Troll

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Drawing of a Water Troll, by Theodor Kittelsen

Troll

Origin: (Trolls are creatures of ancient folklore, perhaps dating back to some of the most ancient literature to descriptions of Grendel and its mother in Beowulf)

Associated Mythos Elements

According to Scandinavian and Nordic tradition, a "troll" is an intelligent denizen of the wilderness, sometimes taking the form of slow-witted giants, sometimes the form of feral dwarfs, sometimes almost indistinguishable from humans and wise in magic and other powers, or any variation on these. Trolls are often associated with nature - shy creatures dwelling in mountains, forests, fields, lakes, seas, and caverns far from human civilization. Sometimes, they are associated with tombs and the unquiet dead, perhaps being a representation of long-forgotten dead ancestors or the remains of precursor races, "living" in a sort of afterlife deep within burial mounds or in tombs. According to folklore, Trolls are believed to make their homes on, under, or near bridges, where they demand tolls for passage or threaten to eat any who might try to pass without their permission.

The word "Troll" might be used to describe any of a variety of mythos creatures:

"Wild Men"

Degenerate humans, proto-human ape-men or man-apes, or other humanoids; see:

"Giants" - Sasquatch

A variation on the "Wild Man", this is a much larger, stronger, and perhaps more supernatural version: a large, shaggy, man-like beast, similar to Big-Foot, Sasquatch, Yeti, Wendigo (race), Yeren, Ogre, Fear Liath Moor (a big, grey, man-like creature that haunts the highest peaks of Scotland, where they are said to be the guardians of gates or bridges to other dimensions), or other such beings. According to Nordic tradition, Trolls are giants, akin to mythical Jötunn ("ettins" or "giants", relatives of the gods).

Denizens of the Dreamlands

The giant, subterranean Dreamlands creatures known as Gugs bear many resemblances to Trolls, and legends about Trolls guarding bridges may be a description of these giants guarding the doors between Dream and Day, where they prevent dreamers from physically crossing those "bridges" from one side to the other. Investigators, with suitable payment in whatever currency Gugs might accept (they might prefer sacrifices to gold or other treasure), might be able to physically walk into or out of the Dreamlands at the thin spots where Gugs stand guard.

Dimensional Shamblers

The beings known as Dimensional Shamblers are described similarly to Trolls, and may be the same creature, crossed over into our world from their own mysterious plane through "thin spots" bridging worlds.

Nagaae

See Nagaae, a toadlike alien horror that lives in desolate swamps, bogs, canals, tunnels, and under bridges, and delights in torture and murder.

Faeries

Legends of Trolls bear many similarities to those sinister ancient tales of Faeries, and may be similar or identical to those foul, sub-human creatures.

Witches

There are some similarities between spell-casting Trolls and Witches. Perhaps Trolls are human (humanoid, sub-human, or pre-human) spell casters, empowered through their magic to be immortal and unbound by time and space, emerging from time to time from their extra-dimensional lairs through bizarre arcs and angles to engage in mischief in our world like feral Keziah Masons (the evil witch from "Dreams in the Witch-House (fiction)").

Ghouls, Vampires

In many aspects, some Troll legends are similar to those of the Draugr ("Again Walker"), a form of reanimated corpse or other being that dwells in graveyards and tombs; Trolls might be similar to or identical with such creatures as Ghouls (perhaps a more primitive, ape-like version of the Ghoul) or Vampires, Wendigo (Race), or even Worms that Walk, swelled monstrous to plague the earth below....

Byakhee

A Byakhee in its role as transportation for cultists and wizards as they travel between worlds might be thought of as a variation on the "Troll at the bridge" legend, as creatures that lurk beneath the "bridges" between worlds, appearing when summoned to escort travelers to the other side, perhaps for a price....

Elementals

As nature spirits, Trolls might literally be "one with the earth" - they live in and consist of dirt and stone, growing plants from their bodies, etc. In this form, the Comte D'Erlette referred to Trolls as "Satyrs" or "Earth Elementals" (see Elemental for more information).

In the mad, rambling Cultes des Goules, the Comte D'Erlette hinted that "trolls" might take other elemental forms, including aquatic "Nymphs" (Deep Ones), aerial "Sylphs" (Poltergeists and other "demons of the air"), and fire-based "Djinn" (including Ghouls and Vampires).

Halfling

See also: Halfling for a general treatment of hybrid, partly-human creatures (changelings, nephilim, giants, demigods, etc.)

Other

  • Tome: Beowulf, a real-world ancient work of literature which includes the famous monsters, Grendel and its mother, as blood-thirsty and savage creatures that dwell in the wilderness and emerge at night to attack armed and living civilized fighting men in their halls.
  • See also Mythic Creatures for alternative treatments of this theme, including chimerae, griffons, sphinxes, minotaurs, unicorns, and the like, any of which might be misidentified mythos monsters.


