Encounter of the Week: Trollclaw Terrors

The Road to Baldur’s Gate has led your party astray, and now you wander the treacherous hills known as the Trollclaws in search of a path back to the road. This week’s encounter is titled Trollclaw Terrors, in which the characters must find a way through the troll-infested wilderness and find their way to Boareskyr Bridge, the next stop on their journey. This encounter is part of the series “The Road to Baldur’s Gate,” in which a group of adventurers will travel down the Sword Coast over road and wilderness, from the gates of Waterdeep to the threshold of Baldur’s Gate. You may use this series as an introduction to the upcoming D&D storyline Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, as an expansion to the caravan sequence in the first D&D storyline adventure, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, or piecemeal as standalone encounters.

You can keep track of this journey on this massive map of the Sword Coast, originally presented in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. The trip from Waterdeep to Baldur’s Gate covers about 750 miles of both road and off-road wilderness. A small party on horseback can cover about 24 miles per day at a casual pace, with just under two days off for rest per tenday of travel. All in all, this journey takes just over a month to complete for a small party of adventurers—assuming they’re well-prepared and no serious complications arise. And note, not every day of travel needs to be represented by an encounter; the characters may go for days with only minor encounters with passing merchants or travelers.

This is the sixth encounter along this journey. The previous encounters are:

  1. The Road to Baldur’s Gate
  2. Devil in the Details
  3. Danger in Daggerford
  4. Misty Marauders
  5. Detour Past Dragonspear

Leveling Advice

The characters should be at least 3rd level by the time they begin this encounter. Though this encounter series is supposed to lead directly into Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, that adventure begins its characters at 1st level. You can choose one of the following options, or create your own plan, in order to make this series flow smoothly into Descent into Avernus:

  1. Treat this series as a prologue, and start Descent into Avernus fresh at 1st level with new characters
  2. Scale up the Baldur's Gate content in Descent into Avernus from 1st to 3rd level, and slow XP gain down significantly by halving or even quartering XP values until they reach Avernus.
  3. Skip the Baldur's Gate content and go straight to Avernus.

Exploration Encounter: Trollclaw Terrors

This encounter is suitable for characters of 3rd level. Characters that employ stealth may avoid combat encounters, but also miss out on treasure, turning this exploration into a tug-of-war between risk and reward.

After getting lost in the wilderness around Castle Dragonspear, the characters wander into the Trollclaws, a dangerous, troll-infested region of craggy hills and winding rivers. By following the Winding River east, they can return to the correct path, but first they must survive the dangers posed by the Trollclaws’ deadly inhabitants. This encounter is made up of three potential monster attacks, which the characters can avoid by making successful Dexterity (Stealth) checks or spot in advance by making successful Wisdom (Perception) checks.

This encounter is the follow-up to a failed exploration in the last encounter, Detour Past Dragonspear. If the characters successfully navigated the wilderness surrounding Castle Dragonspear, then they bypass this encounter. Alternatively, you can reflavor this encounter as the characters traveling through an expansion of the High Moor that has crept over the plains south of Dragonspear, and they must navigate through the marshland in order to get to Boareskyr.

Encounter Start

As the characters enter the Trollclaws, read or paraphrase the following:

You climb to the top of a rocky hill and gaze down upon a canyon. A mighty river flows through this canyon, and your map suggests that this is the Winding Water, and the hills you stand in are the Trollclaws. A dozen grim legends surround these troll-infested hills, but it’s also clear that following the Winding Water upstream will lead you to the Boareskyr Bridge—and back on track for your journey to Baldur’s Gate.

If the characters decide to follow the Winding Water eastward, they must first scramble down a rocky cliff to reach the water 60 feet below. Each character climbing the cliff must make a successful DC 13 Strength (Athletics) check or take 10 (3d6) bludgeoning damage as they skid and stumble down the Cliffside. If this check fails by 5 or more, the character loses their grip entirely and falls the full 60 feet, taking 21 (6d6) bludgeoning damage.

Travel Time in the Trollclaws

If the characters travel along the riverbank, they travel at a normal pace, and will escape the Trollclaws within about three days. If the characters decide to travel through the craggy hills, their travel pace is slowed by half. If you’re tracking rations and supplies in this journey, taking a longer time and exhausting their rations may pose a problem. Likewise, traveling stealthily further halves their travel speed; make sure your players know that this is an option. Finally, the characters encounter one group of monsters each day; if they travel for longer than three days, you can choose to roll for one random encounter on each day.

To roll for a random encounter, roll 1d20 at the start of each day. On a result of 18 or higher, they encounter a group of wandering monsters at some point that day, at your discretion. Roll on the Hill Encounters (Levels 1–4) table in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything to determine who or what the characters encounter that day.

Spotting and Being Spotted in the Trollclaws

While following the river, the characters have disadvantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks to avoid being spotted by creatures lurking in the hills, thanks to their low-lying position. They also have disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks to look up into the hills to spot creatures lying in wait; since spotting these ambushes often relies on the characters’ passive Wisdom (Perception) scores rather than making active checks, you instead subtract 5 from their passive score if the check would be made with disadvantage. Characters traveling through the hills have no such impediments. Ask if the characters wish to travel stealthily at the start of each day of travel, or when in the day they wish to travel stealthily (morning, midday, or evening).

When the characters decide to start traveling stealthily, they make a group Dexterity (Stealth) check. Note their results; they last until they decide to change their travel pace, or until combat or some other noisy business breaks out.

