I don’t love TV Tropes* but their entry on trolls saves me a whole lot of typing. So go there, then come back here.
Okay, you still with me?
The trolls of Pathfinder are not and yet still kind of are the trolls of D&D, the trolls of Tolkien, the trolls of Norse Mythology, the trolls of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” etc. Every source seems to approach trolls from its own lens**, but Pathfinder has done a good job of making its trolls a little bit of all of the above without diluting their essential nature. But it’s telling that even Pathfinder has had to work to reconcile the differences among its very own trolls: the dumb, walking underbite standard model versus the nearly fey trolls of the Lands of the Linnorm Kings versus the (absolutely genius, first-thing-I point-to-when-people-ask-my-why-Pathfinder-is-great) troll haruspices of Kaer Maga.
Having trolls be giants from the First World (as is suggested in various places, especially Lands of the Linnorm Kings, I believe) is a really elegant fix: in one fell swoop it explains their regeneration, the magically plastic nature of their many subraces, and their occasional brilliance despite an average Int of 6. Whether you choose a similar option is up to you.
Where am I going with all this? All I’m saying is that, like every monster we talk about here, trolls are yours to play with, tweak, and rework for your campaign world. You’ll be taking part in a very old tradition.
*Let’s be clear: Really useful tropes tend to arise (and stay) in popular parlance: Jumping the Shark, Cousin Oliver Syndrome, Space Jews, etc. TV Tropes is a game played by pop culture enthusiasts with other pop culture enthusiasts. It’s an exercise in cataloging by fans for fans. Enjoy it! Have fun with it! But spending too long on there risks turning you into a walking wiki who can no longer communicate with Muggles.
**Interesting how we’ve totally fallen in lockstep with Tolkien’s portrayal of dwarves, elves, and (to a lesser extent) halflings, yet trolls seem to insist on remaining their own creatures. Ironic that we have an iconic monster that refuses to be iconic.
Anyway, on to the troll adventure seeds!
A troll is held as a witness before a trial, chains and regular applications of torch fire serving to keep it bound. But when the guard grows lax during the winter holiday season, the troll makes its escape. First it gnaws off its flame-burnt stumps to escape its chains and allow its arms to regrow. Then it burst out of its tower cell and uses its own intestines to rappel down the side. It lands just before a reveling party of adventurers, blood and guts steaming amid the snow. Do the lightly armed and drunken adventurers dare tackle the beast, even in its weakened state?
A rogue backstabbed a troll, only to lose his magic dagger in the rubbery flesh. The regenerating skin covered the dagger, which now sits encysted in the troll’s side. The dagger hums to warn of danger, which makes this troll very hard to sneak up on.
The tale of the Goats and the Troll seems to have come to life at Wine Barrel Bridge. All those attempting to go over the bridge must face three wild satyrs, while river traffic going under must contend with a scrag. All four assailants have a reverence for riddle play—the troll’s long memory (and Wis 9) making up for any lack of intelligence—and they will break off an assault to play, but only if their victim proposes a game.
—Classic Monsters Revisited 58–63 & Pathfinder Bestiary 268
More on trolls in (of course) Classic Monsters Revisited. For you all who like to dive into the deep cuts, GAZ7 The Northern Reaches set the example of really dumb, sadistic trolls in D&D’s Known World, which Bruce Heard picked up in GAZ10 The Orcs of Thar. But he played with trolls, too—the trolls of Alphatia’s Trollhattan are quite sophisticated, in fact.
On a personal note, a scrag graced the cover of one of the first issues of Dragon Magazine I ever bought, #133. Man, do I like that cover.
Lots of comments on recent posts! I definitely do read them all and I’ll try to tackle them as holiday craziness subsides; right now I’m in a bit deep.