Thursday, July 30, 2020

Review: Trollbabe (Troll Week)

Now we come to something different.   Confession time. A lot of what you have read this week was written a while back.  My plan was to have a bunch of "Troll" related posts ready to go so they could be autoposted during Gen Con.  I was going to include pictures of the Flying Buffalo booth and T&T games, and the same with Chaosium.  

Sadly that was not to be.  So I was going post these earlier, but the discovery of this old CD-Rom backup I found with the Trollbabes RPG changed my plans again.  So pull the posts from autopost, make some edits to reflect my new thinking and boom! Troll Week was born. 

Trollbabe was not part of my original plans, but now it is hard to think of Troll Week without it. 

Now I am going to freely admit this game still has some mystery for me.  For starters, the copyright date on the book says 2002.  The CD-Rom I pulled it from was labeled "2015 Backup" but many of the files seem to be from 2008.  There is a shortcut to the now-dead Adept Press website to the Print version.  The shortcut says "Print Ed - Buy Later".  Sadly, later was too late.

So I don't know if this is the First Edition or the Second Edition.  Nor do I know how to tell the difference.

The point might be moot anyway since I also can't find a place to buy the PDF or, more to my wants, the physical book.   Maybe Ron Edwards will re-release it at some point like he did Sorcerer (the Kickstarter Edition for that is on the same CD-Rom).

Trollbabe (2002)

Trollbabe by Ron Edwards. 47 page PDF. Color cover, black & white interior art.
This game comes to us from Ron Edwards of The Forge, the one-time source of tons of interesting indie games.  It is a good example of his "Narrativism" part of his GNS Game Theory.   I am not going to get into GNS Theory here. I think it has some merit and as a theory, it does have value, but today is not the day to dig into that.  No today is about Trollbabes.  What is a Trollbabe? Well. That is sort of the question you get to answer with this game.  Trollbaabes are all women, there are no Trollbros, and she is half-human, half-troll.  How did that happen? You decide the game is not just agnostic on this issue, it flatly refuses to answer it.   In any case, your Trollbabe is tall and strong. She has troll horns and big "80s-style" hair. 

Since this is a narrativist, or what some would call Story-telling, game there is really only one stat. Your Number.  This is a number from 2 to 9.  Where do you get it?  You pick it. But before you do let us consider how it is used.  There are three types of interactions; Fighting, Magic, and Social.  
To do Magic you need to roll OVER this number on a d10. To Fight roll UNDER this number.  To perform a Social interaction roll whichever is better (over or under) and include this number.
Example. Let's go with my new troll witch, Grýlka the Trolla. Since I see her more of a magic-using character I want Magic to be her best.  So I choose 3 as my Number.  I don't see her as being much of a fighter really and an extreme number like this works well for magic and social.
Number: 3 Magic: 4-10 Fighting: 1-2 Social 3-10
If I have to get into a physical fight I am going to have some issues.
Choosing a 5 or 6 gives you a balanced character that can do a little bit of everything, but for my Grýlka here I want a character that thinks all problems can be solved with a bit of talking or throwing some magic around.

You can specialties to your interactions.  They do not add much mechanically but can add to the narrative and can prompt some re-rolls or other situations.  There are some suggestions but I am going with what fits my character concept.  For Fighting, I am going with "Staff" or Handheld weapons. Grýlka has no training in weapons other than to pick up a large stick.  For Magic, I picked "Witchcraft" or Troll Magic. this is likely to cause problems in areas where witches are feared more than trolls are. For Social I picked "Inquizative", Grýlka is very curious about her world, her magic, and how they all fit together. 

Next, you are encouraged to describe your character.  So Grýlka is a very tall, 6'5" trollbabe. She has large sheep-like horns pushing out of a nest of white-tinged-with-green hair.  Here eyes are green and her skin is olive toned. She does have two small tusks on her lower jaw.  She looks very strong (17 STR in D&D).  Her clothing reminds you of druids' with well worn, but well cared for leathers of muted greens and browns. She wears a headdress made of sticks to keep her long hair out of her face. 

