I think part of what saved them is the fact that there are dwarves in folklore. Probably the best known (to me, at least) being Albrecht from the legend of the Rinegold and the Ring of Power - which obviously lay under Tolkien's work. So, unlike
|"I never even met Tolkien!"|
|Too much "snow white"|
The class restrictions in AD&D - fighter, thief, or assassin - always struck me as a bit odd and I only remember one dwarven thief. A dwarven assassin seemed, and seems, to me as a strange combination as a dwarven monk. In actual play this meant that dwarves were always fighters. So mostly it was the "angry Glaswegian" version that triumphed over the "tragic race" picture in LotR and dwarves were popular choice in AD&D play.
In the original D&D's little brown books, the dwarves' advantages were slight and the race rarely played although there were many NPCs, particularly on trips to Thunderhold in CSIO but the PHB presented dwarves in a much more expansive way, including several great illustrations by Trampier, including page 108 (the magic mouth) which is one of the best of all AD&D's artworks. And, since being a fighter is an easy option for newcomers, dwarven fighters were common enough that one even managed to make it to the level cap at 9th level! Through various magical quests, the limit was gradually and with great difficulty lifted a level at a time until he reached 12th level, at which point our campaign ended.
|I suspect that the director hasn't actually read The Hobbit|
So, dwarves sit in a strange place for me. They're the go-to race for fighter characters and they have interesting mechanical advantages in AD&D, and suffer very little from the Tolkien effect in play, but they've become perhaps a little too generic and these days I'd quite like to play a dwarven cleric or even druid and explore that relationship with the other dwarves than just another "Is that tha best ya kin do, pal?" fighter. But then, I've never played a dwarf at all, other than NPCs!