Let’s Use Our Libraries! #5

Trolling Today’s Television with the Monster Manual

We celebrate the launch of Disney+ by ham-fisting as many references as we possibly can in this week’s Dungeons & Dragons adventure!

Hello Frontline Gaming readers! 

Now that you’ve watched a full season of Chip & Dale’s Rescue RangersThe Mandalorian pilot, Halloweentown 2, and the first half of Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, I’m glad you’ve decided to give your newest streaming service a break. 

I think we ought to get back to basics. Let’s grab our copy of the Monster Manual and see what our very scientific process of flipping to a random page provides…

Troll! The bridge lurking kind, not to be confused with their cousins who online who don’t like Rey. 

Huh…well, I suppose that does raise the question: am I brave enough to poke fun at the Mouse? 

Troll (Monster Manual, Pg 291)

These ugly oafs are great! And yet, somehow, I have literally never used one in 5e. Which is an absolute shame and complete oversight on my part. From Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter to even Disney’s own Frozen; trolls are staples of the fantasy creature catalog. If D&D monsters are the original 1992 USDA Food Pyramid – trolls share the “Meat & Poultry” section with giants.

….as a side note, I think Grains are “Undead”

The standard ‘troll’ is such an important adversarial building block – it’s stat-block was included in the D&D Basic Rules (pg 156). Which, in a first for this article series, will allow today’s article to actually feature the stat-block being discussed. But let’s not confuse ‘basic’ with boring. Trolls have a fun Achilles Heel mechanic and their mutability encourages game design.

Achilles Heel. Trolls in Dungeons & Dragons have a supernatural ability to quickly heal from injuries. This is so extreme that severed arms continue to claw at attackers and even a decapitation will leave an angry mouth of teeth doing its best to roll towards an enemy. But a troll’s regenerative properties can be suppressed by both acid or fire. And, if your campaign world has a similar level of “fantasy-elements” as say, the default Forgotten Realms setting, then certain people living in the world should know about a troll’s ability to heal and its countermeasures. 

Players feel smart when they can adjust their tactics to take advantage of an enemy’s weakness.

Encourages Game Design. The troll’s stat block is already pretty nasty, particularly for a party that lacks the means to regularly generate fire and/or acid damage. On the other hand, if any of your PCs are a wizard…well, firebolt isn’t exactly an obscure cantrip selection. But nothing is stopping a DM from altering a published stat block and I’d argue the troll’s narrative description is begging Dungeon Masters to do just that. The Monster Manual describes trolls as “especially susceptible to mutation” and “transformations can result from what the troll has done or what has been done to it.” The examples provided introduce the possibility that a troll who eats a particular creature could “gain one or more of that creature’s traits.” (MM, pg 291)

Get creative with your troll’s abilities! Your player characters might know about regular trolls – but use their freakish nature to introduce a twist to the encounter.

The Scenario (Appropriate for Level 3-5 characters)

Background

As always, the idea for these Scenarios is to allow Dungeon Masters to plug-and-play the elements of this encounter. Today’s mini-adventure takes place in a city with large enough of an urban center to support a wizard college. If you’re looking for a bit of continuity – perhaps it’s the city discussed in the previous article

Whatever the details of your city – Mik Nis’Yed, is a young and ambitious student of the above-mentioned magic school. He is a rock gnome wizard who has recently applied for the coveted apprenticeship position under the renowned Gontyr Harpsun, a male half-elf High Arcanist of the college. The opportunity to work alongside the High Arcanist is an extremely competitive race and tension builds towards the final selection date a month away.

Nis’Yed hopes to leverage his natural gnomish penchant for tinkering to stand out from the other candidates. In secret experiments on a captive, but very much alive, troll – Nis’Yed has been exploiting the creature’s regenerative properties to create an impressively unique specimen. Through the controlled introduction of magical elements, potions, and spells his monstrous experiment now possesses several traits and abilities that a wild troll would not. He has named this enhanced beast Addition in reference to the multitude of sources being artificially grafted onto the troll’s being. The ultimate goal is to reveal the creature’s uniqueness to High Arcanist Harpsun to impress the elder mage.

Last night, Yis’Ned attached a constructed mechanical limb to Addition’s torso. The limb allows the troll to project a beam of focused-concussive force from this new artificial palm. After several test-fires; the gnome was pleased with the progress, removed the appendage’s power supply and called it a night.

