Roleplayer
Roleplayer #24, June 1991

Norse Trolls

Monstrous Foes for Viking Adventure

by Graeme Davis

In GURPS Vikings (rush out and buy it now!) I made the conscious decision to restrict myself to sources from the Viking Age. This cuts out a lot of wonderful stories from later Scandinavian folklore and literature, right up to Peer Gynt and The Three Billy-Goats Gruff.

This article presents a miscellany of information and ideas based on post-Viking Scandinavian folklore, which can easily be incorporated into a Vikings campaign. Most of it could be used in a GURPS Fantasy campaign, as well.

Troll Types

The Troll race seems to have undergone a period of great diversification shortly after Christianity became widespread in their homelands. This may be the effect of Christianity driving them to the edge of extinction, or a depleted gene-pool causing wild-card mutations, or it may be that the word "Troll" was erroneously applied to other creatures. Be that as it may, here are a few possible sub-races:

Cliff Trolls

Cliff Trolls vary in size, but are little seen; possibly they have some kind of natural or magical camouflage, or have developed great stealth and hiding skills. They are also highly skilled climbers, as might be expected. They specialize in throwing people off cliffs; their favorite tactic is to cut the ropes of egg-collectors, although they will also seize people who wander too close to a cliff-edge, and throw them to their doom on the rocks below.

No one has ever had a close look at a Cliff Troll; the most that anyone ever sees is a hairy arm reaching out from behind a rock. They will avoid cliffs which have been blessed by a Christian priest, but it is wise to leave them one area of cliffs which they can call their own; if they are entirely robbed of their home, they become vicious and the situation can end up in outright war. With their stealth and concealment skills, Cliff Trolls make deadly terrorists.

Sea Trolls

Sea Trolls generally live in sea-caves, and lay claim to a stretch of water surrounding their homes. They are fully amphibious, and can grow to immense size; some tales tell of a pair of arms reaching out of the water and crushing the hull of an eight-oared faering, or dragging it under with a single pull. Like the Cliff Trolls, Sea Trolls avoid being seen, and most people will only see a pair of huge, hairy arms reaching up out of the water.

Lesser Trolls

These vicious little creatures were mentioned in passing in GURPS Vikings. Much like Goblins, they are small, individually weak and cowardly, and prefer to attack in large numbers (and, if possible, from ambush), overwhelming a single victim. Their precise size and shape varies widely: some have tails and/or animal legs, some look like ugly little humans, and some can have multiple forms, often masquerading as a child or farm animal to cause chaos.

Greater Trolls

Some of the Trolls of folklore grow to enormous size – at least as big as the true Giants of Norse mythology. These Greater Trolls tend to be rather slow and stupid, but their strength is immense. They can pick up buildings (especially churches) and throw them several miles, and they can do the same with building-size boulders. They can drink a whole lake at a single draught, or create a new one by leaving a footprint across the course of a river. They are mainly used in folklore to explain geographical features, but could make a deadly opponent for Viking PCs in a mythic campaign

Advantages and Disadvantages

GURPS Fantasy Folk lists several new racial advantages which would be appropriate for folklore Trolls. Because of the extreme diversity of the race, however, not all of them are suitable for all Trolls – this is the reason for omitting any Fantasy Folk-style listing of advantages and disadvantages. Weaknesses are discussed in detail below; the rest can be listed in two categories – those which most Trolls will have, and those which some Trolls will have.

Common advantages include Damage Resistance, Dark Vision, Claws (+2) and Early Maturation (9 years).

Occasional advantages include Regeneration and Re-growth (see below), and Increased Strength.

Common disadvantages include Dying Race, Phobia (Christianity), Reduced IQ, Ugly Appearance and Weakness (Sunlight).

An occasional disadvantage is Inconvenient Size; this is most common among trolls with Increased Strength. Some Trolls have an actual Weakness with respect to Christianity.

A Note on Regeneration

Ever since the first days of roleplaying, it has been an accepted truth that Trolls always regenerate. This, along with the green skin, impressive warts and three-foot nose with which Trolls are commonly depicted, seems to have originated in Poul Anderson's fantasy novel The Broken Sword, better known as Three Hearts and Three Lions.

Some Trolls from Scandinavian myth and folklore do have rapid healing abilities, but more often they have phenomenally high DR and PD scores. Regeneration and Regrowth are suitable advantages for some Trolls, to be sure, but the GM should be aware that, in Scandinavian tradition at least, they are optional rather than mandatory.

