Dragonmarks: Goblins

I don’t believe I’ve written about goblins in depth on this site. If you want to catch up on previous information, you might want to review my Dragonshard about the Dhakaani or this Dhakaani Strike Force. I’ve also written about the Kech Ghaalrac in Dragon 413.

In many settings, goblins and orcs are presented as genetically evil — malicious by nature, enemies the players can always feel good about fighting. From the start, we wanted to take a different approach to goblins and orcs in Eberron. I liked the idea that these creatures were fundamentally inhuman, and had a cultural history that often them set at odds with humanity, but that they were no more innately evil than dwarves or elves. This led to the idea that these were the primary aboriginal races of Khorvaire. The goblins once had an advanced civilization that dominated the continent: The Empire of Dhakaan. Conflict with the Daelkyr destroyed this civilization long before humanity came to the continent. When humans arrived the goblins had fallen into a savage state (and were far fewer in number than they had been at their height). Some goblins were enslaved by humans, a practice that continued until Galifar abolished it a thousand years ago; their descendants integrated into the population, and these are the city goblins you find in most major cities. Others goblins were driven into undesirable lands, and these were the ancestors of the current goblin population of Darguun and Droaam. So, goblins aren’t evil, but from a cultural standpoint they have every right to dislike the humans who took their lands and enslaved their ancestors. Even Sharn is built on the foundations of a great Dhakaani city.

So: this gave a sound role for goblins and orcs in the setting. But what are they like? What makes them different from humanity and from other monstrous races? How are they truly alien races, as opposed to just being humans with fangs and unusual skin colors?


So what separates goblins from humans and orcs? One of the critical things to understand is that goblins themselves are split into three very distinct categories.

City goblins are descended from slaves. They have lived among the people of the Five Nations for as long as those nations have existed. All too often they are poor, and many feel driven to crime. City goblins have adopted many human customs and many have little knowledge of or attachment to their history.

The Ghaal’dar are the descendants of those goblins who fought the human settlers and were driven into inhospitable lands. While they are less barbaric than the tribal orcs, they are less sophisticated than the people of the Five Nations and are often thought of as warlike and savage; they are noted as practicing slavery. Looking at the Ghaal’dar, humans have a hard time believing that the goblins once had an advanced society that created tools House Cannith can’t replicate today. And they are right to be dubious. The Ghaal’dar are not the goblins of old. The Empire of Dhakaan fought the Daelkyr, and with the help of the Gatekeepers they banished these Lords of Madness to Khyber. But this war had deep and lingering consequences… consequences so severe that one can question if the Daelkyr are the ones who actually won the war. Even though the Daelkyr were banished, over the course of the long war they had sown seeds of madness and corruption among their enemies, and over time those seeds began to grow. The Empire had been stable for thousands of years… but within the course of generations, Dhakaan fell into civil war. Cults, coups, and madness tore apart their advanced civilization. Within centuries, the empire had collapsed. Soon its advanced traditions were lost. The Ghaal’dar don’t know how to smelt and refine adamantine alloys. They don’t possess the martial disciplines or techniques used by their ancestors. The strong dominate the weak, while under Dhakaan all worked together. There are still exceptional people among the Ghaal’dar – people like Lhesh Haruuc, who founded Darguun. But they are very different from the goblins who once dominated the continent.  Which brings us to…

The Heirs of Dhakaan, commonly just called the Dhakaani. Following the defeat of the Daelkyr, a number of Dhakaani leaders saw the signs of spreading madness. They constructed deep vaults and retreated from the world, taking their best and brightest with them. In doing this, they avoided the subtle curses that afflicted the rest of the goblins. For thousands of years they have honed their skills, and now they have returned. Currently they are split into Kech factions. They have no Emperor and this has kept them from uniting. Their numbers are limited, as each Kech carefully controlled population to deal with limited resources. But their martial discipline is rivaled only by the Tairnadal. Their smiths produce arms and armor superior to the work of House Cannith. Dhakaani champions are a match for any hero on Khorvaire. And they aren’t happy to see these soft creatures living in their ancestral lands. The Dhakaani are few in number and still divided… but they are a force to be reckoned with, and a way to surprise players who think of goblins as savages.

Common Traits

City goblins, the Ghaal’dar, and the Dhakaani have dramatic cultural differences. But they are all goblins, and share basic traits that concretely differentiate them from humans, elves, and other races. Goblins possess darkvision, and are quite comfortable dwelling underground. While they aren’t the only race to do so, it’s still a thing to bear in mind. Goblins don’t fear night or shadows the way many creatures do. On a primal, instinctual level night is a time when humans are vulnerable; for a goblin, it is a time when they are strong, as their darkvision gives them an advantage over their enemies. They don’t need light as humans do, which means that their buildings will have fewer windows and that they have no need for casual lighting. This is a small thing, but it’s part of remembering that they aren’t just humans with orange skin. They are a different species that has evolved under different circumstances and who have different instincts and brain chemistry than humans do. Here’s a few more things I consider to be basic goblin traits.

  • Goblins are innately lawful. They don’t have anything like an insect hive mind, but they naturally gravitate to hierarchical societies, establishing a social order and holding to it. Where orcs question authority, goblins are quick to establish structure and like being part of a greater whole. Note that I am using “lawful” to describe instincts – this doesn’t mean they feel any compulsion to obey human laws. Poor city goblins often turn to crime – but they will quickly form gangs and establish an order amongst themselves. The Ghaal’dar aren’t anywhere near as organized as the Dhakaani, but they still hold to a clear hierarchy and system of punishments for those who step out of line. And like the Tairnadal, the Dhakaani are essentially a martial society, with every aspect of life being tied to duty to the Empire.
  • Tied to this is the idea that goblins are inherently rational. Goblins are deeply pragmatic and faith is an alien concept to them. The Dhakaani never had clerics; they don’t believe in forces they cannot see influencing reality.This was called out from the start in the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting book, which said the Dhakaani don’t have clerics; their spiritual leaders are the bards who inspire the people with tales of the great deeds of the past. Note that these bards inspire the Dhakaani with tales of things that actually happened – they don’t see the appeal of fiction in any form. Again, this is a deep divide between the orcs and goblins. Orcs are passionate and imaginative; goblins are rational and practical. This is why the goblins NEEDED the orcish Gatekeepers in the fight against the Daelkyr. It wasn’t that the goblins didn’t bother to have their own druids; it’s that they fundamentally couldn’t grasp the sort of faith required to follow the divine and primal paths. While this is generally true of all goblins, it is especially strong among the DhakaaniWe’ve noted that AFTER the Empire fell, some goblins DID turn to a faith similar to the Host and Six; I believe you also saw a spectrum of Dragon Below cults. All of these things are symptoms of the “madness” planted by the Daelkyr… something that undermined this core aspect of goblin character. So you COULD find a cleric among the Ghaal’dar, even if they are far more rare than among other civilizations. But you should never see them among the Dhakaani, who resisted this corruption and maintained the traditions of their people.

So: regardless of culture, a goblin inherently prefers structure to disorder. You like having a clearly established leader and a clearly defined course of action. You are rational and pragmatic, always looking for an efficient solution to the problem at hand and rarely romanticizing things or engaging in wild speculation. Goblins aren’t emotionless Vulcans, by any means. But they aren’t as passionate as orcs: they are practical, always looking to cut the Gordian knot and solve problems as opposed to speculating about them.

Eusocial Creatures

So the first step in differentiating goblins and orcs was the idea of orcs as passionate and chaotic, with goblins being practical and more lawful. But there’s another thing that distinguishes goblins: multiple subspecies. There are at least three goblin subspecies – goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears. There could easily be others that were around in the age of Dhakaan and have died out on the surface, goblin subtypes humans have never seen. To me, this is a fascinating aspect of goblins that’s rarely explored in any depth. It reminds me of eusocial species like ants, bees, and naked mole rats – and in such species, the different subspecies all serve a particular role within their society and work together. In most settings this isn’t true of goblins; instead, it’s usually a case of might makes right, with the stronger goblin species oppressing the weaker. But as called out in the ECS and this Dragonshard: 

 Among the Ghaal’dar and the Marguul, the strong rule the weak. Leadership is founded on fear, and the weaker races hate the stronger tyrants. Among the Dhakaani goblinoids, this is not the case. Each species has a role to serve in society, and each embraces this role. The hobgoblins rule not through force of arms but because the goblins and bugbears respect their ability to maintain structure and discipline. The strength of the bugbears is turned against the enemies of the clan. 

