Looking Over Book of Challenges: Troll and Pets


It's just cover art

Premise

A troll and some rust monsters team up to annoy the PCs to death.


Good

The tip in the intro to use rust monsters sparingly is good advice. By EL 7, the balance of character power is almost certainly in favor of spellcasters, so creatures intended to counter traditional martial characters should be used with clear purpose.


Either the apparent deluge has ended, or whoever wrote this up didn’t want to repeat all of the balance nonsense from Bugbear Pit Fight. Regardless, getting rid of that contrivance is a nice step forward.


As with some other encounters, the “Tactics” section giving some basic and broadly effective behaviors without strict scripting is appreciated. It’s enough to justify being written out for GMs who struggle with that without being overwhelming.


Considering the check to climb out of the pit is merely DC 15 (which would have been moderate at EL 1, let alone by EL 7), knocking characters into the pit is hardly “trapping them there”, so having the troll still favor that tactic (without any anti-climbing grease or other such tomfoolery) strikes me as a refreshing reflection of the world acting independently of the PCs’ levels.


A banquet table with a single chair is probably the most interesting treasure of any encounter yet.


The advice to use multiple types of creatures together for more interesting encounters is good, though I’d hope it’s also somewhere in the core books rather than being relegated to this marginal product.


Salvageable

The boxed text for the holes around the pit does too much dictating the PCs’ thoughts for my tastes. It’s enough to mention there’s a circle of small holes around the pit without concluding that they were drilled for the posts of some railing.


Bad

Even at low levels, torches were never something I’d seen used as a primary way of dealing with classic trolls. There are almost always plenty of ways to start a fire by mundane means, let alone with magic.


Reusing the map from Bugbear Pit Fight feels lazy, especially when nothing is done with the balconies.


Talking about “the sloped side of the pit” is redundant when it is shaped like a concentric cone.


Overall

I have two broad complaints about this encounter. The first is that it’s lazy; it’s literally just throwing a few different creatures into a room from a previous encounter and having them attack just because. It even abandons the main part of what gave the previous encounter its character, the balconies in the roof. The second is that the creature combination doesn’t really do anything that they can’t each do individually. While there’s nothing wrong with that in a vacuum (a hunter with dogs doesn’t really do anything that each can’t do individually, either), it’s a matter of squandered potential. Rather than rust monsters, I’d favor teaming the troll up with some kind of imp (to control/douse flames and provide intelligent guidance), harpy (to provide anti-air support and disabling), or faerie (for all sorts of magical hijinks).


That all said, this is fine as a fairly standard encounter, similar to Close Quarters. While there isn’t any incredible synergy between a troll and a rust monster, using them together is more interesting than using either by itself, and there are a few features to the room that can have tactical impact, even if the main ones are ignored.


All in all, this is a rather milquetoast encounter. It’s fine as something simple, but it’s unlikely to ever stand out as the highlight of a session.

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