I’ve been wanting to try Trollbabe for awhile, so was very pleased to get to try it recently with two fun players. I was the GM, first time running Trollbabe. Each of the players picked a different location, so I did my best to prep each one as the rules suggested. One player picked the Silent Forest, the other Kragg Keep.
For the first location, this is the sketch of what I came up with: The Silent Forest - silent because the birds don’t sing there (because of a hungry dragon). At the foothills of the Stumpy Mountains.
- Trolls live in the mountains and come down to the forest to forage for berries, nuts, fruits, and medicinal herbs. Occasionally eat humans.
- Humans live outside and come in for some of the same reasons, including hunting. A human recently disappeared and a search party is trying to find him.
- This human, Grandpa Gunnar, was eaten by a dragon, who just moved nearby and lives in one of the caves of chaos. I drew a map of the forest and added in some details, including groves and nearby caves. One I labeled as the Grove of Forever, a place most people didn’t come back from; time runs differently there. Most of the groves have draugr lying in burial mounds, with spells or magical plants keeping them bound.
Trolls: Hurrgle, Eery, and their sick daughter Anra
Humans: Rolf (human farmer/warrior, son of Gunnar), Oskar (13 year old boy), Inge (woman mage/farmer, sister of Rolf) looking for Grandpa Gunnar (currently being digested by dragon)
Stakes: a troll child, Anra, is sick, bitten by a poisonous snake. The only cure is foxfire leaf, a rare and powerful medicinal plant that grows in The Silent Forest, in a grove that’s difficult to get to. The lowdown: The trolls get access to the foxfire leaf and Anra lives, or they don’t get the leaf and she dies.
For the second location, this is the sketch of what I came up with: Kragg Keep - mostly ruins, with an ancient wizard tower in the center. In the Frozen North. Humans go in search of treasure, trolls mostly ignore it. Dangerous creatures lie within.
- humans hunting for treasure
- Troll too
- giant crabs want to eat everyone
- A jealous wraith guards the treasure at the top of the tower
Humans: Skarr (greedy, wants gold and treasure for luxuries, is a mage), Fergus (needs to pay debts, or a member of his family will be sold), Gunhilde (wants treasure so she can marry the guy of her dreams - Rolf)
Troll: Washu, loves Fergus' brother, Harald
Stakes: Washu, a troll, has been thrown out of her clan for claiming to love a human. She wants the magic amulet of true change, that can transform one to whatever they wish. Wanted by the troll, so she can become human and marry her true love, Harald. Humans also want whatever magic they can find. The lowdown: The troll gets the amulet and changes, or she doesn't and lives the rest of her days as a lonely exile.
Ok, so I started by asking the first player how they were entering the Silent Forest. They said from the south, and since that’s where the humans were coming from, I had the first encounter be with one of the humans.
Oskar, the teenage boy, was picking berries when Ilva the Trollbabe came across him. Alarmed at her horns, the boy bolted, preparing to scream for help. So immediately there was a social conflict, with Elva trying to catch the boy and persuade him not to panic. The player’s roll was successful, so I said the boy calmed down enough to listen to what she was saying. Ilva asked him what was going on, and why he was in the forest; he answered, telling her that his father and his aunt were looking for his grandfather, Gunnar, who they believed has either been captured or eaten by trolls.
Meanwhile, Sigrun took a boat to Kragg’s keep. The Land was covered with ice and snow, and it snowed heavily as she started walking inland. She heard the sound of a troll cry out in pain, and went to investigate. An obviously injured troll hobbled toward her, shouting at her to run away. Behind the troll came a giant crab, reaching for her with a massive claw. Sigrun rushed forward to help. She fought the crab successfully and forced it to retreat.
Back at the Silent Forest, Ilva convinces Oskar to lead her to his relatives. As they approach, adults Rolf and his sister, Inge, become very alarmed when they see Ilva’s horns, and draw their weapons, insisting she move away from the boy. Ilva starts another social conflict, with the intent of convincing them to trust her, and wins. They confirm Oskar’s story, that they are in the forest looking for Gunnar.
At Kragg’s Keep, Sigrun and Washu (the troll) take shelter from the storm. Washu confesses that she’s come to the keep in search of a particular magic item, the amulet of true change, which can change a troll into a human or vice versa. Washu has fallen in love with a human, and wants to change so she can be with him. The troll believes the item to be hidden in the Keep’s central tower. Sigrun offers to get the amulet for her, but Washu insists on coming. The player initiates a social conflict to convince Washu to stay behind, but loses.
In the Silent Forest, Ilva asks the group of humans about the Grove of Forever, an area I’d labeled on the map. They look puzzled, but tell her it’s a place no one goes, because most people who go there don’t come back. Ilva immediately decides she wants to go there, and asks them to accompany her; when they balk, she initiates a social conflict. She wins once again, so they agree to come with her to the grove.
At this point I start sweating, because I realize I’ve completely misled this player. He quite naturally thinks the stakes are the missing grandfather, and that the Grove of Forever is where they need to go, and neither of these things are correct. So what to do? Well, I thought of where the trolls were and what they were doing, which clearly would be looking for the plant that would cure Anra. Now, I realized that I hadn’t written down where the plant was, so a simple solution would be to just place the plant in the Grove of Forever.
