By Keos (Joe Streeper) and Brattan of Holdworthy
I knew it was coming. The crops were failing in the north. The air had a bitter bite not felt for ages. The geese had Ieft earlier than ever before—just before Brewfest, making their way toward the gentler lands of Sunndi, or so they say. I took the early flight of geese as an omen upon the holy land. And now it has come to pass: The Troll Winter.
Call me Keos. In my youth I traveled far and wide across the Flanaess to lands most strange. It seems a long time ago that I set sail upon the Icy Sea finding port from Jotsplat to the Barren Wastes, where ice blankets the lands in a white embrace. Now that my hair too has turned with the seasons, I am no longer a young adventurer. I can only dream of those long days beneath the arctic sun. Now I make my home here in Wintershiven, and I am content to live out my days among my family and my books. And when an audience is indulgent, I can pursue my other pastime: telling stories of adventure and bravery. Come and pull up a chair near the fire and let me share just such as story with you today.
A Call to Arms
I first heard news that things were amiss in a letter that I received from my son in Holdworthy. He sent word that he would be visiting Wintershiven soon, for he had received a note from the Knights Valorous about a call to arms to fight off trolls in the north. And if the truth be told, it brought to mind some ramblings of that fool in the tower, Jarret Beak, who, several years past, warned that the trolls would be coming this very year (593 CY)!
When my son arrived, he showed me the call to arms, a summons in the form of a small parchment upon which these words were scribed:
Friend: Troll Winter is upon us. The Troll Fens are freezing over and soon its vile inhabitants will be able to walk freely across the lands of the north. Worse yet, the trolls apparently have fallen under a so-called ‘king’ who is somehow organizing the horde. The army regulars are no match for trolls. We are organizing an elite group of heroes who have the courage to meet the trolls upon the field of battle. If you desire a share of the glory, assemble with us in the hall of the Knights Valorous in Wintershiven. From that place we shall travel to the Troll Fens and valiantly slay the horde and keep our land safe. – Avern
Imagine that! Avern, the very essence of bravery and devotion to the Pale, asking my son for help! I will admit, it stirred a father’s pride. I knew better than to try and stop my son from joining. I feared for his safety, but I was proud that he would be a part of something great. Even if the he should be killed, I would have wanted nothing better than to see him sacrifice his life for the good of Pholtus and the protection of our land from these horrid beasts on our northern frontier.
I’ve seen my share of trolls. Their claws can effortlessly tear open a man’s chest. A troll’s thick hide shrugs off most blows, and those that strike true have little effect after a moment or two, for they have amazing powers to heal over their wounds. No wonder that most trolls have no fear. Even still, a troll can be defeated by a capable man, especially if he can burn him with acid or fire.
But this is no ordinary time. If this Troll King, whoever or whatever that might be, was raising an army of trolls, there would be terrible consequences. The Trolls Fens are vast, blighting the border from Rakervale to Atherstone. The Brilliant Castles keep a watchful eye to the north in these parts on account of them.
I decided to travel with these brave men and women. Of course, my days with the sword have long since passed. Instead I equipped myself with quill and parchment at the ready to record what epic battles and heroic deeds might transpire.
In the Hall of the Knights Valorous
On Waterday we made our way to the great hall of the Knights Valorous. I have been inside these hallowed halls on two previous occasions, for reasons I shall not share with you today. Suffice to say on my previous visits it was common to see the knights going about their chivalric business, each of them well trimmed and trained for the art and glory of war. This day was altogether different. The main hall was littered with a good thirty people, each of which seemed more strange than the next. These were adventurers. I recognized the type. Had I been a younger man, I might have received the summons too. I marveled that my son had attained such reputation to be included among the company. Here I saw a tall Suel man who was clearly proud of his huge glowing great sword. He leaned against a pillar talking to an Oeridian woman. She seemed mostly unimpressed with the suitor. She wore a pair of her own short swords, one sheathed on each hip. Another stout warrior had clearly not found himself indoors often in his life. Some sinister markings on his arms seemed to shift every so often, and I marked him for trouble. Another few people present sought to conceal their nature, but I saw more than one of them accompanied by small animals that betrayed their arcane talents to one as observant as myself. Elves attended in no small numbers, with groups of them speaking among themselves in their own tongue. Adding their bluster to the cacophony were some dwarves who were clearly intoxicated. They engaged in a debate over whether mashed beets would ease the pain of saddle sores. I shudder to think how that conversation got started.
