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L I V E I N O U R W O R L D
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[trohl] : (n)
1.Supernatural beings, originating
from Norse and Scandinavian
folklore. In Norse sources beings
described as trolls dwell in isolated
rocks, mountains, or caves,
live together in small family units
or unrelated gangs, and are rarely
helpful to human beings.
2. A dime store collection of new
fantasy art, short stories and articles
basted in the ways of old and slowsmoked
over the fires of Mount
Doom, just the way you like it.
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Troll magazine, Pty. Ltd
All Rights Reserved
The Work contained herein remains the property
of Troll Magazine and The
Artists, and may not be reproduced or copied
without permission written or otherwise.
ffFind out if World of Warcraft can be taken seriously in our
Top Ten Fantasy Roleplaying Videogames feature (Spoiler: It can’t.)
Editor’s Note 6
The Armoury - Excalibur The first in a series on iconic weapons in fanstasy 7
Featured Artist - Mia Arderne We interview the last true surrealist 8
The Kill Sessions - Volume One Journey into the chasms of Dorinstadt 15
TROLL’s Top 10 Fantasy Role Playing Videogames Our Hall of Fame 25
The Spellbook: Magic MIssile We profile famous spells from famous lore 32
The photography on the cover and various other photographs
featured in the magazine were provided by Ryan
McGuire at Gratisography.com. Give his site a visit for
some truly out of this world photography.
Tabbard Lark & The Gilded Blade: Part One Evil rises, as does Lark, reluctantly 33
Poetry Silken words written by our writers 14, 40
The Bestiary: Elves We take a lpok at fantasy’s most fleet of foot and pointy of ear 41
Credits Meet the team behind the stories, poetry and art 48
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“The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams.”
- George R.R. Martin
We can’t promise you the language
of dreams, but we hope
you enjoy reading our first issue
as much as we have enjoyed writing
and drawing it, which is a lot.
Troll Magazine allows us a temporary
break from our normal lives
to plunge face first back into the
worlds we love so much to visit and
create. It’s great that you’ve chosen
to join us. We want to make Troll
Magazine your high fantasy home
away from home, your Rivendell
away from the Shire, your Earth
from Asgard. Therefore we promise
to keep the magazine free to
read and download so that there
are no barriers forced between the
tapestries we weave and the folks
who like to run the silk between
Doing so costs money, and we
try consistently not to seep further
into debt while getting the
best artists to paint for you, the
best writers to write for you and
the best web builder(’s underachieving
cousin) to keep
the old girl ticking over for you
but in order to keep doing that
we’d love it if you’d head over to
our GoFundMe, IndieGoGo and
Kickstarter pages and drop some
loose coin upon our lowly faces
so that we may keep the bonfires
lit. Come hell or high water there
will always be a team chugging
cheap coffee and bashing keys to
make sure longswords are liberated
from their scabbards in defence
of the realm, we’d just love it
if you would let us give you a better
product. You’ll always have our
Anyway, welcome to what is
and will be a unique and very cool
new fantasy experience.
- Gerald & the Troll Team
“There drew he forth the brand
And o’er him, drawing it, the
Brightening the skirts of a long
cloud, ran forth
And sparkled keen with frost
against the hilt:
For all the haft twinkled with
Myriads of topaz-lights, and
Of subtlest jewellery. “
-Alfred Lord Tennyson,
‘The Passing of Arthur’
The name Excalibur comes
from the original Welsh Caledfwych
or Caledvwlch (which has
been translated a dozen different
ways, from ‘battle breach’ to ‘hard
lightning’). Over the centuries, the
spelling further developed into
Escalibor and other variations,
until the (relatively) modern
term of Excalibur was applied and
Arthur did not pull Excalibur
from the stone, however. Despite
much confusion of the matter, the
scholarly and popularly accepted
‘definitive’ versions of the Arthurian
Legend state clearly that
Excalibur and the Sword-In-The-
Stone, also called the Sword of
Britain, are two separate swords.
e x c a l i b u r
In many versions, the blade
was engraved on opposite sides,
each side with its own phrase – it
was usually a variation along the
lines of “Take me up” and “Cast
me away”, a reference to the origin
and final resting place of the
blade – it came from Avalon, and
to Avalon it returned.
A sword with no small amount
of magic imbued in its forging, Excalibur
was a blade of extraordinary
quality. As the sword’s name
implied, Excalibur had the ability
to reave through enemy’s weapons
and armaments, unless they
bore some protective enchantment
of their own. This turned
the already formidable Arthur
into a nearly undefeatable force in
his own right – Arthur was likely
only surpassed by the very best of
his knights – Galahad, Lancelot,
Tristram, Gawain, and perhaps
Percival – and of course, Mordred
- were usually stated outright to
be equal or greater than Arthur
in battle-prowess. Many of these
usually had magical weapons of
their own – though none as famous
The blade Excalibur remains
one of the most influential weapons
both in British legends and in
the imaginations of fantasy writers
and enthusiasts today.
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“Art has no other purpose other than itself.” Yet
these days it’s a word seemingly used too often to describe
things that are frivolous in their conception or
practical in their purpose. You don’t have to go far to
find a sullen faced critic drenched in port referring
to a plate of food as art, or further to find someone
looking at a shaped wingback chair and calling
it the relaxation equivalent of Raphael. The most
basic form of the word “art” is assailed these days
by industrial design, the filters on your Instagram
and some really witty food bloggers who marvel at
the artistry of stacking asparagus on top of a bed of
potatoes. Ascribing the allegorical quality of “art” to
the mundane crap of daily life allows people to feel
the elegance of creativity without having to pay extra
for it. Art for art’s sake makes no money, not in this
country anyway, so having a nice curve on
your toaster or a filter on your nude selfie is
enough to satisfy you when you don’t have seven
thousand rand to drop on a canvas painting that’s
making you feel funny.
Mia Arderne paints on canvas, with oil based
paints. That drips normality and naturally one
expects her to paint as most other painters do on
this most orthodox of platforms: A simple country
landscape, or the face of an adorable golden retriever
puppy. After all, the most edgy painted works have
moved onto the street walls these days, right? And
while “edgy” seems to have a modern, urban connotation
these days, its classical definition is still work
moving toward the fringes of the mainstream, and
in the world of mountains and puppies, her work
is definitely fringe. I met Mia on a toasty Tuesday
morning to pick her brain, and as she sat down I immediately
hit her with the oversimplification
that her work seems to be a cross of
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Salvador Dali and Adventure Time.
“I’d probably go with that,” she says, jokingly.
Asking her more seriously, she says she has loads
of influences with Dali being one of the more complicated
ones, and the aesthetic of the female body
as being a more simplistic another. Majorly though
her work always seems to be subliminal, a piece
of the subconscious. Her work Dreamscape (The
large three panel spread on page twelve) is the most
extreme example of that. She says the image itself is
part of a subconscious fantasy, a look at the dichotomy
of a woman and her aggression. I say the dragon
looks quite cool, and she looks at me blankly. Admittedly
reducing an entire painting to the quality of the
dragon is, well, quite immature. In my defence this is
a fantasy magazine and she’s only ever read one true
fantasy book, and that was long after she’d painted
the majority of the work you see here. So the dragons
and spirits that you see in her paintings, demons
included, come from a place of honesty as opposed
to the majority of fantasy art that often seem contrived.
I guess that’s what makes it cool along with
those thick brush strokes that just seem to swathe
across the canvasses.
Does it bother her, that the rest of the world is
moving toward digital art?
“Not really. Digital opens doors when it comes to
manipulation. You can add layers and increase the
level of detail in a way that’s impossible when painting.”
But surely the absence of risk annoys her?
“It’s not as visceral,” she concedes.
“Or valuable, or tactile. You’ll never replace a
So digital art is less valuable?
“Paintings have more exclusivity. The concept,
technique and aesthetic of the artist is there for you
to see when you look at the painting.”
That technique, and tactile quality that she
touched on earlier is quite clear on the Sage (opposite
page) that almost seems to be a two dimensional
pictograph of a clay sculpture. That tactile quality
seems to add the age to figure, evoking a bit of the
Istari or the classical wise man fantasy trope.
If had to ask her about whether that was a creative
decision taken to make the painting look like it was
a clay piece she would probably shrug her shoulders
and say she doesn’t see it, just as she doesn’t see the
fantastical qualities of painting the ethereal in the
way that fantasy nuts do. Fantasy art has for a time
been stuck in a Game of Thrones rut, obsessed with
gritty realism and trying to make a dragon as photorealistically
as bad a destroyer as it can be, in quite
a masculine fashion. Seeing an artist try and paint a
dragon as something else than a beast bent on smiting
your wooden home town is refreshing. A dragon
as a shield, an alter ego, a philosophical element.
Fantasy begun as metaphor, and people have let that
facet slip over time, making it more and more realistic,
Hollywood and one dimensional. Maybe that’s
why someone who has almost no context of fantasy
who sets out to paint something subliminal and ends
up with an element of the fantastical is capturing
what makes this a great genre again.
Nothing lasts forever, however, and more of Mia’s
modern work is taking on a more contemporary angle
while remaining as subliminal as possible. Either
way we’ll still have these lustrous works for some
“I aim to strike a balance between the weird and the elegant, the conceptual
and the aesthetically rhapsodic, between decency and deviancy.”
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This hum that takes me to the doorway
a frame of lightless light
so dense so magical
it tends to be impractical
I care not though
this world is golden grey
through the fire I go
To another world through another
yes another one appears as I walk
down this road I know not of
this path I dare not leave
as I travel south into my sleeve
as it warms me coldly
the world lets go of me
This time I face a dragon
a beast of old ways and power
old magic and laughter
yes it laughs when I speak
to it the sound means nothing
I am weak
in its face I become earth
as I transform, I am rebirth
It sends me reeling through the planes
through the magic of misty lanes
down the rabbit run I fall
into tiny spaces crawl
again and again I speak
but it hears me not
it does not care
or perhaps it sends me because it cares
the image plagues me
a vision of the formless creature
old and grey and gory
a teacher told me long ago
that I was to become this show
for a dragon thing it matters not
I am lost now
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The Kill Sessions : No. 1
A Dream of Death
A face gazes at Isaac from the fog.
‘Yes,’ says Isaac, ‘I know.’
The face fades, dissipates into nothing.
‘This is what we are,’ he murmurs to himself. ‘This
is what we do. We will not change. We cannot change,
for nothing changes.’
He pulled out the crest and gazed at it, a snake,
coiled into a shape akin to a cross, devouring its tail,
a symbol of eternity, pierced through by blades.
‘Is it beginning?’ asks a small voice at his side.
Isaac offers a rare smile to the girl beside him. Her
time was not yet come, though he had dreamed that
one day it would.
‘Of course it is, Lace.’ he said. ‘Everything ends
and begins anew, with nary a space in our breaths to
tell the difference.’
‘I dream and all is unmade, then remade when I
wake. This is the shape of eternity – of mortal infinities,
Night was falling, which meant only a deeper
darkness in the rift, but Isaac’s eyes easily pierced the
gloom. The sky is tainted a sickly grey-green, and the
air is rife with mist and magic. A man’s face materializes
from the mist – a heavy-set man, whose cheeks
are lined with scars. There is a pale and deathly fire in
his eyes, flames in which innocence burned. A shadow
follows him through the fog, the portly man, his
pockets filled with gems stained with blood.
A whisper seems to follow him.
Tell me what you think.
The portly man looked back, as though sensing
that he is being followed, or perhaps simply feeling
out of place, he in his fine clothes, among the fearful
and the desperate.
