Thud! An historical perspective

by Terry Pratchett

The role of games in the histories of both dwarfs and trolls has been very important.

Perhaps the most famous was the dwarfish game of Hnaflbaflsniflwhifltafl, devised by the cunning inventor Morose Stronginthearm for Hugen, Low King of the Dwarfs. Hugen had asked for a game that would teach young dwarfs the virtues of preparedness, strategy, boldness and quick thinking, and Morose came up with a board game that has some early resemblance to the Thud board.

The game swept through the dwarfish world, and was very popular. Hugen, being well pleased, asked Morose what he wanted as a reward. The inventor is on record as saying: "If it please you, your majesty, I ask for nothing more than that you should place one plk [a small gold piece then in general circulation] on the first square, two on the second, four on the third and so on until the board is filled."

The king readily agreed to this, and had a sack of gold brought from the treasury. However, the count had not been going on for very long before it became clear that what Morose had asked for was, in fact, all the gold in the universe.

This presented a problem for the king, who had given his word, but he solved it by producing his axe and ordering two of his servants to drag Morose over to the window, where the light was better. At this point Morose hastily amended his request to "as much gold as he could carry", whereupon Hugen agreed and merely had one of his arms broken. "For," he said, "all should know that while Hnaflbaflsniflwhifltafl teaches preparedness, strategy, boldness and quick thinking, it is also important to know when not be too drhg'hgin clever by half."

Troll games are closely bound up with troll religion and some are quite hard to understand. There is a game like a simplified form of chess, in which play consists of putting the pieces on the board and waiting for them to move, and another in which stones are thrown up into the air and players bet on whether or not they will come down. Quite a lot of money can be won that way.
Koom Valley

The traditional enmity between dwarfs and trolls had been explained away by one simple statement: one species is made of rock, the other is made of miners. But in truth the enmity is there because no one can remember when it wasn't, and so it continues because everything is done in completely justifiable revenge for the revenge that was taken in response to the revenge for the vengeance that was taken earlier, and so on. Humans never do this sort of thing, much.

There are at least three sites in Koom claiming to be the Koom Valley and at least fourteen major battles are now believed to have been fought there, wherever there turns out to be.

The most likely site of Koom Valley, which is in Koom Valley, is a lonely, foreboding place. Even storm clouds go around it. It has been suggested by some wizards in the History Department at Unseen University that the rock formations in the valley, in the path of the prevailing winds, vibrate at a frequency that causes considerably unease and ill- temper in the brains of dwarfs, trolls and men, but attempts to prove this experimentally have failed three times because of fights breaking out amongst the researchers.

The most recent battle was between a party of young dwarfs from Ankh-Morpork, who were visiting the area as part of a cultural tour. City dwarfs feel that it is very important for their offspring to stay in touch with the roots of dwarfishness, and often send them back to Copperhead or Uberwald for what is known as some 'mine time'. On this day, unfortunately, a party of young trolls were also visiting the area for very similar reasons, and after some name-calling they fell to fighting and gave a very spirited recreation of the earlier battles.

The game of Thud was devised as an alternative to the fighting. It was considered by some older dwarfs and trolls that a non-fatal means of contest might be a boon to peace in the mountains and, besides, they were running out of people. And, in recognition of the general state of all unsuccessful fighters in the wars, it is a game of two halves.

"For", according to the trollish philosopher Plateau, "if you wants to understan' an enemy, you gotta walk a mile in his shoes. Den, if he's still your enemy, at least you're a mile away and he's got no shoes."

Legend says that a large war party of dwarfs and a smaller one of trolls were hunting one another in the valley, and that on this occasion the leader of the trolls tried an artful strategy. Usually, both groups would hunt each other among the big rocks that litter the valley, but this time the troll leader positioned his company right out in the middle of a stretch of open ground, reasoning that the dwarfs would never look there.

"After all', he is recorded as saying, "dey always find us when we hide behind fings 'cos dey look behind fings, so if we stands out in the open they won't find us 'cos dere's nuffin to look behind".

This major step in trollish thinking had some success because of the heavy fog that, most unusually, had fallen that morning. However, it lifted shortly after sunrise, and the trolls were, to the confoundment of what seemed like impeccable logic, immediately spotted. Battle ensued, both sides claiming foul play on the part of the other, and both sides claiming to have won.

The Thud game seeks to recreate this and has been credited with seriously reducing the number of major wars between dwarfs and trolls, replacing them instead with innumerable bar room scuffles in which Thud boards, and sometimes pieces, are used as the weapons. But since this becomes merely a police matter, it counts as peace...

(Copyright: Terry Pratchett 2002)

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