With Dhakaan, I wanted to emphasize the species worked together, each using their particular strengths for the benefit of the whole. The bugbears bring strength and courage. The goblins have cunning and finesse. And the hobgoblins are the most rational and disciplined, the most naturally oriented to build, to organize. In my opinion, it was the loss of this eusocial bond that truly destroyed the Empire – a subtle corruption that caused the sub-species to stop seeing themselves as one. But it’s something that is preserved in the Heirs of Dhakaan – a natural instinct to work towards the common good.

Which is not to say that the Dhakaani lack individuality or self-determination. They aren’t ants; every Dhakaani goblin is a sentient being with free will and their own dreams. A goblin has their general role in society mapped out, but they could still end up as a common laborer, an artificer, or one of the Sharaat’khesh. In one of my favorite Eberron campaigns, one of the PCs was a male Dhakaani hobgoblin who wanted to be a bard, a traditionally female role. Individual goblins may lack the eusocial instincts that drive the Dhakaani as a whole. But it’s still a critical note for the Empire as a whole. It is a place where racial caste roles are deeply engrained, and where people are respected for filling those roles. The goblins are the laborers, but they are appreciated for performing this vital function – not oppressed and forced into it.


One question that’s been raised is how goblins can be used as allies or heroes in a campaign. To begin with, the Dhakaani are certainly heroes in their own eyes. They are champions who have returned from a self-imposed exile to find their homeland in the hands of aliens and their people reduced to savagery. The Dhakaani struggle to recover their lost artifacts and figure out how to restore their civilization is an inspiring one, and only “evil” if you’re one of those wretched aliens now holding their lands. So one way to use the Dhakaani as heroes is to play Dhakaani. One of the one-shot adventures I sometimes run at conventions puts players in the roles of a Kech Volaar strike force working to recover a lost artifact. Alternately, you can play an entire party tied to the Ghaal’dar, working for Lhesh Haruuc; as troubleshooters for the Lhesh, you can be trying to maintain order and ensure the survival of Darguun as a nation – something that requires dealing with the Valenar, the Marguul, the Dhakaani and, of course humanity.

In a broader sense, an obvious answer is to look to Don Basingthwaite’s trilogy of novels that deal with Darguun. You can easily set the (human) players in a position where they have to decide what faction to support in Darguun. Should they support the Ghaal’dar? Or can they work with someone like Tuura Dhakaan to choose a Dhakaani emperor who will serve as a stabilizing force in the region and ultimately prove a stronger and more valuable ally for the Five Nations than the unstable Ghaal’dar? Convincing the Dhakaani to respect the Five Nations instead of planning to drive these aliens from their homeland would be a challenge, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Looking at goblin player characters in a party that’s primarily non-goblinoid:

  • City goblins have largely adopted the cultures of the regions they live in. My Dreaming Dark novels mention a goblin serving voluntarily in the Cyran army, who’s for all intents and purposes Cyran. City goblins do have to deal with a certain amount of suspicion and prejudice, but that can be an interesting thing to struggle with. The majority of city goblins live in poverty – is that true of your family, or are you prosperous? Are you trying to help your family, or are you a loner?
  • Ghaal’dar aren’t as unified as the Dhakaani. As a Ghaal’dar goblin you could be an emissary of Lhesh Haruuc doing the will of the Lhesh. You could be a child of Haruuc seeking adventures that will prove your worth to succeed him when he dies. You could be a mercenary, just seeking to make your fortune in the world. Or you could have been driven from Darguun by a feud; perhaps you are gathering allies and strength so you can go back and avenge your slain kin.
  • Dhakaani are slightly odd as loners, but not impossible. Tuura Dhakaan of the Kech Volaar is more curious about this new world than many of her peers, and she may have sent you out into the world in order to gather information about it, and to learn about these alien invaders (humans). Should they be destroyed, or is co-existence a possibility? You could be on a quest to reclaim lost relics, either for your Kech or for some personal reason. Or you could be an exile banished from your Kech – was the exile justified, or is there a possibility of redemption and return?

Another possibility for goblin PCs is to be tied to the Khesh’dar, the spies and assassins of Dhakaan. In this case you might choose a different background that’s your cover story – and it’s up to you and the DM to decide what your real mission is, and when you’ll decide to share your true identity with the party.


So: let’s talk specifically about the Dhakaani. Here I speak both of the civilization that spread to dominate Khorvaire and the modern goblins who have preserved its traditions. Again, in my opinion there is a fundamental psychological difference between the Dhakaani and the Ghaal’dar; it’s not just that the Ghaal’dar weren’t raised in Dhakaani society, but also that their ancestors were subtly influenced by Xoriat and lack the eusocial bond and innate discipline of the Dhakaani goblins. But: What are the core elements of Dhakaan? Why was the Empire so successful?

If orcs can be seen as easily embracing the primal and divine, the Dhakaani are a fundamentally martial culture. War is in their blood. Some sages have theorized that the goblins are a magebred race, that their subspecies are the result of some long-forgotten force — A dragon? The Overlord Rak Tulkhesh? — crafting a warrior species. This is reflected by their natural instinct to hierarchy and discipline, but also by a racial genius for the arts of war. All of the Dhakaani can follow any martial path, but each subspecies has its specialties. Hobgoblins are exceptional fighters and warlords. The goblin Sharrat’khesh and Tarkha’hhesh are gifted rangers and rogues. Bugbears often serve as scouts, but the iconic Dhakaani bugbear is the barbarian. But the Dhakaani barbarian isn’t a primal savage; rather, their “rage” is a carefully cultivated state of ecstatic frenzy.

Honor and Duty, Atcha and Muut

Much like the Tairnadal, this martial mindset bleeds into all aspects of Dhakaani life. The Empire is always in a state of battle-readiness; if it’s not actively expanding, it’s preparing for the next inevitable conflict. The Heirs of Dhakaan have been in seclusion for thousands of years, but they have never lowered their guard or ceased their training. This also reflects the direction of Dhakaan society. As called out by Don Bassingthwaite, Dhaakani culture revolves around the concepts of muut and atcha. Muut is essentially about the honor of the Empire, and can be roughly translated as duty; atcha is personal honor. The most common form of thanks is ta muut, essentially “You do your duty.” Meanwhile Paatcha! is an offer of honor, typically an exhortation of a commander to his troops – this is your chance to gain honor! The key is that the Dhakaani are always considering these concepts: how you are fulfilling your duty to the Empire, and how your actions reflect on you. The key here – and a statement that’s often misunderstood – is that the Dhakaani idea of honor on the battlefield is very different from human concepts. I’ve said before that Dhakaani “don’t care about honor on the battlefield.” What I mean by that is that Dhakaani have no compunctions about killing a helpless foe, about killing civilians if it’s strategically logical, about ambushing an enemy, and similar actions that we generally consider dishonorable. The Dhakaani are concerned with victory. Honor comes from following the orders of your commander, from standing your ground against any odds, from displaying both skill and discipline. Do what you have pledged to do, and do it well. So Dhakaani take personal honor far more seriously than most human soldiers – but it’s important to understand what “honor” means to them.

An Evil Society? 

People have asked if the Dhaakani were an evil society. In my opinion, if you mapped them to an alignment it would be lawful neutral: highly structured and disciplined, but neither exceptionally cruel, corrupt, or altruistic. Note that the two primary Dhakaani leaders mentioned so far are Ruus Dhakaan, the lawful neutral leader of the Kech Shaarat; and Tuura Dhakaan, the neutral leader of the Kech Volaar. Dhakaani society is neither cruel nor kind: it is efficient and expedient. It is a society driven by constant war, and warfare is carried out in the most efficient and effective manner possible. They’d generally avoid targeting civilian populations not because it’s the morally correct thing to do, but because destroying them is a waste of resources that could be used in the future. Their leaders do what is best for the empire, which often means doing what is best for the people. But if it was for some reason necessary to wipe out an innocent village for the good of the Empire, they’d do it without hesitation… but they’d do it for the good of the Empire, not for personal gain. Again, corruption is extremely rare among the Dhakaani (though it can certainly be found among the Marguul and Ghaal’dar). Pursue muut above all and then your atcha. So the Dhakaani may often oppose player characters – but that doesn’t make them evil.

A secondary aspect is the role of slavery in the Empire. The Ghaal’dar and Marguul practice slavery, but in my opinion it was relatively rare in Dhakaan. The eusocial bond and racial caste system are the foundation of the Empire. Every goblin has a clearly defined role and embraces that role. Members of other species have no sense of muut and atcha. They are difficult to control, will always seek to rebel, and have no clear role in the first place. In some ways the Dhakaani can be seen as ants: they spread as efficiently as possible, and they don’t seek to compel other insects to work as slaves in their anthills; they simply kill rivals or drive them away. So it was with the Dhakaani. They spread to dominate the best lands in Khorvaire, and they drove their enemies into the lands they didn’t want. This isn’t to say that slavery was unknown, but it’s a rare practice that comes into play when a specific slave has a skill the Dhakaani need – a translator, a wizard, etc – as opposed to a major institution within the society.

