covered with smaller stones, vegetation, or other camouflage. New entrances are dug out, or more rarely some older passage that was previously blocked up is reopened. This changing of entrances happens only once every few years or so, since it is time- and temper- consuming work. But goblins will undertake the task more often if their burrow has been discovered by a foe that might return.
As I mentioned before, anyone entering the area controlled by a tribe is subject to attack. It may not always happen that a traveler is worthy enough game to risk the abandoning of assigned guard posts. If, however, a force is patently looking for the lair, such as a rival tribe's raiding party, they are always harried by goblin patrols. Confrontations, especially in defensive maneuvers, are most likely to be quick smash-and-fade raids, so that the goblins can inflict as much damage as possible while maintaining an element of surprise. Using their knowledge of the region, the harassing goblins strike, then seek a safe hiding spot before the invaders are able to organize and fight back.
Often, the secondary lair is used to launch such attacks and to hide in during a retreat. Other times, local caves and tunnels (not part of the lair itself) make snug hideouts. Their superior knowledge of these tunnels allows the native goblins to attack, flee underground, and then emerge again to attack from a different direction. Attempts are always made to lead the invaders away from the lair - perhaps into a trap or an ambush if the defenders are really prepared.
The typical goblin lair itself is an unfathomable maze by human standards. Usually, a central chamber serves as a common room. Here the majority of the tribe eats, sleeps and for the most part, lives. Large tribes may have several such rooms. Only leaders, shamans, and other tribe members of importance have the right to claim private chambers.
The bulk of a lair is made up of winding tunnels, small guard rooms, storerooms, worg dens, slave chambers, and other nameless places. If invaders gain access to a lair, the native goblins show no hesitation in using these abundant small rooms to ambush the attackers and harass them as they did outside.
Tenacious ambushers that they are, goblins never fight to the death in defending their homes. When faced with an obviously superior force, goblin morale always breaks - and usually in one massive tide of panic. Suddenly, the vicious guerrillas of only moments ago have turned tail. The natives use one or more of their many exits to flee.
Each tribe usually has designated a regrouping area somewhere in their territory. Of course, many of their number flee in such abject terror when routed that they lose the presence of mind to make for that area once they have left the lair.
A goblin tribe driven out of its lair can lose nearly one fifth of the survivors to such panic. Goblins alone in the wild usually end up as a meal for a wandering chimera or similar beast, although some make it back to their tribe eventually. Many who cannot find their own tribe are captured by or surrender to another tribe. One such creature of my acquaintance explained in a servile whine that life as a slave is better than no life at all.
Though you would not think creatures of such low intelligence are sophisticated enough to even conceive of an information network, you would be dangerously wrong. Consider a ground squirrel's whistling signals. Remember that herd animals flick various appendages in warning. Goblins are natural creatures, too.
In fact, the entire defense of a goblin lair requires rapid communication. Patrols need to send word back to the lair to warn the rest of the tribe of approaching invaders, and those goblins organizing the direct defense of their lair must be able to relate news to one another very quickly.
Goblins accomplish this transfer of information in two ways. First, they use runners. Certain, particularly fast individuals are chosen to serve as messengers. Each patrol has at least one designated runner. Runners are used when the distances are great, or when some amount of stealth is involved.
Otherwise, goblins use the second, easier method of communicating - loud noise. Goblin ears are somewhat more sensitive than humans., and they are able to hear sounds from a great distance, especially sounds reverberating underground. Most guard posts are equipped with drums, gongs or horns for sending signals. Many tribes require all adult males to keep a horn or whistle with them at all times. Messages and signals are kept short and simple among goblins, just as they are among ground squirrels. A goblin brain is not equipped to handle sonnets.
I know that you have already formed your own opinions as to the decoration and upkeep of a typical goblin home, and I am sure my description will not disappoint you. A lair itself is filthy. Goblins are disgusting creatures with little knowledge of personal hygiene, and no concept of sanitation. As the main portion of the tribe shares a single chamber, so filth and waste are found right next to food and bedding.
Treasure and important valuables belonging to the tribe are stored in the chief's quarters. Personal possessions of individuals, which are few, are stored on their persons. Everything else is considered property of the tribe and freely used by whomever pleases. Even the piles of bedding, which usually consist of knots of stolen or plundered rags, straw, or leaves, have no individual owner.
