DM’s Guild designer and podcast host Matthew Whitby writes Big Boss Epic Goblins who transcend the role of first-level punching bag to which most fantasy games relegate their goblins.
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Matthew Whitby: Grikk the Many was once just Grikk. So very lonely. There was no place for him. So he spent years in isolation, Walking aimlessly across barren wastelands forests mountain ranges. One fateful day, Grikk found two identical-looking humans arguing yet speaking in unison, He found the whole situation confusing.
One serious clubbing with a sharp rock later, the situation was so much easier to understand. His attention caught on a glowing ring that had a reflective surface, the artifact called out to Grikk urging him to wear it. So he did clutching the ring. Grikk felt the potential of something. He never truly considered the chance to be alone.
No more. The opportunity latched around his mind until he reached out with the ring. On the third attempt, Grich stood staring at Grikk One moment later, Greek was joined by Grikk, Grikk, Grikk, and Grikk. Grikk wasn’t alone anymore In fact, Grikk wasn’t even Grikk – he was Grikk the Many.
Lucas: Hello and welcome to Making a Monster, the weekly podcast where game designers show us their favorite monster and we discover how it works, why it works and what it means. I’m Lucas Zellers. The starter adventure in the last two editions of Dungeons & Dragons began with the same encounter: goblin attack. These evil little gremlins ambush you, now fight for your barely capable lives!
The heroic fantasy genre gives its audience characters who progress from stopping the smallest threats, like goblins, to the largest ones, like demon princes and undead wizards. But tabletop role-playing games allow their worlds to progress without the characters’ interaction. These games don’t need to wait for players to trigger a quick-time event or load the next stage like a video game does, which means in these worlds the monsters can level up, too.
My guest on this final episode of Making a Monster season one created a series of goblins who transcend the usual first encounter use of the creature in Runa and Ulfgar’s Compendium of Big Boss Epic Goblins.
Matthew Whitby: Hello. I am Matthew Whitby. I am an author on the DM’s Guild and the host of the Dungeon Masters Guild House, which is a weekly podcast where I chat with people on the DM’s Guild.
But mostly I’m an author for adventures. And in my many adventures, I’m quite fond of inserting in exciting monsters or challenges that players might have never faced before.
Lucas: Of the monsters in those 30 products that you’ve released, what’s your favorite and why?
Boss Monster Goblins
Matthew Whitby: Ooh, yeah, this again, this was a tough one. One of the products that I, I’m really proud of was, was a collaboration on Runa and Ulfgar’s Compendium of Big Boss Epic Goblins, which was essentially a brainchild that kind of stemmed from the idea of, people like goblins, but goblins, they run out of like, threats or, or being like a, anything meaningful past like level five.
Sure you can, maybe get like some giants and have the goblin scaring them out, but the goblins themselves aren’t in like the big threat. So that was like a collaboration with myself, Adam Hancock, and Jimmy Merritt, edited with Ryan Langr. and between the three of us, we came up with, I think, what was, it was like, 20 big boss epic goblins.
One of the ones that I wrote was called Grikk the Many, and it was a goblin that had a particular artifact: the Ring of Many Selves.
Essentially, it was a ring that was designed to, create a copy of yourself, much like a simulacrum. However, this artifact in its creation, was, twisted and there were complications. so in the fact that despite you sort of create a copy of yourself, both versions of you share the same, subconscious or brainwaves, or like essentially, you create your own hive mind. This one goblin who wears this ring, who has now created, like then they’re not a singular goblin.
They are a mass of goblins. And out of all the other people, who’ve had this Ring of Many Selves, Grikk has somehow managed to sort of overcome it, and become essentially the Master of Many.
What the kind of design ethos was the fact that they’re that stuff people like about goblins. And, it’s the idea that. That they, they are, that they, if it is like just that sort of like comedic relief or just, the nature of how goblins are, to sort of show the potential arc of like, well, I mean, the players are leveling up, the players are getting to like level 10, 15, 20, and, getting all these possibilities.
