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Limited Access - Wellycon XI - Back 5th June 2018
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Humour in Runequest is rather more understated than in Games Workshop products, but you don’t have to look too far to find it. From Ducks as a playable race to NPCs with silly names, there’s always been an undercurrent of absurdity beneath the po-faced facade of the rigorous fantasy of Glorantha. Troll culture is one of the best illustrations of this. Trollpak was a pretty serious look at Troll culture from the point of view of the Trolls themselves. By contrast, Into the Troll Realms looks at Trolls from the point of view of outsiders.

Once again, the main authors of this work were Greg Stafford and Sandy Petersen, with contributing material by Lynn Willis. The original book for Runequest 2nd edition appeared in 1982, with this expanded reprint for 3rd edition appearing in 1988. The book consists of three small encounters with Troll groups, three larger scenario ideas centred around troll or Trollkin locations, rules for playing Trollball and supporting material. What can you learn about Trolls seeing them from the other side, and how does that view fit in with the Troll’s own viewpoint?

PRESENTATION:


It’s a 50-page book with a cardboard cover. This is a subtle cover by Steve Purcell, showing a moody Troll and his beetle mount. Daniel Brereton and Charlie Krank produced the interior drawings, maps and diagrams. Dark Blue is the highlighting colour in this book, used for the headers and section headings. Text is shown in double columns, with triple columns used for creature statistics and the four pages of player handouts. There’s a useful mix of maps for GM and players, and the illustrations can be shown to the players at the right time to create just the right image and atmosphere. There is a simple contents page, but no index.

CONTENTS:

The introduction places this book within the range of other books for Gloranthan RuneQuest, making some of the points I made at the start of this review. If you never plan to play Troll characters, then this book may be all the Troll you need. Trollpak and Troll Gods both provide much greater background to Troll society. Into the Troll Realms is designed to challenge both player and character assumptions - Trolls are capable of building complex societies, using unusual creatures and have their own strong sense of honour without being “funny humans.”

These adventures and encounters are designed to be slotted in between adventures from Apple Lane and Snakepipe Hollow, and so are designed for fairly inexperienced PCs. Eight additional plot hooks are briefly outlined as ideas for getting your group into these adventures. Another point that makes this book useful for beginners is that the spells used here that do not feature in the Deluxe rules are detailed. Some typical Troll types are detailed for any use. The three Encounters are detailed in 4 pages of text, and a further 6 pages of statistics. This says something about RuneQuest stat blocks, but each individual guard and creature is detailed, rather than a single template for each one. A Troll Caravan consists of ten personalities who lead a train of giant insects packed with goods of many kinds. The lead merchant is approachable for a Troll, and willing to do business with nearly any cult. The caravan could be encountered anywhere near Troll territory, and could provide information, goods or a straight adversary. They could just be added as colour to show the players they are entering Trollish lands. A short section features The Moth-Riders - initially just a spectacular show of giant moths passing above the adventurers during the night. The moths’ masters will then appear, possibly as employers or assassins. Some items of unique power that are sacred to the cult could prove a surprise to unwary PCs. This can be another short sequence, or the beginning of a campaign to hunt down these unusual Trolls. A more immediate threat is brought by the Trollkin Horde. It may be a long time before PCs realise there is any kind of threat, though the signs should be clear to Troll guides. Eight escalating levels of Trollkin presence are given, which may lead to awareness of troll ways and peaceful negotiations, or to a desperate backs-to-the walls fight.

Skyfall Lake
is the first of the adventures. The players should be Non-troll adventurers hired to accompany a trader’s assistant to Troll lands to set up a trading deal. Players are not being hired to fight, and will in fact be penalised for starting any combats. The job of one of them is to survive a Trollish drinking challenge (though all players can attempt it if they want), earning the respect of the Trolls and thus access to their trading town. To aid them in this challenge the players will have access to certain knowledge in the form of handouts - some for free and some costing money. The GM is free to make the investigation part of the adventure longer, but as presented here it is just an info dump before the party gets on its way to Skyfall Lake. A couple of handy maps give some help to the players, but for the most part they will have to follow the trail, trust their senses and try not to jump to conclusions. The Trolls will probably have been watching the PCs a long time before the characters are aware of them. After enduring any encounters to the troll city, the players are in for an intensive roleplaying session as they try to survive a drinking session on Troll alcohol. There’s betting and checks against characteristics to survive the weird and wonderful effects of the Troll grog (including such names as Erosion Ouzo, Skullbuster and Powzie!).

Assuming at least one of the drinkers survive, the party can follow their Trollkin guide into Crabtown, about 2 hours away. The name comes from a huge Crab shell that the main temple is built under. The characters may feel they have passed the worst, but there are some Trolls who do not respect the ritual of the grog shop and will try to start a fight. All the players eventually can do if a fight starts is run for it - they are a hundred miles or more from a human settlement, with hundreds of aggressive dark trolls and their beasts spoiling for a fight. Can your players accept an insult with a smile, in order to save their mission and their lives? Eventually the party should reach the Troll who will trade with humans, Sir Scissor, a Troll who even goes about in daylight. Skyfall Lake itself is glossed over (except in some of the player handouts), though more details about it appear in the Troll Gods book. As a magical body of water, a huge range of strange items and creatures can be found in its mysterious depths, though the Trolls will not be too keen on just anyone stirring up the beasts from its depths. A party that can control themselves and be open to new, strange experiences should succeed without too much difficulty. Survivors could certainly become local experts on the way of the Trolls.