Goblins have no family units. No mating rituals or emotional bonds exist. They simply breed, and what young are born get raised collectively by all of the females together. Being selfish creatures, older goblins care for the young only with the idea that babies can grow up to help provide for and protect the tribe. Infirm or weak young are left to die.
Likewise, old goblins that are unable to fend for themselves are also left to die. The frequency with which elderly goblins are abandoned is amazingly low, however. Of course, this statistic paints too rosy a picture of the race's health in the twilight years. Actually, there are so few elderly goblins because individuals are most likely to be killed - either in a raid, by some giant predator, or in a fight with their own tribesmen - long before they reach a debilitating age.
Males dominate goblin society only because they are physically stronger. Positions of authority are always held by males, and hunting and warfare are their areas of influence. Females have young and care for them - they are responsible for, and allowed to accomplish, nothing else. Invaders attacking a goblin lair soon learn that the females cannot be discounted entirely, however, and they do fight long and hard in their lair's defense.
Interpersonal relationships such as friendships are beyond the mental and moral capacity of the average goblin - even beyond the capacity of the above-average goblin. Don't be fooled by a plaintive snivel. Goblins are completely self-serving, and staying alive is their major goal. To a goblin, a life of pain and misery is better than no life at all.
In this horrid society, the strongest rule over their fellows. There is a distinct "chain of command" that includes every goblin in the tribe. Each tribe member knows at all times who is above him in the chain, and who is below.
The chief, obviously, is the first link in this chain. Although the position of supreme leader is generally hereditary (a chief's sons are kept apart from the rest of the brood so that they can be distinguished and offered training not given to the run-of-the-litter regulars), this humanlike favoritism survives only because goblin genetics are not very complex. Large, strong individuals usually beget large, strong young. When this is not the case, and the heir to the chieftainship is sickly, or merely a small specimen, the chief's son is killed (usually by his father) for disgracing him. When a chief has no "heir," however, the succession is not so clear (nor the target so obvious). A new leader is not chosen until after the current chief's demise.
A chief's life is difficult, as one might begin to suspect, for he must always be on his guard. Anyone strong enough and bold enough to kill the current chief is likely to become the new one, so the chief's life is always in danger, even within the supposed safety of the lair. The chief usually chooses the most powerful goblin warriors as his bodyguards, both to protect him, and to keep them on his side-for they would otherwise be his main threats.
In turn, the chief gets the best of everything the tribe has to offer, and his word is law. There is no one to question him, and anyone displeasing him dies if he so wishes.
Some tribes have acknowledged "leaders" as well, which rank rates below the subchief, but above any other goblin in the tribe. This third tier leader is usually the biggest, strongest goblin in any given group of 40 to 50 adult males. Leaders enforce decisions made by their superiors and make small-scale decisions of their own.
Under the chief, if the tribe is large, ranks one or more subchiefs. Like the chief, these privileged individuals have bodyguards protecting them from potential challengers. Subchiefs are great warriors, and often serve as military leaders. However, their power is not absolute. Any decision they make can be immediately overruled by the chief himself.
A shaman holds a special place within a goblin tribe's structure and hierarchy. Since he usually wields powers that mystify the others, he is regarded with awe - a terror-induced awe he carefully fosters with judicious use of spectacle and manner.
Goblin shamans are the best argument for the educability of the race, for I have rarely seen one who does not use his native cunning, nastiness, and grasp of goblin culture to the fullest. Not that a goblin shaman is unbeatable - far from it. Some are the worst cowards of the lot. But within their capabilities, they are masters of mob control. They have to be.
Though he has no real political power within the tribe, a shaman's commands are usually followed and his advice is always heeded. Not all tribes have shamans - in fact, slightly less than half do. Those without them simply ignore religion altogether.
Goblins have no real philosophy (other than self-preservation at all costs), and their religion is crude and simplistic, sometimes to the point of farce. Maglubiyet is the goblin deity they revere, though only out of fear and loathing - fear of Maglubiyet, and of what life might be without him. This horrible god is offered sacrifices of animal blood by the tribal shaman at least once a month. There are no other religious services of any kind. The religious life of a shamanless goblin tribe consists simply of fear.
The goblin tribes today raid and make war upon each other more often than on their more traditional enemies .humans, dwarves, gnomes and elves. Only a few tribes are actually joined in any sort of alliance, and even such meager agreements as those are often broken.
