Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Rebuilding Hobbits

Art by Jimmy Cauty (of KLF)

A short one to end this series on rebuilding demi-human cultures. “Short” because there is little to say; of all the demi-human races the Hobbit or Halfling is the most like Humans. They reproduce sexually, there is a female which is strongly dimorphic with the male and who carries the child for a long period (6 months) and gives birth to a helpless infant which she then feeds with milk which she produces herself.

The main difference compared to humans is the length of infancy. Halfling children rarely walk before the age of 4 years and are not socially considered adults until they are 33 although they are sexually mature around 22.

Although halflings can have quite large families, they are spread out over a very long period of fertility in the females, who are capable of successfully giving birth for around 80 years. Thus, a hobbit family with 8 children may actually represent as little as one child per decade and in fact most halflings see that as a normal rate of reproduction which allows one child to be “half grown” before their next sibling is on its way.

Family planning is mostly via abstinence, with both sexes’ drives being naturally suppressed while there is a “young” child at home.

This all has had quite dramatic effects on halfling society. In particular, it is very, very conservative and traditional. Hobbits regard having two children in a decade as signs of being a bit of a radical and long childhoods means that family life is very stable. They dislike anything which disrupts that, and by extension, any other part of home life.

This makes them very peaceful and reluctant to go to war in general but civil war is unheard of. Instead, grievances are subsumed into grudges which can last centuries. Outsiders can view these grudges as petty and foolish, but in fact they are a necessary safety valve for what is really quite an emotionally repressed society, at least where there are significant numbers living together.

Another result of these factors is that adultery is a very serious crime which is seen as attacking the foundations of their Lawful society and is usually punished by exile for both parties. Thus, a considerable number of the individuals found outside of halfling lands are there because of adultery in their family history - a fact which causes many of them shame.

Whereas dwarves, elves, and gnomes do have clerics, albeit ones which worship non-human deities, powers and forms, halflings do not bother themselves with the affairs of gods and instead look to nature and druidry for their more spiritual needs.

Even here, the halflings seem to humans to be rather half-sized. Their druids concern themselves only with crops and harvests and other agricultural issues. They have no truck or interest in super-powers like controlling the winds or producing walls of fire, let alone fingers of death and elementals. They have never been interested in or of interest to the Cabal.

Halfling druids’ duties are at home and they will never join any party for more than one adventure and only then if their home land is directly and mortally affected by the goal of the adventure.

NPC halflings can multi-class into druid/thief, druid/fighter, or druid/fighter/thief, although only the first is at all common.

Monday, 23 December 2019

Rebuilding Elves

1 Introduction

Following on from the previous two posts it’s time to look at elves.

Elves are more problematic than gnomes, dwarves, or for that matter, hobbits. Gnomes have a very vague and nebulous folklore in Britain and so any game treatment of them is likely to work reasonably well, even if they are a bit too tall. Tolkien’s dwarves stuck fairly well to the well-known tropes of dwarf stories - albeit without the supernatural strength that often appears - and so the fact that the game sticks largely with Tolkien’s version isn’t a problem. This goes even moreso for hobbits who are more or less an invention of the professor from the name down.

Elves, however, are different. The D&D elf is not a Tolkien elf for the most part but at the same time Gygax included the concept of the half-elf which is more or less a JRRT creation. It’s true that there are many stories about elf “changelings” and a few of mortals falling for elves of the opposite sex but the former are not clearly half-elves and the latter are not well known. The biggest influence from Tolkien on the D&D elf is the focus on elvan military harness which was certainly included to allow players to re-run the Battle of the Five Armies from The Hobbit.

With the publication of the game came a culture clash between the largely British Folklore elves of the game and the expectations of a (predominantly American) readership that associated the word “elf” with the super-human race of that name from The Lord of the Rings - which in turn are derived from a much more Scandinavian version of the race.

The British elf is, in folklore terms, a very degenerate version of the Nordic/Anglo-Saxon being of almost god-like power which had first been demonised by the Christians and then reduced from that to a bugbear and finally to a race of tricksters who were a threat only at an individual level.

Shakespeare mixed in, or preserved, a tinge of their original magical and immortal character as well as the concept of the Seelie Court with a King and Queen ruling not just the elves but all fairy folk.

None of this has really ever bothered me personally - I read Tolkien long after starting to play D&D and never considered them as anything other than what I think Gygax had in mind - the little people of the woods.

For my purposes here, the main problem reconstructing elves along reproductive lines is the constraint of retaining half-elves, a popular and fun game race which I want to keep in play more or less un-touched.

