Allen Varney, Writer and Traveler



Few readers know troll legends. Why the oversight? Because the troll, although not secretive like the elf or opaque like the obsidiman, shows little interest in writing down legends. The Library's selection of troll folklore is the smallest of the Name-giver races. I find it significant that many legends in the selection come from an elf.

The reader who discovers troll tales may see only their crude humor and earthy nature. However, careful study shows their awareness of and sympathy for the natural world, stronger in its way even than that of the elves. Elves settle the Blood Wood like a green and leafy city; trolls move in the wilds alone and free, like eagles across the sky.

This Land is Our Land

Troll legends rarely concern themselves with the distant past. Typically they involve a battle from last week rather than racial destiny.

An exception, this ownership myth, appears in varying forms among the Crystal Raiders. Some tribes, such as the Stoneclaws, interpret this legend to mean the eventual return of the land to them; others see it as a mandate to seize all they can right now. The myth appears in all the few books on troll folklore.

Note the absence of obsidimen from the ranking of races. The trolls allegedly have a secret myth about the obsidimen, a legend that has not yet reached the Library.

Before the birthtime there was lots of land, and the Passions were sad that there was no one to take joy from the land. So they planted the Great Tree. The Great Tree sent roots into all the lands of the world, and drew the essence from all of those lands to bring forth the perfect beings. It brought forth trolls instead of leaves.

The trolls fell in the autumn, full of desire to hunt and build things and exploit the land. They scattered out over all of the lands with wild desire. Everything was theirs, and the Passions were happy, for now creation had meaning.

But alas, the Passions did not know to cut down the Great Tree. Over the years that followed, the Tree produced its annual crop of trolls, until it became infested with worms and bugs. The Tree sickened and bore progessively inferior fruit: orks, dwarfs, elves, t'skrang, humans, and, after one very bad year, windlings. The bad fruit overran the land and bred mightily. The bad fruit began attacking the good fruit. Even though the trolls fought better than other races, the sheer number of latecomers drove the trolls into the Twilight Mountains.

The Passions cut down the Great Tree, and in honor of that fact we always cut down a tree and place in our moots during the Winter Solstice. The Passions told us that the bad fruit would run its course, and that we should not allow them to keep us from what was rightfully ours, that is to say, the whole of the world.

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Ice Stone Jones

Any example of troll wit is necessarily, not to say mercifully, short. This specimen comes from the landmark book on Stoneclaw life written by the elf Thronogon, who was captured as a child, eventually rose above his newot status to become a dakkar airship captain, and finally decided to leave troll society. Those who have not read his Terror is a Shadow in the Sky, from which this extract comes, have missed a rare treasure.

Ice Stone Jones made his fortune mining ice stone and selling it to other trolls. He introduced the practice of making steins of ice stone to cool ale. He had a special stein that cooled ale faster than any other. He enjoyed showing it off to dakkar captains.

"Fill it with boiling water!" he'd say. Then minutes later he'd knock the ice cylinder out of the stein. The boiling water had frozen so fast it would still be warm! He'd use it to warm his bedroll.

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Among the Ironmongers

In his youth Banthanion, a past librarian of Throal, had a mountaineering accident in the Twilight Peaks. As he lay trapped in the rocks, waiting for fellow climbers to bring help, two dozen trolls approached. Fortunately, they did not spot him beneath their gathering place. The troll headman led a ritual recital, and the others repeated each line in chorus. Banthanion later recorded it in the library records.

Leader: To claw bark and trees; that is the law.

Group: To claw bark and trees; that is the law.

Leader: To snarl and roar; that is the law.

(Group response.)

To show our fangs in anger; that is the law.

(Group response.)

To kill without thinking; that is the law.

(Group response.)

Leader: We are the moot of the Ironmongers. I am Hravak Vian, chieftain of the moot. Who will challenge me? (No response.) We are trolls. Ours are the fangs of pain, ours are the teeth of destruction. Ours is the land; ours is the stream. Everything we see belongs to us; that is the law.

