Dungeon and Dragons isn’t necessarily a war game. It’s very rare that our battlemats are full of legions of troops vying for domination.
However, as in most fantasy worlds, war is a reality with which the masses must contend.
There is one race of creatures that enjoy war more than most, and that is the hobgoblins. This race of goblinoids is not only the strongest among goblinkind, but they are the most focused on martial prowess.
In today’s article, we’re going to be talking about the leaders of this race, the Hobgoblin Warlords. We’ll be discussing what they are exactly, how they gain their rank, and for the DMs, how to run this bad boy in combat.
What Is a Hobgoblin Warlord?
Warlord is the highest rank a hobgoblin can be rewarded. These creatures rule over entire legions of hobgoblins and lead them into battle. More than anything, these creatures are ruthless tyrants bent on dominion and glory.
Medium Humanoid (goblinoid), lawful evil
AC 20 (plate, shield)
Hit Points 97 (13d8 + 39)
Speed 30 ft.
STR: 16(+3) DEX: 14(+2) CON: 16(+3)
INT: 14(+2) WIS: 11(+0) CHA: 15(+2)
Saving Throws: Intelligence +5, Wisdom +3, Charisma +5
Senses: Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 10
Languages: Common, Goblin
Challenge Rating: 6 (2,300 XP)
Martial Advantage. Once per turn, the hobgoblin can deal an extra 14 (4d6) damage to a creature it hits with a weapon attack if the creature is within 5 feet of an ally of the hobgoblin that isn’t incapacitated.
Multiattack. The hobgoblin makes three melee attacks. Alternatively, it can make two ranged attacks with its javelins.
Longsword. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d8 + 3) slashing damage, or 8 (1d10 + 3) if used with two hands.
Shield Bash. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d4 + 3) bludgeoning damage. If the target is Large or smaller, it must succeed on a DC 14 Dexterity saving throw or be knocked prone.
Javelin. Melee or RangedWeapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 30/120 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6 + 3) bludgeoning damage.
Leadership (Recharges after a Short or Long rest). For 1 minute, the hobgoblin can utter a special command or warning whenever a non-hostile creature that it can see within 30 feet of it makes an attack roll or saving throw.
The creature can add a d4 to its roll provided it can hear and understand the hobgoblin. A creature can benefit from only one Leadership die at a time. This effect ends if the hobgoblin is incapacitated.
Parry. The hobgoblin adds 3 to its AC against one melee attack that would hit it. To do so, the hobgoblin must see the attacker and be wielding a melee weapon.
Hobgoblins, in general, are the strongest of the goblinoid creatures.
If you take a look at the stat block for the normal hobgoblin, you can see that they’re still a force to be reckoned with, but the warlord still takes the cake.
It’s impossible to talk about a hobgoblin warlord without talking about their legions of troops.
A hobgoblin civilization is centered on war, meaning a warlord has the same position as a monarch or elected official would in another society. Don’t get confused though, there is no form of democracy when it comes to hobgoblins.
A warlord is not chosen by the people, they fight their way to the top and prove themselves worthy to lead. A hobgoblin that builds their reputation through victory in battle will take the title of warlord for themselves.
While there aren’t any strict rules in hobgoblin lore about this process, one can imagination a type of civilization where trials by combat are a regular occurrence.
Weakness has no place within the legion, so any hobgoblin would likely be able to challenge the current warlord for their throne.
Not to stray too far from D&D, but if you’re familiar with Mandalorian culture in Star Wars, there’s likely a lot of overlap between hobgoblins and the warrior race of Mandalore.
At their core, these are people who value strength, honor, and glory above all else.
A warlord’s dominion doesn’t stop at his hobgoblin underlings. In fact, a legion isn’t just derived from goblinoid species.
Sure, plenty of goblins and bugbears will serve under the warlord’s reign but so will orcs, ogres, giants, and any evil humanoids deemed strong enough fighters to fight alongside a hobgoblin.
Hobgoblins also breed wolves, worgs, and other creatures to serve them as steeds and muscle. In fact, many species of drake were first bred by hobgoblins.
It wouldn’t be surprising to find a powerful warlord riding into battle on a mighty steed.
Mechanically, a warlord’s steed would probably be something with at least a CR of 4. Something intimidating and powerful like a wyvern or a mammoth would make perfect sense as a hobgoblin warlord’s pet.
A warlord in many ways will look like any other hobgoblin. These humanoid creatures have dark red or orange skin tones with hair that is often several shades darker.
Like most goblinoids, they have broad noses and pointed, elongated ears. However, they tend to have much stronger builds than goblins or bugbears.
Hobgoblins are lean and tall, coming in at about 6 1/2 feet tall and weighing at least 200 pounds of pure muscle.
Warlords specifically will be outfitted in the best armor available to their clan. This armor and any clothing they wear is adorned in the colors of the clan, often dark red tones.
While they don’t have much care for ornate imagery, rough symbols will often be associated with a legion, and a warlord may even have a specific symbol or piece of armor that denotes them as a leader.