Well, let’s get on with it.

2 Songs from the Woods

The elves are the tallest of the “little people” as humans call them. An adult male elf can look eye-to-eye with many adult female humans. Male elves range from 4’8“ to 5’6”; females from 4’2“ to 5’.

But this is a generalisation as the elves are almost as varied as the dwarves, and in ways which are more substantial than just skin and hair colours. For elves are creatures literally of the forest and the nature of an elf is bound up with the nature of the forest in which it initially grew and to the Deep Wood to which it can retreat or return when the world of humans becomes tiresome.

The Deep Woods

In elvan parlance, forests are divided into two types: the Plain Woods and the Deep Woods. The Plain Woods are, generally, woods which can be crossed in half a day’s walk, or are artificially planted, or which have permanent intelligent inhabitants other than rangers or the creatures of “Faerie”. These woodlands can not allow entry to the true Faerie realm.

The Deep Woods can be reached by an elf (or any Fay being) by entering a wood and walking for more than three hours beyond any part of it which could be classed as Plain Woods. This process will take the elf into the Faerie version of that woodland - the Deep Wood - and it can be assumed that entry by any non-fey being will be detected and assumed to be hostile until proven otherwise.


Faerie is in effect the great Forest from whence all the creatures called “Fey” derive and the elvan word for “world” is indeed “forest”. This forest includes realms of snow and of steaming tropical jungle, as well as lakes and oceans. In D&D terms it is in fact a parallel material plane where there are no humans - and where humans are not welcome. It links to many of the material planes through naturally occurring conduits which connect the world forest to the lesser forests of those planes. Note that these links join similar types of woodland - jungle to jungle, kelp to kelp etc - each of which is thought of as a different Deep Wood.

Faerie experiences the seasons one would expect based on the type of tree but there is no wooded region which ever experiences 24hrs of day or night - 4hrs is about the minimum length of either (other regions do exist but they are not wooded). The sun of Faerie is very like that of Earth, but perhaps slightly more golden, and the single moon is a similar size and colour but the face of the “Man in the Mood” is slightly more like a real face but its features are changeable. Although the moon goes through the normal phases, the face is always at the same angle to the viewer, implying to some sages that Faerie itself is not a sphere.

The native beings of Faerie include many of the standard D&D monsters: all the standard demi-human races, all the beings listed as “humanoid” for rangers, dragons, unicorns, pixies, brownies, slyphs, dryads and nymphs, satyrs, giant versions of normal woodland animals (including giant lynx) as well as their normal counterparts, hags and annises, myconids, heraldic beasts (griffons, wyverns, and so on) etc. although not all of these are encountered in the same Deep Wood.

Almost all of these beings are able to walk through to the forests of the other PMP worlds, but only the more intelligent can easily find their way back in again, thus various creatures from faerie can be found wandering so-called “human lands”.

Travel from one part of the Great Forest itself to another takes a very long time unless aided by magic, and many creatures there do possess such magic, but it can be done. However, reports indicate that returning to whence once entered the wood can prove even more difficult.

Along the way, travellers will cross elven kingdoms and estates as well as the territories of various beasts and beings who may not be friendly.

It is not known as the Perilous Realm for nothing.

A Note on Alignment

Elves are as a rule Chaotic Good. Their social structure is one where social status is gained by actions rather than birth or wealth. Elves of lower status mostly obey or follow those of higher status due to admiration, and certainly not through fear.

The “Good” aspect of their alignment is most strongly expressed in relation to other inhabitants of Faerie. Foreigners who do no harm will not normally be robbed or killed. Initial responses will be to “guide” them back out of the woods and to their own lands.

Persistent visitors or ones overtly damaging the Wood or its inhabitants will be warned off and, eventually the elves will respond with force, either magical or martial depending on immediately available resources.

Although strong, elves are not capable of achieving the levels of ability that humans are and so it is difficult for them to eliminate some of the more powerful evil beings which are native to their woods - anni and dragons, for example. Agreements may exist between the elves and such beings which prevent all out war between them and which even allow the elves leeway to call on them if some common threat appears.

Thus, a particularly troublesome party invading the Deep Wood may find themselves facing not only elf maids on unicorns, but elf wizards riding green dragons!

The elves’ alignment will allow these measures only to combat some unambiguous danger and their potential allies will only cooperate if they can see no advantage of siding with the interlopers, so it’s a delicate balance.

Time and relative dimensions in Faerie

Faerie has one big downside. Time passes in a strange way, usually much more slowly than in the planes it touches but not consistently or predictably.