Due to their long history, however, many goblins still have ties to other races. I have seen tribes working in cooperation with orcs, hobgoblins, kobolds, even occasionally gnolls and ogres. Goblins in the Stonelands ally themselves with all of these races and worse, with humans as well, to form the multiracial plague known in my native Cormyr as border raiders.
Of all other creatures, however, worgs and dire wolves are the chief allies of goblins. These ferociously evil creatures share the same hateful, destructive mentality that goblins do. They often live in dens right in the goblin lairs, not as pets the way a noble keeps lap dogs, nor as slaves, nor even as beasts of burden the way a huntsman keeps hounds. No, most often they are treated as cousins, even honored guests. Out of respect they are often given better food than the majority of a tribe's members. Some goblins train to ride their companion dire wolves. Otherwise, the wolves simply accompany their allies into battle.
Goblins also keep slaves of various races, although most longterm servants are goblins of other tribes. Slaves of other races end up dying too frequently from harsh treatment, petty jealousies, or - much to their masters. disgust - simply from despair. A few slaves might be kobolds, dwarves, gnomes, orcs and even humans. These slaves are forced into mining and other dangerous, hard labor.
As I previously stated, the goblin mentality places self-preservation above all else. Comfort and happiness are a distant second, and in fact, perhaps unattainable by human standards. I cannot pretend to have an unbiased opinion of the race, nor have I conducted interviews in the accepted scholarly fashion. But I have known more of the creatures than any three of my sometime allies, in my years in the Marches. The most a goblin can hope for is to simply exist - perhaps that is why they are so hateful and so enjoy killing and stealing from others.
Goblins despise light, particularly sunlight. They rarely venture out during the daytime, preferring to skulk in the dank, dark closeness of their lairs. If some plan requires them to bestir themselves in daylight hours, they only attempt it on cloudy, cold days. Their reasoning is simple: goblins have very good infravision. Why should they waste one of their few natural abilities? As for comfort, they prefer to work, and for that matter to live, in a climate that is cold, and even a little wet.
Human slaves in a goblin's favorite environment succumb rapidly to illness and death. Not so their masters. They apparently have a great resistance to disease, for not only are goblin lairs filled with disease- spreading waste, but fleas, rot grubs, rats, and other unclean creatures inhabit their living quarters as well. I heard one creature defend the - well, unkemptness is far too pale a term - conditions by observing that snacks were readily available, and one needn't depend wholly on the womenfolk for dinner.
Although their infant mortality rate is high, goblins reproduce in litters like animals, each female having three to seven young per birth, at least every other year. With the lax mothering, perpetual lair strife, and adult preoccupation with raiding and violence, it is a wonder that any young survive to mature adulthood.
Goblins have no concept of husbandry. They eat anything, as long as it is raw. Cooked food they disdain, although principles go out the window when supplies are short. They prefer fresh meat, and hunt any moving life form in the tribe's territory to virtual extinction (another reason they have become a race of raiders and robbers). They even eat the flesh of other intelligent beings, including other goblins.
If forced to by lack of game or beseigement, the creatures eat fungus, leather, and even plants they know to be poisonous. I have heard that a starving, lone goblin will eat dirt if nothing else presents itself. Goblins feel starvation is the worst way to die.
Most of what goblins have, they have stolen. They can manufacture their own crude weapons and tools from wood and stone if they have to. Generally, however, if they don't have something, they simply do without - there is little ingenuity within the race.
In brief, goblins are disgustingly evil, selfish, meanspirited cowards that delight in killing and destruction. They have learned how to protect and defend themselves and their society out of a sense of need and fear. They feel few emotions other than hate, despair and loathing. If they ever organize into a large nation again, it will be dangerous - they would murder all other life if they could.
The Orc Horde
Though not as numerous as goblins, the orcs of the area are a vicious and powerful threat to travelers. Many orcs can be found living among goblin tribes, acting as mercenary muscle in raids and protecting the lair in between actions.
Orcs on their own live in small villages of wooden huts, usually surrounded by a deep trench, and often hedged with a log palisade. Each village is home to anywhere from 50 to 500 orcs.
Orc villages are often located in secluded, hidden areas. Warfare is the orcs. chief pursuit, so their villages are defended by patrols and traps, while a force of soldiers remains ready at a moment's notice. These creatures have fought all their lives for generations. they know what they are doing.
