My Trolls Are Different

I’m having a lot of fun doing this whole reinventing fantasy races thing lately so I decided to do Trolls this time. What do we know about these creatures?

Well, in most settings Trolls are big, dumb and extremely dangerous. A trait very commonly attributed to them is spontaneous regeneration, and sometimes they turn to stone in direct sunlight. They also like to live under bridges for some strange reason. That is if you ignore the Warcraft universe where Trolls are actually closely related to Elves and also Jamaican.

So far I actually kinda like all of these features except the stone turning thing. Most setting already have another monster in that category which can be used to a much better effect: the Gargoyle. So I would nix the stone turning from my list of troll like things. I’m not especially fond of these particular monsters being dim witted and slow. Personally, I like my trolls to be at least somewhat intelligent.

A Bridge Troll

A Bridge Troll

Let me put it this way – Trolls regenerate, right? If we define aging as cellular damage you accumulate over time, we could make a claim that Trolls probably don’t age in the same way other races do. So it is safe to say most Trolls won’t die of old age. They also are not very prone to accidental deaths. They are big enough to secure themselves a spot on the top of the food chain in most areas where they live and if they avoid dragons and other fantastic beasts they probably won’t get eaten. Falling from heights, losing limbs, getting impaled or crushed by falling trees is stuff they can just shrug off. Troll deaths are usually extremely violent affairs that involve excruciating amount of tissue damage inflicted by heavily armed adventures and also probably fire which is known to fuck up that regeneration thing. So barring an encounter with an adventuring party, a troll can probably live forever and accumulate lifetimes worth of experiences and reflections. Even if you are dumb as a rock, all these experiences add up.

Of course forever is a fucking long time to sit under a bridge, which brings me to my next point: Trolls are probably autistic. Or rather their psychological makeup parallels what we would now recognize as high functioning autistic type thinking. For them however this is a natural state. They are the ultimate introverts and loaners trapped in their own minds. And you can sort of figure out how that happened.

Trolls have evolved from large, highly territorial predator species. Because of their size and strength there was not much reason for them to develop social herd-like behavior so common amongst smaller races which evolved from pack hunters or grazers. Like most solitary predators they would come together to mate, but otherwise keep to their territory. They slowly picked up things like speech and tool use and developed loosely knit support groups when early humans, dwarves and elves started chucking spears at them. Then they stumbled onto the genetic mutation that fave them the regeneration powers, and that was it for Troll evolution. They just stopped dying, and the natural selection more or less stopped. From that point on, the only Trolls that would perish without passing on their genes were the stupid ones that would start shit with big monsters, or overestimate their chances of winning against a whole herd of small dudes with swords, shields and torches.

As a result, Trolls are antisocial by nature. It’s that big predator instinct which they never shrugged off. They just don’t like company and get irritated when someone encroaches on their territory. Left to their own devices, they are perfectly happy just sitting somewhere and counting things. Yeah, it’s a thing they like to do – they are like that vampire dude from the Sesame Street when it comes to that. Counting, sorting, arranging things – that’s their thing. So if you are walking around in the forest, and you suddenly see a pile sticks arranged by size and color you might want to get your health potions and your fireball spells ready very quick like. You are in troll county!

This is also the reason why Trolls get so obsessed with bridges. No matter how you cut it, a bridge is a fucking engineering wonder. Trolls recognize good engineering when they see it. They don’t particularly understand how a bridge holds together and so they can spend years studying them. They will count the bricks, study the placement of the posts, test it’s strength and try to figure out how it was done. A bridge is sort of a perfect spot for a Troll to be. There is usually a river there where they can fish for food (and also find colorful stones they can arrange by color), a big interesting structure that can be studied and pondered, and a nice overhang where you can find shade when it is hot, or some dry place to sleep when it rains. The only downside is the humans.

To a Troll, humans are these annoying little jerks without any manners. They just walk onto your territory without announcing themselves (which is not something you would do if you were a troll) make a lot of noise, and walk all over your precious bridge like it was theirs or something. Their only redeeming quality is that if you yell at them, or rough them up a bit (so they understand how rude it is to violate Trolls’ territory) they will usually give you some free shiny stuff to apologize.

Granted, Trolls that try to defend their bridge too much will sooner or later receive the pitchforks and torches treatment from the local village, or find themselves an objective of a quest given to one of them roaming adventuring parties. So the ones that do survive usually learn leave people alone. Some trolls actually figure out the whole bridge thing and learn how to maintain or even improve theirs. When they ask for a bridge toll, it is usually because they need money to buy bricks and mortar to fix something.

Humans often see Trolls as slow and dim-witted but this is not the case. They are just not social animals so they have not developed social intuition like we did. Trolls don’t really pick up on things like subtle body language or voice modulation as a mode for expressing intention or emotion. They are also not immersed in human culture so they do not readily understand rules of etiquette, idioms or jokes. In conversations they come off as rude, forceful and self centered. The longer a Troll lives, the better it gets at this sort of thing, but getting human interaction right takes practice – and practicing these things is probably their least favorite thing to do.