Magic and Metallurgy

There are many things humans take for granted that the Dhakaani have never developed. But the Dhakaani are the finest armorers and weaponsmiths in the known world, superior even to House Cannith and the Tairnadal. They have mastered metallurgy and learned to produce and work with alloys that other races haven’t even discovered. Adamantine is a Dhakaani specialty; Cannith has learned to work with this metal, but it is costly and difficult, and they don’t understand it as the Dhakaani do.

This leads to the question of magic. The Dhakaani never developed the traditions of the wizard or sorcerer, and as noted above, they don’t have divine classes. Their primary sources of magic were bards and artificers. However, it’s important to recognize that these classes were NOT identical to Cannith artificers or Phiarlan bards. These core classes existed, but they would have had their own unique subclasses and specific spell lists. They may have developed paths that aren’t seen today, and may never have done things that we commonly associated with the classes. Specifically…

Dhakaani artificers are primarily armorers, weaponsmiths, and combat engineers. They don’t use constructs but excel at combat fortifications and siege warfare. Among hobgoblins this is primarily a male tradition, but exceptional goblins of both genders can follow this path.

Bards are the duur’kala, “dirge singers.” This path is almost exclusively followed by female hobgoblins. The duur’kala fill the roles that clerics do in many other societies; they are healers, diplomats, and spiritual leaders. They inspire the troops in battle. They heal the injured – note that in 5E, bards are nearly as gifted healers as clerics, and their spell list includes both raise dead and resurrection. They’re also vital to communication and coordination; note that the bardic spell list includes sending, clairvoyance, and various forms of teleportation. Powers of suggestion and charm are vital when mediating disputes and maintaining order within the Emopire, and equally useful for negotiating with enemies. So we generally depict the bard as an entertainer or vagabond. Within the Dhakaani, the duur’kala are leaders and healers with critical roles both on and off the battlefield. There’s nothing frivolous or light-hearted about them.

The critical point here is that lacking the paths of wizard or sorcerer, the Dhakaani rarely used magic as a direct weapon in combat. They relied more on the skill of well-equipped soldiers than on fireballs or cloudkill. The duur’kala heal and strengthen soldiers, but magic isn’t the primary weapon. It’s simply a branch of arcane science the Dhakaani never explored. But they’re interested in it now. They realize that the arcane magic wielded by the people of the Five Nations is an extremely effective weapon. The Kech Volaar are at the forefront of experimenting with this, and goblins are learning the arts of wizardry – and this is a place where you may find Volaar kidnapping human wizards to try to learn their secrets. But it’s still a new program, not one they’ve fully explored.

Known and Unknown

A critical thing about the Heirs of Dhakaan is that they’ve been in isolation for thousands of years. We haven’t gone into great depth about their achievements to begin with, and it’s entirely possible that a particular clan has developed something new over the course of centuries. Consider the following possibilities…

  • We’ve presented the Kech clans as being relatively small – having controlled their populations and remained within a single region. However, you could decide that a particular Kech spread and expanded and has a vast underground territory… that what’s been seen is just the tip of the iceberg, and that they already have armies on par with any of the Five Nations.
  • In a campaign I ran, I introduced a Kech clan that worked with necromancy. They bound the spirits of warriors into spheres, and could channel this power in devastating magical blasts. These spirit orbs could only be controlled and used by a duur’kala, and if the bard died, her sphere would explode – potentially taking out her killers. This did present a particular Kech with a form of powerful offensive magic – but that magic was still controlled by bards.
  • Tied to this… if you want to introduce firearms into Eberron, a very logical approach would be to give them to a particular Dhakaani Kech. This fits with the Dhakaani martial approach – again, more emphasis on developing weapons than magic. This could be a way to have a small Kech have a dramatic impact on Khorvaire… and it would be up to you how the other nations responded to the introduction of these weapons.

In Dragon 413 I introduced the Kech Ghaalrac, a Dhakaani force that has continually fought the Daelkyr since the incursion. These goblins have blended Gatekeeper horrid magebreeding, Daelkyr symbionts, and Dhakaani industry to create a wide range of innovations. So feel free to explore such things.


Lots of good questions. Let’s get to them.

Would it fit the Dhakaani Empire if I used the Roman Empire as inspiration for their society, architeture, martial tactics and weapons and armours?

Nothing in Eberron is intended to directly map to our world, and Dhakaan is no exception. There’s certainly some base similarities to Rome – military discipline, widespread empire – and some similarities to feudal Japan or ancient India. And critically, Rome is a HUMAN civilization; Dhakaan is fundamentally an ALIEN civilization, shaped by things like the presence of the multiple goblin species. A few points of sharp dissimilarity to Rome:

  • The most critical element is the racial caste system, which in turn underlies the concept of muut. Everyone knows they are a part of the greater whole, and there is a natural instinct that encourages them to work together – something humans (and even the Ghaal’dar) lack.
  • Tied to this, a core practice of the Roman Empire was to assimilate other cultures – to spread their cultures and traditions to their conquered people. The Dhakaani have no interest in this – if you’re not a goblin, you can’t have muut – and they general drove their enemies from their lands, or simply eradicate them.
  • The Dhakaani Dragonshard calls out that the Dhakaani used infantry, cavalry, and archers. The hobgoblins favored speed and precision over strength and chain weapons (flails, spiked chains) are common. It also notes “A Dhakaani army is both tightly structured and surprisingly flexible. The military is based around small units of infantry that can quickly adapt tactics and formations to evolving combat conditions.” So a Dhakaani force can act in a large formation, but then suddenly split into many smaller units.
  • Looking to architecture: As I’ve called out earlier, the Dhakaani don’t need windows for light, and a Dhakaani fortress would only have slits for archers and visibility. In many cases their fortresses and cities are at least partially underground or carved into mountains.
  • Looking to armor, I see Dhakaani armor as being considerably more sophisticated than Roman armor, as well as being made from finer materials. Part of the point is that Dhakaani armor is better that what the Five Nations uses: more flexible, better coverage, lighter. Even their run-of-the-mill armor would still be considered masterwork. Again, this is an area where the Dhakaani are MORE advanced than the Five Nations.

As a side note, in the past we’ve suggested Dhakaan as a place to introduce martial traditions that don’t have a clear place in the Five Nations, including the Samurai, Kensai and Ninja classes.

I know during the Dhakaani Empire they fought a huge battle against the Daelkyr, with the assistance of the Gatekeepers saved Eberron. But who were the main enemies of the Dhakaani empire before that?

The Dhakaani fought every other major intelligent race on Khorvaire at some point. There was a time when orcs were spread across Khorvaire; the goblins DROVE them into places like the Shadow Marches, and the same may well be true of gnolls and other species. They fought the Tairnadal elves and the Dragonborn of Ka’rhashan, and may have clashed with the dwarven civilization that was also destroyed by the Daelkyr (the predecessors of the Mror). Beyond that, you have all the threats that linger today. The Lords of Dust were just as active then, and you had undead, lycanthropes, and the threat of other planar incursions.

Can you go into a little bit of the relationship between Lhesh Haruuc and the Dhakaani? If I remember correctly from the novels, they sort of grudgingly respect his position, but don’t really see Darguun as a proper goblin nation. 

As always, it’s worth noting that the novels – like this blog – are not canon. Both are possible interpretations, but you can always go in a different direction in your own campaign. So with that said, here’s my opinion.

The ancestors of the modern Heirs of Dhakaan went into isolation because they believed a curse was destroying their civilization. Thousands of years later they have returned… and discover that it’s exactly what happened. There are these alien creatures living in their ancestral lands, and the modern “goblins” are savages with no muut. Lhesh Haruuc shows that there is still a spark of Dhakaani spirit left in these corrupted creatures, but overall the Ghaal’dar – and even moreso, the Marguul – are a deeply disturbing display of how far their people have fallen. The critical question is whether it is possible to salvage anything, whether these modern goblins can be integrated into a new empire… or whether, in fact, the first step in restoring Dhaakan should be purging these disgusting remnants. I believe that this is a matter on which the Kech leaders differ; offhand I’d say that Tuura prefers integration and education, while Ruus advocates wiping them out. Part of the question you need to answer here is how many soldiers do the Heirs of Dhakaan have? How deep are their vaults, and how many Kech forces are out there? COULD they choose to wipe out the Ghaal’dar, or do they need their numbers?

