The Art of Goblin Slaying
Ye olde TLD;DR - Goblin Slayer is the anime manifestation of a field guide for old-school roleplaying.
Old-school roleplaying is obscure enough within its already niche hobby that it rarely gets cultural representation. I’m not surprised, but still, OSR fans like nice things, too. That’s why I was excited when Goblin Slayer so instinctively channeled the OSR ethos. Showing off adventuring tradecraft isn’t the main thrust of the series, but the characters employ it naturally enough to tell a good story, but dazzlingly enough to showcase its ingenuity. All the while, it’s a thrill to watch.
There’s enough to appreciate in Goblin Slayer that it’s worth any fantasy or anime fan’s time. Since we are here to level up our gaming, though, here are Goblin Slayer’s tricks of the trade, presented as an OSR adventuring field guide.
|Know Your Meme / Goblin Slayer
Think like your enemy. Whenever Goblin Slayer weighs a course of action, he evaluates how its intended target will react. He literally thinks like the goblins he’ll be slaying.
First, he ponders their social structure and subsistence needs. Then he factors in their force composition, fighting capabilities, and tactics.
Here’s an example: he knows how to judge the goblins’ fighting strength from the size of their lair, and then infers whether they are commanded by a shaman, hobgoblin, or bigger baddie. If the lair is large, he can assume their weapons are more sophisticated, and that they’re capable of deploying crude traps.
At every step in his assault--not just in the planning--he assumes his foe’s mindset to anticipate their reaction to his action. When he corners them, he knows they will act very differently than when retreat is an option. Looping through this action-reaction-action cycle, he outpaces his opponents to win.
Keep learning by surviving, while denying knowledge to your opponents. As vocal as Goblin Slayer is that his objective is to kill goblins, this is truly a secondary aim: his primary goal is to preserve gained knowledge to apply another day.
By the time we meet Goblin Slayer, he has refined his slaying technique, but even so, it isn’t flawless. Some battles he loses, some lessons he humbly learns. Through it all, his highest priority is that whatever he learns does not die with him. And when fellow adventurers finally approach him to join his ranks of one, he readily shares his tradecraft with them, not jealously guarding accumulated experience.
Just as Goblin Slayer’s survival advances his knowledge, though, he recognizes that his enemies’ survival does the same for them. Thus, whenever possible, he wipes out his enemies, denying them the chance to adapt. Outpacing his opponent in experience, he maintains the edge.
What lets you survive isn’t the same as what’s cool. In everything he does, Goblin Slayer favors substance over style. It’s more important to be prepared, no matter how awkward it looks, than assume a heroic guise.
His iconic getup says it all: he dons a helmet with horns snapped and ribbon shorn, layered but plain-looking armor, and a belt with every pouch stuffed. His sword barely reaches 3 feet, far shorter than the 5-foot-plus ones heroes usually flaunt.
But looking modest, even stupid, doesn’t matter if it gets results. He once carried a bag of flour through a dungeon, but it worked spectacularly (I won’t spoil how).
There’s never shame in surviving however it takes. Fleeting may not look as cinematic as standing and fighting, but it looks even worse to get killed when death was avoidable (also, death sure feels unpleasant).
"He does not let anyone roll the dice." Goblin Slayer never takes chances when sufficient preparation ensures victory.
This is among the most profound OSR concepts that Goblin Slayer captures beautifully. OSR is about problem-solving through critical analysis and methodical action. If you just say, “I want to do X” and stop there, you will have to roll, meaning you may well fail. Instead, if you describe the execution of your task step-by-step, leaving no room for failure, you will simply succeed, no roll needed.
This meticulousness of analysis and execution is why Goblin Slayer doesn’t roll dice: he doesn’t need to. For instance, he doesn’t get hit with a save-or-die poison save because he carries a literal canary. Taking thoughtful action means rolling less, and succeeding more.
“Imagination is a weapon.” Adventuring success is determined by how one devises a solution with only the resources at hand.
If you consider only what something is intended for, you will fail. But by thinking through every application of every item and tactic you possess, therein the flame of victory endures. A torch can be used as a club in a pinch. Fighting opponents head-on is not always best.
The point is, you almost always have more options than you think.
The blank pages... Like every good field guide, this one has room for notes. Don’t forget to fill them.