Hobgoblin Dominions
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"Of course I had heard all sorts of stories about the lands of the hobgoblins. They were supposed to be a barbarous people - strong warriors maybe, but without arts or culture, or indeed anything that makes a civilization grand.
But when I arrived in the capital, I was astonished how clean and efficient everything was. The main roads were wide and spacious, and free of litter, thanks to the frequent goblin garbage collectors sweeping them (which does seem to prove that goblins can be trained to do useful work, although I do not really wish to know about the training methods for such brutish beings), the bureaucracy compared favorably with many human cities, and the inhabitants always seemed to move around purposefully instead of loitering around like the plebes in our cities often seem to do.
Even the trains ran on time - at no time during my journeys was a train more than two minutes late…"
- Edmund Durnsten in: The Known Lands: The Hobgoblin Dominions, Avane Street Publishing (1419)

Capital:
Population: 19,229,130 (hobgoblins 37%, goblins 32%, humans 19%, dwarves 7%, orcs 4%)
Government: High War Council
Imports: Ores
Exports: Mercenaries, Weapons

The homeland and cultural center of the hobgoblin race, the Hobgoblin Dominions present a constant threat to many of their neighbors. Their teeming cities support war machines that have few equals in the world, and only the constant in-fighting of the various war councils and the mystery of Magreth prevents the dominions from expanding even further.

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Industries

Life and Society

Life in the hobgoblin dominions centers around the various clans. Clans protect the rights and provide for the well-being of its guests and members, and anyone who isn't either will have no rights in the Dominions (certain clans provide "guest" status to visiting foreigners in exchange for "gifts" - in reality, fixed fees - thus allowing others to visit the Dominions without having to fear for their life and well-being). Furthermore, the clans dominate the politics of the Dominions, both within and without.

Clan members can be either a "warrior", a "minor", or a "serf". Young clan members - regardless of race - start out as minors. They have few rights, but few obligations, and all warriors of the clan are obligated to protect them from any harm. Those who wish to become warriors need to undergo the so-called "Warrior's Test" upon reaching adulthood and demonstrate their worthiness to the other warriors. The precise form of the test varies from clan to clan, and even from ceremony to ceremony, but generally tests their endurance and combat abilities. If they succeed in this test, they become warriors. If they fail, they can either accept their fate and become serfs or try again in another year and stay a minor until then. However, only three tests are permitted before the clan member is assigned to serf status permanently. Since the clan elders can determine the nature of the Warrior's Test, they usually let their biases influence the difficulty of the test. It is mostly a formality for hobgoblins, moderately difficult for dwarves, orcs and bugbears, and very difficult for goblins, humans and members of other races (there is no discrimination based on gender, however - the hobgoblins consider both males and females equally capable of fighting).

Serfs have no voice in clan councils, and may not bear arms in peacetime unless commanded by warriors. They are entitled to the protection of the clan, but they are expected to work hard to further the prosperity of the clan - a kind of taxation which is quite high by the standards of other regions. It used to be that serfs had to stay with the clan they were born into, but twelve years ago political reforms gave them the right to switch clan allegiance just like warriors by formally swearing an oath to their new clan. While the pride of the warrior caste made switching clans a rare event only invoked at few occasions (usually as a result of marriages or family feuds), an increasing number of serfs is taking this opportunity to vote with their feet - those clans who are treating their serfs well are increasing rapidly in number, while those who abuse their serfs see their numbers dwindling. A side effect of this is that greater numbers of non-hobgoblins are admitted into the warrior caste - if non-hobgoblin serfs see that their children may have a higher chance of becoming warriors in another clan, then they are more likely to switch their allegiance to it.

Serfs are not always poor or lack influence - there is an increasing number of rich merchant dynasties among serfs who managed to gain a fortune despite the high taxation through hard work and sharp business deals. Another influential group are practitioners of arcane magic - those powers are considered to be "unworthy of a warrior" and thus any clan member who studies the arcane art are reduced to serf status. On the other hand, they are incredibly useful in both warfare and other endeavors, and thus mages tend to have a lot of influence behind the scenes nonetheless.

Enemies taken prisoners during a war also normally become serfs of the clan that captured them. This, in fact, is the origin of the majority of the non-goblinoid clan members in the Dominions. While some serfs of those races have gained significant influence within their clan, the majority remains a fairly oppressed minority.