So, in my opinion the relationship between Dhakaani & Haruuc varies by Khesh – and Haruuc himself is likely very on the fence as to whether these goblins are allies or enemies. Even in the best case, Tuura would want to reestablish Dhakaani society, and it’s worth noting that the Ghaal’dar have more freedom and individuality than the Dhakaani. In causing that eusocial bond to atrophy, the Daelkyr introduced an element of chaos in that strongly lawful goblin psyche – and the modern goblins may find they don’t want to be Dhakaani.

Are dirge-singers incorporated into the current Dhakanni military as a learned specialty serving specific tactical needs or more as a rank denoting authority in certain fields? Or something else entirely?

Something else entirely and somewhere in between. Dirge Singer isn’t a rank on its own, and you surely had different categories and ranks of duur’kala within the Empire; I would expect that some duur’kala focused specifically on healing, while others dealt more with diplomacy, lore, etc. So a low-ranking duur’kala specializing in healing might accompany a unit of soldiers in a support capacity – while a high-ranking diplomat/loremaster might assume control of a military unit for purposes of a particular mission. If you look to the Dragonshard, the fiction essentially depicts a duur’kala who is leading a unit of soldiers to reclaim a relic, because she’s their lore expert – but when it comes to battle, the military commander would take over.

The Dhakaani dominated the centre of Khorvaire, roughly corresponding with the modern Five Nations, but did they ever have a maritime culture?

In my opinion, their maritime culture was largely limited to river and coastal travel. As you suggest, the presence of Shaarat suggests that they did value rivers, which is logical for a widespread society. We’ve never discussed goblin incursions on Aerenal or suggested a goblin presence in Xen’drik. With that said, in my Bermuda-Triangle-influenced Lamannia adventure I have a massive Dhakaani galley lost en route to Xen’drik, but the idea is that it was a pioneering attempt and it didn’t go well.

If I wanted to use Koalinth (linked here) in name and spirit, how do you guys see them coming about? Were they bred to be aquatic hobgoblins, as the goblins and bugbears are said to be engineered for their roles? Or are they elite hobgoblins warriors using artifice to swim like fish and breathe and fight underwater?

Either one is an option. As it stands, the idea that the goblinoids were magebred is just that – an idea – and something that would have predated Dhakaan as opposed to being a part of it. So Rak Tulkhesh may have created them to be an army… and long after the Overlord was bound, the goblins developed a martial culture of their own. By this concept, the magebreeding idea is simply a justification for having this eusocial set of linked subraces… not a science possess by the Empire. So running with things as they ARE, it’s simpler to make the Koalinth specially trained goblins, working either with artifice tools. You could even say that they have been permanently modified – some sort of alchemical process – but that it’s not a true subrace.

With that said, I think it would be very interesting to say that magebreeding WAS a science the Dhakaani possessed and actively used. I’d be inclined to say that it was relatively rare – the work of specialists in a particular region of the Empire. But this would be an opportunity to use any of the other variant goblins – blues, norkers, varags, etc. A wacky twist would be to make these magebreeders responsible for the horrid animals found in the west. Currently the theory is that these were created by the Gatekeepers… but we’ve never really said how or why the Gatekeepers accomplished this, and if it’s something they can still do. It would be interesting to say that the horrid animals were the result of collaboration between the Gatekeepers and Dhakaani magebreeders during the Xoriat incursion – that the goblins created them, but gave them to the druids who were better able to control them.

So if I wanted to follow this, I’d introduce a new faction in modern day Eberron: The Kech Vorg’dar. Located on the western edge of the Five Nations – either on the edge of Breland or Aundair – this Kech was the heart of Dhakaani magebreeding and has both preserved the ancient techniques and improved upon them. They have a host of subraces, and other living weapons. How will they interact with the Wardens of the Wood, the Ashbound, and House Vadalis?

At one point, the PCs in my campaign were told that we were “honorable…for humans”. That raises my question: I’m guessing that “honor” in this case would be atcha – personal honor. We dealt honestly and respectfully with the dirgesingers and Tuura Dhakaan in particular, and returned a batch of Dhakaani treasures to the Kech Volaar. But would Dhakaani recognize any kind of “muut” among non-goblins?

I think you’re correct: humans could have atcha, but it would be hard for them to have muut. Muut is a reflection of the fact that in Dhakaan, every goblin HAS an established role and duty. It’s part of your blood and your instinct. You know what muut demands, or you should… whereas atcha is more about personal choice and action. Your actions helped the Empire, but you were acting based on personal integrity, not because of your established duty owed to the Empire. It’s possible that they would see a Brelish soldier doing his duty to Boranel as having a human form of muut, but essentially, they don’t see humans as having a society that has muut; humans are acting in a way that vaguely resembles a true society, but they are still basically disconnected savages with no real sense of the common good.

Without wizarding or sorcerous practices, were the otherworldly invaders a surprise to the Dhakaani? Were they aware of the planes/worlds?

The planes are an integral part of Eberron. The Dhakaani may not have had wizards, but they dealt with the effects of manifest zones and coterminous/remote periods. Note that Sharn is built on the foundations of a great Dhakaani city – meaning the Dhakaani chose to build their city in the manifest zone. In addition, both Arcana and Religion are bard skills; the Dhakaani might not believe in gods, but the Religion skill would still encompass knowledge of outsiders, undead, etc.

Did the Dhakaani have a concept of an afterlife, or was your honor in this life to you and the Empire what mattered?

Honor in this life is what matters, and it’s what ensures you are remembered in the future. You set an example that inspires others, and that lives on.

If they are not ants I guess there are some good or evil Dhakaani. So there are some moral discussion on what should be done or how to interact with other races.

Absolutely. The point is that all of those discussions would take for granted the basic assumption that the good of the Empire is paramount. Evil Dhakaani likely argue that all other species should be eradicated; good Dhakaani would press for enemies being allowed to flee and to settle in lands of no use to the Empire. As that’s what ended up being the more common practice, there’s certainly good Dhakaani out there. With that said, I’d maintain that most Dhakaani tend towards neutrality and also that corruption is not tolerated. One of the characteristics of an evil alignment is putting your desires ahead of the needs of others, and a Dhakaani caught pursuing their own agendas over the good of the Empire would be executed.

In general, I wonder what Dhakaani do when they don’t prepare for war.

Easy… prepare for war. Like the Tairnadal, this is the structure of their lives. If you’re a soldier, you hone your skills, drilling and engaging in tactical exercises and wargames. If you’re an artisan, you do the work that needs to be done, and then you work on honing and refining your skills. If you’re an armorer, spend any spare time you have working on ways to make even better armor.

Essentially, a critical part of “prepare for war” is to be the best you can be – so when they  have spare time, Dhakaani are almost always going to be practicing whatever it is they do so they can be better at it. A typical Dhakaani just perfects their talent, while an exceptional Dhakaani looks for new ways to innovate and improve upon the current techniques. And bear in mind that for the Dhakaani, that’s fun. As a bugbear barbarian, you love spending some downtime sparring with a comrade… even if you spent the day training, this is where you just fight for fun, proving your talent.

With that said, even for the Dhakaani there must be times when they relax, right? So what do they do? Here’s a few things.

  • Listen to the Duur’kala, who regale you with tales of past heroes and the glory of the Empire, reminding you WHY you work so hard every day.
  • Not all such entertainments would just be “listen to a bard.” There would likely be some that are acted (with a question being if there are professional Dhakaani actors, or if it’s simply an honor for a soldier to step up and take on the role of a hero). And I think you get more dramatic reenactments that double as war games.
  • Dance. I imagine that the Dhakaani have forms of dance that are similar to kata or the Maori haka – again, something that hones or expresses preparation for war, but nonetheless, it’s still a dance.

The main point – again, like the Tairnadal – is that for a Dhakaani, work isn’t a chore, it’s the focus of your life. You strike for muut and atcha. You gain muut by doing what you must do, and atcha by going above and beyond that. Engaging in activities that hone your skills IS entertainment. So essentially, Dhakaani look at Ghaal’dar or most humans and see them as incredibly slothful and unfocused, wasting the potential and with no sense of communal good.

How do the Dhakaani see love/sex/mate? 

I think Dhakaani feel love as others do, and there is certainly a duty to produce offspring and honor to be gained by guiding them on the proper path. With that said, family is less important than the Empire; when children reach an age that their aptitudes can be determines, I expect they are fostered in a school that focuses on those skills. So if you’re a goblin miner and your son has the potential to be one of the Shaarat’khesh, he goes to join the Khesh’dar and you may not see him again for years, or ever. Accepting that is muut. It’s also the case that within the Kech, reproduction would have to have been controlled to manage limited resources. We’ve established that goblinoids – especially goblins have a high rate of reproduction, and if the Kech are relatively small today that has to have been an intentional choice.

