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The Ecology of the Marine Scrag (unpublished AD&D 2E version)

Richards

Legend
Hey, look what I found sitting on my computer: a rejected "Ecology" article I had submitted to Dragon Magazine back in the AD&D 2nd Edition days! This was a standalone story in the "fiction and footnote" format, detailing some observations of the marine scrag (sea-dwelling aquatic troll) as made by a pair of mermaid sisters. The main article was followed by a short appendix with some thoughts on the priest spell spheres used by marine scrag shamans. As such, it's of pretty limited use to those who aren't still playing AD&D 2E, but I post it here for those who might be interested.

Enjoy!

Johnathan
 

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Richards

Legend
THE ECOLOGY OF THE MARINE SCRAG

The two young mermaids swam ever closer to the cave's mouth, hidden in deep shadows below a rock outcropping. They stayed low, hugging the ocean floor, careful to remain among the cover of seaweed fronds and kelp beds. Thiossa, the elder, expertly led the way, her long, dark hair flowing behind her as she swam. It was obvious from her certainty about which way to go that she had followed this course before.

Behind her swam Tukio, her younger sister. She wore an expression of concern, perhaps even fear. This was unknown territory to her; she was farther from home than she wished to be - but still, she would not show fear in front of her sister. For once Thiossa was treating her like an equal and she would do nothing to change that. Plus, she had always been on the inquisitive side and this looked to be interesting, if a little dangerous.

"There it is," Thiossa said. "We don't dare go much closer. They can't swim as fast as we can, but if they caught us by surprise...." She left that thought unspoken but Tukio didn't need to hear the specifics to understand the danger. She shivered.[1] "Stay here, among the sea-grass, and watch," Thiossa suggested.

Tukio let her body sink to the ocean floor and peeked out between the fronds, occasionally brushing her jet-black hair out of the way as it drifted across her face, obscuring her vision. Several minutes passed and she began to get bored.

"How many are there in there?" she asked.

"I'm not sure. I've seen as many as three: one female and two males. There might be more."

"Are you sure they're in there now? Maybe they've gone out to hunt."

"Possible, but I doubt it. Trolls[2] don't like the sun too much and don't often come out of their caves until nightfall."

"We're not going to stay here that long, are we? Father will--"

"Shhhh! Look!"

Tukio looked up and saw clouds of sand and silt billowing from the cave entrance. As she watched, she saw the outline of two struggling figures appear in the midst of the cloud. They clawed and snapped at each other, their scuffle kicking up great quantities of the sand lining the floor of their cave.

"Why are they fighting?" whispered the young mermaid. Even at this distance, she could see that the creatures were huge, much larger than she would have guessed, and wanted to take no chances on drawing their attention to her sister and herself.

"Those are the two males I told you about. The female is even bigger yet."

"But why are they fighting each other?"

"They're competing for the right to mate with the female. It's some sort of ritual, I think."[3]

- - -

NOTES
1. Marine scrags crave human flesh above all else but are content dining on fish and shellfish. A mermaid, of course, provides them with a two-course meal: human and fish conveniently packaged into a single morsel....

2. Although known to the surface races as saltwater trolls or, more commonly, marine scrags, races dwelling exclusively underwater have little need to differentiate between these creatures and their land-dwelling cousins. Thus, mermaids, tritons, ixitxachitl, morkoths, and the like usually refer to these creatures as simply "trolls."

3. Marine scrag society, like that of most other trolls, is matriarchal. The females are both larger and more powerful than the males and the dominant female of a troll pack acts as both pack leader and shaman. One of the "perks" of such a position is that she gets her choice of mates, but often, instead of simply choosing a mate, the leader will allow suitors to fight each other for the right to mate with her. Such a contest ensures that she ends up with the most powerful of the males and therefore stronger, tougher offspring.
 

Richards

Legend
Gradually, the two marine scrags tumbled out of the cave opening and sunk to the ocean floor, still thrashing around and biting at each other. Tukio's eyes widened in astonishment as she got her first relatively good look at these fearsome creatures.

