Rune-goblin: How tribal tattoos make for powerful challengers.

November 26, 2021

How to make a living wizard book - use tattoos.

That indexy thing: what you can expect:

  • Description: tribal-tattoo goblin subspecies is like
  • Game impact & rules: running with rune-goblins
  • The stuff of lore & legend: how it fits into the D&D world
  • Adventure ideas.

Any group of goblins escaping hobgoblin rulership must have some power or ability to survive. But how? Goblins have little going for them beyond 'run away'. How could they defend their homes? Make stuff or get it from anyone else? Shamanistic magus goblins would have the tribal, magical and lore-relevant needed to make this work.

Tattoos of spells (identical to ones normally written into wizard spell books) give these goblins literal exposure to wizard magic - functional living spell books. Their spells are written in Goblinesque, a racial arcane-scripting notation-language that any goblinid of this subspecies can comprehend. Other races, goblinid or not, can read &/or transcribe this language (and arcane writings) with the usual difficulty.

Rune-goblins also have the ability to write on anything. Weirdly, they pride themselves on how this appears aesthetically - though often these 'tags' seem meaningless and gibberish. Wizards who study this vandalism (&/or tattoos) reduce spell research costs by 5 g.p. each night of such perusal (assuming one hour per night). This reduction goes up to a maximum of 25 gold in learning-research value.


RuneGoblins Impacting Your Game

These goblins have gained intelligence (14 int) at the cost of dexterity (12 dexterity) - for the rest their stats are typical. All goblins have two cantrips and two 1st level tattoos (one of each is offensive, the other utility). They start with space for one spell slot.

Attack cantrip is typically Firebolt or Toll The Dead. Utility cantrip is often Prestidigitation for mischief value, but they often take a spell like Mold Earth for vandalism or even Gust to fly a kite. Their first level offensive spell is ranged, usually Magic Missile or sleep. Their defensive-utility is typically a ritual spell so as to never go without their single shot attack-magic (not even for a night).

Some progress to becoming Booyahggers (use 'apprentice' stats but Str: 8 / Con: 10 / Dex: 12 / Int: 16 / Wis: 10 / Cha: 8).

Let us use Tasha's suggested tattoo to spell ratio:

1st level / cantriphand, foot or 1/4 of a limb
2nd / 3rd levelhalf a limb / character's scalp
4th / 5th levela limb

Goblins that have given up body space for ritual spells are especially popular - this adds some power to the whole tribe. Spells scribed on one's back (use of which requires a few mirrors to read) tend to be meant for sharing with others, for casual situations or as status symbols. Often goblins will place spells too high a level on their backs just to display their wealth, connection and magical superiority.

Goblins that die will have their body-book magically Mended, cured and stored as sacred texts. There are many duplicates of low-level spells for children to study until they learn the Goblinesque style of spellscripting.

These goblins still have their Nimble Escape ability, which is valuable for a wizard-based community. There are members of this community that gain skills as thieves, warriors and shamans but they are rare and keep at least a smattering of basic spells written upon themselves.

Fuzzy goblin

It was believed that Urdlen, gnome god of things lost and forgotten had no worshippers. It was also believed that the hobgoblin's Maglubiyet had slaughtered all the goblin gods. Out of spite or irony or confusion (it is not known), Urdlen has gained the support of some lost and forgotten goblins.

They depict their god as having both genders and refer to their diety as 'they' - equally feminine and masculine. They see this divine entity as having aspects of rats, chipmunks, moles, gophers, voles and mice. As they see their god as themselves: covered in plenty of fur.

These goblins have Nimble Escape ability and have extra silence and camouflage abilities giving them both double proficiency and advantage on their hide ability. Their fur is surprisingly fluffy and resilient, giving them a bonus on armour class and a resistance to cold. Some albino-appearing versions can be found in the far north.

These creatures seem to both admire and resent the gnomes that abandoned their god. They enjoy capturing gnomes and then humiliating them for a few days and then releasing them with enough clothing and food to make it to the next safe location. No one knows what the purpose of this ritual may be. It is known that the fuzzy goblins have gone to great risks to steal gnome slaves from the drow and hobgoblins only to humiliate and then release large numbers of these people.