With that said, bear in mind that there’s an aspect here of the Dhakaani are not human. As humans, we are inherently alone. Love is in part about finding a companion, about building a family, and about ensuring its survival and prosperity. The point of the eusocial bond is that on a fundamental, biological and psychological level, Dhakaani goblins feel a bond to one another that humans don’t. Basically, they have a general love for each other that we don’t have as humans. The strength of the Empire is that it isn’t simply a political construct; its people work well together because they feel an inherent connection and loyalty to their comrades. So a Dhakaani goblinoid can certainly have a specific greater sense of love for a particular individual – but they have a broad real sense of connection to all the people of the Empire that we as humans don’t have with one another. And I’m saying that this was one of the critical things that was lost in the wake of the Daelkyr, and the loss of that connection that caused the Empire to collapse and led to civilizations like the Marguul and the Ghaal’dar. So again, this is a fundamental difference between the Heirs of Dhakaan and the Ghaal’dar.

Do the subraces reproduce among each other? How is that different for other goblins?

As far as I know, it’s never been established what happens if a bugbear mates with a goblin. I suspect that in Dhakaan it’s not an option, which is made easier by the fact that you spend most of your life surrounded by and interacting with members of your own subrace. Looking to love, again, I’m sure it exists and there may be tragic tales of the bugbear who loved a goblin, and you could certainly have that as a platonic relationship… but in terms of actual family, you must do what muut demands. With the other goblins, I doubt there are any absolute restrictions, but within a society like the Marguul I find it hard to image a bugbear consorting with a goblin. Family is definitely important among the Ghaal’dar, and for that reason it also seems likely that a hobgoblin bonding with a goblin would be at least somewhat scandalous.

Where was the heartland of the Empire? Was it a single palace under a singular Emperor, or were there multiple emperors ruling at once across the land?

We’ve never said where the Empire began; what works best for your story? We’ve implied that there was a single Emperor, but there were certainly regional leaders who served as the Imperial authority within an area.

I was hoping you could clear something up for me about “city goblins”. I’m not sure if it was written this way in canon, but my impression was always that only the Small goblinoids were incorporated into human society. Is this accurate, or do you see a lot of hobgoblin and bugbears that have grown up among humans as well?

You’re close. page 304 of the 3.5 ECS says:

During the initial human colonization of Khorvaire, Sarlonan invaders enslaved thousands of goblinoids. Today, goblinoids can be found in most of the major cities of Khorvaire. These goblinoids (mostly goblins, but some hobgoblins and bugbears) have been entirely assimilated into humanoid culture.

So that majority of the city goblin population are made up of actual goblins, but there are exceptions. It’s worth noting that “true” goblins have the highest birth rate and are already disposed towards common labor, so they were both the easiest to enslave and quickest to thrive in the years that followed… whereas the more aggressive bugbears and hobgoblins were more difficult to integrate and more likely to just be killed. But yes, there are city bugbears and hobgoblins, just not as many.

Do you think Darguun has any large scale dealings with Droam? Do you think their people or governments see each other as kindred spirits considering their histories?

In my novel The Queen of Stone, Darguun sends emissaries as part of the diplomatic mission to the Great Crag. No mention is made there or elsewhere that I’m aware of about any other significant dealings between the two nations. Darguun is already on thin ice regarding its own recognition as a nation, and a close alliance with a nation seen as something of a terrorist state wouldn’t help that. I’m sure that the Daughters have reached out to Haruuc with just such arguments – “We’re all outsiders, we should stand together” because Droaam needs allies. But what can Droaam offer Darguun – especially that would be worth endangering relations with Breland to gain? And as for being kindred spirits, they’re really not kindred spirits. Looking specifically to goblins, prior to the rise of the Daughters of Sora Kell most goblins in the region were oppressed by more powerful creatures – as they often are among the Ghaal’dar and Marguul. The fact that they have their own warlord in Droaam is a significant change that is thrilling for the goblins (and what makes them among the most loyal supporters of the Daughters) – and something that could actually cause trouble for the hobgoblin-dominated Ghaal’dar or bugbear-led Marguul if their goblin population is inspired to rebel. Essentially, yes, they are all “monsters” and deal with prejudice from humans – but culturally they don’t have a lot in common.

I wonder if dhaakaani would have been doomed against a free overlord or could have found another way to battle/imprison it.

Technically, the Dhakaani were doomed against the Daelkyr; it was the alliance with the Gatekeepers that enabled their defeat. So, if they fought an Overlord, it seems you’d end up with something similar. I could easily see a story based on the partial release of Rak Tulkhesh shaking the Empire thousands of years before the Daelkyr. Dhakaani skill might not be able to end the conflict, but this is where you could have a critical alliance with the Ghaash’kala of the Demon Wastes… champions of the Silver Flame who might leave the Labyrinth to bind the demon. Which brings us back to the difference we’ve established between orcs and goblins. The orcs are innately passionate and drawn to primal and divine paths; the goblins are innately pragmatic and drawn to martial paths. Goblin pragmatism and discipline allowed them to dominate Khorvaire; but Orc faith may have saved the world multiple times.

Just how secluded and hidden were the Kech clans? Thousands of years, operating entirely in secret, hidden from their fellow Dar, hidden from all the other underground races, yet never physically changing?

There’s a few different things to consider here.

  • The Dhakaani goblins already had a partially subterranean civilization; consider that the goblin ruins of Shaarat extend deep below Sharn. There were likely many goblins who already spent the vast majority of their lives underground. So that alone wouldn’t be enough to justify a physical change; goblins are already adapted to subterranean life.
  • We’ve never said they were hidden from all subterranean races. The Kech Ghaalrac are specifically called out as having been fighting a continuous war against the Dhakaani. Other Kech may have had to deal with other foes. They may even have had to fight corrupted Dhakaani in the last days of the Empire. However, these conflicts never extended to the surface.
  • So yes: The Dhakaani avoided all contact with the surface. Remember, their premise – which was correct – was that there was some form of psychic infection corrupting the goblins on the surface. They needed to avoid all contact with them until they could confirm that this curse was no longer a threat – something they were only sure of relatively recently.

Where did Ghaal’dar clan Bards come from if they weren’t somehow trained by the Kech Volaar?

Where do Brelish fighters come from if they aren’t trained in Karrnath? The Ghaal’dar are a unique culture that has evolved in the wake of Dhakaan. Their combat and bardic traditions might have hints of Dhakaan techniques that have lingered through generations, but they are not the same: a Ghaal’dar bard is NOT a duur’kala.  We’ve never particularly established that the Ghaal’dar HAVE a well-established bardic tradition; it might be that Ghaal’dar bards are basically self-taught mavericks. In 5E bards don’t have to know lore, so a Ghaal’dar bard could be more like the orcish Passion mentioned above.

How did the hidden clans come into the light? Did Haruuc know of the Dhakaani Kech clans before starting his rebellion? Did House Deneith have contact with them? Could a pre-969 Hobgoblin or Bugbear tribal chief hire a Khesh’Dar assassin or spy?

Haruuc knew nothing of the Kech when he started his rebellion. Full details of the Return have never been provided, and are something that would have to wait until there’s an ability to truly create new setting material, especially since each Kech has its own story and approach to contact. However, there’s a few basic things that have been established. The ECS notes Kech Volaar goblinoids often venture beyond Darguun in search of Dhakaani ruins, but they do not work as mercenaries. They rarely interact with other races except in the pursuit of a mission.

Beyond that…

  • The Khesh’dar were the first to return. They spent a few decades gathering information, confirming that it was safe to return, and establishing a basic intelligence network so the Kech weren’t returning blind. They might have sold their services to the locals, as working with modern goblins would be a good way to blend in and gain information, but they wouldn’t announce themselves as the Khesh’dar; they’d simply present themselves as talented mercenaries.
  • Before the Heirs of Dhakaan can decide how to deal with outsiders, they need an Emperor. As such their primary focus is dealing with each other – whether through conquest or diplomacy. The Kech Shaarat are assimilating others through combat, but these are calculated actions. The Kech Volaar are seeking to prove their right to rule by recovering artifacts. Every Kech should have a specific path it is following to assert its claim to the Imperial crown – or, barring that, have chosen another Kech to support.
  • The rise of Darguun has been specified as a trigger for the Return. One of the primary reasons for this is that it provides them with cover to act without drawing attention. Thanks to Darguun, there is a location where there’s a strong goblin presence. As Darguun is a Thronehold nation, Ghaal’dar have freedom to move throughout the Five Nations – and most citizens of the Five Nations don’t know enough about goblins to know the difference between Kech soldiers and Ghaal’dar. So a group of Kech Shaarat soldiers don’t walk around bragging about being Kech Shaarat. They pursue their objective quickly and efficiently, avoiding contact with outsiders whenever possible, and trust those outsiders won’t know that they aren’t just some sort of Ghaal’dar.
  • Tied to this: the basic premise that the Kech see everyone in Khorvaire as potential enemies. It’s POSSIBLE the Ghaal’dar can be salvaged, but it’s equally possible they’re corrupted abominations that will have to be wiped out. And if they are bad, humanity is worse. These things have stolen their lands and defiled their cities and tombs. So they aren’t walking up to House Deneith and saying “Hi! Do you want to hire us as mercenaries?” – unless they’re doing it specifically to infiltrate the House and learn its weaknesses. They aren’t here to make friends, and any contact with outsiders is going to be founded on the premise of Are you a threat, and if not, what is your value to our long term agenda?