Tell me what you feel.
He turns and shrieks, as a pale man with eyes like
midnight pools appears before him.
‘Tell me what you see.’
The pale man touches a single finger to his forehead,
and his eyes seem to glow – pinpoint lights of
distant stars in the black sky. The man’s panic fades
and he sways as though suddenly placed in a trance.
But it lasts only a moment, and when he shakes himself
awake again, he is alone.
The fall of night does strange things in Dorinstadt.
The Rift pulses with strange magic, and those
who do not train their minds fall prey to strange, but
He shivers, feeling unaccountably cold, though
the temperature in Dorinstadt never changes, and
he curses himself for his carelessness. He takes a
deep breath and steadies himself before going on
The alleyways of the Maze twisted and turned
here, a labyrinth of sewage, vermin and the wreck
of human lives.
This was a place of chains, of gallows and guillotines
without the dignity of executioners. Here,
men simply devoured each other, assuming the role
of predator and prey amongst themselves.
Yet there was some shape given to the endless
night, some governance given to the lawless.
Dorinstadt, the City of Rifts, of wild disorder
has but one sovereign, and his name is Death. In
the furtive furore of whispers and moans, a blade
is drawn, a sound that shatters all other noises to
A Kill Session has begun.
It’s unnatural,’ said Tolin, when he heard of
Isaac sighed. ‘We’ve had this conversation before,
‘No,’ said Tolin.
‘You only dreamed you did.’
Isaac’s eyes narrowed.
‘Okay, fine, you may have mentioned it. Once.
Or Twice. Possibly every time I asked.’
‘I need no alchemy to perform my craft,’ said
Isaac, his voice as soft as ever. ‘What I do is older, a
thing of Contagion and Sympathies.’
‘That’s just it, boy,’ said Tolin, and his face was
deadly serious. ‘No one is supposed to be able to do
what you do. No one except the Master.’
‘Can we not accept that this is the path my master
gave me? Perhaps this is how I was meant to perform
‘It’s unnatural,’ Tolin said, stubbornly.
‘We live in the City of Rifts, where men and
monsters are often indistinct,’ Isaac pointed out.
‘You yourself can bend and shape the perceptions
of the world with the magic borne of the Rift. A talent
given to only a few, yet you say what I do is unnatural?’
‘A talent given to a few,’ said Tolin. ‘Yours, however,
He took a deep breath, then sighed.
The ring on his finger, emblazoned with the guild
crest glittered with a curious light.
‘Listen to me, boy. I have traced the path of a
thousand thousand souls in the service of my master.
The world may change, but the people don’t.
You learn to see familiar souls in time, though
they might forget who they once were.’ He looked
straight at Isaac. ‘Sometimes, though, you find that
something happened that shouldn’t have – a soul
that tumbles through the Rift, to a place it shouldn’t
be. But you know what it is that we do, don’t you?’
Isaac didn’t answer. He didn’t have to.
‘But I’m just an old fool,’ said Tolin. ‘After all, you
were chosen, weren’t you?’ He said the operative
word with a bitter twist of his mouth.
‘Maybe I’m the one who doesn’t understand,’ he
‘I showed you how it is that I do it,’ said Isaac.
‘Shall I do so again? To make you feel more at ease?’
‘Sweet Death, no,’ said Tolin, holding both his
hands up. ‘I still have nightmares when you performed
that... what was it? With the glowing eyes
and the creepy voice?’
‘The Act of Contagion,’ said Isaac. ‘And that was
my own voice.’
‘Yes, that. Once was enough for a thousand lifetimes.
And a word of advice, boy – showing someone
that you can prance through their dreams willy-nilly
will never ever put anyone at ease.’
‘I do not prance,’ Isaac said in a mildly offended
Almost absent-mindedly, he grabbed handful of
different herbs, shoved them into a pouch and held
it out to Isaac. Isaac stared at it, nonplussed.
‘Tolin, I don’t need-’
‘Just take the damn things, will you?’ Tolin said,
muttering to himself.
Isaac slid down to the streets below, to where his
‘Smooth,’ she said.
‘When you walk in dreams, your senses are magnified,’
Isaac explained. ‘You become careful of any
sounds you might make. As a result, I can move
quickly and silently, perhaps even moreso than the
more... consummate professionals in our guild.’
He thought of Zeal in that moment, the assassin
who preferred to get his hands dirty and his coat
bloody. He shuddered.
There was one whose dreams he didn’t wish to
venture into again.
‘You could have done it then and there,’ said
Lace. ‘Why didn’t you?’
Isaac pondered the question. The Moment of
Contagion and the Sympathy was a double-edged
blade. It gave him a level of connection to his target
that allowed him to pinpoint his position even if
he wandered to the other side of the Rift. But there
A low moan issued in his mind, a groan of sensual
pleasure, followed by grunts and heaving breaths.
Isaac’s lip curled in distaste.
The mark, it seemed, had found his business.
An image filled his mind, of a busty, blonde
woman, her back arched in the throes of passion.
The grunts were coming from himself, rutting
on her like a mindless beast. And Isaac saw it, the
damning, irreparable moment, when the woman’s
eyes met his own, and he saw no affection in them,
just a dead emptiness, a soulless calculation, a duty
that must be done. Isaac saw in her eyes the loathing
she had for him – for this man who used her
body, the loathing she had for herself, who let her
body be used.
And there was suddenly something else, a rage
that grew and grew, blossoming like a sea of red
roses, blinding, till there was a sudden, devastating
moment of impact.
Lost behind the light, Isaac could tell that beyond
it all was a terrifying silence. Only the softest
sounds were heard, most faintly, of flesh being torn
‘I wonder if I am meant to save innocents or simply
punish the guilty,’ said Isaac, lighting a candle in
a room far away from the guild. He stared into the
flickering flame, the light dancing off his black eyes.
Behind him, Lace watched his preparation, looking
from the candle to the strange mirror he hung
over his bed. It had a copper frame sculpted into
the form of strange and monstrous creatures. That
mirror made her feel very nervous. Whenever she
looked away, it seemed as though her reflection’s
gaze took a moment longer to stare at her.
She sat down on his bed, pointedly not looking
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at the mirror.
‘I don’t understand,’ she said. ‘You had the power
to kill that man earlier, didn’t you?’ Her eyes glittered
with envy. ‘I’ve never seen anyone move like
Isaac turned to her.
‘One can never know what another man thinks
until you look into their unguarded hearts.’ He
raised his hand. It was tingling with anticipation of
what was to come. ‘If I am to be an executioner, I
must know for certain.’
‘The guild doesn’t seem to require the certainty
Isaac sighed. ‘I do not doubt their informants.
But if I am to make the fullest use of this gift, then
I must perceive the truest nature of those I hunt. I
must believe that that is the reason I can do what I
The tingling sensation was beginning to spread,
and there was a curious jolt of pain this time. He
frowned. Something was different. But he hid his
concern from Lace.
‘It’s time. The Sympathy is strengthening as the
Contagion takes hold. You should leave, now, Lace.’
Lace nodded, though her face was afire with
curiosity. ‘Be careful,’ she said. Then she smiled.
‘Seems strange to have to say that when you’re going
‘Dreams are deadly places to get lost,’ said Isaac,
smiling at her. ‘If you’re not careful, you end up believing
everything you see, until reality seems but a
drab hallucination instead.’
‘That doesn’t sound so bad,’ said Lace, wistfully.
‘See you soon, Isaac,’ she said, gently closing the
door behind her.
Isaac took a deep breath, then turned to his bedside.
A silver tankard was there, filled with water.
He murmured something under his breath, stirring
the contents with his index finger. Strange shapes
took form in the swirling waters, drawn forth by the
words he muttered.
He sighed then, ceasing the chant, then raised
the tankard, draining it.
He unhitched his daggers from his belt and his
body, laying them around the edges of his bed.
He produced a pouch from his robes, and gently
began to empty its contents on the floor surrounding
his bed – a thin layer of salt, a measure of protection
against intrusions into his own mind.
He took a deep breath, then lay down on his bed.
One breath in, one out.
Something heavy seemed to settle on his chest.
He didn’t open his eyes. He knew that would be
The second breath in, the second breath out.
Something rattled the hinges of his door. Shadows
about in the hallway were visible beneath the
crack, strange shapes that didn’t belong to men.
Isaac’s eyes remained closed. The dreamworld
was merging with his mind – the limbo states were
folding themselves into his reality. Acknowledging
what lay beyond the door would make them real,
When the third breath came, he was conscious,
Isaac’s eyes fluttered open in a barren landscape,
an area of black, jagged rocks cut into strange
shapes by unknown sculptors. The sky above was
a roil of light, pale green, swirling around an empty
darkness. Several moons of varying sizes hung in
the sky. They seemed almost perilously close.
Isaac stood atop a cliff, a piece of rock that floated
in the air, and above his head was the ground.
Below him, his target stirred, standing up, looking
‘What’s going on, here?’ the man asked. His
shape seemed to distort as he spoke, twisting wildly,
as though his form was struggling to remain bound
in human form. Isaac’s eyes narrowed. He had heard
of this – when a man was made monstrous by his
own deeds, it tended to reflect, here where the soul’s
mask tended to slip off all too easily.
‘Do you not recognize your own mind?’ said
The man turned in every direction except the
right one. Isaac helped him. He closed his eyes.
When the man turned around again, Isaac was
there. He cried out in shock and fell backwards.
‘I have seen the dreams of men, exploring the
ruins of lost civilizations. I have seen cities, battlefields,
mountains and oceans, all the things that
are trapped within the desires of men, crystallized
as safe spaces beyond the veil.’ He looked up, at
the looming moons and the floating islands in the
heavens, at the vast darkness at the center of the sky.
‘Few indeed are the dreams as twisted as this.’
‘You buy your cheap pleasures, sating your base
nature on the bodies of boys and girls in the Maze.
But if they make the mistake of looking at you
wrong, of not pretending that they love you...’
Isaac’s dagger glinted in the unnatural light as he
‘I have felt the layers of pain reverberating in this
place. Dark are the dreams of the poor and the lost,
made darker by their fear of you. You devour and
destroy, as though it is your right.’
The mark seemed to recognize Isaac’s intent, his
eyes widening, and face growing very pale. ‘And so
you’re here to judge my life? What gives you the
‘No,’ said Isaac, his voice just barely above a
whisper. ‘I am no arbiter of men’s fates. The Judge
is my master, the Jury your victims. I am just the
‘And who are you to hold that right, if I live or
die?’ said the man, seeming to regain some of his
courage. ‘Who are you to decide if what I do is right
or wrong?’ He wrung his hands, looking up at the
sky. ‘Look at that. Are you telling me that that isn’t
our reality?’ He did not point at the moons or the
swirling lights. He pointed at the empty, devouring
darkness. ‘I’m not alone,’ he said. ‘I know there are
others who feel as I do. This mad place we call Dorinstadt
is cursed. You call me twisted? This place
made me what I am!’
‘No,’ he said, whispering into the man’s ear from
behind him. ‘You made yourself this way. If this is
perdition, you have brought it on yourself.’
The man flinched away from Isaac. The pleas
died in his throat as he looked into the eyes of Isaac.
He found no remorse there, not a hint of mercy.
And then the final piece of the puzzle clicked into
place, as the man’s face bore horrific fangs like that
of a shark. The facade of humanity died as he realized
there was no escape, and suddenly the sound of
tearing flesh beneath the blossoming red pain made
terrifying sense to Isaac.