I was a little hesitant in doing so, because I remembered what Ron said about how important it is to honor the backstory, and not to change it to ensure a particular outcome - if by doing so the GM removes agency/meaningful choice from the player, that’s a no-no, and not the kind of gaming I want. However I thought it was ok in this case, as I wasn’t interfering with the player’s choices in a bad sense, that I could see. Happy to hear other opinions and perspectives on this.
But let’s change this question a bit. Suppose I had established in my backstory that the foxfire plant was in another grove, say one to the north near the mountains. Suppose that I decided to change its location in response to what the player did. Would that be legit? Or, in what cases would it be legitimate?
To make the question more general, suppose that during play you realize the player thinks the stakes are something other than what you planned, and that the player’s idea is actually better and more interesting than yours? How to change things without falling into intuitive continuity?
Ok, back to Sigrun and the keep. Sigrun and Washu meet Gunhilde, who was scouting ahead of her group. Alarmed at the sight of the troll, Gunhilde threatens them, and a fight breaks out. Sigrun batters Gunhilde unconscious, but gets injured. They make their way into the central tower. Hearing the sound of humans coming towards them through the snow, they close and bar the doors to the tower.
In the Silent Forest, Ilva and the humans reach the Grove of Forever. Ilva enters the grove as the humans wait anxiously outside its borders. In the grove, Ilva sees a troll fumbling with something growing on one of the burial mounds. She asks the troll what its up to.
The troll tells her that his name is Hurrgle, and he is trying to pick leaves of this plant so that he can cure his daughter, but he can’t seem to get a grip on any of them. “Did you happen to eat an old man on the way here?” Ilva asks.
“No,” Hurrgle replies, “but I did see that dragon eat some old human on our way here from the mountains. Swallowed him in two bites. Never did like humans myself; no matter how you cook ‘em, they’re always stringy and tough.”
Ilva volunteers to try to pick the plant, and the troll steps aside. She tries to grab onto a leaf, but her fingers slide off. Simultaneously, she hears a voice in her mind: “who are you and what are you doing?”
“I am Ilva, and I need some leaves to help heal this troll’s child.”
“Nothing doing. If I give you some of my leaves, I lose some of my power - who then will keep the draugr within this mound from emerging?”
Ilva’s player initiates a social conflict, with the goal of convincing the plant to give up some leaves. She’s successful, promising that she’ll handle the undead, and gives a handful of foxfire leaves to the grateful troll. The mound then ripples and breaks open, as a draugr crawls out of it.
At the keep’s central tower, Sigrun and Washu climb the tower stairs as they hear someone smashing into the doors from below. At a landing, they stop as a skeleton gets to its feet, brandishing a sword and blocking their way. Sigrun’s player initiates a social conflict, trying to persuade the skeleton to let them pass. She weaves a compelling tale appealing to the skeleton’s sense of duty, and it lets them pass. They enter the top of the tower, and after a bit of searching find a hidden box. They open it, and the amulet is inside. However this triggers the notice of the old wraith who lives in these walls. The dark form steps out of a wall, pointing an accusing finger at them. “Thieves! You sought treasure, but you have found only death.” Below them, they hear the main doors crash open.
Back in the Silent Forest, Ilva has to fight for her life against the draugr. “You will stay with us here forever,” it croaks, as it reaches for her. This was a blow-by-blow fight, and Ilva won three rounds in quick succession, destroying the draugr. The troll goes back to his overjoyed family, while Ilva goes back to the humans to give them the bad news about Grandpa.
In the tower, the confrontation with the wraith is intense. Sigrun tries to convince the wraith to let Washu use the magic amulet just once, after which they’ll be on their way, but it’s a tough sell. She gets to within one die roll of being incapacitated. As the player made their final roll, I was really sweating. If Sigrun failed, there was no way to avoid dire consequences for both her and Washu. But the die roll was a success! The wraith reluctantly agrees, as the humans burst into the room. Sigrun successfully knocks them all out. In the process, they discover that one of them is the brother of Washu’s love interest.
Washu uses the amulet to become human, and then replaces it as promised. They carry the unconscious humans to their boat, and Washu decides to guide them back to land. Sigrun wishes her well.
In the Silent Forest, the humans are quite angry and distrustful of Ilva. They don’t trust what the troll said, but believe that Gunnar is dead. Ilva convinces them not to attack the trolls, and they leave the Forest, sad and angry, hating trolls.
Overall this was a very fun game, and I think everyone enjoyed it. Having two players with two different situations was an interesting challenge, but it worked. I think I’d be a bit overwhelmed with three or more players in three different locations; having to keep track of everything would be stressful for me in that case.
Narrating successes as the GM was a bit of a twist, I’m more used to narrating failures. I think with practice it would get to feel normal, though.
I did find that having to figure out the length of a conflict was a little bit distracting, it took me out of the fiction, but again this might be just a matter of practice. Similarly, we had to pause a couple of times to figure out exactly what type of conflict a particular goal was, but this was a typical “first time I’m playing this game” kind of thing. After another session or two of play I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t happen.
I was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly everything went, and how we naturally reached a climax in each story, without trying or planning to do so. My only real snafu was my setup of the Silent Forest; I think the stakes probably needed to be introduced earlier.
As always, I welcome comments and insights from everyone.