The mental state if a being affects the passage of time for an individual. The net effect is not problematical for trees and plants, or the less intelligent animals. But the other denizens: including dragons, bugbears, goblins, elves and so forth, must reproduce elsewhere or their young do not develop “properly”.

Hence they must travel out of the Deep Woods and into the human worlds where time is less flexible and more predictable. The different creatures do this at different points in their reproductive cycle, goblins being quite lax about it and dragons the most careful - leaving Faerie even before eggs are laid. Elves have three distinct phases to their infancy, of which only the last is normally completed Outside.

3 Seedlings

Elves conceive largely as humans do, although generally with much less frequency. Their long lifespans mean that there’s no hurry and many elves do not reproduce until they are over one hundred years old. Actual mating is a very personal event and almost never takes place in human lands but in the Deep Woods of either partner.

When they do choose to conceive, the chance of success appears to be 100% and a few weeks after the coupling the female will secret a small seed-like object. In theory this seed can be planted in any wood but in reality only desperation will lead to a seed being planted outside the Deep Woods. The seeds sprout into plants, like young versions of the trees associated with the father’s background but after a year, or perhaps two in colder regions, a flower similar to the ones on the mother’s ancestral trees will bloom and the falls away revealing a large pod.

This pod must be taken by pixies (sometimes brownies) and carefully opened to reveal what appears to be a young pixie. This pixie-elf will be cared for for 2 years. At the end of this time, it will become soporific and the pixies (or brownies) must weave a cocoon for it using dryad hair or some similar material. Inside this cocoon the pixie will become a baby elf, almost indistinguishable from a human baby. At that point the child must be removed from Faerie lest its developing mind interact with the nature of the plane and warp the child in strange and possibly unfortunate ways.

Normally it will then be raised for 20 years by the surrogate family on some other plane. But sometimes they may shirk their responsibilities by switching it for a human child (pixies being neutrally aligned; brownies never do this, although they may in dire straits try to add the child to a human family if there is no other safe option). What the pixies do with the human children is a mystery, but this may be the source of some of the unique monsters of Faerie.

At the end of this time, the elf parents will be contacted and the child returned to its family if possible and entering Faerie will be safe for it.

Because the female elf needs to put relatively little physical energy into childbirth, and takes no role in feeding the child, sexual dimorphism in elves is slight and sex in general plays a minor role in their society.

However, although among elves friendship is more highly prized than sexual partnership, the two can certainly overlap and long-term pairing of male and female elves are by no means unusual or remarkable.

Bardic songs about elves often include strong elements of what we would think of as “Courtly Love” and the sort of romance that one finds in Arthurian stories, and the admiration for this has influenced some human leaders and through them their kingdoms.

However, long-term pairings (and groupings) of same-sex elves is much more common than in human societies, leading to the words “fairy”, “fey”, and even “pixie” and “elfin” becoming pejorative words - or sometimes just plain synonyms - for homosexuality in many human societies.

4 The Races

We’ll look at the main races as classified by humans into Wood, Grey, High, Drow, Valley, and Aquatic.

The elves do divide themselves into groups or types and there is some overlap with the human ones, but in general the elves use much more fine-grained terms even when dealing in generalities and each “family” of elves is treated as an individual type when dealing with specifics.

Wood Elves

“Wood elves” is the human term for the common elves of the broad-leaved temperate ancient woodlands of oak etc. The broadness of this categorisation ensures that they are the most numerous. In fact, of course, there are many types of elves which elves themselves would recognise as different caught up in this definition and none of them is especially numerous.

Regardless of this taxonomic note, the Wood Elves are generally the most conservative and private of the large groupings - we’ll look at Valley Elves later - and are much less likely to be encountered in human lands than in Faerie itself; they are Rare in the former and Common in the latter.

Wood elves receive +1 STR and -1 INT rather than the modifiers in the PHB.

Grey Elves

The grey elves are generally those elves from woods dominated by cedar, beech, and hard maple type trees. They are the nobility of Faerie.

Grey elves must have INT 9+ and DEX 8+ in addition to other requirements. Modifications are +1 Wis, +1 Dex, and -1 CON rather than the values in the PHB.

High Elves

The high elves are the most outward-looking of the elves, although that’s a low bar, and by far the most frequently encountered in human lands or planes. Their woods tend to be birch, rowan, or even ash.

The modifications for elves in the PHB are for high elves.

Dark Elves

The dark elves come from the snowy evergreen woods of high latitudes or altitudes. Their skin is the blue-white colour of virgin snow, their hair of the deep shadows of a moonlight forest. Their young are raised by ettercaps and cocoon in spiderweb.