‘You’ve shown your true form at last,’ said Isaac.
The Devourer leapt at him, an inhuman roar
echoing in the becalmed stillness. Isaac did not
have to move very much to avoid him. The Devourer
turned again to him, striking out wildly. Isaac
nonchalantly avoided the wild strikes, sidestepping
each clumsy strike.
Between one flailing blow and the next, Isaac
ducked in close, and with a lightning-quick strike,
thrust his dagger into the devourer’s throat.
The creature’s body shuddered and it gurgled,
choking on blood and a length of steel. Then it went
The Devourer sagged, then collapsed as Isaac
pushed the body off his blade.
‘Find peace,’ he said softly, simply.
The world around him began to shudder. Reality
– or the semblance of it that existed here – began
to crumble as the mind of the Devourer gave way
to the empty stillness of death. The air before him
twisted, like the distortions of heat rising from the
ground. Beneath him, the jagged black rock began
to flicker, the twisted claws of earth rising from the
ground beginning disintegrate into sand. The world
was collapsing, veering into that same empty stillness
- ‘No,’ said Isaac softly, raising his hand to sky.
The world around him shook ever more, for just a
moment, then grew still, silent, acknowledging a
‘I claim this land as my own,’ he said, staring up
at the darkness in the sky. ‘I claim sovereignty here,
in the name of the Guild,’ he said, then he added,
softly, ‘for myself as well.’ He looked upon the Devourer,
as the dream began to devour his form. His
body turned black, then was scattered into ash by a
sudden gust of wind. Isaac knew that in the waking
world, a body would be found, with its throat torn
TROLL | March 2015 | 20 TROLL | March 2015 | 21
There would be questions without answers, an
investigation that would lead nowhere.
More importantly, there would be quiet nights
in the Maze again, and dreams made free from pain
and fear, at least for a little while. He had doubts, now
and then, about his gift, about the role he played as
a Shadow of Death. But every time he did his duty,
he felt the dreams around him soften, as the minds
of those he touched through his deeds knew peace
again. And he did not forget the last look of despair
in the devourer’s eyes before the end. In death, there
was release. In death, there was peace.
He murmured a final benediction, praying that
Life and Death would be merciful, and that this soul
would return, renewed in innocence.
‘You’ve done well,’ a whisper echoed all around
him. A sudden chill spread up his spine.
Isaac didn’t have to turn to know who it was.
‘Thank you,’ he said, simply. ‘But I feel that this is
only the beginning.’
There was no answer, and Isaac knew he was
That was confirmation enough. There was more
to come, and he would play his part.
The Kill Sessions were just beginning.
The Kill Sessions : No. 2
Six bodies walk into a room lit up with nothing
but shadow and quiet. They move in silently, with a
grace known only to dreams of death. The hour is
still and the purpose of this visit remains unknown
for a few moments. The city throws its waste to
this place, to this building, and these six are here
to empty the world of its debauchery, its filth and
carnage. There are many faces in the room, all busy
with trivial tastes and matters of the ignorant. The
blissful unknowing they are, these men and women.
They are all alarmed at the sudden appearance
of these six fierce personas. A moment is lost to
time as the air draws a breath, a mere second before
the first sword strikes true. Death and broken
bones bless the floor and an affectionate sting flows
down a pale cheek, a gift from the first victim.
Blood rolls thickly from under the floorboards.
There is only dark
dealing this night as second after second is met
with another corpse thrown to the floor. Dark magic
hums low and spreads to all corners of the main
hall. The work is almost done as the walls begin to
crumble, feeding the city with death and dust. A
women speaks to nullify questions of doubt: ‘This
is what we do. We are what we are, and we will not
change. We cannot change.” These phantoms have
been sent by a shadow… the Master himself. This
creature is not the being we would have imagined
it to be. No, it is Death incarnate, a being of old
power. Truth beckons daily for answers from the
Guild, a reason for the bodies littered all over the
floor. The purpose here is to cleanse, and Death is
just, according to the universe. To the Master, these
sessions of murder and bitterness are the manifestation
of Truth and Justice. All manner of evil and
dark conscience are removed from this plane, either
by Death’s hand, or by that of the followers. The
Guild, as they are called, act out the Master’s will
without protest, without qualm or query. They are
the weapons, the swords of a Duellist lost in a war
within himself. The night turns to quiet as we gaze
upon Dorinstadt, our home away from home. She
is our bashful muse who waits wearily for us to entomb
her, in ash and sullen fumes of torment. This
is how the night unfurls.
These are the Kill Sessions.
The city was cold, a little more than usual on this
particular night. There was not a soul to be found
wandering the street. No one would dare be out after
dark, at least not on this night, for tonight was
different. There was a still breeze that had the scent
of initiation on it, and blood would be spilt inevitably.
There were a few new Guild members and they
would have to prove themselves on this darkened
eve. It was the way of the Master, the way of life in
Dorinstadt, our fiendish city of dreams. Luckily,
there were only two Initiates this night, and so the
criminals and alley cats of the city streets would be
spared quite a bit of pain, although one of these Initiates,
a boy of seventeen years had other plans.
“Watch it Lupin, those herbs are not of the
friendly variety,” said Tolin, the Guild Alchemist.
“You’re lucky to have me as your Mentor, especially
tonight. I believe that if it were anyone else,
they’d be clearing your body off the street within the
next hour! In fact, you’re-’
“Alright old man, I get it. I should be honoured
and such to have you as my wise and powerful Mentor,
I get it. Doesn’t mean you have to give me an
earful all the time, I’m not entirely unskilled you
know.” Lupin broke off and couldn’t help laughing
at Tolin who was beside himself with anger and
shock. Tolin continued as Lupin ended another
bout of chuckling.
“Are you done Master Lupin? Good. Now listen
to me you little scamp, you would do well to show
me some respect. Remember the herbs over there,
the ones you’re still trying to steal from me, if they
were to be handled without care they would twist
your innards remarkably. Oh you naïve little angel!
If only you knew the power they possessed within
their little black selves, they would send you to the
Master in the blink of an eye. Do you understand,
Tolin paused for a moment to gather himself
then began to mumble under his breath. He put his
hands together in a prayer-like manner and continued
to chant cryptically with a sound barely leaving
his mouth. Upon separating them, a thread of green
light was found in-between. He began to move his
hands in a swirling motion, and the thread of light
was seen distorting into all manner of shapes and
He continued to weave the magic with his hands
as Lupin looked on in amazement.
“Do you see this, young one?” Tolin asked Lupin
with a darkened look upon his face.
“Can you understand now why the Master has
chosen me, and only me to be your teacher in this
Lupin was mesmerized with the light within
his Mentor’s hands. It was as if they had removed
him from this world and placed him into another
plane of existence, a plane of warmth and energy
unknown to all mankind.
“This is why I am your Mentor.” Tolin whispered,
before warping the thread one last time and sending
it into the air around him.
The air was tense and hummed with a low energy.
The after effects of the spell lingered on for a
few moments after Tolin had ended the spell. Lupin
glanced around the room confused and with a
child-like look in his eye. He had seen first-hand the
power of his mentor - only a taste however, he was
sure of this.
“I guess it’ll take me a few years before I get to
pull something like that off, am I right?” Asked
“If it is in your nature to use the energies of
magic in this world, then perhaps I shall teach you
a thing or two before I leave this plane and join the
Master. Although, I sense your skill with the blade
and all things concealed are more prominent in
your lifeblood.” Tolin broke off and reached inside
his pocket, before continuing.
“Here, take this. One day when the time is right,
it will call out to you and your path will be made
Lupin took the small metal ball from Tolin and
began to study its surface.
“Where did you get this, it’s like no metal I have
ever seen before. And what’s with the runes engraved
all over it, am I supposed to-” Lupin was interrupted
by a swift smack across his left cheek.
“Boy! I told you that when the time is right, it
will call out to you and all will be revealed. Would
you kindly cease your questioning and get on with
your task! The night draws closer and the city is rife
with activity tonight. I am sure your mark will be
well aware of your plans, so you had best get a move
Lupin stared at his mentor and smiled, tossed
the ball in the air and caught it in his back pocket.
He then left with a wave and without a word.
The evening had settled down upon the now
weary Dorinstadt. The day had been long and warm
and the people were quite fed up with the chores
of the day. Alleyways, side streets and dark corners
were what made this city the death-trap it was
known to be. This city was the hub of the world,
no, it was the world. There were stories of people
leaving the city limits and venturing to all manner
of otherworldly domains. Dorinstadt was the border,
the last bastion before way gates and portals to
all manner of strange and treacherous places began
sprouting up around the countryside. Some of these
mystic distortions could even be seen from the tallest
parts of the city. There was no fear however; for
Dorinstadt had never been attacked in its entire history…
or at least if it was, there was no record of it.
Lupin wondered the streets a bit before he decided
to start his Session. He thought that if tonight
would be the night of his first kill, or his untimely
death, he’d take in the sights a little. The Warrens, a
mass of unlevelled and densely populated alleyways
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was where he found himself, completely by accident
of course. He looked up and found a familiar
face, all the way up in a Watchtower.
“Hey Twitch, didn’t take you for a scout, all the
way up in your own little heaven. How’s the weather
“Lupin! How ya doin’ cutie, I haven’t seen your
darlin’ face in nearly 2 hours. What brings you to
this old place? The Warrens are a bit too dangerous
for a rookie like you. I mean these alleyways will kill
ya if you ain’t careful enough, little boy.”
“Well, it’s my first Session tonight, and Tolin gave
me an earful earlier about ‘how careful’ I should be,
as well as a whole mess of other useless yammerings.
How was he when you were still his apprentice,
I mean, I’m sure he was lighter with you and
your sister, right?”
Twitch responded in her usual way, an erratic
facial twitch pattern that would make you cringe,
before disappearing into a red puff of energy.
“Well, you know, he was a bit of a drag sometimes,
but he’s only got the best of intentions for ya,”
said Twitch, reappearing behind Lupin with a silent
“You shouldn’t deviate too much though or he’ll
turn ya insides into acid, or worse. Trust me, i’ve
seen it. He’s a good Master, and remarkably different
to all the others. Sarah and I took a lot of wisdom
from all them lessons with the old man. We were
just kids when the Guild took us in, and I think we
were lucky to find someone like Tolin to watch over
us. Don’t worry too much about it kid, besides, the
things I’ve heard about your combat tricks, baby
you’ll be a Master in no time.”
“I hope so, I can’t take much more of his arrogant
persona, it’s ridiculous,” said Lupin.
“I should get going though, I need to kill some-”
“Oh shush now little boy, i’m not supposed to
know nothin’ remember. It’s your mark, not mine,”
said Twitch before disappearing again.
Lupin paused briefly while the red hues dissipated,
then heard a loud crash followed by Twitch
yelling at some of the Warren locals. He smiled and
started off into the night, which had just settled
Not five minutes had gone by before Lupin had
found his mark. The location was not that far from
his encounter with Twitch, but the neighbourhood
may as well have been on another plane. Dorinstadt
held many secrets, and the districts were all
worlds apart. This particular one however, was the
strangest. Lupin had never been to the Downers yet,
but he knew well enough to stay on his toes.
“Death take me, they said nothing of this awful
stench. Tolin you bastard, what is this?”
Lupin gathered himself and pushed through a
thicket of brambleweed which had surprisingly
claimed a large portion of the street. The Downers
was a mess of ruined buildings and vegetation unlike
anyone had ever seen. Vines and twisting trees
sprouted everywhere. It was as if a forest lay hidden
beneath the streets.