Avern entered the hall and assessed the rabble. He seemed displeased by what he saw, but it must be remembered that he had personally sent out the summons to each one there. He waited until the hall fell quite before he addressed them. I recorded his words as he spoke them.
“Greetings to each of you. Welcome to the Great Hall of the Pholtan Knights Valorous. I’ve requested your presence here to aid in a noble cause. If you accept to join us in this endeavor, it may be perilous. I have heard tales of your past deeds, which is why I’ve chosen you and summoned you. However, we compel none of you. Your assistance to the light must be completely voluntary. Let no person think less of the one who chooses to turn back now.
“Our situation is this. Much of the Troll Fens have frozen over. We have received many reports from our scouts that trolls and other denizens of the fens are massing for an invasion. The frozen the terrain makes it possible for these creatures to traverse, but it also allows us the advantage of being able to track them all the more easily. Normally the trolls are unruly creatures. Now we have signs that many are organizing into large groups. Reports have claimed that a Troll King holds sway, but we have not found further evidence, nor do we know what such a ruler might be, where he might be located, or what his intentions are.
“If a large group were to attack where we are undefended, the results could be devastating. A single troll can tear a man to pieces in moments. Even a group of our trained soldiers cannot stop trolls. The foul creatures simply heal over what wounds they receive in battle while they yet fight on. This is why you are needed. Your reputations for skill and bravery exceed that of our average soldier, and your, particular talents, even if at times forbidden, are better suited for dealing with such creatures. With your strength, we can hold the weak spots in our lines and perhaps repel the trolls before they bring destruction and chaos to our holy land. Then the glory will be yours, may Pholtus shine upon you.
“My knights patrol the northern portions of the Pale from the Brilliant Castles to Rakervale. The Prelatal Army has forces in the areas as well, but we cannot be everywhere. The border with the fens is far too vast to control. An attack will likely occur somewhere in the center of the region, far from Rakervale or the Brilliant Castles. It is this region which we ask you, our friends and allies, to protect. Our scouts have identified several likely places where such an attack might come. You are to set up your encampments near to these sites and be ready to respond quickly. Hold them back until help can arrive. Be it known, I am sending several bards along with you who will fully document your heroic deeds. Even if you all are slain in battle, your deeds will live on in song!
“We have not heard from Dorjan Oldrich in quite some time. If you find any signs of him, please send us word, may Pholtus protect him.
“Pholtus shines his holy light most brightly on those who fight honorably. With the grace of Pholtus and your strength, you will surely be victorious! Long live the Theocrat!”
(The Theocrat did not live long, for he would be dead within two weeks. But that is another story altogether.)
On the Northern Border
Without much further ado the adventurers left Wintershiven and headed northward to face destiny.
The Theocracy provided wagons and horses to bear us quickly to a northern encampment near the edge of the fens. Scouts from the Prelatal Army came along merely to aid us in finding the enemy, selecting encampments, and providing what information they could. I was pleased to see the group joined by Felodian of Wintershiven, Brattan of Holdworthy, and the incomparable Zenathian, a protégé of Jaramai Twist. With bards such as these, the deeds of these noble adventurers would indeed be sung. And I too would do my part, just as I tell you this story today.
We made camp upon a bed of icy snow. Though the group was well prepared for the harsh weather, no amount of gear would make this trip comfortable. A few among us were able to ease the chill through the use of magic or prayer, but the rest sat around the campfire and made the best of the situation.
It snowed for three days. Each day the scouts had little to report other than a few tracks here and there. We knew they were out there. At night we could hear the tell-tale growling of the beasts. And on several occasions a drum could be heard to the north. One of the scouts even brought back a crudely drawn map which apparently showed each of the major towns in the Pale being destroyed by an invasion. Strange words written in the giant tongue were scrawled on the map. I saw one word scribed over and over: “Kill.” The adventurers grew restless, and bitter weather tested the faith of all. I must confess I too felt disheartened to see such divining talents as Duoghi, Tell, and the heathen Ramal all fail to locate the Troll King, despite their repeated attempts. I only hoped that the rumors were false, and this was just another cold winter.