Chaotic and evil, they band together only in order to attack a strong opponent and feel no obligation to each other or to any “king” or “queen of the elves”. To the outsider it may seem that they are an exception to the rule that elven society is never ruled by fear, but in fact dark elves follow the leader most able to inspire fear in others, and an attempt to directly dominate the dark elves would be met with derisive laughter and contempt.

However. They are not numerous and they are often brought to heel by other Fay who can threaten them with force - the only language they respect. They also embody the sort of racial arrogance which other elves are prone to in their worst moments and will side with their relations against any serious human incursions, never dealing with humans as equals, although they may feign cooperation or even friendship when they actually feel nothing but distain.

Dark elf PCs must have a STR and CON of 7+ in addition to other requirements. They receive +1 Dex, -1 CHA and -1 WIS instead of the modifications in the PHB.


The drow are a mythical race of elves who live underground. It’s not clear how they would reproduce and so the assumption is that they do not exist.

Unusual Woodlands

Valley Elves and Grugach

These elven types are emblematic of the fact that the true effect on the nature of the elves is not so much the type of trees found in their wood, but the nature of the forest.

These types are examples of elves from woodlands which are isolated geographically. The elves of the Valley of the Mage dwell in woods which benefit from a micro-climate, resulting in a woodland of deciduous trees inhabited by animals more native to pine forests.

Grugach similarly are found in forests which are very isolated, for example on islands, and which have no other permanent settlement by intelligent creatures, not even ents or their ilk.

Other examples exist, including elves from jungles and eucalyptus woodlands, sequoia forests - basically any distinctive type of forest will result in some equally distinctive elven inhabitants (if it has any).


An extreme example of this are the aquatic elves, the most well-known of which are the kelp elves (not to be confused with Kelpies, or for that matter mermen).

The kelp elves have +1 STR, +1 DEX, -1 INT and -1 WIS in place of the PHB modifiers.

They are generally hostile to humans by association with fishermen who kill not only fish but dolphins and (usually accidentally) the elves themselves.

They have a 15“ swimming rate and although, like other elves, they suffer no short-term ill effects from leaving their ”native“ forests, they can not survive on land for more than two rounds, after which they temporarily lose one level per round until death at level -1.

Their clerics have spells specifically to allow more time on land, and the frequent trade meetings between aquatic and land elves will always include a cleric who will ensure that there is time not only for trade but also for some festivities.

Aquatic elves can not breed with land elves, but can breed with humans.

Internal Relations

Because they reproduce sexually, elves are much more prone to internal division and strife than the dwarves or gnomes and at times this can result in open warfare between even groups, even those which share the same ancestral woodlands.

External Relations

Elves and dwarves do not get along well due mostly to the latter’s use of wood for fuel and construction (pit-props, mostly).

The more itinerant nature of gnomes has the effect of preventing long term damage to relations with any one group of elves and so relations are on a much better footing than the dwarves’.

Halflings have fairly simple needs and are capable of supplying them from their own managed woodlands; their lack of interest in expansionism makes them another generally acceptable race.


The relationship with humans is strained for similar reasons to the dwarves but the human talent for managed forestry mitigates this and elves generally are only slightly suspicious of humans. As human populations expand, however, there are always going to be flash points when farmers start assarting.

The elves do struggle to understand how a race as short-lived as humans can manage to do so much, and the more rural wood elves are more likely to be hostile to humans - engaging in “tricks” which can escalate to hazardous levels. Grey elves are least likely to have anything to do with humans but if humans blunder into their territory the elves will take action and will be very harsh judges of alignment indeed. Crimes against the forest or elves may result in capital sentences, geases, charming, hostage-taking, or other measures designed to prevent repeat offences and the grey elf preference for humans is closer to ’A’ than ’N’.

High elves tend to be more exploration-oriented and are certainly the most likely sub-group to be encountered outside of their forests. They have most knowledge and understanding of human ways but this is a mixed blessing and the overall result is that they are also rather suspicious of humans.


Elves can not reliably without access to the worlds that they enter from the Deep Wood so it is vital for the long-term viability of any elf family that they continue to have access to and from the Deep Woods. This makes them vulnerable to being cut off deliberately by hostile actions.

Thus, most of the “foreign policy” of the elves revolves around protecting ancient woodlands in the normal material planes from interference which would break the link back to Faerie.

Some of these enemies are other Fey - including dark elves working against other elves, evil dragons and so on - and some are simply forces of evil who desire to cut humans off from useful allies or who just want to wipe out elves in general.