Grubfarm is a more remote Troll settlement, north east of the town on alone along the Goldflint River. This is a smaller complex then Crabtown, but ruled with cunning and guile by the Troll Protosome BlackBite, who makes a good living selling giant insects, plus honey, wax and (sometimes) royal jelly from a giant beehive. The PCs could be hired by either a trader or a minor noble, to acquire the valuable honey and jelly by purchase, stealth or force. Again, there are reports from previous adventurers on the kinds of troubles the adventurers will face. Along with the Trolls in command of the farm there are a number of guard beetles, worms and the deadly bees themselves. Even if the the players approach as traders they will find that they must brave angry bees if they wish to take any royal jelly - otherwise the cost will be prohibitive. Aside from the rewards of their employers, royal jelly is that rare magical item that will increase a character’s size (and hence her hit points) and so is greatly valued by many cults. Blackbite is a reasonable Troll to deal with, and even has surprisingly cordial relationships with the local elf tribes, who appreciate the pollination of their giant trees. Another adventure full of charm, Trollish life and roleplaying opportunities.

The Flying Trollkin is a more straightforward cameo adventure against clearly defined enemies. Villainous Trollkin have kidnapped someone of importance to the PCs, and are demanding a high ransom. Can the players trace these flying bandits to their lair and rescue their friend before he is eaten? Simple detective work will lead the players to the unusual lair of the Trollkin, who will use intelligent tactics and ambushes against the rescuers. The leader is named Nesretep, an anagram left for the interested to resolve, an old and canny Trollkin with a ransom, aided by a Troll Priestess. This is more of a tactical adventure, as there seems no way to avoid a fight without paying the large ransom. Hopefully the kidnapee will have survived imprisonment in an strange and smelly place. A good little scene to drop into any setting, but this adventure doesn’t provide the details and depths of the other two previously mentioned.

Finally there's Trollball, originally appearing four years before Blood Bowl. Trollball used to be played with a particular kind of beetle, which is now extinct. Hapless trollkin now serve in the role of the ball, fought over by teams of five Trolls. The object is simply to take ‘the live portion’ of the trollkin over the opponents goal line, scoring a point. the team with the most points after a certain period, wins! In other words, it’s a simplified fantasy American Football, with throws, punting and running used to advance the Trollkin. There’s no offside, but no one can enter their opponent’s red zone unless they have the Trollkin in hand. There are surprisingly complex rules to control crowd behaviour, sportsmanship and how a free trollkin moves around the field. The rest of the physical rules use the BRP system, allowing for Trolls to block each other, grab for the Trollkin, dodge, jump and use most skills but magic. Any Trolls killed during the game are resurrected afterwards, though dead Trollkin and just replaced with a new one from the crowd. Two sample teams are included, showing their names and slogans the same kind of humour that Games Workshop successfully mined in their own fantasy football game. Getting up a human team of players from a cult respected by the Trolls should make for an interesting and fun adventure, win or lose.


VERDICT:

Pluses: - Two interesting, well-developed Troll settlements with exciting and unusual features

- Plenty of roleplaying and chances to understand a new culture

- Plenty of combat there for those who want it, though

- A number of hooks and different approaches to the adventures

-Trollball!

Minuses: - No connection between the adventures

- A jumpy player may ruin one of the adventures for everyone else, though that’s part of the point

- Not for those who think giant insects are too icky or goofy

Compared to Trollpak this is a more superficial look at Troll culture, but perhaps a more suitable one for beginning players or GMs
. Aside from The Flying Trollkin, these are all encounters with intelligent creatures who will only fight if there is profit in it - or if you challenge them on their own ground. As Griselda once said, you can avoid Elves and Dwarves by staying away from the ancient forests and mines, but anyone who wants to be a successful adventurer needs to learn to deal with Trolls. Surprisingly civilised, craftily intelligent and with a culture all their own, the Troll Realms are well worth exploring.


IR#57
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Dan MacDonald

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There is also the board game version Trollball "this is not a fair game"
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Adam D.
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Nice review. Could have done with a few more breaks in the text, but that's a pretty minor quibble. Great descriptions.

As for Dan. Yeah, thanks a lot for pointing out a version of Trollball I will never own! soblue

Edit: Hmm, hope springs eternal. Just ordered it from Chaosium online. Here's hoping they actually still have inventory
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Eric Dodd
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TheCollector wrote:
Nice review. Could have done with a few more breaks in the text, but that's a pretty minor quibble. Great descriptions.

As for Dan. Yeah, thanks a lot for pointing out a version of Trollball I will never own! soblue

Edit: Hmm, hope springs eternal. Just ordered it from Chaosium online. Here's hoping they actually still have inventory


Although the Chaosium website's undergoing renovations, their stock control is pretty good, so you should get your Trollball OK. I've edited a line in the Trollkin adventure (their lair is unusual, not usual) and added an extra paragraph break for ease of reading. More pictures to break up the text in later reviews, as I have time!
 
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