Keeper Notes

Trolls might be a natural fit for scenarios or campaigns set in Mythic Iceland, Cthulhu Dark Ages, Invictus, and the Dreamlands, and might make good "mcguffins" for cryptid-hunters and other adventurers to go on expeditions to look for. Some less obvious uses for these creatures might be in contemporary horror stories, where (for example) Trolls snatch travelers who pass too closely to their "bridges" who the investigators might then have to rescue, or where Trolls might serve as obstacles or bargain with investigators who wish to travel through their territory on journeys into the Dreamlands or other strange dimensions and worlds.


Plot Hooks & Scenario Seeds

Plot Hooks, Scenario Seeds, Heresies, and Controversies:

  • Trolls turn into stone when exposed to direct sunlight. (folklore)
  • Trolls are guardians or keepers of bridges; these bridges need not by literal, phsyical bridges. (folklore)
  • Trolls are frightened by lightening, and dislike the sound of church bells, sometimes laying siege to churches and hurling boulders at new churches in reaction to the bells. (folklore)
  • A troll might be just another face to the Sasquatch and Yeti mythologies as being the powerful wizards and dreamers and wise-men from proto-human civilizations - those who have discovered the secrets to great longevity and travel between worlds and any other magics that have allowed them to survive so far into the age of modern men. (YSDC Forum Discussion)
  • What if there's something about the familiar angles to earthly bridges that draws trolls near? Maybe there's more under those river bridges that there appears - a certain command or key that, much like Keziah Mason's magic, unlocks a doorway to the troll's interdimentional lair? (YSDC Forum Discussion)
  • Physical bridges are, in a sense, a "liminal" symbol: a threshold, or something in-between - it might (for example) be a symbol of the boundary between this world and the spirit world or the afterlife, or a turning point in a journey or a rite of passage, and it usually represents a place of uncertainty, the unknown, and danger (it shares symbolism with crossroads, twilight/midnight/dawn/noon, Halloween, cemeteries, churches, caves, shores, mountains, rivers, crossroads, borders, walls and fences, balancing points, doors and windows, etc.; trolls and other wild-men have a sort of liminal quality about them as well, being neither wholly man nor animal, neither clearly flesh nor spirit, neither entirely civilized nor savage, not quite good or evil....) And, looking over the edge of the bridge, into the water, we have a natural mirror, which is a slightly different sort of liminal symbol relating to the spirit world, as a parallel reflection of this world with the mirror standing between the real and the reflected. So, a bridge over a river can be seen as a place where several different worlds meet, and perhaps it's only natural that the threshold into a troll's world or lair can be found there. (YSDC Forum Discussion)
  • A homeless man who seemed to spend his days and nights standing on a bridge staring down into the Miskatonic river, having deep, animated, and cryptic conversations with his refection in the water, sometimes laughing, sometimes arguing, sometimes threatening, sometimes screaming and weeping hysterically, was actually speaking to a Troll which had taken the form of the man's reflection in the water, where it was instructing him in secrets from the dawn of history which modern man was not meant to know. (YSDC Forum Discussion)
  • Bridges connect things. They are also called spans. The other thing measured in spans is time. You know what spans all space-time and regenerates? Hounds of Tindalos. (YSDC Forum Discussion)
    • Hound tongues turn people into trolls. Eventually their outsides twist as much as their insides, yet they somehow survive. (YSDC Forum Discussion)
  • What if trolls were a tribal/cultural distinct group of people that practiced cannibalism? From all accounts that sounds obvious and part of their core belief. So what if the cannibals were fed part of a shoggoth as an experiment. Either by a mad shaman/sorcerer or a shoggoth itself. The progenitor plasm of the shoggoth imbues the troll tribe with alien abilities. Trolls don't just regenerate wounds, they grow new limbs and body parts in almost no time. (YSDC Forum Discussion)
    • Perhaps an unethical group has kidnapped a regenerating Troll and is using it as an organ farm. The criminal outfit has locked the troll within a basement somewhere, barely feeding it and giving it drink as they regularly dig their scalpels into it and harvest the profusion of organs, which they then sell on the black market. The troll is dying; the group knows this, and are on the hunt for more trolls.
    • Troll-grown limbs and organs would, after grafting onto humans, deteriorate in sunlight, turning into "stone", requiring the regular replacement of these parts, and a captive returning customer base who can be kept alive almost indefinitely with these replacement parts (and, of course, the customers are a little less human each time they have a little more troll added to them!)
    • In the end, this organ-farming can be thought of as a sort of cannibalism in its own way - with these rich and powerful patients surviving by "consuming" the flesh of trolls, which is slowly consuming them.
  • Trolls are sterile, and there is only one way to continue their species and knowledge: they raided, and they stole people, children in particular, for their tribe is old and children are best to teach. They stole children to feed and raise as their own, feed them parts of themselves. Some just force feed the children with raw flesh torn from their bodies, and others go to great pretense as old ladies from ancient stories with treats of sweetbread and candies made from their own flesh to infect the unwary and turn them into new trolls.... (YSDC Forum Discussion)
    • Trolls being some early form of men who have been living on (or perhaps entertaining themselves with) cannibalism and the consumption of strange, intelligent mythos horrors which have altered them in horrible ways. It seems like a nice variation on the old Wendigo legends, too.
  • Ape-like Trolls worship Tsathoggua, who has given them the special ability to call blizzards in order to protect themselves as the last of his Voormi worshipers. (Scenario: "Nightmare in Norway")
  • Imagine what a witch might turn into if they buried themselves in an attempt to get closer to a Chthonian? As the mental and physical corruption of the monster takes hold they become a monstrous think that's a threat to those nearby. They could rise occasionally to seek of sacrifices for their masters or amplify their master telepathic signals causing nightmares and insanity. Perhaps people would try to stop them by building bridges and other structures on top of these "haunted grounds" to dampen the Trolls influence. A sort of underground Keziah Mason, a witch who rather than living in the angles and higher dimensions with Nyarlathotep, lives in the forests with Shub-Niggurath or in the dirt with Shudde-m'll? (YSDC Forum Discussion)
    • The Comte D'Erlette wrote about similar beings in Cultes des Goules, describing them as "Earth Elementals", which he claimed were earth spirits literally formed of clay, earth, and stone, and "called Satyrs, also known variously as Giants, Nephilim, Titans, Ogres, Trolls...." (August Derleth's Elementalism)
  • A "monster hunter" scenario: if set in the 1920s it would most likely be a trophy hunter, whereas if it was set in modern times, it would probably be a bunch of fame-seekers making a horrible reality TV show or "documentary". (YSDC Forum Discussion)
  • A relatively benign Troll, guardion of a village or town, might disguise himself as a human and hire the investigators to help look into threats to the community, such as the suspicious tolling of bells from a sinister church submerged in a lake.... (YSDC Forum Discussion)
  • As wild men, Trolls worship "Father Night" and "Mother Moon", which may be alternative names for Nyarlathotep, Yog-Sothoth, Azathoth, and/or Shub-Niggurath, or they might be their own unique cults (your choice). "Father Night" is in many ways similar to the horned great god Pan of witch-cults, corresponding in some ways to the chaotic fear and panic of Azathoth, or the Black Pharaoh Nyarlathotep. The wise and fertile "Mother Moon" bears some resemblance to Yog-Sothoth or Shub-Niggurath. (YSDC Forum Discussion)