Elves can be seen by humans as flighty and unreliable when their forests are not at stake; they become very serious when they are.

5 Orcs

Orcs are a special problem for me as I don’t normally use them. Unlike Hobbits, there is absolutely no folklore basis for orcs to make them universal enough that they don’t intrude a specifically Tolkien element into a campaign.

However, since I’m trying to rebuild the core races I need to include some handling of orcs for the same reason that elves have to be sexual: the existence of half-orcs as a player character race.

Indeed, this neatly mirrors the Tolkien orcs as for a long time JRRT viewed them as corrupted elves and in the Lord of the Rings there’s hints that the orcs are as long-lived as elves as a result.

Tolkien himself initially called orcs goblins but that did not serve his purposes very well and they became something different and much more brutal and bestial. As a symbol of Evil’s power to corrupt there was nothing better than the idea of the beautiful and noble (but hubristic) elves being debased to the level of Shagrat and Gorebag.

This notion proved untenable in the long run (the sheer number of orcs was probably the issue) and Tolkien moves away from it in his later letters. But, as in D&D, he left behind the concept of the half-orc.

In D&D we are told that there are female and young orcs. Given the vicious and clannish relations of the orcs, I think the best approach is to run with that and have orcs reproduce with each other in more or less the same way that humans do - not inheriting the reliance on trees which elves do and so leaving them free to destroy forests as a way of hampering and harassing their elven ancestors.

Orcs can also reproduce with humans, but no other races, not even the elves.

Reincarnation gone wrong

A more subtle influence of Tolkien on D&D is that elves can not be resurrected, only reincarnated.

Put simply, I propose that any evil elf reincarnated as “elf” will have a 50% chance of being reincarnated as an orc, whether rolling on the druid or magic-user tables.

In addition, reincarnation should be ca stable on orcs - which is probably already the case.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Rebuilding Gnomes

A young adult Gnome, only 90 years old

1 Introduction

Following on from the previous post here’s a look at gnomes under this thought experiment. Gnomes are like dwarves in that they are not the result of sexual reproduction. They are instead created through a combination of ritual and geology. However, this connection with dwarves is fairly superficial and in many ways they are closer to humans than their supposed "cousins".

2 Nodules and Eggs

Although gnomes and dwarves are similar in appearance and both frequently dwell underground in well-kept and clean “mines” they create themselves they actually have little else in common, although the races tend to get on well and do form mixed settlements from time to time.

Whereas dwarves are created from fixed magical pots in the rock, gnomes are born from geological nodules which are found in relatively small groups.

Consequently, gnomes tend to be nomadic (gnomadic) and each group cycles through stages of hunting for nodules, mining and developing the nodules into new gnomes, and then after maybe 5 or 10 centuries in one place, the seam is worked out and they abandon their town for the open road and more exploring.

The nodules are special in some way which human sages have not ascertained but which dwarves and kobolds do understand intimately (but keep to themselves). They need to be treated by a ritual which uses electrum (a natural alloy of gold and silver) and powdered gems.

The problem is that the same nodules treated with just silver and powered gems can be hatched out into kobolds. Consequently, the war between the gnomes and kobolds is unending.

Whereas kobolds tend to horde the eggs/nodules for when they need to replace losses or just need a boost to the labour force, gnomes generally try to develop them immediately. Once consequence of this difference is that humans believe that little gnomes are found (sort of true) while kobolds lay eggs (not at all true).

Whereas dwarves have no females, gnomes do have what in human terms seem to be females, with breasts for suckling the young gnomes. Unknown to most humans, these females are also population pool for the gnome’s clerics and in that sense some are also the “mothers” of the baby gnomes. It is just about possible for a male gnome to be a cleric but only if somehow all the females in a clan are wiped out. Otherwise, whatever principle is the source of their clerics’ power will not answer any male’s attempts to gain spells. This situation may also arise during the formation of a new clan but even then it is very rare.

Gnomes do not view the raising of a child in the same way that humans do; it is more of a social duty and they have no real analogue for words like “father”, “mother”, or attendant concepts like siblings and extended family. Naturally, an individual is likely to become emotionally close to those that raised it, assuming that they were raised well which is almost universally the case but there is no idea of blood-ties, let alone negative institutions like blood-feuds or even blood-money.

The sex of a child is determined by the cleric who performs the ritual to hatch the egg.

3 Tell Your Fortune, Deary?

One consequence of this reproductive cycle is that gnomes have an entirely different relationship with the outside world than dwarves do, as once or twice a century the whole clan must up-sticks and travel in search of a new supply of nodules, a process which itself might take a century or two.

