Tikki Troll Headhunter of the Bo’Pha Islands
Few humanoids do not shudder at the mention of the word “Troll”. The Nix-controlled Bo’Pha archipelagos of Veldon’s southern oceans are much feared by sailors for their roving bands of the savage creatures, and there are few worlds frequented by the sages of Veldon that know not the scourge of the ravening Troll. The subject of myth, rumor, and bedtime stories, Trolls are widely known but little understood, and research about the creatures is impeded as much by their affinity for mutation as their natural ferocity. The Academy at Waitoshi is famously in possession of a troll head that has been alive and actively trying to escape confinement for years, with little to show for the trouble. Several realms have undertaken major efforts to eliminate the species once and for all, but despite the broad success of these extermination programs Troll populations seem to be stable or even increasing in number. Many of Veldon’s Trolls, too, are known to worship the Spider Queen Khabissol, a mighty Daemon Paragon, and her Death Cult actively hunts the peaceful peoples of Veldon.
Trolls prowl the dark wildernesses of the world, leading short and brutal lives. They possess a fair measure of the intellect of humanoids, with the balance filled by superstition and base cunning. Lacking the character of more enlightened races, Troll tribes are held together by the sheer force of personality of their chieftains, the Kahunas. These huge specimens are stronger and smarter than their brethren, and are driven by malicious purpose. Kahunas unite lesser Trolls in raids on settlements, giving their collective hunger a target. In all things, the primary motivation of any Troll is flesh. Feral individual Trolls are often roving, near-animal savages, while Troll tribes led by strong Kahunas show a startling capacity for crude imitation of the crafts of civilized peoples. These tribes, known as “Tikkis”, harvest wood, grasses, and reeds, creating complex timber-walled lairs and weaving themselves clothing – the Tikkis of the Bo’Pha even carve stylized posts to decorate their dwellings. All Tikkis lair in filthy, unkempt places marked by piles of bone, which attract other foul beasts that become accidental guardians of the lair. Arachnids, oozes, carrion birds, and other scavengers all frequent the territories of Tikkis. Most of Veldon’s peoples deal with the threat of Trolls regularly; individual Trolls are the target of hunting parties, while Troll tribes are a threat sufficient to mobilize small armies.
Trolls vary in shape, size, and physique, but all share some basic characteristics. Average Trolls are tall, gangly creatures with rough skin covered in warts, knobs, lithoderms, or other strange growths. Most have long, crooked noses and a bit of coarse hair on their heads. All possess filthy claws and large crooked teeth. Many stand a head taller than the average Firbolg, while Kahunas are often head-and-shoulders taller still. Troll skin seems stretched over too much bone and muscle, and their facial features are so fearsomely ugly that they resemble grotesques carved from melting wax. Despite this apparent physical deformity, Trolls are overwhelmingly strong. Warrior Trolls have been known to lift small horses and to rend limbs with brute force, while stories persist of extraordinary individuals capable of flabbergasting feats like ripping trees directly from the earth. Part of this strength lies in the absence of natural limits imposed on the muscles of more typical creatures, a trait enabled by the Troll’s most famous attribute: regeneration.
Troll regeneration exceeds that of any other mortal creature, and even most semi-divine and Outsider beings; perhaps only the demonic Slaazrou heals more quickly. This capacity seems to be tied to the abstruse phenomenon of Positive energy, a force that pervades the beasts’ misshapen bodies and bestows upon them an unnatural vitality. The ultimate source of this energy is as yet unknown to even the most learned scholars, as is the nature of the curious transformation they undergo after death. The controversial adventuring scholar Lin’Chi theorizes that this energy field is derived from near-microscopic granular crystals of manifest Positive matter, but these have never been observed in practice*. It seems likely that Trolls were evolved from some savage humanoid stock, a species deformed by long subterranean life and exposed in the deeps to chemicals and radiances unknown on the surface. In either case, Troll blood is being studied for applications in medicine, alchemy, and even construction techniques.
