Wednesday, May 8, 2019

“Just Use Goblins”

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m a huge proponent of Just Use Bears when it comes to monsters and have been exploiting this chicanery for ages. Like many DMs that have been running games for a significant amount of time, I don’t always need to refer to a shiny new custom stat-block to adjudicate a memorable encounter on-the-fly, and hacks like this can be extremely useful to keep in mind.

There’s been an interesting compatibility development recently when sharing statistics to keep them system neutral, especially for Armor Class which can vary significantly between versions and reinterpretations. Seeing AC expressed with “as Chain” makes me happy, because I know instinctively what this works out to be in just about all the flavors I frequent. So for a while now to save space, I’ve just been expressing the Monster Stat-block with “as Goblin” or “as Ogre” with a few scribbled exceptions to emphasize utility. These are some monsters that I most frequently re-skin, and have grown to know the blocks pretty much by heart.

I’ve begun to take this trick to another level and I’m in the early stages of devising a supplement/tool tentatively titled “Just Use Goblins.” All it should require is access to, or a fair amount of familiarity with, the traditional Goblin Stat Block for the clone system of your choice. By reskinning one of the most frequently cast standbys we can eke a little more mileage out of them and even still steer things in a more fantastical direction (or simply just keep foes fresh and unpredictable). Players may be confident in their ability to thoroughly mess up a malignity of generic Goblins, but just might hesitate a bit when confronted with a tittering cluster of strange humanoids with Sea-Urchins on their shoulders instead of heads.

Here’s a sample spread/prototype page. It’s kind of dense, and I’d dearly love to squeeze in some art/illustration somehow eventually.

What would you modify to try and free up some space? The tables will likely vary somewhat for each re-skin. Is this intuitive? Too crowded? Are some features less than useful to have on a single spread and perhaps better served as a separate section/appendix?

I was really drawn to the concept from Middenmurk of overloading the assorted rolls associated with encounter generation (HD, No. Appearing, etc) wherever possible as a time-saver. Since one is rolling them anyway, let them perform some additional duties. But do you think this is actually something feasible to use during play, or only somewhat helpful during preparatory work?

I’d love to hear any feedback. Just something to work on periodically when I grow a little weary of staring at Hex Tables and need to recharge my creativity by distracting myself with something else. :)


  1. I love this idea. I think you are really on to something here! I suppose the downside is expanding your random encounter charts from 1 page to ten...

    I have been thinking about giving realction rolls double duty in a similar way - a 'hostile' result means the creatures are actually members of a different faction than if I rolled 'indifferent' or 'friendly.' This is similar but way more involved!

    1. Thanks for the insight HDA!
      I didn't really think about how this might interface with standard Random Encounter Charts. I suppose the primary intent was to leave those be (maybe have the No. Appearing dice on them), and then one of these came up just grab the appropriate page as HD were being rolled (so it'd work almost like an separate "Encounter Workbook" for that encounter. Last thing I'd want is to slow Wandering Monster procedures down though, so I'll have to think about ways to potentially streamline that :). These could work well for a more "mono-culture" dungeon/area though (it's a Storkfolk-held swamp, etc).

      Reaction Rolls are a great candidate for overloading. I already find myself using Reaction Rolls "with the Cosmos" for Weather Conditions all the time. I've thought about folding them in with Surprise Before, but I like your idea of a dungeon with several factions, where the faction of the encounter is determined by Reaction, especially if the encounters aren't part of an obvious mono-culture (is that Ogre aligned with the Blue Cloak Kobolds, or is he with those annoying Thorn Tribe Goblin dudes?). Wonder if there's a way to fold Morale Rolls into "Stuff dropped on fleeing" or "Tracks Left Behind" somehow :)

    2. The possibilities are endless. I think this needs further investigation.

      The danger with stacking factions & reactions is I would end up with one group that are always jerks and one group always friendly, no variations. There would have to be some nuances to it.

