Glorantha’s Most Exciting Cultural Export
To feature in the summer 1998 issue of Metagame magazine.
Parts of this article appeared in Tales of the Reaching Moon issue #8
Copyright © 1998 by Michael O’Brien & John Hughes
Gloranthaphiles please note: this article was written for the general gaming/LARPing audience, who have probably never gamed in Glorantha or even played RQ.
Live Action Trollball is the sporting phenomenon loosely-based on the trollball game presented in Chaosium’s famous RPG RuneQuest. As revealed in the classic supplement TrollPak(1982), trolls are big, hulking, perpetually hungry creatures, and the aim of their game – a sort of gonzo trans-dimensional mutation of American Football – is to place the living portion of a trollkin (called “the ball”) across your opponents’ goal line. Trollballers arm themselves with heavy weapons, and although it’s considered impolite to kill spectators without provocation, beyond that almost anything goes…
The live-action version has been a staple at Australian gaming conventions for years, and in 1994 at the first RuneQuest Con, we introduced North America to this exciting rolesport. Since then, at cons we’ve played in snowdrifts (Baltimore, 1994), a croquet lawn (Leicester, 1994, 96), a hotel ballroom (San Fransisco, 1995), an elementary school (Melbourne, 1996) and even a medieval castle (Germany, 1997).
Playing the Game
Live Action Trollball is a fairly fluid game, and only a basic understanding of the rules is necessary. It works well with anything between five and fifteen players per side. There are two variants to Live Action Trollball – Slo-Mo and Full Crunch. We’ve found it’s best to start off with the Slo-Mo version, and eventually let those with the stamina and fortitude degenerate into the reckless abandon of Full-Crunch!
We use an honour system for hits similar to the SCA — take a “palpable” hit to a limb (ie. one that goes THUD) and that limb is out, take one to the head or body you’re out for the count. You can still growl or scream, but one of your team mates will have to drag you to the sidelines to be healed: beautiful six-breasted (400 pound) trollish priestesses wait at the sidelines to magically cure the fallen. Often in trollball, it’s the last person left standing who’ll score the touchdown!
Once you’ve grasped the motivating factor behind trollball (random violence) the actual setting up of a game becomes much simpler. There are four key elements to a satisfying encounter: the trollkin, the referee, the weapons and the roleplaying.
Early experiments using a small human as our fill-in trollkin proved unsatisfactory. Humans proved difficult to dismember and it became difficult to recruit further volunteers. A good substitute is a large rag doll whose limbs and head are attached to the body with velcro. The trollkin is considered ‘alive’ as long as the head remains attached to the body, and this is the portion you play for touchdown. If the trollkin ‘dies’ then the referee puts it back together and begins a new play.
A good referee is essential to a trollball game. As Trollball referees are 30 foot tall giants they can control unruly players by kicking them (make the player run 30 yards in the direction booted, and then let them shamble back into play) or by beating them into a pulp when necessary.
In the Slo-Mo game, the referee’s most important job is to make sure everyone moves at walking pace. When moving, the players have to imagine they’re all 7 foot tall, weigh 350 pounds and are lumbered with a huge gut still digesting that dwarf casserole from last night. Better still, get them to visualise those Ray Harryhausen Dynamation(tm) monsters – think Clash of the Titans, or better still Jason and the Argonauts or any of his Sinbad movies. Move at several frames per second. Moving too fast is punished by a good kicking from the giant ref.
The best weapons for Trollball are inflatable poolside toys — blow-up sharks and rafts, rubber rings and giant inflatable bananas. Water bombs should be provided to encourage spectator violence. Over the years, we’ve had some fairly unusual weapons appear (rubber chickens filled with lime jello, a fifteen foot inflatable replica of the Red October) so safety-conscious weapons testing is essential. The easiest way to do this is to have a member of the opposing team test your weapon before play begins. They beat you senseless with it for three minutes: if you’re still standing, the weapon is safe. Of course, the referee must have final say in weapons selection.
The most important thing to grasp about Trollball is that it is a rolesport. More than scoring touchdowns or dismembering trollkin, roleplaying is what makes trollball the sport of heroes. It’s the chants, the insults, the songs, the rubber chickens, the facepaint, and the random attacks on spectators that make Live Action Trollball such a satisfying experience. In trollball, you learn to appreciate the beauty and poetry that dwells in the heart of a Troll.
Trollball — a game for heroes, plus all the trollkin you can eat.
A Final note
Trollball rolesport, despite its propensity for dismemberment and wholesale violence, is completely safe if you observe a few basic precautions. In all our years of playing, we’ve never had an injury (excluding trollkin, of course). With careful checking of weapons and prior briefing of players, even short-sighted, doughy bookworms like the authors can find sporting immortality. And it’s bloody good fun!
Check out my Live Action Trollball Rules page for more on how to play the game (and links to action pics!)
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