This article contains minor spoilers for Waterdeep: Dragon Heist.
Happy Halloween! Did you know that Faerûn has a Halloween of its own? The holiday of Trolltide is not a carbon copy of our own Halloween festivals with the serial numbers filed off, but rather a new creation unique to the Realms that happens to share a few key characteristics. Namely, encouraging children to dress up in masks, make mischief, and request treats from strangers. Most player characters are too old to engage in traditional Trolltide festivities, but it makes for an excellent backdrop to an adventure in progress. Its theme of masks and mischief could even influence the types of enemies the characters encounter on their journey. Or, as presented in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, Trolltide could hold a lethal surprise, or perhaps a dangerous distraction from an even greater threat.
If you’re in search of a seasonal backdrop for your next D&D adventure, Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is filled with details about Trolltide and even contains a few encounters that take place during the festival. Famed raconteur Volothamp “Volo” Geddarm has this to say of Trolltide in “Volo’s Waterdeep Enchiridion”:
Kythorn 1: Trolltide
On this day commemorating Waterdeep’s victory in the Second Trollwar, children run through the city acting like trolls, banging on doors and growling, from highsun till dusk. Home and shop owners are expected to give the children candy, fruits, or small items. Those who give no treat can expect to become the target of a trick at sundown. This mischief typically takes the form of “troll scratchings” at doors and windows. Those with more malicious intent sing screechingly in the wee hours, and hurl raw eggs at windows, signs, and the heads of those who try to stop them. Have some candy on hand or some sweet rolls, and all will be calm where you live.
Trolltide in the Forgotten Realms
There’s a small problem with aligning Trolltide and Halloween: its date. Trolltide takes place on the first of Kythorn—the sixth month of the year in the Forgotten realms! Equivalent to the month of June in clime, it’s late spring, practically summer! In Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, the season of spring is associated with the dreaded Xanathar, and the beholder crime lord uses the chaos of Trolltide to its advantage. If your Dragon Heist game is already set in spring, and you’re already using Xanathar as the villain, then there’s no trouble at all. See if you can line up Trolltide (or at least a scene of common folk making preparations for Trolltide) with next weekend’s game and your players will make the connection on their own.
If you’re playing Waterdeep: Dragon Heist but you’ve chosen a villain other than Xanathar—or you’re playing in the Realms but not playing Dragon Heist—then things become a little trickier. You can still use Trolltide to make a clever Halloween homage, but you’ll have to get your hands a little dirty. Is that not the joy of D&D, though? To look at extant lore and think, “I can do that better!” It’s why designers are not auteurs; everything we create is made to appeal to a broad audience, with the explicit understanding that you can and will tailor it to your tastes. All you need to do is transplant the holiday of Trolltide from late spring to whenever your campaign is currently taking place.
So, what should you be aware of before you cut and paste Trolltide from hither to yon?
Trolltide is tied to Waterdeep by a fictional historical event: the end of the Second Trollwar. There are a few references to this minor conflict throughout the modern D&D adventures. For instance, the Knights of Samular in Princes of the Apocalypse were formed by heroes of this war—Samular and Renwick Caradoon; the former is dead, and the latter has survived by attaining lichdom. But, in the grand scheme of things, no one really cares about the Second Trollwar—in fiction or out. Trolltide is ostensibly a celebration of this war’s end, but I suspect that the people of Faerûn remember it about as well as we remember the Spanish-American War. Which is to say: not well.
Waterdhavians may remember the Second Trollwar slightly better than most, if only because that war came to its very gates. The Troll Gate (Waterdeep’s northernmost gate) and the nearby Trollyard were likely named by these events. If you like this sort of historical baggage, feel free to cut and paste the entirety of Trolltide to whenever you wish. If your villain is Jarlaxle, for instance, just have Trolltide occur a week or two before the Day of Wonders and double down on holiday festivities. You’ve learned all about Trolltide already, so you might as well keep that knowledge in your back pocket in case inquisitive players ask about this holiday.
Waterdeep: Dragon Heist has an incredibly modular second half. In Chapter 4: Dragon Season, the characters hunt down the Stone of Golorr while being harried by agents of their story’s villain. These encounters take place in ten different locations around the city, and each location and encounter differs depending on the season. In spring, Xanathar Guild goons adopt Trolltide disguises (especially if they are goblins or halflings, since they blend in with the masked children). In Chapter 5: Spring Madness, a special event called Trolltide Slaughter showcases the Xanathar’s cruelty and madness as he unleashes a real troll upon the festivities. This gives the characters a chance to become heroes beloved by the people.
Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes has a handful of troll variants that you can use to create similar “Trolltide gone wrong” encounters for your own game, too. And in a holiday filled with masked people, shapeshifting and identity imitation isn’t out of the question, either. How could Doppelgangers or Elder Oblex or Drow Gunslingers wearing hats of disguise slide unnoticed through the streets of Waterdeep during Trolltide?
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of Worlds Apart, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and his Halloween-colored familiars, Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.