Orcs are not racial isolationists. Usually, some five to 20 ogres can also be found in these communities, along with a few goblins, hobgoblins, and half-orcs (crossbred with humans or any of the races found in the village).
The orc village is led by a chieftain and his assistants (who also double as bodyguards). Often, villages boast a shaman and perhaps a witch doctor with some minor wizardly abilities. These individuals do not command much power by human spell-casting standards, but they hold the respect and fear of all of their brethren. The chief usually does his best to limit the political power of these individuals, whose capacity for exciting admiration may surpass his own. More than one group of orcs has been completely taken over by a shaman or witch doctor.
Unlike goblins, orcs are capable of accomplishing more than just basic survival. Orcs craft their own weapons, cultivate crops, and have developed a fairly complex society. They are surprisingly intelligent, and are capable of original design and creation. Unfortunately, they are lazy and prefer to steal the creations and ideas of others. Their native abilities are hampered by their animalistic tendencies.
Despite this, orc culture is sophisticated when compared to the bulk of their goblinoid relatives. They have developed a complex worldview wherein they themselves are the center of all things. All other living creatures, according to their belief, exist to be exploited by orcs in one way or another.
Powerful and well-skilled members of other races are particularly loathsome in orc eyes, as power and skill should only be wielded by their own hands. Orcs fervently believe such abominations should be destroyed, and their power should be taken from them and used by orcs.
Orc social structure actually mimics human culture fairly closely. Orcs marry, hold worship services for their gods, have codified laws, and even teach their young in a crude educational system. They desire to prove, to others and to themselves, that they are a sophisticated race. Perhaps the squalor of their goblin cousins spurs this need to acquire (or refine, as the orcs would have it) their own cultural identity.
Oftentimes, however, their true, bestial nature comes forth. Marriage vows are rarely upheld among orcs, the strong dominate and exploit the weak, and orc children are taught the skills of murder, thievery, and destruction long before any elevated cultural lessons come their way.
Orcs are excellent miners and control a number of iron ore mines in the Marches and the Stonelands. They use this ore themselves to craft weapons, armor, and tools. I have never discovered ore for export, I think because of two insurmountable obstacles. First, what rational outlander would trade with orcs, and second, what orc would deign to ship his merchandise to an inferior race?
The accomplishments of the orc race are not, like goblins' talents, limited to the violent arts of rapine and murder. Orcs are also expert hunters, and passable farmers. Again unlike goblins, they do not keep dire wolves, or any other domesticated or allied creatures. Sometimes an orc village or family may capture an animal or monster and force it to serve them, but they are a race too cruel and selfish to be able to tame or befriend such creatures.
Even those of other races that orcs occasionally may ally themselves with need to be wary of betrayal or exploitation from their erstwhile friends. Although orcs are willing to interact and interbreed with all the other goblinoid races - and even with some human border raiders - they seem unlikely to actually respect these other races. Orcs have a great deal of racial pride and hubris. They are confident that they are the dominant people in the world.or at least that they should be.
At the time of the Battle of Bones, about three hundred years ago, hobgoblins were a much more plentiful race, far outnumbering orcs. In that terrible, bloody war, however, it was the hobgoblin ranks that sustained the most terrible casualties. The vast majority died in Skull Gorge.
Hobgoblins are pretty common in both the Goblin Marches and the Stonelands. There are separate tribes of hobgoblins in the region but most often the creatures are found in the company of orcs, goblins, or humans. When they travel or shelter with goblins, hobgoblins consider themselves the masters. Orcs and humans they are more likely to treat as equals.albeit equals they do not completely trust and at least somewhat resent. Hobgoblins
It is certain that hobgoblin shamans have never again attained the levels of mastery and of power that they brought to that fateful conflict. Only legends recall the times when hobgoblins were able to summon servants from the lower planes, and cast extremely powerful spells.
Kobolds are also rare in the Marches and the Stonelands today, but their numbers were not diminished by heroic massacre or battlefield betrayal. Most have simply relocated to deep caverns under the surface to avoid the raids and attacks of their goblinoid cousins. I guess retreat is always the better part of kobold valor. Some hardy - or greedy - individuals remain, joining the border raiders or orc mercenary groups that exist in the area.
Entirely kobold tribes are very few in number, but those that exist are most likely to be found in or around the Farsea Marshes. These tribes number 50 to 200 kobolds, and they live a very primitive existence, even for their race.