Encounter 1: Hobgoblin Patrol

A company of hobgoblin mercenaries from Dragonspear Castle have been hired by a local troll warlord named Grubb to scout the hills and keep watch for invaders. At midday on the first day of travel, a hobgoblin captain named Karsh and two hobgoblins are out on patrol today.

Spotting the Characters. They spot the characters if the result of the characters’ group Dexterity (Stealth) check is 13 or lower. If the characters are spotted, the hobgoblins attempt to hide and ambush the characters. If a character’s passive Wisdom (Perception) score is 12 or higher, that character notices a clatter of rocks tumble down the cliffs where the hobgoblins are hiding; this character is not surprised when combat begins. If that score is 17 or higher, the character sees the hobgoblin’s armor glinting under the midday sun; this character has a chance to surprise the hobgoblins, negating their ambush.

Tactics. The hobgoblins see the characters as easy pickings for them to kill and rob. They try to take down the characters one-by-one by surrounding one and then using their Martial Advantage to tear that adventurer apart. If their captain is killed, the two lesser hobgoblins try to flee into the hills.

Treasure. The hobgoblins are paid well by their troll employer. Each of the hobgoblins has a coin purse filled with 20 gp and a pack with two days’ rations. The hobgoblin captain’s fingers are adorned with five gold rings adorned with garnets, each worth 50 gp, and has a coin purse containing 100 gp, and a pack with two days’ rations.

Encounter 2: Sleeping Watch-Troll

One lazy watch-troll by the name of Morkur likes to sleep on the job. At night on the second day of travel, the characters encounter this servant of the warlord Grubb. Morkur sleeps on the riverbed with his feet in the cool waters of the Winding Waters. His lanky body blocks the path almost completely.

Spotting the Characters. If the characters are traveling stealthily, Morkur doesn’t awaken unless they physically disturb him. If they aren’t traveling stealthily, the characters must make a successful DC 12 group Dexterity (Stealth) check or rouse him as they try to pass. If the characters didn’t spot the sleeping troll in the gloom before approaching, they nearly stumble right onto him, and make this group check with disadvantage. Any character with a passive Wisdom (Perception) score of 16 or higher notices him in the gloom. Characters with darkvision spot him if their passive Wisdom (Perception) is only 11 or higher.

Tactics. The sleeping troll is unconscious while he sleeps. He awakens when he is physically disturbed as the result of a failed Dexterity (Stealth) check or if he is hit by an attack. He rolls initiative after being awakened, but until the start of his first turn in combat, all attack rolls against the groggy troll are made with advantage. The troll fights fearlessly and to the death.

Treasure. Morkur wears a bag of holding that he took from the corpse of a wizard he killed, and wears it like a fanny pack. Inside the bag is a ring of fire resistance that he simply doesn’t know how to use, as well as two days’ rations.  

Encounter 3: Raining Boulders

The troll warlord Grubb rules over the northeastern hills of the Trollclaws—that is, the exact path through which the characters must travel to reach Boareskyr Bridge. In the morning of the third day of travel, the characters find themselves attacked by a group of troll stone-throwers attacking from the cliffs.

Spotting the Characters. A group made up of two trolls and the dire troll Grubb is traveling through the hills. If the characters’ group Dexterity (Stealth) check is 18 or higher, they pass the troll procession unnoticed. The trolls aren’t trying to be stealthy. In fact, they’re parading around the hills like they own the place, which they do. The characters instantly notice the trolls as soon as they’re close enough for the trolls to possibly notice them.

Tactics. Trying to fight the trolls directly would be the height of foolishness, and any character that makes a successful DC 5 Intelligence (History or Nature) check knows stories of the terrible power of dire trolls. Fortunately, Grubb is cocky enough to prefer toying with adventurers by hurling rocks at them from above. If they attack him head-on, however, he retaliates with his full, deadly might. He doesn’t pursue fleeing characters.

These trolls have the Rock action of a cyclops. Since they are throwing at long range, they have disadvantage on their attacks. Characters can take cover behind other boulders along the riverbed, granting them half cover from the attacks, but halving their movement speed. Once the characters move 100 feet away from the trolls or kill one of them, they lose interest.

Treasure. Each of the two guard-trolls wear a necklace made up of a gold chain worth 100 gp, and hanging from that chain is a jewel-encrusted halberd from some long-lost kingdom, worth 500 gp. Grubb wears a tapestry of the dragon goddess Tiamat bursting from the Well of Dragons, worth 3,000 gp—which his minions stole from a caravan carrying precious art pieces from Baldur’s Gate to Candlekeep. A character that hits one of the trolls with an unarmed strike and then makes a successful DC 20 Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check can steal their treasure. However, stealing from the trolls causes that troll to pursue the characters in range until he gets his treasure back or until the characters leave the Trollclaws on the evening of the third day of travel.


When the characters escape the Trollclaws, they can see a column of smoke on the horizon. This smoke is curling upward from the cooking fires at an encampment on the north end of Boareskyr Bridge—their next destination!

Did you like this encounter? If you want to read more adventures, take a look at the other encounters in the Encounter of the Week series! If you're looking for full adventures instead of short encounters, you can pick up the adventures I've written on the DMs Guild, such as The Temple of Shattered Minds, a suspenseful eldritch mystery with a mind flayer villain (for 3rd level characters). My most recent adventures are included in the Platinum Bestseller Tactical Maps: Adventure Atlas, a collection of 88 unique encounters created by the Guild Adepts, which can be paired with the beautiful tactical poster maps in Tactical Maps Reincarnated, recently published by Wizards of the Coast.

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 Apartand 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 their feline adventurers Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.


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