1879: What Do Trolls Eat?

Well, when you’re eight to nine feet ( three meters or a little less) tall, and weigh in at 50 stone (700 pounds, 317 kilos) or more, the short and obvious answer is, whatever you want to. This question however has been taken very seriously indeed by the British Army. They’ve been actively recruiting snarks and trolls, so much so that the Horn Wagon has become an institution in many cities and some towns, the military wagon that rolls up when the Fever takes someone and they start growing, and offers to take them in and feed them properly in return for military service. Growing into a troll requires a continuous supply of high-nutrition foodstuffs, protein, calcium, bodybuilding materials that the poor simply cannot afford. Rather than starve in the midst of the transformation, many incipient trolls take the Queen’s Shilling or the local equivalent and sign up, figuring better Army rations and being shot at than dying ravenous and raving. But what do those rations consist of?

Earthdawn mentions dwarf mine rations as an example of high-density foodstuffs that you might not want to depend on. Consisting of “nuts and vegetables grown exclusively underground”, and described as having the consistency and flavour of gravel, they require Willpower Tests to continue to subsist on them. If you can get the stuff down, you get a +1 to your first Recovery Test the next morning. The Target Number for the Willpower Test rises over time until finally you just can’t bring yourself to choke the stuff down any more. Name-givers can only subsist on unpalatable kibble for so long.

1879 faces a similar problem with the nutritional requirements of trolls. How does the British Army manage to provide enough calories and protein for someone that big, who’s expected to be strenuously active on a daily basis? Armies have been dealing with the nightmares of logistics and the nature of the supplies since there were armies. So what did the British Army come up with to solve the problem, how bad is it, and what are the game mechanics?

In typical 19th century military fashion, the British Army looked for the cheapest solution using readily-available components and a pre-existing supply chain. They went to a firm that produced horse grain, connected them with the field kitchen supplies chain, and created troll cakes. About the size of a brick, and very nearly the weight and consistency, a troll cake consists of a base of rendered beef fat, also known as tallow, and a heavy proportion of coarse grain, toasted for nutritional value and digestability but much of it still whole. They toss in a generous dollop of molasses both for sweetening and extra calories, and whatever citrus rinds they can lay hand to for fending off scurvy, ending up with a sort of beef-and-lime-flavoured giant granola bar. Trolls find them nicely crunchy, but then they’ve got molars equal to a horse and fully capable of grinding the grain. Snarks can eat these things, as they can digest pretty much anything they can bring themselves to choke down, but may find it a bit of an effort. For anyone else, forget it. A large percentage of elves can’t digest animal protein to begin with, and humans find the things revolting. The dwarven troops have taken to treating troll cakes like plug tobacco, something to carve a chunk off of and chew for a while, but they don’t think of them so much as food as vaguely nutritious entertainment.

A troll or snark who eats one of these with (or as) each meal gets a +1 bonus to their first two Toughness Tests the next day, whether they’re for recovery or something else. Dwarves just don’t have that kind of digestive capacity, and humans and elves can’t and probably shouldn’t try. There’s a Willpower Test, though, initially against a 5 but with the Target Number increasing by +1 per week. A troll or snark still in the grip of the Fever, still expanding, does not have to make the Test as their body’s demands outweigh their preferences. Likewise, soldiers who’ve been in the field for a couple of weeks don’t have to make the Test, as they’re ready to eat pretty much whatever they’re given, and lack of options tends to increase willingness to survive on what’s available.

This also explains why trolls always have a pocket full of folded waxed paper and string. Every soldier knows to keep the wrappings from your rations, and whatever other useful materials you come across. It’s a little more weight in your pack, true, but having a few lengths of string to run across the path and tie up to a grenade can create a nasty surprise for the enemy. Just don’t refer to the rations as horse-cakes where the trolls can hear. An officer doing so may find their troops retiring from around them in the midst of battle. Someone of lesser rank experiences the resulting displeasure rather more directly.

Tally Ho!