Believing the troll to be securely locked and chained it is cage, Yis’Ned slept well. But in the twilight hours, untried combinations of magical energies surging through the troll’s body reactivated the alchemical prosthetic blaster. With its ranged weapon once again activated, the troll was able to cleave off its left arm. Barely troubled by the self-inflicted dismemberment, the troll’s newly freed stump delivered a severe and fatal pummelling to the chain’s locks.

Once free of the restricting chains – the cage’s bars were barely a speedbump. With these obstacles removed; the subterranean, make-shift, underclassman laboratory was similarly unable to resist the troll’s desire for escape. 

In the morning, in a state of absolute horror, Yis’Ned discovered he was short one troll – and had gained one troll-sized hole in his basement wall.

Intrigue

By level 3-5; the party should at least have one-or-two successes under their collective belt. Whether that be the capture of a certain necromancer described in “Let’s Use Our Libraries #4” or a heroic defense of an elderly inventor from wolves – for some reason; Mik Yis’Ned has heard of the party and is aware they are folks who can get things done. The gnome is utterly desperate and, out of necessity, is willing to put his trust in these strangers.

Nis’Yed approaches the party at the local tavern (or similar public location where your party may convene). He attempts to confirm their identities and the truth of the rumors he has heard of their deeds. Once pleasantries have been exchanged, Nis’Yed reveals the pickle he finds himself currently in. He can’t in good conscious allow the troll to run rampant in the city but, selfishly, he certainly can’t let the troll’s existence be traced back to him. Such a discovery would surely end in expulsion from the school. 

Even in his distraught state, Nis’Yed affects a calm and smooth demeanor.  He wears his hair cut short and sports a thin, well-manicured mustache.  His clothes are fine and well-made, without slipping into the gaudy excess other gnomes trend towards.

He can describe roughly what abilities Addition possesses – but Nis’Yed sheepishly admits that he wasn’t as scientific with his tests as he should have been. Rather, he had allowed himself to be swept up and intoxicated by the compulsion to invent and experiment. The gnome can confirm that troll now possess the ability to cast both freezing magic and has a slight telepathic hypnotism over small rodents. Although, in Nis’Yed’s tests – Addition had only compelled a single squirrel to dance and rollover. 

Nis’Yed does tell the party that the troll had been recently given a mechanical arm, but he still believes the arm to be inactive and isn’t sure how the troll managed to escape the holding cell.

Assuming they agree to assist, he offers them 50 gp per party member and a Lantern of Revealing (Dungeon Master’s Guide, pg 179). Nis’Yed also mentions that the party is free to take credit for slaying the troll..just…you know, as long as they show some discretion if anyone asks how they think the troll managed to slip into the city. If the party agrees to assist, Nis’Yed leads the party to his campus housing to pick up the troll’s trail.

Investigation

The gnome wizard leads the party back to the campus grounds. The college’s skyline is dominated by a collection of towering wizard spires of strange and peculiar design types and construction. Spend a bit of time to paint a vivid picture of what might patrol the magical quarter in the early morning. Students, late for lectures casting blink to traverse courtyards quicker, a divination instructor reading tarot cards to her pupils, a magically- awakened seagull hurling insults at passersby – a bit of whimsy will help highlight the bizarreness of cramming a hundred or so fledgling wizards together.

Nis’Yed’s dwelling is a rather modest one-story cottage that he shares with a roommate near the outskirts of the campus limits. The roommate, a studious (yet rather oblivious) human named Shing Lu, has not ventured into the basement in several weeks and is not aware of the gnome’s experiments.  

Upon seeing the gnome, Lu does take a moment to complain about all of the noise that has been emanating from the cellar lately – especially the commotion of the previous night. This latest interruption of Shing Lu’s late-night studies was, of course, the troll bursting iron bars and brickwork. Lu’s pouring over research books has left him disinclined to investigate his actual surroundings. The latest book which has completely absorbed Shing’s attention is titled “A Treatise on Mermaids”.

After placating his annoyed roommate, Nis’Yed leads the party into the home’s cellar. Lurking in the shadows of one corner are three singed and clawed vaguely kobold-looking target dummies. The stone floor is covered with smashed contents of various tables which once held vials and half fermented potions. The two most troubling signs of destruction are the bent bars of an iron cage (which was clearly built by an amateur) and the nearly 10ft x 10ft hole in the wall of the basement.

The cage now sadly only contains five manacles bolted into the brickwork of the wall. An ugly, frantically wriggling, green arm of a large troll is still dutifully secured by one shackle. The gnome would-be-scientist had been hypnotizing the troll before locking all five of its appendages in shackles in between tests, but last night, once the hypnotic magic wore off – the troll managed to manufacture a daring escape in the method described above.

