The year is divided into eleven months of 33 days each (plus two holy days on the solstices that are part of no month) and two calendrical seasons, Augošs (waxing) that begins the day after the winter solstice, and Sarūkot (waning) that begins the day after the summer solstice; the months are named for the eleven gods. The year starts with Ylwain on the day after the winter solstice followed by Fellbane, Gye, Kirmmaw, Ghorail, Shalniel (which is divided by the summer solstice), Miroch, Yeron, Araul, Venall, and Urth. The cycle of the year is informally divided into labošana (mending, or winter), stādīšana (planting or spring), listeri (hoeing or summer) and raža (harvest or autumn). This is the year 7528. The goblins never adopted the Valverusian calendar.
By human standards, goblins are a small race, with most men ranging in height between 4' and 4'6", most women between 3'9" and 4'3", and they are lean and muscular in proportion, with adult weights of 60 lbs for a petite woman to 120 lbs for a tall, strapping man. They have the largest ears (and by far the keenest hearing) of any human race, skin that shades from warm navajo white to rich golden brown, hair that is light brown to black (very rarely auburn) and eyes that are almost always brown, although occasionally amber gold, green, or hazel (the rarest eye colour) will appear. "Opal eyes", as hazel eyes are called, changing with the light from green to grey to gold to sometimes even blue, are greatly admired.
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As a race goblins are gregarious, curious, brave, clever, quick, and industrious, and these qualities are highly prized in the society. There are exceptions, of course, as is the case with any race, but those individuals fit poorly within the societal matrix. On the down side they tend to be judgemental and gossipy. They are tribal and almost wholly communal; the concept of privacy never caught on. Bands of between 100 and 250 individuals live in spacious caves (first choice, when available), in earth-bermed houses constructed mostly underground, or, when foraging as a tribe (which they do several times a year), in a huge hide tent. Each family has a section of that large, single room where they spread out their sleeping and work mats and keep their belongings. When the community grows larger than that it splits, with the new band moving a few to several miles away so that the resources in the immediate area are not depleted. This is a momentous occasion in the life of a tribe, and treated almost like a birth, with both "parent" and "child" working together to establish the sept in its new home. Some tribes have as many as a dozen septs fanning out from the original location.
They are both hunter-gatherers and farmers. They raise grain and vegetables, the yard of a goblin compound is always full of chickens, and they sometimes keep a few pigs and goats, but they hunt for most of their meat, and harvest the grasslands and forests for nuts, fruits, greens, and herbs both culinary and medicinal. A few tribes specialise in certain commodities (the Cheesemakers, with their vast herds of goats, the Shepherds, who bring great bales of wool to the Conclaves, and a few others) but most are generalists and fairly self-sufficient.
Food preparation is done by each individual family, but the meat from hunting large animals, netted fish, the bounty of foraging, and the crops from the fields are fairly apportioned on the basis of need and numbers. However smaller, single-family meal amounts are kept by the hunter or gatherer--one rabbit or bird, a handful of wild garlic, two or three trout, etc.--and that supplementation separates a good provider from an exceptional one.
They tend to marry young, and for good reason. Goblins, both male and female, experience a sharp decline in fertility as they age. Between 15 to 25, a couple is at their most prolific, producing, on average, three pregnancies, between 25 to 35 that drops to one or two, and between 35 and 45, even a single pregnancy is rare. Even the youngest women do not ovulate for approximately a year after giving birth or whilst exclusively nursing, whichever comes last, so births are no closer than 2-3 years apart, and the anovulatory period stretches longer and longer between each subsequent pregnancy. The average length of goblin gestation is between 250 and 264 days, or 7.5 to 8 months by the goblin calendar, and pregnancy usually results in twins, although single and triplet births are also common. However, neonatal mortality is high. Single-born infants tend to be the healthiest, but it is far more common than this child-loving race would like for one twin or triplet to be stillborn or die within the first several days. Birthing celebrations (and they are very festive, joyous occasions) are held on the infant's one month birthday after the greatest danger is past. Goblins and gnomes are the smallest of the human races; a big, healthy, singleton goblin newborn weighs no more than five pounds; twins and triplets are usually much smaller, and there are limits on just how small even a full term human-derived infant can be and survive.