“Ok Lupin, your target is a girl of about fourteen
years. A demon true that has killed six children and
two men already.”
Lupin continued to brief himself as he searched
the area. His resolve was being tested here tonight.
So he decided to distract himself with all the information,
sights and sounds he could find.
“The living avoid this place because of her. It is
strange that a large portion of the in-city hunting
takes place in this, forest, if it can be called that. All
manner of creatures, birds and the people have begun
to fear this putrid hellhole of a district! Words
forsake me, I’m sure she’s not the only reason to
avoid this pit.” He broke off as family of rats scurried
“She wonders the streets of the Downers stalking
anything alive. Which means there’s a good chance
of her creeping up behind me right about now.”
He took a breath and spun around in time to
avoid a dart aimed at his neck. Lupin had planned
this, using himself as bait to lure out his mark. It
was risky, but he had felt her presence earlier and
had continued the ruse to bring her to a secluded
His opponent was of a fair complexion, had
short hair and was slightly smaller than him. The
most noticeable feature was not the scars on her
arms, nor the ragged clothing that barely covered
her body. No, these details paled in comparison to
that of her eyes, the eyes of a raven. They were cold,
blackened orbs that fought furiously and broke
through all his defences with ease.
“You will die here child. Your light will fade like
those that came before...” said the girl.
Lupin rose up to speak but was interrupted again.
“Do not stand there and believe that you can kill
me boy. I know why you are here, I know what
Tolin watches the brash young assassin.
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you would do. Death has sent you to claim me,
but i shall send you back to him and then I shall be
free.” The girl let her words go and started towards
“Oh good, you’re done, I was wondering if Iwould
get a word in before we begin. You’re my first mark,
my entry into the Guild. Tonight is my first Session
and I’ll be damned if I let a tainted little whelp like
you take my future away from me. I know I don’t
fit the description but i’m sort of a big deal back in
the Halls of Combat. You do know the Halls right?”
Lupin shrugged, before sending her a smile.
“Look, I know what you are, and what you’ve
done. In my book, those bodies you’ve left to the
ruins here are reason enough for me to end you. Do
you understand what you’re doing here?” asked Lupin,
before removing his blade.
The Girl let out a quiet chuckle, dull and powerful
enough to paralyze everything in the Downers,
but quiet enough to belong to that of an innocent
“I know what I am, and I am well aware of my
actions in this vacant part of the city but it was not
always so. There was a time when I was beautiful,
full of life. I was a queen once, when this city was
young.” She stared at Lupin, as his mind wondered
into oblivion. She continued.
“This city is not what it appears to be. It is cursed,
or perhaps we are cursed, and this city is our eternal
damnation. All I know is that we are doomed,
you and I, and everyone. Forced to live out an entire
lifetime and then, at the end, we are sent screaming
back into our minds to feel it all again.”
Their eyes were locked now, in a cosmic embrace
felt only by those that had crafted it, Life and Death.
“You see it now, don’t you Lupin, you know what
I speak of.” the girl whispered into his ear, she was
“I think so, but it does not excuse what you have
done to those children, and to this place.”
Lupin slipped into an altered state. He crouched
down, angling himself for attack. His heart was racing
and his mind lost to the words of The Queen. He
thought of twisting the blade a little, in a way that
would leave her alive, but still be powerful enough
to bring her back from her own hell. He pondered
on all the questions he had for the world, and why
this night was not the first time he had encountered
a being such as The Queen. All this took place within
time itself. His body twisted from the
from the power he felt, before he wound himself
up, closed his eyes and sprung forth at her side with
his blade before him.
“You die now, My Queen, not because I wish
your end, but because I have to kill you this night.
You are, a stepping stone, a leaf on the path I must
travel. Go now and leave this place to me. This ruin,
these vines, will be my home away from the Guild,
although I may have to, change, a few things. I shall
remember our words, and our little dance in the
darkness of the Downers.”
Lupin stared into her eyes as the darkness lifted.
They were green, much like the vines in this district
once resembled. Her body lay there in the dirt,
torn and in tatters after his blade had cleansed it of
the corruption. The ground shuddered, and opened
up as if to welcome her back into its arms. Vines
reached out from the chasm that had now formed
and dragged her body down into the cold dark.
“Farewell my Queen.” The boy said, before the
chasm sealed shut, never to re-open.
His night had come to an untimely end, for he
wished to converse more with his Queen before she
had to leave. He had found a comfort in her eyes,
as dark as they were. Lupin believed there were still
many lessons to be learnt from her, and he thought
it tragic that she had to be killed, despite her monstrous
form. This was his life now, and he was reluctant
to take the hand stretched out to him. Yet
he had to.
“Welcome.” said a voice in the dark.
Lupin spun around and readied himself, with his
blade held out before him, but there was no one to
Almost immediately he knew who it was, and
he knew what it meant. What alarmed him was the
nature of the voice that had greeted him, the opposite
of what he had expected. He calmed himself,
sheathed the blade that had brought him through
his first Session, and let out a hearty sigh.
“Thanks, I think.”
- The Kill Sessions will continue in Issue 2 of Troll
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The Elder Scrolls VI: Oblivion (2006)
Let us start this list off by addressing the large
world-eating dragon under the carpet. Skyrim
is a great fantasy epic, combining snippets of action
hack and slash with morsels of role playing
goodness. Sprinkle with some crazy dragons and
awkward shouts and you get a blockbuster entrant
into the Elder Scrolls world, one that brought new
fans to the franchise. That, however, was its fatal
flaw and the main reason why it fails to make this
list. Great fantasy role playing epics need to be uncompromising,
compelling buckets of magic and
lore, one that forces you to dunk your head in and
drown in the goodness. By trying to be all things to
all men, Skyrim watered down the character creation,
the magic, the weapons and the storyline to
mainstream levels, disappointing fantasy hacks
and leaving the door open on this list to the real
jewel in Bethesda’s crown, Oblivion. As an escaped
convict set on finding the heir to a vacated throne,
you are launched into a world of almost ridiculous
scale that frequently leaves you overwhelmed. Lore
abounds you, with your race, sex and horoscope
playing a part in how you navigate the world. As
you battle through Cyrodil Oblivion assaults you
with spells, potions, weapons and enchantments
galore allowing you to level yourself up in seven
major areas and flipping ten minor areas until you
finally fight Mehrunes Dagon at the gates of Oblivion.
The thickly wrought story, obscenely well crafted
world and the multitude of areas in which you
can enrich your character puts it on our list. The
clumsy combat system, odd anatomical rendering
and Bethesda trade mark cut and paste dungeons
keep it at tenth. It should be known that Oblivion
also hit you with the dragon god first, playa.
Icewind Dale (2000)
There once was a game studio known as Black
Isle, whom in the years stretching from the late
nineties to the early two thousands, produced
a range of games that would come to define this
genre. This was one such game.Written by R.A Salvatore
but not featuring Drizzt or any of the Companions,
this entertaining sojourn to the Forgotten
Realms was backed up by the second edition
of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules, with
real time pausable combat that mimicked the turn
based glory of earlier titles with the added speed
of computer controlled dice rolls. With a party of
six you wade through the mysterious, demonic
happenings in the lands of Icewind Dale, Faerun’s
wildly cold northern regions. The game rewards
smart character creation by allowing extra levelling
options for the right character-race and charactersex
selections. The game moves in well thought out
chapters, with lovely appendages such as spells and
artefacts that appear in the books, as well as plot
twists that shock you in a satisfyingly good way.
The graphics haven’t aged spectacularly and the
pathfinding is headbuttingly bad, but the brilliant
musical score and the endless hordes of enemies
that attack at anytime never gets boring. There will
come a dusky, snowed evening in Icewind Dale
when your party has stumbled into a ravine, in formation
and nuanced in their levels when a horde of
undead, werewolves, goblins and frost giants will
attack. You will pause the fight at the right time,
command your frozen paladins, thieves and mages
expertly and unleash coordinated hell at the push
of a spacebar with Jeremy Soule’s orchestra reaching
a crescendo in the background. It will be beautiful.
Then your PC will crash because Windows.
Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magic
One of two games on this list that blurs the line
of what is considered true fantasy, Arcanum: Of
Steamworks and Magic Obscura was a turn-based
role player that laced Tolkienism with steampunk,
giving you half-elves raining out of crashing zeppelins.
Oh the half-humanity! This blending of classic
genres can make the game slightly less engaging
to those looking for a full fat fantasy smorgasbord,
although having an Orc wielding a Tesla rail-gun
against an Elven mage is quite fun. As Arcanum
hails from the fantasy role playing Golden Age,
you’ll find a linear but fantastic story that developers
Troika claimed had nothing to do with Lord of
the Rings but has still has your character return a
ring to its source. Where the game shines is with
its many classes and races, and the way these factors
are woven into a fictional world that really
mirrors our own. Classism and racism toward less
“pure” races will drastically effect the way the game
is played, especially as silver tonged and well liked
characters can wile their way out of fights with extra
dialogue options. The pace of the game does
drag, as does the combat systems (as the game offers
you three: turn based, real time and faster real
time) and the user interface takes up too much
screen space. The graphics can pixellate and the
colour palette is almost sixteen bit, but in blending
science and magic, racism and classism and many
hours of open-ended quests with a lot of good tasting
story means Arcanum gets its spot on this list.
Whatever your thoughts are on the hilarious
over-hyping of the game by Peter Molyneux Fable
morally aligns itself onto this list in seventh by attempting
to revolutionise the RPG. The early two
thousands produced some great but two dimensional
role playing games that resided exclusively
on PC but with the Xbox Microsoft wanted to
barge its way into the domination of the console
world by bringing eye-busting fantasy role playing
to your television- and Fable was tasked with
doing just that. Naturally Microsoft threw bucket
loads of money at the project, heralding the beginning
of Big Gaming. Set in the world of Albion,
where nouns are good enough to be names, the
Hero of Oakvale must grow up to avenge his dead
family who actually aren’t dead until they’re killed
by the villain, or you. As such the game’s main
quest is thankfully short, so that you can get back
to the fun. Fable ran with the idea of modelling
all the intricacies of an entire world into a game,
so there are functioning economies, social orders
and hierarchies that hinge on your actions, good
or bad. The good or bad alignment is a major crux
in the detailed world, influencing everything in it
from people’s reactions toward the player to the
propensity and manner of making money. There
are swords and spells but the real fun of the game
is to dispense with the asininity of good morality
and dominate the world with aggressive savagery,
literally rotting the world around you as you grow
horns and radiate evil. Unlike the Elder Scrolls series,
Fable manages to get its citizens to exalt or fear
you along a realistic arc, meaning they will eventually
stop cowing in fear and become your slaves.
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6 5 4 3
Neverwinter Nights (2002)
Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014)
Planescape: Torment (1999)
For number six we revisit the Forgotten Realms
in this underrated but immensely influential classic.
BioWare was the studio tasked with working
alongside iconoclasts Black Isle in the production
of the earlier Forgotten Realms hits, and as the
studio that would come to resurrect the lost art of
the fantasy role player in modern times, BioWare
wanted more creative control of the process. Naturally
Black Isle disagreed, and the companies parted
for good on the production of the next Dungeons
& Dragons video game, Neverwinter Nights.
If Black Isle was missed it surely did not seem so as
BioWare pulled together a masterpiece, debuting
the Aurora three dimensional engine that would
underpin role playing royalty such as Star Wars:
Knights of the Old Republic and (albeit highly juiced
up) the table top throwback Dragon Age: Origins.
