n.b. Welcome to Troglodyte Tuesday! A feature in which I present (or re-present) monsters I have created or adapted for use in my own 5E D&D campaigns, including lore, tips for running them and a stat block. Today we have the first of the troll variations I created for my remix of two different adventures from Dungeon Magazine, “Song of the Fens” (from issue #40) and “The Wayward Wood” (from issue #32)
Trolls are one of my all-time favorite D&D monsters. I love their look and their regeneration, and the scariness of their voracious appetites and unpredictable demeanor. That said, trolls in 5E are boring. Sure, they are not all that different from trolls in previous editions, but that is exactly why they seem boring. As with many monsters in 5E the designers took no opportunity to grant them any interesting powers or tactical approaches and, if anything watered them down, in this case by weakening their regeneration.
As such, I rewrote their regeneration to be significantly more powerful, and gave them both a rending attack similar to carnivorous apes of old (I see trolls as having long ape-like arms) and a furious reaction attack that is set off when damaged by fire. By having fire and acid all subtract damage from a character’s maximum hit points (kind of like how the energy-draining attacks of wights and wraiths acts upon the living), it keeps keeping track of the two different damage pools a little easier and doesn’t “short out” the regeneration by having it not function on rounds when they’ve taken any acid or fire damage. Trolls should be hard to kill and keep dead. At the same time once they are at 0 hps from other damage sources, assuming you have the ability to set fire to them while they are down, they should be killable. However, this method of regeneration means fighting more than one troll at a time is difficult because you have to choose between damaging a downed one to keep it down or fighting the ones that are still an imminent threat.
As for the “loathsome limbs” ability, I changed it because I wanted to simplify how the dismemberments and decapitations happened. I originally had a more complex system with a saving throw based on how much damage is done and how much the troll fails his save by, but I decided that doesn’t add much except needless complication and slows down combat. So, I went in the total opposite direction instead and went back to how it was determined in 1E/2E. Natural twenties and the crits they score are exciting. This option for troll dismemberment makes them even more exciting, but it still doesn’t happen too often. The blow still needs to do at least 10 hps of slashing damage, but most crits should fit that bill.
Updating trolls also presented another problem: are they humanoids that should be given freedom of choice and agency when it comes to the ethics of their customs and behavior or are they innately evil beings that deserve nothing better than to be destroyed? In addressing this, I punted. I kept them as “typically” chaotic evil, but I purposefully wrote in a loophole to allow for isolationist trolls that might veer more towards neutrality, even if chaotic neutral. This also allows for the troll that might be turned towards what might be putatively called “good,” such as Wendall the Troll from how I run “Song of the Fens” from Dungeon Magazine #40 ([March/April 1993]). Yet, despite this possibility, by having the legends of trolls’ origins be that of a people created by an evil force from unpredictable ooze beset by eternal hunger and part of a culture that favors bullying as the best form of leadership means it still makes sense that the typical specimen adventurers might meet is still likely to want to eat their faces off.
One thing 5E did get right was including the mutability of trolls, since that opens the door for a variety of troll variations and for one-off weirdly unique trolls. I plan to follow up this post of the common troll with a handful of such variations I have used in my 5E games.
Below you will find descriptions of the creature, a full stat block, and a link to PDF version of the full description and 5E stat block.
Click here for a PDF version of full description and stat block.