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Using Monsters Beyond Their Stat Blocks: Goblinoid Tactics

I know I promised to discuss Orcs in last week’s article, but I had a realization that I missed something in last article: the tactics to use in battle to really set your goblinoids apart from other monsters. This article will explore some ways you can vary the encounters using the variety of monster types present in an army, and what tactics each monster type would use.

Goblins: Scouts and Fodder

Goblins are exceptionally well made for scouting and harassing the players. Their ability to Disengage and Hide as a bonus action should be used as often as possible. They fit in in any goblinoid encounter, and would be sent out in front of the main hobgoblin army to wear down the enemy before the stronger troops are sent in.

Goblin Tactics

  • Keep them just out of reach of the players, emerging from cover only long enough to shoot an arrow at the players.
  • Never reveal how many there are, keeping some hidden and some attacking during a round.
  • Incorporate traps, and use the goblins to lure the players into pit traps, snares, or even poisoned bear traps. 
  • Take advantage of their darkvision and incorporate them into nighttime raids and ambushes.
  • Surround the players and target the players that would offer the greatest threat (such as those with area effects)
  • When a goblin reaches half health, roll d6 and on a 3-6 they flee. Goblins value their own lives unless a more powerful commander is present. In that case, have them flee on a 5 or 6.

Bugbears: Assassins and Ambushers

Bugbears have a surprise attack feature and are able to hit harder when using a melee weapon. They also have a good stealth skill, and you can give them reach per their player character stats. Bugbears can accompany goblins, but work great as a second wave of enemies, ambushing the players once they’ve gained the ire of the Hobgoblin General. In a siege, these guys could work as a kind of stealth commando unit.

Bugbear Tactics

  • Try to surprise the party as much as possible so you can use surprise attack
  • Harass the players through a long rest, striking to get the surprise round, and then retreating. The goal is to drain player resources.
  • Mix with goblins to support the bugbear who can fill the tank roll.
  • Get into melee as much as possible to take advantage of that extra damage tie.
  • Equip with a greataxe for a nuts 2d12+2 damage

Hobgoblins: Legionnaires and Commanders

Hobgoblins work best when played to their intelligence. With a variety of hobgoblin types in Volo’s Guide, you can use them to mirror the party. If you have a paladin, rogue, monk and wizard, you can create hobgoblin versions of them, creating an interesting challenge for the party and potential long-term rivals.

Hobgoblin Tactics

  • As much as possible, hobgoblins will try to control the battlefield. If in their home territory, set up choke points, ambushes, and escape routes. 
  • Sacrifice bugbears and goblins in order to wear down the party before taking advantage of their weakness to crush them.
  • Retreat when the battle turns, but if the players corner the hobgoblin fight to the bitter end.
  • Target the weak and overwhelm the strong.
  • Mix spellcasters and martial hobgoblins to cover any weaknesses in the legion.
  • Hobgoblins respect strength, so don’t be afraid to try to parley with the players if defeat is obvious.

I hope these tactics help you make your goblinoid army more interesting for both you and the players. Next week we’ll look at Orcs (I promise).