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I have a race of trolls in my world, they looks mostly like these guys (the yetis from one of the Mummy movies) but with longer arms and a more gorilla like posture. I also imagine them to have very sharp and dangerous claws and a thick leathery chest (to defend against said claws in battle with each other).

My problem is what form these claws should take. I had imagined basically biological equivalents of knives, where most of their fingers were blade like claws. The kind of thing that could punch through armour. But I've decided whereas in general trolls are quite primitive and un-advanced I would like them to have the potential to be more civilised. So certain populations should built houses, make clothes and weapons and even write. And I doubt that would be possible with knives instead of fingers.

So what claw design would be best for keeping a balance between being useful and dangerous weapons but also capable of performing the duties of human hands?

I don't mind if their claws impede their ability to perform tasks somewhat (and in fact that may be preferred as another reason they stay primitive), as long as it doesn't stop them entirely. They are very strong as well, so it's possible even just slightly sharper and harder nails would do the job, but I'm not sure.

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  • $\begingroup$ Is it entirely necessary that these guys are the troglodytic equivalent of Edward Scissorhands, or would you want an answer which places the talons elsewhere? I.e. does having claws on fingers factor in anything else besides making them less likely to perform fine work with their fingertips? $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Mar 23 '18 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ @canned_food heh, I did almost link a picture of him as what I had in mind. Feel free to make an answer which gives them some other kind of weaponry. After posting the question I did consider that spikes on their forearms might work too so I'm open to something different. $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Mar 23 '18 at 21:47
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Picture a full human hand.

Keep the thumb and 2 fingers.

The 4th and 5th finger are fused into a single base that grows a keratin spike. The spike grows, but wears away in such a manner as to maintain a sharp tip.

You could either have the spike permanently extended (a bit inconvenient) or somehow retract along the back of the hand.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this idea. Functional for every day tasks and a useful weapon $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Mar 21 '18 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ Points for originality. $\endgroup$ – Anton Sherwood Mar 22 '18 at 0:53
  • $\begingroup$ Echidna have claws almost like that :) $\endgroup$ – Renan Mar 22 '18 at 4:18
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    $\begingroup$ Cat claws are great (and what I'd have suggested if not already posted), but I like the idea of this one, so it has my vote $\endgroup$ – Nick Mar 22 '18 at 13:26
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Retractable Cat-like claws

What you want is to have weapons on your hands but also normal human hands. The easiest to provide both is to add the ability to switch between both states. And the easiest solution that you may want to take as inspiration is to use the retractable claws from cats.

To cite from Wikipedia:

Like nearly all members of the family Felidae, cats have retractable claws. In their normal, relaxed position, the claws are sheathed with the skin and fur around the toe pads. This keeps the claws sharp by preventing wear from contact with the ground and allows the silent stalking of prey. The claws on the forefeet are typically sharper than those on the hind feet. Cats can voluntarily extend their claws on one or more paws. They may extend their claws in hunting or self-defense, climbing, "kneading", or for extra traction on soft surfaces (bedspreads, thick rugs, skin, etc.). It is also possible to make a cooperative cat extend its claws by carefully pressing both the top and bottom of the paw. The curved claws can become entangled in carpet or thick fabric, which can cause injury if the cat is unable to free itself.

This helps you in having sharp claws and keeping them sharp while at the same being able to hide them if that's useful for the current situation - for example when you want to use your hands like human hands. It also allows you to have creatures who can control how many claws they use, thereby giving them a broader range of possibilities when it comes to using their hands. After all we humans are limited to what our hands can do - we can't simply extend a long, curved claw from one of our fingers to for example extend our reach or to free us if we or our hands are entangled in something.