While humanoid in shape, she was surprised at their body proportions. She had seen many "humanoid" species before: the sirines and tritons, the sea-elves, even the fish-headed locathah and kuo-toa. While differing greatly in appearance, their general body shape followed a similar pattern: legs, arms, torsos, all seemed naturally proportioned. The trolls, however, seemed nothing so much as awkwardly-built.

To begin with, for creatures of such immense size,[4] their legs seemed too short and skinny. Their arms weren't much better, seeming much too thin, especially when one took into account their enormous pot-bellies.[5] Such fat bellies sticking out of such scrawny-limbed creatures almost made them comical in appearance - until you got a good look at their faces.

At such a distance, Tukio couldn't make out too much of the monsters' faces; for one thing, they didn't stay still long enough for her to get a good look at them, and their long, drab hair kept flying in the way.

Still, one thing was certain: they had plenty of sharp, pointed teeth, and they weren't afraid to use them.[6]

As she watched in growing horror, one of the two monsters managed to clamp its vicious teeth into its opponent's neck. Greenish blood spurted from the wound almost immediately, momentarily obscuring the young mermaids' view of the two combatants. However, the end result was soon apparent, as the victor raised his arms in glory, one hand holding the severed head of his rival.

Suddenly, there was movement from the cave entrance and Tukio and Thiossa saw an even larger scrag look down upon the two rivals. Other than its bigger size, it looked pretty much the same as the two combatant trolls.[7] "The she-troll!" exclaimed Thiossa.

As the two mermaid spies looked on, hidden from view in the sea-grass fronds, the she-troll raised her arms out and grinned evilly at the victor. Triumphant, he planted a foot in the small of his rival's back and gave him a vicious kick. The headless body fell forward and sprawled on all fours in the sand of the ocean floor.

Then, with a grunt, the victor cocked back his arm and flung the head of his rival as far as he could throw it. The head bobbed a little and landed in the sand not too far from where Tukio and her sister lay hidden. The victor gave it no further thought, though, as he swam back up to the cave entrance and disappeared inside with the she-troll.

"So now they're going to mate?" asked Tukio. Her sister nodded. "How long does it take?"

"How should I know? I'm certainly not going to go in and find out! Why?"

"I want to go take a better look at the monster's head." She peeked out from the sea-grass, looking all around. The coast was clear. "Let's go."

Tukio darted out from concealment and swam up to the severed head of the sea-troll. Thiossa, looking frightened, was just a body-length behind. "Be careful!" she warned.

"Why? It's just a-- eep!" shrieked Tukio, as the severed head snapped its jaws at her hand.[8] It missed, but not by much. The young mermaid jerked back, bumping into her sister and sending them both sprawling to the ocean floor.

"It's still alive!" gasped Tukio.

"And it's not the only thing," replied Thiossa. "Look at the body!" She pointed to where the headless body lay in the sand; it had gotten on its hands and knees and was now feeling around the ocean floor, blindly trying to locate its head. The two mermaids could see the gills on the sides of its thick, scaled neck breathing in and out, an eerie, unnerving sight without its head.

- - -

NOTES
4. The average marine scrag stands a good 10 feet tall; as mentioned before, the females are somewhat larger than the males, often reaching as much as eleven and a half feet. No known marine scrag has ever reached 12 feet, so they are always treated as size "L" for game purposes.

5. Similar to dwarven beards, pot-bellies demonstrate a sort of social status among the marine scrags and are common among both males and females. The bigger the pot-belly, the more impressive the scrag. In effect, a well-rounded pot-belly says "See how fierce I am? I am able to kill enough prey to sustain such an enormous girth." Fortunately, their over-large stomachs do not slow down their rate of movement underwater, as their wide, webbed feet are more than able to compensate for any additional weight around the middle a marine scrag might have.

On land, however, it's quite a different story. With their stubby little legs and their fat, protruding bellies, a marine scrag is able to hobble along awkwardly at a speed of only 3 (compared to their more graceful swimming speed of 12). For this reason, even though they are capable of breathing air for up to one hour, marine scrags do not spend a great deal of time on land.

