Our Elves/Goblins Are Different

This remark:

The book doesn’t have much to say about the difference between elves and goblins beyond that goblins have darker skin.

from this review of the Goblin Emperor got me thinking about my own experiments long ago with Elves & Goblins.

Back when i was a high school kid, I wrote a lamentably long and awful fantasy saga (nearly half of it was written in various forms of verse, some experimental, other metric) of ridiculous scope, no doubt influenced by my own middle-school enjoyment of Magic the Gathering and its planeswalking gods stomping about across the multiverse.

The book I wrote covered 3 major interrelated arcs that spanned half a dozen planes working on the concept that magic users powerful enough could create anchor points in select areas within an 8 dimensional grid to create worlds out of possibilities and travel between them; of course, since temporal axes cannot intersect along such worlds, while one can shift between these planes, there’s no interrelation between the timelines of each world.  So, one asshole wizard’s crusade against life has corrupted the world at 0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0 on the multiversal plane and those who are trying to stop him have created a time loop across these planes because of having stopped there at one point.  Worlds are created, invaded, destroyed, and the cycle goes on.  The three arcs consisted of a series of wars against a lich king who had found a plane shifter’s spellbook, the aftermath of those who escaped that war to another plane only to find it attacked by one of the plane shifter (the Burning God) at the heart of the time loop, and the revenge quest of the other plane shifter (Garin) who finally destroyed the Burning God and left the decadent empire (and spellbook) which would eventually fall into the possession of his descendant who would become the Lich King.  It was written so that you could theoretically start at any point and it would tell a continuous story up to the point where you were back where you’d started.  Oh, yeah, and the Burning God, who was the overarching villain of the whole thing, was one of Garin’s great grandchildren who was resentful as hell of the fact that his great grandmother, the Nymph, had basically bred their entire race with the purpose of being her former (yeah, Garin thinks it’s pretty messed up too) lover’s army.

The way that elves and goblins worked were almost a grampa paradox.  Just for the hell of it, I made a little diagram:

Morilithic saga

Don’t ever expect these to be published in any way, shape or form any time soon; it’s still rotting in a box in my spare room, and a lot of the parts written in pencil are so faded I could probably barely make a lot of it out.  Plus, it’s about as bad as you’d expect from a teenager who’d mixed up a bunch of pink slime fantasy, Tolkien and had just read a ton of Hindu mythology.  Every time I sat down to edit it in the last 10 years, I would give up in disgust when i’d see all the names I’d cribbed from the Mahabharata.

Greenskins & Colonialism

I’ve written at length in the past about the plight of the greenskin and the tableau of colonization represented by the press into the goblin frontiers.   One of the best lampshades on the tropes of fantastic racism and colonialism of greenskins comes from Order of the Stick, where one of the main villain’s motivation is to avenge his people’s cultural status as cannon-fodder.     Asparagus Jumpsuit wants to move past the colonial tropes of RPGs.  But I think it order to move past them*, we need to backtrack.  Before we fell in love with the Noble Savage Orcs of Warcraft and the Proud and Honorable Orsimer of the Elder Scrolls, there wasn’t near as much discussion about the plight of greenskins in fantasy rpgs.    Let’s go back much further than the tropes of dungeons & dragons influenced fantasy, further even than Tolkien’s Orcs, who were twisted creations of an evil god, to when “Fey” was what people feared in the wilds.

Greenskins were not noble savages, no race of different men, but rather the more twisted and deformed members of the Unseelie Court, malevolent in intent against humans, soulless and cursed, and bound to the Devil through the teinde, a pact which required them to offer the blood of infants every seven years.  We’ve projected our orientalist and romantic ideas onto greenskins in fantasy because it is no longer acceptable to project them onto non-western people.

The only way to rid RPGs of the colonial race trope is to treat monsters as part of Fey, wholly opposed to humanity, God and the Godly.  The problem in D&D and any RPG that features goblinoid races is that people will project two different things on the same being, things which are in direct conflict with one another.  A goblin cannot simultaneously be a creature of magic and malice whose nature is to act in defiance of God and Man and be a proxy for a brown person.  You’re going to need to choose in your setting and choose early, and you’re going to have to deal with that choice, but most importantly, you need to make sure that your players are on the same page.  If the goblins of your world are malevolent fairy-kind, make sure that the guy who is insistent upon bringing his white-burden everywhere he goes (including your game table) is aware that the minions of Oberon do not need his guilt sympathies.

*Personally, I enjoy using goblin-folk as nomadic hunter-gatherers who are in conflict with humanity at times out of necessity rather than an evil nature, but at the same time, I don’t use them as stock low-level enemies, either.

Fantasy Language for Goblins

Goblins are the proxy for halflings in my game world, so I thought I might lay the groundwork for their language, so i could at least come up with some consistent names for them.

Some groundwork for a Goblinic language:

No long A, long I, long O or oo/U sound.
Vowel sounds are primarily “ee”, “eh”, “ih” and “ah”

d, but never before r
k, but never before r
m, but never proceeding a vowel sound other than “ah”
so, here are some sample words


Goblins speak fast, and to the untrained ear sounds like high-pitched jibbering.