Farsea kobolds dwell in tiny, domelike huts of dried mud. When not simply attacking with claws and teeth like any predatory animal, these little beasts hunt with weapons made of sharpened wood. They have few accomplishments or blessings. At least their relative poverty frees them from goblin or orc attacks, and so they live largely unmolested. The almost gnomelike ingenuity and fondness for mechanisms displayed by most kobolds I have heard tales of in the Realms is nowhere in evidence among the Farsea creatures. These kobolds are simple pests.
Those ogres in the Stonelands or Goblin Marches, being creatures of greed, hunger and laziness, have found it more profitable and easier to dwell with tribes of smaller creatures, such as orcs or goblins, than to form their own society. It is not uncommon to find a handful of ogres (both male and female) lodged among a tribe of goblins or orcs. More rarely the creatures condescend to patronize hobgoblins. Perhaps it is the other way around - more rarely, hobgoblins suffer ogres in their midst.
Too chaotic to fit into whatever organizational structure the host tribe accomplishes (and too powerful to be forced into any social mode or title), ogres usually do as they please in such a situation. They are not required to perform menial tasks, and they do not have to obey or show respect to the chieftain or the local shaman.
In fact, they treat other tribe members quite badly, bullying and tormenting them out of spite. All ogres actually do is accompany their host orcs or goblins when they make raids, and help defend the tribe's home when it is attacked. In return they usually demand the best spoils.both food and treasure.
Despite this unfair situation, tribe members of the lesser races are usually glad to have an ogre or two around, for defensive benefits if nothing else. Remember, most goblinkin admire raw power more than any other attribute. What are ogres, if not might? Their added power often makes the difference between victory and defeat, and their mere presence serves as a deterrent among would-be raiders.
There is another phenomenon I think worth mentioning. Tribes of goblins or orcs that include ogre companions are far more likely to attack human travelers and settlements, both because of the greater physical power they can field, and because of the ogres. fondness for human flesh.
The ogres of this region do not make anything, preferring to steal or coerce whatever supplies they require to meet their needs. They generally do not revere any gods, and have no shamans. Having lost what small amount of culture and racial unity other ogres in the Realms may retain by living among members of their own race, Marches and Stonelands ogres, like orcs, seem quite willing to interbreed. Of particular note, those individuals with orc tribes breed with their companion orcs, creating orc/ogre crossbreeds known sometimes as orogs.
These progeny were once looked down upon by ogres, but orogs are slowly becoming as numerous as ogres themselves, among the goblinkin. Orogs, particularly those that favor their ogre parent, are now accepted by other ogres and often mate with them. These second-generation offspring are very close to ogres both in physique and temperament, but usually a bit smaller and smarter.
Orogs that are three-quarters ogre blood or more may eventually supplant ogres altogether in the Marches as the pure bloodline gets more and more diluted. Orcs always look upon orogs as a blessing, for they are bigger and stronger than orcs, and not as cruel (to other orcs) as pure-blood ogres.
Ogres within goblin tribes do not - yet - breed with goblins, that I know of. It is not unknown, however, to encounter orc-goblin crossbreeds (especially in goblin communities that use orcs as .hired muscle,. rather than ogres), and these halfbreeds can and do mate with both ogres and orogs, creating strange racial mixtures.
These creatures usually live and operate separately from all the other evil humanoid creatures in the region, repudiating goblins, ogres, and orcs alike. There are exceptions to this general rule, and in particular, some gnolls can be found among the border raiders.
Though gnolls were once allied with the goblinoids, it was a thousand years ago. That time has passed. Gnolls have made no attempt since to join the other races in forming huge armies. Perhaps they've had enough of grand schemes. They are content to perpetrate their small raids upon whatever human, dwarf and elf travelers are brave enough to tread the area. Occasionally, gnolls may make a sortie against local goblin or orc tribes.
In general, these creatures occupy the eastern section of the Stonelands and the Storm Horn Mountains. They are not numerous, and actually try to raid without drawing attention to themselves.
They bitterly hate stone giants, however, and always attack them, even if the odds are not in their favor. Gnoll tradition has it that a stone giant slew their greatest historical figure, a gnoll called Grrat. Because of that act, their legends lament, gnolls are forever doomed to relative insignificance in comparison to humans, elves, and other races.
