You go to run the well-armored goblin boss through with your rapier. In a flash, he is nowhere to be found, but your rapier finds purchase in yet another underling. Frantically, you scan the cave to see where the boss has gone. You feel a sharp pain in the back of your skull and buckle to the floor. Out of nowhere, a pack of goblins now surrounds you, their leader cackling with glee as your vision fades to black.
I typically don’t use goblins a lot in my games. They’re sort of the ironic low-level D&D creature and I think that’s a major reason as to why I avoid them. Besides, I just love the lore and playstyle of gnolls a lot more.
So admittedly, I hadn’t played around with goblins in 5e despite running multiple campaigns and one-shots in the past few years. They just hadn’t come up. I’d use gnolls, kuo-toa, or kobolds instead. Then recently I had a chance to run a fun one-shot (more on that soon!) that centered entirely around goblins.
I have since concluded: goblins are awesome. They’re like beefier versions of kobolds that utilize wolves and rats. Goblins go out and hunt in packs, but are not some unstoppable force of power.
They’re by no means heavy-hitters, but they do some decent damage. They’re not the fastest creatures, but they have unique traits that make them ridiculously mobile. But the goblin boss may be one of my new favorite low-CR creatures in 5e. It’s just well-designed and fun to use.
Crack open the Monster Manual because we’re taking a look at another classic this week!
Goblin Boss Lore
Goblins are best at hunkering down and controlling a small cave system. They build it up and scatter junk, trash, and traps around to make it difficult for intruders to navigate. Then they go raid, pillage, and party.
Their strongest, most powerful goblin, the goblin boss, dictates everything that they do. Most of these goblin groups aren’t ambitious, meaning that they’ll take their little slice of home and stay put.
This presents many issues for goblin bosses that wish to stay in power for a long time. Becoming complacent means that the goblin boss is pretty easy to overthrow after a short amount of time. Goblin leadership changes hands very frequently.
Not only that, but as far as goblinoids are concerned, goblins are on the very bottom of the totem pole. Hobgoblins or bugbears, for example, will venture into these caves, dispose of a goblin boss, and then take over the goblin clan or absorb the goblins into their clan.
The life and reign of a goblin boss are short, but it is an exquisite time. You get the nicest filth and the highest-quality scraps. It’s good to be the goblin king!
Goblin Boss Stats and Abilities
You can find the Goblin Boss’ statblock on page 166 of the Monster Manual.
Size: Small humanoid
AC: 17 (chain shirt, shield)
HP: 21 (6d6)
Speed: 30 ft.
STR: 10 (+0)
DEX: 14 (+2)
CON: 10 (+0)
INT: 10 (+0)
WIS: 8 (-1)
CHA: 10 (+0)
Compared to an average goblin, a goblin boss has a couple of noticeable advantages in their statblock. They’d have to, to rise through the ranks.
Notably, their Strength and Charisma are bumped up from 8 (-1) to 10 (+0). It’s not an enormous or super meaningful boon, but it’s there all the same. It makes thematic sense too, goblin society would value a good talker and a strength in a leader.
The only good ability score the goblin boss has is Dexterity which is only a +2 modifier. It’s not bad, but it’s surprising to see only 1 positive ability score modifier and 1 negative modifier in a creature. Goblin bosses are pretty damn average, all things considered.
The real, noticeable benefit that a goblin boss has over a typical goblin is their AC and HP. Understandably they’d get the best armor that the clan has scrounged up. In this case, it’s probably a rusty chain shirt and a bent shield.
Understandably, a goblin boss has survived more than their fair share of fights and assassination attempts. They’d have to have a much higher HP than any other goblin to do so. In this case, they have 3x the amount of HP of a regular goblin. 21 HP with 17 AC is damn solid for a CR 1 creature.
Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills
Skills: Stealth +6
Senses: darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 9
Languages: Common, Goblin
CR: 1 (200 XP)
Goblins, in general, don’t have a lot going on in this section of their statblock. They’re not some magical creature, they don’t have resistances or immunities.
