Friday, July 15, 2022

Classic Traveller: Harsh Beginnings

Image (c) MaksTRV

I wanted for some time to create a side "pet project" free/Fair Use setting using 3-book Classic Traveller. I wanted something strictly non-OTU, so this means writing something which is not Dark Nebula.

I have tried consolidating concepts for my Post-Imperial setting. Still no clear line of thought, only various ideas. Instead, I will focus on my near future/near Earth setting. Hardcore Classic Traveller at TL9, with the only deviation from the rules being using custom world generation based on colonization wave.

This should have a very different tone from my older Hard Space setting concept. Neither "true" hard science, nor chrome-focused cyberpunk. Instead, it will detail a harsh future inspired by the near-future sci-fi novels and other media I consumed in the 1990's, which was mostly from the 1960's, 1970's, and 1980's.

Niven's Known Space tales set prior to Kzin contact; Arthur C. Clarke's stories; Roadside Picnic; Alien(s); Outland. This will be somewhat less industrial and less hard sci-fi than Zozer's HOSTILE, though.

Ground Rules

  • 3-book CT at strict TL9. Including gravitics; Jump-2 ships limited to 400 dtons, Jump-1 to 800 dtons; most weapons other than lasers are recognizable to early 21st century people; no Reflec (it's TL10).
  • Resist my strong cyberpunk urges. There are megacorps, who even dominate the stars, but there is less focus on technology and tech-related social alienation, or on nihilist rebellion. This is Alien, not Cyberpunk 2077 or even System Shock.
  • Science feels "hard" but isn't necessarily "hard". "Black box" alien artifacts permit gravitics, even grav vehicles. Flying cars! Expensive but possible. Adventure may take precedence over realism, as is customary in CT. 
  • No big interstellar wars. Most, or all, armed conflicts are local and small-scale. This arises from the colonies being very lightly populated and starships being small, but also from the general feel of such setting. An interesting change of pace from my TSAO/Terra Arisen milieux. It also makes small PC mercenary forces relevant.
  • No living aliens. At all. Only dead ones - the Antediluvians, who were wiped out by a hypothetical event dubbed the Deluge, and left behind incomprehensible ruins and artifacts. Again, a major change of pace from TSAO/Terra Arisen.
Some ideas from my older Hard Space setting concept would serve here, but the tone is different: unlike Hard Space, CT: Harsh Beginnings is neither cyberpunk nor strictly hard-science.

Maps coming soon.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Low-Tech and Fantasy Armor for Classic Traveller


Classic Traveller's Book 1: Characters and Combat provides a surprisingly complete collection of low-tech arms. Weaponry includes a good range of TL0-3 weapons, from spears to muskets, ideal for low-tech lost colonies and to forays into medieval and fantasy role-playing. Furthermore, Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium provides bows and crossbows, including the inaccurate but rapidly firing Repeating Crossbow. Book 3: Worlds and Adventures also provides common adventuring gear, such as torches.

However, the one thing lacking in these rules is low-tech armor. The only low-TL armor in Classic Traveller is the Jack (leather) armor (TL1). Below I will detail a few additional suits of armor for your Proto-Traveller game.

Chain, TL1, Cr250. A suit of flexible armor composed of many small interlocking metal rings. Treat as Mesh against TL2 or earlier weapons and as Jack against modern weapons. Weighs 18000 grams. Like modern armor, it does not count towards Encumbrance.

Elven Chain, TL1, Cr2000. A suit of particularly high-quality and lightweight Chain armor. Treat as
Mesh-1, weighing only 8000 grams. At the Referee's option, it may even count as regular Mesh against modern (TL3+) weapons.

Plate, TL2, Cr1000. A heavy full-body suit of armor built of metal plating. Treat as Cloth against TL2 or earlier weapons and as Jack against modern weapons. Weighs 25000 grams, and, unlike other suits of armor, Plate does count against the Encumbrance limit.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

On the Implied Setting of Classic Traveller


Note that, in the setting postulated in Traveller's Three Black Books, especially in their 1977 edition, star travel is infrequent, dangerous, and expensive.

A parsec's passage in cold sleep (with its 15% mortality rate!) is Cr1,000. Traveller Credits are said to be $3 each in 2020-or-so real-world USD (prior to the current wave of inflation). So, $3,000 just to travel, at a risk to your life, to a neighboring world. Crossing the subsector (8 parsecs) would cost you $24,000. One way. In dangerous cold sleep.