Gnolls tolerate the presence and machinations of almost all the other evil races in the area when they must. Their preference is to fade away from intruders. They simply move elsewhere if the interference looks to be permanent, like a new lair or fortification. But if the invaders are merely a small scouting or raiding party, gnolls have no qualms about attacking them for food and wealth.
Each gnoll tribe numbers between 75 and 200 individuals, at least half of which are male warriors. As is the case across the goblinoid races, males dominate gnoll society. The gnolls of the Stonelands and the Storm Horns are almost all nomadic in nature and establish no permanent lairs.
There are a few gnoll-like flinds in the Stonelands, but they are quite rare. Gnolls revere these stockier and smarter individuals. Find a flind, and you have discovered a tribe of gnolls as well, for the former always hold a position of authority in the latter's society.
Aside from flinds, gnolls are also often accompanied by hyenadons. These beasts serve as guards when the tribe makes camp, and as hunting companions when a meal is in order. They are rarely taken on raids and offensive actions - simply because they are too valuable to lose. There are a few wild hyenadons in the Stonelands, but almost all have been domesticated by gnolls.
Bugbears in the Goblin Marches and the Stonelands are always encountered in the company of goblins. They serve as mercenary guards for their smaller cousins, tending to bully and mistreat them much as ogres do in the same position. Their advantage as paid muscle is surely offset by their abusive behavior, but as I have noted before, goblin intellect is not strong, and they revere might, even when it is directed against them.
There is a further hazard in employing bugbear mercenaries that goblins never seem to recognize. All bugbears eventually try to take over any tribe of goblins they work with, and make the smaller creatures their slaves.
Bugbears encountered with goblins are always male. They usually only stay on the surface a few months out of the year, before returning to their deep, lightless lairs in the Underdark. Only deep in the earth can females and young be found.
Specific Tribes and Groups
There are a few individual tribes of goblins and their ilk that stand out from the grubby masses of their kind. These bands warrant specific attention due to their wide influence, potentially lethal deviations, or simply interesting quirks. Know these groups, and you know the movers and shakers of this desolate little slice of the Realms.
All of the bands of goblins, hobgoblins, orcs, ogres, kobolds, evil humans, and gnolls within the Stonelands are referred to as border raiders by outsiders. But that generosity of labeling defeats any accurate assessment of the situation almost from the beginning.
The groups I designate as raiders earn their name by the fact that their existence seems to revolve completely around attacking nearby human, dwarven and even elven settlements, as well as any parties unlucky enough to be traveling through the area. They raid eastward into the Elven Woods, range north to attack dwarves in the Desertmouth Mountains, and strike southward to prey on humans in Cormyr. The westernmost Dales are not safe from border raiders, either.
The membership of the raiders, goblinoid and otherwise, is interracially tolerant, even more so than any "pure" tribes found in the Goblin Marches. Bands are almost always comprised of at least two races, and sometimes compass as many as four or five. They seem almost to strive for diversity, the way an adventuring group solicits mages and clerics to round out the talents of its fighters.
Some examples will make it clearer. One group of border raiders I dealt with was lead by a small party of humans, who had a dozen ogre bodyguards. Under them were six commands of about 20 goblins, each lead by an orc. There was also a group of orc archers, and nearly 25 kobold servants/guards. These raiders even had a troll and four bugbears that worked with them as well.
Another band of border raiders is almost exclusively gnolls and kobolds, commanded by a surprisingly intelligent hill giant. Still another numbers exclusively crossbreeds as its membership, including human/orc, orc/ogre, orc/goblin, orc/duergar, goblin/kobold, orc/hobgoblin, and even human/ogre mixes.
Unknown to most of their victims, these groups have a secret. Many, but not all, of the border raider bands operate under the control of a venerable red dragon named Grinnsira. She is a particularly adept spellcaster (even when compared to Great Wyrms), and she has used charm spells to ensnare the raiders. as well as a vast spy network that extends through Cormyr, Sembia, and the Dalelands. Her ultimate goals are unknown to me, but carving out an empire does not seem beyond her scope.
The Servants of the Zhentarim
Grinnsira's influence in the Goblin Marches is being undermined by the Black Network of the Zhentarim, who are becoming more active in this region each day. They hope to bring the border raiders, as well as the goblinoids of the Marches, under their own influence, so they can exploit them to their own dark ends. This evil organization figures to use the goblins and their ilk to establish a foothold in the region. I can think of few less appealing plans.