Backed by new Third Edition rules that pushed the
Forgotten Realms lore as close to pencil and paper
action as possible, the game blew it out of the park
with a dark, luscious score by veteran Jeremy Soule
and an original thumper of a story by Drew Karpyshyn.
As the Wailing Death sweeps Neverwinter,
you must navigate the shadows filled with undead,
zealots and cultish assassins as you search for the
cure, and the steep evil behind the plague. It is the
characters that make the game, non-playables that
evoke genuine feelings from you as they conduct
their machinations. With its beautiful spell animations
and smooth turn based combat the game
moves along compellingly. But that wasn’t the only
trick of this pony. Neverwinter Nights (1991-1997)
was the first example of a massive multiplayer online
role playing game, and the 2002 reboot relaid
the foundations for World of Warcraft.
Twelve years after Neverwinter Nights BioWare
shows why it holds the throne as the number one
role playing gaming studio, bringing the Dragon
Age franchise into the next generation of gaming.
You already know the thick lore, the beautiful
graphics and the smoothest iteration of hack and
slash based combat so far. But it is BioWare’s uncompromising
attitude toward the genre that enshrines
this game onto this list; if you don’t know
the lore from the previous two instalments, Dragon
Age: Origins and the panned Dragon Age II, you
were on your own. If you create a rubbish character
out of newb naiveté you are punished quickly,
so you either restart the game or put it down for
good. These tiny, odd elements hark back to the old
days of role players, only now they’re freshened up
in sixty frames per second and full high definition,
with all the beautiful trappings of modern gaming:
great sound, outstanding graphics and humungous
scale. The sheer size of Dragon Age: Inquisition will
leave you awestruck, and as you progress through
the meandering early quests and settle into the
meat of the main quest, you can’t help but feel satisfied
that BioWare has given you a value for money
classic. It’s not without its foibles: Some platforms
might find the game glitchy, but the endless support
patches from BioWare will remedy that. The “tactical”
isometric view from the second instalment
returns, and while it comes into criticism from the
younger gamers, old hacks can’t help but smile at
the nostalgia. This game plays like your mom’s best
homemade lasagne tastes, and as the flavours of
a compelling religious-based story and the great
magic models mix in your mouth you can be sure
that the future of the fantasy RPG is looking good.
Time to plunge headfirst from Sanctuary all the
way into Hell as that other role playing franchise
slots into fourth place with the debut of all debuts.
The Blizzard series started brilliantly, and follwed
with a strong sequel before stabbing all loyal gamers
in the back with Diablo III. Despite not having
as many classes as the Forgotten Realms titles or the
AD&D rules to back the game up, Diablo writhed
its way into our hearts by having a great story and
being able to scare the very mana out of you. At
times the moody colours, music and frightful array
of hell based decor could leave you a bit pallid, and
that’s before the swathes of undead creatures attacked
you. The masses of enemies would become
a series trademark, as would the subtle changes to
the gameplay each class made. The range of powerful
spells only available to the sorcerer would
vindicate the low hit points you started out with,
as would the warrior’s weapons as he developed
a grater resistance to magic. These factors might
seem commonplace these days but back in the
nineties, Diablo was where you saw it first. The star
of the show was a modelling system that manipulated
what monsters you faced, meaning you could
play the game three times and not face the same
monster twice. The story, while short, is still well
written as you and your party arrive in the murky
town of Tristram, before dungeon crawling after
dungeon crawling all the way down to the gates of
hell itself, liberating chained ghosts and smashing
soul stones into your forehead. This game was layered,
and fresh, which made it ludicrously addictive
in a manner that the sequels could never match;
and the raft of evolutionary aspects it brought to
the genre plants it firmly at number four.
How supreme must your confidence be to create
a game whereby violence is discouraged in favour
of stimulated philosophical discussion? Black Isle
showed it had the cojones the size of overripe grapefruits
when they decided to drop the supremely
engrossing Planescape: Torment, the one fantasy
role player that enslaves itself to its story. BioWare’s
Infinity engine does service here in the second collaborative
effort between themselves and Black Isle,
as well as the first edition of the Advanced Dungeons
& Dragons ruleset, so it looks good and plays
smoothly. Based in the obscure Forgotten Realms
world of the Planescape the player takes control
of The Nameless One, an immortal being who has
lived countless lives but has no recollection thereof.
It is your task to restore his vision of his past by
slinking around the artfully absurd multiverse’s
planes sitting slack-jawed at your desk as the scope
of his past actions become painfully clear. As far
as games go, Planescape: Torment does a fantastic
job of turning a screw inside your head. The more
The Nameless One remembers, the more powerful
he becomes, and the twists this game throws up as
you engage with zombies, tieflings, devils, succubi
and transcendent gods are just spectacular. Your
floating skull companion, Morte, is a joy to watch
and interact with, a character as nuanced as your
own.When Planescape: Torment was launched it
tanked commercially, as people used to the clicky,
simplistic fun of Diablo struggled to get their heads
around the game’s cerebral nature and aversion to
violence. What was and probably always will be the
most well written role player faded softly into obscurity,
eventually becoming a sleeper cult classic
after it was patched by ardent fanatics of the planes.
TROLL | March 2015 | 30 TROLL | March 2015 | 31
World of Warcraft (2005)
Would it be remiss to not highlight
that the highest grossing video game
of all time is also a fantasy role player,
albeit a MMORPG? With over ten and
a half billion dollars banked World of
Warcraft is the gaming equivalent of
striking oil for Blizzard Entertainment,
and while its immense mainstream
appeal leaves most hardcore
fantasy gamers with a throat full of
bile, not acknowledging its contributions
to our beloved genre is just
churlish. I doubt even Blizzard could
anticipate how successful ditching the
real time strategy and taking their Alliance
versus the Horde battle online
would be, but while the initial years
had lovely story lines that would make
any fan of Blizzard’s old work smile
fiendishly, the latter years have been
a bit, well, cheesy. The amount of
apostrophes being used in the names
of characters and towns these days
have reached epidemic levels, as well
as the Arcanum-aping recent updates
that has a fantasy rich world stumbling
drunkenly toward science fiction.
While its hard not to find oneself
verbally abused by a pimpled, obese
seventeen year old American rank in
virginity, the party-based aspects of
the game are still quite fun and that’s
due to Blizzard’s Rob Pardo flipping
the traditional role playing skills development
structure from one that
caters purely to combat and individual
character advancement to one
that promotes a social online growth.
So you’d have your character advance
their skills in fishing, or healing, or
blacksmithing rather than just melee
or magic, to promote to your pimpled
teammates from the Philippines and
Arizona that there’s value in keeping
you on the team. Blizzard’s experience
in resource based real time strategy
that this concept was developed
well before it migrated onto
the role playing scene, and World
of Warcraft’s ability to create a
wildly successful fantasy based
online biosphere has given the
franchise staying power. Now lets
talk about how it sold itself out
to the mainstream. In World of
Warcraft death carries no great
penalties: one simply respawns,
and as Planescaoe: Torment has
shown us, one does not simply
respawn. There must be penalties
or the very essence of role playing,
considered character creation,
will fall away as you just barge
on throughout the game getting
killed by everything as you advance
a very broadly considered
character. Where’s the stakes?
Your health regenerates, you never
lose skill and worst of all, you
can gain experience points faster
to “catch up with your friends.”
Blergh. As Francis Bacon once
said: “There is no beauty that
hath not some strangeness about
its proportions,” and while World
of Warcraft stinks up the list with
its unbridled greedy pandering to
the masses, it is still a lore-rich,
good looking platter of fun that
one hundred million players can’t
all be wrong about.
Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of
This is was the sweet spot when BioWare
and Black Isle came together on the same
page, with the same goals and blew the competition
away. Lead designer James Ohlen
crafted a game of beauty, integrating the
Infinity engine with the second edition of
the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons ruleset
and the Forgotten Realms campaign. Set in
Faerun, but in the country of Amn, Baldur’s
Gate II: Shadows of Amn follows on from
BioWare’s earlier effort Baldur’s Gate and
its expansion, Tales of the Sword Coast, and
once again deals with the children of Bhaal
in a riveting saga that ebbs and flows in all
directions, becoming one of the first truly
epic open world gamWes in history. Waking
up in a rank dungeon, lying in a cage
and beset by amnesia, your created character
meets Jon Irenicus, voiced with perfect
gravity by David Warner who combines the
pure evil of a serial killer with the hubris
and ambition of a zealot. As a character he
is exceptionally well rounded: tinged with
tragedy, ruthless and fully absolved of the
need to justify his actions, and it doesn’t help
that he is one of the most powerful wizards
in all of Forgotten Realms lore. His story
is as well developed as yours, arcing from
the psychotic to the highly tragic, firstly by
stealing you and your sister’s divine souls in
order to restore his stripped immortal soul,
and secondly by trying to right the wrongs
of his pained past the only way he knows
how, with bloodshed. Your quest to stop
him is a quest that takes you on a fantastic
journey of beautifully designed levels, from
the teeming city of Athkatla to the legendary
Underdark, the Astral plane, the elven
forests of Suldanessellar and the many intricate
dungeons, crypts and strongholds
that span Amn. With over three hundred
hours of gameplay it would take a player,
playing five hours a day, two damn months
It is a massive game, with minute
details layered over everything.
There’s dragons, vampires, werewolves
and politicians as well as
Forgotten Realms royalty in Drizzt
Do’Urden and Jarlaxle. The class
system is as good as you’ll ever see,
with kits forming subclasses that
tweak your game experience in fundamental
ways. There are over three
hundred spells, and a fantastic combat
system, using BioWare’s best shot
at the time of a pausable real time
model. The musical score by Michael
Hoenig is a willing compliment to
the game, and with some eye popping
spell animations it’s hard not to
smirk with nostalgia. It is not perfect
though, with pathfinding and frame
rates requiring adjusting in the configurator
to get the smoothest experience,
as well as some loading times
taking too long if you hadn’t installed
the full game and partially ran it off
the CD-ROM. But this game is much
more than the sum of its parts. It creates
moments that become nostalgic
memories in your mind, like swashbuckling
through the mind flayers
lair with Minsc as soft rain starts to
fall on a late Saturday afternoon. Like
standing toe to toe with Irenicus in
the asylum, or debating semantics
and your life with a dragon in a dark
crypt, or holding a sword to Saemon
Havarian’s betraying throat. When
you finally battle Jon Irenicus for the
last time late on a Friday night, it will
strike you that this was more than
just a just a video game, it was one of
the best fantasy experiences you will
ever have. It’s to fantasy gaming what
Lord of the Rings was to fantasy books
and that is the highest praise indeed
for our number one all time fantasy
role playing game.
TROLL | March 2015 | 32 TROLL | March 2015 | 33
Dungeons & Dragons
Caster Level 1/ Novice
A bolt of pure energy is emitted from
the caster’s fingertips. It strikes a target
automatically, with multiple missiles
launched, dependent on the level
of the mage’s learning.
The spell is notable for being simple
to learn yet, also for displaying the
truest aspect of evoking magic – that
of transmuting raw energy, manipulating
and condensing it into a tangible
form. When wielded as a weapon,
it strikes as light concussive impacts.
It is relatively weak at first, but as the
mage improves his knowledge and
aptitude, the number of missiles increase,
and even light concussive impacts
can become devastating at high
numbers. There are several spells that
follow on this principle, and indeed.