Normal "Mid Passage" without the risks of cold sleep costs $24,000 per parsec. Crossing the subsector will cost $192,000.

Add to that the risks of engine failure and/or "misjump" of the ship you are riding even when in "safe" Mid Passage. And frequent piracy. And hijacking (ships are worth a lot, so thieves abound). 

People don't travel casually.

PCs are Travellers - belonging to the small class of people who actually travel frequently, be that thanks to wealth/Travellers' Aid Society membership, or due to having a job on a starship.  Most NPCs stay on their homeworld.

Also, the average (and approximately median) world has hundreds of thousands of residents. The average world, isolated by the dark gulfs of space, has the population of a small city.

Worlds with billions of residents are rare, and, if their tech level permits, are often local hegemons. This has interesting implications to interstellar warfare. First of all, given ship size and availability, expect even large planetary invasions to be the equivalent of the Third Battle of Cartagena rather than of D-Day. Second, as world populations are typically small, a reasonably-sized mercenary unit can often have local military significance.

That's Classic Traveller as written originally. Within a few years, it evolved and changed into a more "open" space-opera setting, with various unified task systems and with a grander, less isolated setting. Passage costs remained high, but starships grew, and the setting changed from one or two subsectors rolled by the Referee to the vast Imperium.

My own Cepheus Deluxe books and settings were inspired by these later mechanics, while trying to preserve some of the original spirit. But they are quite different from the original form of Traveller. If I were to write an OSR book in the spirit of such original, it would have looked quite different from Cepheus Deluxe.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Knave: Species


Art by LadyofHats
Considering my recent addiction to Knave, I must say that one facet of the rules players are often dissatisfied with is the absence of non-humans. People want to play dwarves! While I can simply make such species completely descriptive, I feel that they should have a mechanical implication as well.

In the Knave spirit, I keep these rules to a bare minimum. Each species has an Ability Score requirement, an edge, and a flaw. This may seem somewhat minor in scope compared, say, to the OSE treatment of such creatures. However, once again, this is Knave, and Knaves tread lightly.

Below is a tentative list of species I may permit in my Knave campaigns:

Dwarf: minimum Constitution Defense of 13. Advantage on any roll related to construction or mining and searching for secret doors. Base speed is 30' rather than 40'.

Elf: minimum Charisma Defense of 13. Advantage on stealth rolls in natural surroundings. Suffer a -10% penalty to XP.

Geckofolk: minimum Dexterity Defense of 13. May effortlessly walk on walls; may walk on ceilings at half speed. May not use two-handed weapons due to size; may not climb or cling when wearing boots or gauntlets.

Gnome: minimum Intelligence Defense of 13. Knows one level 1 illusion spell - chosen one the player - requiring no inventory slot, which they may cast once a day per 2 levels of experience (e.g., a level 4 gnome can cast it twice). May not use two-handed weapons due to size.

Halfling: minimum Dexterity Defense of 13. Advantage on throws to pick pockets and other tricks of sleight of hand. Consumes twice as much food a day than other species.

Human: no Ability Score requirements. Neither an advantage nor a disadvantage. Default species.

Insectoid: minimum Dexterity Defense of 13. Immune, poison, disease, and ghoul paralysis. Disadvantage to any social rolls (other than intimidation) with other species.

Lizardfolk: minimum Strength Defense of 13. May hold breath for 10 minutes and swim effortlessly at 40' per round. May not wear helmets or boots designed for other species due to different morphology.

Orc: minimum Strength Defense of 13. May become enraged once per encounter, granting an advantage to Attack Rolls for 1d6 rounds. Disadvantage to any social rolls (other than intimidation) with other species.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

The primary differences between the Cepheus Engine SRD and Cepheus Deluxe

We at Stellagama Publishing are often asked: what's so special about Cepheus Deluxe? What's the difference between it and Cepheus Light or the Cepheus Engine SRD (or other 2d6 systems for that matter)? Below are six primary differences between these rulesets.

1. Design Choices are already built into Cepheus Deluxe. One of the major complaints many Referees have is that 2d6 systems are toolboxes of rules. Some Referees like toolboxes, but others don't have the time or interest in making a complete game out of the toolbox. Many Referees need a complete set of rules that they can use to quickly run games. We've made certain design choices to make a complete game that is playable out of the box. 

2. Non-random character generation. we offer Non-Random Character Generation as a standard because that's what many of today's role-players desire. There's plenty of good things about randomly generating characters, but there's a reputation traditional 2d6 systems have: the games where you can die in character generation. Even when you understand why that's a rule, sometimes you just want to play a scout, or you just want to play a space marine, and you should just be able to play that. We have kept random events tables, with chances for injuries or even prison terms to keep things exciting. 

