Evolution of the Goblin

I had a blast over New Years playing Pathfinder at the New Years Con in Orlando FL. I played four games and made 2nd level after the 3rd. It was my forth game that inspired this post, you see, there was some table talk about goblins in the PF game, and someone mentioned they were thinking of getting a goblin tattoo. That got me thinking about the iconic monster, and how it had changed since my first exposure to the beast in B2 Keep on the Borderlands. The DM said goblins were an incredibly ugly human-like race with red eyes, and well, looking at the module and the Basic Rules Set that is all the DM had to go on at the time.

When Advanced Dungeons & Dragons came out with the Monster Manual (actually when my friends and I were able to buy the book; 1981) I was able to see what the goblin looked like, I think the artist did a great job interpreting the beast’s appearance; now goblins had skin color, dull orange to red brick, and different colored eyes not just red.

Later, when the third edition of the game came out the goblin and they still looked and felt the same though details details details.

3e Monster Manual goblin images were more refined, keeping the original weapons as seen in the AD&D version. The rules pointed out that goblins were humanoid, which was a departure from the earlier monster description of ugly human-like beasts, this was expected as the new rules added knowledge checks so players could recall details of the monsters using a dice roll. We learned more about their society and you could play them as characters. Pretty cool then 4e came out.

4th edition changed the goblin icon again. They took away the mace and shield and added an axe. Not much to mentione here except goblins are fun to play if you just use the Monster Manual monsters as player characters and not the Players Handbook character classes you can get a quick game up and running fast without have to deal with the severe rules bloat involves with the game. Actually the most fun I had with this version happened when we just used monsters as printed in the 4e Monster Manual in an adventure.

Paizo’s Pathfinder Roleplaying Game took over where 3.5 left off with some decent updates to the rules and ended up being my RPG game system of choice. The artist that did the goblin brought back the beast’s red eyes and gave him a nasty maw full of sharp teeth and somehow the monster is kinda an icon for the game; the monster is everywhere in the published books.

The goblins of the Pathfinder RPG are defiant little buggers who got nasty dogs… Goblin Dogs… They are scrawny humanoids with wide heads and somehow people like em; like them enough to want to tattoo them on to their bodies. I heard of people tattooing the original goblin from AD&D but most gamers like the 3e Kobold. I know people who really like the Kobold from the Kobold Quarterly website, like me. It’s just neat to see how the goblin changed over time.

I think the AD&D goblin image is the one I would get as a tattoo.

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About shent_lodge

Shent_lodge, AKA Jon, started this website, in 2000, initially as a player's guide to his home game. He has run through, and run for, hundreds of players of the Dungeons and Dragons game since 1980. These days he plays, or runs games using the WORST RPG rules set.


  1. Neat article, I’d love to see some more “evolutions” of other classic monsters. I personally favour the third edition style goblin as it has the most evil expression and the artwork is the most photo realistic.

  2. I suppose I could do more. Paizo’s Hobgoblin looks like Shrek. The 3e goblin does look like a bad ass. The AD&D one looks totally like a noob. He has that expression “Oh #%&@! the boss is making me charge these adventurers, and all I have is this lousy mace and shield; I am so screwed.”