Advancements in the field of this, the
simplest form of energy manipulation,
gave birth to the more powerful
Missile Storm spells.
Indeed, the spell is considered so
simple that requires little concentration
by the mage casting it, and is
considered still a valuable tool in the
evoker’s arsenal, even if he has access
to its more potent Missile Storm variants.
I commend you on undertaking this
journey to understand the First Spells,
the essence of magic, and the very
fabrics of the mulitverses you frequent.
Let us begin.
Ah, Magic Missile. One of the basic
attack spells, and one of the most famous.
It is also, I have come to realize,
one of the most basic emanations
of the immaterial plane. It’s as though
a mage has dipped his hand into its
very essence and drew it out into the
real world. It is as basic as a throwing
knife. It’s accuracy, however, is perhaps
its most vital clue – without fail,
it strikes its target – drawn, no doubt,
by the energy inherent in all living
things. Though relatively weak, it can,
in the hands of a capable mage, feel like
a dozen punches to the face. I find it
amusing to have novices test it out on
Although many cantrips and lesser
incantations are used by mages before
this spell is ever cast, the manipulation
of energy from one form into another
is the truest test of the mage. It is safe
to say that those who cast this spell has
begun their journey to power in earnest.
- Caradan Volte
TROLL | March 2015 | 34 TROLL | March 2015 | 35
The ancient city of Krul had cobbled streets that
blood, bile and desperation had stained into a deep
obsidian over the eternal years that the massive city
had besmirched the countryside. Overflowing sewage
made the road itself glint when the rare moonlight
kissed the surfaces, but the streets remained
faint. Windows were either layered in dirt or boarded
up. The walls of the rank brothels, packed taverns
and deserted run down garrisons were stacked with
sharp edged bricks forged out of the ground bone of
the once great stone golems, the streets themselves
a dire pastiche of the more majestic and intricate
cities far to the East. Spires tried to reach the stars,
laughably falling short as the decay and mould ate
fastidiously at their foundations, making them arch
precariously over the bustling scum of the realms
beneath them, masking the light of the pale moon
with long swathes of infinite dark. Moans of fake
ecstasy filtered into the brisk night air, infused with
the occasional scream of genuine fear and the bitter
laughter of a drained populace, souls long forgotten
in this fringe hell. A rancid moisture hung
amongst the cold air, making the burly man who
walked hunched over in the street pull his cloak
tighter about himself, the frayed stitching making
his neck itch.
The high walls alongside seemed to stretch
themselves upwards endlessly, and as he moved
through the moist air as quickly as his tired body
could allow he saw the faintest of menacing shifts
in the shadows ahead. He slowed his step, fumbling
under his cloak for the pock-marked, rusty dagger
on his waist, his wiry muscles tensing in one last
throw of hyper vigilance. A masked figure stepped
into his path, blocking his way forward. He could
barely recognise much about this figure, only that
it was slightly thinner than him and a head shorter
with a thick, long blade resting in its right hand.
The burly man stepped back quickly and pulled
his dagger out, grimacing through a thick beard.
‘Get out of my way, knave, you’ll find no loose
His voice was thick, and it wore authority well.
The mark of a former soldier. The blade that hung
loosely behind the masked figure’s leg rose into
prominence, refracting the slivers of pale moonlight
with a lustre not seen on common swords. It
was then, as the masked man stepped forward that
the soldier saw the gold, gilded blade. The dagger in
the veteran’s hand quivered, his tired eyes darting
from the beautiful blade to the dragon-skull
and he knew he would not leave there alive.
The masked man’s voice sounded as gruff as a decaying
corpse being dragged on loose gravel.
‘That rusty dagger is no weapon for a former
The veteran’s eyes widened in recognition.
‘I have come for your heart.’
The veteran spat wryly.
‘My heart is as black as they come, Gilded Blade,
so you can tell your priest that there’s no honour
here. He’ll not be raising no holy souls on my blood.’
The veteran raised his dagger, and took his fighting
‘It may be immaculate, but you will not suffer my
The Guilded Blade chuckled under his mask.
‘Indeed, commissar, indeed.’
The words had scarcely left his lips as he leapt
forward, lashing the sublimely weighted golden
blade across the veteran’s outstretched arm, slicing
through cloth, leather, skin, muscle and bone with
consummate ease. The dagger fell to the ground,
held firmly by stiff hand. A gruff scream attempted
to flee the veteran’s mouth but the Gilded Blade
lashed his studded gauntlet across his face, shattering
teeth and snapping his jaw. Both the veteran
and the Gilded Blade fell to the ground, the assailant
landing with more grace than the stunned veteran,
rolling onto his haunches quickly.
He ran the edge of his blade quickly across his
victim’s neck, severing the thick arteries before he
wrenched open the front of the shocked, dying
man’s clothes. His hairy, scarred and wiry chest rose
and fell rapidly as his soul began diffusing into the
realms beyond, and as the Gilded Blade worked
the body a luscious smell of fresh blood saturated
the air. The gold sword flayed the skin quickly and
neatly, and when the masked assassin laid the sword
broadside down on the bone and smacked it, the
chest cavity snapped open.
Using the blade point the Gilded Blade wrenched
the ribcage apart, cracking thoracic bones with a fanatical
precision. The rapidly beating heart bared
itself, and once he had clipped the connecting arteries
he lifted the fat-laden organ out of the chest and
placed it into a small leather satchel attached at his
side. The assassin then placed his palm just above
the open cavity, and lifted his eyes to the darkness.
His lips moved softly and slowly in banned incantation,
the air around the body thickening and
thrumming as his words danced amongst the
shadow. The flayed, cut skin began folding itself
folding back along its wounds, the ruptured bones
creaking into their original position as the he willed
the arcane to mask his crimes. Beneath the horror
of the cut dragon-skull mask his eyes rolled back
into their sockets, tears of blood running down his
face as he channeled the will of his incubus. As the
skin fell back into place and sewed themselves shut
with loose sinews, he saw that the cuts wouldn’t
heal completely, leaving a dry scar clearly visible
to those who would look. As his full consciousness
returned he bit his bottom lip in frustration. Every
second he remained here was a second closer to
getting himself exposed, and hunted by the Swornguard.
He had no more time to conceal the voracity
of his act. He placed the cloak back in place on the
forsaken, and stood slowly before slinking back into
Tabbard Lark’s grizzled head was buried deeply
between two enormous breasts when the door
clanged with the hard knocks of who, he assumed,
were his hammer-fisted colleagues.
One of them shouted.
‘We have business on order of the Chancellor!’
Tabbard took one more deep smell of the perfumed
folds of skin, the smells of powdered lotus
and sweat crawling up his nose in wondrous rapture.
He thought about staying in that position,
deathly quiet so that the disturbers of his peace
might hopefully disperse. The door shook violently
with more knocking.
‘Lark! The maiden’s handler told us you were in
Tabbard pulled himself out of the holy clasp, and
saw the quizzical look on his companion’s round
face. She pushed his thin body off her large person,
reaching for a massive silken robe to cover her naked
form. Tabbard watched the well-fed woman got
up and dress herself, the old bed creaking under the
strain. She pursed her thick lips into a red line, her
blonde locks falling sumptuously amongst the rolls
of her flesh, her areolae as large as the head of a battle
mace. Tabbard shuddered with renewed arousal.
‘You don’t have to go, Rosie,’ He said, his eloquent
flat tone masking his excitement.
‘We may reconvene our most fantastic coupling
once this issue has been-’
The door smashed open, with splinters of wood
flying across the room and the early morning sunlight
seeping through the doorway. Two massive armoured
Swornguard stepped into the room, causing
Rosie to shriek and bolt for a papyrus screen
to hide behind, her thighs still visible as the screen
was woefully too small. The dim light of the room
could not hide the polished white armour the men
wore, nor hide the polished red-hilted longswords
at their hips. Despite the city of Krul being an unrequited
hole, the Swornguard conducted themselves
with the utmost professionalism and cleanliness,
a reminder to the resident vermin that this fringe
city was still under the jurisdiction of a benevolent
Chancellor many leagues away. Tabbard lay naked
as the day he was birthed, his square face buried
under much hair. He reached for a pipe next to his
bed, using a simple incantation to light the pungent,
pleasing crushed godsroot in the barrel. He took a
deep breath of smoke and held it in.
One of the guards spoke up, as Tabbard’s face began
to go slightly red.
‘The Chancellor requests you, as the sole inquisitor
left in Krul, attend to a murder in the western
The guard laid a small rolled parchment at Tabbard’s
bed, despite the fact that the naked man was
now turning blue.
Tabbard let out his breath slowly, blowing circles
with the bewitching smoke. He blinked a few times
at the two guards standing in his presence before
reaching for the rolled parchment, undoing the seal
and reading the contents. After a short while he put
the paper down.
‘I see, well we should be on our way.’
Tabbard rolled off the bed and got to his feet,
pulling on his trousers and his white low collar shit,
his boots and his brown suede cloak. He clasped his
sheathed scimitar to his belt, before pulling on his
woollen hat that kept his hair under control. Pinned
on his cloak was a once resplendent moulded silver
clasp of the inquisitor’s eye, a now dulled reminder
of the watchfulness of the Chancellor’s law. Tabbard
reached under his cloak and pulled out some copper
coin that he threw on the bed, mouthing Rosie’s
name as he done so. He indicated to the two Swornguard,
one of whom stepped back a few paces and
began opening a portal. Taking a silver rope from
TROLL | March 2015 | 36 TROLL | March 2015 | 37
his waist belt he began to tie it into an elaborate
shape, whispering as he did so. The tied rope hung
in place, mid air, before expanding slowly, revealing
the western courtyards within it. With one last look
at his fortress of pleasure, Tabbard stepped through
the portal into the western courtyard.
The two Swornguard followed, closing the portal
The sky was covered in thick cloud, and the air
carried the wisps of cold with it. Tabbard saw the
Acolytes of Javiin around the corpse a few steps
away, steeped under their velvet hoods, prostrating,
praying and chanting, preparing to take the lost
soul’s body to a holy pyre. Tabbard walked briskly
toward them, feeling in his pockets for his pipe,
stopping his stride when he couldn’t find it and
swearing under his breath when he remembered it
was still at the brothel on the other side of the city.
He pushed the acolytes out of the way when he got
to where the body lay, and the Swornguard pushed
them further back.
‘Looks like he was slain for coin,’
One of them said.
‘Just another night in this wretched town.’
Tabbard looked at the young apostle, before
kneeling at the side of the body. He had known the
man, indeed, the older enforcers of the Chancellor’s
laws knew each other well. He was Gorn Dearth,
shamed former Commissar of the Swornguard, a
once noble man who lost control and taken life not
ordained for death. An old friend of Tabbard’s, one
that Tabbard himself had to put to the lecherous
sword of the Chancellor’s laws. The dagger lay a few
feet away with the hand still attached to its hilt. The
cut to sever the limb was as clean a cut as Tabbard
had ever seen. He was toiling in rage, the dead sullen
eyeballs of his once good friend staring into his
mind, probing, compelling the once gallant inquisitor
to avenge him. Yet he daren’t show his emotion,
not in this city, not in this hell where emotions are
He lifted Dearth’s cloak and his loose garments,
and he saw the strange scarring, the incomplete
melding of the wounds. He pressed his fingers onto
the sternum of the dead man, feeling the bone cave
into a hollow, feeling the absence of the most revered
of organs. Tabbard closed his eyes for a minute,
letting his mind run over the endless possibilities
of the harvesting of a non noble heart and the
cut of a sword so divine it could not possibly have
come from the scabbard of a common knave. If
what he suspected was true, then the most vile
of sorcery was afoot, and arcane acts banned by the
Chancellor millennia ago to keep the most harrowing
of incubuses off the mortal plane were being
He got up, and turned to the two Swornguard
standing behind him.
