To ‘reskin’ a creature or an item is to give it a new appearance in such a way that it changes how it interacts with players more in a stylistic way rather than in a mechanical one. It can be as simple as taking a stat block and giving it a new name and appearance. Sometimes it gets a little more creative with that base stat block to give the players something unexpected.
I’ve been playing some form of D&D for almost all my adult life and a good chunk of my teenage years as well. I’m not saying that I’ve seen it all, just that I’ve seen a lot. I’ve played through home brew monsters and made a few of my own and even been through some extensive house rules set up that took entire binders to describe. To take a page from Sly Flourish (the Lazy DM), that sounds like far too much work. A reskin is a quick and simple way to create a new experience without trying to reinvent things already play tested by the creators of the game.
One way to brainstorm a reskin is a design model out there known as SCAMPER
- S – Substitute: Change something without diminishing the product or process
- C – Combine: Merge two ideas or components or devices
- A – Adapt: Tweak or overhaul components to respond to change
- M – Modify / Minimize / Magnify: Change the size or shape to put emphasis on a different aspect
- P – Put to alternative use: Change the setting of use or who uses it
- E – Eliminate: Streamline, tone down, or strip it down to be sleeker and faster
- R – Reverse: Change the order or process
Let’s apply this to the bog simple Troll stat block
Over the years Dungeons & Dragons has introduced all sorts of variations to the troll. Maybe you have all the source books or scour the net for all manner of home brewed madness. Or perhaps you have a game in 30 minutes and you don’t have time for that.
SUBSTITUTE – Grave Mound
The party is charging into a necromancers stronghold and none of the standard undead for this CR have you really excited. Change the Troll to an Undead type. Substitute Necrotic Damage for the bite and substitute Radiant Damage as something that stops the Regeneration. Give it a visual of size Large vaguely humanoid shaped heap of hungry bones with the Regeneration the clickety clack of bones resetting and the torn flesh from the bite being part of the dark forces that bind this together. If it still feels too overwhelming, maybe add a Trait:
- Unholy Existence – if holy water is poured upon it or it receives radiant damage, the Regeneration Trait will not work at the start of the creature’s next turn.
COMBINE – Rock Lobbing Troll
You’re sick and tired of your party picking off trolls from a Fire Bolt’s distance away. Time for the trolls to fight back. Looking through other CR 5 monsters, you come across the Hill Giant and their Rock attack.
Adding the attack action of Rock is easy, just keeping in mind to scale it for the non-huge troll as a 2d8+4 bludgeoning damage with a lesser range of 30/120 ft. range. As per the Hill Giant, this isn’t included in their Multiattack so a little extra damage isn’t a bad thing.
ADAPT – Scrags, Mahars
WotC already did this with the Scrag as described in a random encounter chart in the adventure Rise of Tiamat. Adapting the troll to aquatic was as simple as adding a swim speed and being able to breathe underwater.
Maybe you’ve been inspired by Edgar Rice Burrough’s At the Earth’s Core or the X-Men villain Sauron and you decide that flying trolls / regenerating pterodactyls would be pretty cool. Add a flying speed and leathery wings and call it done.
MODIFY – Sewer Trolls
The party is in a major city and looking for trouble but not the trouble you planned for. While looking for rumors (and not taking a single hook you’ve offered them), they ask what happened to that NPC from 5 levels ago. You respond, “Sewer trolls got him.”
Instant monster hunt through the filth and disease of the undercity where you’ve been trying to get them to go and hunt down evil cultists! (true story)
Sewers can get pretty cramped so you scale the troll down to medium size. Losing that size, you think what if they got quicker and not stronger so swap around the STR and DEX modifiers and make their attacks Finesse to keep the To Hit the same. But that AC is going to change from a 15 to an 18 and they will be a lot harder to hit. You could either reduce the Hit Dice from d10 to d8 (going from 44 + 40 to 36 + 40, so a drop of 8 points or a single attack) or reduce the Regeneration from 10 to 5 so that the hits made count for longer.
PUT TO OTHER USE – Trolls on a Leash
You want some softer encounters for the party before they meet the Frost Giant Boss at the end of the adventure but hill giants don’t fit and you’ve already used way too many mammoths. Add some pet trolls that the Frost Giant has been using as hounds. They have the keen smell and are less intelligent than Frost Giants to boot. Maybe up their AC by 1 or 2 with some cast off bits of salvaged armor. Give them collars and emphasize their animalistic nature.
ELIMINATE – Less Math Trolls
Maybe you don’t call them trolls or you are just always forgetting if they’ve been hit with fire or acid since last turn. Remove Regeneration and use Vulnerable to Fire and Acid and then watch them go up like roman candles before a fire ball!
Alternatively, consider that there are other CR 5 creatures without regeneration with Hit Points between 90 and 120 but an AC getting closer to 13 so even just removing the Regeneration doesn’t require a big change. Drop the Regeneration, increase the troll’s AC by 1, and if you still want a little extra bang for the fire and acid attacks, give players an extra d6 of damage when they do either damage to a non regenerating troll.
REVERSE – Ice Trolls, Fire Trolls
Maybe you thought Ice Trolls would be cool either don’t own Rime of the Frost Maiden or thought the CR 8 trolls in there were too brutal. Take a standard troll and give it Resistance to Fire Damage and leave everything else as is. The party that tries to burn it will find their attacks doing far less damage and the weight shifts to other sources of damage. A cool solution to the party that burns everything in their path.
Or let’s go the other way with a Fire Troll. You can find them back in 2E and 3E, but absent in the current 5E. The lore description makes them out to be far tougher than an average troll with cunning intelligence and an array of spell casters, but lets keep it simple.
Option #1 – Make it immune to Fire and Acid damage, with Cold or Lightning stopping it’s Regeneration at the start of it’s turn.
Option #2 – Make it immune to Fire and Acid damage, Vulnerable to Cold damage, Regenerates twice as fast if hit with Fire damage that turn (particularly useful for creatures found in magma pits or an ability to spit fire)