Friday, January 28, 2022

The Scrap Goblin

Goblin by Eoghan Kerrigan

After the last frantic bustle of Narblesnard and other end-of-year holidays gives way to the slow, cold quiet of winter, goblin whelps are taught to attune their prodigious ears to the sounds of nature. They listen to the lilting wind, the crackling frost, and the dripping water of icicles and tree boughs soaked black. They listen for warning of any squirrels stirring early. But above all, they listen in rapt anticipation for any hint of the Scrap Goblin swooping down on the wind or creeping over the mud.

I won't dress the topic up in layers of mystery this time. The Scrap Goblin delivers gifts to children– specifically the gifts that they cobbled together out of what most people would consider junk. From figurines whittled out of a splintered 2x4, to musical instruments made of tin cans and spare change, to stuffed animals reborn from an old pillowcase, the Scrap Goblin's presents are as varied and clever as they are outwardly "quaint".

The Scrap Goblin is not any single, clear-cut figure in folklore. Rather, they are a nebulous concept with no set age, appearance, gender, or canon of stories. And while they are generally celebrated at around the same time every year, not even their holiday has a set date. We all grow up knowing a different Scrap Goblin. We are all left waiting and wondering at what they'll bring for us this winter, while our parents quietly stitch sackcloth together in the backroom.

But this isn't an anthropological deep-dive into mythology, and I wouldn't get very far by trying to make it one. I'm not going to share everything that the Scrap Goblin can be.

Instead, I'm going to share what they are to me.

My Scrap Goblin was always the sweetly sardonic sort. He was aware of the evil of the world, and tired beyond his years for it. But he shared it in a gentle, nurturing way through jokes and little lessons that helped prepare you for it. He loved to carve wood, and favorite among my gifts from him were a toy sword, and a hobbyhorse that I could barely drag across the floor when I was younger. He was also left-handed, giving me a much-needed role model at a time when I couldn't even operate scissors without hurting myself, and when my only other hero to look to was the blond not-elf on a friend's Nintendo 64.

He had a sad and bare childhood that he didn't want others to experience.

And in retrospect, he had a bit of a horrifying apotheosis. But we'll get to that.

The Scrap Goblin was once a fairly ordinary goblin. He came from a big family in a bigger community where most of what you did, you did with a dozen other people involved or milling around close by. They were poor, but compassionate; hardworking, but not stupid. The stories didn't push some blas̩ narrative about the indomitable spirit of the idyllic poorРthey knew the how and the why behind their position in the world. But that's a struggle for another story.

The Scrap Goblin enjoyed being around others, and often looked after his gaggle of little niblings. But he also liked to go out on his own and scavenge around the edges of the woods and the big folk towns. He liked to tinker and toil, and create new valuables out of old refuse. And over time, he realized that other goblins liked his creations too.

So he started to give them away. At first it was a random and haphazard thing– a child's toy here, a one-of-a-kind tool there. They were appreciated gifts, but nothing special. But as winter set in, hardship found the town. Sickness and hunger came, followed soon after by the specters of more immediate danger.

The Scrap Goblin's gifts became much-needed distractions, and so his mere hobby became a full-time commitment. As parcels left his little workroom weekly, the scrapheaps shrank and shrank.

But while his trinkets offered momentary respite, they did little to fix the real problems his friends and family were facing. He turned to larger and more ambitious projects to alleviate their suffering, clothing and warming them and propping up the sick. He tore down what little he had in the way of a home and turned it into material. All but the rags on his back became scrap.

He gave, and he gave. Still, it wasn't enough.

And though he had so much giving left to do, he ran out of a medium through which to give.

So he did the only thing he could do, and gave of himself.

His hair kept a balding head warm. His nose went to a little girl who'd gotten hers bitten off by a dog. His vocal cords gave new life to the nurse who sang to his patients, albeit a weak and quavering one. His fingers went to the forest foragers who ran afoul of the squirrels. His feet were fine replacements for the frostbitten, and his legbones a fine crutch made. His eyes he gave to an old couple blinded by cataracts, so they could see their youngest child one last time at his funeral. His skin made swaddling for a newborn.

Bit by bit, he gave everything of himself, until there was no self left to give– just a leftover heart, which mourned that it had never been given to anyone as it laid there on the cold, hard ground.

As the cold deepened and the second, true snow of winter fell upon the heart, his ghost rose up in the steam that billowed off of it.

The cold spoke to him, observing that he had given his heart away a long time ago. On this, the Scrap Goblin reflected, and then hesitantly agreed. It still didn't feel like he had done enough.

It never did, the cold replied. It never would. Not in a hundred lifetimes would he feel that gnawing void filled.

The Scrap Goblin asked the cold if it was willing to bet on that.

Coolly, curiously, veiling its amusement, the cold extended him an offer. Very well– it would sweep him up in its icy winds and take him far away. But when it returned next winter, it would bring him back along with it, so he could toil and make gifts anew. But he would only have until the last of the second snow melted before being taken away to wait and to rue again.

The Scrap Goblin agreed.

His steam was whisked away by the wind then, to be buffeted and torn at until the next year when he was reformed in shape, though not in flesh– while he has new fingers to work with, he will always know the absence of the real ones. With those cold little hands he worked again, turning trash into treasure for those who had so little else.

Every year since, every generation since, he has done this.

Today he serves as an inspiration for us– and as a cautionary tale against going quite as far as he did.