Thus, they must cross other lands and deal with other races rather than always being locked away in splendid isolation like the mountain dwarves.

Such groups normally travel in brightly-painted caravans pulled by stout ponies, often putting on fairs or magic-shows in the places they pass through, giving them a justified reputation for levity and fun. As with many demi-humans, their relationship with humans is tainted by a belief that gnomes are also good thieves and that they are good thieves through practise. In fact, this is rather true. But most gnomes restrict their stealing to very wealthy or evil victims and frequently try to help those worse of than themselves if they can, even humans.

Unlike dwarves, gnomes have managed to work around their own anti-magical nature by harnessing the simpler types of illusions and phantasms rather than “true” magic. A few have in fact mastered - if that’s not too strong a word for 2nd level spells - the spells of the magic-user.

Their other great magical interest is in alchemy and in particular the detection and/or identification of nodules which will produce new gnomes.

4 Alias, Smith and Gnomes

Although the best gnome smiths exceed the skill of the best dwarven ones, their relative lack of martial prowess means that it’s very hard to find gnomish weaponsmiths of the quality needed to create the more powerful magical arms and armour. However, gnome jewellers are unrivalled outside the grey elvan courts and many amulets and rings as well as items like the figurines of wondrous power are of gnomish design.

5 We Are All Different

Gnomes show both more variety within a clan than dwarves do, and also much less as a race. There is a woody tone to their skins, which can range right up to a pale birchwood shade or down to a rich oak but never the pale chalk white or the deep coal black that some dwarf clans can exhibit.

They can and do burn in hot climes and one of their alchemical tricks is a very effective suncream for when they are migrating across such areas.

Alignment is much more variable too, and can be NG, LN, LG, or (rarely) N. Whether this is connected to where a particular gnome’s nodule was found and/or the ritual for birthing is unknown to those outside the gnome clergy (and possibly to them too).

Various prophecies circulate amongst the gnomes about nodules and possible future leaders and villains of the gnome race, but it is up to the individual DM to decide what they may be and whether or not they are accurate.

Innate languages and skills are just that - innate and do not need to be taught.


Kobolds are basically evil gnomes. The only objective physical distinctions are skin colour, which generally is darker and has a red tinge of varying depth, and of course the two little horns.

They also appear to humans at least to be rather ugly compared to the gnomes and where gnomes take pride in their dress and usually prefer not to remain in their work clothes at the end of the day (or night), kobolds are almost never seen except in the leather aprons, ragged shirts, or mouldy cuirboili which embody the individual’s current role in kobold society. Flat caps are ubiquitous, some using them to hide their horns while others cut holes in the caps (or peaks) to show them.

Kobolds hatch the nodules in a similar way to gnomes but they use silver in the process, which is overseen by a witchdoctor. Nourishment of the young is more or less the same as with gnomes but the kobold “mothers” are, to say the least, less caring. Where gnomes see it as a duty, kobolds are more likely to see it as a chore and to expect the growing child to “repay your debt” by indentured service. From this poisonous seed so grows the whole foul tree of kobold society, which is bound together by a grudging sense of obligation as well as the knowledge that almost everything in the world dislikes kobolds and is stronger on an individual basis.

The gnomes say that the fact that kobolds use only silver - a metal that tarnishes - in their ritual is the source of their own moral tarnish.

As mentioned, kobolds tend to horde nodules until the hassle of raising the children is seen as being outweighed by the utility of having them around. The brighter kobold leaders also know that disaster can strike at any time in the form of an incursion of gnomes or dwarves (or even elves!) and it pays to always have some young kobolds developing to fill any holes that appear in the rank and file due to holes unexpectedly appearing in the rank and file.

Nodules (for both races) develop and hatch very quickly after the birthing rituals, perhaps just a few hours. This means that in theory, a nodule is not a kobold nodule or a gnome nodule until that point. However, gnomes have always been squeamish about claiming a nodule from a defeated kobold stronghold unless the kobolds had themselves stolen the nodules from the gnomes in the first place. The latter is a possibility as the kobolds not only do not have such qualms but see gnomes as a potential way of avoiding the work of mining for nodules in the first place (and of course, they just enjoy depriving the gnomes).

After a kobold lair is cleared out, gnomes will generally smash any nodules they find “in case they’re tainted”.

6 Gnome Homes

At least in temperate regions, gnomes are much more partial to the open air than dwarves and will for preference build a village above mine workings rather than live permanently underground. If the geology is appropriate, they will build burrows very like hobbit holes. They especially love to garden and no gnome has really made it until they have a fish pond by which to sit and while away a long summer evening.