3. Complete rules for personal, vehicle, and space combat that can be played completely map-less and include rules for chases. The goal is to make combat exciting for all players, not just the dedicated combatants. Vehicle and ship combat is streamlined, and the damage system is designed to give players problems to solve, not hit points to track.

4. Many random tables for space encounters, adventure hooks, complications, and animal encounters, and a GM guide to help develop adventures and campaigns for sandbox or more narrative playstyles.

5. Fully worked examples for all the major (and minor) subsystems: character generation, speculative trade, ship combat, vehicle combat, personal combat, world generation, starship construction, starship combat, interstellar commerce, and animal generation.

6. Optional rules to make your game more heroic or, alternatively, grittier, as you desire. You may use optional Hero Point rules and Traits to make your characters heroic. Ignore them for a gritty and more realistic game.

Knave Reference: Slender Horrors

I've compiled a monster reference sheet/Cheat Sheet for Knave. It lists a good number of common monsters for easy reference. No descriptions included; this is a reference card for referees who usually already know the said monsters but want to see their stats comfortably and quickly.

Get it HERE!

Knave variant: A Slender Lout

As noted in my previous posts, I recently fell in love with Ben Milton's Knave rules for lightweight d20/OSR gaming. So, I had the idea of condensing the Knave rules onto a two-sided A4 sheet. Just print, laminate, and have accessible and handy rules while running games.

So, A Slender Lout is the result (based on the Creative Commons license Knave uses).

Next in line is a monster cheat-sheet and a spell cheat-sheet, based on OSE monsters and spells converted to Knave... Each cheat-sheet on a two-sided A4 page, printed and laminated. Fastest reference access I need!

Knave variant rules: Religion

Art by Hannah Saunders

Interestingly enough, the base Knave rules touch religion only in passing. Ben Milton's draft Knave 2E rules, available to his Patreon's patrons, include new religion mechanics, centered around Saints. However, I came up with my own religion rules for the current (1E) Knave rules.

The main purposes of these rules are to offer game mechanics encouraging the role-playing of fantastic religious devotion in Knave games, and to cater to players who want to play holy men and women. I steered clear of any class mechanics for clerics and paladins, as class rules go against the grain of Knave.

The simplest part of these are clerical spells. These are indistinguishable, mechanically, from any other spells, requiring spellbooks (codices?) to cast. Their religious significance would come from their in-game description, such as being relics of faith, sanctified items, and scrolls of holy scripture.

Additionally, a character may take vows of faith, and dedicate themselves to the service of a God (or gods). A vow must create a challenge in play, but not prevent meaningful adventuring. For example, a vow of Poverty (must donate  90% all wealth to the Church/the needy/sacrifices to the gods, apart from money and magical items used for personal adventuring needs ); vow of Vegetarianism (cannot eat meat; faces issues in overland travel and may require heavier rations in the dungeon); vow of Sacred Wrath (cannot retreat from battles with undead and demons); vow of Clean Hands (cannot steal); vow of Sanctity (cannot disturb quiet dead; can still slay undead and take their treasures, though); Vow of Truth (cannot lie). 

On the other hand, a vow of Pacifism will usually be inappropriate for most games, as it impedes gameplay too much. The other side of the coin is a vow of Celibacy, which will create only minor annoyances unless romantic encounters are a major part of the game, and thus would not work well as a vow.

Adhering to vows for a certain time (as determined by the Referee; a good benchmark is 3 or so adventures), as well as role-playing the character's religion (preaching, praying, and so on), marks the Knave as devout.

Devout characters, as long as they adhere to their vows and faith, enjoy two main mechanical benefits.

The first is prayer. Once a week, a devout Knave may pray to his or her God(s) and receive an Advantage to a single die roll within the next hour.

The second is rebuking undead. Once per encounter with undead, a devout Knave may hold up their holy symbol and proclaim the might of their God(s). All undead in sight of the Knave level or higher must make an Opposed save (Knave's Charisma vs. the undead being's Constitution). Undead who fail this Opposed save cower before the God(s) might and suffer Disadvantage to all rolls against the devout character and his or her allies for 1d6 rounds. At the Referee's discretion, this may apply to demons, or even Fey, as well. Note that certain holy relics may enhance the rebuke, forcing undead to flee. Mighty relics of faith may even turn undead into dust upon a failed Opposed save!