Trolls don’t usually form lasting social bonds. They usually seek out members of the opposite sex during their mating season, and usually go back to their own affairs afterwards. Females raise the kids until they are self-sufficient at which point they wander off and find their own place in the world. A Troll childhood will usually last a few decades during which it will learn most of what it’s mother knows – usually this involves rudimentary knowledge of few local languages, some bridge engineering and tool making skills and a lot of troll-math and troll-science theory which these beasts sort of reverse-engineer from principles.

So chances are that if you need someone with a knack for numbers you can find him living under your local bridge. There is a famous story about a wealthy merchant who hired a local troll to manage his books and records. In mere few months his business went from being near insolvency to record profits. That is until the merchant found some discrepancies in the books, and accused the troll of getting the math wrong. The Troll broke his back, cracked his skull and then threw him off the bridge – which is more or less how you express slight disagreement among the fast healing Troll kind. It was later shown that the Troll’s math was correct and the discrepancy was due to internal fraud.

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9 Responses to My Trolls Are Different

  1. i also always liked the way Pratchett described his trolls on the diskworld.
    They heal, they grow all the time and become bigger and bigger and slower and slower in the process.
    His trolls are based on silicon so they react to heat having difficulties to think.
    When a troll gets verry old, he hardly reacts to anything anymore, he just dreams while plants are growing on him and so sometimes they are confused with mountains.

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  2. Alphast GREECE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Trolls in Legends of the Five Rings are very different from other Heroic Fantasy settings. They are supposed to be physically similar close to ogres, but of massive size, and have a relation to the fire element. They are a near extinct race but used to have an extremely high technological and magical level, one which specialized in studying other realms of reality by building portals between them. Their civilization disappearance predates History within Humans, so little more than legends is known about them, except for the ruins of their ancient capital city. It was caused by the invasion of infernal forces. They first fought them, but after a massive cataclysm decided to submit in exchange of their survival.

    The few survivors are amphibian massive and twisted creatures who can live hours under water. They are cunning but lost most of their civilization and intelligence because of the twisting corrupting power of evil. They avoid combat if they can. If they can not they prefer ambushing their foes.

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  3. I’m really enjoying this series of yours. I’ve been thinking on and off of writing one on vampires (and maybe werewolves) myself. No sparkle, I promise.

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  4. Iodine DENMARK Google Chrome Windows says:

    I have to give props for this version of trolls. I recently used it in a Pathfinder game that I am running, at my players loved it. From the ordered sticks (not to be confused with other orders) and the counting of bricks, it was a great success. I think especially because they were expecting a combat encounter and instead they were basically extorted into paying it gold and promising to bring it mortar for the cracks. Great fun.

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Dr. Azrael Tod:

    Ah, yes – I remember those Trolls from long time ago when I went on a Pratchet binge. I read most of the Rincewind and Death novels that were out at the time in a row, played the point & click adventure game, watched some adaptations and sort of got over saturated. Haven’t picked up these books in years.

    @ Alphast:

    Wow, these are pretty cool trolls. I guess they are more varied than I thought.

    @ Shrutarshi Basu:

    Send me a link if you do. :) I kinda liked the vampire inversion China Mieviele did in Scar where he introduces a land ruled by mummy style undead where vampirism is like leprosy – a shameful, stigmatizing disease rather than the dark, romantic power trip that it usually tends to be.

    @ Iodine:

    Yay, someone actually used my idea! This = awesome!

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  6. Alphast GREECE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Yep. I did not have a link to their latest “canon” appearance in the game when I posted, but here it is:
    The guy at the front is a human (although a demi-god, but that’s another story). The statues in the background are supposed to represent the Troll kings at the time of their civilization’s apogee.

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  7. Anil Alcin TURKEY Google Chrome Windows says:

    Hello Luke. Hope you’re doing fine..! This is totally off topic but my question is about the above image, the troll pencil drawing… where is it from, who is it by? If you could help me out with that, I would be very thankful to you. Cheers.

    Thanks in advance and take care. Bye. :)


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  8. Mike McAleny UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I have to admit, I like your ideas for trolls, however I do have a few comments. If you google trolls, you will find a picture of a group of trolls sitting in a group around a camp fire. This proves the social group thing, and the fear of fire. This picture, if I’m not mistaken is taken from pictures relating to Norse mythology, where trolls are first referenced. The thing that trolls fear is Thunder and Lightning, as the Norse god Thor hates trolls. If you are interested, I am an aspiring writer, writing a fantasy book, which includes a number of trolls. You can find my website here:

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  9. Mike McAleny UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    That should say Disproves, not proves the social thing etc.

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