Long ago, when the great civilizations whose ruins you now delve were still great civilizations, there was a wizard who dreamed of controlling the world. Unsurprisingly, he also had an interest in game design. One night he dreamt of a game that was properly designed in harmony with cosmic semiotics and universal proportionality which would sieze control of the minds of millions.
After years of development and experimentation, he created a marvelous game that immediately captured the fancy of the educated and leisure classes of his native empire. As the creator of this game, he was highly regarded and awarded many honorific titles and even a place in the nobility. But this fame and fortune was not enough.
Knowing there was some missing element, he reached out to the stars for an answer, communing with intelligences on distant worlds, who usually gave him incomprehensible or useless answers. Eventually, he reached a mind that not only understood the plan, but had practical advice.
The wizard was to make another piece, designed according to the alien mind’s exacting specifications, and bring it to a specific island in a wide sea during the lunar eclipse of the winter solstice. The alien would at the same moment cast a spell aimed at the wizard’s planet in that exact location. The combined magic of the two mages would create a new game piece that would completely beguile all who played with it.
It worked. The wizard and the alien mind created the equivalent of a magical thought virus (to use a modern concept as analogy). Any who played the game with that piece or a copy of it would become hopelessly addicted to the game, gradually losing ambition, hope or even the desire to do basic work. Eventually, the infected forgot to eat.
Since every player would enthusiastically tell anyone nearby of this new obsession, the virus spread far and wide quickly and with predictable results; within two years, the six largest civilizations on the planet had died out. Isolated pockets of humans and demi-humans who were never exposed to the game due to language barriers or location, and those who by quirk of genetics were immune to the game, survived and repopulated the planet over the course of the next few millennia.
Which brings us to the trolls. The trolls were eventually overrun by this game, but because they regenerate their health despite injury or starvation, they never die from the virus directly. They are still obsessed with the game all these many generations later. Trolls who are not enslaved only occassionally leave their lairs to kill, eat or terrorize a village. They spend most of their days with their companions or captive humanoids playing “zjezz” as it’s called in Trollspeak.
This explains a few things I’ve wondered about trolls, such ass why they keep to themselves, why they are so grouchy when interrupted by adventurers and why they never took over the planet.
Today’s people have inherited immunity to the game, although if someone were to alter the spell slightly, who knows what might happen…
And the wizard? He’s been on the moon these millennia past, playing his game with the similarly obsessed King of the Moon.
Notes: You can use real chess, some variant on it (google chess variants for many options using standard chess pieces) or some other board game.
This isn’t the first chess-inspired post I’ve done.