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Big, Strong, and Dumb
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

L ast week, I talked about the yuan-ti, cunning masterminds who scheme, plot, and slither in the shadows. Now for something completely different: ogres and trolls. At this point, we’re starting to move away from the humanoid races and toward creatures that can be described only as monsters. Both of these creatures are bigger than humans (but not as big as true giants), humanoid, and prone to fight with their great strength, not their brains.


Ogres stand about 9 feet tall, with a massive bulk to go with their great strength. Their strength is their defining feature—you don’t put on gauntlets of ogre cunning to enhance your intellect, for instance. They’re not as strong as true giants, but they’re stronger than all but the very strongest humans. (In game terms, we’re looking at an 18 Strength score. It might not seem like much, but giants only range from 19 for hill giants to 25 for storm giants, just like in 1st Edition AD&D.) As you’d expect from a very strong creature with a lot of bulk to back it up, an ogre hits hard, dishing out a lot of damage with its oversized weapons. They favor simple and direct weapons, such as clubs, but sometimes throw javelins to help them reach distant foes.

On the flip side, ogres are stupid. Really, really stupid. With an Intelligence score around 5, ogres are capable of language but not really conversation—their speech is simple and ungrammatical, and they can’t read or write. Counting is a challenge and math is nearly impossible (except for simple addition that they can do by counting). Ogres’ Dexterity, Wisdom, and Charisma scores aren’t a whole lot better.

An ogre’s mental capacity invites a comparison to young children, but that’s a dangerous line of thinking. Ogres are thoroughly evil and chaotic brutes that are inclined to take what they want and smash any who are cruel enough to withhold it from them. They’re lazy, so they’re willing to let other races (often orcs or goblinoids) provide them with food and treasure in exchange for their services—as long as the expected services are limited to occasional smashing and slaughter. If an ogre is made to work too hard for its trinkets, it’ll just take the offered treasure, bludgeoning its erstwhile ally to death if necessary.

Ogres like baubles, caring far more for shiny things than merely valuable or useful things. They can be easily distracted (“Ooh, shiny!”) or bought off with bribes of treasure or (sometimes) food. Even if an ogre is being paid to guard the caverns of an orc tribe, for example, savvy adventurers can bypass the ogre with a large enough gift.

Only a creature both bigger and stronger than an ogre can force it into service without a bribe. Not too many creatures fit that description, but giants are certainly among them. Various cruel and tyrannical giants enslave ogres, using them to haul enormous loads or perform demolition work. (Ogres are unsuited to any labor that requires even a modicum of subtlety or caution, such as mining.)

When they’re not in the employ of lesser evil humanoids or in the thrall of a giant, ogres live in small groups, no more than a score or so, subsisting by raiding and scavenging. These groups squabble constantly, fighting over food and treasure, which frequently leads to individuals leaving the band or the band splitting in two.

Ogre Magi

So if stupidity is a defining characteristic of ogres, how do you explain the ogre mage? These creatures are as big and strong as ogres, but they’re also smart, magical, and capable of trickery and coordination. What do they have to do with ogres?

The answer is “not much.” Perhaps the races are distantly related, with the eastern branch of the family tree retaining more of the intelligence and sophistication of their distant ancestor (or acquiring it along the way). But they are truly separate races, so far distant that the only real resemblance is their size. Sometimes, ogre magi are called oni, emphasizing that they are a distinct species.

There is one good reason that these oni share a common name with ogres, however: oni like to lead bands of ogres, bribing and coercing them into service. Perhaps the deluded ogres think the oni is truly one of them, and the oni is naturally suited to lead because of its great strength and magical powers. Perhaps ogre magi just know the right gifts to give ogres to keep them firmly in line. At any rate, ogre magi are commonly encountered among bands of ogres, hence their shared name.


Trolls are about the same height as ogres, though if you straighten out their stooped and bandy-legged posture, they’d end up being significantly taller. They’re much less bulky than ogres, though no less strong. They don’t use weapons as ogres do, but instead tear their foes apart with their long claws and their filthy yellow teeth. Their strength and agility make them great climbers.

Trolls are slightly smarter than ogres, and they have around a 7 in their Intelligence scores. They’re capable of forming complete sentences, but they’re still not great conversationalists or math whizzes. They have keen senses, particularly their sense of smell. They’re just as chaotic and evil as ogres are, and they are less tractable. They’ll serve stronger masters, but they’re not easy to bribe or distract—chances are, the person offering a bribe is better food than whatever the bribe might be.

