In the time immemorial, long before the mortals killed them, the masters of the goblin races beseeched the General of Gehenna for aid. The General provided yugoloth souls to serve the goblinoid triumvirate in the Infinite Battlefields of Acheron. Yet when the time came to honor the debt, the goblin gods reneged on the deal.
The powerful entities that ruled Gehenna marked the goblinoid races for slaughter, and, as an act of vengeance, created the scourge of their nightmares...
A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing
In 5th Edition, a Barghest is born from goblin parents just like any other offspring. But this entity harbors a deadly and dreadful secret. Though it emerges in a goblin's body, it will learn quickly how to assume its true form: that of a large, fearsome, and fiendish canine. In some cultures and lore, the difference is clear: a Barghest can be a yellow-skinned goblin of bigger, more muscular frame, and is marked by the fearsome yellow glow that spills into their eyes when they're excited. In other cultures, the Barghest looks like any other of its sheep, and will do its best to hide its true nature, at least in the beginning.
A Barghest's purpose is to devour the goblinoid souls of creatures it kills, the more important or renowned the better. This means that they are discerning with whom they "honor" in consumption, and there's a limited number of seats in their mission. You see, when Maglubiyet, and others like them, broke in total 17 oaths to the General, so it is decreed that one soul be consumed for every broken oath. After this, the Barghest may return to Gehenna and reap the spoils of its completed mission. Fail, and be torn asunder for its insolence.
For this one might think that a Barghest discovered by its goblinoid brethren would be killed in fear, but it is often the exact opposite. Goblins and others of their ilk will fawn over and shower the discovered Barghest with praise, servitude, and diminutive allegiance, constantly attempting to show that they are equal parts useful to its cause AND lowly enough to be undeserving of consumption. It is this strange dance that will drive those under a Barghest's leadership to commit great deeds in their name, only to be cut down and eaten for such renown.
Rooted In Folklore
As with many of our modern edition's monsters, the classical images and inspiration we draw from have a long history of deep folklore and iteration. The Barghest is no stranger to this, summoning up dark tales across multiple peoples and regions.
According to old North English folklore, the Barghest was a mythical, monstrous black dog with huge claws and sharp teeth. This original picture holds true across time, if not for a few creative liberties and adjustments, but the etymology of the word is of note. Barghest, or Barguest, roughly translates to "bear" and "ghost" in the old tongue. Couple this with further alternative spellings and we get my favorite version, the Bahr-geist, bringing the rough translation swinging more toward "spirit of the funeral pyre."
This creature has always been connected to the consequences of death, much more than a simple ghost story. A creature of intense malice and hatred, its purpose is derived through perceived destruction of its own community, at least at first, but ends in realms of power. What began as a warning of the things that go bump in the night grew into tales of shapeshifters and long-lived fiends, doppelgängers and howling at the moon, and a lupine strength coupled with a sentient intellect, and a burning, hateful purpose.
By The Numbers
A Barghest is one tough cookie. Already resistant to most elemental damage and non-magical weapon damage, this thing boasts an AC of at least 17, and have no stat with a negative modifier. Trained in Deception, Stealth, Intimidation, and Perception, they are keen to their surroundings and good liars. Couple that with superior tracking abilities and innate charming spells at their disposal, and you've got a tricky (and STRONG) not-goblin on your hands.
Did I mention it has Blindsight and Telepathy out to 60 feet? Dude.
Despite its fiendish classification, the Barghest has a difficult relationship with fire, but not for the reasons you think. It's resistant to the stuff, which tracks, but any mass of it larger than the Barghest's body acts as a tearing of the veil between this plane and Gehenna, and poor thing can be banished there just by being in close proximity. Sure, you think, they can just bamf back, right? Unfortunately, no, as a Barghest is more likely to be caught, tortured, and killed for its failure to collect its souls for the General. Tough luck, doggo.
The Barghest In The Ionian Shadowfell
Twisted By Perpetual Darkness
The Ionian Shadowfell is one of dark purpose. Creatures born here do not hold sway in D&D's legacy of a sorrow-filled landscape. No, the creatures that spawn in this place are fueled by furious purpose and twisted by the Perpetual Night.
The Barghest is a rarity among such denizens, but their existence, especially following the engineering colonization before the turn of Io Shar, is not unheard of. Goblinoid mariners and pirates became more common beyond the Evernight, far in the reaches of Gressil's Helm.
Goblins and Hobgoblins born on the dark sea can sometimes bear the Mark of Gehenna, a sigil of deep crimson in the small of the back. Creatures bearing the Mark are both cursed and blessed with extreme bloodlust and wicked strength. At a coming of age, often in battle, the Mark can manifest, turning the skin of a "marked" jet black, and its true form will reveal itself.
Barghests take many forms in the Shadowfell, but all are lupine. Some appear like broken glass, the shards a refraction of their vision. Others are amorphous clouds with teeth. Many are hounds with sharpened, boney spurs and horns. And all are very, very dangerous.
Hounds Of The Chainbreaker
It is the Barghest's greatest will and purpose to complete its mission and return to the Generals of Gehenna. A throne awaits them in The Bleak Eternity.
Yet, this mission could take months, years, decades. In this time, a creature could gain power, prestige, and ownership. Perhaps they gain even more fulfillment than what awaits them in the worlds beyond. Which begs the question: what happens when a Barghest completes their mission...and does not wish to return?
Is it power or retribution that awaits them? To scorn their masters and their promise, and break the chains of their birthright. Or are they the husks of great warriors before, the lost soldiers of Gehenna hopelessly clinging to life and sanity, even as their masters siphon away what's left?
Unfortunately, the lore ends here. For no one seeks the Hounds of the Chainbreaker. The only thing that persists is a tiny warning scrawled in the stained journal of a deckhand, lone survivor of The Kretch Jumper and their ill-fated voyage.
"And to the poor souls that tempt venture beyond the ruins of Evynlee's Veil and seek the Moaning Gray through the Formless Cante, keep your eyes pinned to the horizon and seek not the masked hound that watches you from the peaks...for it covets all that meet its third eye."
It is worth noting that this message is written as its last entry, and the handwriting does not match previous entries.
More Of This Please
Unfortunately, in my experience so far, this critter is drastically underutilized. Their story is one of grand deception, superior command, and a cosmological mission with possible sweeping consequences. Imagine a villain poised as general of a goblin army, especially considering the complex relationship with his subjects. Imagine a hero, biting the line between the best picks of the worst people to destroy for his dark master.
There's a lot of depth here, and I can't wait for my players to begin to scrape the surface.
Sleep tight, doggo.
Source: The Barghest can be found in Volo's Guide To Monsters, published by Wizards of the Coast for use in 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons; also, TONS of actual British folklore.
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