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Goblins are small, diminutive humanoid creatures. They are approximately the size of a small child, they are short-lived, and they have very low intelligence.

In my fantasy world, goblins have been bred and domesticated like dogs. They can be taught simple commands and tasks, though they lack the intelligence for any skilled labor. They can use tools, but they still require oversight. Their lifetimes are too short to be worth much investment.

They are basically dogs with opposable thumbs.

Goblins have been bred to work on castles, farms and stables, etc. doing all the menial jobs. They are best suited for repetitive tasks that require no thought.

They are not paid, and will work because that's what they've been bred to do.

Like dogs, some goblins are prone to distractions and will occasionally be mischievous. They cannot be trusted with anything valuable.

They have very little strength, but decent stamina. Goblins can also eat near anything, and are very easy to sustain - they will happily live off trash and leftovers. They have good sense of smell, they have night vision, and are decent hunters. They work well in numbers.

Domesticated or no, most animals will spook around goblins. Also, the sight of fire can send a goblin into a craze.

There is a risk of goblins going wild if left unsupervised.

Right now, I'm thinking that goblins will be used to wipe the floors and clean stables. Are there any other jobs in medieval-like setting where domesticated goblins could be employed?

Edit: Goblins are nocturnal creatures, and the sight of any fire has a hypnotizing effect to them. Even small flames can entrance them and large blazes will send them mad.

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    $\begingroup$ I keep reading and reading and thinking...child labour. Replace the children with goblins. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 24 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ @JGreenwell I...don't feel comfortable enough with writing that answer. But it is an answer, I agree. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 24 at 13:14
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    $\begingroup$ dang, but I get it. 'Cause I started an answer along those lines and gave up as this is my actual name and didn't want to have that answer taken out of context somewhere along the line @vlaz $\endgroup$ – JGreenwell Jan 24 at 13:18
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    $\begingroup$ You can think of them as of Rowling's House-elves, but without magic. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jan 24 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ I read the question as "I've had this idea of enslaving an inferior race, is that something anyone else has thought of?"... err. Yes. Yes it is. The OP should be careful that their story doesn't say things they don't want to say $\endgroup$ – Nathan Cooper Jan 25 at 14:27

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Agriculture: Goblins can do anything larger animals can't do. It shouldn't be too difficult to teach them to harvest crops, vegetables and fruit, take care of the plants in general, get rid of unwanted weeds, sow seeds etc. They might even lead larger animals for plowing.

Manufacturing can also be made easier. If they can clean, anything for textiles for example - shearing sheep, spinning, weaving and so on - shouldn't be hard, and a lot more I'd assume. Later on they'd be ideal factory workers.

While their lacking strength can be a drawback, their stamina and size can also be useful in mining. Again, a support position is where they'd be best - move small rubble out of the way, collect and sort ore while the human miner works the pickaxe.

In general if goblins existed the way you describe them they'd be useful for almost anything at least in a support job. While they couldn't work as blacksmith themselves, for example, it wouldn't be a problem for them to operate the bellows, add coal to the furnace, clean and order tools and so on.

Other than typical work:

They can be employed as entertainment - circus, gladiator/pit fights, theater, possibly even music.

And, of course, they can be warriors. Give them spears, clubs and slings. They are faithful like a dog, but can handle weapons. Hell, they can even ride dogs for all I care... kinda depends on how uneasy domesticated animals get around them, but I'd consider it illogical to make dogs afraid of them if they live in the same household.

In other words, they'd be a part of every aspect of life and work. Nobody says no to a cheap and efficient worker.

