Depending on your mythology or writer of choice, trolls are often depicted as near mindless beasts – despite the archetypal introduction of a troll under a bridge extorting coin from passers by. One of the things I love about the stories by Terry Pratchett is the growing and evolving troll characters – for example Detritus the Splatter working as hired muscle and then becoming a stalwart of the City Watch. Then we have the story of his courting of with Ruby, the troll of his dreams. Its a celebration of everyone having a story, no matter their background.
In the new DDC adventure, trolls are looming large, and not just in height. The lands that comprise the surrounds of the Clan Amberhammer Hold have seen conflict between dwarves and trolls for generations. During the Last War, the trolls were pushed back. This was in no small part due to the protective militias that Thorin helped set up. Now though, in the aftermath of the coup by the mindflayers and duergar of the Cult of the Triumphant Dead, many of the old forts and defences have fallen – and signs of trolls have been found by scouts to the West.
Here are three troll heroes who are looking to reclaim lands lost to the dwarves: Urash The Proud, Irreck The Stalker, and Dhumish Crackleg
Urash The Proud has assembled his half-plate armour by hand, scavenging and bending the materials scavenged from battlefields into added protection as he leads his fellows to raid and conquer the mountain valleys. Brutal and efficient in combat, he wields a huge claymore in one hand and is known to delight in setting ambushes.
Irreck The Stalker hunts lonely paths at night, picking off lone travellers or unwary shepherds before disappearing back into the gloom. The massive glaive he uses was taken from the first knight of the realm who tried to stop him – and he takes it everywhere with him.
Dhumish Crackleg was warped by magics lingering on the old battlefields, and lumbers along with deformed limbs, a crocodilian tail, and a row of spikes growing along his spine. He lurks in lakes and marshes and takes lone prisoners to slowly break and cook in pieces. Occasionally he might ransom someone back, but they might not be returned in one piece, or even all at the same time. His feverish vitality means that even if he loses limbs, they continue to fight on if he does not immediately press them back into place.
I’m not sure if these will turn up in either of the games I’m running at the moment, but I like the design and it wouldn’t be too difficult to fit them into the ongoing story on either front. I was playing around in HeroForge and was looking at trolls when the idea came to see if I could make them look like the sort of hags that the DDC had already encountered – there’s a subplot involving Kerne’s sister and rules for custom lineages that give ideas for those sworn to or in the company of hags to begin to take on their qualities and appearances – notably horns as a sign of power.
And so with some tweaking of faces and bodies and scratching of heads I came up with these lovely individuals – and I’m still undecided as to whether they are hags (in the D&D monster sense) or trolls who achieved hagdom and formed their own coven.
So welcome to Granny Riptooth, Nanny Gutrun, and Missy Lambrot – who may well be gathering together the scattered trolls defeated by Thorin’s clan during the Last War to contest the area again. I haven’t decided if they are aligned with the Winter’s Knight as an ongoing threat, but it would fit the themes of the story and the pattern of past encounters. I’m really pleased with how these models have worked out – there are more detailed schemes out there, but this works for virtual counters and inspiration for the games.
Well, I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson about what you’ll find if you go down to the woods today…
Heroforge continues to be a great way to unwind at the end of a busy day – its creative in the sense of experimentation in a sandbox and that limitation helps me in many ways. Rather than the intensity of creating something whole cloth, it feels more like something I can pick up and toy with briefly before getting on with something else.
As I’ve also mentioned, it helps me come up with concepts for encounters and opponents in my games. If these then give any ideas to you then feel free to pinch the tokens for your own games.
So today’s new faces are Djellayna of the merfolk, and Loopi Butterbash, a harengon fairy warrior. Both are fierce protectors of their people and territories and could be encountered by groups who have ventured off the usual trade routes. They could be antagonists, bearers of warnings and messages, or unexpected allies or guides.