In hot or high terrains, they will retreat underground to control their climate but still usually retain a fairly visible presence on the surface even if it’s just a single building in which to meet human-sized visitors and traders.

A healthy and lucky gnome clan will grow over time and eventually it will split, usually into two groups of 200 or more adult “males” in each, divided along age lines. The eldest group will leave the current site, which becomes the “inheritance” of the younger group.

7 Changes to the MM

(Additionally to what is listed). For every 50 gnomes encountered there will be one fighter/illusionist of 1st-3rd level (same level in both classes). For every 150 encountered there will be an illusionist of 4th to 6th level and any clan with 360 or more members will have a 7th level illusionist (80%) or a 6th/6th fighter/illusionist (20%). If there is a 7th level illusionist, there is a 5% chance that s/he is also a 1st-4th level magic-user.

20% of gnomes will have a thief level of 1d12 and 1% of these will instead be assassins of the indicated level. These will be in addition to any other classes they have advanced in.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Rebuilding Dwarves

Art: Ben Hodson 

Following on from the previous post, here’s a look at dwarves under this thought experiment.

1 (N)PC Clerics

The fact that dwarven clerics were only NPCs always sparked ideas in my head about what was so special about being a dwarf cleric that they had no time for adventuring.
Some of the answers are hidden below, but the obvious answer in these posts is that they are intimately concerned with creating new dwarves from the pots.
Slightly awkwardly, of course, the PHB rules don’t allow dwarves to reach “high priest” level, although I allow that for WIS scores over 18. UA confused the issue by making dwarf clerics just the same as any other clerics.
On the one hand, it was nice that players could play dwarves with some type of magic. On the other it seemed to rob them of a big part of their mystery.
But, even sticking with the PHB, there is surely scope for dwarven PCs of levels too low to play a key role in the reproduction of the tribe.

2 Here we Stand (yes, we are standing)

The pots from which dwarf children (they’re not really babies) emerge are large and carved into the solid rock, much like the Cambodian temple in the illustration. If a pot ever becomes disconnected from the living rock it becomes inert and only a limited wish, alter reality or wish spell can restore it (roll 1d10 and if the result is equal to or less than the level of the spell used it has succeeded. Failure means that spell will never work for the specific pot). As an aside, the pots must be pots for technical, practical, and ritual reasons; they can not be pits.
Because of this, dwarven tribes are very strongly tied to the location of their pots and the creation of a new tribe - which requires the creation of new pots - is a rare thing. Each dwarf is strongly and instinctively protective of the pot in which it was created and if placed in a dilemma between protecting it from imminent damage and obeying an order to leave (or similar), will have to make a loyalty check at -30%.
The importance of the pots, and their nature, mean that there are almost no modern cases of pots being constructed in the open air - although there may be some ruined sites around the world. Almost all dwarven homes are therefore underground.
All of the ritual and paraphernalia associated with creating new dwarves, and still more that associated with the creation of pots, is very secret indeed and very little has leaked out even to the normal dwarf-in-the-hall, let alone humans and their ilk.
However, whatever is done and however it is done is surely fertile grounds for creating macguffins for scenarios and NPCs on various missions. Perhaps the rood-flangler has been stolen and no new dwarves can be created until it is retrieved, or replaced by one languishing in a deserted dwarf city.
Perhaps the melding irons have become distended by some careless use and only meteorite iron can be used to mend them… etc. etc.

3 Diversity

Dwarves are probably the most diverse races in the campaign world. Each tribe, indeed each pot, produces young dwarves who’s appearance reflects the stone from which the pot was carved. Hill Vs Mountain is the most well-known distinction but that is crude compared to the subtle differences between granite and basalt, limestone and marble dwarves.
The differences are often only something that a dwarf can see - and almost all dwarves can recognise the tribal affiliation of another dwarf on site, assuming that the viewer already has knowledge of the other tribe. Sometimes the differences are visible enough that even humans and elves can see them - some chalk and flint dwarves (pech) have very pale skin indeed, and a few marl tribes even have blue or green skin. Hair colour varies from steel-grey to jet black and rarely changes with age, making it hard for outsiders to judge the age of a dwarf on first meeting, although there is a tendency in some tribes to age-related baldness.

4 The Great Outdoors

Although dwarves spend a lot of time underground and are famous devourers of mushrooms and fungi of all sorts, many hill dwarves are in fact farmers and many hunting tribes are formidable hunters.
Most dwarves share a deep love of nature and beauty, adorning their underground homes with things which remind them of the world outside their stone mansions - gold, silver, and copper flowers and trees displayed in caverns whose ceilings are studded with gems representing the night sky.