On the morning of the fourth day we were awoken by the cries of a dwarf. At first, I thought it was one of our own, for the wait had seriously depleted the kegs of ale that were brought along by Garogg and Francis. One can only imagine the unholy words that spill from the mouth of a dwarf who is waist deep in snow and has an empty mug. But this dwarf came stumbling into the camp waiving an axe covered in dwarven runes which I immediately recognized, along with its wielder: the legendary Dorjan Oldrich had come with Birrvenin in hand, ready for battle. He took charge and shouted commands and orders in language which I care not to repeat.
Armor was quickly strapped on, prayers were said, and magic energies were brought forth. We loaded the wagons and the entire camp emptied in a matter of minutes. The horses pulled us northward for what must have been the longest hour of my life, jostled upon the frozen ground or grinding through the blown snow. Upon reaching the iced-over Yol River, we followed it west until coming upon a little thorp known as Oldrich Flat.
The Sacking of Oldrich Flat
Oldrich Flat, named after the very dwarf who was with us now, sits upon the southern bank of the Yol. Not many people call this little village home, and as I sit here with you now I can only tell you that, of those who did not perish, few chose to stay there after the events of that day had come to pass. The villagers made their living from the abundance of fish and game to be found in those parts. Several dozen huts dotted the shoreline, and a few larger public buildings included a town hall and a chapel. Bridges crossed the Yol, leading to the northern lands of bounty and bane. A palisade fence afforded some protection for the flatlands, with each post sharpened to a spike.
These meager defenses, a reminder of the ever-present danger, were utterly insufficient to hold back the force that besieged the village as it came into view. Huts were being set on fire by hulking beasts wielding fiery clubs. Ogres. The villagers ran from hut to hut trying to fight them off and fight the flames, but even as we approached, we could see their lot was hopeless. The bravest were already lying motionless in the snow. The palisade wall had been smashed to pieces in so many places as to render it useless. Not one guard dog remained alive as the ogres smashed their way from hut to hut and from villager to villager.
The adventurers sprang into action fanning out into the village to fight off the attack. Their boots trampled over the crunching snow as they ran to meet the monsters. The ogres snorted a challenge, their breath taking form in the icy air. The villagers blessed Pholtus who, they believed, had sent us in answer to their prayers and to save them from certain death.
The largest group of ogres took a stand in the center of the village. Towards the edges of the village I could see smaller groups causing trouble. The most seasoned adventurers waded right into the middle of the village to meet the main host; those with less prowess made their way to the fringes to fight the smaller numbers.
The arrows of Txala, Nailo, Shaelin, Jon Crow, and Mandelay began to rain upon the attackers. The volley distracted the ogres long enough to allow villagers to run for cover. The stout warrior Vendd kicked his hearty steed to charge toward the town hall where he saw several beasts clubbing a villager who rolled on the ground trying to cover his head. The wizards began their incantations; the sage Duoghi rose above the field of battle to get a birds-eye view, while Tell began moving unnaturally fast and the ogres began moving sluggishly. In the distance I saw the brave Pelyin skewer an ogre, driving his lance deeply into the back of the beast, an act which surely saved a fisherman who was about to be smashed to pieces.
The battle with the ogres raged on. Just when the adventurers thought they had gained the upper hand, screams from other buildings required their attention. It was certain that the adventurers could deal with the ogres, but not quickly enough. Villagers were dying with every passing moment.
Kar-Vilen covered the battleground atop his charger. The dwarves had a harder time in the deep drifts of snow, but even when bogged down, they managed to throw insults to the ogres, which claimed their attention. It wasn’t long before the enraged Francis was sinking his axe into every ogre he could reach. Occasionally the ogre’s clubs were able to land a lucky blow. The confident Kherina moved in for a killing blow, but she herself suffered a bash that left her barely able to hold onto her short swords.
A few of the ogres conducted themselves unlike the rest and appeared differently, such that they were completely unseen at the start of the battle. They appeared to strike from mid-air and they breathed a burst of chill most unpleasant. The ever versatile Mytiral cast a spell highlighting one of them, making it a target for a volley of our arrows.
Meanwhile we spied movement in the fens across the river. I heard drumbeats, and every now and then a foreboding jostle of a large tree indicated that dire things were headed this way.