There’s also some wonderful options from the expressions on their faces: Djellayna looks haughty and dismissive, as if not quite sure what they’re looking at. Loopi looks cocky, and I could imagine him peppering a combat with taunts and insults. If I use them in any scenarios I’ll update the blog
There’s been new content added to HeroForge in the form of mounts and companion animals so I’ve had a bit of a play and then added in one of the new faces from last week. I’m not sure how or even if I’ll use this so I’m throwing the concept out there for anyone to grab and use.
Introducing Rakkan and Rekkam – a dragonborn monk and his raptor mount and companion. Rekkam favours the use of a bo staff and tends to have a veneer of amiability over the hardened discipline that his meditation and training have developed. Rekkam hails from a snowy mountaintop monastery near to where he was born – and unsurprisingly his lineage descends from one of the ancient white dragons that lair in the highest reaches. A follower of the Way of the Ascendant Dragon, Rekkam embraces his heritage and devotes himself to working in his local communities as a mediator and defender.
Rakkan is a trained raptor raised as part of a cadre of beasts by the monastery. While capable of fighting and hunting alongside his partner, Rakkan is mostly used for longer journeys where Rekkam acts as a courier. There is a deep affection between the two and more than one bandit has needed a change of underwear when Rakkan has crept up on them and growled in their ear.
As to how to use these characters? Well I’ve left lots of space for you to flesh them out. In my mind’s eye, Rekkam moves with purpose but sits or stands very still when others are talking or if he is observing them. He’s probably about 5th or 6th level – competent enough to deal with most common challenges and be a noted defender of the local community. He is most likely to be encountered as a courier – perhaps as a target for the party to intercept, or encountered while defending himself against bandits. Perhaps he is encountered as a scout, or a mystic contemplating the view in a mountain pass. Perhaps he rides to the aid of a group if they are being overrun.
As a couple, Rekkam is serious but kind – while Rakkan is curious and willful. You could probably get some humour from describing their interactions which may feel more like partners in misadventure rather than rider and mount…
We’re not doing any more D&D until the New Year – busy time and seeing folks and all that – and hand on heart this week I’m glad because everything hurts from yesterday (especially my rib). It does however give me more time to come up with both a story and resources for the one-shot planned as light relief as well as work out the next chapter for the DDC.
Part of that preparation has been spending more time in HeroForge to come up with concepts as well as fleshing out sample characters in dndbeyond. I generally find the process suggests characters whose stories need telling. As the D&D sessions are an ongoing story-telling venue, well who am I to ignore potential new characters or plot points.
Four of these characters started in D&D Beyond, and the fifth – on the right in the picture above – has sprung entirely from playing around in the HeroForge toybox.
From left to right we have Fane: a warforged priest that the group has already encountered and defeated once; Hook: a warforged scout; Arnaud Gloomstalk: a bugbear ranger; Perrip: a tabaxi rogue; and Rekkem: a dragonborn monk. I’ve roles in mind for the warforged already, connected to the wider plot, while as for the rest, I haven’t decided whether they’ll be allies, foils, or adversaries in the stories to come. I look forward to finding out.
We completed year two of the DDC campaign this afternoon with an emotional rollercoaster that tied all sorts of loose ends together. I’ll write it up properly tomorrow. In the meantime, here are some faces that will loom into view in the next chapter. One of them is a recurring character called Inquisitor Rojas who is a paladin of the Silver Flame, while the other two are duergar heroes who escaped the final battle for Amberhammer Hold.
The DDC first met Inquisitor Rojas while enjoying a break in their train journey – he approached Thorin in the station bar and asked a series of questions about Thorin and about his sister. He played his cards close to his chest but pledged the assistance of the Silver Flame should they be needed. As the Silver Flame were the main drivers of a pogrom that destroyed all known lycanthropes and doppelgangers before the Last War, the presence of a body of armed men on the borders of Amberhammer lands, led by Inquisitor Rojas led to a great number of discussions about how to prevent them from descending on the dwarvish lands to eliminate the werewolves. The fear was that zealotry would lead to mass civilian casualties.
