Close to one thousand cave
trolls, "Ghereghut" ("Cave Tribe") in their native tongue, live in caves within
the Tandala Highlands. Rarely
exceeding three peds and
a fore in height at the
shoulder, Ghereghut trolls are the smallest of the six known tribes of
trolls and are often forced to fight with
Ban-Yuk ogres, who are only slightly
smaller, over the caves the trolls reside
in. They often make their homes by enlarging natural caverns with their great
strength and sharp claws; they are believed to be able to cut through stone
with ease. Such caves are often rough and lack any decoration. They trade with
the Gob-Oc orcs that live to the north,
bartering hides for orange quartz,
a crystal they consider spiritually significant. Such trade
has allowed them to become more sophisticated than the other tribes, and a few
have even learned to speak Kh'om'chr'om, the
orcish grunting tongue.
Appearance. Nightmares garbed in pale flesh is how most describe the Ghereghut trolls as they intimidate the other races of the Tandala Highlands with their appearance alone. Scarcely would one believe them to be descended from the Kloighut mountain trolls. The smaller, paler Ghereghut contrast with the brutish, burly denizens of the Troll Mountains much as night does day, so startling is the contrast between two tribes that were once one. The smallest of all the tribes, the Ghereghut rarely exceed three peds and a fore in height at the shoulder. And only the males reach this paltry height; their female counterparts stand at three peds even at the shoulder.
Not only are they shorter than their mountain cousins, but they are ever more slender, even thought gaunt should the breadth of their shoulders be compared to their great height. Frail they appear, skeletal figures seemingly half-starved. Cunning and speed win out in this tribe over the brutish strength employed by their cousins. Even so, it would be foolish to believe the trolls weak. Their strength is subtle; lean muscles ripple beneath their thick hides, gracing them with the strength to drive their claws into solid stone. Flesh fares even worse than stone when confronted with the nor’sidian claws. Diagonal scars crisscross over the chest of a male, each one nearly white against his fair skin, each one inflicted by a female in her time of choosing a mate.
Only glimpses are ever seen of the elusive trolls as they flit among the shadows of the night, pale figures only half seen beneath the stars. Tresses reminiscent of blood in hue cascade past slender shoulders, flowing freely as they run upon all fours with the endurance and pack mentality of wolves. Naturally dark, their hair is dyed red with a paste made from teki berries when they come of age. Only cubs will have hair of any colour other than that of blood, their locks black as a moonless night. Darkness, centuries of it, has bled the colour from their hides, and even the slightest light from the sun is enough to burn their pallid skin.
The facial features of the cave trolls are more slender than those of other tribes, appearing somewhat delicate and elegant in comparison to their more bestial cousins - one could almost accuse them of possessing elven blood. A nose more aquiline than bulbous descends slightly beyond an upper lip that remains bare of hair. Often descending in braids, the beards of the males fan across their chests in various lengths, dyed red to match their hair, the longest beards adorning the elders. The longer the beard, the older the troll, the beards of the eldest falling even to their knees.
Somehow out of place set in the visage of the fearsome trolls, beautiful golden eyes gaze out upon the stillness of the night, eyes of a predator akin to those of a wolf. The slitted pupils shift constantly, adjusting for the slightest change in light; the korwyn gold iris fills the rest of the eye. Only the slightest light is necessary for such eyes to pierce the night as though it were lit with the light of the sun. Often prey will be unable to look away from such glowing eyes as dark claws descend unseen.
The grin of a cave troll while not devoid of mirth is a frightful sight. Nor’sidian tusks extend upward for a palmspan from their lower jaws, curving only slightly before ending in a barbed point. They pierce flesh with ease yet cannot be removed without viciously ripping the flesh upon which they are snared, the barbed point catching. Cruelly pointed are the teeth, wickedly effective at rending flesh, and they offer a sharp contrast to the dark tusks, white as the trolls’ fair skin.