Fast healing makes organisms more sensitive to mutagenic effects, and Trolls are no exception. They are extremely sensitive to radiation and some exotic poisons, including simple ultraviolet light. They are thus strictly nocturnal, and fear the sun. Even at night, Tikki Trolls wear woven reed skirts, cowls, and capes to protect themselves from moonlight; feral Trolls rarely take such precautions, and are thus more often mutated. Generations of Troll-slayers have taught the creatures to fear even the holy symbol of the Sun God, and warrens have been found containing altars thereto with symbols taken from dead slayers, painted with buckets of sacrificial blood. The skin of Trolls trapped in the sun bubbles and seethes attempting to overcompensate for radiation damage, and can eventually stiffen into a slate-like living tomb. They fear fire, too, as a force capable of halting their healing ability, and are often repelled thereby.
Trolls are well-equipped to hunt humanoids, with excellent night vision and a sense of smell to rival a dog’s. Some, of course, gain strange senses from their mutations; rare specimens have been recorded with heat-sensing pits, hearing in the ultrasonic range, or even more exotic abilities. They are tenacious hunters, and once a Troll has acquired a scent it may follow it for days. With bodies undaunted by forced marches and rough terrain, Trolls on the hunt are almost impossible to evade – the prospective prey must almost always stand and fight. Troll hunters often mask their scents, but even the most extreme measures rarely defeat the senses of a Troll whose blood is riled; much of a fight against the brutes relies on taking advantage of their narrow-minded lust for flesh.
Recent research with hot pincers and acid suggests that Trolls do in fact feel pain, albeit at a much higher threshold than humanoids. Some tribes are known to tattoo themselves with acid or to practice ceremonial branding, though the purpose of these markings is difficult to discern. Some sages posit that they are a perverted variant of a civilized tongue, but the beasts are not otherwise known to write. The bulk of Troll communication is in the form of grunted, guttural local languages combined with a plethora of kicks, slaps, and crude gestures. They seem to particularly hate the written works of other races, and relish destroying books and scrolls. Most Trolls also dislike heavy rain, and seem to have a sixth sense for severe changes in the weather. It is theorized that this distaste stems from a fear of drowning, or perhaps superstitions tied to horrible ancient water gods; in either case, it has a definite effect on their ability to track humanoids by scent, and trading caravans in Troll-infested country often pray for rain at night to deter attacks.
Trolls are much like an invasive fungus in the ecosystems that they inhabit; they consume every non-sessile creature that they can catch and leave little behind upon their deaths but more Trolls. Since so much of their energy is devoted to regeneration, mutation, and reproduction, Trolls exert an actual and measurable draining force on the total resources available to a given biome. Luckily, they most commonly inhabit remote locales like cave systems, islands, and swamps. The predations of Trolls are felt strongly amongst local humanoid communities, from which Trolls derive their preferred foodstuff – meat. A more seldom-heard tale suggests that Bo’Pha Trolls store their souls in gourds at their waists, and that they cannot die while the gourds remain. New evidence suggests that this is in fact a potent, fermented brew of all the nutriment that Troll metabolism requires for regeneration, and indeed sporadic reports suggest that consuming it increases their regeneration several-fold for a short time. Much of their relatively short lives are devoted to the replacement of weapons broken in the fury of battle, raids to take and consume humanoids, and the worship of crude gods that represent those things that Trolls fear. Khabissol is thought to be popular in part as a propitiatory deity, a monstrous goddess to avert the wrath of other (and worse) deities such as the god of the Sun.
To the chagrin of all its peoples, Veldon appears to have one of the largest populations of Trolls of any settled world. Unlike the others, Veldon bears the burden of multiple varieties of Trolls. These range from pole to pole, and taint every clime of the planet. Variant subspecies include the squat, subterranean Trolls of the South; these may be as small as half the size of the average Troll, and are often seen with extra eyes or elaborate fungal skin growths from their time underground. Subterranean Trolls are menace to the Dwarf enclaves of that region, with whom they war bitterly and often. In the far boreal North, amongst the hardy Hobgoblins, live curious furred Trolls of stocky build and especially long arm. These tundra-dwellers look like nothing so much as a cruel mockery of the Northern Apikan people, and are loathed deeply thereby. There even exists an aquatic subspecies of Troll, in defiance of the stereotype that the species hates water. These specimens are rare, and are encountered most often in the marshes and island archipelagos of the South where they linger in shallow murk to capsize or board fishing boats, or wade ashore to attack isolated seaside towns. These strange beasts sometimes have gills, but more often possess a grotesque extra set of external lungs that dangle like fleshy air bladders from the sides of their necks.