The Troll Army
Suddenly trolls began pouring out of the frozen swamp. Being some nine feet tall, they waded effortlessly through even the deepest drifts of snow. With the Yol River being frozen, they merely needed to walk across.
Ruddy Garogg called forth his mighty fire magic. With the wave of his right hand, a curtain of fire appeared in the middle of the frozen river and worked its way upstream. With a wave of his left hand, another curtain of fire continued downstream. The magic left an opening between the two walls. Clearly this dwarf knew a thing or two about fire and trolls.
The first wave of trolls pressed through the opening in the flames. The adventurers braced themselves for their attack. As they closed ranks another mighty wave of trolls crashed into the clear and charged forward. This was what we expected. The villagers that still survived fled into the dense trees of the Palish lands. The adventurers stood to hold the banks of the Yol. Fire, arrows, swords, and spells were unleashed upon the troll horde. A few of the trolls started to fall, but most of them absorbed the damage and pressed forward.
Alone on the edge of Oldrich Flat, blinded by snow and fighting against the biting chill, the Phostaldaron waited the only way they know how. The fog of war covered the battlefield as the lumbering trolls advanced upon the elven defenders who answered the call of war. They stood firm with their hearty allies.
Those counted among the defenders are Tell, the human diviner, Damosian, the councilman, Nailo, the deadly marksman, Tyarine with his great feline, Kar-Vilen, the charger, and Kai, the brave rogue.
As the bestial ogres fell by the dozen from hearty blows, the horrid trolls advanced two-fold under the crackle of lightning, the bolts of force, the blood-soaked blades, and the most accurate and deadly hail of enchanted arrows.
And what of the mighty Dorjan Oldrich? He was right in there with all the rest of them, swinging Birrvenin at the foes, clearly relishing the fight. However, I wondered if he might be wounded or exhausted already. Among the trolls, I’ve heard he is called “Doombringer,” and I had always imagined him to be unequaled in skill when it comes to destroying trolls. That day he appeared no stronger or better suited than any of the others who fought beside him. Perhaps the stories were exaggerated?
The trolls made to push past us. They took a swipe at anyone nearby, but then they just kept moving on to the south. How strange that they did not seem interested in the fight. Their tactic became apparent. They had not come to wipe out this village and fight this battle. They came to invade the interior of the Pale. The trolls spread themselves widely across the field of battle, making it nearly impossible to engage them all with spells or volleys. Had they clumped together, we might have dealt more with them more squarely. It seemed strangely intelligent for trolls. Someone wily was guiding and organizing them.
The adventurers did what they could to stop onslaught. They ran after the trolls killing them as quickly as they could. Some tried to erect barriers of various sorts, some tried magic, others simply bashed away at them. A few trolls were even lured by insults that I dare not translate from the Giant language. But it was inevitable that some of the trolls broke through the defenders. I even needed to draw my own weapon as a grunting troll made his way past me. He only glanced my way with a hollow menace before running southward. I know not what his destination was, but I fear for any who met him.
The strategy became even more clear as the drummers made their way into the clearing. The drums were hideously adorned with human skulls that rattled with each drumbeat. I saw a group of three drummers chanting in their grunting tongue, “The Troll King shall rule the Pale as he rules the Fens! Death to Eltison! ” Eltison was far to the south. Did they really hope to push their invasion far? Ambitious goals, indeed! On the other hand, I mused, once they were past the border, how many farmers would actually be able to stand in their way?
A Second Wind
A light wind blew the drifts of snow about the battlefield, churned up by the violence of war. I asked Pholtus to breath upon us a “second wind” for the brave adventurers. On the fringes of the battle, the trolls kept trickling in. Joining them now in this onslaught I could see a new group of ogres moving forward in a tight formation. These were nothing like the brutes that had come before them. They walked in step and moved with obvious discipline. They wielded great swords rather than the usual club one might expect. On their shields was a sign that I recognized all too well: a mighty gray clinched fist. These ogres had some association with the Stonehold army from the north; I had seen such shields in Vlekstad. One of the ogres belted out a command to two nearby trolls who promptly stuck something in their mouths, and then disappeared. Invisible trolls. The adventurers braced themselves for this new threat.