Ghereghut trolls rely upon their nor’sidian claws for much of their livelihood, using them in both the delving of their caverns and in the slaying of prey. For three palmspans the claws extend from slender fingers, slowly tapering to a sharp point. With such a length, the claws are longer than some daggers though used far more naturally than any dagger, extensions of the trolls’ bodies and not weapons to be wielded. When running, the trolls drive their claws into the stony ground with each stride, using their incredible strength to pull them out once more as they push off and use the momentum to increase their speed. A similar method is used to climb, scarring the rock face with each impalement.
Coat of Arms/Sign. The trolls cannot be said to have a coat of arms as the more sophisticated races do, yet the Ghereghut trolls do have a unique manner in which they mark their territory. Near their home caverns deep gouges can be found in trees and even in the stone itself. The height of such markings indicate the height of the troll who made them. Whereas a human would fail to notice the differences between one slash and another, the trolls are capable of recognizing which band made the marks and even which ones were made by males and which ones by females. Despite not being able to recognize their significance, most people are still able to realise the size of the beast that made the marks and know that they’d prefer not to be anywhere near them.
Territory. Cave trolls reside both within the foothills of the Tandala Highlands and upon the mountains themselves, living within the various caves that exist upon the mountainous slopes. Most of the bands live upon the slopes of EolEenbar (ThergerimTaal for "East Brother") and WolEenbar ("West Brother"), though some bands live upon the twenty or so smaller mountains that can be found within the range. Any bands that reside within the foothills have to contend with Ban-Yuk ogres for living space, and those that live in the higher altitudes will sometimes fight the drakes found on those mountaintops. Cave trolls are fiercely territorial and will not hesitate to defend their homes against any foe, but they avoid dragons as best they can - and wisely so. Not even a full band of thirty trolls will venture near the Dragon’s Maw, that aptly named ominous mountain, for fear of such creatures.
Each band of trolls is nomadic, leaving their homes in search of another cave or system of caves whenever their food supply runs low, a natural occurrence every few years. The cave trolls are said to have appeared within the mountain range only decades after the conclusion of the Troll War in the year 488 as the other races measure time, emerging from various tunnels after fleeing from the human forces that pursued the orcish horde, of which the trolls were part.
People. Since the end of the Troll War the Ghereghut have become a changed people, not only in appearance but also in spirit. From a young age they are taught of how they lost the daylight world and its wonders, now remembered only in stories passed down through the generations. Even more agonizing than that distant memory is the loss of shamans. Every last one was left behind when they took to the tunnels, as the shamans were wise enough not to participate in the war. And with that forced abandonment, their fates sealed the moment they cast their lots in with the orcs, the trolls lost the guidance of their ancestors. They believe the viewing of orange quartz, something eerily similar to a shaman's supposed amber heart, bestows this guidance to them once more, however vaguely. A clear crystal, and thus a bright future, is the hope of all, but clouds within its depths signal troubles to come. Firelight bestows clarity to most crystals, and that clarity is considered to be a blessing of the ancestors. A crystal that will not clear is a dark and dire portent. It is a desperate hope that they cling to, that their ancestors watch over them still. Without such a hope, a depression weighed upon by the tragedies of past ages would consume them.
Equally the trolls cling to each other, each band tight-knit and numerous. The band is family, each member regarded as a sibling, whether blood-related or not. Even the young cubs are treated as younger brothers and sisters to be protected and occasionally ignored. There are no true parent figures within the band, the elders treated by the younger members as they would regard an older sibling, looking to them for guidance and support. Truly, the trolls have no parents, save through blood. But blood is of no matter as they have no knowledge of these relations and would not place any importance upon them if they did.
Darkness twisted the trolls, crafting them into creatures aptly suited for a life of eternal night. The night is as clear to them as day is to an elf, their vision nearly unparalleled even by that haughty race, in darkness at least. Their golden eyes need little light to see; indeed, more light than that of the moon or stars will cause them pain. Relentless in the hunt, they need only see the slightest of movement to become aware of their prey’s presence. Only by remaining absolutely still could a creature hope to escape that terrible gaze, but even then, nearly any noise will alert their sensitive hearing. Even breathing could be considered too loud.