If player characters inspect the hole in the wall, it is quite obvious that the troll crashed through the wall once free of the cage. Luckily for the troll, the shattered wall spills into a large sewer junction which had been subsequently obsoleted, abandoned and then forgotten by the city’s planners. 

The remaining arm is a potential key to discovering the route which the troll traveled after entering the sewer. If it is unshackled, it will do it’s best to crawl its way to its body. It will pay no mind to any adventurers to tail the dismembered limb.

If the party does not loose the arm from the shackles, then a successful DC 13 Survival (Wis) check allows a character to track the blood dripping from the severed arm. A skill check of 15 or higher allows the tracker to notice the amount of dripped blood slowly reduces as the party moves further through the sewer.  As the troll traveled, a new arm grew to replace the sacrificed one.

If the troll is followed through the sewer (whether by tracking the blood or following the severed arm), it quickly becomes clear the troll would not have been able to stay underground for long. The junction is clearly a tight squeeze for a creature the size of a troll, and after some investigating and traveling for about 20 minutes – the party discovers a second sewer wall that has been similarly dismantled as the one in Nis’Yed’s basement.

Confrontation

If Nis’Yed has accompanied the party thus far, he can inform the group that he believes they are under a campus building known as “the Vault”. The Vault is used to store magical items in addition to scrolls and other pieces of arcane research. If the troll has broken into the Vault, Nis’Yed explains, it is even more important that the gnome’s mess is quickly and quietly cleaned up before something truly important can be damaged.

Nis’Yed refuses to follow the party and further and retreats to his home to await the party’s report. 

It appears that the troll’s exit from the sewers punched into a basement-level book repair workshop of the Vault. Numerous tomes are splayed across workbenches – their bindings or covers in various states of maintenance. Any player character who successfully passes a DC 13 Perception (Wisdom) check can hear slow, heavy, and methodical footsteps trudging upstairs.

If the party explores the stairs case leading upstairs, it’s easy to notice large claw marks dragging up the side of the walls of the stairwell and bits of cracked plaster on the ceiling.

Once the main floor is reached, the troll’s trail becomes easy to follow. Upturned desks and toppled shelves lead the party straight to the creature itself.  

The main floor of the Vault is essentially one large room, “organized” by a dozen generations of wizard-hoarders. Small walking paths wind illogically through the clutter and when finally, a clearing is found, the party stumbles into the troll. Currently, the beast has half of a protesting sentinel construct shoved down its gullet. In a posh voice, the construct futility demands its release from the creature’s grasp. The troll has already crushed or digested several identical constructs which lay in slimy heaps at the troll’s feet.

The true horror of the gnome’s experiments is full display now that the party has an opportunity to view the troll in person. A fresh-looking, regenerated arm has sprouted out of the stump over the past few hours. The skin of the new arm is a shade lighter green than the rest of the troll’s murky exterior. A fully armed and operational mechanical limb whirs and clicks at the creature’s side while an electrical buzz crackles through the troll’s hide.

Once Addition notices the party, it drops the protesting automaton and initiative should be rolled. Addition fights to the death and will not surrender.

Note: If the party has allowed the severed arm to reach the troll, it moves as quickly as possible to its former owner and the arm is ever within 5ft of Addition on a turn where he regenerates HP, the arm is re-attached and the troll’s Multiattack ability gains an additional claw attack.

Addition uses the troll stat block shown previously – with the following supplemental abilities: 

Legendary Actions

Addition can take 2 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action option can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature’s turn. Addition regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.

Attack. Addition makes a single Bite or Claw attack.

Bolt. Addition casts the blink spell without requiring any spell components.

Let It Go. (Costs 2 Actions) Addition exhales a frigid blast of air from its lungs and casts cone of cold (Spell DC Save 14) without requiring any spell components.  

Turn to Stone. Addition turns into stone until the beginning of his next turn. During that time, Addition is immune to poison, fire, and piercing damage and has resistance to slashing damage. Any status effects affecting Addition are immediately removed and he is immune to new status effects while in stone form. In this form, Addition is vulnerable to bludgeoning damage.

Bonus Actions

Iron Beam. As a bonus action, Addition may cast eldritch blast from his mechanical arm. +4 to hit. 

Spew Mice. As a bonus action, Addition opens his baleful maw and regurgitates out a swarm of rats (MM, pg 339). The swarm acts as the troll’s ally until the troll is defeated – at which point any surviving rats disappear into the surrounding Vault clutter.