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    $\begingroup$ Wow, that's insane. We came with the same answer at the exact same time (even at the same second) xD $\endgroup$ – Sasugasm Mar 21 '18 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ +1 useful also to note that dogs, which do not have retractable claws, usually have quite blunt claws $\endgroup$ – Miller86 Mar 21 '18 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Sasugasm That never happened to me before :D Go cats! $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Mar 21 '18 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ The issue then is that the trolls' hands would only have the use of two finger segments instead of -- like humans -- three. This would definitely limit the "capab(ility) of performing the duties of human hands". (Flex your hands, note how the 3 segments make grabbing easy, and then chop off the 3rd segment. No more grabbing.) $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Mar 21 '18 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ Who says they don't have 4 finger segments? The whole third segment debate seems like a non-issue. $\endgroup$ – JPhi1618 Mar 21 '18 at 18:22
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Cat-like claws ?

Cat's paws have retractable claws. You can use that for your trolls. When they are not in imminent danger, their claws are basically hidden "inside" their fingers, permitting them to be civilized and doing complex movements. But when they feel like attacking someone, they can just unleash the claws and attack.

No need for ultra long claws, just sharp enough to cut through things.

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The nails are blunt unless the trolls sharpen them for a fight.

These nails for fighting are not going to be long spindly affairs that will break off with the first whack. They will be short, thick and strong, capable of withstanding the muscle power the trolls put behind them. They will be like bear claws.

And they will not always be sharp. How could they stay sharp in a world full of friction? How do bears (or humans with edged tools) keep their tools sharp? They sharpen them. So too your trolls. When they expect a fight, they quickly sharpen up their claws - maybe with a stone carried for that purpose. Otherwise the claws blunt up with use as with any edged tool.

A civilized troll not in the habit of fighting will have short hard blunt nails. Or they might let them grow and decorate them as some humans are wont.

A carpenter troll or cook troll might keep a couple of nails sharp for woodworking or cooking needs.


I was thinking about this scheme. I imagined a tall monolith or menhir in the troll gathering place. Before going out to battle they would all sharpen their claws on it. The stone has the scratches of centuries, including some at the very top placed by legendary giants.

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    $\begingroup$ That makes sense I suppose. So like a human nail the claws could be shaped and sharpened or trimmed back when not needed. $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Mar 21 '18 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ Note that bear and dog claws get blunt pretty quickly, because they walk on them. But the trolls only walk on hind legs, so they could easily keep their claws pretty sharp with occasional sharpening (about as well as cats do). And even the civilised ones would probably keep at least one claw sharp all the time for use as a knife. If it's not too long, it wouldn't interfere with handling things that much. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Mar 22 '18 at 21:17
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Slow and steady...

You want your trolls to have claws that were historically used for combat/self defense, but will also allow them to develop a primitive culture. The simplest way to achieve this that I can see is to have them have a larger, stronger version of sloth claws. Sharp claws that curve in and down, perfect for using as a primitive shovel.

Not just any shovel though. We are talking about hulking trolls, so their claws need to be extra impressive. Given their brute strength and claws made of a hyper dense and tough material, you have the perfect recipe for a cave making and dwelling creature. Your trolls would live in mountainous areas or any other location that has natural cave systems. They would then use their shovel claws to dig out new tunnels or expand upon existing ones. Digging would blunt the claws somewhat, but first it would wear away at the curve of the claw. A troll that has spent time shaping his home would have claws that are straighter and sharper. Perfect for defending his new home from intruders.

Once you have a cave dwelling troll, starting a civilization with them is simply a matter of having small groups form and start to cooperate. Maybe multiple troll families live on the same mountain and their tunnels end up running into each other. Or your trolls are naturally more social than typical fantasy ones and they are predisposed to working together. Either way, eventually they will discover the benefits to communal living. One group of trolls could spend their days digging and enhancing the tunnel systems, while another goes out hunting or defending the community. What group a troll is in would depend on the state of their claws. Dig until your shovel claws look like daggers, then hunt/guard until your dagger claws grow back out to shovels.

Once you have a group of creatures living as a community and using primitive tools (in this case claws) you have the everything you need for culture to start to form. Writing and drawing are both pretty obvious, since the stone walls would be perfect for both. Sharpened claws would act in place of knives, so you could have stuff like cured hides for clothing. Assuming they care about things like that. And of course there is the obvious draw to having a race of natural miners when it comes to trade with other creatures. Your trolls wouldn't fill the same role that dwarves do in most fantasy settings, since they will be too primitive to provide processed goods, but they would be a good source for humans or other races to get raw metals and minerals.

