Phrenk is not your typical troll. In fact, if his entire tribe weren’t made up of trolls, you wouldn’t guess that there was a troll among them. Usually trolls are mean, angry monsters who maliciously terrorize smaller folk. Nobody is exactly sure why – perhaps quasi-immortality drives them mad or constantly getting hurt and suffering through regrowing limbs is unbearable. Maybe they are just fed up with how everyone gives them a hard time for looking kinda scary. Regardless, Phrenk and his clansfolk simply weren’t your garden-variety trolls. They used to be, though. They still tell stories – when only in troll company – about their ancestors who were more typical of how bards describe them. That all changed, however, when the nomadic tribe settled around a stony outcropping in the forest they now call home.
What makes these trolls different from all the evil trolls in the world is that they made the unique decision to settle down. They weren’t precisely sure who suggested the idea, but they all knew why it was a smart idea: one really big rock.
It was a peculiar, rectangular rock of glittering black stone driven into the ground at a steep – though climbable – angle. It was in the middle of a clearing deep in the forest and it was tall. Anyone standing atop it could easily survey the landscape from the bottom of the valley all the way out to the hills and mountainsides. In fact, when you touched the surface with bare skin, you seemed more acutely aware of your surroundings in general. The tribe took to posting their watch atop the rock, where three trolls could comfortably stand vigil throughout the night.
Over the years, the tribe realized that the Vigil Stone – what they came to call it – had some manner of magic about it. They learned that anyone who touched the stone didn’t seem more perceptive, they actually were more perceptive. The Wardens, those who stood watch atop the stone, could pick out the best hunting grounds from their perch. When one area would run dry, they knew where the next richest lands would be. The tribe was also making better tools and having more creative ideas. By the time Phrenk was born, they had begun keeping herds of deer from the forest and goats from the hillsides, erected woven timber lodges with foundations of river stone and animal hide roofs, and were following the stars to keep track of the seasons.
Phrenk was born to a family of shamans with deep spiritual traditions. While the trolls still practiced ancestor worship, tribal magic, and maintained their rich oral tradition, the ritual sacrifices and poison craft had evolved considerably. Mainly, they didn’t do ritual sacrifices anymore, and their poison craft had grown to encompass beneficial medicine and the foundations of alchemy as well. Phrenk was a savant at brewing. He was the first to begin cataloging the local flora and fauna, even adapted the tribe’s shamanic runes as a means of naming and keeping track of his findings (he wouldn’t learn Common until much later).
While he continued developing his craft, he engaged – sort of – in the other aspects of village life. All trolls, male and female, were expected to serve in all roles of the tribe. Back when they were nomads, this simply meant that all trolls were expected to hunt and gather food. Now that they were sedentary, there were many more jobs that needed to be taken care of around the village, like building huts and lodges or tending to the flocks. Phrenk’s passion, however, was in his concoctions, and he often shirked other obligations to spend time brewing – and recovering from testing – his own tinctures. He became something of a joke among the trolls of his village. He was seen as dull, good for nothing, always incapacitated or struck dumb by the poisons he kept exposing himself to and never ready to take on the tasks at hand.
When Phrenk discovered the art of distillation, his responsibilities were all but forgotten and his reputation soured further. He made liquors and spirits from everything he could find. Taken pure, these could knock out a troll – even with their rapid metabolism! But once they were properly diluted and combined with one another, his ingredients became the most potent the tribe had ever seen, and his potions were far more advanced than anything his peers could achieve. Once he shared his findings, the tribe was able to forgive his laid-back and lazy reputation. It was clear that he was a savant, brilliant and far beyond even their eldest shamans in their craft. Phrenk was allowed to devote himself completely to his studies, something he took to with relish.
Over the decades, Phrenk grew to become a well-respected member of the village. He taught his style of potion brewing to other interested trolls and even started taking on the responsibilities of being an Elder in their growing council.
The trolls had begun studying the Vigil Stone, and had already determined that it was responsible for their rapid development as a “civilized” people. They did not worship the rock, but they did come to respect it, and consider its origins. They also found that it was poisonous over time, and that creatures that didn’t possess a Troll’s resilience eventually succumbed to its effects. This wasn’t really a problem for the village – they just kept the livestock far away from it. It became a problem, though, after scouts and mercenaries from a human kingdom started coming into their valley.
Phrenk first met The Party after he had been an Elder for decades. They came with the task of clearing out those “troll barbarians” who were disrupting the expansion of a minor noble’s holdings. They weren’t the first band of adventures that the tribe had had to deal with, but they were the first to come for a talk rather than a fight. Their attitude left a good impression on Phrenk, and before they were dismissed he threw his weight in behind them as one of the oldest trolls of the village. After that, they had to be heard out, and talked to as friends.
The Elders described the peculiar issue of the Vigil Stone. They could not leave it, because it had helped the tribe so much, and it was dangerous to humans and others like them. It was also far too large to safely move, something that they had considered doing already – after all, even though the valley was nice, it was not as ideal as some of the other locations in the mountain range. That gave Zot an idea, and after sending for Dimli – for they needed his dwarven ingenuity – the party arranged to move the Vigil Stone for the tribe. The Elders agreed with the plan, and after little more than a week of surveying, troll scouts returned with a fantastic location to rebuild the village.
After the relocation, it took only a month for an armistice between the troll village and the nearby lord was drawn. The trolls were happy to share their knowledge of the land, within reason, with other civilized folk, they just demanded that their borders be respected. After trade had been established between them and the noble’s holdings, things grew amicable quickly, in large part due to the quality of liquors and bitters, not to mention magical ingredients the tribe was happy to sell.
Phrenk joined The Party soon after the tensions between the human expansionists and his village settled down. He respected their open-mindedness and attitude – it also helped that Deirdre brought him his first quality alchemist’s kit as a thank-you for his cooperation. Besides, joining The Party was an opportunity for Phrenk to travel and perhaps change the minds of other folk who mistook all trolls for brutish monsters.
Plus, there were plenty more liquors to try among the folk who’d been distilling for centuries…