small Humanoid (Goblinoid) Neutral Evil
17 Chain Shirt and Shield
Darkvision 60 ft. , Passive Perception 9
1 (200 XP)
The goblin can take the Disengage or Hide action as a bonus action on each of its turns.
The goblin boss makes two attacks with its scimitar. The second attack has disadvantage.
Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6 + 2) slashing damage.
Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 30/12oft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6 + 2) piercing damage.
When a creature the goblin can see targets it with an attack, the goblin chooses another goblin within 5 feet of it. The two goblins swap places, and the chosen goblin becomes the target instead.
It’s probably a right of passage to come across a band of goblins in a D&D adventure.
These creatures that are such a staple of the genre might not be the biggest, baddest foes you’ll come across, but they can often be some of the most memorable.
Goblins are often portrayed as bumbling fools with a whole lot of rage packed into a little package. In the Forgotten Realms at least, goblins are almost exclusively weak, greedy, and evil creatures, with not a lot of brains to boot.
Luckily, today we’re going to be talking about the goblin boss.
This higher rank of goblin gives DMs the potential for a goblin-based encounter that isn’t pure chaos and silliness. In fact, with the right tweaking and tactics, you can even have a goblin encounter feel like a deadly threat to your players.
What Is a Goblin Boss
Goblin boss is a pretty self-explanatory name. They are goblins with the title of boss, which is going to mean bossing around other goblins.
These low CR creatures aren’t meant to be anything extravagant or complicated. In fact, they barely put up a fight in most situations.
Any sort of commander creature is defined by their troops. In this case, the GB is defined by whatever goblins are at its command.
Since goblin bosses tend to be the strongest or smartest among their tribe, the masses they command will, by definition, be a bit dumber and a bit weaker.
Appearance-wise, a goblin boss shouldn’t look much different than a normal goblin. That is to say, a goblin boss is a short humanoid with arms that reach almost down to their knees. Their skin complexion can range greatly, but they are commonly depicted as green or brown.
They have broad and/or hooked noses that sit upon flat, rounded faces, and ears that extend out nearly the width of their heads. Goblin features can vary, but the general consensus is that these are rather unattractive beings.
Goblins don’t have much of a hierarchy and are generally ruled by whoever is the strongest being around them.
In the cases of hobgoblins and bugbears, goblins tend to succumb to bullying and fall in line. When there aren’t these stronger goblinoids to boss goblins around, one of them rises to power.
This can be done through infighting, politics (which I imagine are rather interesting and chaotic for goblins), or whatever method works for the tribe.
Sometimes, this even brings forth a sort of goblin monarch, essentially just a boss that commands several tribes in a general area.
Goblin bosses of any variety are likely to have a large stock of the wealth obtained by their tribe. Their armor, clothes, and weapons should all reflect this cross section of greed and leadership.
Running a Goblin Boss in 5e
As a CR 1 creature, these bosses are intended to be roughly four times as strong as a normal goblin. In the stat block, this is represented by higher AC, more hit points, an extra attack, and a reaction.
This certainly makes goblin bosses stronger, but it doesn’t necessarily make them a more memorable battle for your PCs.
Running a goblin boss in an effective manner, both from a tactical and immersion perspective, means making them feel not just like a stronger version of a goblin grunt but rather, making them feel like a unique character.
Matthew Coleville, a popular YouTube D&D personality, has some great pointers on how to run an interesting goblin boss that align with how I tend to think about most combat encounters in 5e.
His video on Action Oriented Monsters discusses the goblin boss as a creature that uses its minions as weapons.
Essentially, this should be the basis for any goblin encounter that includes a boss, even if that boss is a bugbear or a hobgoblin. The boss is the main enemy, with all the other creatures creating a sort of barrier.
Our goblin boss then becomes a sort of commander, which is true to the character. They should be ordering their underlings around to attack the biggest threats on the battlefield.
Coleville also talks about reinforcements, which are an absolutely wonderful tool for balancing encounters.
You see, a band of goblins is probably one of the first encounters your PCs are going to come across.
Even if you’re a veteran DM, you might not know exactly how powerful your PCs are. Afterall, CR-based encounters are just an educated guess, they’re not foolproof.
Having your goblin boss call in reinforcements turn after turn is a great way to react to your PCs being a bit more powerful than you anticipated.
Even if you just bring these in with 1 hit point, they’re another body for your PCs to deal with.
In any way that you can, your goblin boss should be taking command of the battlefield. Allowing them to bark orders and actually be in control of their forces makes for a much more convincing boss.
Otherwise, you just end up with “one of the goblins looks a bit stronger than the others, and has scraps of fine clothing tied into his armor.”
Making a Better Goblin Boss
The 5e system of D&D is an excellent system, but it’s not without flaws. There tends to be a problem where creatures don’t often seem like threats.
Modifying the existing stats for a goblin boss is more than just a way to make the encounter unique, it’s a way to make the encounter feel like a challenge.