So the main point of the Heirs of Dhakaan is that they are NOT known to the world at large. They are engaged in a shadow war with each other, and adventurers who interact with them are essentially pioneers on the edge of an exciting developing situation.  It’s up to you to decide whether the Dhakaani see a reason to interact with the PCs or will simply pursue their agenda as efficiently as possible. But this is about the fact that in Eberron, PCs are supposed to be the protagonists of the novel. When they run into the Kech Dhakaani, they are DISCOVERING something cool – there’s powerful ancient goblins, and they’re in conflict with other ancient goblins! – not just bumping into something that’s already well known.

64 thoughts on “Dragonmarks: Goblins

  1. The Dhakaani dominated the centre of Khorvaire, roughly corresponding with the modern Five Nations minus Karrnath and with Cyre (because what’s good for a large civilisation is good no matter whose it is), but did they ever have a maritime culture? Would they have managed to sail as far as Aerenal, or would they have stayed close to the coasts and rivers? The existence of Sharaat under Sharn suggests they did, but what would you say?

  2. Can you go into a little bit of the relationship between Lhesh Haruuc and the Dhakaani? If I remember correctly from the novels, they sort of grudgingly respect his position, but don’t really see Darguun as a proper goblin nation. They want to restore the Dhakaani Empire, and Darguun is a mere shadow of that (if that).

    But, do they respect the Lhesh for carving out Darguun? For uniting the goblins and hobgoblins, and bugbears? That seems an impressive feat or victory. Or do they disdain his betrayal of Cyre? Or is it considered honorable because he did it for his people? If I remember correctly they don’t appreciate him taking on the title of Lhesh, but do some of the Dhakaani clans try to work with him to restore the empire or is it strictly “hand over the reins of power or we’ll take it”? Is the Lhesh sympathetic to the clans or does he see this as the future of the goblin people (working together with the rest of Khorvaire)?

  3. I was hoping you could clear something up for me about “city goblins”. I’m not sure if it was written this way in canon, but my impression was always that only the Small goblinoids were incorporated into human society. Is this accurate, or do you see a lot of hobgoblin and bugbears that have grown up among humans as well? I know in places like Malleon’s Gate that all three goblinoid subraces can be found, but my impression was always that the Hobgoblins and Bugbears were Ghaal’dur transplants, not true city-goblins. Did I get that wrong?

  4. Our group of PCs had some encounters with goblins both in and outside of Darguun. My character, in particular, found them fascinating, and tried (fairly succesfully, he thought) to cultivate a good relationship with the Kech Volaar. At one point, we were told that we were “nonorable…for humans”. That raises my question: I’m guessing that “honor” in this case would be atcha – personal honor. We dealt honestly and respectfully with the dirgesingers and Tuura Dhakaan in particular, and returned a batch of Dhakaani treasures to the Kech Volaar. But would Dhakaani recognize any kind of “muut” among non-goblins? Would say, a soldier of Breland who faithfully served King Boronel have “muut”, or is that a quality belonging only to those who serve goblin society?

  5. Are dirge-singers incorporated into the current Dhakanni military as a learned specialty serving specific tactical needs (artillerists, pilots, etc.) or more as a rank denoting authority in certain fields, (medical officers, special branch officers)? Or something else entirely?

  6. Without wizarding or sorcerous practices, were the otherworldly invaders a surprise to the Dhakaani? Were they aware of the planes/worlds?

    Did they have a concept of an afterlife, or was your honor in this life to you and the Empire what mattered?

    I know you have touched upon this before, but where was the heartland of the Empire? Was it a single palace under a singular Emperor, or were there multiple emperors ruling at once across the land?

  7. How do the daakhani see love/sex/mate? Do the subrace reproduce among each other? How is that different for other goblins?

    If they are not ants I guess there are some good or evil daakhani. So there are some moral discussion on what should be done or how to interact with other races. In general, I wonder what they do when they don’t prepare for war.

    About orcs: have you ever imagined a bardic tradition for them? Something based on their passion and emotions?

    • The goblin questions are answered in the main text. I’ll address orc bards when I have more time, and a section on Goblin Heroes as well.

  8. Do you think Darguun has any large scale dealings with Droam? Do you think their people or governments see each other as kindred spirits considering their histories?

  9. The orcs have their hathil root and their various read, do the goblins have a staple of their cuisine?

    Any spirits or recreational food or drink for either group that we haven’t seen?

  10. We’ve been told canonically that the elves originated inXen’drik (bred by giants) and that humans originated in Sarlona, and the dwarves in the norther icy regions. Did both orcs and goblinoids originate in Khorvaire? How about halflings? Were there any sentients living in Aerenal before the elves got there?

    • I don’t know where it’s stated canonically and I’m not in a place to look, but yes, the concept is that orcs and goblins originated in Khorvaire. The precise origins are vague; the orcs have very ancient roots (as shown by the Ghaash’kala) and one possibility raised is that the goblins were in someway magebred, possibly from orc stock. No canon source has described sentients living in Aerenal before the elves, and I don’t believe there’s a canon source that explains the origins of the halflings.

      • Was the Gnomes arising from wererats supposed to be their canonical origin or Dhakanni predigous?

        • Was the Gnomes arising from wererats supposed to be their canonical origin or Dhakanni prejudice?

          Just a Dhakaani theory, based on their small size and ability (per 3.5) to speak to burrowing animals.

  11. Keith, when the DM’s Guild opens up for Eberron, I would love to see a sourcebook on the history of the Dhakanni Empire.

    • Keith, when the DM’s Guild opens up for Eberron, I would love to see a sourcebook on the history of the Dhakanni Empire.

      Me too! I’ve already talked to Don Bassingthwaite about joining forces whenever it becomes possible.

      • That would be AWESOME! I loved Don Bassingwaithe’s books and what he did with the goblin culture(s)! All the language stuff he did was also fantastic!

      • This is the greatest news (or at least hope of a news) at the end of an already great post! I thought for a while that if I could ever run a campaign in the past of Eberron, the fall of the Dakhaani Empire would be my choice, and this post is a long carpet-bombing of ideas. One cannot but love the concept of a doomed Empire, licking its wounds after what was considered a victory in an epic inter-planar Lovecraftesque war, only to realize that said “victory” was at the cost of everything that defined the very fabric of the society as it was known before. This post already provides and hints at many very interesting details, and the prospect of a whole sourcebook by you two is thrilling.

        • Thanks! It’s been at the top of my list of things-I-want-to-write for years. Unfortunately, there’s still no timeline as to when Eberron will BE unlocked for the DM’s Guild, so it’s still just a dream.

  12. An idea i had for a Dhakaani clan was that the clan was lead by an influential noble / warlord who during the Daelkyr war was almost fanatical in his drive to defeat the Daelkyr, perhaps championing the Orcs / Gatekeepers inclusion in the war when they first approached the empire (goblin pragmatism & maybe empire politics & racism & pride at play among the Empires nobility) and that when the Daelkyr were driven back he petitioned the Emperor for his clan into Khyber & continue the hunt to safe guard the empire and left the empire before things started falling apart & the other clans retreated.

    I figured that sometime after the empires collapse they decided to check to discover why they had no new news from the empire and discovered it’s ruin, which horrified & dismayed them. With the empire they served gone they felt the only thing they could do was throw themselves into hunting & slaying every minion of the Daelkyr they could.

    My thoughts on the clan was that due to their fanatical drive to defend the empire that a very small number of the clan were trained in gatekeeper druidism and co-exists with the traditional bards and that they had gone to the extreme of of augmenting the clan with the shadow template to better do battle in Khyber.

    Still haven’t figured out a name for them, i thought Kech Muut .. but that just didn’t sound right.

    • Have you seen the Kech Ghaalrac in Dragon 413? It’s my take on a very similar idea: A Dhakaani clan that never stopped fighting the Daelkyr, and whose tools include Gatekeeper druids, horrid magebreeding, and modified Daelkyr symbionts.