‘Indeed, a simple slaying for money, in my opinion.
Write it as such in your reports to the Chancellor.’
Heavy footsteps reverberated off the clandestine
walls of the abandoned temple, high in the
cloud-laden mountains that overlooked the wastes
of Krul. Scenes of divine beauty were carved into
the marble, scenes of benevolence and hope. These
walls were defaced, vandalised by the crude hands
of the disenfranchised, the runes carved in the utmost
humility in the face of the gods lay saturated
in piss. The Gilded Blade stalked the passages, the
soft morning light poking through the high windows
and falling gracefully on a temple defiled. The
masked assassin walked into the centre hall, where
an altar stood bereft. Various spell charms lay about
the altar: the rarest of roots, the most succulent of
animal bloods and now, as he lay his satchel on the
stone surface, a heart blackened in dishonour. The
Gilded Blade moved to sit, pulling the ornate scabbard
that held the golden blade off over his neck
and placing it next to him. He unclasped the heavy
cut dragon-skull mask and lifted it off, his leathered
face cherishing the slight breeze carried on the halls
of the temple. Dried blood lined his cheeks, and his
body was sore in places, yet he was pleased for he
was closer to the summoning of the most sublime
incubus, his enabler. The demon Bal’el would bend
to his will, he reassured himself, and as one they
would strangle Krul to their will before taking the
mortal realm by force.
He sat motionless for a while, running his mind
over the procedures for the summoning. He remembered
his training as a young acolyte of Bal’el,
his rapid advancements in necromancy, his astute
understanding of ritual and his methodical executions
of the priests that stood in his way. When he
acquired the Gilded Blade of Bal’el he had to loot
it off his father’s lifeless body, taking his title as the
leader of the cult as well as the essence of the sword
upon himself as an identity. The cult had
worshipped the demon and the sword he had
infused his essence into, yet they feared his presence.
He did not, and for that he deemed his family
of acolytes unworthy. He took their lives in honour
of Bal’el’s return. There was only him left now,
but unlike the weak apostles before him he had the
strength and laced temerity to ensure that horror
would walk these planes again, with him as its master.
As the midday sun touched the nape of his neck
through the high windows, the Gilded Blade stood
and turned to the dark altar. He placed an ornate
bowl in the centre of the runes engraved on the
stone surface, before filling it to the brim with the
old animal blood lying in a sealed bottle at the foot
of the altar. Adding his selected aromatic crushed
roots he began to call out the perverse words, offering
his mortal soul as the anchor for the demonic
portal. The air stirred around him, lifting the caked
dust off the floors and bending the seeping sunlight
around the chanting man. The Gilded Blade lifted
the harvested heart out of the satchel, and as he
raised his voice he dropped it into the stirring concoction.
The organ began to dissolve as the liquid
turned itself over, bubbling thickly and resembling
dark quicksilver. The man lifted his head to the skies,
his eyes involuntarily rolling back into his skull. His
words came faster, spit flying from his lips as his jaw
moved frenetically. Tears of his blood began to seep
from his eyes, his muscles straining against his skin,
the air thickening to the point of being unbreathable.
He grasped the roiling bowl and brought it
to his lips, drinking vociferously. Gulp after gulp
he forced it down, opening his gullet to the will of
Bal’el. Suddenly the hall went silent, the dust falling
to the floor and the air thinning out. The Gilded
Blade keeled over, gasping for air that was finally
soft enough to breathe. As the blood leaking from
his eyes began to seep upward, back into his ducts,
his muscles relaxed and he dropped the bowl. The
assassin’s body began to swell. His veins began to
thicken, his clothes stretching over the bulges in his
skin. His vascular form stumbled away from the altar,
fingering as a blind man for the scabbard with
the golden blade. He pulled the sword and ripped
open his tunic, slicing madly at the skin over the
bulges. As the light skin separated a black, sinewy
flesh burst through, covered in the fine fur usually
associated with a horse. He lifted the blade to the
hulking, spasming tumours on his back, slicing his
skin so that grotesque wings could break free,
spreading themselves feet across. He fell to his
knees, breathing deeply, relishing the new feel of his
liberated body, waiting for the spirit of Bal’el to take
residence in the caverns of his mind. When the demon
came it was overwhelming, shutting out the
entirety of his being. He spasmed violently on the
floor of the defiled temple, and he saw it all.
The Chancellor lying impaled atop his crooked
steeple, his flowing blood not worth the soil it violated.
The bowed heads of the mundane, the millions
of mortals living out their lives, their soles tied
in service to him. They would have their first borns
slaughtered in his honour, willingly. Bal’el would
demand it, as their new gatekeeper. In their lust for
a simple life they would surrender themselves to
him, in exchange for his protection from a threat he
would manufacture. He would rebuild this plane, a
new civilisation on a new plane, built on the backs
of the filthy mortal for the enjoyment of the incubus.
The Gilded Blade lay upon the cold floor, his
newly conjoined body now still and resting, harnessing
its demonic potential.
Tabbard rapped his fingers on the cold, blue steel
door in front of him. The brass rivets knocked into
the door to hold the thick steel plate to its frames
were dulled with time and the wizard’s guild engravings
on the door were filled with dirt to the point
of being almost unreadable. A frigid breeze blew
through the narrow street, getting into his coat and
robbing his warmth. He knocked again, harshly.
Rushed hands sounded behind the door, unclasping
loud chains before the locks ground undone
and the door swung open laboriously. A thin,
hairless wizard squinted through his eyeglasses
at the Inquisitor, his old hand resting on the door
latch. A botched grin squirmed across his mouth.
He exclaimed, happily.
Tabbard returned his lopsided grin with a wide
smile of his own.
‘Bosworth! Still managing with the heavy door I
see. It’s not good for your joints.’
‘I can assure you that I remain in good health,
my good man.’
‘May I come in? The wind is rustling my coat.’
Bosworth stepped aside quickly,
TROLL | March 2015 | 38 TROLL | March 2015 | 39
his long green robes gliding along his stone
‘Of course. Come inside.’
Tabbard moved past him into the elaborate but
run down wizard’s quarters that was lit only by a
large fire burning crisply in an ornate hearth. The
walls held shelves that stretched infinitely into the
high ceilings, their dark stained oakwood holding
millennia of ancient scrolls and books. A sorrylooking
step ladder rested against the wall, looking
for all the world as if it were planning the death of
its owner. A set of leather chairs sat on a frayed carpet,
with a marble plinth between them. Tabbard
sat in one chair, letting the supple old leather envelop
him. The aged wizard groaned under his breath
as he struggled to close the door against it’s rusty
Bosworth walked over, moving silently in that
unnerving manner that all wizards do.
‘May I interest you in some wine?’
‘Of course,’ replied Tabbard.
‘And some of your special godsroot, if you don’t
Bosworth moved to sit in the opposite chair, letting
his right finger lift slightly as he summoned a
silver tray from the rooms beyond the lounge. A
moment later a levitating tray holding the wine,
godsroot, two glasses and two pipes came in on the
air, gliding onto the plinth between them with the
Bosworth poured the sweet mulled wine, while
Tabbard reached for the pipes. The chopped godsroot
had a magnificently pungent smell, with small
obsidian crystals growing on the dried leaves. A
smoker’s delight. Tabbard stuffed the leaves in tightly,
and handed a pipe to Bosworth.
‘So,’ Bosworth said, as they lit up, bellowing thick
‘Is this purely a social visit?’
The smoke burned the corners of Tabbard’s
‘Unfortunately no. You’re aware that our old
friend Gorn was killed last night?’
‘I felt his spirit part, yes.’
‘Well, his heart was harvested as well.’
Bosworth raised his brow.
‘So that was what it was.’
Tabbard blew rings into the warming air.
‘You knew of it?’
‘Not particularly that his heart was taken.
But I did feel the remnants of a perverse presence
crossing into our plane earlier this morning.
So we know why his heart was taken.’
‘A dark summoning.’
‘Yes, or a willed demonic possession.’
Tabbard lifted the wine to his lips, savouring the
sweet taste against the dryness the burning root had
left in his mouth.
‘A banned act, undoubtedly.’
‘Indeed,’ replied Bosworth.
‘No commoner would be permitted to orchestrate
Tabbard looked over at his contemporary, his
face tightened in deep thought.
‘These incubuses, these demons that have
breached the Chancellor’s seals, how would one unsummon
‘Well, one would notify the Chancellor, who
would ride with my superiors to challenge the demon.’
Bosworth mused, before noticing the leaking
exasperation on Tabbard’s face.
‘But you want to exorcise this creature without
notifying the Chancellor, obviously.’
‘This is not a time for bureaucracy, Bosworth. By
the time the Chancellor is notified and his magus
advisors formulate a plan this demon might take
more lives. We haven’t the time.’
Bosworth took at his pipe again, deeply considering.
‘This exorcism will take many wizards and a lot
of magic, Tabbard.’
‘Let me worry on that. Just find the spells that
we could use to open the seals and I will take care
of the rest.’
‘All right. But I am at pains to say that if you find
yourself grossly incapable of completing the exorcism
you should let me know so that I may implore
the Chancellor and my guild to intervene.’
‘I won’t be operating the spells.’
Bosworth looked at his friend, startled.
‘Who did you have in mind?’
The wizard shifted in his seat uncomfortably.
‘Absolutely not, Tabbard! I’m not standing aft of
‘Neither am I!’
The two men stared at each other.
‘Think of the people of this city, Bosworth! You
hold their lives in your hands!’
‘These people? These people make insidious remarks
about me, Tabbard! Let them rot!’
A silence hung amongst the men as they regarded
‘We’ll discuss this later, Bosworth. But I’m quite
sure you will come to regard your heroic side soon
enough.’ Tabbard began to get up.
‘That is as disingenuous as I’ve ever heard you.’
Tabbard turned to face him.
‘I’m going to need those spells from you.’
‘Well, I would need to know which demon was
summoned. That you would have to find out.’
‘Where to start?’
‘Demons of this severity usually reveal themselves
out of bloodlust. So you can wait it out until it
exposes itself. Or ask around the Acolytes of Javiin,
as they’re always up to date with magi criminal.’
The inquisitor nodded, before turning on his
heels and heading to the door.
‘I’m taking this pipe.’
‘What happened to yours?’
‘I lost it with the Plump Rose.’
Tabbard stopped at the half open steel door, turning
to face Bosworth with a face of utmost severity,
a brow set in steel and the smoking pipe hovering
just above his lips.
He said, gravely.
‘If you ever glean the chance to play horsey with
a portly harlot, I suggest you grasp the opportunity.’
Tabbard Lark stepped out into the cold air.
…to be continued in Tabbard Lark and the
Gilded Blade, Part II.
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The King of the Loam and Moss
Come then, mortals, to my land
and see what you left behind,
the dolmens, the cairns and undying trees,
in this land that I forged from my mind.
Look upon this seamless world,
with saplings and white flowers
beyond the gates of twisted ivy,
at the roots of ivory towers.
Look upon these beasts again,
in this land you’ve been searching for,
feel the memory of them inside you
and speak their names once more.
Dragons and griffins in the skies above,
dryads and sylphs below;
a manticore prowls in the distance,
and direwolves beneath the moon’s glow.