Breaking a vow removes the devout status from the character for at least the 1d6 months and requires penitence (usually an adventure for the God(s)) to regain this status.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Dark Nebula - Polity Budgets and Initial Military Forces


In a previous post, I wrote about using the old Dark Nebula boardgame by GDW as a background event generator for a prospective Classic Traveller game set in the eponymous Dark Nebula. The idea is to use the Dark Nebula board game, played solo by the Referee, to determine larger-scale background events.

The players will rarely participate in such events directly, but will, without doubt, be affected by them. For example, they may end up salvaging wrecks in a former battlefield; smuggling weapons to a resistance group on a world under recent military occupation; spying or serving as couriers for one faction or another; and so on.

One change I am making in my previous Dark Nebula customization rules is to permit all factions to use one Turn of their regular resources alongside their starting budget for existing forces, rather than requiring that any regular budget be spent on construction which results will only come into effect next year. Thus, the full initial budgets for all major factions and worlds in the Dark Nebula, as of 2900 CE, are as follows:

Solomani: 3 worlds, 6 outposts. Total 30 RU regular annual budget + 40 RU starting budget, for a total of 70 RU to build starting forces with.

Aslan: 3 worlds, 5 outposts. Total 29 RU regular annual budget + 40 RU starting budget, for a total of 69 RU to build starting forces with.

Mizah: 1 world. 8 RU regular annual budget + 8 RU neutral world starting budget, for a total of 16 RU to build starting forces with.

Karpos: 1 world. 8 RU regular annual budget + 8 RU neutral world starting budget, for a total of 16 RU to build starting forces with.

Rim: 1 world. 8 RU regular annual budget + 8 RU neutral world starting budget, for a total of 16 RU to build starting forces with.

Godoro: 1 world. 8 RU regular annual budget + 8 RU neutral world starting budget, for a total of 16 RU to build starting forces with.

Valka: 1 world. 8 RU regular annual budget + 8 RU neutral world starting budget, for a total of 16 RU to build starting forces with.

Now, on to purchasing initial forces:


1st Tank Army (1 RU; rating 8; armored), on Maadin.

2nd Jump Army (2 RU; rating 4; jump troops), on Mechane.

3rd Army (1 RU; rating 4; regular troops) on Maadin.

2 Outpost Markers (8 RU total; i.e., second-echelon occupation forces).

5 Transport Fleets (total 5 RU; Maintenance 5); 3 on Maadin, 1 on Mechane.

Dreadnaught Gilgamesh (13 RU; Maintenance 6; flagship!) on Maadin.

So far, 30 RU remaining.

1st Light Cruiser Squadron (6 RU; Maintenance 3) on Mechane.

2nd Light Cruiser Squadron (6 RU; Maintenance 3) on Mechance

3rd Light Cruiser Squadron (6 RU; Maintenance 3) on Mechane.

Total Annual Maintenance: 25 RU.

Aslan: (unit and ship designations are Solomani)

Ihatei Group "Humbaba" (2 RU; rating 3; jump troops), on Kuzu.

Ihatei Group "Pazuzu" (2 RU; rating 4; jump troops), on Kuzu.

Ihatei Group "Tiamat" (1 RU; rating 4; regular troops) on Kuzu.

Ihatei Group "Yaamashtu" (1 RU; rating 3; regular troops) on Kuzu.

Ihatei Group "Alu" (1 RU; rating 4; regular troops) on Kuzu.

2 Outposts (8 RU total; i.e., second-echelon occupation forces) on Kuzu.

7 Transport Fleets (total 7 RU; Maintenance 7) on Kuzu.

Mothership "Lioness" (2 RU; Maintenance 1) on Blatta.

1st Fighter Squadron (1 RU; Maintenance 1) on Blatta.

2nd Fighter Squadron (1 RU; Maintenance 1) on Blatta.

3rd Fighter Squadron  (1 RU; Maintenance 1) on Blatta.

Strike Cruiser Squadron "Tiger" (10 RU; Maintenance 4) on Kuzu.

Strike Cruiser Squadron "Sabretooth" (10 RU; Maintenance 4) on Kuzu.

Strike Cruiser Squadron "Leopard" (10 RU; Maintenance 4) on Kuzu.

Total Annual Maintenance: 23 RU.


1st Royal Army (1 RU; rating 5; regular troops).

2nd Royal Army (1 RU; rating 4; regular troops).

3nd Royal Tank Army (1 RU; rating 7; armored).