Funerary rites in the Hobgoblin Dominions normally involve burning the body - traditionally on a pyre, but in the cities cremation in a crematorium is becoming more and more common for space and cost reasons. Each friend and relative of the deceased is supposed to add a small carved piece of wood, called a garag, to the pyre to commemorate his or her greatest deeds in life, and it is a common folk belief that the dead are judged by their respective deities depending on the garags that go to the afterlife with them (on the other hand, stealing a garag from the pyre is considered a vile crime, and it is believed that these are potent components for dark rituals). Skilled carvers of garags are thus in high demand. The remains left after the cremation process are put into small wooden boxes and interred into the ancestor shrines of their clan.

Government and Politics

It is sometimes said that war is the continuation of politics with other means. In the Hobgoblin Dominions, the two are often indistinguishable, as the various clans have the right to wage war upon each other. The most common type of war between the clans is the so-called "High War", where both clans involved agree upon the stakes, rules, and resources used in advance. In preparation for a High War, the "aggressor clan" submits a petition to the High War Council for something they want from the "defending clan" - territory, money, serfs, or anything else imaginable. The High War Council or the High Warlord may veto the petition outright (sometimes because there is a war with a foreign power going on, sometimes because the defending clan has accumulated enough favors on the Council to avoid such a conflict). If not, they propose a roughly equivalent stake that the aggressor clan must give up if it loses the High War. If the stake is acceptable to the aggressor, the bidding for the resources starts. First, the defending clan then proposes the rules for the High War (ranging from "no armor and bare fists only" up to full-fledged siege warfare, well poisoning, and every dirty trick imaginable), the territory and time during which it takes place (from "one hour during the next full moon at the central market square of a certain village" to "the entire territory of both clans and until one of the combatants surrenders), and states the amount of personnel it pledges to the war effort (ranging from "a single clan champion" to "every able warrior of the clan, plus serfs under their command"). The aggressor then pledges its own personnel, and if not satisfied with the rules of the High War may propose more permissive and escalated rules. After this, the defending clan may escalate the terms of the war yet again, and so forth until both sides either agree to the terms or agree not to wage the war after all.

Groups and Organizations

The most influential groups in the Dominion are the various clans - interconnected groups of families that one can only enter through birth, marriage, or adoption, and the latter usually requires a great deed benefiting the clan, a very usual talent, or a substantial bribe to the elders of the clan. People who are not a member of a clan have little in the way of protection in the Dominion, for the clans will take care of their own - and few other people will.

The most powerful clans consist mostly of hobgoblins. On rare occasions, especially worthy humans, dwarves, or even goblins might be adopted into a hobgoblin clan, but while clan membership is hereditary, if their descendants don't "measure up" to clan standards, they will be pressured to leave the clan.

The nine most powerful clans make up the High War Council, which sets policies for the Dominion as a whole. These clans are:

Religion

Important NPCs

Major Geographical Features

Important Towns and Cities

Important Sites

Regional History

As far as anyone can remember, the rolling hills of the region known today as the Hobgoblin Dominions have always been inhabited by goblinkind. These fierce nomads valued their independence and fought sporadic wars with the orc tribes who lived in the northern and eastern regions. They only had sporadic contact with more civilized people. Human traders sometimes came up from the south to deal with the tribes that would not attack them on sight. The dwarves of Gol Grungor sometimes used the smarter hobgoblins as buffer and cannon fodder in their campaigns against the orcs, considering it to be more efficient to give the hobgoblins second-rate weapons (the work of dwarven apprentices - but nevertheless invaluable to the hobgoblins, who were not able to create steel weapons at the time) so that they could take on the onerous task of wiping out the local orc tribes than doing it themselves. Sometimes, such deals backfired when a particularly daring hobgoblin leader attempted to raid the dwarves for more weapons, but all in all, the results of such deals were worth it for both parties.

This changed with the arrival of the Atalan Empire, which attempted to conquer the region starting in 351 NA. The campaigns were long and brutal, and the hobgolins fierce and clever opponents, but eventually most of the region was conquered except for a small buffer zone supported by Gol Grungor, which did not want the expansionist humans any closer to their border. Eventually, the conquered goblinoids became civilized as the Atalan Empire understood it - they learned about and practiced agriculture, large-scale warfare, and many other technologies from their conquerors, and some hobgoblins traveled across the Empire, earning their pay as mercenaries or even legionaries in the Atalan armies. Many small communities of hobgoblins across the Known Lands date back to this time.

