Monday, 6 June 2016

Humanoids, Part II: Trolls

This is a followup to Giving Humanoids a Raison d'ĂȘtre, where I cover the Goblins Bugbears, Ogres and trolls. Or simply: Trolls. Let's throw in hill giants, ogre magi (Onis) and hags for good measure.

The humanoids discussed in the previous entry were, in a sense, write-ups of Gygaxian Naturalist critters. In this article, the remaining ones will be those of a decidedly more mythic bend. I've compiled them all under the label: Trolls.

I've never loved the D&D troll. As a critter, it is a fine piece of work. Everybody fears and loathes regeneration. But trolls, at least as a Scandinavian, has unavoidable mythic connotations to me that Poul Anderson's strange concoction does not meet in any shape or form. The D&D 'troll' is wonderful Chaos Beast no doubt, but it is not mythic. And trolls are mythic. Instead, I've stripped the D&D troll of its rank and title and assigned it to some others critters of mythic origin who could really do with a bit of mythic re-enforcement in D&D and are essentially English equivalents of the Scandinavian troll.

Trolls in Scandinavian lore come in different sizes - From small 'trollfolk' popular in Denmark to near Jotun like giants in Norway. I blended in the concept of the Hulder (also known as "troll wives") and the stories of how female Jotun are often great (and normalsized) beauties and threw in hags for good measure as they are basically ugly troll wives full of sorcery and wickedness.

What I mean by Mythic here is that they are more quintessentially 'otherworldly'. My Beastmen, Hobgoblins and Orcs are all of human origin, or close enough, and related to humanity. They can be explained, understood. Mythic creatures are not. They belong to a different world order beyond human ken, the mythic realm - Reality in the Mythlands is narrative and impressionistic moreso than natural and 'realistic' and so are the creatures of myth.


Trolls are an ancient and primitive race that primarily occupy the Mythlands and Borderlands of Erce, encroaching at the edges of humanity every so often. They are steeped in sorcery, savage force and primal instincts and many tales are told of the to frighten children and warn off the foolhardy from going into the dark wildernesses that trolls call home. Nonetheless, though most stories of them are of greed, cannibalism and cruelty, there are also stories of surprisingly gentle trolls who can be bargained with.

Four kind of trolls are generally distinguished: Goblins (also known as 'pygmy trolls'), Bug bears (also known as 'bogey men' or simply 'trolls' ), 'True' Trolls (also known as 'ogres' and 'hags') and great trolls (hill giants). It is unclear how distinct or similar these four truly are. They can be found mingling together as often as they keep to their 'own kind' and it is believed that goblins, though more like to give birth to more goblins may just as well have ogres in her litter and vice versa. Nonetheless, this writeup will pretend that these four kinds are distinct and treat them accordingly. Reader beware that the reality of it may be significantly more fluid.



Goblins are small, greedy, mischievous and often malicious creatures who live deep in the woods and underground. Cunning and masters of stealth, goblins frequently venture into the borderlands, thanks to their honed abilities to remain unseen. They are notorious for snatching livestock and children from outlying farmsteads. People in the borderlands are known to make sacrifices and offerings to appease the goblins and keep them from these practices.

Though many goblins are vicious and simpleminded creatures, a fair number have well developed intellects and magical ability is not uncommon among them. Goblins are known for being capable sorcerers and illusionists, able to wreak havoc on entire communities. 

Goblins also have a reputation for being masterful craftsmen and dweomersmiths. Such goblins are also known as "Dark dwarves" though any relation to regular dwarves is yet to be established.

Use stats for goblins, but with generous serving of sorcerer and druid caster levels every so often.


Bugbears are the things that go bump in the night. Also known as bogey men, or simply 'trolls' they are what usually comes to mind when one thinks of a troll. Though many tales are told of their savage and frightening appearance, few people have ever lived to tell of their appearance. Indeed, of those unlucky enough to encounter them, most of them die before they even catch a glimpse of what stalks them - For bugbears, like their lesser cousins, are masters of stealth and most commonly roam in the night, unseen and unheard, dragging away fools to their cookpots who did not know to stay behind locked doors in the safety of their homes that night.

Use stats for bugbears.

"True" Trolls

Whether 'true' trolls are the original troll species from which the others are descended is not known - But they identify themselves as being so and have the brute force to enforce their claim.

Unlike their lesser cousins, true trolls are not known for their cunning and stealth.  They are rather more infamous for their stupidity in fact. They roam in broad daylight and are feared for their ability simply run down their victims - That and their insatiable gluttony for human flesh. Of all the trollkin, none are as menacing to mankind as the 'ogres'.

Some true trolls are more true-blooded than others. Perhaps it is some evolutionary throwback to a time when trolls were less savage, but some are born with more dignified appearance, wits and terrific magical ability. Sadly, their hearts are every bit as wicked as their more brutish cousins - When trolls congregate in larger numbers it is usually under the leadership of one of these 'ogre mages'.

Use stats for Ogres and Ogre Mage.

Great Trolls

Great trolls are the rarest among trolls - fortunately. They are also the most dimwitted of trolls. So hidebound are they that they are commonly found accepting the leadership guidance of smaller trolls, simply because they have at least figured out that they eat better and stay alive longer in the company of their smaller brethren. They rarely venture into human lands, preferring the wilderness. Though if a human should be foolish enough to venture into the mythlands where they might stumble on a great troll, they are immediately singled out for dinner.

Use stats for Hill Giants.

Female Trolls

Female trolls, often known as "troll wives", in particular seem to defy categorisation. Regardless of the type of male troll company they keep, they can be anything from diminutive to huge and range from being hideously ugly to incandescently beautiful. 

The beautiful ones are almost always redhaired and often known as Huldras. Whilst uglier ones, said to be so due to their evil sorcery, are known as hags or witches.

Huldras are one of the most common trolls humans are likely to encounter face to face. When troll families starve, the wives go into the borderlands to entice young men to follow them into the woods where their brothers can carry them off to the cookpots. There are tales of huldras falling in love with mortal men and marrying them. But not enough that any sane man should not run at the sight of one.

Use stats for hags. Huldras use similar stats (but with significantly higher Charisma and often Intelligence as well) as their male brethren, even though they look slight and humansized.

Some fool adventurer tried to abduct save the Troll King's Daughter from her horrid troll family. She showed up with all her cousins to teach him what's what.

Closing Thoughts

Bugbears and goblins were, to my mind, really in need of being freshed up into something more than 'smallest hit die joke humanoid' and 'large orcs'.

Making them mythic and almost fey I think gives them a totally different aura. Goblins in particular deserve to live up to their folkloric reputation as genuinely frightening creatures. Both them and bugbears gain a lot of mileage from being mostly unseen creatures.

Next up

Part 3 - mostly just an afterthought on kobolds.