Group: Everything we see belongs to us; that is the law.

Leader: Cruel are the punishments of those who break the law. None escape!

Group: None escape!

At this point there followed much yelling, snarling and growling. Then the tribe dispersed to hunt, and Banthanion offered silent thanks to Lochost.

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Travelling in the Twilight Peaks, the heroes meet a band of Stoneclaw crystal raiders and learn of a famous raid from history, including its deadly outcome. The raiders carry a scrawled copy of an account by Krando Ylar, leader of the raiding ship. The Stoneclaws may share the legend around a friendly campfire or drop it in flight from a bloody battle.

The Tale

We hid in a cloud. Clouds were very common around Air mines. The charges of Elemental Air always muddied the atmosphere. Sometimes the charges would be too strong, and the interaction of that plane and our own would produce storms too terrible for the mining to take place. We had to wait completely still for hours, until the miners had secured the Elemental Air in their nets. Then the mining ships couldn't maneuver fast, and we could circle them repeatedly, killing all of the exposed crew with arrow and catapult shot before boarding and taking the billowing nets full of the invisible wonder.

The charge went off. We were restless at having waited without a sound for six hours. Our shaman told us that both of the Theran ships had netted Air. We broke cloud cover, the drummer beating a fast tattoo for the rowers. The shaman was wrong, for only one ship had successfully netted. The orichalcum in the hemp net glowed as with lightning from the Elemental Air's attraction back to its plane. Our ship and the unsuccessful Theran were both buffeted by the gale the Elemental Air was stirring up.

I urged my rowers on. We made a pass by the loaded ship, raining arrows on their preoccupied crew. The free ship, however, gave chase to us. I had to divide my archers into two groups: one to slaughter the loaded ship, the other to defend our aft.

It became obvious that we would have to destroy our pursuers first, then hope we could board the loaded vessel. I ordered boarding parties aft, readied the grappling hooks, and told the rowers to slow.

The pursuer gained, and I commanded the rowers to reverse. Their ship smashed into ours, and our grappling hooks soon joined the two. My fierce trolls swarmed onto the Theran vessels, slashing with grim delight, tossing corpse after bloody corpse into the airy void.

While we subdued the first vessel, the second secured its Air and readied to fly away. We cut the Theran ship loose, bidding good luck to its slaves. We were losing altitude, and I told my rowers, "This is it, row or die!" In a burst of supertrollish effort they managed to make a charge against the fleeing mining vessel.

The miner had had time to ready itself against our attack. We were flying into a fusillade of arrows. I ordered my crew to row even harder, and we climbed above the miner. We dropped an anchor into the sails and let down ropes to board. We went full face into their arrows.

We achieved victory, but at a terrible cost. I lost half of my crew, and my ship was destroyed. We returned to the Twilight Peaks in the Theran ship. It took months before we could sail again.

The Adventure

The trollmoot has learned that the Imperial Glory, the first Theran ship that Krando's drakkar downed in the battle, had picked up an unusual cargo on the way to the Air mine, mere hours before the battle. Now the cargo lies in the ship's wreckage somewhere in the mountains.

In the mountains the Therans had stumbled on the entrance to an underground cache, exposed by a recent rainfall. A squad of centurions from the 17th Maniple explored the chamber while the Glory took on water at a mountain spring. There the soldiers found a small cache of treasure. The maniple's opito (commander) took it aboard and examined it while supervising the mining operation. His wizard attache identified one item: the fabled Firelight Tiara, a Horror-created item capable of spectacular destruction.

The ship crashed after Krando's attack, before it could return the Tiara to Thera. One survivor (the wizard) struggled out of the mountains, finally reached Thera, and delivered the news. Another survivor, a centurion from the squad that found the treasure, got captured by trolls and revealed the Tiara's existence under torture. As the heroes arrive on the scene, the two forces, Thera and the Stoneclaws, now comb the mountains seeking the device.

