My Favorite NPC: Gruk the Goblin

The truly beautiful thing about tabletop games is that they are collaborative: everyone at the table gets to add to the story, not just the Game Master. Often, the things the players do are completely outside the scope of the GM’s plans–and that’s great! Since it’s apparently Goblin Week, I wanted to share a story about one time my players totally changed the game by befriending a goblin named Gruk.

A while back I decided to try something I’d never done before: run a pre-made adventure. The adventure I selected was Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. I got a party put together, the first few sessions planned, and the virtual tabletop all set up. I was ready for whatever my players could throw at me! Ha. Right.

Early on in the adventure, the party is tasked with infiltrating a lair belonging to the Xanathar Guild. This particular base is located in the sewers beneath Waterdeep, and it has a few interesting features. First off, towards the entrance there are arrow slits, behind which are two goblin archers. Second, there’s a secret door that leads directly to the rooms where those archers are positioned.

My group’s Rogue, a hilarious gnome named Bukkaru Mapleroot, easily found the hidden door, allowing the party to get the drop on the goblins. They quickly dispatched one and tied the other to a chair, intending to get information out of him.

Now, I played first-edition Pathfinder for many years. That game’s setting has a fairly specific take on goblins, and that’s what I drew from while role-playing this poor captured fellow. The group was asking him who else was in this little Xanathar hideout, where they could find the guy they were looking for, and so forth and all they were getting back was a lot of hissing and screams of “Gruk not know! Let Gruk out!”

And then, to my great surprise, Bukkaru pulled out a gemstone he’d been carrying and held it out to Gruk, apologizing for taking him hostage. Pretty soon, the whole party was behaving similarly: they were apologizing to Gruk, promising they wouldn’t hurt him, and even encouraging him to give up his life of crime. It culminated in one character saying, “Hey, man, we don’t want you to have to live in a sewer. How about you come live with us? We’ll give you a job and everything. You don’t even have to help us out right now, just stay in here while we go take care of things and we’ll come get you when we’re done.”

In the time it took for the party to make their peace with Gruk, I’d looked over the goblin stat block and realized that he should have a 10 Intelligence–in other words, he should be a fairly normal dude, not the can’t-read-and-barely-speaks-Common Pathfinder goblin I’d been playing him as. So I made I decision.

“Wait, are you guys serious?” Gruk asked, dropping his previous high-pitched accent and verbal tics. Turns out he’d been playing up goblin stereotypes in hopes that the party would leave him alone! “I mean, yeah, that sounds great. I don’t even like these Xanathar Guild guys!”

So, as promised, the party cleared out the lair and took Gruk home with them. He ended up helping them fix up their bar, and he became a beloved member of the team! When the party was hired by Acquisitions Incorporated, Gruk became the group’s Secretarian, basically making him the go-to contact person for anyone needing to hire the group. He also ended up with a huge crush on a centaur named Honey Dapplehoof, who was a member of an Acq. Inc. team that took the party under their wing.

Gruk was a competent fighter thanks to his years in organized crime (along with whatever he’d gotten up to before joining the Xanathar Guild–he didn’t talk about his past much, but he’d apparently been in some kind of cult at some point). He also asked one of the party members, an Artificer named Gyllen, to help instruct him in magic so that he could impress Honey. I really loved the oddball friendship between Gruk and Gyllen; Gyllen was an exiled nobleman who used his Artificer magic to maintain an impeccable appearance, while Gruk was a sewer goblin whose voice was a bad Danny DeVito impression. But somehow, they clicked.

Being a fellow with a rather checkered past, Gruk had a few eccentricities that the group had to deal with from time to time. Early on, his rather unique odor became an issue; while he fully understood why the rest of the party didn’t want him smelling like a sewer, his first stab at improving his scent was to make himself smell like fish (his favorite odor). He also had a weird taste in snacks, owing to having lived most of his life scrounging for food: he was a big fan of eating spiders and rats.

Gruk also gave me a great excuse to run a Halloween one-shot; he had a family tradition called ‘Pumpkin Night’ where everyone put on masks and told scary stories. I got to have him orchestrate a fun little non-canon adventure featuring flesh golems, a vampire, and even some swamp creatures.

Gruk became a surprisingly large and beloved part of that game, and it was all because my players did something I wasn’t expecting in the first session. I can’t wait to see what else they throw my way in future games; who knows what the next Gruk will be!

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