Goblin Hordes

~ From “Goblin Gear” by Adam “Night Druid” Miller

A common pest on many groundling worlds, for ages it was thought that goblins were too primitive and weak to make a serious impact on wildspace.  Unfortunately, the goblins did discover the secrets of spelljamming many centuries ago, and spread across wildspace like a ravenous plague.  No other known race has ever spread as far and as quickly as the goblins did, spreading to every corner of the Known Spheres and beyond.

Goblin ships, individually no mach for most spelljammers, were deadly when encountered in small fleets.  The goblins adapted their mob tactics when they took into wildspace.  Rare is the lone goblin ship, usually the survivor of a battle or disaster.  Porcupines, the main goblin ship, are almost always encountered in clusters of a dozen or more.  Through the use of teamwork and playing on their strength in numbers, the goblins preyed upon any and all ships they encountered.  Goblin pirates were among the most feared in all of wildspace, striking with such numbers to defeat elvish Men-O-War, heavy human hammerships, and even the dreaded illithid nautiloids.  Such were the number of these fleets that they decimated the trade lanes.

Porcupine Ships

The pride and joy of the goblin fleets, the porcupine is a primitive yet surprisingly powerful ship.  It takes the appearance of a gigantic spiny ball tipped with conical ram mines and an aft wooden tail.  A fan-like sail, controlled by a dozen or more stout ropes, is at the end of the tail.  A solid oak or ironwood door mounts the top of the tail, through which access to the interior is gained.  The globe is pierced by four large ballista gunwales and a score of smaller arrow slits.  The porcupine is a close range fighting craft, able to deliver a deadly attack when within 100 yards of a ship, but weak against ships attacking at a greater range.

The porcupine is grown rather than built.  It is the seed pod of a rare plant found only in wildspace.  The spiral-shaped plant is the created when a seed from the starfly plant accidentally falls into a planar rift in wildspace (such rifts are often at the center of flame rings).  The plant takes root in another plane, but grows into wildspace.  The core of the plant retains a circular shape, often a mile across.  Two to six trunks grow off of the main trunk, spiraling out into wildspace.  Lesser branches and twigs intertwine into a net between the trunks and main trunk, attracting tens of thousands of wildspace fish, animals, and even scavvers and krajen.  Along the outer rim of the lesser trunks, along the gravity plane, spiny ball seed pods grow.  When they mature, the balls disconnect from the tree and fall into the depths of wildspace.  It is these seed pods that the goblins take and use for their spelljammers.

Near the time of maturity, the goblins prematurely disconnect the seed pods and hollow out caverns inside them.  Weapons, a furnace helm, provisions, and a built wooden tail are added.  Ram mines are also added, usually to every third spine.  The mines are created by the goblins from a concoction of tree sap, leaves, and scavvar blood.  The mixture created has properties similar to smoke powder, such that it is usable in ram mines but too dangerous for smokepowder weapons.  Given how cheaply goblin ships could be created, a tribe could easily support as many ships as they had warriors to crew them.

The interior is a maze of small rooms and narrow corridors.  The aft tail is the main cargo hold, where spare ram mines and booty is stored.  The pump furnace is a large and bulky affair, often shaped like a large iron sphere with a grate and a pair of pipes leading out.  The pipes lead out to the aft, blowing the blood red smoke out and past the sail.  Chambers throughout the ship mostly serve as crew quarters, where as many as a dozen goblins sleep in ratty hammocks and keep their gear in leather sacks hung from pegs or nails.  Tunnels are low, usually only 3’ in diameter, and chambers are likewise crammed, with roofs only 5’ high.  Several tunnels and very small chambers are close to the outer surface of the globe is pierced with arrow slits or gunwales for the ships four light ballista.  Each arrow slit has a light crossbow hung next to it along with a case with twenty bolts.  The four ballista chambers are protected by thick wooden shudders that can only be opened from inside by means of a winch .  Racks along the walls have spare parts for maintaining and repairing the ballista along with twelve to twenty javelin-sized spears for the ballista.  The “bottom” of the ship has a fairly large hemispherical chamber where the goblins keep the wood for their pump furnace, which is often at least a ton or more.

The exterior appearance is of a wooden globe covered by a forest of spines, each 8 to 16 feet high.  Some of the spines are capped by ram mines, while others may be burned or broken, a sure sign of a veteran of other battles.  The aft tail looks like a large wooden box rammed into the aft of the ship, contrasting with the rest of the ship.  A fearsome face is most likely painted on the front of the globe, usually resulting in a comical looking ship.