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    $\begingroup$ to note: OP specifies that sight of fire has potential to send goblins into a craze, might not be the best idea to have them assisting a blacksmith $\endgroup$ – BKlassen Jan 24 at 21:42
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    $\begingroup$ That could be a significant problem in any world where torches, candles, or firepits/fireplaces are the main sources of illumination everywhere, as would have been typical at the time. Unless this particular world uses crystals or other magic illumination instead. $\endgroup$ – Miral Jan 25 at 0:39
  • $\begingroup$ Kinda depends on when and how fire does that, how Goblins can adapt to it (or be bred to get used to it). If even a torch scares the hell out of them, sure. I didn't really interpret OP's line as that extreme, though, I thought it referred to an uncontrolled/large fire. $\endgroup$ – Infrisios Jan 25 at 7:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Infrisios Any open flame has a bad effect on goblins. I figured that in the setting they would use lanterns and covered candles. If a goblin sees direct fire, then for small flames they'll be hypnotized by it and for large flames they'll go mad. $\endgroup$ – CSN Jan 25 at 12:15
  • $\begingroup$ @CSN In that case, having them work in the furnace sounds like a bad idea, but if it's deemed worth it they could be restricted to areas where they don't notice the fire. Can still feed a fire without seeing it, for example. That's harder, of course. What I do wonder is... if they can be bred to enjoy work and stuff, shouldn't it be possible to breed them to be able to be around fire? Just think of dogs' breeding, the different breeds that exist. Behavior and looks are very different from dog to dog, without additional education some dogs will hunt while others herd. Could work for Goblins. $\endgroup$ – Infrisios Jan 25 at 12:30
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Humanoid but not quite human, capable of tool use but of low intelligence, owned as property, used for unpaid manual labor?

What you're describing here, without actually using the word, is a slave race. So try looking at historical examples of tasks that slaves were employed for. And while you're researching historical slavery, you can find interesting examples of various things that can go wrong, and also various different models of slavery. The brutal style formerly practiced in the American South that people these days generally associate with the term was not the only option.

Also, a word of caution. Because American South style slavery is what most people think of, a lot of readers will make that association whether it's what you intend or not. And the traits of a slave race I listed above were often imputed to the African race in past times as a justification for slavery, and for racism after it was ended. (Yes, all of them. They were treated as literally subhuman, and the publication of Darwin's work on evolution, just before the American Civil War broke out, certainly didn't help; it gave scientific credibility to the notion that Africans were "less evolved" and closer to bestial animals than "proper humans.")

If you write about something like this, make sure that it's clear from the text that your goblins are not a fantastical counterpart to any real-world group of people. Otherwise, you run the very real risk of some oversensitive person claiming that they are and that you're a racist, a horrible person, etc.

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    $\begingroup$ Hey, I live in the South, and most people act like that is the only case of slavery. And anything other than "Whites were prety much Demons controlling black slaves" is put off as racist. My point is that any sniff towards a reference to that slavery and you having goblin owners put in a good light will have you and your work linched. $\endgroup$ – The Mattbat999 Jan 25 at 2:46
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Think about the first jobs ever that were replaced by some kind of machine or automaton. The goblins would be used for:

  • Carrying water (for those households without running water)
  • Collecting and carrying fire wood, stoking fires
  • Loading and unloading freighters, wagons and caravans (let several goblins carry one heavy package)
  • Substituting the conveyor belt in the first ever assembly line
  • Food processing: harvesting fruit, peeling and cutting it to be processed into preserves
  • Producing simple goods like clay bricks (to be burned by an intelligent human) and woven baskets

In times of war they could literally replace dogs and horses by transporting provisions and messages between the front lines and headquarters.

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The goblins could,be employed by chimney sweeps, if chimneys have been invented yet in your world.

In the real world chimney sweeps would employ children as young as 5 or 6 to clean chimneys from the inside, often crawling up them without wearing any clothes as they cleaned the deposits of soot and tar.

This was hazardous work some children would die through suffocating as they climbed the chimney, some would slip and fall and some would be burnt to death as fires were lit in grates to 'encourage' them to work faster. The environment was also dangerous the deposits on the inside of a chimney are carcenogenic and many died of cancer, scrotal cancer in boys was a particular problem as they worked without clothes. Also respiratory diseases were a problem.