These realities lead to some interesting pressures in goblin society. If a goblin wants children, it is vital to marry as early as possible, but the couple must be able to care for themselves and their family and contribute to the tribe. The way goblins address this issue is through both "bride price" and "dowry". Neither are paid by the families of the couple, but by the prospective bride and groom themselves; in fact, it is a major social solecism to even accept help in the making or acquiring of these goods. The bride price is a test of the man's ability to provide for a wife and (to lesser extent) payment to the bride's parents for the loss of her contributions to her family (however, although not required, it is common for the parents of the bride to bestow some or all of her bride price on the new family either as a wedding gift or when the first grandchild is born). Notwithstanding the biological imperative, it is rare for a man to be established enough to afford a wife before he is 18, 19, 20, or even older, and each year his acceptability as a husband decreases, so there is a lot of pressure on the young men and competition between them. The dowry includes the groom's bridal attire, showing off the bride's best handiwork, and other household goods she has made. Again, such productivity takes time, pushing back the date of any wedding. Most girls start assembling their dowries by the time they are eight to ten years old, but bride prices are too variable to allow boys the same advantage.
Goblins are almost completely monogamous, not because of some instinctive pair bonding or anything else so esoteric, but because, in practical terms, it is next to impossible to carry out a clandestine relationship in such a communal society (especially when a goblin can clearly hear a single mosquito buzz from 50 feet away; whispered plans might as well be shouted from the rooftop). No matter how clever or conniving the concupiscent couple, adulterous relationships are discovered far more often than not, and when they are, the repercussions are very unpleasant. Social disapproval and shaming are powerful forces in the tribe, and infidelity is an evergreen scandal that can follow the offending parties for the rest of their lives. Probably the greatest weakness of goblin society is its intolerance of peccadilloes that might be shrugged off or even go unnoticed in other cultures, and its unwillingness to forget.
Bragging is a positive social skill and well-thought-of; it is a major cohesive and stabilising practice in the society. It works like this:
Runga might say, "I saw that Shaman needed a new sleeping fur. Three days ago I set out to find one of the long-woolled mountain sheep. I used all my tracking skill and finally spotted one on the slope of Mount Pemzektez. It was very cold and snowy, but I followed it to the summit, and with stealth and cunning came within bowshot, but he was a mighty ram. An arrow would not have killed him, so I moved closer. I cast my spear and impaled him through his neck! He bolted, but I gave chase until he weakened and slowed and I was able to slit his throat. I gutted and skinned him and made a travois and brought him home to the tribe, twice having to chase off hungry wolves. I did very well."
And the Shaman would then say, "That is true! The fur even now has been fleshed and is being stretched. Runga did very well!"
Ritual bragging tells about accomplishments, teaches, encourages effort and achievement, strongly discourages theft and lying, and undermines a goblin's ability to either shirk or claim credit for another's work. A mother might brag, "Nemdgh rolled over today for the very first time. I put him down on his back and went to stir the soup. When I came back he was on his belly and pushing toward the edge of his mat!" and a neighbour might speak up, "That is true! I saw him pulling himself over. Nemdgh will soon be crawling." However, goblins must be careful when they brag, not to exaggerate their accomplishments to such a degree that they risk being perceived as untruthful, since brags made that are not seconded make the braggart lose face. Bragging in private is pointless, and the best brags are those made with the greatest number of clansmen present that aren't refuted. There's more to their system of justice and social order, of course, but bragging is a key component. (Incidentally, the most severe punishment that can be inflicted on a goblin for crimes he committed is exile. They are social people!)
The chief is the leader of the tribe; he guides them, arbitrating disputes too serious for resolution through the bragging ring, deciding where they will go and when, etc., much like the captain of a ship. The shaman is a mage, priest, teacher, astronomer, and the keeper of the calendar. (Unlike most other races, the goblins and hobgoblins have not forgotten the Life Eater, and are feeling nervous right now, watching the sky for the Signs and caching food well underground.) The healer/midwife is just that. Together they basically rule the tribe, with the shaman and healer advising the chief.
Although not a patriarchal culture, gender roles are clearly defined. Even so, not everyone conforms to these expectations--nor do they have to. Approximately a third of all goblins have little interest in marriage and family, choosing a path outside that dominant convention. A large percentage are homosexual, but even those who aren't don't feel comfortable filling these expectational roles, driven more by creativity or intellectual curiosity or even the desire to serve the tribe as a whole rather than to procreate. Learned elders have said that these "citads gars"--other soul--children are given to them because the tribe needs more than mothers and fathers to prosper, and there is considerable validity to that theory. Without the constraints imposed by a growing family, they are better able to focus on a single craft or vocation; most healers and shamans are citads gars, as are many weaponsmiths and armourers, trades highly demanding of time, skill, and experience. This designation also covers the girls who want to pursue traditionally male occupations, such as hunting and fishing, things that can't be done whilst bearing and caring for children. Boys are somewhat less constrained--one can be an expert weaver or tanner (conventionally female activities) and still provide well for a family.