I’m surely, there’s gotta be some means which goblins to also follow in their suit. That’s an expectation because at the end of the day players, probably by the time they hit 15 to 20, they’re so used to stomping goblins that if they come face to face with any of these, any anybody they’re going to be like, Oh, this isn’t just the goblin.
This is, at least in Grikk the Many’s case of like, “Oh, this is like a lot of This isn’t, this is an, I’ll be honest. This is an excessive amount of goblets “.
A Swarm of Goblins
Lucas: When you were putting this together, were there any influences on your thought process or, other stories or, tropes that you can identify that you were drawing on?
Matthew Whitby: think I got thinking about the idea of like, what about like a swarm? Wouldn’t that, wouldn’t that just be cool, like to take, a swarms are fun, fun to deal with. What if we could somehow like make a goblin swam and then that kind of like reverse engineering of like, okay, well, how did you get a swarm of goblins? And I was like, well, if they happen to all share the same subconscious and then it’s like, well, okay, well they need a leader of something and that’s great.
Lucas: Swarm mechanics are one of those things that are in the book that probably you could be a veteran player of the game and not at all know how this works. Can you fill us in on what makes a swarm in fifth edition?
Yeah. So, so essentially it is kind of like a weird – well it’s a stat block that kind of has, the ability to occupy another space of any other creature. Typically they’re like a, their size is like, for example, the Grikk swarm, which is, essentially, any goblin that isn’t Grikk or like one of the many clones is a Grikk swarm. They count as a huge form Of small humanoids.
and that’s kinda how you sort of identify them. Combat wise, they typically only have like one attack action. and that damage is, Is 20 – 4d8+2 – bludgeoning damage or 11 – 2d8+2 If the swarm is half its hit points or fewer. So essentially it is a creature whose strength is tied to its current hit points. and I believe it’s kind of hit points is, is, happening for that. We have as like 40 D six. so I think that’s probably to equate to. I don’t know if it is 40 goblins. I don’t know how many in a huge, I’m trying to think of logistics of how many Gobbins you could fit into a huge size because
Lucas: Depends on how close you pack them, I guess. I’m curious, what you want players to feel when they encounter Grikk?
Matthew Whitby: Well, I think, I think what Grikk is, is Grikk is an interesting one because he – they, I guess – they fill that gap of like, of being a, never-ending horror to almost a comedic, opponent, depending on how it suits your campaign, because there is the idea of a goblin that just never, there is no end to it. It’s not a case of when, or how Grikk the Many consumes you or overwhelms you, it’s just a matter of time. Because there are thousands or hundreds of, of every goblin that has different thoughts, different feelings, different sensations that they are just, insane.
at that point, they no longer fear pain because they constantly feel it. if you imagine a Grikk swarm, there are goblins at the bottom being smushed on by the goblins at the top, and, and every goblin is feeling that. When you kind of think about it, it’s, it’s pretty messed up in like the nicest way.
I think as well, if you just see a swarm of goblins, you can’t spot the original Grikk from them. And that’s kind of reflected in their stat block, the fact that they can willingly hide between swarms, Making them harder just to fall off, pick out, on that last time, that would make sense. So challenging. It’s the fact that you can’t just single outbreak, there’s no end – there’s, there’s like there’s so many Grikks.
horror and comedy or comedy and tragedy, comedy and those things kind of go hand in hand. and yeah, I, I think again, you have the advantage with running campaigns to lure people in with, with a sort of comical opening, and then when you think about the realistic situation of kind of what’s being presented with, it’s hard not to see that horror.
It’s the idea that, at this point, does Grikk even exist anymore or is Grikk all the Grikks? Does this goblin have any like sense of self anymore? Or have they lost themselves in being one of, a thousand identical-looking goblins? Which I feel like you could draw some parallels and other, maybe, some, maybe some real life parallels and, maybe again, I’m learning. Maybe I went deep in this. Maybe this is my, my subconscious screaming out.