6. Of all the troll subspecies, the marine scrag does the most damage with its bite attack (9-16, or 1d8+8). This is because the marine scrag's mouth is filled with literally hundreds of needle-sharp teeth, arranged in overlapping rows much like that of a shark. In combat, a scrag is able to attack three times each round, concentrating on a single opponent or dividing its attacks (two claw strikes and a bite) between up to three opponents. Because of its greater damage potential, a marine scrag will always attempt to use its bite attack on what it considers its most powerful opponent, if fighting more than one enemy at a time.

7. Although it can be argued that the marine scrag derived from mammalian stock, its return to a life in the sea has irrevocably altered its form. No longer a true mammal, the female scrag does not produce milk with which to nurse her young. In an evolutionary attempt at streamlining the body, very important to an aquatic race, the reproductive organs are internal in both sexes. Thus, to the casual observer, no real difference can be seen between a male and a female marine scrag.

In any attempt at classifying the marine scrag, the creature must be placed somewhere between mammals and amphibians. While the scrag's hair and live birth prove a link to a mammalian ancestry, their gills and near-total aquatic existence point toward their being amphibians. Unlike true amphibians, though, not only do marine scrags live in sea water, but they also have scales covering their bodies. These last two traits indicate a reptilian ancestry as well.

At this point, many naturalists throw up their hands in despair or come up with clever titles like "devolved mammals," "amphibious mammals" or even "mammphibians." Others sidestep the question altogether, claiming a magical merging at work. It is worth noting, however, that marine scrags have evolved so far away from the normal troll stock that they are now mutually infertile - there will never be a marine scrag/troll half-breed, which most people agree is a good thing. It is quite possible for a saltwater troll/freshwater troll hybrid, but the chances of such a union occurring are slim, since neither species likes spending much time on land and neither can breathe while in the other's natural aquatic environment.

8. The remarkable powers of regeneration enjoyed by trolls are also present in the marine scrag, but with one provision - they only work while the creature is immersed in saltwater. While in such an environment, the marine scrag regenerates 3 hit points per round, starting three rounds after taking damage. Severed body parts can continue to attack, but only while they are within range - once severed underwater, they sink to the bottom of the ocean, unable to "swim" on their own. Like normal trolls, a marine scrag's severed body parts can be rejoined to its body within 24 hours of separation; after that, the severed body parts "die," forcing the scrag to regrow replacement parts, a process which takes a full week.
 

Richards

Legend
The headless troll was far enough away from the mermaids they didn't need to worry about it and they turned their attention back to the severed head. "It's certainly ugly, isn't it?" asked Tukio. She swam around to face it and it scowled and snapped at her[9] but, being unable to generate any movement of its own, was not much of a threat. Keeping well out of range, Tukio gave it a thorough examination.

The head was rather flat, much wider than it was tall, and covered in green scales. A veritable mane of course, long hair waved slowly in the ocean currents, similar in both coloration and texture to seaweed. Its most prominent features were its powerful jaws, filled with rows upon rows of deadly, slender teeth. A pair of ears, pointed like those of a sea elf, protruded from each side of the creature's skull.[10] All in all, Tukio decided, it was a creature spawned from nightmare.

"It seems like it's looking for its head," observed the young mermaid, watching the motions of the creature's body. "What happens if it finds it?"

"I've heard that trolls can reattach pieces of themselves," replied Thiossa. "I don't know whether that's true or not, but I wouldn't be surprised if they could."

"Then let's bring it back home with us," suggested Tukio. "That way, he'll never be able to find it!"

"And how would you explain that to Father?" asked Thiossa. "As it is, he'll have our heads if he knew we were this close to a troll cave!"

"Hmmm, you're right. But still, we ought to at least hide it from the troll's body, so he doesn't find it. What if we bury it?"

Deciding upon that as their best course of action, they grabbed the ugly head by the hair, keeping it at arm's length between them. Then they dug a quick hole in the sand by the sea-grass and unceremoniously dumped it in, covering it from view by filling the pit back in with sand.

