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 a troll variation I created for my remix of “The Wayward Wood” (from from Dungeon Magazine #32).
This troll variant is an example of something that happens to me with some regularity when it comes to homebrewing: I get my hands on a miniature and it serves as an inspiration for my own stat block for it. In this case, when I was searching for more troll minis to use for running “The Wayward Wood” from Dungeon #32 (which has trolls as its main antagonists) I stumbled across the “Rock Troll” by Reaper Miniatures (part of their Bones lines) on my favorite site from which to buy minis, Gnomish Bazaar.
Now, given that it was already called a “Rock Troll” and it was the how the mini’s hide was covered in rocky formations that inspired me I could have stuck with that name, but I just didn’t like the name as much (maybe it is just too obvious) or maybe it was that another inspiration for this kind of troll was Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring and the scene with the cave troll on a chain being led into that chamber in Moria to fight the fellowship.
The vision of a troll whose body has been purposefully modified to make take advantage of trolls’ penchant for mutation and thus resist the two great fears of all trolls (fire and acid) is one that delighted me. So did the idea that this process makes them more aggressive and not as smart, as they have literal rocks in their heads. I see the cave trolls as the kind of monster that gets rolled into a big encounter that makes the players at the table say “OH SHIT!” when they try the usual tactics against it and find them not as effective. Furthermore, their high AC makes them a tough target just for whittling down.
When the players in my Ghosts of Saltmarsh+ campaign were faced with a cave troll, they had already fought four other trolls, several ogres, dozens of goblins, and were also fighting a troll chieftess who served as the cave troll’s guardian/master and had access to druid spells. In other words, it was a tough fight and that was how I wanted it. The players were as scared to face this thing as they were delighted to finally defeat it.
I am going to make a confession, I just eyeball the Challenge Ratings for these monsters. I don’t find the guidelines for determining CR a very dependable rubric, even when you use them as written you have to make some guesses and estimates, and not every ability (and definitely not newly created abilities) is listed with assigned influence on the CR going up or down. The cave troll (and any other troll) is a perfect example of this because obviously the challenge they present is going to depend on if and how effective the PCs’ source of doing fire or acid damage might be. A party might be able to defeat a troll and scatter its parts, but in a day’s time they will be prowling their territory (or hunting down the PCs) again. Here’s the real confession, I rarely use CR to actually determine the size of the threat but mostly as a way to determine how many XP I think the monster should be worth when I award it.
Lastly, in going over its stat block one last time, a friend mentioned it being weird that it was prone to being dismembered like a common troll, despite appearing thicker and having a stony shell. I realized he was right, so I decided to switch things up and make the crits that make it lose limbs (or a head) not be from slashing weapons, but from bludgeoning! This makes cave troll different from what is expected in a different way and can make a fight with one all the more interesting.
Cave trolls are typically found underground and the circumstances that brings one to the surface when I used one in an adventure were special. I bring this up because I think it is important to consider the role of secondary abilities or vulnerabilities (like Sunlight Sensitivity) when designing encounters using such monsters. In my case, the backdrop for the combat was a forest suffering from multiple fires in a damp environment, making the cloudy skies even darker as gouts of smoke unrolled over everything.
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.
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