Telekinesis. As a bonus action, Addition targets a single item held by a creature. The target must pass a DC 14 Strength saving throw or the selected item is thrown 1d4 x10 feet of the troll’s choice.

If your party has more than 4 members, you may need to increase the total HP of Addition, or you can have him start with 1-3 swarm of rats allies.

To further complicate the matter, the entire Vault is cluttered with various minor magical items and curiosities. Moving (let alone engaging in combat with a 9-foot troll) without disturbing the contents of various shelves and tables is extremely difficult.

At the beginning of each player character’s turn – the player must roll a d20. On a 1-5, roll a d6 and consult the below chart (feel free to re-roll duplicates or simply pick an alternate result). On a 6-20; nothing occurs as the PC manages to navigate the crowded storeroom without incident.  

All of the below spell effects originate from the location of the triggering PC and the Spell Save DC is 16.

  1. Pimm’s Peculiar Particles. A red leather bag containing glowing silver dust is spilled and a cloud erupts from the toppled container. Enlarge/Reduce is cast on all creatures within 10ft. If the troll happens to be in the area, Enlarge is always selected. For players, randomly select which flavor of the spell is used.
  2. Sea Witch’s Shell. An ornate snailshell the size of a human fist, rolls off of a shelf and breaks on the floor. The break casts silence on all creatures within 20ft. 
  3. Deck of the Other Side. A small desk is bumped and a deck of cards wrapped in a silk handkerchief spills across the floor. A random creature (excluding the troll) within 10ft is targetted by the polymorph spell. On a failure, the target turns into a frog (MM, pg 322)
  4. Musical Number. A music stand collapses sending sheet music sprawling on the floor. The room is filled with orchestral music and all occupants must successfully pass a Charisma saving throw or are charmed. While charmed in this manner, they must spend their turn singing and dancing. If a charmed creature takes damage the effect immediately ends. At the end of each turn, they may repeat the Charisma saving throw.
  5. Cursed Black Pearl. A small wooden box is knocked to the floor and a jet black pearl rolls out of the box. This immediately summons 1d4+1 spectral pirates (using the bandit stat-block found on page 343 of the MM) within 10 ft of the black pearl. Any spectral pirates summoned by the pearl are hostile to all living creatures. An additional 2 pirates are conjured on Initiative 20 until the black pearl is either destroyed or returned to the wooden case. Once the black pearl has been dealt with, any remaining spectral pirates vanish.
  6. Animated Candelabra. A polished gold candelabra resting on a shelf shouts, “Only invited guests are allowed into the Vault!” before swinging an arm at the nearest target. Range 5ft; +4 to hit, 1d6 bludgeoning damage and an additional 1d4 fire damage.

Conclusion

The Vault is not without other protectors. The entire area is monitored by an alarm spell which dutifully sent claxon warnings to High Arcanist Ci’ra Alon, a female human, (using the evoker stat block from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, pg 214) once the troll began snacking on the sentinel constructs. Now that she has gathered a half-dozen evocation-school specialists, she bursts into the Vault a few moments after the troll is finally killed. Looking for explanations of the chaos, she immediately questions the party. 

How much the party divulges to the wizarding official is their prerogative. But, Mik Nis’Yed will only deliver the promised gold and magical item if his name is kept out of the party’s official recounting of the events.

It isn’t a matter of spite to deny the party’s rewards if Nis’Yed involvement is made known to the college officials. If discovered, the gnome is put under immediate investigation and his assets are frozen during the inquiry. It will be unlikely that the party is even able to garner an audience with the subpenaed gnome during these lengthy proceedings with student affairs.

If the party can conceal the gnome’s involvement and knowledge of the mutated troll- then Nis’Yed happily pays the agreed-upon rewards to the party once news of his experiments’ demise is brought back to him.

Either way – the party has certainly shown its promise and potential to powerful players in the wizards’ college. If your party is nearing level 5, this is a perfect foot-in-the-door to introduce Tier 2 gameplay level threats to your players. Your party has made a name for itself amongst the High Arcanists and the defense of the Vault is no trivial matter.  

The university is also a resource for high-level arcane spells that your party may not have access to at this current level. The mage college may even waive the fee for an initial casting of spells as a ‘thank you’ for the party’s efforts in saving the valuable magical items held within the Vault.

And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!

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About Sean Pallas

Sean Pallas was first introduced to Dungeons & Dragons at age 6 and almost immediately started DMing for his friends. Now, 25 years and four editions later, his players still kill all his favorite NPCs.

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