While traveling overland in a region where hobgoblins are plentiful and a nation or other military authority has interests. The tension in this encounter will be greater if you establish that the local authority is so dedicated to the eradication of the hobgoblin threat that it has a bounty on hobgoblin scalps.
A platoon of soldiers sworn to a well regarded local power (a lord, a temple, etc.) are guarding the remains of a hobgoblin war-camp. Though very few soldiers are among the prisoners, there are many women, children, and all the weaklings who served in support roles for the goblinoid brigade.
In her command tent waits the human unit’s leader – Ser Ashlee: promoted and knighted in the field when the man she was squired to died in battle. Unfortunately for her, all other senior officers also fell during the thickest of the fighting, and Ashlee (consider her equivalent to a level 1 paladin if stats are necessary) has been thrust into a position above her training.
When she hears adventurers have approached, she seeks their help. She doesn’t know what to do with the civilian captives. Putting them to the sword – as her men suggest – sounds cruel, but if the hobgoblins are spared they might rise up and slay honest citizens of a civilized community. Despite being non-combatants, the camp of hobgoblin captives is unruly, and tensions are rising with each passing day. Seeing as how adventurers have more experience with goblinoids, she asks their advice.
In the hobgoblin’s society, might makes right, and many of the civilians will serve the humans – as they are the victors, they are the new masters. Others among the defeated might see this as a chance to escape a caste system that has held them down: feigning obedience until they can escape the humans as well – perhaps requiring bloodshed to do so.
What about enslaving the civilians? Surely they are accustomed to hard work, and toil at the behest of more kind masters might even seem a gift. That said, the forcing of sentient beings into slavery is still reprehensible to many moral codes.
You might further complicate matters by including insurgents and assassins in amongst the throng of children,wives, cooks and smiths. How do the PCs decide who lives and who dies when their opponents act the same as innocent bystanders (if this is indeed the case at all). Even further, some of the hobgoblin youths may grow up to learn the truth, and swear vengeance for fathers they never knew.
On the other side of the issue; Ser Ashlee’s soldiers are eager to be done with the savages. They desire revenge for their fallen friends and commanders, and not a few of them feel that Ashlee isn’t fit to lead. Many of the men are familiar with a local authority’s (perhaps their own military’s leader’s) offer of gold as a bounty for hobgoblin scalps. They see the wholesale slaughter of the civilians as more than simple justice – but also a lucrative exchange.
Mistrust of the adventurer’s motivations, faithlessness in Ashlee, and anger at their lost friends threatens to turn the soldiers on one another. Perhaps PCs eager to make what seems to be a morally obvious choice will have to deal with the unexpected consequence of the soldier’s outrage, and even a possible mutiny.
And what of the practical concerns? Ashlee’s army has other campaigns to participate in – who will stay behind to guard all these captives? Furthermore, so many civilians means many mouths to feed – mouths that politically valuable or dangerous persons may be unwilling to provide for.
Uncertain of herself, and eager to be a wise and cautious leader, Ashlee admits her lack of expertise, and will take whatever course of action the PCs suggest.
This incident is meant to introduce a popular old moral dilemma to players who (hopefully) have yet to run across it. This scenario has pit adventurers against one another and threatened to make a 2nd rate fighter out of many a paladin. Savage humanoids tend to be violent and dangerous – though unlike demons or the undead, they are rational, thinking beings whose morality is subject to their own choices. That said, there is an undeniable tendency in the goblinoids – especially considering they are already indoctrinated by a culture and society of violence – to return to barbarism. Beyond their capacity for redemption, the alternative is participation in genocide. Having characters bound to ethical codes (like a paladin or cleric) can complicate this matter further.
Possible EXP and Rewards
This one is short, so grant experience equal to a monster of the average party member’s level. While this Incident wont grant the PCs any loot, keeping the civilians alive might result in them gaining a hobgoblin follower. Whether he is a loyal if pathetic servant, or a cunning assassin in disguise is up to the needs of your game.
As for what to name him…I’d recommend “Morrick.” Seems like a trustworthy name.
Assuming the players encourage the slaughter of the hobgoblin civilians, grant them the possibility of a significant amount of gold from bountied hobgoblin scalps (two or even three treasure parcels in gold.) However the soldiers in the army who did the difficult work of putting down the hobgoblin forces in the first place will likely object to PCs stepping in and taking a reward they consider theirs.