Sixteen Pacifist Goblins

“Eliiijah,” I whined, “Can I play?”

“You don’t know how to play.”

“Yes I do!” I exclaimed, then qualified, “Well, I can learn, at least.”

“Fiiiine," he sighed, making it obvious that I was disturbing his idyllic solo game.

He opened the battered grey box, and began explaining the pieces, “Okay, Dungeons and Dragons is a roleplaying game, so the first thing you have to do is make your character. Roll this die for your ability scores.”

I started rolling on the baby-pink tile of our living room floor while my brother added up the rolls for me—apparently he thought simple addition was too much for my eight-year-old abilities. The superior knowledge he had acquired in the mere year of life he had on me made him chief mathematician and all-around thinker for the two of us.

After each set of rolls, Elijah would mutter numbers under his breath, and words like, “strength,” and “dexterity,” scribbling the scores on a piece of paper in messy handwriting that I endlessly criticized – it was the only claim of superiority I had over him, and, like any slightly younger sister with an inferiority complex would, I rubbed it in.

Not understanding the theory behind all the rolling, I quickly lost interest in the process, and tossed the die listlessly, seeking out distractions—my cats, discolored grout between tiles, gunk in my toenails; but Elijah, counter to his nonchalance of minutes prior, was getting more excited with each roll, intent upon making my character the best it could possibly be. Occasionally he would malign me for my inability to roll higher numbers. His disappointment in my rolling abilities seemed to indicate that it wasn’t just chance, as I thought it was, though I never expressed my confusion, for fear I would only display my stupidity, just in case it wasn’t chance. Elijah had the uncanny ability of making any opinion he expressed be correct; even if he had argued against the existence of gravity, I’d have caved to his powers of persuasion and debate.

Once all the rolling was done, I had to give my character a name. Having no idea how to go about this, I sought assistance from my wise and experienced older brother. But his characters all had names like, “Thorgus the Barbarian,” and “Grindell the Grim.” I cringed – those were ugly names!

After a few moments of deliberation, I announced my character’s moniker to Elijah: Kitty the Cute. I was a major cat-lover at that age, still am, to a lesser degree, and Kitty was my go-to whenever I had to christen anything – characters in little stories I would write, my computer game characters, stuffed animals, actual cats. Anything.

“NO. Why are you so stupid?! Kitty the Cute?! That’s the dumbest name I’ve ever heard!”

Elijah snatched my character sheet from me, attempting to obliterate that horrid name from the page, but mostly just succeeding in smudging it a bit and ripping the paper—all of the erasers on our pencils were always rock-hard and ineffective from age.

“I’m taking this character. You be the Dungeon Master.”

This was the way with Elijah: if he felt the game wasn’t being done justice, he would commandeer control. And like the subservient and idolizing little sister I was, I would let him. I stepped into the role of Dungeon Master willingly, eager to prove my worth as an opponent and playmate.

I was being a pretty awesome Dungeon Master, “DM-ing” the map that came with the game because Elijah didn’t think I could be trusted with creating a map of my own, though he made it quite clear that it was the norm for legitimate DMs to make their own maps. Elijah and Party had already hit some pretty nasty spots – a hidden cave where they’d been ambushed by a horde of goblins, a hallway laden with vicious traps requiring spectacular saving throws, the lair of a bunch of poisonous spiders – and emerged victorious, treasure- and XP-laden. Little did I know that Elijah had already almost memorized all the ins and outs of this default map from playing solo games obsessively.

But then they came across a cave containing one solitary goblin. Elijah’s party was six-strong and I knew that my poor goblin would be no contest for them. I imagined him huddling in the corner—ugly, but cold and scared and pitiful. The poor little guy.

I rolled a four-sided die to determine who had the surprise advantage. Elijah did. They began attacking my lone goblin, and with each wounding toss of the big, yellow twenty-sided die, my heart broke in pity for it. I announced that rather than fight back, my goblin had thrown down his weapons and surrendered.

“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!” Elijah wasn’t impressed with my sympathy for the goblin. “You can’t just have the goblin surrender. That’s ridiculous. See?! This is why I never want to play games with you!”

Thus, my foray into the world of Dungeons and Dragons was brief. Offended at what he thought was my disregard for the sanctity of this game he loved, he refused to ever play it with me again, his reason always being the ludicrous choice I had made in having the goblin surrender. This little story became one of his favorites, one of those “look-how-dumb-my-stupid-kid-sister-is” things to tell his friends. But each time he told it, the number of goblins in the room doubled, until it was eight pacifist goblins, and therefore even more unbelievable that I would ever have done such a thing as have a monster surrender.

After we grew up a little bit and started high school we left that stage of siblinghood that’s full of animosity and competitiveness, and actually became friends of sorts. It seemed that the petty power struggles of our earlier years were behind us. When he was a senior in high school, Elijah was a part of a twelve-person Dungeons and Dragons group that met weekly. He was the Dungeon Master and I tagged along as the babysitter for the group members’ kids—a role I resented, but did because part of me still wanted my older brother’s attention and approval.

Some people in his group noticed that I had interest in the game, perusing character sheets and inquiring about the latest version of the rules, so they asked if I wouldn’t rather play than babysit. Before I could answer, Elijah jumped in, telling the tale of my pacifist goblin, with classic exaggeration. I cringed as he reached the end of the story, waiting to hear what the goblin count would be this time.

“… And then she just had the goblins surrender. Just throw down their weapons. Unbelievable, huh? I mean, I probably would have beat them, even sixteen goblins isn’t enough to take down a six-person party, what with their pathetic 1d4 saving throws.” He laughed, a little too cruelly, and my face turned pink.

Most in the group were sympathetic, as adults tend to be, and only chuckled for Elijah’s benefit. I viciously noted this, and, because I’ll probably always suffer at least a bit from the little sister complex, I looked pointedly at Elijah and said, “Oh, it’s all right. Elijah hasn’t let me play in so long I can hardly remember the rules. I wouldn’t be a very fun addition. Plus, who’ll babysit if I play?”

Years after this, while my brother spent a post-graduate year in China, the separation of oceans inspired homesickness in him and nostalgia in both of us. I posted a D&D link on his Facebook wall and jokingly referenced the goblin incident. Elijah posted back, “Let’s play D&D when I get home. I forgive you for the goblin thing.”

I smiled inwardly as I read his response, and in my head, sixteen pacifist goblins were cheering for me.

About the Author

Annie Martens

Annie Martens is a senior writing major at Goshen College who grew up in Northern Indiana and Cambodia. She is a copy editor for The Record, Goshen College's weekly newspaper, is on the editorial team of Red Cents, the annual creative arts magazine, and is currently working on a collection of short stories for her senior project.