Saturday, February 7, 2009


Every good game needs some comic relief.

Keep on the Shadowfell is pretty light-on for memorable NPCs. The entire population of Winterhaven are cast from a single "generic villager" mold, and the few named villains revel in their cliche-ridden crapulence. The sole exception is a little goblin named Splug.

Splug turns up at the end of the Torture Chamber encounter, where PCs will find him locked away in one of the cells along the corridor to the west. Splug has been locked up because "he tricked too many goblins out of ale rations" and he "portrays himself as a pathetic, helpless figure". The adventure suggests "Splug can provide comic relief, serve as a convenient porter and servant, or be a hidden threat who eventually betrays the party - whatever you think is best for the story."

Splug is, in part, modelled on the kobold Meepo who appeared in the 3rd edition launch module The Sunless Citadel. Meepo went on to be a huge fan favourite and Splug, as it turns out, is pretty successful himself.

Players love recruiting allies. Seeing a named character come over to their side is a tangible demonstration of the impact they're having on the world. Players particularly love NPCs who are incompetent. If NPCs were competent, after all, there'd be proportionately less XP for the players to pick up.

Splug draws from both of these reservoirs of fun, and works extra well because he's easily moldable to what will work well with your group. One group played him as a "hoarse, hispanic Smurf" with a penchant for lighting fires. Another had him locked up for being "a little too cute for the other goblins", and upon release he became "a kind of cheer leader".

The character of Splug is a great chance for players to express themselves, both in their reactions to the goblin and in how they incorporate him into their group and their story. The DM will love him, too, as he's a great way to subtly (or non-subtly) guide the players through the dungeon, providing hints about what lies ahead so that players can shape the danger and speed of the encounters to their personal tastes.


[1] According to the module, Splug has the stats of a Goblin Warrior, except that he has a Charisma of 15 and a Will defence of 13. The sharp boost to his Charisma makes sense given his character, but I'm baffled as to why they bothered to specify his Will as being a single measly point higher than normal. (This is less than would be explained by his new +2 Charisma modifier.) Does the transition from 12 to 13 take him over some mechanical threshold that I'm unaware of?


Marco Filippo said...

"The character of Splug is a great chance for players to express themselves, both in their reactions to the goblin and in how they incorporate him into their group and their story."

True. :-)

Even though I am not at all a fan of Splug's, it is true that this a good chance for the players to do some nice role-playing among themselves and the little creature. More than comic relief, Splug was useful to ascertain the kind of character my players were going to play for the rest of the campaign.

Dave said...

Ran across this a while back, and then again recently after running a group through Shadowfell.

Our Splug was portrayed as a goblin Barbarian who had little INT but high CHA. Instead of Rages, he went into tantrums, and the group ended up carrying extra double bladed axes because as a fun rule, Splug had an extended Botch range (1-2) which would always result in him breaking his weapon.

He became almost like a child/pet to the group.

David said...

"Splug was useful to ascertain the kind of character my players were going to play for the rest of the campaign."

This was very true for my group as well. They turned out to be very uncompassionate and xenophobic, and they left Splug to rot.

Even later on, the party turned a deaf ear to his distant cries as he called for help, claiming rats were attacking him.

As the DM, I tried several times to give them a reason to return and at least interact with Splug but they never took the bait.

I was disappointed at first, because I had plans for how to use Splug, but it really solidified some aspects of the characters.. and that is always a good thing.

deadman42 said...

My current group almost ended up killing each other over Splug. Our dwarf warlord took a liking to Splug, who our DM played as just wanting to get out of the keep and run as far away as possible. We kept him on a leash. Our elf ranger heard voices through the door to the next encounter, so we locked Splug back up in his cage. While in combat, our DM was rolling theivery checks for Splug, who eventually broke out and ran. While myself (Dwarf Warden) and the warlord took care of Balgron the fat, our other two members caught splug running away when he was in the "Goblin Guard room."

Long story short, Our avenger ended up killing Splug and tossing him into the rat-pit. Him and the warlord had a fist-fight about it the next session, when our characters found out.

Good times.

vlarg said...

I misread his name as "Splurg" and that's been his name ever since my players found him. He travels with the party now as a rogue, and comic relief. Also, I gave him a bag of holding and a penchant for stealing everything not nailed down.

I also decided to give him a ridiculously intricate backstory that the players have no knowledge of. Maybe one day.

You can view my campaign at

Unknown said...

This is less than would be explained by his new +2 Charisma modifier.

This is wrong. Goblin warriors have a wisdom of 12 (+1), so Splug will use his charisma bonus (+2) instead of his wisdom bonus, so the +1 will is indeed correct. Just note that a lot of stat modifiers are listed plain wrong in the original print.

Stephen said...

Our party just finished Keep on the Shadowfell, and Splug was awesome!
When we first rescued him we basically thought to use him as an indentured servant, carrying loot etc, but then he witnessed my character land the killing blow on Irontooth he basically became our number 1 groupie, and carrier of the battle standard we found (his job in a fight was to plant the standard and occaisionally move it) but he became an invaluable ally, running around distributing potions during battle etc. He had so much character and in the final battle, when nearly all the party went down Splug saved the day getting 2 of us back on our feet. We basically managed to get through with 2 of the party unconscious, and the other 2 down to only a handful of Hit Points between us (after being revived at least once each). If we had left Splug to rot in his cell we would have all died. Splug was one of the best NPCs I've played with over the years.