From here, the Black Network intends to direct its inhuman armies to attack key positions in Cormyr, the Dales, and the lands to the west. Since that is what many of the goblinoids are doing anyway, the goal may not be that hard to achieve. The main obstacle the Zhentarim face is getting these goblinoid troops to take orders from humans.
To manage this, they have so far used an effective and unexpected technique. A number of captured and mind-controlled doppelgangers have been planted within certain tribes, and groups of border raiders, sometimes replacing leaders and even chieftains. Through these plants, the Zhentarim are able to coerce the goblinoids into following their commands without the tribes even knowing. Some of these doppelgangers have been discovered by tribe members, but goblin minds are not clever. They see no concerted threat, only the random predation of a natural menace. Word of the doppelgangers. existence has not spread far.
Even if the Zhentarim never assume clandestine control here, they plan on at least de-stabilizing the region. A precarious border situation would tie up Cormyrean resources, allowing the Black Network freer reign within that kingdom. To tip the balance and foment open conflict, the Zhentarim have been bringing other, powerful monsters, like beholders, to the forefront of the region. These invaders cause trouble and draw forth the Cormyrean border guard.
Of all the goblin tribes, the Neidlig are the most powerful - that is, they are the most numerous and they hold the greatest amount of territory. Based in the southern part of the Goblin Marches, the Neidlig tribe hunts and raids throughout the High Moors as well.
The lair of this tribe is actually a ruined citadel, one of the few remnants of an ancient goblin army that once controlled the area. The walls have long since crumbled away, but some of the towers, as well as the main keep, are relatively intact. The whole goblin tribe, numbering almost 600 by my estimation, dwells mainly in the dungeon under the keep and in the natural caves connected to it.
Unlike most goblin tribes, the Neidlig do not feel it necessary to hide their lair - no other tribe would be so foolish as to attack them. Aside from huge numbers of goblin warriors, the tribe also employs a group of orc mercenaries to help protect their citadel, and a surprising number of ogres accompany the Neidlig on their raiding missions.
A medium-sized tribe of hobgoblins known as the Merrowdrinkers lairs not far from the citadel and has allied itself with the Neidlig. An orc community called the Colchar is also on friendly terms with the goblins. The multiracial nature of the force that the Neidlig represent is due in part to a vision of the past which Neidlig's chief Srubaash - or King Srubaash, as he prefers to style himself - had. He claims a mysterious spirit explained to him the urgency and importance of rebuilding what once was lost.
The Neidlig represent the greatest threat that a vast goblin empire might again rise up from its long cold ashes. Seeking instead to unite goblins, orcs and others, they actually avoid raiding and warring with other tribes. Certainly the number of tribes that ally themselves with the Neidlig will continue to grow, as King Srubaash spreads his visionary message.
Since the rumors of Srubaash's vision began to be disseminated throughout the Marches, another tribe has also attempted to unite the goblins. The Fenlis, as they are called, are not allies of the Neidlig, however. They despise the latter's inclusion of other races in their plans for rebuilding the past. The Fenlis are racial elitists, believing that orcs, kobolds, and other humanoids are destined to fall before their own goblin superiority in the same manner as the races of humans, dwarves and elves are doomed to do.
The Fenlis, whose lair lies due north of the High Moors, are a large tribe of 400 or so goblin members. Their ranks are not supplemented with orcs or ogres, like the Neidlig, although they do not hesitate to employ other races as slaves. Even more than other tribes, the Fenlis use cunning and ingenuity to aid and protect themselves. Their secret lair is surrounded by well-hidden traps of devious and deadly design. They war with nearly all other races, particularly the Colchar orcs.
This mixed community of orcs and hobgoblins coexists near Skull Gorge, and represents the last vestige of that vast force of goblinoids that warred against the humans in the Battle of Bones. Of all goblinkin in the region, the Melial are the most adept at magic, and there are a number of powerful shamans and witch doctors among them.
I find this tribe fascinating. Fascinating and oh, so dangerous. These are not clumsy oafs toying with magical baubles, as likely to burn themselves as the objects of their attacks. These are serious practitioners, mages bent on recapturing the powers their people no longer wield except in legend.
Indeed, the Melial use magical items left over from ancient times. These devices help protect them from other tribes and aid them in their attacks against nearby human settlements. They even sometimes journey into the desert of Anauroch and make raiding strikes against the town of Lundeth, as well as any convenient camps of nomadic Bedine.