Homebrewing isn’t everyone’s style, and it might not even be allowed at some tables, but it certainly has its merit.
When it comes to GB, we want to tweak it to the point where our PCs leave the battle winded and feeling like they’ve actually accomplished something.
One way to do this is by messing with the actions.
I’m going to start this off by looking at Matt Coleville’s breakdown of a more action-oriented goblin boss and then discussing how to make a version of this creature that works for you.
Action-Oriented Monster – Goblin Boss
All credits for this stat block go to Matthew Coleville, a brilliant mind and a great piece of the D&D community.
In his video, which we linked in above, he discusses a version of the goblin boss that isn’t necessarily stronger in any way but definitely provides more of a challenge.
The main takeaways are as follows:
- Increased HP (67 instead of 21)
- Revised Multiattack
- Three scimitar attacks (instead of two with one at disadvantage)
- Two javelin attacks (to make ranged attacks more viable)
- Bonus Action: Get In Here!
- Calls for a single reinforcement goblin
- Reaction: You Don’t Have Permission to Die!
- DC 12 Charisma check to see bring a goblin back to 1 hp when it is knocked unconscious.
- Villain Actions; one on each of the first three rounds
- What are you waiting for?: Other goblins get a free movement or attack; this movement does not provoke opportunity attacks.
- Focus Fire!: All other goblins may move to a single targeted enemy. This movement does not provoke opportunity attacks.
- Kill!: All goblins get to make a scimitar attack. If there aren’t many remaining (DM’s discretion), two scimitar attacks instead.
As you can see, this is a drastic change from the original stat block of the goblin boss. Or is it?
Realistically, we’ve just made the creature a little bit stronger. Aside from that, the extra actions are just a more regimented way of allowing us as DMs to run the goblin as a commander.
If we didn’t have these actions, we’d be left to call in reinforcements as we see fit or fudge around with the damage of the scimitars to make it more of a challenge.
In this way, we are still dealing with all the same creatures; they’re just acting in ways we don’t often see.
They’re also acting in a way that reflects the overall theme of goblins in combat – a bumbling overwhelming force led by a single commander.
Interactive Goblin Boss
So far in this article, we’ve moved away from the concept that goblins need to be tougher to be a threat.
The thing is, a threatening, challenging combat isn’t the only way to get our characters excited about an encounter. We have the ability to build an environment around our goblin boss that makes them incredibly memorable.
One of my favorite introductory adventures is Krenko’s Way from the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica. It’s meant for a party of low-level adventurers, but that doesn’t mean it’s brimming with excitement.
There’s a lot of intrigue and searching for clues, and the whole thing is based on a time scale, with different events triggered throughout the maximum of 3 days it takes for your adventurers to achieve their goal.
One of the possible big showdowns happens inside of a warehouse (perfect for Ravnica or Eberron but maybe not for Forgotten Realms campaigns) where the entire environment is a part of the combat encounter.
And I’m not talking about lair actions or anything – the environment is just interactive.
The goblin boss Krenko has very few stat differences, but he does have some extra tricks up his sleeve.
First, he’s aware of his surroundings and knows what catwalks are about to break, what boxes might be full of explosives.
Second, he’s carrying some extra items like alchemist’s fire, caltrops, and poison, which he can use to achieve more than just repeated scimitar swinging can do.
The last bit is that there is a loading rig, essentially a suit of armor that Krenko can jump into to give him a massive advantage. That’s very specific to this setting, but in all of this, it’s the concepts that matter.
Krenko’s Way is a great adventure because the goblins can interact with their surroundings.
This makes perfect sense; goblins might not be geniuses in most settings, but they’re certainly crafty. Often, they’ll fill their lairs with all sorts of traps to get the upper hand on their foes.
Doing this in your own encounters is fairly straightforward. You can give your goblin boss some extra items that they might’ve scavenged or stolen, maybe even a spell scroll or two.
Then, make your environment more than just a 50×50-foot room. Add ledges, pitfalls, boulders tied to the roof, tripwires.
There’s no reason traps should be confined to outside of combat.
You can also add things for the goblin boss to trigger.
It might not be a suit of mechanical armor, but they could command one of their minions to unleash a pile of boulders or set half the room on fire with some sort of alchemist fire contraption.
Doing this kind of environment interaction starts to give your otherwise limited creatures the feeling of fully fleshed-out characters, based on nothing but their combat.
It’s also a great way to do sneaky spellcasting because most of these effects will feel like spells without the magic.
The goblin boss is a great creature for players just starting out in a campaign. One of the best parts of the creature is that it’s never going to be alone.
As a DM, playing to that camaraderie as the monster’s strength will always serve to make a more interesting and challenging encounter.
You can use the regular stat block and some tactics, make your goblin boss more action-oriented, or even build an environment that fits perfectly into your campaign world.
Of course, you can always mix and match to find the goblin encounter that’s perfect for you.
I hope this has illuminated the potential of the goblin boss as a viable threat for your PCs.
As always, happy adventuring.