  2. I guess on a larger note - I run Pathfinder for my roommates, so reskinning stat blocks is mandatory.
    So far - quite a few humanoids use orc stats, hobgoblins, etc. I could keep this run going forever and never have to buy some new bestiary books, or heaven forbid spend an hour writing one up!

  3. I think this is a great idea. It would be good to think, what other "standard" monsters exist in nearly every system, and could one assemble a list that rises in difficulty monotonically across systems? (Because goblins, kobolds, orc, and skeletons, for example, are all 1 HD almost everywhere, I think.)

    I'm a big fan of the "overloaded generation dice" idea for adding procedural elements to monster generation. Ynas Midgard is doing something similar in his "Heartwarming Sandbox":

    I like the storks, they have a lot of personality. I hope you'll write the frogs sometime soon.

    In terms of the feedback you asked for, for possibly reducing the text a little? I would start by saying that the "senses" line can probably go here. They have no special senses to mention, and I don't think it's necessary to specify that they DON'T have the goblins' light sensitivity. There are a few other lines that might be able to be combined, I think? Like the fact that they don't slow down in water, and are immune to caltrops. Also their terrain and lairs, maybe?

    I really like the detail about midwifery, but it feels a little out of place in that section. I'm not sure where I'd put it though. I'm ALMOST tempted to say that the entire list of traits could be turned into a rumor table. So ALL those things are true, and the judge might need to know all of them, but if the player characters hear a rumor about the storks, it will be ONE fact, like what their weapons are, or who they hate, or where they live, etc.

    1. Thank you for the feedback Anne!
      I was drawn to Goblins initially because I’m honestly enamored with their weird HD in most versions of the game (HD 1d8-1…I didn’t have a d7 growing up and disliked fudging a 1, so I always wanted to do something different with those 0 HP Goblins…are they already dead at the time of the encounter? Do they immediately throw themselves onto the spears of enterprising adventurers at the start of combat? Are they just the Other Goblins’ Mischievous Shadows? Etc.). Plus, the creeping genericizing of Goblins…creatures so wonderfully rich with myth and legend… is a tide I’d like to try to turn.
      I do agree that there could be value in doing something like this for other common foes as well, Orcs are another one that seem to have grown “less scary” and “more homogenized” over the years. I rarely use them anymore for this very reason. I mention Ogres as another frequent re-skin of mine, so they might be something I tinker with too (4+1 HD is a lot of tables to play with).
      Tangent Alert: A while back I had an idea for a whole book series that started off super small in size (with a pocket-sized Little Red Kobold Book), and grew gradually larger with each goblinoid (A4 Green Goblin Book, A5 Hobgoblins and so on), culminating in an extra-large Coffee-table book for Giants. Oh, maybe someday :).
      Thanks for the link to the Heartwarming Sandbox. Glad to see that this is happening other places too and incorporating some distinctive variations like this will hopefully make even the most generic encounters not only easier to run (“I hit the blue one with the hat”) but most importantly more fun. I totally envy Ynas’ brevity.
      Working on the Frogfolk now (so you should see them soonish if I can stay on course), and I’ll tinker a bit with the text sizes and see about consolidating some things (I’m not a layout person, but I’m learning-by-doing). I’ve really liked Senses in stat blocks since I read Veins of The Earth, but it may only be a needed line for critters that deviate significantly more form the chassis. Completely agree with keeping the movement/caltrops together. Thought about maybe using some abbreviations and eliminating die types for damage (As Dagger, As Polearm, etc) too because those can vary somewhat from system to system.
      Your comment about Traits being rumors is excellent! That’s definitely the way to go for these. I wonder if I could bake them into Reaction Rolls (there’s some weighing there for more “common knowledge stuff” and a friendly reaction could almost be explained by more intimate knowledge of habits/customs perhaps? Hmm… I’ll have to brainstorm on that one a bit, but I’m a big fan of the general idea of turning most of the “facts” expressed here into a table instead of text.



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