      • i have read, it was awhile ago so my memory might not be the best and i think it kind inspired me with this idea. Although i wasn’t trying to replace the Kech Ghaalrac *as i was interested in having them in the story as well* with this clan and this clan shared similar ideals of Kech Ghaalrac but were not into using daelkyr creations as they consider that a major taboo.

        The idea was that they were not on par with the clan of heroes and that by the last year of the last war things had gone very badly for them. They had fought the daelkyr for thousands of years but at that time they managed to find the location and a way to invade their clan hold forcing the clans warlord to gift his son the clans most important relics to safe guard, to find help if possible. (unlike Kech Ghaalrac they hadn’t been watching the events on the surface so the warlord’s son is entering an alien world he known’s nothing about.)

        • That all makes sense. The main thing to me is that in MY Eberron I wouldn’t go with “a very small number of the clan were trained in gatekeeper druidism.” My core premise is that the Imperial goblins have an innate pragmatism that makes it very difficult for them to grok primal/divine magic – that the whole idea of “Be one with nature and feel the world around you” is fundamentally alien to the goblin brain; essentially, to them, that IS a form of madness. Thus, in creating the Kech Ghaalrac I asserted that they took a group of Gatekeepers with them as opposed to having them train goblin druids. In part, I like asserting the truly alien mindset of the Dhakaani; I also like the enforced alliance, that they NEED another race to handle these things for them.

          With that said, even if you decided to take the same path, you COULD assert that the gatekeeper goblins ARE insane – that they conducted an intense search to find goblins who could master this magic, and that it’s very awkward because they’re goblins who are essentially disconnected from muut. In some ways it would be sort of like the Kzinti telepaths in the Ringworld books, where they have a vital gift but don’t fit into their warrior culture.

          Side note: I think the Ghaal’dar aren’t limited in this way, again because the Ghaal’dar lack that eusocial bond. They have no greater sense of connection to the whole, which both means that they lack muut but also that they are capable of following paths that are alien to Dhakaani goblins.

          • I see, hmmmm the clan i was creating might be better off being just a fairly ‘normal’ Dhakaani clan who now that i think of it may of gained the shadow template from living for thousands of years in or near a manifest zone for the plane of shadow ?

  13. I think I need a glossary or a flowchart or something.
    I can’t seem to follow the distinctions and connections between the various Goblinoid groups/tribes/nation’s/agendas.
    I’ve tried reading through all this multiple times and, likely because of the alien words, I’m just not getting it.

    • It’s a complex topic for one post, since it’s covering an entire race (which is in itself three subspecies). But let me try to summarize more effectively.

      1. In the past, the goblinoid Empire of Dhakaan dominated Khorvaire. They were a tightly unified, agnostic and eusocial society.
      2. After the Xoriat incursion, a number of clans within the Empire concluded that a Daelkyr affliction was spreading across Dhakaan. They went into deep seclusion for thousands of years to ensure that they avoided this curse.
      3. This affliction dissolved the eusocial bond that united the goblins. This caused the collapse of the Empire and its culture. Humanity arrived, drove the goblins out of the central lands, and enslaved many of them.
      4. In the present day, you have city goblins and a number of different goblin cultures. The two that have been called out in the most detail are the bugbear-dominated Marguul and the hobgoblin-driven Ghaal’dar, but others exist.
      5. City goblins are the descendants of slaves who have largely assimilated into the culture of the Five Nations. They have no unified culture, nation, or agenda. The Marguul are a small group of aggressive bugbear tribes with no national agenda.
      6. The Ghaal’dar is an alliance of hobgoblin tribes. During the Last War, a Ghaal’dar chieftain named Haruuc led the Ghaal’dar to claim the territory now known as Darguun. At the end of the Last War, Darguun was accepted as one of the Thronehold nations.
      7. Remember how a bunch of Dhakaani went into isolation thousands of years ago? They are all now re-emerging, in part because the existence of Darguun provides a lot of cover for their actions. These groups are known as the Heirs of Dhakaan, the Dhakaani, or the Kech. They are divided into city states designated by the prefix “Kech” – so you have the Kech Volaar, the Kech Shaarat, the Kech Ghaalrac, and more. The Kech are still learning about the state of the modern world. They are true to the old Dhakaani ways and have the eusocial bond, but they have no Emperor. So their immediate goals are finding a way to convince all the other Kech to accept their leader as the new Emperor. Once this is accomplished, that Emperor can decide how to deal with the modern world.
      8. An addition force in this are the Khesh’dar, the “Silent Folk.” They are a goblin order of spies and assassins. They are part of the Empire and went into seclusion with the Kech, but they AREN’T trying to claim the imperial throne. In essence, they’re goblin ninjas who work for the good of the Empire; they’ll work for whatever emperor is chosen, but until then they are a neutral force. They are gathering information and may work on behalf of any of the Kech. What’s noted earlier is that the Khesh’dar have likely infiltrated all the other goblin groups, as the presence of city goblins is great cover for Khesh’dar spies.

      Does that help?

      • Immeasurably!
        Thanks so much for breaking that all down for me.
        Now I’ll re-read with enlightenment!

  14. So you’ve mentioned that Muut is something that Dhakaani innately understand, that they fulfill their roles in it by nature. I’m curious how this would interact with Paladins. I know you’ve called out Paladins as the rarest character class and obviously this would be exacerbated by Dhaakani psychology, but in the event that a (PC) Dhaakani goblin felt the calling of a paladin how would that be experienced first by himself and then by his clan? Would he see himself as fulfilling Muut in answering the calling or would he view himself as abandoning Muut in service to different master? And would his clan see someone who was fulfilling Muut or a dangerous deviation?

    • Muut is your duty to the Empire. It’s something you know through education, but also something Dhakaani generally know instinctively. This is the whole concept of the eusocial bond: as a goblin you know your role is to serve an an artisan or laborer. It feels right.

      If you’re going to have a divine Dhakaani, paladin is the logical path to me because you don’t CHOOSE to be a paladin – you are called. With that said, the critical question here is what’s the religion? If you said that this paladin is empowered by the spirit of the Empire itself – that he’s felt the Empire call him to a specific purpose – then I’d say that it IS muut. It’s a way of serving the Empire most don’t feel, but still vital.

      On the other hand, if it’s a force that’s entirely unconnected to the Empire like the Sovereign Host, then yes, he is choosing between his duty to the empire and his personal yearning. He could make the case that there is atcha in service to the Sovereigns, but he would be abandoning muut and would be condemned for that.

      The Silver Flame would fall somewhere in between, as he could try to protect the Empire with the power of the Flame. Essentially: serving the Flame is a personal choice and thus atcha. If it conflicts with muut, there is an issue. If he maintains his duty to the Empire while also following this alien call, that might be OK. But it’s still the idea that most Dhakaani have trouble finding the faith that empowers divine magic.

      • Thanks! I appreciate you outlining ways to have any given level of acceptance, while also adhering to the logic of the Dhaakani.

    • Are you asking their opinion of it, or what techniques they used to counter it?

      Lycanthropy is a mystical affliction that transforms the personality of the victim. In the case of an evil lycanthrope, it makes them a predator; but even in the case of good-aligned lycanthropy, it alters the personality and would effectively break the ties of muut. So: they consider lycanthropy to be a disease that should be eradicated when encountered.

      What we’ve established is that lycanthropy thrived in places like the Towering Woods – essentially, deep refuges of nature. As a result, I doubt that the Dhakaani had extensive encounters with it. With that said, if I was running a Dhakaani campaign that wasn’t centered around the Xoriat incursion, a lycanthropic outbreak on par with the one that triggered the lycanthropic purge would be an interesting thing for them to deal with.

      In terms of how they’d actually treat it, that depends whether bards have access to spells that can cure it in the edition you’re using. We’ve also established that the Dhakaani had artificers. Technically we’ve implied their primary focus was weaponry, armor and fortifications – but under 3.5 rules, an artificer could use spell sorting item to create a tool that could remove disease. Assuming there’s no access to a cure, they’d likely just euthanize the afflicted victim.

      • Would the Dhakaani not try to subjugate the lycanthropes ? they would of made a powerful weapon in the empires hand.

        • A savage and uncontrolled weapon, though.
          While one werebear might have the strength and ferocity of five Bugbears, the Bugbears feel the ties and hierarchy of muut implicitly. They’ll work as part of a unit and are less likely to forget their strategic goals (or turn on their allies) in a feral frenzy.
          That being said, I wouldn’t put it past a Hobgoblin leader to experiment with unleashing “caged” lycanthropes in enemy territories…

        • Jim has hit on my issue. Could they theoretically make a powerful weapon? Sure. But does the Empire NEED that weapon, and is it worth the risks associated with it? Dhakaani military is driven by martial excellence and absolute discipline… all of which is founded on the foundation of muut. The Dhakaani feel loyalty to the Empire as an implicit thing. A commander has absolute confidence in the loyalty and discipline of his troops.