Dragons and griffins in the skies above,
dryads and sylphs below;
a manticore prowls in the distance,
and direwolves beneath the moon’s glow.
Unicorns skitter nervously,
having drunk from the river at dusk,
while giant boars crash through the brush,
with flaring manes and gleaming tusks.
An abandoned suit of armour,
you’ll also by the wayside see.
Rusted and choked in weeds,
a warning placed there by me.
Do not bring war to this land
Bear your swords and axes with care
For if you stumble with them into a viper’s den
you’’ll find no forgiveness there.
Leave your fires and conflicts behind you,
for if you mean to bring your despair,
you shall be hunted and taken and skinned
So I say this now, beware.
For this is a land, traveler,
with your world entirely at odds.
There’s no betrayal, no ambition here,
only the awe of primordial gods.
Yaendrasse, the old grey tree
is my humility and it is my throne,
I’m bound to it, in life and in death,
and I rule over the plants and the stones.
For I am the Lord of this Glade,
I am the last of the Lost
Once Herald of forgotten deities,
Now King of the Loam and the Moss.
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Elves are many different things to many different
people, but for the most part, you can be
assured of the following:
They tend to specialise in archery and magic.
They tend to be beautiful, slim and athletic.
They are usually long-lived, if not outright
Low birth-rates tend to accompany this trait,
to explain why there aren’t billions of them. In
fact, sometimes low birth-rates are an actual plot
point where elves are concerned.
They live in forests and usually have some sort
of bond with the land and earthen magic.
If they share a setting with dwarves (and they
invariably do), they will be deeply and viciously
racist and antagonistic towards each other.
And of course, the pointy ears. They just
wouldn’t be elves without them. Right?
The ears tend to codify the elves as elves more
than anything else on the list.
Even if everything else on the above list is
missing for whatever reason, elves tend to be
identified as such by virtue of their ears alone.
Being creatures extant in cultures that have
received the limelight in high fantasy – i.e lore
containing Norse and Celtic influences, we have
been introduced to several kinds of elves in the
realm of fantasy.
These are the ‘advanced civilisation’ elves, the ones
who are distinctly superior to any humans in the setting
(and who sometimes don’t hesitate to remind
them of it). They live in magical kingdoms, either
within forests, or otherwise isolate from humankind
– and they’re the ones that humans tell stories of to
their children, speaking of a beautiful race in a beautiful
city, in a far-off land.
The most overtly arcane of all the elves, prominent
High Elves are more likely to be powerful sorcerers
(good or evil) than master archers. Expect
these powerful sorcerers to also be the ruling elite of
the High Elves... leaving quite a distance for them to
look down their noses.
These are the elves who are most likely to be the
elitist isolationists, usually imprisoning any humans
who dare to trespass on their lands. They tend to
wield rapiers and spears in addition to their bows,
and usually consider themselves to be the best in
terms of their strengths... which often means disregarding
the strengths of others.
Expect them to be the most likely to speak in an
old elven tongue, usually described as ‘lyrical’ and
‘beautiful’. If a setting contains several variations of
elves, then these are the ones who see other elves
as having lost the way of their high civilisation and
tend to be condescending to them, sometimes even
more so than to humans. Most settings seem to regard
them as the proto-elves, the very best of their
kind, and many writers seem to agree with that assessment.
If they are kind to humans in a setting, it’s usually
in a manner that suggests that they see humans as
stumbling children who need to be guided.
Dark Elves have been around since old Norse Mythology,
but most people recognise the Drow from
Forgotten Realms books, more specifically Drizz’t
Do’Urden, the dark elf created by RA Salvatore. What
is interesting about Drizz’t’s character is that RA Salvatore
created him as pretty much a normal, moral
human being who just happened to have dark skin
and pointy ears.
It’s through his eyes that we perceive the cruelties
of the dark elves which are usually reflected elsewhere
in literature and mythology. For the most part,
dark elves tend to resemble High Elves in all but their
philosophy, where they show darwinist or even nihilistic
tendencies. Far more vicious than their fairerskinned
Dark Elves are usually characterised by their complexions,
which range from grey, to blue to sometimes
charcoal black. Their eyes are usually either red
or pure black, and their hair tends to be white or silvery
While they may be as magically adept as High
Elves, and as proficient in archery as Wood-Elves,
Dark Elves are usually the most likely to engage in
actual melee combat, as this tends to accentuate their
viciousness in comparison to their brethren. Expect
them to dual wield bladed weapons, usually curved
or serrated, (further accentuating their brutality) and
to fight with a nimble grace.
Other elves (and indeed just about every other
race they come into contact with) tend to hate them,
fear them or both.
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Perhaps the most popularly conceptualised version
of elves – these are the ones in tune with nature,
prone to spiritual contemplation and empathy. These
are usually the archer-archetypes, almost never seen
without a bow. Sometimes they usually have an inexplicably
tamed wolf, bear or panther as a companion...
or a ferret or an owl for the slightly less ostentatious.
These are Wood Elves.
To hammer the point home, they tend to wear outfits
consisting primarily of greens and browns.
In contrast to the more arcane High Elves, Wood
Elves tend to have a more druidic or shamanistic approach
to magic, and always, always, always live in
forest-villages with varying degrees of magical concealment
from interlopers – ranging from things as
simple as convoluted trails that lead away from their
homes, to magic that actively bars the paths of any
who come close (usually in the form of trees animated
by magic, visibly magically twisting paths or a
guardian beast or construct, requiring either a magical
password or amulet to proceed). They tend to be
the elves who are most likely to assist human characters,
though they are also prone to delivering lectures
on respecting nature and/or the “natural order”.
Though the setting may more prominently feature
true merfolk, people tend to take the term Sea Elf a
degree more seriously. Maybe it’s because mermaid
and mer-man sounds a little ridiculous to most people
over the age of thirteen. For these distinguishing
individuals, there are the Sea Elves. They tend to
be no different in practice from Merfolk, occupying
underwater cities, built of coral or natural grottoes.
However, if established from the outset as Sea Elves,
you may expect there to be some history lesson of
how they came to be Sea Elves.
For the most part, you may assume that they were
once High Elves or Dark Elves (Wood Elves would
never leave their forests), who specialised in arcane
magic near oceans to plumb its secrets. Invariably
some ocean god/goddess/demon takes offence at
their endless study and lays a curse on them. Alternatively,
the ocean god/goddess/demon may be worshipped
by this subset of elves and instead reward
them by turning them into more aquatic beings. Expect
them to have a discreet set of gills, have webbing
between their toes and fingers, and have sea-green or
blue hair. They will sometimes also demonstrate the
ability to transform into sea creatures, or to otherwise
tame and befriend them, much like Wood-Elves
would with forest creatures.
Elves in Popular
Perhaps the first codifiers of what elves were, Tolkien’s
elves (as portrayed in the movie adaptations anyway)
tend to be all the positive attributes of the High
Elves. Immortal, beautiful, graceful, musical, highly
skilled in both art and in war.
However, his written work portrays deep subversions
to what is known about elves, and they are
demonstrated to be as flawed and as circumscribed as
humans at times. His work, the Silmarillion, in particular,
shows elves to be capable of monumentally
screwing up, sometimes even more so than humans
Feanor comes to mind. A master artisan, who created
the titular Silmarils, stated to be the greatest of
his race (which also includes Galadriel) and a master
warrior, he was also, to put it in Tolkien’s words,
driven by overmastering pride which caused his own
death and the deaths of countless followers. He was,
to put it in the crudest possible way, a complete and
utter asshole. But there was a certain magnificence to
his character and his ruin that makes his fall a wonder
Dungeons and Dragons
For the most part, the Dungeons & Dragons setting
codifies elves by the above tropes, with notable
subversions being the ones who earn stories.
Drizz’t Do’urden is one of the more popular, modern
figures among the elves. Hailing from the muchmaligned
race of Dark Elves, or Drow, who tend to
adhere to just about everything mentioned about
them in their entry above, Drizz’t stands out from
them in being a distinctly moral character. Distinct
from the nihilists and social darwinists of his kin,
Drizz’t stands out in seeking peace and goodness and
friendship. The process of him turning his back on
his kin and then overcoming the stigmas attached to
his dark heritage and finding a place in
TROLL | March 2015 | 46 TROLL | March 2015 | 47
the world is considered the magnum opus of RA
While elves have very powerful magic, they are
typically seen as a slave race – in happy servitude no
less (for the most part). Though they are called elves,
they subvert the expectations of them and may be
more accurately thought of as kobolds or brownies,
who they resemble more in appearance, nature and
ability. Then again, what’s in a name?
Robin Hobb’s work Elderling introduces a very
High Elf-like race... though it’s a subversion in that
they are also lizard-folk.
Several variations of elf appear in these video
The Altmer were the High Elves, and are usually
seen as the unpleasant, condescending version,
though they do tend to be longer lived and more
naturally gifted with magic. The Bosmer are the traditional
Wood-Elves, while Dunmer, though resembling
dark elves, tend to be no more or less unpleasant
than the next person – certainly less so than the
Dragon Age subverts quite a lot of what we expect
of elves. City Elves tend to live rather close to humans
and are in fact seen and usually treated as secondclass
citizens. Dalish Elves seem to be more Wood-
Elf who are attempting to return to being High Elves,
seeking to reclaim their lost history and culture. Lore
The naga are essentially sea-elves with their bodies
misshapen into serpentine form. reveals them to have
a history rather akin to Tolkien’s elves.
Before this history is revealed, however, the only
thing that seems to separate them from poverty
stricken humans are their smaller and slighter frames,
and, of course, their extremely visible, pointy ears.
In short, elves are a ubiquitous part of fantasy culture,
appearing in nearly all great works of fantasy in
one form or another. They are usually also ‘the beautiful
other’ – the alien, yet familiar-enough beauty
that we can recognise. Elves usually represent either
a more primal or ascended state (and some iterations
manage to blend the two of them together), and are
generally presented as beings who respect the world
a great deal more than humanity does. They are usually
considered wiser and simpler souls, less driven by
greed and less prone to corruption than men, able to
resist base temptations and evils more than we. This
trend is recurrent in fantasy, dating from Tolkien’s
Lord of the Rings to modern day fantasy writer’s interpretations
of elves. To writers, one can assert that
elves can be seen as the ideal – the standard to which
humanity must rise. It can be argued that they are the
escapist race – the alternative to humanity. The question
is, will humanity ever rise to their level? The next
work of high fantasy will probably not think so... but
In Warcraft, all elves are seen to derive from the
Night-Elves, who seem to be a curious blend of Dark-
Elf (in terms of complexion only, though), High-Elf
and Wood-Elf, seeing the forest as sacred and the
source of their high civilization.
There were once High Elves in the setting as well,
before the undead scourge came and nearly eliminated
them. The survivors became the Blood-Elves, who
at times verged perilously close to being Dark Elf in
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These are the people that made issue one of
Author of The Armoury, The Spellbook, The Kill Sessions:
A dream of Death, The King of Loam and Moss
as well as The Bestiary: Elves.
Author of Lessons Learnt and The Kill Sessions: The
Drawer of Excalibur, Tolin and Lupin of The Kill Sessions,
and the High, Dark and Wood Elves featured in
Ernest De Wet:
Drawer of Isaac of The Kill Sessions and the Sea Elf
in The Bestiary.
Author of Tabbard Lark & The Gilded Blade: Part
One, Troll Magazine’s Top Ten Fantasy Role Playing
Videogames as well as the editor’s captions for issue