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Thinks like a tannery or cleaning the collection points of castle toilets come to mind. Basically jobs that were done by slaves in Roman times or the poorest people in the Dark ages:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanning_(leather):

Formerly, tanning was considered a noxious or "odoriferous trade" and relegated to the outskirts of town, amongst the poor. Indeed, tanning by ancient methods is so foul smelling, tanneries are still isolated from those towns today where the old methods are used. Skins typically arrived at the tannery dried stiff and dirty with soil and gore. First, the ancient tanners would soak the skins in water to clean and soften them. Then they would pound and scour the skin to remove any remaining flesh and fat. Next, the tanner needed to remove the hair from the skin. This was done by either soaking the skin in urine,[2] painting it with an alkaline lime mixture, or simply allowing the skin to putrefy for several months then dipping it in a salt solution. After the hairs were loosened, the tanners scraped them off with a knife.

https://www.ancient.eu/article/1239/toilets-in-a-medieval-castle/

Another design was to have tiers of toilets on the outside wall where the shafts all sent waste to the same collection point. Dover Castle, built in the second half of the 11th century CE, had a cesspit at the base of one wall of the keep to collect waste from the toilets above. At Coity Castle in Wales, built in the 12th century CE, there were three tiers of toilets with the shafts emptying into the same courtyard basement. The same arrangement was found at Langley Castle in Northumberland, England, built c. 1350 CE, with the common collection point being a pit which was cleaned out by a natural stream. There were also toilets in ground floor buildings and these had stone drainage channels to drain away waste. Waste from such collection points, or the ditch in general, was likely collected by local farmers to be reused as fertiliser.

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With you description, it is easy to treat them as slaves as described in many of the other answers. This could be a plot point for later rebellion or welfare groups. Consider The Stormlight Archives where

the parshmen (creatures of lesser intelligence) gain intelligence. By simply leaving, the society that has grown too dependent on them collapses.

If you want your society to take a more symbiotic relationship, you can exploit the fact that the goblins eat anything to create a sanitation system where they eat all the garbage.

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    $\begingroup$ Copying what happened to the Parshmen is a very good example of what not to do. Not because the story's bad (it's definitely not!) but because it's so distinctive that if you do the same thing, people will recognize it and say "this book is ripping off The Stormlight Archive." $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Jan 25 at 17:24
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War goblins obviously, send them in just before the first regular rank with knives and cheap spears in the hope of getting them to disprganize the enemy line just before the charge

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  • $\begingroup$ and if sending them into war with a fire behind them, they would cause some chaos based on the description given by OP. $\endgroup$ – Jordan.J.D Jan 25 at 19:08
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Goblin mills. Put into wheels just like hamsters, with decent stamina and low upkeep costs, they are perferct for the job - also, no intellectual skills are required. They can work together in groups of 50-200 to power a stone grinder and produce flour

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, Jacopo! If you have a moment, please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. You may also find Worldbuilding Meta and The Sandbox useful. Here is a meta post on the culture and style of Worldbuilding.SE, just to help you understand our scope and methods, and how we do things here. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Jan 24 at 18:28
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Mining. All mines used to be dug following the vein and with a bare minimum of extra material removed, so the tunnels were rather cramped. Goblins, much like children in the days gone by, were expendable, so this is an ideal place to put them to work.

Another industry where goblins would excel would be weaving/spinning (especially if your world experiences anything like the industrial revolution).

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As others have said, basically any work that a slave would do. Easy to understand, yet repetitive and back-breaking. Think of similar jobs too, but much more on the scale of “stuff nobody wants to do”. Sewer and sanitation workers come to mind, mostly. In a medieval society, functional sanitation would have been the envy of everyone. The more goblins you have to clean up the sewers, and solid waste/garbage clogging up the streets, the cleaner and more beautiful your city would be to everyone, and more people that could do more valued or important work. Just an example of how it could work.

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