I think about the Scrap Goblin a lot, even when he isn't stalking the junkheaps with cardboard and masking tape in hand. I think about what his stories mean to me, and how often I fail to listen to them.

I think about all the people who have flocked to the aesthetic subculture that bears our name. I don't begrudge them one bit for the creativity and community it provides them, but I'm always a little bemused at their raw enthusiasm for it. We don't love junk and rocks and moss because we're innately funky, chaotic, or anti-capitalist– good praxis though that last one may be. We love them because they give many of us a jolt of nostalgia for our childhoods.

For some of us, we love the Scrap Goblin because scraps are all we ever got.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Masked Ones

Deep in the gnarled old forest, amid the glowing toadstools and the creeping slime molds, thrive wonderfully garish and cacophonous little things.

They are lithe and delicate little creatures, hardly a meter tall and two stones heavy. Each has fine, chitinous limbs peeking out of the ubiquitous, voluminous robes that give their kind an almost rotund and childlike appearance from afar. Their three-clawed hands are oddly shaped and jointed, but equally good for playing flutes as they are for scrabbling up the tree trunks into which they bore their hive-like homes. Their footless, sticklike legs seem like they should hardly keep them upright, yet they move with much grace.

The mischievous among them are known to play tricks on passersby, but most content themselves with their families, music, games, and gardens of bioluminescent mushrooms. They breed and raise many species of symbiotic of insects, favorite among them being giant glowing crickets whom they keep as beloved companions and pets.

When trouble finds them they are most likely to try and diffuse the situation. Failing that, they will misdirect the threat and run away into the forest deeps. But when their hollows are threatened they prove themselves capable with traps, slings, and bolas. Their familiarity with the bugs and critters of the deep woods affords them an impressive armamentarium of weapons, alchemical substances, and even armor made from bits of exoskeleton.

They are known by the outside world as the Masked Ones, for the diverse and colorful masks they all wear- at least, we think those are masks. No one has ever seen one without their mask. It is unclear if they are wood, or porcelain, or something else. Rumors persist that their young hatch with masks already affixed to them- a point at which the distinction between "mask" and "face" becomes moot.

They are no less remarkable, though.

Each Masked One has seemingly unlimited control over their mask, able to change its color, shape, and design on a whim to complement or conceal their moods and actions. Some accentuate the change with a dramatic wave and flourish, while others merely change in the blink of an eye without affectation. Despite their fondness for performing arts, theater does not exist among the Masked Ones per se. Acting, with all its subtleties and theatrics, is just a natural extension of being for them.

One's mask and the way they present it is thus an essential part of their self-expression and identity- so much so that if one's mask is damaged beyond repair, they may face discrimination and exclusion from the crueler elements of their communities.

These sh'khar or "broken" Masked Ones lose the ability to alter their masks without intense conscious effort, greatly reducing their ability to emote meaningfully among other Masked Ones. Some are even treated like they are less than the people they used to be. Of course the person behind that cracked visage is as full and feeling as ever, making the scorn and pity they receive all the more tragic.

Some sh'khar try to compensate for this, increasing the bombast of their voices, gestures, and performances. Others go to great lengths to repair their masks, tracking down rare and expensive resins and the legendary mask-menders who can use them. Still others don't seek to modify themselves at all- they live as best they can, to hell with what others say or think of them.

But a minority most commonly encountered by outsiders will eventually leave the forest entirely, to face the world of the maskless Naked Folk beyond- a place where having only one, more-or-less static face is the norm.

Sh'khar Masked One by Monsieur

Playing Masked Ones in a Few Different Systems, Because Why Not?


| Race: Masked One | Reroll: CHA | Bonus: Can change your face at will | Weakness: Cannot change your face or emote at all if your mask has taken any damage |



  • A Musical Instrument of your choice.
  • Jar of Insect Resin.
  • Deep & Raggedy Robes (Light Armour).
  • Pet Glow-Cricket.

Advanced Skills

2 Climbing
1 Disguise
2 Etiquette
3 Perform
2 Sneak


You can completely change the shape and appearance (but not the overall size) of your mask-face at will, potentially enhancing the delivery of performances or allowing you to masquerade as a different Masked One in the eyes of outsiders.

D&D 5E

Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 2, and your Dexterity score increases by 1.

Age. Masked Ones age relatively quickly after they hatch. They reach adulthood around age 8, and rarely live longer than 40 years.

Alignment. Masked Ones are mostly neutral. Their fairly isolated society places a strong emphasis on kith and clutch, but also individual expression and whimsy.

Size. Masked Ones average just under 3 feet tall and average about 30 pounds. Your size is Small.

Speed. Your base walking speed is 25 feet.

Darkvision. Accustomed to deep forest hollows and the light of bioluminescent fungus, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.

Masked. You can change the appearance and shape of your mask at will, as well as the way you emote. You gain proficiency in the Deception skill. You also have advantage on Deception checks to disguise yourself as a different Masked One around non-Masked Ones.

Artistically Inclined. You gain proficiency in one of the following: the Performance skill, artisan's tools of your choice, or a musical instrument of your choice.

Sticky Pads. Your extremities have smooth, adhesive pads that you can use to scale sheer surfaces. You have a climbing speed of 10 feet. You also have advantage on checks to resist being disarmed.

Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Masked One. The spoken Masked One language includes many pops, hand gestures, and mask expressions.