However, they do have +6 Stealth which synergizes with their kit very well. Goblins, like kobolds, have other methods of engaging an enemy that they prefer to use before charging head-on. They’ll send in the wolves, whittle you down with traps, or lay an ambush. +6 Stealth is great for laying in wait in these scenarios.
These are cave-dwelling creatures so darkvision is a given. They’re not particularly perceptive creatures though, which is part of their undoing. Goblin bosses like things laid out for them. They may be conniving, but they’re not great at noticing other people’s plans, motives, or ambushes.
Abilities and Traits
Nimble Escape. The goblin can take the Disengage or Hide action as a bonus action on each of its turns.
Nimble Escape is essentially a weaker version of Cunning Action which lets you take the Dash, Disengage, or Hide action as a bonus action. That being said this is still a phenomenal trait for a creature to have, not to mention on a CR 1 creature.
Goblins have 30 ft. of movement which is already above-average for a small creature. Being able to Disengage just further increases their maneuverability in combat. They can quickly get out of harm’s way without sacrificing their damage output to do so.
A goblin boss could even use a Dash and Disengage on the same turn to make a tactical retreat!
A successful Hide action means that the first of the goblin boss’ attacks is at advantage which makes it both a great offensive and defensive tool for the goblin boss.
Multiattack. The goblin makes two attacks with its scimitar. The second has disadvantage.
Scimitar. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6 + 2) slashing damage.
Javelin. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 30/120 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6 + 2) piercing damage.
At first glance, Multiattack on a CR 1 creature seems seriously overpowered. However, this solution is ingenious. Giving the goblin boss disadvantage on the second swing gives them a chance to hit, but it’s not as likely to land.
This keeps things balanced since, at CR 1, 2 hits could mean an unconscious player.
Both Scimitar and Javelin deal 5 slashing or piercing damage respectively. This is on par with their goblin counterparts in terms of individual damage output.
Javelin comes out slightly on top in terms of versatility due to the ranged attack option. That being said, you only have one shot before you have to retrieve the javelin (or carry multiple javelins). It’s a solid option for making a Hide action and then ranged attack at advantage to open up with during an ambush.
Do keep in mind that only the Scimitar can be used for Multiattack. If you want the benefit of making 2 attacks, you’re going to have to be prepared to get your hands dirty and run up close to the enemy.
Redirect Attack. When a creature the goblin can see targets it with an attack, the goblin chooses another goblin within 5 feet of it. The two goblins swap places, and the chosen goblin becomes the target instead.
I honestly laughed the first time I read this reaction. A goblin boss can throw their subordinates under the bus. Brilliant.
Lore and flavor aside, this is an awesome survivability mechanic. Well, an awesome survivability mechanic for the goblin boss. Their goblin allies? Not so much.
This gives you 5 ft. of extra movement, a Disengage, and negates a potential attack for the cost of a single reaction. Talk about value!
Goblin Boss Strengths
Exceptional Action Economy
The goblin boss is one of the few creatures that get as many actions as a typical player character (PC). They can regularly use an action, with Multiattack, and a bonus action on every turn while still getting 30 ft. of movement per turn.
Not only that, but Redirect Attack itself has a ton of action economy wrapped into a single reaction. They have a more reliable use of their reaction than any PC in D&D 5e’s early game. They can run circles around the party’s individual action economies.
Having a high-action economy is always a major benefit for a creature. This is because they have more potential. There are more options for them to take during their turns. More options can mean more damage, survivability, or mobility, all of which directly attribute to success in a combat encounter.
Typically, creatures in D&D have a smaller action economy than a PC. Goblin bosses are an exception in that they are on par with if not better than a typical PC of a similar level. This is an enormous strength for our goblin boss.
Nimble Escape ensures that your goblin boss is always on the move. You can dive behind some barrels to hide or you can disengage and make a mad dash for the next corner or crevice of your cave in an attempt to escape from your enemy and find reinforcements.
Redirect Attack is self-explanatory in terms of its survivability value. Sure, your goblin henchmen are taking the brunt of an attack, but you are fine and that’s what’s important.
All of this is coupled with 17 AC at CR 1 which is ridiculously good considering that 15 AC is typically the upper end of the spectrum for low CR creatures. They have 21 HP which is certainly decent for CR 1, but it’s protected by some heavy armor and Redirect Attack. Goblin bosses are difficult to land a successful hit on.
