Last Updated on November 6, 2023
Let’s take a look at the racial abilities, features, and traits that goblins get access to as a playable race in Volo’s Guide to Monsters.
Ability Score Increase: Your Dexterity score increases by 2 and your Constitution score increases by 1.
Age: Goblins reach adulthood at age 8 and live up to 60 years.
Alignment: Goblins are typically neutral evil, as they care only for their own needs. A few goblins might tend toward good or neutrality, but only rarely.
Size: Goblins are between 3 and 4 feet tall and weigh between 40 and 80 pounds. Your size is Small.
Speed: Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Darkvision: You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Fury of the Small: When you damage a creature with an attack or a spell and the creature’s size is larger than yours, you can cause the attack or spell to deal extra damage to the creature. The extra damage equals your level. Once you use this trait, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
Nimble Escape: You can take the Disengage or Hide action as a bonus action on each of your turns.
Languages: You can speak, read, and write Common and Goblin.
Breakdown: Goblin Abilities, Features, and Traits
Honestly, this is one of the better selections of racial traits available in the game.
A +2 to Dexterity makes you a great candidate for any ranged or Dexterity-based class; goblins are ideally positioned to be Fighters, Rangers, and Monks – but more on that in a minute.
You also get a boost to your Constitution, which is never a bad thing, especially if you’re going to be getting up close and personal with your enemies, which you should absolutely be doing because of your Nimble Escape.
The ability to take the dodge or disengage action as a bonus action is something typically reserved for Rogues, and is going to make you a decidedly slippery customer in a melee.
However, it’s worth noting that, while 5e is very good about making just about any race/class combination at least somewhat viable, your ability bonuses and racial traits do mean that you won’t really feel any of the goblin’s natural benefits if you take them down the route of a caster.
If you do want to do this, however, the Custom Lineage options in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything are probably your best bet.
Playing a Goblin
When it comes to choosing a class for your goblin character, anything with the potential to be Dexterity-based can be extremely powerful.
This class fits the goblin’s natural traits and abilities like a glove. Dexterity and Constitution are perfect for any Dexterity-based fighter builds (a goblin fighter dual-wielding shortswords is a classic) and your Nimble Escape makes you a fantastic hit-and-run combattant – or help you with all-important positioning if you choose to go for a build that focuses on ranged combat.
While no bonus to your Wisdom is kind of a bummer, spellcasting is by no means the be-all and end-all of a Ranger. You get a good bump to your Dexterity and Constitution, Fury of the Small synergizes really well with your Hunter’s Mark, and Mimble Escape helps keep your enemies at a distance.
There’s also something really thematically satisfying about taking a goblin down the route of a Gloomstalker, leaping from the darkness to inflict massive damage with teeth (and knives) bared.
This is a really interesting thematic choice for a goblin – perhaps speaking to a lifetime of focus and dedication to overcome the effects of the Green Madness, or just generally nasty goblin urges. As always, Dexterity and Constitution are a great fit for a Monk, and Nimble Escape helps feed into your class’ natural mobility.
Roleplaying a goblin is definitely going to be an interesting experience. You’re likely going to be viewed as a menace by any locals who are probably more used to hiring adventurers to kill goblins than hiring a goblin adventurer.
You might be refused service in taverns, turned away by guards at the city gate, and generally treated as a second-class citizen.
The flip side of this is that, when you get a little farther away from the “civilized” world, your monstrous origins might end up paying dividends. A gang of wandering orcs are more likely to skewer a group of humans on-site than give them the time of day, but a goblin probably has a halfway decent chance of being invited to join them for a meal or getting some half-decent directions at the very least.
You are probably going to end up feeling more at home in the places where your party adventures than your allies, so lean into it. Enjoy thriving outside of other people’s comfort zones.
Goblins are small, with greenish, brown, yellow, or orange skin and wiry frames. Most goblins from the same tribe tend to share a single or similar skin tone palette.
They have flat faces with red or yellowish eyes, large bulbous noses, and pointed teeth. Goblin societies supposedly have a distant relationship with hygiene, and they supposedly tend towards being filthy, clad in rags and unwashed animal pelts.
Thanks to both their rigid caste system and tendency to be subjugated by other races, goblins adore status symbols, from trinkets to armor and exotic pets.
They have a natural affinity for wolves and rats, and a goblin with a dire wolf or warg mount is much more likely to be able to lord it over their peers. Tattoos, piercings, and warpaint are also a great way to signify a goblin’s tribal loyalty and status.
It’s worth thinking about how a goblin who has left their tribe behind might view their old status symbols. Do they still wear them with pride? Do they try to hide them in shame or fear of reprisals by their old comrades?
Goblins tend to take their tribe’s name as part of their own, which may be named after its current ruler – there’s a great random table generator here.
When it comes to first names, they like to favor harsh, one or two-syllable sounds with a fondness for hard consonants, ‘V’s and ‘Z’s, and tend to differ between masculine and feminine – although probably not in any way that a non-goblin can distinguish.
Goblin Tribe Names: Cragmaw (from the Lost Mines of Phandelver), Batir (from the lands of Chult), Stonefoot, Moonpaw, Ratskull, Sword Tooth, Boneswarm, Ragsnot’s Raiders, The Black Sun Gang, Grotter’s Mouth Frothers, The Snotlings.
Goblin First Names: Rarzofi, Leebofz, Wrunk, Drak, Greelik, Zit, Zraz, Morras, Jochok, Cradgig, Sollilk, Nejug, Mite, Slime, Shrillleg, Grubtooth, Toadwart, Mogwai.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.