Elsewhere, pushing his way forward came a lone troll in heavy armor. With a mighty swinging motion he cleared a path around him with a heavy chain that clanked against itself and churned up the snow and broke tree and bush wherever it touched them. On another portion of the battlefield I could just make out another rare sight: a troll with two heads wielding mighty clubs in each hand. He bellowed a mighty double war cry when he spotted the battle before him. Another troll wielded a vicious harpoon which he used to spear foes at a distance and then pull them into close quarters. A mighty frost giant entered the fray, flanked on either side by what I believe to be a rare type of salamander that can only be found in the most frigid of areas.
Three wooden siege platforms rising 40 feet tall pressed their way into the battle. In the middle of the village, one of these platforms (being pulled by two laboring trolls) stopped just short of where the adventurers had erected more magical burning walls of fire. Inside the barricaded platform a lone figure moved about. The other two “platforms” were something I never would have imagined in all my years. They walked. Somehow these machines of war had been given life by sinister magic, and they slowly marched forward into the battle.
From the middle platform rained magical fireballs and lightning bolts with deadly frequency. The adventurers responded in kind with magic of their own, but the platform was well defended and the attacks had little effect on whoever was inside. I thought to myself, Surely this will be the entrance of the Troll King.
A massive figure in gleaming white metal armor stepped forth, wielding a terrible spiked chain. He roared and tipped back his visor, revealing a green trollish nose. He peered out at his opponents with the black eyes of a northern troll. Although I could not quite hear him at the time, I later learned that he introduced himself as Bragnak, a mighty general of the Troll King, who announced the arrival of the trolls as a new era of feasting on the humans and their allies in the Pale from here to Nyrond. He moved forward into battle, stepping through flames without any hesitation or concern.
The elves with their allies defended the Pale as their own land. They continued with arrows in beautiful flight to carry the battle to other sections of the field. With Nailo showering scores of blessed arrows, Damosian charging forward, Tyarine in flight above the field, and Tell the Pholtan diviner guarding the flank, they advanced. Kar-Vilen and Kai answered a call for hel, and rallied to aid some beleaguered defenders. They sallied forward with renewed vigor. The wind driven snow blinding and obscuring the field of battle, the defenders fought on toward the only choice left — victory.
The adventurers rallied with new resolve. Garogg’s fire magic had funneled many of the trolls through the opening in the flaming walls. This herded some of them together where they were easier to challenge and slow. The middle siege tower continued that mighty assault of magic. Francis, while raging against any troll that dared come near him suddenly froze. Duoghi sprouted some wings and flew overhead. He reversed the magic and freed the dwarf from his affliction. Once free, Francis exacted punishment for the insult on any trolls that dared come near. The unseen figure in the tower was still busy casting magic spells when the trolls below, responsible for moving the tower, made a fatal mistake. They moved the tower forward onto the frozen river. The ice would likely have supported the tower despite its massive weight. However, the river had been bombarded repeatedly by magical fire, and the roaring walls of fire had all this while been slowly melting away the thick ice. As soon as the weight of the tower was transferred to the river, the ice broke apart, causing the mighty tower to topple. The war machine splintered against the massive chunks of ice, and a portly man with wild gray hair cried out in pain as he was expelled from the safety of the platform directly into the frigid ice water.
In the distance I heard a mighty cry from Halpxanthes Mastin, calling out, “By the power of Pholtus!” I saw him surrounded by the shield ogres from Stonehold. His companions were occupied elsewhere and could not rescue him. By the grace of Pholtus, he smote down two of them with a mighty slash of his guisarme.
More trolls on the battlefield quaffed down potions that made them disappear from view. Fortunately the peculiar talents of Corwyn were there to assist. He was able to light them up with magical fire that highlighted the hapless trolls until they were brought down by repeated bow fire from Mandelay. Meanwhile the incomparable Nailo was felling trolls as fast as his arrows could be nocked and released.
Elsewhere our dwarves hacked at the legs of the other two towers until they toppled as well, their animated life now over. The tide of the battle turned in our favor, with each mighty foe wilting under the renewed power of the forces of the Pale. Under the punishment of our mighty blows, withering arrow fire, and powerful magic, the attackers were finally falling in defeat. But we had not yet prevailed, and matters took a nasty turn.
The mighty leader Bragnak strode forth with a spiked chain. It hummed with a strange magical sound as it landed painful blows to the adventurers who dared to face him.