It is the very sun that binds the trolls to their caves, keeping them from overwhelming the civilized world as a plague. Light is a torture to their pallid skin, burning incessantly, an unendurable agony, stilled by nothing but shadow. It is equally disastrous to their eyes. Faint light such as that present during the twilight hours brings only a mild discomfort, yet the brightness of high noon seems to sear the radiant orbs, inflicting an intense pain that afflicts the mind even more than the eyes. The trolls are restricted to the Tandala Highlands, but, luckily for them, the harsh climates that make the Tandala Highlands impassable for nearly anyone else are ideal for these trolls, as the chilling winds and frigid rain cannot pierce their thick hides.
Through contact with Gob-Oc orcs, and perhaps from enduring hardship, the trolls have developed an intelligence beyond that of their cousins, a cleverness that avails them in both the hunt and in trading. Wickedly cunning, the trolls employ deceptions to trick and trap their prey, pressuring them to where their brethren lie in wait. Never ones to simply strike, the cruel creatures wait until fear has taken its toll, playing with their prey as a cat might a mouse, seeming to derive a sadistic pleasure from it. The one proverb known to the humans of nearby towns in regard to cave trolls is simply this: there are always more.
The goblins prove cleverer still and occasionally manage to separate and capture a troll cub. Torn from kith and culture, the cub knows only the upbringing given to him by his green-skinned captors. Such a troll is shunned by his own kind and treated as non-existent, as one torn entirely from the spiritual roots of the ancestors.
Housing. The trolls reside within caves scattered throughout the Tandala Highlands. Such caves are natural caverns that have been enlarged by the trolls. It is said that they are capable of using their claws to delve in a manner similar to the way a dwarf would use a pickaxe, striking downward with incredible force to splinter the stone from the rock face. No troll stands idle as their homes are delved, each member of the band participating in enlarging the cavern, the adults utilizing their great strength to delve deep into the walls as the cubs remove any loose rubble to the mouth of the cave.
As one approaches the caves of the Ghereghut trolls (although it is foolish in the first place to approach), claw marks are evident upon trees and boulders within the vicinity of the cavern. Only the slightest intelligence is required to know not to venture near such caves, so it is not surprising that Ban-Yuk ogres, as dumb as they are big, will sometimes challenge trolls for these very caves. Brutish beasts, the ogres possess great raw power; however it does the solitary ogres little good against the cunning and viciousness of a whole band of trolls.
Clothing. These trolls exhibit more shame than their kindred of other tribes, making some attempt to cover themselves, much as a person of the civilized world would. The garments of both sexes are crafted from the hides and fur of prey. Males wear only a simple loincloth and seem to pride themselves on well muscled torsos and the scars marking them. The more scars, the greater their success at mating. However, females wear an X-shaped body wrap that supports and conceals their breasts, in addition to the loincloth customary for males. The body wrap exists as a single garment around the hips before it separates into straps that extend over the shoulders. The manner of dress remains the same no matter the season as the elements do not affect them.
Diet. As skilled hunters, the cave trolls feed primarily upon fresh meat. They rarely cook their food, preferring to rip it from the corpses of their prey. Not only the meat, but nearly every part of the corpse is consumed as the trolls are not ones to waste a meal. Sharp tusks are driven into the neck to release the blood, as delightful a beverage for the trolls as ale is for humans. Known as delicacies among the trolls are the eyes of their prey, and indeed fortunate is the troll that gouges them from their sockets before the arrival of his kin. Bones may be gnawed upon for days after the hunt and are often scattered within the caverns of the trolls. Mostly the bones are those of Tandalan sheep and deer, but a human skull may occasionally be found among them.
The trolls prefer variety in their diets and will gladly consume berries and nuts in addition to meat. Particularly favoured are the doch nuts growing upon bushes on the mountainside. Care is not taken to preserve the bushes themselves as the trolls will simply rip them out of the ground and shake the nuts into their awaiting mouths. Berries are harvested in a similar manner. During the winter months as prey becomes scarce, the trolls will store the berries and nuts in crevices high within their caverns.