"Let's get out of here," suggested Thiossa. "There's no telling how soon those other two will be done, and I don't want to be anywhere near when they come out. Plus, it'll be dark soon, and we'll catch all sorts of trouble if we're not back by then."

"You're right. Let's go." Silently, the two young mermaids turned to go, when a sudden movement from the cave mouth caught Thiossa's attention. "Down!" she hissed, pushing her sister flat among the sea-fronds.

Cautiously, they scooted themselves to the edge and peered out from their concealment. The two sea-trolls had exited the cave and were searching along the ocean floor, looking this way and that. Looking for the head we buried, thought Thiossa, but dared not voice her opinion to her sister, for as the trolls expanded their search radius they came closer and closer to the mermaids' hiding spot.

"Brokk!" cried the she-troll, waving her hands in exasperation. "Mar gruu fishing!"[11] Tukio's eyes grew wide in fear at the creature's nearness and she would have bolted and made a swim for it had her sister's hand not grabbed her wrist, silently imploring her to remain motionless. Staring at each other in fear, the two sisters waited, paralyzed by fright, until the two trolls swam off above them, heading further out to sea.

Tukio let out a long sigh, sending a stream of bubbles dancing toward the surface. "That was close," she commented.

"Come on," said Thiossa, swimming after the trolls. "Let's follow them at a safe distance. They're heading in the same general direction we are, and I want to be sure that they're not going to attack our village."

"Didn't the she-troll say something about 'fishing?' That sounds relatively harmless."

"Still, I don't trust them."

Keeping the misshapen creatures well within sight, the two mermaids followed at a discrete distance. They kept back far enough to permit conversation without fear of being overheard by the trolls. "What monsters!" said Tukio. "I've never been so frightened in my life!"

"I know what you mean."

"Do you think they fear anything themselves?"

"Probably not. What's to fear, if you can grow back any damage and even survive getting your head ripped off?"[12]

"Do they always regenerate?"

"As far as I know, they do. Grandfather says he's seen little baby trolls and they heal really fast, just like the adults."[13]

"I wonder what baby trolls look like. Do you think they're cuter than when they grow up?"[14]

Thiossa made a face. "I'd almost say they'd have to be, wouldn't you?"

- - -

NOTES
9. In such an instance, the severed head of a marine scrag maintains all of its sensory abilities as it did while still attached to its body. Thus, it can see, hear, taste, and smell as well as it did before being severed. However, this information remains with the head; the headless body is unable to make use of any sensory input gathered by the head and is reduced to using only its sense of touch.

If the headless scrag manages to stumble across its head within 24 hours, it can reattach it at once, at which time the head and body become one again and the now-complete scrag will remember everything the head experienced while it was separate. If, however, the 24 hours elapses before the body comes across the head, the head will die and the body will spend the next week growing a new one. In this case, any sensory input recorded by the "original" head will be lost.

10. Scrags have only average hearing, despite their oversized ears - better than a normal troll but not by that much. However, while lacking the enormous nose of the standard, land-dwelling troll, a scrag's sense of smell is equal to a troll's, able to detect the scent of blood from miles away, much like a shark. Their vision is geared toward the darkness of the sea, but while they dislike bright lights and will seldom pop their heads above the waves during daylight they suffer no combat penalties during daylight, either above or below the surface of the ocean.

11. Much like the "trollspeak" used by trolls on the surface, marine trolls use a conglomeration of words stolen from the languages common to the beings around them instead of developing a language of their own - in this case, a strange mish-mash of Common, Merman, Sahuagin, Kuo-toan, and Kapoacinth serves as their "scragspeak." This artificial language is, quite naturally, very simplistic, with a lexicon of several hundred words at best. Still, this seems to serve the marine scrags well enough. It is interesting to note that "scragspeak" consists mainly of command verbs and names for objects; there are no words for such intangibles as "happiness," "love," or "devotion," but at least three separate words for "kill."