1 Transport Fleet (1 RU; Maintenance 1).

Royal COACC Squadron (1 RU; Maintenance 1).

Light Cruiser Squadron Excalibur (6 RU; Maintenance 3).

Annual Maintenance: 4.


1st Army (1 RU; rating 4; regular troops).

2nd Army (1 RU; rating 3; regular troops).

1 Transport Fleet (1 RU; Maintenance 1).

1st Destroyer Fleet (2 RU; Maintenance 2).

2nd Destroyer Fleet (2 RU; Maintenance 2).

3rd Destroyer Fleet (2 RU; Maintenance 2).

Annual Maintenance: 7.


1st Army (1 RU; rating 4; regular troops).

2nd Army (1 RU; rating 5; regular troops).

3rd Army (1 RU; rating 3; regular troops).

1 Transport Fleet (1 RU; Maintenance 1).

1st Scout Fleet (1 RU; Maintenance 1).

1st Destroyer Fleet (2 RU; Maintenance 2).

2nd Destroyer Fleet (2 RU; Maintenance 2).

Annual Maintenance: 6.


1st Army (1 RU; rating 8; armored).

2nd Army (1 RU; rating 3; regular troops).

1st COACC Squadron (1 RU; Maintenance 1).

2nd COACC Squadron (1 RU; Maintenance 1).

Light Cruiser Squadron (6 RU; Maintenance 3).
Annual Maintenance: 4.


1st Jump Army (1 RU; rating 5 jump troops).

2nd Army (1 RU; rating 4; regular troops).

3rd Army (1 RU; rating 4; regular troops).

1st COACC Squadron (1 RU; Maintenance 1).

1 Transport Fleet (1 RU; Maintenance 1).

Monitor Squadron Zmei (6 RU; Maintenance 3).

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Adventures in HOTAS


So, I bought myself a present for my upcoming 40th birthday: a Logitech X52 Professional HOTAS controller set for my computer. HOTAS stands for hands on throttle-and-stick, and, as far as I understand, is a term in real-world aviation cockpit control design. In video game terms, this means having two controllers: a joystick and a throttle. This allows for more complex and elaborate control of the simulated aircraft or spacecraft in your game.

What surprised me, though, was that many computer games which would be natural for such a control scheme have no support for it, or very shoddy support. Everspace, I am looking at you... But even the relatively compatible Elite Dangerous and Rebel Galaxy: Outlaw do not have full plug-and-play functionality here and require setup. Sometimes, extensive setup. Interestingly, the space fighter game House of the Dying Sun also has very limited HOTAS support.

And this is with well-established, common controllers. And it is interesting as these games look like perfect places to use such equipment, even as the primary equipment. Even with extensive Googling and experimentation, I could not get my rig to work with Everspace. I did, though, get it to work perfectly with Rebel Galaxy: Outlaw; I only have to memorize what each joystick and throttle button does.

I am in the market for "arcade-y" (i.e., not realistic simulators but rather more casual "simulators") games to use with my new gear. Preferably space, but could be atmospheric as well...

From OSE to Knave


I love, and I write, 2d6-based OSR games, such as Cepheus Deluxe or Barbaric!. However, some of the fine people I play with love d20-based games. So far, I usually ran Old School Essentials (OSE; by Necrotic Gnome) for them. This is a perfectly edited, clearly laid-out, quite faithful version of B/X "Box" Dungeons & Dragons.

However, if found out that I was not using a significant part of the OSE rules. In the beer & pretzels d20 games I typically run, a lot of stuff gets overlooked, and some players dislike the various non-uniform task resolution systems (such as thief skills; some are roll-low d100, others are roll-low d6, and regular ability checks are roll-low d20). So, we found ourselves improvising a lot, and ignoring much.

Such heresy led me to look once again at Knave, by Questing Beast Games. It is a rules-light d20-based OSR game, merely seven pages long. Furthermore, most of these seven pages are filled with various one-word random tables. The actual rules, sans random descriptive tables and spell list, can simply fill two pages (or a single two-sided sheet). A simple, fast-play ruleset, which packs a lot of unexpected complexity into its slender frame.

The core of Knave are ability checks and inventory management. Especially inventory management. You play the eponymous Knaves - adventurers of shady background and shady pursuits who partake jobs of questionable morality, loot tombs, and explore dungeons. There are no classes in this game. Rather, your equipment, limited by your very finite inventory space, determines your capabilities. Want to play a knight? Burden yourself with heavy arms and armor. Desire a sorcerer? Carry several spellbooks (each containing one spell and usable once a day). There are 11 to 20 inventory spaces, depending on your Constitution modifier and "defense" (more on than later), and armor takes a lot of space, as do spells.