Quotes

"large apelike creatures descended from prehuman hominids. (Their own name for themselves is unpronounceable; they are called 'trolls' here for convenience.) They are slightly smaller than humans. They have dull white coats and dark eyes, and are scavenging omnivores. There [sic] faces are almost indescribably ugly, and they have a pronouncedly unpleasant rancid smell." They worship Tsathoggua, who has given them the special ability to call blizzards in order to protect themselves as the last of his Voormi worshipers.
Marcus L. Rowland, "Nightmare in Norway (Scenario)"

Brunhild, queen of Bal-Sagoth, writhed helpless in midair, gripped by the black shadow of a nightmare. Then as the great black shape turned cold flaming eyes on them Turlogh saw it was a living creature. It stood, man-like, upon two tree-like legs, but its outline and face were not of a man, beast or devil. This, Turlogh felt, was the horror that even Gothan had hesitated to loose upon his foes; the arch-fiend that the demoniac priest had brought into life in his hidden caves of horror. What ghastly knowledge had been necessary, what hideous blending of human and bestial things with nameless shapes from outer voids of darkness? ...Turlogh gazed at the huge formless thing. Looking directly at it, he could form no estimate of its nature. He got only a chaotic impression of great size and inhuman evil. Now it lay like a vast shadow blotched out on the marble floor. Surely black wings beating from moonless gulfs had hovered over its birth, and the grisly souls of nameless demons had gone into its being.
Robert E. Howard, "The Gods of Bal-Sagoth"

D is for DIKH. He is sick. He writes his books in the lowest level of a deep labyrinthine grotto. His books are filled with things no one ever wanted to know. Unsettling things. He became part mushroom many years ago, but even the small lizards who come to feed off his body never realize he was once a man. If he were on a desert island he would write his awful stories and send them out in bottles. But there, deep in the grotto, no one will ever read a word he has written; written with shards of sharpened stone in the blood of lizards, written on walls that go deep into the earth. But one day they will need fossil fuels, and they will break through a wall of his grotto, and they will find the books, written on endless walls. And they will find the thing with a tormented face, growing in the moist soil of the underworld.
Harlan Ellison, "From A to Z in the Chocolate Alphabet"


Trolls in Mythic Iceland

Trolls in Mythic Iceland are described by default as ugly giants who live much like humans in caves with giant farm animals; these Trolls are not necessarily aggressive and might even be friendly to humans, unless threatened or angered.

Alternatively, Mythic Iceland provides an alternative version of Trolls as giant descendants of Voormis, pushed into remote wildernesses by Hyperborean humans or Elfs, and prone to worship of Tsathoggua and Aphoom-Zhah, a "cold-flame" god.


References