The entire appearance of hobgoblins carries through on one very important message: hobgoblins are ruthless, but they are not savages.
DMing a Hobgoblin Warlord
One simple concept you have to remember about this creature is that they are a warlord. Of the hobgoblins, a warlord should be the most tactically minded, ruthless, and commanding warrior on the battlefield.
They have not gotten to their position without proving their worth in battle time and time again, and they shouldn’t go down easily when they come across a random band of adventurers.
As the commander of an entire legion, which is made up of likely hundreds if not thousands of soldiers, warlords should be nowhere near the first encounter your adventures have with hobgoblins or goblinoids in general.
Even though they are only CR 6 on their own, they should be treated as a deadly threat for characters of at least 10th level, if not higher.
Warlords should be treated as secondary or tertiary BBEGs, if not the main antagonist of a campaign arc.
This means putting in some serious thought about the motivation of the warlord and his legion.
Where a group of goblins might threaten a small farming village, a hobgoblin legion should be a major threat to an entire kingdom or your setting’s equivalent.
So what are some motivations? Well, a good place to start is dominion. Hobgoblins seek to conquer any lands, for no reasons other than glory and bloodshed.
Of course, the warlord themselves might have a personal vendetta against a kingdom, or they might secretly be working in service to a larger villain, like a god or some other extremely powerful entity.
These aren’t going to be morally grey villains. Warlords are straight-up evil, but they are lawful evil. This means that they adhere to a code, and that code is something that you can really brainstorm and hone in on.
Give yourself some space to be creative with how exactly your warlord rules.
“They break before our shields, they fall beneath our blades; Their home is ours to conquer, their children our slaves. Acheron! Acheron! Victory is ours!”
This is a common hobgoblin war chant, translated into common, that you might want to incorporate or modify to give your legion some substance.
Hobgoblin Warlords in Combat
Your adventurers have fought through battalions of goblins, bugbears, and lesser hobgoblins. They arrive at the war camp with one mission: return with the warlord’s head.
By now, your players should know they’re getting into a brutal combat. It’s time to show them just how right they are.
A warlord is a nasty opponent in one-on-one combat, so that’s how they will engage in combat.
They will use their forces to overwhelm all but one combatant, and they themselves will use that opportunity to hone in on the remaining party member.
Keep in mind that the warlord won’t just be surrounded by a few peons.
Their direct allies will consist of lieutenants of their legion: hobgoblin captains, bugbear chiefs, a hill giant sergeant or two, and any other powerful “commander” type creatures.
Sure, there might be some weak minions thrown in, but those will just be there as more bodies for the players to take down.
When it comes to the warlord themselves, their grasp of strategy should be extremely obvious in every move they make.
Without being meta (as in, using your knowledge of the PCs), they should observe how the PCs fight and assess not only the biggest threat but the easiest target.
The character they choose to go up against in one-on-one combat should be an efficient choice, a character that has very little defense but who has the ability to deal with the warlord’s forces.
In many cases, this will end up being a caster class that’s dealing AOE damage from a range.
The Leadership ability is interesting. It states that it is activated as an action, but it doesn’t actually state how they go about uttering the command.
As I see it, they should be able to activate this ability as an action, much like a barbarian’s rage, but they should be able to give their allies the Leadership dice as a bonus action.
If this is how you interpret it as well, then you should be using their leadership ability every turn.
As for their target, a warlord isn’t concerned about helping anyone other than themselves, so they should be commanding their allies that are near enough to attack the character that the warlord is engaged with.
Just because the warlord is interested in glory doesn’t mean they’ll fight fair or honorably. They’ll want to knock creatures prone with their shield bash whenever they can and then lay into them with plenty of longsword attacks.
Since hobgoblins are incredibly strong, you might even want to consider giving your warlord an improved weapon. They might use a longsword designed for a Large creature, one that does 2d8 or 2d10 if held in both hands.
Utilizing the longsword as a two-handed weapon is something you might want to strongly consider.
If you’re finding that the warlord isn’t able to knock many characters prone or that they aren’t able to deal much damage, they should make a conscious choice to switch to the two-handed style.
You can even do this in a dramatic fashion, using the shield as a one-time thrown weapon, giving it all the normal abilities of the shield bash but as a ranged weapon.
This will look awesome, and it will be a great way to show that the warlord isn’t messing around.
A hobgoblin warlord is a ruthless commander of an entire legion of evil beings. More than just a random encounter, these creatures are an absolute menace to entire civilizations, and they should be treated as such.
Warlords make excellent villains, and when your players finally approach one, it should be a deadly encounter.
With a combination of brute force and impeccable tactics, it won’t be surprising if several of the PCs fall. Likely, this will be a battle they fail the first time and are forced to retreat from.
Even once your players are strong enough to return, they’ll need some powerful allies. Regardless, it’s going to be a memorable experience for everyone involved.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and that it’s helped you prepare for some exciting combats and campaign plots.
As always, happy adventuring.