One particular tribe illustrates how this can manifest in an extreme form. The Salt Boilers are an entirely male tribe, the wealthiest in the Jehona Territory, and one of the most highly respected. They don't hunt, fish, or till the soil except recreationally. Instead they make the salt vital to the survival of all tribes, and members of the tribe are drawn from and maintain strong ties to every other tribe. Salt mining and crystallisation is a labourious, dangerous, and unhealthy business best left to specialists--a salt works is no place for children. The Salt Boilers acquire all their necessities through trade; they never lack for customers, and their cousins and siblings are glad to have it so. Occasionally there is strife between tribes, vying for hunting or fishing grounds, or over other grudges, but no one ever attacks the Salt Boilers! The entire goblin nation would rise up in their defence, and woe! to the fools who dared raise spear against them.
The many tribes are bound in a loose confederation for trade and for mutual defence against those who covet their beautiful, fertile lands. They maintain cordial but more guarded relations with the orcs whose traditional territories are on the western side of the Jehonas, and the hobgoblins to the south. (Hobs began as a half-goblin, half-orc breed that aeons ago established its own society.) They are united by a passionate, and well-founded, hatred of humans, and all three nations send forces to patrol the Great Wall to prevent human aggression and incursion. The atrocities of the last war are still fresh in their collective memories. Their feelings toward elves and dwarves are more mixed; yes they had been their bitter foes in the last war, but by then they had fallen under the corrupting and deceiving influence of the evil self-styled "god" Valverus, the Demon Usurper, and the wicked humans. Furthermore, the goblins and hobs and even a few of the less belligerent orcs agree that the orcs brought some measure of dwarven wrath upon themselves. They should have better controlled those renegade tribes that raided up and down the D'Scaris, looting, raping, and murdering. The humans deserved everything they got, but in the olden days dwarves had been their trading partners, distant but respected--dwarven steel meant unqualified excellence.
Everything disintegrated when the Demon-Spawn, the wretched children of Valverus, appeared. Not long afterward the human scum forced their way through the towering barrier mountains the True Gods had raised to protect their children, attacked the dwarves, and stole their lands, and then turned their aggression on the fertile Jehonas. Their greed was relentless and never-ending! For the past two-hundred years and more orcs, goblins, and hobgoblins had been fighting to keep what was theirs. The Assel-Praetheans had come to their aid; half-elven, half-orcish, they were exceptionally skilful magic users, and their help was telling. To the goblins' profound distress, the gnomes had been coerced into serving the humans who had used threats and outright violence to compel them, but even against their reluctant allies human perfidy knew no bounds. After the gnomes had breached the first Great Wall, the human Death Cults, the vile priests of Kyris Jelazel, exterminated the gnomes by unleashing a plague of unparalleled viciousness against them, genocidal in its effectiveness. The gnomes were the race the goblins admired most and were closest to; most modern goblins have some gnomish blood, many are as much as half gnomish, and they suffered grievously too, losing more warriors to disease than to combat. To add to their heinous crimes, the humans blamed the Assel-Praetheans for the plague, and with the help of the Demon God they were believed. It was then the Four Armies knew beyond doubt or demurral that there could be no peace with monsters. A mere forty-eight years ago they managed to rebuild the wall; so far, the humans haven't managed to break through…but they were taking no chances.
Since then, they have found some unexpected allies in the sea elves of the Cyreth Sea. The Great Wall protected them on land, but they were still vulnerable to naval attack. However, any warships that sail from Rsyvin, no matter how well disguised, are promptly scuttled. Neutral during the war, the elves knew that the humans were the aggressors, and when it ended they instituted a strict policy: No Warships In Our Waters. However, orcish ships, well-armed merchanters for the most part, have no trouble sailing down the Jiran Strait. Humans travelling in anything larger or more equipped than a coastal fishing vessel never make it further than ten miles from their own shore; no human ship of any kind is permitted to approach within ten miles of Xerant.
