Running Hobgoblins

THIS IS PART OF A SERIES EXPLORING SOME ADVICE ON HOW TO USE CERTAIN MONSTERS IN YOUR GAMES–A RESOURCE FOR FLAVOR AND OCCASIONAL COMBAT TIPS.

So, I like to take intelligent, lawful evil things seriously. Very seriously. Like Dr. Doom seriously. Hobgoblins being the more featured “antagonists” of Kalamar (the setting we in my group play most of our games) it requires breaking down ways to make them more than just “slightly less barbaric orcs”. I would recommend running Hobgoblins in certain ways–especially with 5e’s rules now about them–to really step up how scary they should be to your players.

Some points to consider first:

  • Hobgoblins are (for my purposes and my setting’s) not tribal in the sense that they’re wandering monsters. They are like fantasy Spartans with regard to how they’re raised. They believe the world is surrounding them–humans especially but other races as well. That they have few allies (but like to find truly powerful ones to preserve their interests). They are a true martial culture. You are raised with a sword in hand because your nation might need you. Every Hob (virtually) has had military training, many and most through a rather veteran level of it. Their nations are orderly, protected, and they pack far more war-powers per square inch than most others.
  • Hobs have national interest and identity as well. They don’t just smash and rob, they acquire territory, they neutralize external threats, gather intelligence, supply their comrades with support. They aren’t Chaotic Evil violence, their lawful evil and lawful neutral. They are thoughtful, far thinking, and have survived a world that often disrespects or marginalizes them as a unified people with unified efforts. There is a strong sense of individualism in the Orcish community–who is strongest–Hobs are a collective. Their race and nation survive, first and foremost.
  • As intelligent and organized as they are, with training, they should be thought of as minor PC’s in what they think to do. a wolf is an encounter that happens on instinct… a goblin is primitive and his combat is sneaky, but rudimentary… an ogre is going to smash what’s in front of it… Hobs are going to strategize and kill the enemy. They exist mostly in squads or small regiments, they have chain of command, they obey orders, they are experienced at working together.

So to that end, things to make your Hob combat and play more “deep” for players.

  1. The buddy system. Hobs should not solo anything ever. Their strength is in their Martial Advantage and they will stick to their buddy for maximum effectiveness. Losing one means Disengaging and doubling or (if sufficiently worrisome opponents exist) tripling up on single targets. A solo Hob with no ally in range is smart enough to disengage, use cover, and get to clear air and rendevouz with allies before pressing the attack.
  2. Further, with the Buddy System. The stronger of the two Hobs will shove prone the target to give the second maximum hit chance and maximum damage opportunity. This is war, this is training. When Orcs run up on the party, it should feel like a chaotic brawl of them hitting whatever the hell looks dangerous and running all over the place chasing people down. When Hobs attack, people should get damn worried about those tactically perfect hits.
  3. Target Acquisition. Not all targets are created equal. Hobs are smart and understand battlefield conditions and control. They don’t have to kill the whole party. They only have to kill one of you for the card house to start falling. The weakest one… the least armored… the one that will be the quickest opportunity to demoralize the party. They converge resources on it to kill it outright. Often that’s the Wizard. The casters or lighter-weight physical combatants should see Hobs as “if I see one, I’m goddamn running” where the fighters and barbarians and Monks should have to think “how do I protect the rest?”
  4. The Kill. I do this because of course I would. Hobs are clever. And a serious threat. Serious. Deadly. A foe falling is not a dead foe. Unless unable to or because doing so would put them at significant risk, after a foe hits the ground with that “drop to negative HP, start death rolls” situation, they take one opportunity to sink a sword into its back, twist, and then continue onto other opponents. This means when a Hob drops you, it doesn’t get an extra attack, I take its next attack or the attack of its fellow near you to hit a player with an automatic 1 failed death roll (as per rules, when you get hit while dying). This means players begin to understand that an Orc or Ogre or Goblin drops you and moves on… your survival rate is normal. A Hobgoblin will attempt to dispatch you while you’re dying–a mercy and a stategically wise move. Only one. Put them at a stronger need for “someone F***ING HEAL ME” or “oh god, oh god” worry about the rolls to come.
  5. Warnings. Hobs squads almost always have scouts (I make a % chance with every Hob encounter that their squad has one, 50/50). Scouts stay out of the fray, stay behind cover, hit from a distance, actively avoid melee and ranged attacks that might come to it… their job is to fire off (bow or crossbow, arrows with alchemical colorful trails when shot) communications into the air like a flare. Take liberties with what they mean, but I have them used as warnings to other Hobs in the area that there’s dangerous foes about in this place, call for reinforcements, sometimes just confirmations that a battle is being lost or won. It makes the players paranoid as hell because they don’t know what can or does see those things. They start looking out for the scout and try to take him out early if they don’t want to be known as here.
  6. Surrender and retreat. My hobs don’t fight to the death, if need be. Withdrawal is a tactical decision, not a moral one. Surrender as well. I have had Captains below out a call for “stand down” in the middle of a fight going poorly and take a knee in surrender–offer his sword. He’ll expect to be ransomed back to his people or the like–of course he doesn’t do this lightly or if the party appear to have a lawless look about them. But they’re soldiers, not murderers. They attacked the party for reasons, always, even if those reasons are brutal ones like “we were ordered to dispatch any humans or demihumans in this area until the new moon”.

Make them real. Smart. Deadly. Soldiers.

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