Many of these goblins seek to gain the were-rat curse-disease. If they do it is hard to tell their half-rat shape from their basic racial appearance.

If having the goblin tied to the were-rat 'race' does not work for your world, feel encouraged to use gnomes (especially svirfneblin) instead.

Drop Goblin & Splat Goblin

These goblins have lost the Nimble Escape ability and have instead an at-will use of Feather Fall. This magic only stops if consciously negated or dispelled (then it can be 'cast' again the next round as a free or 'bonus' action). In fact, not only do these creatures have a resistance to falling damage, they are able to make a saving throw against such impact - even if unconscious, restrained, petrified, prone, exhausted &/or in a location lacking popcorn-starch packing materials.

They have great kite making skills and construct excellent parachutes, hang gliders, sails and soar-gliding 'wingsuit' clothing. In fragmented worlds they usually know of portals that get them to the 'top' of their world so they can spend weeks gliding their way down through the various parts of their world, back to the 'bottom'.

Similar to their close cousins the drop goblins. Instead they employ large circular shields that assist in their flight as well as their combat on the ground. When landing, they get to use their falling impact as a 'charge' to do double damage.

These goblins are used as shock troops launched from either catapults, trebuchets, thrown upon their enemies over cliffs, bridges or overhangs or simply dropped off of skyships.

Boom goblin

(ghost goblin related) - they lost the war against self esteem. Unlike . Might come back as ghost-goblins or revenants should they have enough spiritual preparedness and power.

Once per day a boom goblin can Enlarge with a starting-size of 'medium'. They often use this ability to destroy walls by setting themselves against it and leveraging themselves against another immovable object. Going between a rock and a hard place also makes them explode, but this can destroy or at least seriously damage a wall. Count their explosive damage as triple if properly prepared for this sacrifice.

Ghost Goblin

Many goblins die horrible deaths - and these creatures have a habit of swearing revenge far more than they attain it. These creatures are ripe for becoming ghosts - in fact, the last surviving bits of goblin-specific gods are the nilbog that have this kind of function.

In some worlds goblins of all kinds prepare for this, especially if they are allied with the Magus Goblins. Those that seek to return as non-corporeal undead attune to a common magic item that they carry on their person at all times. This item is typically of great sentimental, heirloom &/or historical importance. It usually includes the material from the host that seeks to 'survive' death such as physical parts (hair, skin, 'baby' teeth, bits of bone lost in combat - virtually anything they can live without at the time of enchantment) as well as liquids of great emotional value (blood, sweat & tears).

When a goblin gets pregnant there is a time period that the zygote will accept or develop a spirit-soul. The ghosts of goblins can make a saving throw and become that fetus not competing with another consciousness for the body. Goblin magus (and many hags) can also have the recipe-formula-pattern for linking any ghost with any magic item of 'uncommon' or greater scarcity.

Goblin ghosting at death:

has item on personroll at advantage
item of great history & lore+ 4
personal parts & fluids included+ 1 per component
save DC on death: wisdom or charisma / DC 15 to make 'ghost'

If you like this you could even have different outcomes based on a sliding-scale DC:


save DC on death
: wisdom or charisma / DC 15 to make 'ghost'

DC Total Save At DeathOutcome Of Dead Goblinid
naturally rolling 1 ('crit fail')Spirit lost - wanders astral plane 2-20 days
15 below DCSpirit nearby - if below DC journey to Outer Planes
10 below DCSpirit nearby - in item unable to
5 below DCSpirit in item as Ring of Mind Shielding / safe
Makes saveBecomes ghost - or - safe in magic item
Crit 20Reincarnates as fetus / nearby pregnant goblin hostess
save DC on death: wisdom or charisma / DC 15 to make 'ghost'

The ghosting goblin process can be given to any goblin sub race or even any humanoid that does not agree with the natural process of death (and doesn't mind taking over other people with possession).


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