Friday, April 21, 2017

Ye Old Trolls of Elthos

So I've been Gamemastering my world of Elthos since 1978, and to be absolutely honest, until this most recent Whitewode Campaign, no one had yet encountered a troll.  Yup.  30+ years later, finally - a troll!

Now, I should say my trolls are not standard stock issue D&D trolls with the green skin and carrot noses. No way. I never could stand that kind of troll. I don't even know why, exactly, but my reaction to that concept for trolls has always been "Holy Yuck-I-Don't-Think-So!" They just didn't look like what I imagined "real" trolls to look like. Again - no idea why. But my vision of trolls must have been formed from some old fairy tale book I read as a child and have long forgotten. At any rate, the trolls of Elthos are large, heavy boned, and girded round with huge bellies and large round noses, long unkempt hair, and dress in peasant cloths, often with a skull cap made of a whole cow hide. They're big fellows, and are ambling, stupid, selfish, and a bit overly fond of very simple riddles.

"Why did the hobbit cross the road?", asked Bob Ruckbottom, the older of the two trolls, and therefore the smarter one. He knew the riddle after all.

"Oh, let me think on it, Bob," said Tom, his brother.

"Ok, you do that. If you get it, I'll give you my best ruck-sack", Bob added for good measure.

A while later, Tom answered as follows, "Cause he had no shoes?"

"Noooo," said Bob with a huge guffaw. "To get away!" he proclaimed with a uproarious laugh.

And so, that's just how trolls are in Elthos. Big lumbering and dumb as a sack of sand. That said, on the other hand, they're also have bones made of stone, and skin flecked with iron. They regenerate their wounds at an alarming speed, and if you don't burn them once their heads have been chopped off, then they'll grow back a new one and come hunt you down. They're really not very nice.

Now once in a long while, a troll or two will be spawned just a cut above the rest. Either smarter, or stronger, or quicker than your average lot. These trolls go on to gain fame among the troll-kin, and usually become heroes of their clans, one way or another.

Such a hero was Babayuma "Bob" Ruckbuottom. He knew his riddles he did. And so one day, after he had utterly smashed a local brigade of King Varin's troops at Old West Bridge, just outside of Whitewode before it had sunk under the ground (it was a cursed village, don't you know), the King stood forward on his chariot, and offered Bob the job of keeping the Toll at the Bridge. Why would King Varin do such a thing? Well, no one knows for sure, but historians think that there must have been several reasons for it. One, the thinking goes, was that Bob was a capable and frighting warrior, and so no one would dare to avoid the toll again. Another was that the King could tell by the riddles Bob would ask his knights before crushing them that Bob was not an ordinary troll, but one of those that had slightly more than half a brain. Thirdly, it is rumored that for some reason Bob decided at some point that he wanted to be a Knight - and this was something the King could offer him in exchange for his service. Finally, there are some who say that King Varin was a Wizard of no small skill who had the ability to overpower weaker minds and make them loyal subjects through the craft of his speech. Whatever the case, Bob accepted the offer to be the King's Troll, and was knighted on the spot, and because of this he took his post in a cave just below the West Gate Bridge, and from that time forth, collected the King's toll with a loyalty and ferocity that begger's the imagination. And from that time forth everyone paid the toll, and there were no more sneaks, and no more bum-rushes over the bridge, and in the end, Bob amassed a huge fortune in that cave of his. When people needed to go to Whitewode, they would pass over the bridge, and those who knew how things stood would put a tin piece in the stone bowl for each person or animal crossing the bridge. But those who asked what the "1" on the sign signified, Bob would lie, and say "One Gold!".  Few people had the courage to argue with Bob, and those who did didn't last long.

Also as time passed King Varin passed away, and the kingdom passed away and the lands fell fallow, and after the Ogre Wars the men who lived in the great valley of Glendale were killed off or chased away further to the south. In all that time the curse of Whitewode took it's toll on the town, and it sank slowly under the ground, until it merged completely within Grimdel's enormous cavern. Only a single hole at the top of the cavern showed through a beam of moonlight now and again. And there lives Bob the King's Troll in his cave below the bridge at West Gate. There's a sign there that reads "Toll: 1" which King Varin had made for him, and below it, a stone bowl carved out of the cliff face next to the cave's entrance. Over the years, Bob acquired a couple of guard dogs, which were also of trollish blood, to help him keep his treasure safe.

And so once every ten years, Bob would haul whatever toll was due the King up to the old White Tower at the top of the cliffs, and report to the King's Wizard there. And of course, Bob would keep the rest for his own maintenance. And thus, Bob's treasure was quite large. And the King's Toll treasure of the White Tower was also quite large, though that one was comprised of tin coins, while Bob's was made up of gold. It had been 800 years since King Varin knighted Bob, and so you can imagine that after all that time, two rather substantial treasures got built up, slowly but surely. And so there is Bob to this day, with his two troll-hounds, and living peacably enough for a troll under the West Gate Bridge. If you should happen to pass that way, just drop a tin piece in the bowl on your way across the bridge, and you'll have no trouble with Bob.

Naturally, my players declined to do so. They got in a fight with Bob. I was fairly certain, comparing Bob's mighty stats and regeneration to their capabilities, even though they were all veteran adventurers, that Bob and his dogs had the upper hand and would be likely to kill off half of them, if not all. BUT - Hermel was smarter than Bob. He created an illusion of a flower pot, in which was a Sun Flower. Now, these Sun Flowers grow magically in the cavern, and are cultivated by the fey who don't care much for trolls, and they have served to keep the trolls out for many long centuries. There's only a few such flowers growing in and around Doctor Sniloc's manor some distance through the cavern south of Whitewode. Having run into them there, Hermel understood their signifance, and when they encountered Bob, he created an illusion of one. And this was the one thing that could frighten Bob enough for him to retreat back into his cave.

Now some of you might ask, how could Bob have collected the toll in the daylight before Whitewode sank under the ground? Well, King Varin built a covering for the bridge so that Bob could attend to his business without having to come in contact with the sunlight. Eventually, that covering was torn asunder once the town sank, and became that very formidable wooden bridge-door which bob could use to close the bridge and bar the entrance to his cave ... just in case a dragon or somesuch thing might come some day. And it did. And Bob didn't mind. He was safe in his cave, barricaded in and unassailable in his little fortress with his two dogs, Fido, and Fifi.

And that, friends, is what trolls are like in Elthos.

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