Metabolic pressure is the primary driving force of Troll behavior. An individual Troll must consume to maintain its regeneration, and those that fail to do so start to lose their healing ability – slowly wasting away as their flesh consumes itself. Such individuals often mutate severely upon regaining a steady food supply, gaining new fingers, limbs, or even heads. This budding happens to almost every Troll at least once during its lifespan, but through bad luck some end up looking something like the monstrosities of Hades. Mutation is an inevitability of troll life, and sometimes even thought to be a mark of divine favor. Trolls are genderless creatures, known to reproduce parthenogenically. This phenomenon is uncommon due to metabolic demands, however, and may not account for the overall rate of population growth among them. Only Kahunas seem to reproduce at all, fissuring off lesser Trolls that join their tribes; the entirety of a Kahuna’s tribe may in fact be its own parthenogenic offspring.
Living in loose groups, Trolls are perhaps most socially comparable to the savage Dire Apes of Veldon’s tropical jungles. Fights for food are common and vicious within Tikkis, though never permanently harmful because of their regeneration. The Tikki tends to create communal shelters, disorganized but relatively sophisticated affairs consisting of half-sunk tunnels clawed into the earth, thatched with grass and branches. Alternately, some groups take up residence in the ruins of the villages that they destroy. In less hospitable climes, the creatures often live in cave systems or dig themselves into individual holes in the ground. Regeneration also has no effect on an organism’s basic organic needs, and Trolls fear drowning commensurately. Ba’Pho Trolls carve wooden totems to represent and pay homage to fearsome water deities that they believe will send monsters to drag them into the depths. The primary artistry of Trolls lies in carving and weapon-smithing; Troll lairs are decorated with a great number of totemic carvings representing monsters, fearsome spirits, and gods, all fashioned from wood with a combination of teeth, claws, and simple stone tools. Weapons, too, are often created in exotic forms and with lavish attention to carved detail. Kahunas are the core of both religion and artistry; without leadership, Troll tribes disintegrate into uncontrollable individuals that wander the wilderness. Feral Trolls sometimes even attempt to consume each other, with predictably grotesque results.
Many Trolls worship Daemon Paragons as gods, and none so many as the Spider-Queen Khabissol. Khabissol’s reavers are the scourge of half a dozen planets, and their strange liquid portals make them an unpredictable threat to every mortal world. Death Cultists tend to be slightly more intelligent than their brethren, and their Kahunas may be gifted with some of the abilities of mortal heroes. More even than regular Trolls, Death Cultists are driven to spread cruelty and carnage: they employ the rudiments of strategy to maximize casualties, take and torture prisoners, and hunt down those that escape with tenacious malice far outweighing the bloodthirst of their kin. Tikki Cultists from the Bo’Pha islands are often seen with huge arachnid warbeasts. These “Giant Pedipalps” are ridden or led into battle like the riding dogs of littler folk, while Kahunas are always mounted on the largest specimens. Some even ride the more fearsome cousin of the Giant Pedipalp, the Dire form known as the Qavadakar. These arachnids are a symbol of the tribe’s dedication to Khabissol, and most Tikki Cultists wear armor or even use weapons made from the shed carapace of these hulking monsters.
Those trolls that would join the Cult of the Spider Queen are sent through ichorous portals into the Gossamer, Khabissol’s vermin-infested domain. They must track and tame their own Giant Pedipalp in order to return and join the Cult proper. Relatively little is known about this ritual, but Troll slaves have been seen amongst the chattel of numerous Daemon Paragons, and may even be encountered with the war parties of those beings. Troll bodies, in whole or in part, are sometimes found as part of Gehenna’s horrific sutured experimental creatures, conferring great resilience upon those wretches.