They are especially interested in gathering more magical items and spell knowledge, so sometimes the Melial can be found scouring various ruins in the Marches or even in the Great Desert. Particularly brave orcs even dare to tread the haunted battlefields that once echoed the war screams of the Battle of Bones, willing to stave off undead in order to glean magical weapons or armor.
They are not just randomly recovering these fragments of ancient history, either. They have a specific quest. The shamans of the Melial tribe are seeking an armored fragment known as the Darkhelm. Its powers supposedly allow the wearer to summon forth fiends from the lower planes.
Whether it is a result of an old curse bequeathed upon them during the Battle of Bones, or some unrelated cause, there are those among the Melial inflicted with the disease known as lycanthropy. This fact is usually suppressed so as not to alarm or forewarn other goblinoid tribes. Nevertheless, I myself have seen a Melial orc transform before my very eyes into a misshapen, humanoid wolf. These werewolves are just as powerful as humans so cursed. It is a Melial tactic to use their lycanthropic members as a surprise attack upon their enemies.
Despite the fact that they hide their shapechanging ability from outsiders, it is a symbol of importance and status to be a werewolf in Melial culture. Lycanthropy has not spread willy-nilly to everyone - in fact, new were-creatures are chosen, not randomly created when the hunger arises. That fact argues more discipline than most of members of either species possess. Not surprisingly, the affliction is more common among the orcs than the hobgoblins in the tribe. Melial leaders, as well as many of their shamans and witch doctors, have the curse, which they ironically call "the Blessing."
An oddity among goblins, this small tribe displays several unique characteristics that distinguish it from all others. It occupies an area that straddles the border between the Marches and the Stonelands and encroaches into both, though it is a very small territory.
I have discovered through my own studies that this plant, which I have found nowhere else, actually prolongs the life span of goblinoids. Many goblins of Teerac-on-Water are well over 100 years old. Perhaps it is this extended life span that enables them to become more sophisticated, or perhaps intelligence boosting is another effect of the plant that I have never isolated.
The tribe gains its strange-sounding name from the secluded lake upon which it makes its home. At the center of the lake, which is formed within a large crater, there is a small island. The only way to reach the island is by boat. The tribe occupies this island, as well as a flotilla of wooden barges and rafts tethered to it. Squat wooden houses and buildings cover both the island and the attached flotilla. It is nearly impossible to tell from a distance where land gives way to water, because of the density of buildings over both.
The Teerac goblins have tunneled deep under their island. Their delving discovered a force of bugbears. They quickly allied themselves with the subterranean creatures, and have (recently) discovered the extensiveness of the Underdark. They have trained giant and killer frogs for use as guardians around the perimeter of their floating lair, and are attempting to gain other creatures, preferably amphibious ones, as help as well.
Teerac-on-Water goblins are well skilled in navigating their small boats around the lake. It helps, no doubt, that the surface of the lake remains calm virtually all of the time.
The members of this tribe, unlike all other goblins I have met, can tolerate the light of the sun without compromising their health, and are often found abroad at hours during which any of their cousins would be fast asleep. Then, too, Teerac goblins seem perfectly comfortable wearing chain armor. They demonstrate other qualities of civilization and sophistication foreign to their brethren as well - but do not welcome them into your hearts and homes just yet. They are still goblins in appetite. Teerac-on-Water raid other tribes, keep slaves, and unfortunately still possess that gruesome, goblinish delight for killing and destruction.
Although they harpoon fish as a dietary staple, they actually eat a surprising number of the fruits and leafy plants which grow near or in the lake. Goblins interested in a balanced meal? I didn't believe it myself when first I observed it. But in time I noticed there is one particular plant, the blood red lily, which they cook (again, an odd behavior among goblins) and eat regularly.
Teerac-on-Water do not fear raids from other goblinoids since others of their kind feel the difficulty in assaulting them in boats is not worth the effort. The tribe numbers around 200. They revere and protect a powerful shaman whose responsibility it is to oversee the construction of the wooden dwellings, the barges and the boats, none of which are typical goblin creations.
- A Few Notes About Me
- Part One: Regional Details
- Part Two: The Vanishing Wildlife
- Part Three: The Goblin Threat
- Part Four: The Great Beasts
- Part Five: Rumors and Events