A troll’s defining characteristic is its ability to regenerate. Other D&D monsters have similar capabilities, but trolls are the archetypal regenerating monsters. Their rubbery flesh heals quickly, and they can even reattach or regrow lost limbs—including their heads. Fighting a troll can be a terrifying experience since severed claws continue to grab and scrape at the troll’s foes, and severed heads can roll and bite while on the ground. Fire or acid attacks stop a troll from regenerating, and people who live near trolls know that fire is the weapon of choice when fighting them.

Incidentally, the ability of severed parts to attack has always been true of trolls in the game, but it has been hard to model in the rules. For example, the 2nd Edition AD&D Monstrous Manual said that a natural 20 with an edged weapon would sever a limb. I think this is best left to the DM’s description: when you’re using an edged weapon while fighting a troll, the DM might describe how you lop off an arm—but the arm keeps fighting, without hindering the troll’s combat ability at all.

Along with their amazing regenerative powers, trolls have high Constitution scores (18). As they regenerate, trolls sometimes mutate, so trolls with extra limbs or extra heads are occasionally spotted. Similarly, trolls are constantly growing, so truly enormous trolls sometimes appear as well. When trolls move beyond their native swamp habitats (or those environments change somehow), trolls can adapt quickly by the same principle of mutation—desert trolls, ice trolls, and aquatic trolls (scrags) are trolls who have developed an adaptation to these climatic conditions.

Perhaps the worst thing about living near trolls is that they are relentless. Like kudzu, they keep growing no matter how much they’re cut back. It takes a serious effort—and a lot of fire—to clear out an infestation of trolls in a region.

What Do You Think?

Ogres and trolls sure seem pretty straightforward. So did we hit the mark this time?

This Week's Polls

 How well do the ogres we’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D ogre?  
1—It sounds like something an exceptionally stupid ogre would come up with.
2—I see the vague, hulking outline of an ogre here.
3—It’s starting to sound like an ogre.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as an ogre.
5—Never has the ogre been so perfectly summarized.

 How well do the trolls we’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D troll?  
1—Not in any sense of the word “troll” is that a troll.
2—It takes tremendous liberties with the concept of troll.
3—You got the regeneration part right, at least.
4—Yeah, I recognize that as a troll.
5--It nails the troll. Not that that’s hard.

 How about the ogre mage? Do you agree that it should be a separate species?  
Yes, and it should be called an oni in the rules.
Yes, though I want to call it an ogre mage.
Yes, but go old school and call it a Japanese ogre.
No, they’re ogres and they should be called ogres.

Previous Poll Results

What should we call the middle tier of yuan-ti?
Malison. It's coolest. 701 41.0%
Halfblood. 597 34.9%
Halfbreed. 199 11.6%
Something else. 146 8.5%
Malison. The other terms offend me or make me uncomfortable. 68 4.0%
Total 1711 100.0%

What about the look of the abomination?
None of the above (I want only abominations with snake heads and human arms). 862 52.7%
All of the above (I want all three classic forms of abomination). 625 38.2%
I want abominations that look just like snakes. 75 4.6%
I want abominations that look like nagas. 75 4.6%
Total 1637 100.0%

What about the look of the middle tier (halfbreed/halfblood/malison)?
More than one of the above (I like a broad selection of mid-tier yuan-ti, more like the classic forms). 667 42.8%
They should all have a snake head and human legs. 439 28.1%
None of the above (I'm happy with only two forms: snake head and either human legs or snake tail). 247 15.8%
They should all have a snake head and snake tail. 76 4.9%
I want yuan-ti with snake tails and human legs. 58 3.7%
I want yuan-ti with flexible torsos. 38 2.4%
I want yuan-ti with snake hands. 35 2.2%
Total 1560 100.0%

And, in general, how well do the yuan-ti we’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D yuan-ti?
4 -- Yeah, I recognize the description as fitting the yuan-ti. 874 55.5%
3 -- It's getting there -- the three tiers of yuan-ti at least sound right. 371 23.6%
5 -- This description almost matches the perfection of the yuan-ti themselves. 234 14.9%
2 -- Well, you got the snake part right. 89 5.7%
1 -- I don't know what these are, but they're not yuan-ti. 6 0.4%
Total 1574 100.0%
James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
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