The city and country of Freeland was the standard starting point of all adventures in my world. Ninety percent of the characters who ever walked my world took their first steps in the city of Freeland and the wilds beyond. Freeland was a powerful and populous nation with access to great military and magical might. Thus, they were able to maintain order even unto the far reaches of the nation’s borders. Most foul and dangerous beasts had been slain or chased out of the land long before the first gaming session ever occurred. Only those creatures which were able to hide well and bred like rats, such as goblins, ever seemed to be found within the borders due to sheer numbers and stealthy, cowardly ways.
One such creature was the “Woodland Troll”. Woodland trolls were, in fact, not remotely related to trolls. They were in fact something only slightly removed from goblins on the evolutionary scale, and actually were even more pitiful. Those familiar with the Dragonlance setting will have a point of reference to think of them as the Gully Dwarves of goblinkind. Rural people had named the creatures, and the name had simply stuck.
Woodland trolls are stupid creatures which really only exist because they breed so rapidly and constantly renew their numbers as they are slain by man, beast, and drowning while staring up into rainstorms.
It also made them the perfect first encounter for a fresh player or character that didn’t have much to work with or a limited understanding of the game. Even the least skillful player with the most pitifully weak character could manage to defeat a handful of these miserable creatures and begin their adventuring career. It helped that there was a (very small) bounty on them in Freeland since the military could not keep up with exterminating them as they had most other monsters in the nation.
Woodland trolls always fanatically attacked when encountered, although I had never really given any though to *why* this was the case. It was simply useful to give new characters a nice load of experience with combat in the game and experience toward leveling up without a lot of danger.
The character in this story was a newly rolled paladin on his first adventure, played by a veteran player. He knew, under the guidelines by which paladins worked in my world, that he would be starting off with little more than the clothing on his back; the quest to become a great holy knight started from the humblest of beginnings. What he didn’t know was that one of the secret rolls I made during each character creation had come up positive.
There were secret abilities I rolled for with each new character. If the character was female, they might have hidden natural abilities to use witchcraft that slowly emerged during play. All other characters had rolls to check for two other hidden abilities, mutant powers (as in Marvel Comics X-Men) and immortality in the fashion of the movie Highlander.
This paladin was the first, and only, character to ever make the 1 in 100 roll to be a Highlander-style immortal.
Thus he set out on his grand quest, never knowing what the fates had in store for him. Wearing only the clothing on his back and carrying only a stout club and a few packets of healing herbs he had gathered, the neophyte paladin ventured forth into the wilderness following the pull of his calling.
As was usual, he encountered a group of woodland trolls soon into his travels. It was a modest group, only three, and should have been little trouble for the average stray dog to dispatch, but such proved not to be the case.
While the rolls to create the character had been very good, thus enabling the player to even create a paladin, his die rolling proved much less effective in combat almost immediately. His initial strike completely missed the nearest approaching creature. It was the first time in the history of the game that a player character failed to draw first blood against woodland trolls.
I tossed the woodland troll’s black and red “devil dice” across the board for their first strikes. These dice were considered “cursed” amongst our gaming group, because no matter how cool they looked, they always seemed to roll miserably low numbers. Thus they were perfect for creatures that were always meant to lose. This time, the curse was not affecting the trolls to whom the dice had been assigned, but their opponent. Every strike they made hit, and did tremendous (for a weak creature with pitiful weapons) damage to the untested paladin.
Three telling blows made the player running the paladin choose to use his healing herbs immediately. He recovered most of his lost hit points immediately, the herbs being magical in nature. He then set himself for the next onslaught of woodland troll attacks. He expected, as anyone would, that the battle would quickly turn back in his favor now after the initial combination of his bad luck and the good luck of the trolls.
Such was not to be.
He continued to miss or do minimal damage to the savagely attacking creatures, which seemed to be possessed of the gods' own luck. In a few rounds, the paladin was dangling over the cliff of the hereafter by only his fingertips. A few more lucky blows would have ended his career right there as he expired.
He was immortal, however, and his "death" triggered the ability within him. I kept it hidden from him as he awoke, naked without a single possession to his name on the floor of the woods. A strange man, who the player correctly assumed to be an avatar of his deity, explained how he had come to survive in the player’s mind.
This is where the paladin’s relevancy to the story ends. It was his ill-omened battle that gave birth to a new deity in my world, however.
I now knew why woodland trolls attacked with such tenacity, only to die quick horrible deaths. The god of the woodland trolls, Blork, blessed all those of his children who could manage to do even the slightest harm to another mortal, especially a human. He granted them many mates for this great accomplishment, as well as “riches” such as the creatures considered them. If they died, they were taken to dwell at his side in what passed for heaven in his realm.
These three, having killed a paladin while taking only minimal wounds themselves, were immediately elevated to a proxy (think of an angel, although it would hardly apply to these creatures) in Blork’s court.
My players sat groaning and laughing as I described what was going on, never knowing just how much of a pain in the posterior region Blork and his proxies Kronk, Blah, and Ick were going to be as time marched on in the game. With proxies to help guide his hordes, the woodland trolls became even more of a nuisance. Naturally, the first places they always chose to invade were the lands and castles of the player characters.
It was a great deal of fun harassing my players with them any time they started to get a swelled head. There’s nothing like having to spend an entire gaming session slaughtering an infestation of woodland trolls in your castle keep to deflate the ego, especially when a small number of them had been blessed by their new god.