Goblins are devout followers of the True Gods, the Eleven, the Life-Givers. They never fell prey to the apostasy of Valverus-worship--it is anathema to them. (One tenet of their faith is to strive to free the True Gods from their imprisonment by the Demon Usurper and restore them to their rightful glory. The details of just how they can do this are rather vague, but every goblin is supposed to hold him or herself ready to serve if the opportunity presents itself. The commandment is included in the prayer they say every morning.) They fear the Life Eater, the black death that falls from the skies and devours every living thing in its path, and know that ancient enemy returns every 2510 years, that it smote them, wreaking unspeakable destruction, 2508, 5018, and 7528 years ago, that it will come again in two short years, and they must be ready. How do superficially "primitive" people know so much ancient history? Because of the Shamans.
First and foremost shamans are priests, looking after the spiritual well-being of the tribe, counselling the troubled, and soothing the inevitable friction that arises when so many people live in close proximity. He or she leads them in the ritual prayers every morning before the day's work begins, simply-worded prayers, but clear and complete: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication, ending with the creed they live by. It only takes about a quarter hour, but goblins don't need to be taught their religion; they drink it in with their mother's milk.
Twice a year, on the solstices, their high holy days, he/she goes into more detail, reading to them from the Tablets, explaining why they believe each principle and how to live by it. It is excellent entertainment, especially on the winter holiday, the Day of Contemplation (more informally called Thinking Day), sitting cosily by the fire, feasting, drinking, listening to the marvels of the past, and the deeds of goblins whose lives exemplified one cardinal virtue or another. They don't realise how much they are learning.
The summer solstice, the Day of Implementation (Doing Day), is different in execution but not in purpose, as they practise generosity by giving, fair play by playing, cooperation by cooperating, through sports, friendly competitions, gift exchanges (and the shaman makes sure no goblin is forgotten), dances, and other recreations. The rituals and the lessons are scarcely noticed at the time, but, reinforced by happy associations, they are long remembered…and in the evening, as they share the summer feast, tired but content, there are more songs and stories. Goblin religion isn't obtrusive; it's not a heavy burden they must bear, but it's pervasive, the warp of the fabric of their daily lives.
Shamans are mages. When Valverus imprisoned the True Gods and the flow of divine dweomer was cut off, they turned to arcane paths to achieve at least some of the same effects of the clerical spells now denied them. Their spellbooks are limited, but include some of the most useful from every school (particularly Elemental, Protection, Divination, and Guardian) and their own adaptations of clerical magic (Detect Poison is one such) up to third level, lesser magics that nonetheless make a big difference in the safety and well-being of the tribe.
They are historians. On smooth sheets of special clay, ritually prepared, they record the passage of days, births, marriages, and deaths, major events (the separation of one tribe into two, attacks against a village, sending warriors off to war), natural disasters (earthquakes, wildfires, floods, droughts, severe blizzards), and--especially--celestial phenomena. Each night they search the skies, and make note of the familiar patterns and any changes. This diligence has resulted in a deep understanding of astronomy compared to other races. Goblins were the first to realise that the moons revolved around the planet, and the planet around the sun…and that breakthrough led them to comprehend, simplistically but fundamentally accurately, from whence came the comet. They make two copies of these records; at the end of the year the tablets are fired; one set is kept accessible, but the other is stored in a secure underground cache. There are goblin tribal records that date back over 7000 years.
Finally, they are teachers. Unlike most human-kin races, goblins perceive the world first by sound, then by sight, touch, and smell. With so much brain capacity applied to hearing, almost all are auditory learners--they listen and remember. This dependence on verbal communication can make learning to read more difficult, and, except for shamans and--to a lesser extent--healers, it's not really a necessary skill in goblin society; very few are literate. Nonetheless all children are given the opportunity to study, and most at least learn to recognise the thirteen holy runes that symbolise the gods and the solstices. Greater emphasis is placed on mathematics, and nearly every goblin is numerate at least up through basic counting, addition, and subtraction, with a practical, applied grasp of fractions.
Shamans are much more highly educated; the vocation requires many years of training, beginning with the basics in early childhood and continuing in the Halls of Knowledge (literally, the caves where the goblins sought refuge from the Shadow during the Burning Times 7500 years ago. It has been a sacred place to them ever since) where they study the Deep Mysteries of advanced mathematics, astronomy, history, and magic, and a host of skills such as omen reading, to help them discern the will of the gods, and oratory, to better instruct their flock. Only when they have successfully completed this demanding curriculum are they permitted to call themselves shamans.