Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Trolls In D&D - The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

Trolls in D&D have always been problematic for me in their description.  When I first saw a picture of one in the monster manual when I was a kid, I thought it was a zombie.  I've always had the scandinavian depiction of Trolls firmly cemented in my head.  Long nosed, big eared, hairy brutish creatures with a tail.  Much of this was due being the grandson of Swedish immigrants and being immersed in in skandinavian folklore.  Although a majority of the trolls that I was exposed to were the Jul Tomten (Christmas Elf), Tomtegubben (the dancing troll, also another name for Santa Claus) and Nisse (Gnomes).  But the more malevolent Trolls I read about in various books like D'Aulaires Norse Myths and other books about Skandinavian folklore.

But the D&D version always seemed a bit strange to me, but after reading Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword I started to warm to the idea of green skinned hallow-eyed trolls.

Now Poul Anderson was the son of Danish immigrants so he's was no stranger to norse mythology.
And he himself set a lot of his fantasy stories in a norse background, Hrsolf Kraki, Mother Of Kings, The Last Viking series, and even some elements in Three Hearts And Three Lions.

Here's an excerpt from the book that gives a good description:

"They were not quite as tall as him, but night twice as broad, with arms like tree boughs that hung to there knees, bowed short legs and clawed splay feet.  Their skin was green and cold and slippery, moving on their stone-hard flesh.  Few of them had hair, and their great round heads, with the flat noses, huge fanged mouths, pointed ears and eyes set far into bone-ridged sockets, were like skulls.  Those eyes lacked whites, were pits of blackness."

Not really the norse troll that I was used to from the norse stories of my childhood and also not exactly the troll of "Gygaxian Naturalism" .  The trolls are shorter than humans and there is no mention of of limb regeneration or suseptibility to fire either.  But after reading the complete story I can picture Thor doing battle with green skinned trolls.


  1. As I understand it, the Gygax D&D troll owes more to the troll at the end of Three Hearts and Three Lions, along with the troll jailer (with his long nose) from the first Harold Shea story from Pratt and De Camp.

    The Broken Sword is a fantastic book. Everything about screams RPG (except for the part about mistakenly having sex with your sister, which is more Mythic Teutonic than D&D). Moorcock said the the re-forged Tyrfing was the inspiration for Stormbringer.

  2. Reading the broken sword for the first time about five years ago turned me on to Poul Anderson, and renewed my interest in fiction generally. I very nearly skipped this one because I had the same edition you show here, with the Boris cover and a terrible blurb that makes it sound very typical...which it is not.

  3. Not really my field, but probably both Tolkien and Anderson read the same 'authentic' tale about a re-forged sword?

    Re. trolls I now suspect the word was at a time used in Sweden as a pejorative / slighting for 'pagan'. In the song 'Herr Mannelig' [the Haggard quasi-baroque interpretation of the Italian translation is not bad either] the squire turns down the offers of the 'female troll' NOT because she is ugly or non-human, but only because she is not Christian. Exquisite courtesy toward a woman, even a non-human one? No, because in the song 'Konungen och Trollkvinnan' the beauty of the 'Troll witch' catches the heart of the King...

  4. Doyle- You are probably right, I need to re-read that book again. I think both stories have a lot of RPG potential for sure.

    I picked up on the rune sword influence right away. It most certainly had to be an influence on Michael Moorcock.

    Mikemonaco- I think Poul Anderson was highly overrated. I discovered him about 20 years ago with Hrolf Kraki and the Y's series. But you're right on the blurb, it was pretty bad.

    Abdul- Thanks for the links, that gives me some more inspiration.