Death Cult tribes are more territorial than their “unenlightened” fellows, roaming widely and destroying everything they can. Khabissol herself sometimes commands her followers to specific places to make war upon peaceful peoples, but by and large she seems content to let the tribes in her thrall wreak havoc of their own accord. Kahunas of these fanatic tribes sometimes gain magical gifts from their Daemonic patron, becoming foul “shamans”. Many collect and shrink the heads of their fallen and devoured victims, in what is believed to be tribute to Khabissol. Others graft the living limbs of their Giant Pedipalp mounts into their own flesh with foul magic, gaining sharp claws or the terrible pedipalps themselves.
Trolls go to war with tooth and claw as well as manufactured weapons, but their strangest weapons are each other. Kahunas and shamanic Kahunas wield the severed limbs and heads of lesser trolls, terrorizing their foes with still-living weapons. Some are as simple as a biting head mounted on a pike, while others are more complex amalgamations of parts such as flails built from clusters of extraneous arms. Only the strongest individuals use these weapons, since they are powerful symbols of the might of the tribe. Lesser Trolls employ clubs, spears, and less-recognizable weapons made primarily from found materials and bones. These are carved and gnawed into shape according to individual taste. Most Trolls eschew armor, though Kahunas often take advantage of their regeneration to implant their skins with flakes of obsidian- armor and weapon in one. Members of Khabissol’s cult often don crude chunks of carapace as armor, completely individualized to their oft-mutated wearers. Each individual tends to have a single weapon of choice, intricately carved and sometimes bearing the Troll’s own teeth laid into the business end, ripped out and regenerated later. Troll parts are even used in lairs as decoration and defense – arms may crowd a wall to hold prisoners before they are consumed, heads with dripping lungs may top a totem to sound alarms, and there is even a creditable tale of a timber hut on dozens of legs.
More generally, Trolls fight in loose packs. Though individuals will attack and kill nearly any creature they detect, coordinated assaults are only executed at night against easy targets like unfortified hamlets and caravans. Many merchants, in fact, require Troll insurance. Averse to fire, raiding parties use their raw strength to collapse houses and put out hearth-fires before consuming their fragile contents. This ultimately results in more fires and ruin than the battle itself. Trolls tend to forget learned lessons or tactics when confronted by anything that they recognize as a mortal danger. Even organized Tikki Trolls rely on strength and regeneration rather than intellect to win the day. Victorious Trolls take captives for later eating, and quickly consume the dead until their stomachs are almost too distended to move. Fortunately, severed troll limbs or heads do not appear capable of growing into whole new trolls. They do, however, remain a danger on the field of battle if their owner does not collect them, grasping or biting at passersby until they are burned.
Many of Veldon’s savage humanoid races are dangerous but receptive to diplomacy- not so with Trolls. Few have successfully haggled with them; it is difficult enough to make a pact with a creature that wishes to devour the bargainer, but more or less impossible to deal with one that is also as ineloquent as a tree stump. Kahunas may sometimes be bargained with, but since most are religious fanatics that speak only a handful of Common words, such bargains are rare and deteriorate quickly into a scramble to avoid becoming dinner. It is rumored that there are some humanoid adherents of Khabissol in the frozen wastes of the North that keep truck with the abominable snow Trolls of that clime, but few humanoids are so depraved. Trolls are more typically encountered by adventurers in the wilderness, running feral and trying to eat anything they can catch. Though a daunting foe, the beasts are oft-defeated without loss by the well-prepared hunter. Those who would venture to regions known to support Tikkis are strongly advised to bring a guide experienced enough to lead the party well around the Tikki’s lair- or a cadre of hired swords if they cannot.
*This author also notes the entire account of Lin’Chi’s findings is so far-fetched as to be factually questionable in its own right, regardless of his previous accomplishment or popularity in academic circles. As ever, Lin’Chi is to be taken with several grains of salt.