Weaknesses

In post-Viking folklore, Trolls have two outstanding weaknesses – sunlight and Christianity. The precise effects vary from individual to individual; sometimes a Troll can actually enter a church without suffering more than a little discomfort, while other Trolls are turned to stone by the sound of church bells. Similarly, some Trolls are wounded by sunlight, while others are petrified or killed. GURPS Fantasy Folk covers the Weakness disadvantage on a racial basis, but Trolls are a diverse lot, and the GM might decide that although the race as a whole invariably suffers from one or both of these weaknesses, the level can vary from Troll to Troll.

For readers without GURPS Fantasy Folk, here's a summary of Weakness:

A creature with a Weakness suffers actual damage through exposure to a certain substance or condition. The value of the disadvantage is a function of the amount of damage (or the rate at which damage is accrued) and the rarity of the cause. 1d per minute is worth -20 points, 1d per 5 minutes is worth -10, and 1d per 30 minutes is worth -5. This base value is halved if the damage caused is Fa-tigue rather than hit points. It is also halved if the cause is very rare, and doubled or even tripled if the cause is common. The amount of damage, and whether it comes from Fatigue or hit points, is a matter for the GM to determine, and will vary from Troll to Troll.

Sunlight is pretty common, but can be avoided by adopting a nocturnal lifestyle, so a doubling of the base disadvantage value would be appropriate.

Christianity spreads over time – it is very rare (half value) prior to about AD 900, and moderately common (normal value) between 900-1000. After 1000 it becomes very common (double value). A rarer weakness is to the sound of one's own name. This would appear to be a terrible disadvantage, but it only seems to take effect when the name is pronounced by a Christian. A whole adventure could revolve around the task of finding out the name of a Troll who is terrorizing a community.

Troll Magic

Several stories feature Trollish magic, giving a rather mixed set of spells to work from. I've made no attempt here to integrate these effects into the GURPS magic system; this is up to the individual GM. In many cases they are better used as major plot elements rather than as day-to-day NPC magic.

Lure

This spell can be used to draw a victim to the Troll's lair from a distance of several miles. The caster must have some idea of the victim's identity (e.g. Rolf Gunnarson, or the farmer by Gudbrandsdal, or the priest of Slingsby). If the victim is a devout Christian, or if prayers are said for the victim by a devout Christian (and note that devoutness has only a slight connection with Clerical Investment!) the victim has a bonus to resist the spell. This bonus should be in proportion to the Troll's magical ability and the GM's estimation of the devoutness of the Christians involved. If the spell is not resisted successfully, the victim enters a kind of trance, and makes his way to the Troll's lair unless forcibly restrained until dawn.

Curse

A Troll with magical ability can curse a place or person to barrenness. A cursed field will bear no crops (in extreme cases, nothing at all will grow there – not even weeds), a cursed lake or stream will become empty of fish, and a cursed person or animal will become completely sterile. This spell is also available to hedge-wizards, wise women and mystics.

Fog

Trolls can call down a fog so thick that visibility is literally zero. It covers a comparatively small area – no larger than a single field, usually – but the fog is so dense that they can approach a cart under its cover and abduct someone from a cart without anyone in the cart noticing until the fog clears.

Stocks

Trolls are very fond of kidnapping humans – especially children (for eating) and young women (for a worse fate). Some species of Trolls, like the Kunal-Trow of Norse Orkney, must actually take a human wife, because the troll-wives are infertile. A favorite trick to delay discovery and pursuit is to leave a stock behind in place of the victim. This is a cunningly-carved wooden replica of the victim, which is good enough to fool most humans – although priests can sometimes recognize them for what they are.

The victim is abducted at night. The stock is found and assumed to be their corpse. Funeral arrangements are made for the person who "died in the night," and it is not usually until the stock is about to be buried that the officiating priest notices that it is made of wood. This gives the Trolls a good head start (up to a couple of days) before any rescue attempts are made.

(To recognize a stock, roll vs. any medical skill, or its default, at a -6. A Christian gets a +2. A modern physician would get no extra bonus; this is magic, not science! Anyone with Magery would have their normal chance to detect the stock as an enchanted item, but the only thing they would be likely to think would be "That corpse is enchanted." They still wouldn't realize it wasn't real unless they made the medical roll.)

Errata from Roleplayer #25: The article on Norse Trolls states that The Broken Sword is also known as Three Hearts and Three Lions. This proves not to be the case; they're different books. The regenerating troll appears in the latter.

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