What differentiates goblins from other creepy little monsters?
I think there are a number of possible answers for this. I’m just going to focus on what makes goblins tick for me.
To me, what makes goblins special is their adaptability. I see goblins as highly mutable. Hobgoblins and bugbears are, in my world, essentially mutant strains of goblins.
The adaptability of goblins is important to my Gourm project. It includes some of the nastiest goblins around – goblins who revel in pointless malevolence. It also includes what are, possibly, the most civilized goblins written about. The civilization they have certainly isn’t a human civilization, but it is a fairly sophisticated and orderly community. The goblins who live there aren’t intrinsically evil (in D&D alignment terms, it would be more along the lines of a lawful neutral city).
Yet the nasty goblins live only a matter of miles from the city goblins. What’s the difference?
My answer? Upbringing and diet. Goblins are adaptable – this means, among other things, that they can be shaped into social roles. Moreover, I think that making goblin temperament be strongly influenced by their diet makes a bit of sense. Goblins can subsist on just about anything – but it has an effect upon them. Those who live off of filth are pathetic creatures. Those who live off of the meat of humanoids are vicious and cunning killers. The Goblins who live in the City of Gourm generally eat little to no red meat – their staples are beans, fish, and eggs – and they are far gentler as a result.