Even though I never played much RuneQuest during its heyday in the 80s, there were two things I knew for certain about its setting, Glorantha. First, the setting included anthropomorphic ducks as a playable race, a "sin" that I am ashamed to admit prevented me from taking the game seriously for a long time. Older and wiser -- and with a better sense of humor -- I actually rather like the ducks and can't imagine Glorantha without them. Second, Glorantha's trolls were nothing like the trolls I knew from D&D and fantasy literature; they were weird. Of course, most of the nonhuman races of Glorantha are "weird" and that's part of their charm, but, callow youth that I was, I saw this as yet more evidence that Glorantha was not worth my time.
Truth be told, it probably wasn't, at least not at that stage of my initiation into the hobby. Nowadays, though, I find myself feeling a strange kind of nostalgia for RuneQuest and Glorantha -- the nostalgia for something I never directly experienced in my personal past. There must be a term for this odd feeling, probably a German one, but, regardless, I've been feeling it a lot lately and never more strongly than when I recently reread 1982's Trollpak, written by Greg Stafford and Sandy Petersen. As its title implies and its subtitle -- "Troll facts, secrets, and adventures for RuneQuest" -- makes explicit, Trollpak was a boxed set detailing the race commonly called trolls but who call themselves the Uz.
Trollpak contained of four books, a map, and many handouts, all presented with the kind of care and attention that was typical of Chaosium boxed sets in the early to mid-1980s. The first book, "Uz Lore," presents an overview of the history, mythology, and anatomy of trolls. The second book, "Book of Uz," included all the rules and information needed to create and play troll characters, whether as PCs or NPCs. It includes details on family life, religion, insects (which play a big role in troll culture), and a glossary of troll words and terms. The third book, "Into Uzdom," is a book of scenarios that take advantage of the new information presented in the first two books. Some scenarios are written with troll PCs in mind, while others present the trolls as antagonists with whom PCs of other races must interact. Also included are rules for playing trollball, an ancient -- and violent -- sport among the Uz that uses cursed trollkin as the "ball." The fourth and final book, "Munchrooms," is also an adventure, but a unique one in that it is designed to be played two ways, one with the PCs as trolls and another with the PCs as non-trolls.
Normally, I'm rather averse to delving too deeply into an "evil" fantasy race, as it almost always presages the sudden discovery that the race in question is not in fact evil but merely misunderstood. Call me racist and imperialistic but I like being able to kill orcs with impunity, knowing that they're the spawn of Chaos, bubbling up from black pools beneath the earth and having no purpose other than to kill men and bring down civilization. Fortunately, Trollpak does not turn the trolls into nice guys. They're still creatures tied to the rune of Darkness and enemies of men and elves alike, whose cults are decidedly unsavory. What Trollpak does do is present the trolls as more than one-dimensional beings whose behavior and motives make no sense. They're presented as, for all intents and purposes, aliens. That they are nevertheless intelligible and usable is a testament to just how remarkable this product is.
Rereading Trollpak has, as I said, only increased my sense that I missed out horribly by not having been more into RuneQuest in my younger days. It's also reminded me that, at the time, this boxed set was often described as being "overwhelming" in its detail and it's true that it is lengthy compared to previous treatments of almost any fantasy race in a RPG. However, compared to the products based on such topics we've seen in the years since, Trollpak is comparatively spartan in its detail and still leaves many aspects of troll life and society undescribed (or only cursorily so). That is, it doesn't feel constraining at all but acts as a spur to my own ideas about trolls and how to use them in a Glorantha campaign.
It's still probably more detailed than I personally need -- the extensive histories, for example, seem particularly unnecessary -- but Trollpak doesn't leave me with a sense of either self-indulgence on the part of its writers or pointless padding to meet a page count quota, flaws inherent in a lot of RPG products that have been written since 1982. Instead, Trollpak evinces the enthusiasm of its writers for the mythic world of Glorantha and its fantastical inhabitants. There's a palpable sense of joy here, the joy of "discovering" an alien race and sharing it with others. Given that, I'm willing to cut it a great deal of slack and note that, if more gaming products were as obviously joyous, I'd probably be willing to extend the same courtesy to them as well.