Then came a great surprise. I have seen my share of grumpy dwarves, upset dwarves, angry dwarves, irritated dwarves, and livid irate ill-tempered dwarves. None of those compare to the dwarf that came crashing across the Yol River pursued by eight trolls determined to see that he would not see another rising of the Mistress. The trolls swatted their claws at him and yelled out, “Death to the DOOMBRINGER!” But Dorjan Oldrich was already among us, fighting side by side with our forces, or so we thought. Upon seeing this new Dorjan Oldrich arrive, the imposter left off fighting the trolls and instead turned his charge toward Francis, dealing him a mighty blow from Birrvenin.
In the distance the angry dwarf who was apparently the real Dorjan called out for his axe to be returned to him, for he had no weapon at all, and he was being pummeled by trolls on all sides. Mytiral streaked into action, moving with inhuman quickness across the battlefield to where the imposter wielded the famed axe.
Those near at hand who comprehended the situation struck at the imposter Dorjan, but Francis was the one who struck a blow with such vengeance as to separate this creature’s head from its body no less than twenty feet. It reverted to its real form, that of a gray skinned doppelganger. Kherina stepped forward and picked up Birrvenin, throwing the heavy weapon toward Mytiral who picked it up and headed back toward the mass of trolls now surrounding the Doombringer.
Mighty enemies advanced upon the defenders to only fail and fall before the courageous warriors.The remaining foes fell in turn. The frost giant, the frost salamanders, the shield ogres from Stonehold, and all the elite troll warriors that had come armed to the teeth for this invasion died on the field of battle with no mercy asked and none given.
The portly sorcerer who fell from the tower made one last attempt to take someone with him as he pointed a wand from out of the frigid water and fired off a lightning bolt. The stroke of lightning missed its target. Our own magic users quickly responded an onslaught of spells that sent him sinking beneath the ice, never to be seen again.
Bragnak, the fearless leader of the invasion, fared no better. He was the last troll standing, the chain-wielding leader who had pulled a heavy engine of war off to the frozen plains. A brave attack relieved him of his fearsome swinging chain. Then he was surrounded and hacked to bits. The adventurers also slew and cast into the frozen water the trolls attacking Dorjan. The hero stood torn and bloodied by their claws, but he lived and breathed. Though the battle was over, Dorjan Oldrich took no rest nor did he look to his wounds until he held Birrvenin in is hands again.
The village of Oldrich Flat still stands today on the border of the fens. Despite the amazing efforts of the heroic group sent to confront the trolls there, many villagers died. A small contingent of the Prelatal Army arrived to take up watch over that crossing into the Troll Fens. Today, scarcely a day goes by in the small tavern, that tales are not told of the brave men and women who fought the battle there against the troll invasion.
Upon returning to Wintershiven, the adventurers were hailed as heroes. The valorous Avern saw fit to award the title of “Champion of the Fens” to Nailo of the Phostwood. He, and all others who participated in this battle, including my own son, were saluted with the greatest of honors for their deeds. Tales have spread in taverns throughout the Theocracy of the Pale of these heroes who answered the call to battle and performed their duty with courage and distinction. Should you see any of these adventurers, I heartily recommend that you buy them a drink, for they deserve the thanks of all the Pale people and so much more.
But do not rest easy my friends. The trolls are still restless in the fens. The day may yet come when even greater hordes amass on our northern border. And those trolls that managed to escape into the land have been turning up far from the northern border. Just two weeks ago, two trolls attacked farmsteads to the west of Ogburg. They rampaged for several days, killing countless countrymen before finally being slain. The terrible beast are out there, and what of that mysterious Troll King who rallied them to war? Walk with Pholtus in your heart and caution in your step, for the land is not safe until the Troll Winter recedes.
Let us never forget the valiant heroes who fought and fell that day on the border of the Troll Fens. Pholtus teaches us to never give way to the forces of chaos and evil. May Pholtus bless them always.
Edited for Greyhawkstories.com by Thomas Kelly.
A summary of the Troll Battle Interactive, written by Joe Streeper and Brattan of Holdworthy. This event occurred at RAGECon in the spring of 2003 and appears online only here in archived internet file from 2003. If you are the original author (Joe Streeper), please know that we would have asked your permission to edit and repost the story if we could have found you.