Weapons. Contrary to popular belief, cave trolls do not favour the use of blunt weapons such as clubs. Nor will they hurl boulders or tree trunks at their prey as their less civilized cousins of the Troll Mountains may. Cave trolls need only their claws, and they are indeed formidable weapons. Incredibly sharp, the dark claws extend for three palmspans from slender fingers. One could even say that the trolls are always armed with ten blades as the claws rend flesh as effectively as any dagger. Seemingly indestructible, the claws cleave through stone with ease and will not dull even after decades of use.
A cave troll raised by goblins will wield larger variants of their weapons. The trolls occasionally wield halberds adorned with tusks taken from the corpses of any of their brethren to fall in battle.
Occupations. Few occupations exist within the tribe, but there are notable ways in which individual trolls have become skilled. Their skills benefit the tribe as a whole, though no concept of monetary gain exists. No formal teaching exists to impart skills to the young. Rather, young trolls essentially make themselves subservient to a skilled elder of their chosen vocation for the sake of learning from them.
These trolls prove particularly skilled in enlarging the natural caverns and tunnels in which the bands reside. Any troll may strike rock from a cave wall with his claws, but doing so without an understanding of the mountain's composition proves hazardous. Those that delve prove to have an understanding also in the ways a tunnel must be shaped to safeguard against collapse. The Gob-Oc perhaps had a hand in the trolls' increased understanding of such things.
All cave trolls hunt to some extent. It is their very nature. Among their number, however, are those that excel not only in the killing of their prey but also in tracking them. They are the ones to guide a hunt and also the ones to keep their brethren hot on the trail of unfortunate prey.
No troll boasts of a greater precision with his claws than one that accounts himself as a skinner. Great care is taken with each cut made into an animal's hide, the troll's dark claws proving more than adequate for the task. Care is taken also in separating the hide from the body. It is only with humanoid prey that a skinner's services are not required, as the skin is considered too thin to be of use.
This particular vocation proves rare. It requires a basic understanding of the orcish tongue, Kh'om'chr'om. But, these are the trolls that maintain the trade between the Ghereghut and their goblin neighbours. It should be noted that cunning is an absolute necessity for any troll that deals with the greedy Gob-Oc.
While no leadership exists over the tribe as a whole, each band is led by its
most scarred male, his scars earned from various matings. And so, it is an
experienced male that leads, one that has earned the approval of his band's
females time and time again. This alpha male decides where the band hunts and
when they migrate. The alpha typically leads for life and will be succeeded by
the band's second most scarred male. It may happen, however, that another male
gains the favouritism of the females over time. The challenger need only
display his scars, proving this favouritism, to secure his new position as
alpha. The former leader may remain, accepting a lower position within the
band, or he may seek out a new band entirely.
A band's nightly hunts are not led by the alpha, however. Rather, the females lead each hunt with the dominant ones among them, typically the older females, coordinating. The most subservient of the females will be left behind to care for and tend to the band's young.
Production/Trade. The Ghereghut will trade only with goblins, viewing the other races as food and not trading partners. The only things of value owned by the trolls are the hides of their prey, and those not used in their loincloths will be traded to the goblins for orange quartz. As a common crystal in much of the world, the quartz is of little value to the goblins whereas the trolls value them for the sake of communing with their ancestors. The clarity of a crystal, either clear or clouded, provides the ancestors' answer as to what the future will hold. A crystal that clears only when held to firelight presents a more complex answer.
Holidays, Festivals and Observances. The most important night in the life of the cubs would undoubtedly be the Coming of Age, when they first succeed in delivering the killing blow to prey hunted by the band. To celebrate the success, the young troll is doused in the blood of his or her kill, wearing it proudly for days to come. And from that night on their hair will be dyed red in remembrance of the blood spilled in honour of the kill.