The Goblin in the Corner
Tyler The Creator - Goblin Green by smcveigh92
The setup to the encounter
After exploring a Wizard's tower the party comes to a small stone room fifteen feet deep and four feet wide. There is a closed door leading to a room on the left about five feet into the room and along the length of the room are small holes spaced approximately two feet from each other running horizontally down the center of the left wall. Hanging against the back wall is a tanned hide and a long, poorly constructed table runs the length of the wall. A single candle, sputtering its last few breaths of life, sits in the center of the table surrounded by bits of parchment. In the back corner of the room stands a lone goblin. He wears a flimsy tin crown, his clothes are tattered, and about his waist hangs a moldy belt with several bulging pouches. In his hand is a cruel black blade and as the party spots him it becomes apparent that he's already aware of their approach.
I've run a variation of this encounter five times over the last decade and each time the players ignored the clattering of glass, presumed the goblin 'king' was alone and not a threat, and did not worry about why he was present, in spite of the fact that this was an encounter for a group of tenth level characters. Each time I've run this encounter he managed to kill at least two of the player characters and on one occasion he actually managed to wipe the field.
What makes this encounter so dangerous is that the goblin king is played to the hilt. If you hold back at all in this encounter it becomes an automatic win for the players. Resist that urge.
Everything in the room is designed to give him the advantage. The space is cramped, his weapon is poisoned, and his pouches are filled with magical and alchemical potions to give him the edge in this tight spot. Behind him, concealed from the player's view, is a low hanging bell that the goblin will kick when the players enter the room and get five feet past the door on the left which will draw ten additional goblins into the room from the side room (consider this a readied action as he was already aware of the players' presence). The holes on the left side of the wall are positioned so that the five remaining goblins in the side room can shoot poisoned darts at the players.
If the players choose to speak with the goblin instead of automatically attacking him, he will lie to them at every opportunity and tell them that he will gladly lead them to the Wizard. "After all," he'll say, "no one hates that Wizard more than we goblins. He's vile, treats us terribly, and is an all around a punk-ass." Instead of leading them to the Wizard he will lead them to the most powerful monster on the level, gathering all the other monsters the party encounters on the way to help 'defeat' the Wizard. When the most powerful monster is located he will be introduced as the Wizard's 'guardian' and will be described as loyal to the death so that the players will have to enter into combat with him. Once the players have fully engaged with this 'guardian' for two rounds all the gathered monsters will attack the party making full use of the party's surprise.
I have only seen goblin king and his entire cadre of goblins killed early once; when a lawful good cleric attempted negotiations and got him to bring out his cohorts as the goblin king attempted to establish the bigger ambush. Once the goblins were all out in the main room the party's wizard dropped a fireball in the room killing them all, and severely wounding the cleric, who was finished off by the rogue. When asked why they killed all the goblins and the cleric the wizard responded, "He looked shifty and I think that cleric's a fucking doppelganger and working with him. How much experience did we get?"
It didn't help that she was right.