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Goblinoids, Take Two
Dragon's-Eye View
By Jon Schindehette

Comic by Drew Shenemann
Concept Art by Steve Prescott

A while back, James chatted about the goblinoids, and I showcased the goblin. To say he wasn't warmly received would be an understatement. I'd like to let you in on a secret now.

When I read James's article on the goblinoids and sat in my cube looking at the images of the goblinoid family—goblin, hobgoblin, and bugbear—I decided not to show off the hobgoblin and bugbear. I didn't feel they came close to what James had written . . . at all. Turns out that the concept of the hobgoblin and bugbear had changed since we had concepted these creatures, and that had created some visual disconnects. This whole situation highlights the importance of looking at the visuals and the text, then making sure that they sync up.

Luckily (I think?), we decided to go back and look at the goblin again, so we could iterate the whole family one last time. The feedback you guys gave us helped instigate a great discussion about the roles and physical visualization of the entire family. I'd like to share some of the ideas that came out of the discussions. In fact, here's a behind-the-curtain peek at the artist brief. In the brief, we try to pull together as many details and give as much direction as we can, and we give emotional and visual cues.

Artist Brief

Goblinoids:

Goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears should all look connected—as if they are from the same family of critters (which they are), but don't necessarily need to look like they are the same critter evolved.

Some real world examples of what I mean are:
Canines: chihuahua, German shepherd, great dane
Mustelidaes: ferret, pine martin, wolverine

Common Characteristics

  • Sharp teeth (could mean enlarged canines, like a dog's, or all sharp teeth, like a lizard's or predatory dinosaur's), but no tusklike look. Want no visual link to orcs.
  • Hair on their heads and hair forms a widow's peak.
  • Wide bulbous noses that are darker in shade than their normal flesh tone.
  • They have long pointed ears. They should be consistently either sticking out or back along the head. Bugbear ears will be larger than goblins or hobgoblins.

The goblinoids should be serious enemies and not played for comedy. Of the D&D monsters, they are some of the more civilized races (if hill giants [fat and stupid cavemen] are a 1 and mind flayers are a 10, the goblinoids fall around 7).

Goblins

Around 3.5 feet tall, average intelligence, but wily, quick, and sneaky. The attitude that they should invoke is mugger gang mixed with Viking raiders. Imagine being in a dark alley and a 13-year-old with a switchblade appears in the entrance. You are unarmed and are wondering if you could take a 13-year-old before you get stabbed. Suddenly you hear shuffling behind you and realize two more have been hiding there all along. You know they are going to brutalize you and take your wallet. If there is money in the wallet, that's a bonus. All of a sudden, the situation just got really serious.

They have ochre-colored skin (not green), have hair on their head, and have bright yellow or orange eyes. Their posture should be mostly upright and their limbs are mostly average in length; they have sharp teeth (see goblinoid common characteristics), but they are not protruding.

Hobgoblins

Hobgoblins are around 6 feet tall (give or take) and have a commanding competent air about them—very intimidating. They can back up their threats with brutality. These guys are the Mafia or Yakuza boss mixed with the Spartans. They have heavy enforcers as well as lackeys working for them, but they are not adverse to a bit of dirty work themselves to make a point.

They are raw sienna in color and have bright yellow or orange eyes. They have been described as having blue noses—I'll let you interpret this how you'd like if you use it at all. They have hair on their heads, and sideburns, as well as occasionally a little chin patch. They will have stylized consistent armor and weapons (somewhat samurai meets Roman armor in style). They have sharp teeth (see goblinoid common characteristics) that may or may not protrude. Their posture is mostly upright and their limbs are mostly proportional.

Bugbears

They are just over 7 feet tall, they are not great thinkers or conversationalists, and they are not naive. What they lack in wits they make up for in perception of what's going on around them. They are like mob enforcers placed in the bodies of basketball players. They are large and strong, yet have a quickness about them that belies their bulk. One could very well be pummeling an adventurer held in one hand and in the same instant about to block a quarterstaff swinging down at it. They are fur-covered all over except their fingers, palms, and faces (no moustaches). They have dark brown fur and burnt sienna skin, large pointed ears (larger than goblins or hobgoblins) and bright yellow or orange eyes. They have the meanest-looking mouth, and the largest teeth and dark noses (bugbears get their name from having bearlike noses; I'm guessing that this is mostly from the dark color and that they are not actually bearlike in shape). They should be slightly slumped in posture and their arms maybe a little longer in proportion. They should not look like orcs.

As you can tell, there was a lot of thought that went into these guys. Your feedback really helped to inform a lot of our decisions, and it aided us in tweaking both lore and visual concepts to create a creature design that felt like it really fit into the world design.

Sounds like fun, huh?

The team kicked around a few rounds of concepts, had lots of discussions, and wrestled these guys to the ground. We are very happy with the final outcome. Well, almost final—these are just pencils. Final colors are to come. Let me know what you think.


Poll Question

 These goblinoids...  
Rock!
Are solid but I've got a few nitpicks I'd like to talk about.
I'm lukewarm on these concepts.
I'm not a big fan, and here are my reasons why. (Use the comments section below to provide us with your reasons.)

Previous Poll Results

How do you express your D&D fandom?
I play the RPG only. 363 18.1%
I read the novels only. 12 0.6%
I play the video games only. 10 0.5%
I read the comic books only. 1 0.0%
I play the board games only. 2 0.1%
I play the miniatures-based games only. 2 0.1%
I enjoy two expressions of the brand. 395 19.6%
I enjoy three expressions of the brand. 522 26.0%
I enjoy four expressions of the brand. 277 13.8%
I enjoy five expressions of the brand. 114 5.7%
I enjoy all the expressions of the brand. 313 15.6%
Total 2011 100.0%

Jon Schindehette
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at theartorder.com.
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