The Secret Life of Goblins

This week a reader asks:

Is it true that goblinoids require privacy, like it suggests in that one D&D book I read about Drow?

Dear Reader,

I’m not sure which book you’re referring to, but it’s a terribly inaccurate one.  The very idea of privacy is a foreign concept to goblinoids. For the most part goblinoids could care less who they defecate or copulate in front of, so the idea of having “alone time” or your own bed to sleep in are more or less absurdities.

I would like to begin with a brief overview of goblinoid society.  Goblinoids are extremely social creatures.  To us, as an outside observer, their socialization may seem more like anti-socialization, but they depend very much on one another.  The fact that they think little about killing their kinsmen does not negate the fact that they are more or less helpless imbeciles on their own.  They evolved to function as a group.

They have a curious mix of social stratification and egalitarianism.  Most goblinoids in a tribe stand on completely equal footing, with the exception of the chief and the shamans.   The chief achieves power only by having killed the previous chief, a feat which anyone (including females) can attempt, and sometimes even goblinoids of other species.  Shamanism is different, and it is among the shamans that we see the only hint of private life.

Shamans are chosen by other shamans using a trial, which, as best as I can tell, seems to be some sort of deadly version of tick-tack-toe.  The initiates face off against each other and the loser of each round is killed, leaving behind only the new apprentice.  The losers are then cooked and eaten in a celebratory feast.

The shamans almost always reside on the outskirts of villages, and are given a wide berth.  Fear alone is enough reason to allow them privacy, but there seems to be more at play.  Goblinoids are not know for their wisdom. Shamans on the other hand exhibit a fair degree of wisdom, enough so to use magic.  It could be this increased level of insight into the world around them that makes them crave privacy more than their non-magical brethren.

I spoke to a Goblin Shaman once, who referred to the the other Goblins of his tribe as fodder, and refuse.  He hardly regarded them as conscious beings, which explains why he had no qualms against eating them.  The shamans believe they rule their tribe, and could care less about what goes on outside of their huts so long as they remain well-fed and powerful.

Social animals such as wolves and apes rarely exhibit a need for privacy, so goblinoid intelligence seems like a reasonable explanation for their behavior, but how did shamans come to be so much wiser?  How could a species evolve to reliably produce only a handful of individuals that aren’t completely daft?  The answer is surprisingly simple.

Shaman have selective breeding rights.  They are allowed to choose mates whom they believe will produce the most favorable offspring, and then they have those offspring play tick-tack-toe, and eat the losers.  It seems brutal, and horrendous to us, but it allows them to ensure that only the wisest offspring survive, assuming a child’s game is a valid measure of wisdom.  Only one child, from one shaman, will ever survive any given generation.

Additionally, the other goblinoids in a tribe never keep track of who their offspring are.  They mate indiscriminately, which almost certainly leads to incest and poor genetics, helping to ensure that they will never achieve the intellectual success of their shaman brethren.  (Indeed, there are some scholars that believe goblins may have evolved from an isolated group of halflings forced into repeated incest to survive, resulting in hideous mutations and a new love of tick-tack-toe).

So next time you stumble across a goblin defecating in the woods, there’s really no need to excuse yourself.

Truly, Madly, Deeply Yours,
The Dungeon Master

Next week, we take a more serious turn, and discuss d6 vs. d20.

If you wish to submit a question to the Dungeon Master, please e-mail them to, or you can Tweet me a question by hash-tagging me (#askthedm) in your Tweet. And make sure to review the disclaimer.

You can also see me in action in One Die Short.

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