12. Marine scrags are indeed fearless in battle but there are some things for which they do have a healthy respect, if not an outright fear. Fire and acid, being the only means of permanently damaging a scrag, top the list. Fire, of course, is not often encountered underwater and may be another reason scrags do not often venture onto land. Acid, however, is more of a danger to the marine scrag - specifically, stomach acid. If the scrag can be said to truly fear one creature, that creature would no doubt be the mottled worm, the aquatic relative of the purple worm. Mottled worms, with their ability to swallow their prey whole and digest them in a matter of minutes, probably account for the greatest number of marine scrag deaths. To a lesser extent, any creature large enough to swallow a marine scrag is given a healthy dose of respect (this includes whales, giant sharks, and kraken) - although there is no guarantee that the scrags will not attack such creatures anyway.

13. Scrags are born with the ability to regenerate and are taught at an early age not to fear pain. This training consists of a series of brutal attacks by the pack elders, during which time limbs are severed and allowed to grow back, deep scars are gouged into the young scrag's flesh and allowed to heal, and so forth. The "training" continues at regular intervals over the scrag's first several years of existence, inuring him to pain. While it might seem cruel from a human perspective, such harsh treatment is necessary to reinforce to the young scrag that pain is only temporary and not to be feared and that in time all physical damage will heal. Eventually, as a coming-of-age ritual, the young scrag demonstrates his own fearlessness by chewing off his own limbs. At that point, he is accepted as an adult by the rest of the pack.

The regenerative ability doesn't last forever, though. When a marine scrag reaches about 100 years of age (their lifespan is around 120), the regenerative process fails. Once this happens, the other scrags in the pack mercilessly attack and destroy the elder, as he is weak and cannot "pull his own weight" in the pack anymore. As a scrag gets older, he will often bite off his own finger just to see if it grows back. If it doesn't, he'll high-tail it away from the pack to live a solitary existence for the rest of his days. Similarly, pack members will often slash at an older scrag to see if the wounds heal - their form of "just checking."

14. Cute or not, they're vicious little buggers. Most scrags are not born in the normal sense; rather, they perform a sort or "inverse Caesarean" by clawing their way out of the mother's womb. The mother, of course, is not harmed in the process, as she immediately regenerates.
 

Richards

Legend
Abruptly, the trolls stopped their marine trek into deeper waters and the mermaids strained to see what the creatures were doing. "It looks like...the she-troll is kissing the other one's hand!" exclaimed Tukio.

Squinting ahead in the gloom, Thiossa could see that that wasn't quite the case, as greenish blood pooled around the two trolls. "No, she bit it off!" she corrected.

The trolls vanished into the ever-increasing cloud of blood, only to finally emerge after a minute or two. Thiossa noticed the she-troll had apparently given her mate his hand back and he had reattached it to his arm. "What in the world?" she asked, puzzled.

But the reason for the trolls' odd behavior soon became apparent as a streamlined form swam into view. It was a shark, attracted to the scent of blood in the water, never suspecting in his limited shark-mind that he, the evil predator of the deep, was being lured in as prey.

But such was undoubtedly the case. The she-troll struck first, claws getting a firm hold into the shark's side so she could tear out a good-sized hunk of his flank with her wicked teeth. As the mermaids watched in growing horror, the trolls engaged in an escalating feeding frenzy. Each bite of shark flesh spilled more blood and the blood drew in more sharks, who became targets themselves. At one point, Tukio could swear the vicious she-troll even forced her arm down a shark's mouth, allowing it to be bitten off, just to watch it rip its way out of the shark's belly.

Tukio had seen enough. Repressing a shudder of revulsion, she motioned to her sister, and the two of them left the hideous creatures to their ghastly feast. As the last of the sun's rays glistened on the silvery scales of their undulating tails, they turned toward home and were gone, out of sight of the vicious carnage.