Strong arms and curved claws will be the basis for a primitive yet noble cliff-dwelling tribe of mountain trolls.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's not quite how I imagine them, but definitely +1 for an interesting and well thought out take on the idea. $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Mar 21 '18 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ Troll claws should be made of or contain a high proportion of crystalline carbon, for durability. Might make sharpening them a bit tough, though... $\endgroup$ – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Mar 21 '18 at 21:22
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I'd go with two hands of nothing but grooming, aka toilet, claws. These are found on prosimians - lemurs, tarsiers, etc. - and are a cross between a nail like ours and a claw. This allows the prosimians to use their hands and feet to grasp things and was probably important in the evolution of most primates' ability to use sticks as tools, while still looking lethal. In fact, if you give your troll nothing but grooming claws and scale them up to gorilla size, they probably will be lethal.

The grooming claw is the long one in this picture.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grooming_claw#/media/File:Varecia_variegata_foot_with_toilet-claw.jpg

You can see how, instead of laying flat against the fingertip the way our nails do, it actually grows out and away at an angle. This allows the lemur to use its fingertips to grab and manipulate objects while still having a claw (technically, toetips, but you can see how they still have opposable digits like our thumbs on their feet).

I'm doing similar research myself (I want a race of elves with claws, like WoW's Nightelves, but without filing them into the desired shape.)

Edit: thinking about it a little more, you could have the claws growing out of the middle section of the finger instead of the tip. Maybe that would make them less likely to get ripped off in a fight? Something like this

https://www.polyvore.com/black_leather_dragon_claw_gauntlets/thing?id=140607397

or this

https://www.polyvore.com/items_similar_to_sale_leather/thing?context_id=4571418&context_type=lookbook&id=87059183

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  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting. Another different take on it, thanks for that. $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Mar 22 '18 at 8:59
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Claws vary depending on the use they were designed for, often related to an animal's diet or lifestyle. Are you trolls carnivore or herbivore? If they are carnivore, do they use their claws for hunting or eviscerating prey (would suggest scythe-like claws), or other uses? If they are herbivore, do they use their claws for grasping or pulling vegetation (consider hook-like claws), and if so, what type? Do they use their claws for digging up insects or roots (would suggest chisel-like claws)?

I would refer you to the skeleton of the Giant Ground Sloth (Megatherium), if you imagine it without it's tail, for visual inspiration.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding stephen! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Mar 22 '18 at 8:43
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It would depend on the functionality of the claws. Always remember that the features that you're going to apply on your creature/character would contribute to their overall traits, thus, a particular trait or feature should have good use in the long run. "Would they be used just for attacking or would they also be used for traversing tough terrain in their surroundings?" Always consider this when creating a character.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Mar 22 '18 at 9:05
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site, LyleBillen. This post has been flagged as low quality, meaning one or more users feel it does not adequately answer the question. The OP specifies that claws need to be "useful and dangerous weapons," which would seem to be the answer to, "It would depend on the functionality of the claws." You may want to edit your answer to address this need of the claws; otherwise, this may be deleted. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Mar 22 '18 at 12:21
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Being that trolls are a mystical creatures they can have anything you want.

The Devil Is In The Details

Troll lore suggests they have claws and fangs but, if you envision a troll and think about it - it doesn't make sense. Personally, I think those who created the lore got it wrong. Sure, claws and fangs are scary but claws on hands don't make sense - and trolls have hands. And what are trolls? Are they a representation of the primal side of human nature? Once we start adding claws we take the original idea of the primitive human we turn it into some gaudy Hollywood thing. That and trolls are brutish and not sleek like lions, tigers and bears who have claws. Well, I guess bears are kind of brutish.

But if I haven't convinced you to pass on claws, then, I would come up with something that is a trade-off between finger nails and claws.

Personally I think because a troll would have fingernails - like primates. They'd be jagged, chipped and short.

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