Self-confidence and Identity in Literature’s Faceless Horde
Lucas: They say that comedy is wide shot and tragedy is a closeup. So you’re right. We start with the comedy opening and the further you get into it, the more meaning and emotion you find. and at the bottom of that, where it flips and where I think you just left off is, does Grikk the Many give us a metaphor that we can use to understand the world that we live in?
Matthew Whitby: On the surface level, I suppose, you can see the parallels between the lengths Grikk went to in finding a, group to sort of associate themselves with that. They’ve lost all sense of self. Aand again, maybe again, maybe if Grikk was, more self-confident and, comfortable in their own shoes, and possession of sharp pointy rocks, they wouldn’t have stepped the path that led them to being just one of thousands. I think, yeah, I, I don’t know if that is a lesson in itself.
and I don’t even know if that was like an intended lesson from the get-go. It’s interesting – even as the author, I honestly don’t know if it was just like, “Hey, I just want to throw some goblin swarms at people,” or if like, some sort of subconscious level, there’s me thinking that. In writing the backstory and you know who this, who Grikk the Many is, yeah, maybe, maybe, maybe. That is a good question. You have successfully stumped me.
Lucas: I don’t think I have, honestly, I’m going to keep pretty much all of that.
one more thing about goblins. D&D uses goblins in a very particular way. And we’ve talked about that I wonder if in your experience you’ve been introduced to, other iterations or uses of the term goblin or the creature goblin, and, maybe why they would’ve gotten into this game?
Matthew Whitby: Ooh. I guess a certain point, I kind of find kind of interesting about. At least the, the, the goblins presented within D&D is, is they are quite versatile. And you do have the option to just make them like, the sort of child-snatching, diabolically evil, little gremlins, or you do have them as like, essentially a, more, self-aware more sort of like “sell-swordy-esque” creature?
And alternatively in my, like, digging into the lore, the goblins of the Feywild are completely different. for example, you, there are got most, some of the goblins within the used to be evil, aligned creatures that were taken to a, essentially the goblin kingdom of the wild and converted into goblins, just magically like converted like that.
and it’s an interesting thing of like, yeah, or like a race of people who are goblins, but weren’t born as goblins and how that kind of impacts the way they, where they act. So, I’m, I’m not quite sure if I’ve answered, answered your question. Exactly. other than just saying, I, I, I think I that’s why like, if my goblins is, how versatile they are.
Lucas: Where do you want people to go to find more of what you do or get in touch with you and the things that you do.
Matthew Whitby: Yeah. yeah. So the best place to kind of hear about everything I do is is, is Twitter. chances are, you will find me on there and life, or like actually, actually I will tell you that my phone will be in my hand, whenever you send the tweet at me, and that would be right. but other than that, if you just search on the DMS Guild for Matthew Whitby, who I am, yeah, you can find a list of, of, of my products and, my newest products. So, so yeah. Yeah. Please, please watch me follow me on Twitter to hear about all that.
Lucas: If you want to confuse and amuse the players in your game with Grikk the Many, you can find him in Runa and Ulfgar’s Compendium of Big Boss Epic Goblins on the DM’s Guild and there is, of course, a link in the description.
Matthew and his collaborators volunteered this product to be part of the, keep playing it forward program, which offers community copies to gamers at reduced prices. So people can keep playing, even if money is tight. So follow that link in the show notes, to get a copy of the compendium at 50, 90, or even a hundred percent off.
Matthew Whitby: And also one thing I do with most of my products is I have the full preview, so they can see the entire book and it’s in a sorority.
Lucas: Well, thanks. Yeah. I’m excited to recommend this. I had a great time reading this book and I’m really excited for people to see it.
Thanks for listening to Making a Monster. The opening music in this episode is from Wil Savino. It’s called “Something is Amiss.” Find out more at patreon.com/musicd20.
I hope the show has given you the inspiration and the tools to play more meaningful and memorable games, and I hope you’ll join me for season two in 2021.
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The Melusine is one of the oldest mermaid legends in the world and a classic fairy tale. Chris Hopper is a freelance writer for Realmwarp Media and student of Arthurian lore who updated the melusine for the Cities of Myth D&D setting.