Consider these elements when building a goblin character in DnD 5e:
- Goblin character backgrounds—antiheros and cutthroats
- Goblin race abilities
- Ranger build: Gloom Stalker or Swarmkeeper
- Bard build: College of Swords
- Rogue: Thief
- Artificer: Artillerist
Goblins in DnD 5e are small, furious and cunning creatures with a +2 Dexterity/+1 Constitution bonus. Naturally, goblins are chaotic and nefarious, opening a whole can of fun roleplaying options for the character. Scraping together lives on the fringes of society, goblins scavenge, pillage and raid civilized communities with regularity. Therefore, I want to build an agent of chaos that leverages goblin strengths.
Goblin character backgrounds—antiheros and cutthroats
Let’s face it, goblins are nefarious little monsters, and we want to play one for the sheer glee of chaos. Goblins tend to live on the outskirts of civilization, often making encampments outside of towns and cities to raid unsuspecting travelers. Though small in stature, they more than make up for their size with ferocity, cunning and reckless tendencies.
Therefore, playing a goblin character should play on these fun concepts. The character could be a wild ranger, brilliant artificer bombmaker, nefarious rogue or thief, or a wisecracking bard. Either way, this character is going to be a wild character. In fact, I don’t expect this character to live long—there’s something freeing about that.
With all this in mind, I now need to think about why my goblin is living a unique lifestyle. I could be a typical adventurer—a goblin who heard the call of glory and started out on my own. Or, I could have a driving backstory. Did this character leave his or her clan? Did they get kicked out, or did they leave on their own accord?
Goblin race abilities
Built for ambush combat, goblins gain a +2 Dexterity/+1 Constitution bonus combination. This makes them natural archers, spear fighters, duelists and backstabbers. Either way, I’ll want to lean into this Dexterity score for classes like ranger, rogue and other Dex-based weapon users.
Goblins carry traits for life in the deep wilderness, including 30 feet of speed and Darkvision. They are considered Small, growing only 3 or 4 feet. However, they are 5 feet faster than gnomes and halflings.
This feral, ambushing nature grants them Fury of the Small and Nimble Escape. Fury of the Small gives me extra damage to an attack equal to my level. I’ll need a short or long rest in between uses, which means I could potentially pull it off 2 times a day. Nimble Escape gives me the natural ability to Hide or Disengage as a bonus action on each of my turns.
Ranger build: Gloom Stalker or Swarmkeeper
The first class that comes to mind for a goblin is the ranger. Obviously, the whole ambush-and-raid nature of goblins fits the ranger’s abilities. My Dexterity score will cause accurate arrow shots with devastating ranger effects and Fury of the Small damage. I’ll need to remember to include a high Wisdom score as well.
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Gloom stalker rangers bring out the ambush tactics and lurking nature of goblins. These rangers are Stealth experts, able to see deeply into the dark with Umbral Sight. They can even remain hidden to enemies with Darkvision, which makes sense for a cave lurking, deep forest goblin. However, the Dread Ambusher ability leans into goblin nature the most; granting me 10 extra feet of speed, Wisdom modifier bonus to Initiative rolls and an extra 1d8 damage on my first attack.
Swarmkeeper rangers use a symbiotic swarm as a weapon and tool. The swarm can deal extra 1d6 damage, move an enemy 15 feet away and even carry my character. This gives my goblin sinister nature options like a swarm of hornets or bats. Plus, I’ll gain Swarmkeeper Magic, granting me extra spells I can perform with my swarm.
Bard build: College of Swords
Another build I could implement with the goblin is a rapier-wielding bard. Though I don’t gain any Charisma advantages, I can still utilize a high Dexterity score to great effect. For this class, I can wield a rapier and hand-crossbow, playing off my Nimble Escape ability to maneuver around foes. Plus, I’ll gain abilities like Jack of All Trades and Expertise to boost Skill checks.
Bardic Inspiration and spells can play off my mischievous side, psyching out enemies and bolstering allies. I can choose to grant my allies with 1d6 Bardic Inspiration dice, boosting attack rolls or saving throws. I’ll choose spells like Tasha’s hideous laughter, which renders foes incapacitated. Or, I can deal direct psychic damage with vicious mockery and grant enemies disadvantage on attack rolls.
Of course, I should choose College of Swords to get the most out of my sword fighting. With this class, I can spend Bardic Inspiration to pull of sword moves called Blade Flourish. These moves are:
Defensive Flourish: Roll a Bardic Inspiration die (1d6) and add the number as extra damage to next attack. Then, add that number to AC until next turn.
Slashing Flourish: Add Bardic Inspiration (1d6) roll as extra damage to target and damage to another touching target.
Mobile Flourish: Deals extra damage equal to my Bardic Inspiration. Plus, push the target back 5 + 1d6 feet away. You can then use a bonus action to move next to the target.
Lurking in the underworld sewers of a great city, a goblin thief sees the wonders of powerful wizards and is envious of their magic. This class is obsessed with magic treasure, whether stealing it outright or plunging into dungeons to find it. However, I’ll gain combat tricks and Stealth maneuvers from the basic rogue class that relies on my goblin Dexterity.
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My rogue can wield daggers, shortbows, rapiers or even a katana—leveraging Dexterity for both attack and defense. Expertise doubles my proficiency with 2 skills of my choice (Stealth), including the option for thieves’ tools. I’ll need these tools to disarm traps and pick locks.
Stealth Attack gives me extra damage to targets when I have advantage against them. Therefore, if I attack from a hidden position, attack a prone enemy or magically give myself advantage, I deal extra 1d6 damage. This quickly rises to an extra 2d6 and 3d6 as I level, topping out at 10d6.
My Thief class traits come at level 3, granting me skills for breaking-and-entering and capabilities with magic items. Fast Hands gives me the option to open a lock or disarm a trap as a bonus action, as well as Use an Object. This will come in handy when I gain my collection of magic goodies. Second-Story Work gives me extra climbing speed, along with extra jumping distance equal to my Dexterity modifier.
Use Magic Device comes at level 13, which allows me to use any magical item, regardless of requirements. This might be one of my favorite thief traits. By this level, I should have some sort of collection going—with options to use all kinds of new treasure.
The artillerist artificer scratches that itch for a goblin bombmaker, an expert in explosives and tinkering. These are the guys that throw together dangerous experiments out of spare parts. Though this class leans on Intelligence like a wizard, they also gain proficiency with firearms. An agile goblin relying on gunpowder is fun in any world, especially as some sort of mad genius.
The artificer class grants me tinkering abilities, magic gear creation, and the option for a homunculus companion. Every artificer gains the ability to infuse items with magic properties. Also, artificers gain a few spells and cantrips—gaining spell slots to use as well as their infused items.
Artillerists take this tinkering, scientific mind to explosive warfare. This class is a ranged specialist that gains an eldritch cannon—a summon that can blast foes as a bonus action. Cannons can come as a flamethrower, force ballista or a protector model. Also, I’ll gain extra class spells such as shield, thunderwave and scorching ray.