I wrote about them before, in the Book of Mice. That's actually a gretchling up at the top of this page, as part of the Goblin Punch logo. I suppose he's as good a mascot as anything else.
Gretchlings are similar to goblins, only more pathetic and miserable. They are goblins that have been touched by the shadows of the Underworld. They delved too greedily and too deep, perhaps.
They are usually not a separate culture, but rather an affliction of the goblin race. They usually exist within a goblin city (as an underclass) or outside of it (as outcasts). The methods of transmission are murky, but it does spread from goblin to goblin in a method similar to a disease.
A gretchling has no shadow, because in a way, they are already their own shadow.
They are incapable of enjoying anything. Food turns to ashes in their mouths. Music becomes mere noise. All that is left of the goblin psyche is self-pity, boredom, and above all else a keening, persistent fear.
HD 0 (HP 1) AC none Weapon 1d6
Move as human Int 5 Morale 5
<Photophobia> If anyone spends a turn brandishing a light source (e.g. a torch) and yelling, all nearby gretchlings must make a morale check (as a group) or flee in terror back to the edges of the light source (30' for a torch), where they will lurk. While lurking, they make another morale check every minute to see if they can muster the courage to overcome this crippling fear. Terrified gretchlings who cannot escape a light source are essentially helpless--they throw down their weapon, piss themselves, curl up into a ball, and sob uncontrollably (at least until an opportunity for escape presents itself). Under no circumstances will they approach within 60' of a large light source (such as a bonfire, or a pile of burning furniture). They dislike attacking lightbearers in melee, and will only attack them if no other attractive options present themselves.
|they also embody a lot of my design philosophy|
1. monster weaknesses are as interesting as abilities
2. keep light sources relevant
3. Pathetic monsters are cool (like this guy, who can't piss without hitting his own feet)
Tall gretchlings tend to become leaders of their people, and those tall gretchlings vie for authority among themselves by augmenting their own height with stilts. They are also the spellcasters among the gretchlings.
Stats as gretchling, except:
HD 2 Int 10
<Spells> extinguish x 2
New Spell: Extinguish
Level 1 Wizard Spell
R; 50' T: light source or creature D: 1 day
Target light source is extinguished and cannot be relit. Magical light sources are allowed a save. Multiple extinguish spells must be cast simultaneously to extinguish things larger than a campfire. Alternatively, this spell can be cast on a creature who is in total darkness, who must then save or go blind for 1 day.
Sidebar: Rules For Lighting a Torch or Lantern
Assuming you're kneeling beside the item trying to spark it with a flint and tinder, it takes 1d4 rounds to get the flame going. This die size is modified by Dex, so a character with -1 Dex gets it lit in 1d5 rounds, and a character with +2 Dex gets it let in 1d2 rounds.
Advanced Player Tactics
One or two experiences with gretchlings should be enough to teach the party how the gretchlings work. Since they are usually shittier than goblins, feel free to throw lots of them at the party. And I do mean lots. Maybe 1d20+10 or something.
I can easily imagine a party moving through a large room full of gretchlings. They're carrying three torches, because past experiences have taught them the importance of light sources. They can hear the the gretchlings keeping pace all around them, like an unseen escort. The gretchlings might even follow the party to other parts of the dungeon. Too afraid to enter the light. . . for now.
If the torchbearers sprint into the gretchling-infested darkness, they can catch a few of the gretchlings who were too slow to get away and butcher them easily. After a couple of rounds of this, the gretchlings learn to hang back much farther from the light sources. Farther than an adventurer with a torch and a sword can run in one round.
The players might also hit on the more advanced tactic of throwing their torch into the darkness, where it will surely illuminate 1d3 gretchlings, and the archers in the party have a chance to pepper them with arrows before the gretchlings rush the torch and smother the hateful flame with handfuls of dirt.
Advanced Gretchling Tactics
One thing you need to decide is gretchling tactics. Gretchlings aren't complete idiots, and when they start getting desperate, they may start attempting to extinguish the light sources, instead of making melee attacks. Expect them to run up with buckets of water, or burn themselves trying to extinguish the torch with their bare hands.
They are still goblins, after all, with all the dangerous ingenuity of that breed. Are they willing to flood their own home? Of course they are! It's a whole new dungeon now that there's a foot of water on the floor, and one of the main tunnels is completely flooded. (Is there a gretchling ambush on the far side? Of course there is!)
You could also give the gretchlings ranged weapons, but then it becomes a lot more like fighting normal goblins. So I'd advise against giving the gretchlings more than one or two bows. Far better to just give them another 10 gretchlings, or a stiltwalker.
Don't forget that most characters get -4 to attack and AC if they can't see their opponent. That's pretty damn significant.
Gretchling mutants also exist, who have the body (and stats) of an ogre, but the same tiny gretchling head.
And if you want to make gretchlings dangerous against higher level parties, you could always try. . .
Just as goblins can be infected with the shadows of the Underworld, so can dire moles.
Except where goblins are lessened by the affliction, dire moles are strengthened by it. They are miserable creatures, all shadow and hunger. They are hostile towards all living things except gretchlings, who they pity.
Stats as owlbear except:
<You Are Likely> In grue-containing dungeons, the party must keep a light lit at all times. If they have no light source at all, the grue(s) will show up after 1d6 rounds.
<Shadowstuff> Immune to non-magical damage.
<Banished By Light> If a grue is ever within the radius of a light source, even a small one such as a candle, it is banished back into the dark earth of the dungeon, where it will return after another 1d6 rounds of total darkness. Light-based spells will also banish grues.
Advanced Party Tactics
Don't forget that grues are a great way to get rid of a rival adventuring party. Just extinguish their torch, close a door between them and your torch, and try to make small talk over all the screaming.