Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Biology, Politics, and The Backwards Goblin Backstory

Why do the goblins in my campaign talk backwards?

It's simple evolution.

Our real-life perspective on neurobiology is predicated on the idea that humans evolved as the only intelligent life-form here on Earth. Our brains are basically wired to deal with avoiding, training, and preying upon dumber life forms.

However, what would evolution have cranked out if (like in most D&D worlds) we evolved next to other highly-intelligent, technology-and-language-using lifeforms and (like in most D&D worlds) the recorded history of civilized humanoids stretched back far longer than our real-world recorded history?

Well, we'd probably have all sorts of atavistic behavior patterns developed hundreds of thousands of years ago to help our primitive-but-still-civilized ancestors survive that are nothing but vestigial xenophobic weirdness now.

For example: Goblins--during, perhaps, their endless wars with the elves--developed a hormone which prevents them from ever telling the truth to another species. When Lighttouch Silverlegs interrogated Grungle Snumphungle at knifepoint and asked "Where doth thine catapults dwell?" Grungle had no choice but to say "Under a pile of carrots."

Of course, nowadays the goblins are more sophisticated and realize the value of both interspecies cooperation and occasionally telling the truth in order to more thoroughly deceive their enemies, but still, the verbal tic remains. Their biology--which served their species so well for so long--simply will not allow them to be honest with elves and people. Thus: they talk "backwards".

As for why everything in the palace is on the ceiling, that's actually a whole other thing, and the answer is political rather than biological:

Despite having a king, the goblins are actually relatively democratic (teratocratic, I suppose, actually) for the middle ages, and refuse to let the king and his ministers leave the palace unless they actually do their job. So: all the palace ministers, guards, harem witches, etc. are bound to their own shadows--the shadows are, in turn, bound to the palace. An enchantment prevents the palace inhabitants from detaching from their shadows except on official business connected to running the goblin city's affairs.

So: they can only leave if they are carrying out a proclamation, legal decision, etc. Otherwise the government is essentially held hostage in the palace. Though it is, by goblin standards, a pretty nice place.

Putting everything on the ceiling makes it easy to spot intruders--anyone who doesn't belong in the palace isn't attached to their shadow and so can't walk on the ceiling.

Most of this information is, incidentally, findable in one place or another in the campaign. But like any good sandbox, there's no guarantee anybody'll find it.


  1. Sorry, I'm being thick. How does being bonded to a shadow enable someone to walk on the ceiling?

  2. One of my DMs (http://toughlad.livejournal.com/) ran a bit of "flying castle" adventure. In it, the castle & giant wings that were operated by orc chain-gangs. HOW manpower managed to make that happen was described as being due to temporal manipulation-- the time that it takes to crank back the wings being compacted by magic. Tubes connecting the outside of the gear-room made communication sound like chipmunks, or rrreeeaaalll sssslllooowww.

    Similarly, the Wizard's library was nearly temporally frozen-- you could enter it, research for hours, days, weeks! & then step out a second later. Which is why when the disgruntled employee of the wizard left a pair of breeding goblins loose inside, there was a bit of a problem...especially since no one knew for the first few (external) days.

  3. @kelvin

    wherever your shadow is, you stick to it--so you can stick to any surface you can get your shadow to fall on.

    if you jump, the shadow of your feet will appear on the wall, and you can just walk up step by step.

  4. teratocratic

    Thanks to a terminological conjunction, all I can picture is this in a televised debate...

  5. The goblins in my campaign sound cod-Spanish, because I'm terrible at accents.

    However, in one adventure I managed to make them so cute the party split over what to do with their goblin prisoners (kill or release?) ... in the end they released them, after making them all promise they'd be good. Usually my players are not that stupid ;-) But they were REALLY cute.

  6. Ah, I thought it might be something like that, but I couldn't pick it out from what you wrote. I understand now, and feel a great deal less stupid. Thanks!

  7. Wow... just... wow. My amazement leaves me wordless. I hope you don't mind me using the ideas you've exposed. The tought process you have used to flesh out the goblins' backstory is just a piece of genius. I just can say: thank you very much, I feel a lot more enlightened now.

  8. Re: Shadow-sticking. *yoink*

    Although as soon as my players figure out how they're doing it, I'm anticipating darkness spells precipitating goblin rain.

  9. I'm probably not the first to say this, but I came to see some titties and got hooked on just how smart a blog this is. Repeatedly I've found myself nodding in agreement when you discuss player dynamics or somesuch.