The heroes may look for the Tiara or sell their information to someone else (who then hires them to look for it). Searching, they quickly find that someone else has secured the item; they can tell by all the bodies lying everywhere. A legendary Theran commander or troll leader, ideally an adversary of the heroes from a previous adventure, found and donned the Tiara. As its elemental flames flickered around her brow, the item instilled paranoia in her. It compelled her to go independent, and now she flees across the mountains, cutting a path through enemies in both factions.

The heroes follow the trail of bodies, learn clues from dying survivors, and find one young ork girl, a shepherdess who witnessed one slaughter close up. The Tiara's wearer appeared not to see the ork, a fact that may help the heroes deduce the Tiara's crucial weakness: It renders people of innocent motive invisible to the user.

Finally they catch up to their old foe and discover that the Tiara has transformed her. She now bears the marks of Horror: distorted features, swollen (and extra) limbs, or whatever you like. The heroes find her wielding the Tiara in deadly combat against combined forces of Thera and the Stoneclaws. Can they use their knowledge of its weakness to "innocently" steal the Tiara from their opponent's brow?

If they defeat their foe, the heroes must decide whether to risk using the Tiara themselves, or allow another faction to use it. Anything that comes of a Horror can only produce more horror; the results of any wearer's meddling with powerful magic will bring disaster. Wiser heroes may try to destroy or hide the Tiara. Either choice provokes a sequel adventure.

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Many know of the bonfire dance that many trollmoots hold on the night of the last day of Rua. The clouds above the Twilight Peaks redden in the light of the flames, and loud cries echo for miles. The Two Rings dance marks that night, the beginning of the trollish New Year.

The characters hire on as bodyguards to a moot chieftain for the night. The chieftain would ordinarily use troll guards, of course, but no warrior of the tribe may serve another during the festival. Each stands alone. The characters receive their commission from a newot servant of the chieftain, who tells the adventurers what to expect during the rite:

The Tale

Before the ritual, those trolls who can write (a much larger percentage than outsiders credit) prepare slips of parchment that express our wishes or oaths for the coming year. An hour before the dance starts, we kindle two flames: a large bonfire on the right of the gathering, and a small controlled fire on the left.

We gather in silence around the left ring. Our chieftain announces that the year is dead, and that now is the time to foretell the future, not by divining it, but by telling the descendants of the Great Tree what future to produce. Now is the time for wishing the hardest and for binding ourselves by the toughest oaths possible. The trolls share a loving cup of mead, symbolizing our troth to our future selves and to the tribe. Only trolls may drink from the cup; the rest of the Two Rings ritual, unlike most troll ceremonies, includes newots and occasionally even nontroll visitors.

Then we begin a slow, solemn dance round the small fire. As we dance, we call out the names of the Twelve Passions, including the mad ones. We try to pull them into our circle, mixing their ambitions with our own (as the obsidimen say). When we have made the circle four times, we stop. Our chieftains say that we have turned the world on its axis, and by doing what our ancestors' ancestors have done and what our descendants' descendants will do on this night, we have woven our desires into the warp and weave of the world. Now we can dance the dance of celebration.

Loud drumming and the playing of bagpipes begin as we rush to the large bonfire and dance around it in the wildest fashion. We consecrate the large bonfire to Floranuus alone. We celebrate both victories from the year past and those in the year to come. We leap through the fire, yelling out "Floranuus!" The dance gets louder and louder, for we believe that the more energy we raise, the more likely that our wishes will become objective reality.

Each dancer reaches an individual height of ecstasy, and at that instant tosses the parchment slip into one of the flames. A dancer who makes a minor wish, something achievable during the year, tosses the slip into the huge flame of Floranuus. Those who make a lifetime vow, or even a vow beyond this lifetime, toss the slip into the small flame of the Twelve.

After all have finished dancing, much drinking follows. Generally we sleep all next day.

The Adventure

The adventurers should note that trolls at the Dance consider it both rude and bad luck to ask dancers at the Two Rings what they wrote on their slips of parchment. Also, chieftains deal harshly with crimes committed during this night or the next day, because committing a crime on New Year taints the coming year.