          Lycanthropes are powerful, but in my opinion CANNOT BE entirely subjugated. Because they aren’t a species or a race… They are a curse. Traditionally, Eberron has a very broad definition of “evil”, and I always call out that the evil innkeeper may not murder babies… but the evil lycanthrope will. Evil lycanthropes embody our fears of predators and are driven to enact those fears. I hold by the 3E description of lycanthropy, which calls out that evil lycanthropes are compelled to murder and will prey on their own family and loved ones. Meanwhile, good lycanthropes are called out as shunning society and seeking the wilds – they aren’t vicious killers, but they are fundamentally driven to escape from civilization. You can’t train that away. It’s not a choice that the lycanthrope makes. Their personality is dictated and shaped by magic, and they will NEVER be comfortable serving in a massive military unit. Add to this that in my Eberron, wererats and werewolves have their OWN form of muut – not only is a wererat compelled to prey on others, but he feels an innate loyalty to other wererats. So a unit of wererats will naturally start working together to figure out how to screw with you.

          But wait: how’s this jibe with the Dark Pack and Droaam having lycanthrope forces? Well, you do have the difference between natural lycanthropes and afflicted lycanthropes. IMO, natural lycanthropes are still shaped by the curse, but it is not as all-consuming as the afflicted. But a critical point here is that the Dark Pack isn’t subjugated. It works for Droaam of its own volition, and largely in units comprised entirely of lycanthropes. Droaam DOESN’T have a vision of perfect martial discipline; it’s about every different monstrous group working to their own strengths. If Dhakaan made an ALLIANCE with a group of lycanthropes, that’s an option. But again: why place your trust in devious wererats when you have the Shaarat’khesh, who have served the Empire loyally for thousands of years? Why invite an infection into your ranks?

          With all that said, this is clearly a case where you should do what you want. If you WANT to have a story where a new Kech appears that uses indoctrinated lycanthropes – claiming to have somehow instilled them with muut over the course of centuries – run with it! Maybe their duur’kala have figured out a way to transform the curse. OR, perhaps they set out with this goal, it went terribly wrong, and the whole Kech is comprised of lycanthropes secretly planning to prey on the other Dhakaani. Sounds like a fun story to explore!

  15. Hey Keith, I’m trying to come up with a name for my Dhakaani Bugbear. Reading through the Legacy of Dhakaan books was very helpful. The Marguul have short, simple names. The Hobgoblins’ tend to be three syllables. Would my Dhakaani Bugbear have a name more similar to the highlanders or the hobgoblins from the Ghaal’dar?

  16. Hi Keith. Great post, as always. Apologies if you have already covered this somewhere, but is there a symbol, banner, or coat of arms for Darguun, or Dhakaan? Thanks!

    • I don’t believe we’ve ever depicted one… it’s possible Don Bassingthwaite suggested something in his novels. Looking to Darguun, Lhesh Haruuc is from the Rhukaan Taash, the “Razor Crown” federation; his ruling name is Sharaat’kor, or “The Crimson Blade.” So I’d expect his banner to incorporate a bloodstained sword and a sharp steel crown.

  17. Hey Keith,

    Why is it the DhaKaan never practiced sorcery or wizardry? I’m sure they would have seen the benefit of fireball and other spells on the battlefield so why did it never gain practice in their civilization?

    Also, how are the heirs preparing for Xoriat after their loss? I don’t see them going to the orcs for help, would they just believe they can build better equipment or train harder and do better? Or do they have other plans for when that foe comes back?

  18. Hi Kieth, what inspired the Goblin language? Did you borrow anything from any Earth languages? The two trends I can see are double vowels and emphasis on the middle syllable of three syllable words. Are there any others?

    Thank you

    • Also, I was wondering if goblin names are shared by subracial group (goblin/hobgoblin/bugbear) or cultural group (Ghaal’dar/Dhakaani/Marguul), or if all goblins used the same sorts of names?

  19. Hi Keith, I am venturing for the first time into Eberron 5e and I am interested in playing a Dhakaani Hobgoblin and wanted to see if you had any ideas?

    What i have so far is mostly being out on a mission from Kech Volaar and report to Tuura on the state of the 5 nations/any ancient relics I come across. My plan for the future was to become afflicted with an aberrant dragonmark and gain access to sorcerer magic. And from there either lose the Muut to the empire and start questioning my place in the empire or “retire” as the new emperor of the Dhaakani being now the only one capable of flinging a fireball at my detractors.

  20. Fantastic Article! i do have one quick question.. what type of mounts and or beasts of burden do goblinoids use?

    • The Forge of War depicts a group of hobgoblins that ride tigers and leopards, Avrahk Sehn, the Fog Riders.

    • Tribex are common beasts of burden. Tiger cavalry have been presented in novels and Forge of War, and the Taarka’Khesh are called the “Silent Wolves” because of their use of worgs… though worgs are allies rather than beasts of burden.

      • Thank you so much for the reply Keith. I’m creating a new 5e Hobgoblin character that’s a Battle Smith Artificer.. and his steel companion was going to be as accurate as I could get.

  21. Goblin gods. Some groups did worship the 6 and 9 at some point right? There is a reference somewhere about a missing god. Any thoughts, ideas or book location on the concept?
    Thanks for the site!

    • Religion took root after the collapse of the Empire. Exploring Eberron discusses the goblin approach to religion in more detail (still not out yet, but it’s coming.)

  22. After reading this, I just realized how many parallels there are between the Dhakaani and kalashtar culture, and that the kalashtar are probably the non-goblin culture that the Dhakaani might respect and have some measure of understanding of.

    -Both are highly traditional cultures, placing high value on community and duty.

    -The kalashtar don’t have the same eusocial bonds that the Dhakaani goblins do, but they *do* have an innate bond to others of their quori-lineage, and step further, they are all united in their ties to the 67 quori that fled Dal Quor, and also their stand against the Dreaming Dark. Likewise the quori tied to the kalashtar bring an innate sense of purpose to a kalashtar, they are likely to be drawn towards roles and paths that reflect the nature of the quori bonded with them. Much like muut, a kalashtar can defy and betray this, but this goes against their culture. The kalashtar look to what good they can do in their communities and generally trend to unselfish behaviors.

    -They both share a degree of pragmatism in their behaviors: The Dhakaani have dances that are martially oriented either in practical use, training, or otherwise preparation for war, the kalashtar practice the Path of Shadows, which is essentially expression through and training of a martial art. Both of their idle or relaxation activities focus on practical good to the community or honing their skills. The kalashtar’s art while expressive often has purpose of honing the mind or conveying the stories of their history (much like the Dhakaani bardic traditions).

    -They both have history fighting off the extraplanar threats and corruption from those threats. The Dhakaani against the daelkyr and the corruption that began tearing their empire apart. The kalashtar against the Dreaming Dark which is seeking to manipulate and even possess mortals of the world.

    Of course, they differ on many other points. The kalashtar are innately spiritual whereas the Dhakaani are more focused on the material (the kalashtar focus on bringing out innate magics through mental discipline, monks and psionic magics, where the Dhakaani are more grounded mastering arcane techniques and application of superior tools). They have different overall goals, the Dhakaani want to see their empire victorious and thriving, whereas the kalashtar want to see the end of the Dreaming Dark and a new age of Dal Quor. The kalashtar generally have a more positive and friendly outlook on the other races of the world, they group together but tend to see the good others.

    While I can’t see the Dhakaani understanding their spiritual/religious side, I feel like they could look at the kalashtar and say “Ah! Here are a people that have something close to true muut! They understand real community and duty to each other! They are called to their place and roles!” And in this possibly respect them, see them as a worthy culture that has value in the world. Obviously they are not Dhakaani, and don’t understand the importance of the Dhakaani community and functions, but I think they could maybe recognize a kindred, if very different, spirit. The Dhakaani forged an alliance of necessity with the orc to fight the daelkyr, I could see them forging an alliance with the kalashtar perhaps against the Dreaming Dark if the threat was brought to their attention, and that more so than the orcs were, the kalashtar would appear to them to be an ideal candidate for an alliance if necessity demanded it because the kalashtar cultural structure is probably the most understandable to the Dhakaani outside their own.

    This makes me excited to play a kalashtar monk that has maybe learned of the Heirs of Dhakaan, and seeks to forge an alliance against the Dreaming Dark with them through these similar understandings and culture. Lots of ways that could play out but I feel like that is such a fun and fascinating character backstory/motivation.

    I can’t wait to read more about both in Exploring Eberron!

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