Knave uses the six usual d20 ability scores, namely Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. At character generation, you roll 3d6 for each, in order, and note the lowest die. That is your ability modifier. Then, you add that number to ten. That's your ability defense. Most rolls are ability checks, called "Saving Throws" in Knave. Essentially, roll 1d20 + your relevant ability modifier; 15+ is a success. When opposed by another character or creature, you must beat their relevant ability defense. Monster ability modifiers and defenses are equal to their hit dice (which are always 1d8 each).

When you level up - based on goals rather than loot or combat (a part I like less about this system) - you gain an additional hit die and add +1 to three ability modifiers/defenses, to a maximum of a modifier of +10 or an ability defense of 20. The maximum level is 10.

Combat is quite usual - a Strength vs. Armor Defense (i.e., armor class) opposed saving throw for melee; Dexterity for ranged. Initiative is per side and rolled once per round. The rest - surprise, morale, and so on - is close enough to OSR standards.

As noted above, Knave uses a simple magic system - you carry Spellbooks (which can be anything from an actual book to a shamanic talisman), each taking one inventory slot and each granting you the ability to cast a spell once per day. You may cast any OSR spell your Referee permits, provided that its level is equal or lower than yours (i.e., a level 3 Knave can cast fireball once a day if they find the right Spellbook!).

In general, this system is sleek and fast, better designed than I have originally thought. I recommend it to anyone desiring a rules-light d20 OSR ruleset.

By the way, I intend to return to writing this blog in the near future. I will probably focus on Traveller, Cepheus, and Knave material...

Saturday, March 12, 2022

If it fights like a human bandit...

Bandits! Illustration taken
from Darkest Dungeon

I am in the process of designing the monster supplement for Barbaric!, Stellagama Publishing's lightweight sword & sorcery RPG ruleset. This got me thinking about, well, fantasy monsters, their presentation, and their use in a role-playing campaign. In short, monsters need a purpose and a unique "feel". Why? Because once you play traditional fantasy RPGs for many years, you eventually grow tired of creatures who only have hit points, a to-hit roll, saving throws, and damage; creatures who simply rush forward and hack and slash the player characters.

So, I posit the following design rule: if it fights like a human bandit, it should be a human bandit. Where "bandit" may be replaced by any level 0 (or level 1 fighter) human. Mind you, this is not a philosophical proposition about humans being the true monsters, or anything similar. Rather, it means that for a monster to be a monster, it should be differentiated from normal humans, including in mechanical terms.

Hobgoblins, and in some cases orcs and goblins as well, tend to suffer from this problem. Sure, they look different from human bandits, but mechanically they are like human bandits, and often in description as well - other than being green-skinned or hog-snouted. Take, for example, the Goblin from BFRPG: It has AC 14, 1-1 HD, attacks and damage by weapon, and saves as a level 1 fighter.

Sure, they use "ambushes and overwhelming odds" to gain an edge over their enemies. But so do wise bandits. They do sometimes ride dire wolves into combat, which does add a certain level of uniqueness. But still, they lack significant uniqueness, especially mechanically speaking. Interestingly, maybe ironically, D&D 5E makes an interesting step in the right direction:

Nimble Escape. The goblin can take the Disengage or Hide action as a bonus action on each of its turns.

Now, mechanically, they can do something a goblin cannot, i.e., avoid "parting shots" ("Attacks of Opportunity" in modern D&D parlance) and hide without expending their combat action. However, other D&D 5E monsters do not always have such design choice and have special abilities which simply add damage.

Potentially, I'd add a description of a change in tactics between goblins operating on their own and those bullied into better fighting shape by a stronger creature. Alone, I'd give them low Morale and hit and run tactics. When bullied, they will be less likely to scatter when encountering a tougher foe and may use their stealth abilities more thoroughly.

Also, imagine Froglings. Another 1-1 HD monster in my version of them. However, they do gain two additional abilities:

  • In a swampy terrain, they enjoy an increased chance for surprise, and, potentially, good concealment (like Elves in a forest).
  • They may leap. This means jumping up to 3m high and 6m far. Just imagine the challenge to players, when the Frogling ambushers simply jump over their well-crafted phalanx to attack them in the back...
So, make monsters unique and interesting. They are monsters for a reason - they have strange and, well, monstrous abilities.