A unique feature of the porcupine is the lack of a helmsman of any sort.  The construction of the pump furnace is such that it cannot be controlled by a mage or priest.  Instead, the magical smoke is the force that propels the ship.  The goblins channel it out a pair of aft ‘tail pipes’, which pushes the ship forward.  Maneuvering is done by manipulating the sail, which affects the flow of the smoke.  Because there is no helmsman, the goblins must post a pair of observers, one each at the top and bottom of the globe to watch were the ship is going.  The observers shout orders to the eight goblins who man the sail.  Two more goblins are needed to keep the furnace stoked and fully fueled.  Despite the lack of helmsman, the ship maneuvers well in combat when crewed by well-drilled goblins.  Goblins landed their craft by simply pointing their craft toward the ground and drive the lower spikes into the dirt.  The grounded spikes keep the ship from rolling away unless hit by a very strong, almost gale-force winds.

The Hordes

With an easy to build and maintain ship as its workhorse, the goblins spread like wildfire through wildspace.  The majority of the goblin fleets were small, usually less than a half dozen ships.  The greatest of the goblin chiefs became kings who commanded the greatest hordes, sometimes as many as a hundred ships or more with a score or more lesser chiefs as their lords.  Fortunately, the lives of goblin kings were very short, often victims of ambitious chiefs.  Civil war was the death of as many goblins as war with other races.

Goblin tribes were supported through a mix of raiding, hunting and gathering, and even primitive farming.  The lifeworlds that spawn the seeds that become porcupine ships are often the center of goblin activity.  A single lifeworld can support many individual tribes, who may war or corporate with one another.  Only goblin kings can unite the many tribes together into a single nation.  Goblins will settle nearby life asteroids if their number become such that the life world could not support their swelling numbers.  Food is gathered from various sources provided by the lifeworlds.  The typical diet of a goblin included roots, fruit, berries, wildspace fish and scavver, rabbits, and other small game animals they import from other worlds.  Scarce resources for the goblins include metals of all kinds, stone, pottery, and domesticated animals.  Such resources are acquired by attacking other spelljammers or raiding groundling settlements.

Despite their primitive conditions, the goblins were skilled navigators and adventurous souls.  Goblins used their limited resources on hand to overcome many of the obstacles of wildspace survival.  Through use of superior numbers and a cheap, easily replaced ship the goblins were able to defeat their many enemies.  Legends speak of goblin kings overrunning human cities, elvish ring-castles, and dwarvish citadels, creating an environment of sheer terror in the space lanes.  There were numerous crusades launched against the goblins, with varying degrees of success.  These crusades were largely ineffective until the elves mobilized their great fleets against the goblins and orcs, starting the First Unhuman Wars.

Pump Furnace

The key to the success of the goblins lay in their helms.  Though their ships were very cheap, arcane helms or furnaces were still very expensive.  Equipping an expendable ship with an expensive helm was not a viable option for the goblins.  Instead, they found an inexpensive alternative in the form of the pump furnace.

The pump furnace is a large, iron sphere about 15’ in diameter.  Two pipes lead out from the furnaces, one on the top and the other at the bottom.  They lead to the tail of the ship, spewing the smoke generated by the burning of material inside the furnace.  A swinging iron grate allows the furnace to be fueled by a team of two goblins.  Runes cover the outside and inside edges of the furnace, deeply carved into the iron.

Within the belly of the furnace the goblins burn wood to travel the stars.  Ordinary wood will not do, however.  Only wood from magical plants, such as some trees found in faerie realms or more commonly the wood from a carnivorous tree or a starfly plant, provide the magic needed to power the furnace and thus propel the ship.  The runes that cover the furnace transform the magic inherent to the wood into a magical smoke that exits the furnace through the two pipes, which accelerate the ship forward.  Maneuvering is done by manipulating the sails which changes the course of the smoke and thus the direction of the ship.  The furnace is powerful enough to escape the gravity well of a world as well as any arcane helm, and can push as much as fifty spacial tons forward.  The vast majority of goblin porcupines are 30 tons because of the size limitations of the seed pods, but some smaller craft can be encountered.

Building a pump furnace takes a fairly significant amount of resources for the goblins.  First, an iron sphere, about 15’ in diameter, needs to be forged.  The goblins build a sturdy frame of iron.  A frame must be assembled inside the porcupine it is to power, as cutting a hole large enough to put the heavy furnace into place can cause irreparable damage to the ship.  The frame is covered by thin sheets of iron which are banged into place.  Goblin shamans carve runes into the metal sheets, each of which carry a minor enchantment.  When combined, the runes give the pump furnace its power.  Goblin rune carvers are detailed below.