- - -

NOTES ON SHAMAN SPELL USAGE
Marine scrag shamans are always female and serve as the leaders of their packs. They are granted access to the priest spell spheres of Charm, Divination, Elemental (Water), Sun (Darkness only), and Weather. However, not all spells in these spheres are appropriate for use by marine scrag shamans. A breakdown of the various spells in those spheres (as listed in the Player's Handbook) and their use by scrags follows:

CHARM
Command (1st) - This spell is of limited use against enemies as it is spoken in "scragspeak" but it is commonly used by the shaman on the scrags in her own pack, to get them to obey or cooperate. A DM might wish to give a 25% chance of having the spell work against a PC if that PC speaks one of the aquatic languages from which "scragspeak" derives.

Remove Fear (1st) - Seldom, if ever, used, as marine scrags do not fear death at all, thanks to their incredible regenerative abilities.

Enthrall (2nd) - Never used.

Hold Person (2nd) - A favorite spell, useful in keeping humans on land immobile long enough for the slow-moving marine scrags to catch them.

Cloak of Bravery (4th) - Not used, for the same reasons as remove fear, above.

Free Action (4th) - Very seldom used, useful to scrags only if they were going up against lacedons.

Imbue With Spell Ability (4th) - Never used, ever. No scrag shaman in her right mind would allow anyone else to gain the powers reserved for herself exclusively.

DIVINATION
Detect Magic (1st) Of occasional use, when going up against a PC party. Scrags dislike magical devices, especially those that produce flame, such as a wand of fireballs, and this spell is useful in identifying those items which might have similar powers. Most magical items obtained by scrags are destroyed, just to be on the safe side.

Detect Poison (1st) A useful spell, as scrags dislike being poisoned, even if it is only temporarily (thanks to their regenerative powers).

Detect Snares and Pits (1st) - Not very useful underwater.

Locate Animals or Plants (1st) - Commonly used, especially when the shaman is in the mood for a particular type of flesh. Plants are never sought out using this spell.

Augury (2nd) - This spell sees only occasional use, as scrags dislike riddles.

Detect Charm (2nd) - Never used.

Find Traps (2nd) - Seldom used.

Know Alignment (2nd) - Never used, as a being's alignment doesn't alter the taste of his flesh and that's all the scrags really care about.

Speak With Animals (2nd) - Seldom used, unless the scrags have "pets" or "guard animals" living with them. Sharks, barracudas, moray eels, and the like have been used in the past but "pet" status does not protect an animal from being devoured if the scrag feels too lazy or too hungry to go out and find something else to eat.

Locate Object (3rd) - Seldom used. If it can't be eaten, why bother with it?

Speak With Dead (3rd) - Not used - the spell doesn't function underwater.

Detect Lie (4th) - Seldom used.

Divination (4th) - Seldom used, for the same reason as augury.

Reflecting Pool (4th) - This spell sees frequent use in those scrag caves at least partially on shore.

Tongues (4th) - Seldom used, as scrags aren't really all that interested in communicating with other races.

ELEMENTAL (WATER)
Create Water (1st) - Seldom, if ever, used (they have plenty as it is).

Water Breathing (3rd) - Useless to the scrags, although the spell's reverse, air breathing, is useful for extended land excursions.

Water Walk (3rd) - Seldom used.

Lower Water (4th) - Seldom used.

SUN (DARKNESS ONLY)
Light (1st) - The reverse, Darkness, is very commonly used.

Continual Light (3rd) - The reverse, Continual Darkness, is very common, especially inside scrag caves.

Starshine (3rd) - Not used.

WEATHER
Faerie Fire (1st) - Not used.

Obscurement (2nd) - Not used, as it doesn't work underwater.

Call Lightning (3rd) - Not used, as it doesn't work underwater.

Control Temperature, 10' Radius (4th) - Seldom used.

Protection From Lightning (4th) - Occasional use, when raiding on land.
 

Richards

Legend
And that was that one. The rejection I received was pretty much boilerplate - "the manuscript does not meet our present needs," that sort of thing. But I filed it away, and I eventually got to reuse some of the concepts I had come up with for this article when I wrote The Slayer's Guide to Trolls for Mongoose Publishing - specifically, some of the bits about trollish regeneration. And I just recently discovered it on my computer and realized I had never posted it here on EN World, as I had done most of the other "Ecology" articles I'd had rejected over the years.

Johnathan
 


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