For all that, a crime does occur. The moot chieftain becomes the target of an assassination attempt by a rival moot. The assassin is a hired troll, a disguised rogue without clan, inasmuch as no Sky Raider would stoop to such a dishonorable action. (Assassinate, no. Hire an assassin -- why not?)

If the assassin achieves surprise, he can kill the chieftain before the adventurers can react. However, Talents or cleverness should let the bodyguards can spot the assassin in time to prevent the attempt. The gamemaster should encourage clever solutions that dispose of trouble without disrupting the ritual, for disruption would mean an omen of grave bad luck for the coming year.

Then again, a clever solution that uses the ritual itself would not bring this omen. For instance, a questor of Floranuus could invoke the Passion then and there to mete out justice on the assassin. This would be a dramatic climax for the adventure.


The Dance of the Two Rings embodies a philosophy, widely debated among thinkers in Barsaive, loosely called "Respondism." The belief holds that when a Name-giver defines her own character with depth and precision, objective reality redefines itself in response.

Scholars treat conventional Adept magic, the spectacular effects of spell and blood and Pattern, as the most primitive proof of this idea. Adepts in the four Disciplines can understand the intricacies of fireballs and spirit portals with their mind alone; scholars call these "noetic" effects (from the Theran noesis, "intelligence"). Noetic effects, however, have nothing to do with the subtler ideas of Respondism.

Believers propose that true understanding of reality comes only with mystic apprehension of one's own deepest nature. True magic arises when the mystic explorer comprehends her emotions, refines and rarefies them, and focuses them to some high purpose. Understanding leads to a new idea, and focus amplifies the will to such a degree that the mystic can re-weave the universe as a noetic Adept re-weaves a small Pattern. Each conflict, each battle an Adept fights becomes, for the alert seeker, an initiatory process.

Some writers believe the proper mystic state arrives with the mystic's expression of a single word. The word marks a new idea, which gradually spreads through the fabric of reality like a drop of liquid dropped on a square of silk. These writers speculate that the Father of Thera, Elianar Messias, arrived at the word nehr'esham (center of the mind) in a Respondist meditation on the Books of Harrow; he communicated that idea to his successor, Kearos Navarim; and this led to the Eternal Library, and thence to Thera. A powerful notion, if true.

The gamemaster can lend color to the campaign by tailoring it around a Respondist idea. Early in their careers the heroes meet a sage who instructs them in Respondist philosophy. They develop experience, distill it over many adventures into a word or idea, perform a Respondist rite like that of the Dance of the Two Rings, and then the gamemaster develops the new concept's long-term effects on Barsaive.

The heroes should arrive slowly at their word, guided by the sage. She may review with them the lesson each adventure has taught, and suggest a new adventure that will emphasize a related principle. The idea's effect on the world should be roleplaying-based, not rules-based. Still, if the gamemaster wants to dramatize its effects, a character fighting to spread the effects of the new idea may receive a +1 Step bonus to Social Tests that sway others. In the extreme long term, a new idea might eventually alter one of the Passions to encompass it.

Sample words:

  • Fellowship. A program for universal education in civic values, aimed at cynical residents of major cities and naive peasants newly emerged from long-hidden kaers. By rooting out slavery and streamlining bureaucracy, the movement could eventually lead to a cure for the Mad Passion Dis.
  • Manacosm. Students of magic discover that widespread Theran manipulation of the forces of magic ("mana") are creating instability throughout the province. This teaching instills a greater awareness of mana and a healthier, more sustainable relationship between magicians and the forces they emply.
  • Purification. This represents a profound ritual that can remove the thorns of Corruption from a Blood Wood elf. The heroes gain the allegiance, or at least the cooperation, of Uncorrupted elves across Barsaive. The movement culminates in a holy crusade against Alachia's forces in the Blood Wood itself.

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Copyright ©1994 Allen Varney and Don Webb.

EARTHDAWN, Barsaive, and all Barsaivean names are trademarks of FASA Corporation.

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