With the defeat of the mindflayers however, the Inquisitor made one more appearance – arriving alone outside the Hold to have a conversation with Thorin. He congratulated the new Lord on pushing back the powers of evil and defending his people – and was told by Thorin that the werewolf problem was now under control. He offered to bring his people in to assist with any last rounding up that needed doing but was rebuffed. He seemed convinced by Thorin’s arguments – at least enough not to push the new lord on his own doorstep – but he did pause when Caeluma growled at him as he left. After a moment, he continued on his way, and led his force back to the larger body of men still camped outside Cragwar.
The two remaining characters are duergar who fled the battle and remain within Amberhammer lands. Umbas Fell is a psionicist, while Marko Patchbeard is a paladin with an oath of vengeance. Time will tell how they impact the stories to come.
Earlier this year we ran a D&D session around celebrating the birthday of one of the players – Lady B as it turned out – and it became an extremely wholesome session of parental gossip from back home and the players all scurrying around the local town to find the perfect presents for them. Lady B plays a half-orc ranger and described her parents in simple terms which allowed me to lean in on how to play them.
Anyway, this is all a roundabout and long way to say that my early evening yesterday was spent in HeroForge to create representations of these two NPCs as a nice reminder of the event and an aide-memoire for as and when they may turn up again later. Given they were last seen staying at a hostel near the DDC’s house I really wouldn’t be surprised if they became house sitters while the group was off saving the world. So, please welcome Misaki and Valenash.
I wanted to capture their zest for life and hint at their pasts as retired adventurers so a moderately hedonistic cleric and a gruff and generally laid back woodsman were born. Lady B said these were fairly close to her own imagining of the pair so that’s as sound a mark of approval I’ll get given these were done blind without referring to my notes…
Each of these digital images were created in HeroForge using a Pro subscription. Just thought I’d share.
The DDC have been making friends recently as they look to build a militia to help reclaim Thorin’s home. They have been successful in reaching out to both the major groups in the area – the werewolves that have been brought into line by Karkanna, and the refugees who had taken shelter and fortified Flower Town. As part of my fleshing out the leading personalities in those two groups therefore, I’ve gone back to HeroForge to put some faces to the names.
Here then are Charis Amberley of Flower Town – a retired ranger who fought alongside Thorin during the Last War and helped organise the militias that they put together – and Ennis Amberhammer, a forge master of the Clan who specialises in making armour (and who is Thorin’s cousin)
Charis had organised the refugees and created defences so that they could defend against night-time raids by the daelkyr forces or their duergar allies – and it was he who first recognised Thorin when he appeared at the outer barricades. He brought the townsfolk round to listen and has proposed the beginnings of some strategies – but bringing him round to accepting the help of their cursed cousins was a hard sell.
Ennis is still battling to subdue the beast that the curse has unleashed, but he has enough control of himself to have begun organising the defences of the shrine within which Karkanna has made her lair. He is not a strategist, but he knows how to build solid bulwarks and will follow the Amberhammer heirs wherever they lead.
These tokens and portraits are available to freely download and use in your own online tabletops – the HeroForge website has some amazing options for making your own, and the subscription model is well worth looking at if you are running your own game just for the token making alone.
I’ve suggested that after the current story arc we have a brief break to play a one-shot around things that might be happening back home – and having already made a portrait and token for Coal, I couldn’t resist making one for the DDC’s young kobold adopted son: Odif.
It may only be a year and a bit since he came into their lives, but kobolds mature quickly – and while still not an adult yet, he has already been showing an aptitude for mechanical and gadget-based tinkering that seems perfectly suited to his inquisitive mind. Coal specifically stayed behind to help raise and guide the little guy – and having grown up around the DDC the youngster has definitely picked up a few style inspirations along the way.
So, here he is, toothy grin, custom crossbow, a knife and some sort of rod or wand in a hanger – dashing in purples and greens, and holes cut in his hood to accommodate his horns and keep his head properly covered when running around. It’s as if he’s wearing a disguise or something. What have he and Coal been up to?
They will of course no doubt have a great explanation, or will deny everything.