Once you have your character the Game Master will then describe a situation you are in.  If D&D always starts in an inn or bar, then Trollbabe always starts with your trollbabe walking down the road.  
So a situation might be "you are walking along a well-trodden dirt road when you hear someone yelling 'help! fire!' you see smoke ahead and a barn on fire."  This is called a Scene. You are encouraged to interact with the GM on what happens.  So let us say that Grýlka comes into this scene.  Being Inquizative she wants to know what is going on. Seeing the fire she goes to the well and magically commands the water to come out and quench the fire.  I add that she speaks to the well in Trollspeak.
I roll, lets say I get  6. That is greater than my number of 3 and in range of Magic.  The water leaps up out of the well and quenches the fire.  There is a pause of shock and then the villagers all cheer! Grýlka is invited to a feast in her honor.  Of course, if I had rolled poorly then there would have been other things to happen.
Maybe there would have been a conflict.  If the player calling for the conflict is the GM and against my character than they can decide what type the conflict is.  Maybe it is a good old fashioned "villagers with pitchforks!" So the interaction is Fighting. Crap, Grýlka only has a 1 to 2 on that. Maybe it is time to run.
You can also combine types for other effects. Maybe Fighting + Social if she is trying to scare off the villagers by looking mean and strong.  She is strong, but not really mean.  

Modifiers are also discussed, since Grýlka was talking to the well water nothing was added.  But if the water had been in a river, and thus "wilder" her Troll Magic or Witchcraft might have given me a +1 or +2 on the roll. 

I love the bit on Troll vs. Human magic.  I plan to use this as a guide when playing Grýlka in other games.
Trollish magic is all about invoking and communing with the untrammeled wilderness, of any kind. It usually deals with “whole areas,” like a river, a lake, a mountain, the sky (ie immediately above), groups or types of animals nearby, and similar. It is especially effective or nifty when performed in groups.
Human magic is an individual scholarly art, based mainly on altering body function or behaviors. It is performed mainly through hypnosis, potions, and other “stagey" methods; a typical spell is cast by opening a phial and spraying a fine mist about, or by lighting a special candle and intoning a mesmerizing chant.
Grýlka is very much about trollish magic.

As this is a Narrativist game an important factor is Relationships.  If your Trollbabe forms a relationship with an NPC lets say you can control that NPC, though the Game Master has input.  So after saving the village an NPC falls madly in love with Grýlka.  We agree to let the NPC follow her around so he can prove himself worthy of her. This NPC then will try to do heroic, even stupid, actions to prove his worth and valor.  The Scale of this relationship starts out small, just this yet unnamed NPC and Grýlka.  This can change as the game goes on.  Maybe this NPC is really supposed to married to another village's daughter and now Grýlka has inadvertently caused an issue between these two villages. 
Details on Relationships between characters are also given.

There is a section on Adventures, some more details on Magic, and finally a discussion on the Narrativist style of Trollbabe and a glossary.

Trollbabe is a fun game that can be played by as few as two people. In fact the smaller the group the better.  This is not a bug, but a feature.  The aim here is not to kick in doors and kill monsters, but to have an adventure.  
As the GM for this, I personally would work up some sort of Narrative arc similar to Joesph Campbell's Heroic Journey.  But that is my take, other GMs can do something else. 

What I like Trollbabe, and Narrativist/Story Games in general, is I can use them a layer on top of more crunchy games. Trollbabe does this particularly well with the type of troll I have been talking about all week. Something like Monster Hearts for example works well with games like Buffy.  Yes. I can do the same thing with role-playing, so think of this as guided, or better yet, scaffolded role-playing.

On its own merits, Trollbabe is a lot of fun. Great to play with a small group or even for a couple of one shots.

In any case I would love to see a Third Edition of this. 

EDITED TO ADD. I did find this link for the PDF,


Dick McGee said...

Well, that's one I'd never seen before. I did a little digging online and while the site that used to sell the print versions seems inactive, the actual Adept Play site ( is definitely live. There are posts from two days ago, as well as a Black Lives Matter logo that probably isn't an artifact from 2013. So you could probably reach him via the "Contact" tag and see if there's a way to buy physical at the moment, or nudge him toward setting up a POD option that actually works.

JB said...

Your copy appears to be the 1st edition. My own copy of Trollbabe has a 2009 copyright date and clearly says "Second Printing;" it's also over 100 pages in length, includes several pages of design notes at the end as well as a couple-five pages of Trollbabe-themed comic strips.

You can still purchase the PDF ($10) from his (publishing) web site:

The print-on-demand version is supposed to be available from Publisher's Graphics (a POD bookstore), but I don't have an account with them so can't check their library. I'll assume it's still available. The page with all Ron's games can be found here:

with all but his latest (Supervillain You) having both print and PDF options.

Trollbabe is a great book, just BTW; probably my second favorite Edwards offering (after the Sorcerer series). Very well designed.