In game terms, a pump furnace requires one pound of fuel every hour, and can push a ship forward with a ship’s rating of 2.  It can achieve spelljamming velocities, but a lit furnace explodes if it enters the flow.  The furnace does not pollute air as quickly as a normal fire, but counts as five medium-sized creatures towards the total strain on the air envelope.  The red smoke expelled by the twin pipes do not remain in the air envelope, instead leaving a trail in the void.  The smoke dissipates slowly, usually taking as long as a week to vanish (d6+1 days).  The smoke trail is allows the ship to be easily tracked, one major downside to the regular use of the pump furnace.  In almost all other respects, the pump furnace acts like a minor helm.

The goblins circumvented the problem of flow travel through use of “tanker” ships filled with gas.  They empty a immature seed pod, hollowing it nearly completely.  Sap is used to seal it except for a single hole, to which a special furnace is hooked up to the pod.  Several tons of wood are burned in advanced, filling the pod with several months supply of smoke.  A ten ton seed pod is most often used, as the walls are thickest and the best seal.  A pipe connects the tanker to the porcupine’s furnace, which tows the craft immediately behind it.  A tanker carries enough smoke to give the ship a four month supply.  In most cases, a tanker is only used in the flow, as one decreases the maneuver class of the ship to E.

Bloody Maw (sample fleet)

Porcupine Ships (all)

Tonnage: 30 Tons

Hull Points: 30*

Crew: 55

Maneuverability Class: D

Landing: Land & 50% chance of water

Armor Rating: 7

Saves As: Thin wood

Power Type: Pump Furnace

Ship’s Rating: 2

Standard Armament:

4 light ballista, crew 1 each


Cargo Capacity: 18 tons

Keel Length:  85’

Beam Width: 60’


*The Wings of the Night has 20 hull points.

The goblin tribe Bloody Maw is a fair sized nation, with a total of eight porcupine ships.  The ships are almost always encountered together, as the goblins do not want to risk losing a ship to accident or a more powerful ship.  They prey on local tradesmen and other light vessels they encounter.  Unless a ship is known to have a green crew or badly damaged, the Bloody Maw never attacks any ship larger than a squidship.  Tradesman and wasps are their preferred targets.

All eight porcupines have twenty four sailors, six weaponeers, twenty archers, and five officers.  The crewmen vary only in the training and duties they have.  Officers have more variety, depending on the ship.  The goblin chief sometimes rotates crew and officers to keep the ambitious off balance.  The crew have the following statistics.

Goblin, Sailor: AC 6; MV 6; HD 1-1; THAC0 20; #AT 1; Dmg by weapon; SZ S; ML 10; XP 15; mace, spear, studded leather armor, shield.

Goblin, Archer: AC 6; MV 6; HD 1; THAC0 19; #ATT 1; Dmg by weapon; SZ S;

ML 11; XP 15; short sword, light crossbow, studded leather armor, shield.

Goblin, Weaponeer: AC 5; MV 6; HD 1+1; THAC0 19; #AT 1; Dmg by weapon;

SZ S; ML 12; XP 35; battle axe, scale armor, shield.

Goblin, Officer, Typical: AC 4; MV 6; HD 2; THAC0 19; #AT 1; Dmg by weapon; SZ S; ML 14; XP 35; chain armor, shield, short sword, battle axe.

Glepk: (Captain of the Groundling Slayer): AC 3; MV 6; F2; hp 13; THAC0 19; #AT 1; Dmg by weapon; SZ S; ML 14; XP 65; chain armor +1, shield, short sword, battle axe.

By far the largest and most vicious goblin aboard the Groundling Slayer, Glepk earned the rank of captain the old fashioned way: he killed the former captain.  Since then, he has run a tight ship, putting down any sign of resistance to his rule swiftly and brutally.  He is quick with the lash and his crew hates him for it.  When in combat, they suffer a -2 to their morale unless Glepk is slain.  If their captain is killed, the crew must make an immediate morale check or surrender.

Holpic: (Captain of the Wings of the Night): AC 6; MV 6; F3; THAC0 18;

#AT 1; Dmg by weapon; SZ S; ML 14; XP 35; leather armor, shield, short sword, spear+1, Str 15.

Holpic considers himself a goblin knight, with a great mobat as his steed.  Probably the strongest goblin of the entire fleet, Holpic carries a great spear he uses as a lance when riding his mobat.  His ship carries a flying cavalry of ten mobats, who he personally leads in combat.  The Wings of the Night has been partially hollowed to make room for these creatures to fly in and cling to the ceiling to hide from the light of nearby fire bodies.  The mobats provide mobile archery mounts for the goblins but are only released when the target ship has been immobilized.

Chief Kaeak: AC 4; MV 6; F6; THAC0 15; #AT 1; Dmg by weapon; SZ S; ML 14; XP 35; chain armor, shield, short sword, battle axe.

Out with it then!

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