Respectable Damage Output
Something’s got to give for the goblin boss’ statblock, right? That’s what I thought at least. I figured, maybe their damage is garbage for how much survivability they have.
Turns out, it’s not phenomenal, but it’s perfectly normal with the chance to become above-average with some lucky dice rolls. They have Multiattack at CR 1 with the caveat of the second Scimitar attack being made at disadvantage. It’s not great, but it’s an ever-present threat for the party to deal with.
They even have a ranged option with their Javelin attack! Though it’s less reliable than their underling’s attacks with their shortbows due to them being less likely to carry a ton of Javelins.
You can even combo Javelin with Nimble Escape to attack hiding at a range of 30 ft. at advantage. It’s a solid gap-closing option.
An average of 5-10 damage per round with a +4 to hit is respectable for a CR 1 creature for sure.
Goblin Boss Weaknesses
Master of None
There are many things that a goblin boss can do. They have tons of options and plenty of action economy to follow through with those options. However, they don’t have anything they’re particularly great at.
Their largest modifier is a +2 to dexterity. This means that they’re reliant on good rolls should they need to make a Constitution or Wisdom saving throw, both of which are common spell saving throw abilities.
A goblin boss is at the mercy of the dice should they ever need to make a skill check too outside of Acrobatics, Stealth, or Sleight of Hand checks.
They have plenty of fun abilities and actions that they can use, but their raw stat line isn’t anything to write home about which is something to keep in mind when playing a goblin boss or goblins in general.
How to Play a Goblin Boss
Goblins have strength in numbers. They’re not super powerful on their own, but a small pack of them can take down a group of low-level adventurers without much difficulty. This goes double for a pack of goblins with a goblin boss at the helm of the operation.
Goblin bosses have a slightly-better damage output than a typical goblin thanks to their potential second Scimitar attack. Groups with a goblin boss are mechanically going to be a bit scarier.
But the thing about a goblin boss is that while they are a leader, they’re serving themselves first. If they die they lose out on all of the great perks of being a ruler of a clan of goblins.
If your goblin boss decides they need to get to the frontlines to either rally their troops or repel a more voracious than usual intruder they’re going to do a few things. First of all, they’re going to make sure they have a way to retreat from the skirmish should things go south for them.
Secondly, and most importantly, they’re going to surround themselves with other goblins to use as cannon fodder. They’re the boss, they’re more important than the other goblins!
Keep a group of small fries around you at all times so that you can be sure to have guaranteed use of Redirect Attack. It’s pertinent that they survive… you know… for the good of the clan?
Having 30 ft. of movement as a small creature may seem like a small buff, but it’s a noticeable buff nonetheless. It means that medium-size creatures won’t naturally be able to catch up to you, which is huge when you’re a small creature that finds itself on the run a lot.
Nimble Escape can give you an edge in combat for both retreating and finding a better position to attack from. But most of all, it’s a great way to ensure you won’t get hit by an opportunity attack so you can move or take a Dash action to flee down your tight, winding cave system to safety.
You can then rely on your wolves, traps, or goblin underlings to whittle down the party while you keep yourself out of harm’s way. Rest, recuperate, and then go back to finish the enemy once they’re sufficiently weakened.
If you use the flanking mechanic Nimble Escape becomes extremely beneficial as you can regularly Disengage and then flank your opponent. This will give you advantage on your first attack and then cancel out the disadvantage on the second.
The goblin boss is a surprisingly fun creature to play. They have this odd playstyle that revolves around being rewarded for being cowardly in battle. Let your minions fight for you, die for you, and you ambush the enemy to finish them off and take all the glory and loot!
That being said, the life of a goblin boss is anything but enviable. You’re constantly under threat by bugbears, hobgoblins, and other goblins looking to slay you, take your throne, and then control your clan. That’s not even counting all of the adventurers that wander into your cave systems.
It’s a hard life. But you have plenty of tools and the action economy to survive for quite some time. Play your cards right and you can live in goblin glory for a few years!