After the Atalan Empire collapsed, the nearly forgotten tribes emerged again and attempted to claim power. The region was divided into a large number of small kingdoms, each ruled by a different warlord, and only slowly did a resemblance of order and a new civilization arise from the ashes. While the individual dominions gradually became larger, the first few attempts at unification through conquest failed. Only in 1073 NA did an alliance of clans emerge in the central portion of the region which steadily expanded eastwards.

This wave of conquests halted at the eastern borders of Avareen. When small bands of skirmishers were defeated by the elves, the High War Council started a large-scale invasion of the forest. But the armies sent into the forest were killed to the last man at the Battle of Scarlet Hill in 1113 NA, when the elves unleashed powerful magic to destroy them. To this day, this battle has not been forgotten by either side, and though there are no open hostilities between the armies of the two nations, many elves of Avareen still consider it to be a fine sport to ride east and hunt down and kill goblinoids, and any goblins and hobgoblins who manage to catch an elf alive will be truly inventive in torturing their prisoner for days.

An more immediate effect was that the Hobgoblin Dominion nearly collapsed again as most of its military power had been destroyed. A lengthy civil war threatened the authority of the High War Council, and it took the hobgoblins several decades to recover their old strength. Another effect was their changing attitude towards arcane magic - in old days, most hobgoblins had disdained it as the tool of weaklings and many tribes even slayed any members that displayed arcane talents, but after the mighty spells used the elves, arcane magic became an accepted and respected tool of warfare, even though it and its practitioners were never fully trusted.

Finally, the Dominions had recovered enough that they started looking outward again. Instead of going after the elves again, their leaders attacked Gol Grungor in 1149 NA, attempting to gain access to the mines of the dwarves. However, the dwarves, while not prone to flashy magics, were nevertheless formidable opponents and on their home ground, and their counterattacks inflicted brutal losses. The war continued for ten years, with only negligible territorial changes, until the two sides became too exhausted to fight and the fighting only became sporadic in 1160 NA. Both sides guarded their borders fiercely, but none made an attempt to take the fight to the enemy.

This situation changed in 1174 NA, when the armies of Negroth the Doombringer poured out of the Northwest. The dwarves were hard pressed to fight them in their weakened state and might have been overrun by the orcs and undead of the horde. However, the newly elected High War Leader Khatash of the Dominions was a farsighted hobgoblin, who realized that if Nagrash conquered the dwarves, the hobgoblins would surely fall sooner or later once Nagrash gained control of the resources of the mountains. Thus, he sent his armies to fall into the flanks Negroth's armies - one army marched around Gol Grungor and attacked from the East, and another shipped across the Great Lake and attacked from the South. While these armies were mostly decimated, they gave enough of a fight that Negroth was forced to abandon his plans of conquest for Gol Grungor for the moment and turned back west in search for easier targets.

Since then, the Hobgoblin Dominions and Gol Grungor have been at peace. While the dwarves and the hobgoblins have never truly become friends - too much blood was spilled in the war between them, and the dwarves have long memories about these things - they have at least gained a measure of respect for each other, and eventually, trade resumed between the two people. The Dominions have used the time since then mostly to expand eastwards to the Eternal Storm, though it was a slow process with many growing pains (including two more civil wars). The disappearance of the city of Magreth was a further blow and remains one of the Dominions great mysteries. Now the Dominion faces enemies in form of Thenares (with which it has warred before) and the rapidly expanding League of Armach to the south. Everyone expects that these two titans will clash sooner or later - and it is far from clear who will win out.

Adventure Ideas

Designer's Notes & Resources

Originally, the Hobgoblin Dominions started out as a rather ruthless regime. And to a large degree, they are. However, I recently read the Vorkosigan Saga novels by Lois McMaster Bujold, and was rather fascinated by its portrayal of the planet Barrayar - a planet that used to be a brutal feudal dictatorship (if out of necessity, thanks to its centuries of isolation from the rest of the galaxy), but gradually strives to reinvent itself as a more modern and less oppressive place - despite strong resistance from conservative circles.

The political reform that allows serfs in the Hobgoblin dominions to switch clan allegiance parallels the reforms of Aral Vorkosigan in the series allowing the liege people of the Counts of Barrayar to do the same, and the resulting trends are similar - the whole social structure is changing rapidly, with the long-oppressed masses finding new opportunities everywhere. The resulting tensions are well worth exploring in adventures and campaigns - and it makes the society of the Hobgoblin Dominions more interesting than yet another "Evil Empire".

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