Martial Arts

The fact that dwarves can not easily move location, and the disaster that befalls a tribe whose home is overrun, means that dwarves have always been strong on the field of battle. As well as possessing keen tactical minds, their smiths have reach pinnacles of weapon-crafting only surpassed by the elves, who may have more than a thousand years extra practise compared to even the most venerable dwarven smith.
Homelands are always well stocked against siege, as retreat is never an option and it is rare indeed for any dwarf to be captured alive if a homeland is conquered.
Dwarves need not devote any bodily energy to reproduction and they are tough and strong far beyond a similar-sized human, or even many human-sized humans.

5 Diplomacy? That’s a Game, Isn’t It?

Because of the above factors, dwarven homelands are always self-sufficient and the need to hold or control territory sufficient to support that is the most common cause for conflict between dwarves and other races (since tribes are always settled at a safe distance, there’s no case recorded of dwarf Vs dwarf combat).
It is also a reason why dwarves tend not to be good at diplomacy or even plain old tact; they simply don’t need to be. They also don’t normally need to trade, another activity which helps knock the corners off a race (see the upcoming gnome post). Hill dwarves are somewhat more prone to interaction with others, simply because they tend to live in more accessible areas, but even they are not normally much involved with their neighbours.
This does not alter the fact that dwarves are generally Good-aligned but it’s a very metaphysical alignment. They are hard to fool, cautious, and frequently disinterested enough to be hard to corrupt. They also have been the victims of some of the world’s worst underworld monsters. So they are not tools for Evil and generally go beyond that, eschewing neutrality as well.
However, on an individual level they may seem gruff to the point of grimness unless they’ve had a few drinks. At such times they can surprise companions by eloquent discussions of what constitutes great Art, or even recite poetry extolling the wonders of the natural world - although few of these are in a human language.


Dwarves are apparently born/created with language imprinted in their minds. The few foundlings ever raised outside of the homelands have grown up speaking the language of their upbringing but also perfectly able to speak the tongue of their birthplace.
Each dwarven language is intelligible to every other and as such they are really dialects and sometimes a dwarf who struggles to understand another will say something like “His speech is very slatey,” or “There’s a strong greensand tone to his voice”. These dialectal variations seem to be wider than the differences seen in appearance.

6 The Crackpots

But not everything in the world of dwarves is rose-quartz.
It is said that a pot can be damaged or can develop a flaw before, possibly long before, it is noticed by the priests in charge of the making-rituals.
The resulting dwarves are known as “duergar” - literally “crackpots” in an ancient dwarven tongue.
The evil nature of these dwarves will eventually be found out. If the problem is caught early, then the individual or two will simply be killed. If the problem has been able to fester the result will usually be akin to civil war. This has destroyed the pots of more than one homeland, scattering the survivors from both sides out into the world, or the underworld.
Constant strange behaviour my any dwarf can lead to whispers of “he’s cracked” or “There’s a chip off there somewhere” and so on.

7 Race Relations


As discussed, dwarves have little contact with humans for the most part. They view human society as very badly organised and prone to outbreaks of evil behaviour. As such they remain cautiously unenthusiastic in their dealings with humans - neither shunning them nor trusting them overmuch.
For their part, humans tend to melt all demi-humans into the same category of “nimble-fingered foreigners” and view the dwarven desire for beautiful things as the result of barely controlled congenital greed.


The mutual dislike of dwarves and elves comes mostly from the fact that many dwarven homelands depend on wood for fuel. There are exceptions where coal has been found but broadly speaking, dwarves cook their meals and sometimes prop up areas of weak tunnel using wood.
For mountain dwarves this dislike is reinforced by their relatively constant trouble with the Dark Elves - the snow-skinned nocturnal terrors of the high woods and frozen lakes. Dark Elves are practically the only surface-dwelling race that the mountain dwarves encounter with any frequency and they tend to tar the other elves with the same brush. It is not helped by the fact that many elves will not speak against the Dark Elves for reasons of kinship - a reason the asexual dwarves find to be weak.
Hill dwarves might be expected to be rather less hostile to elves as they have much more contact with the typical elf - the small flighty, fun-loving spirits of the wood as well as their taller and (slightly) more serious cousins - but they are also much more likely to be in dispute over access to trees.


As miners, dwarves particularly hate kobolds and will generally attack them on sight unless the weaker kobolds outnumber the dwarves by three or more to one.

8 Changes to the MM

  • Dwarves do not have females and all references to such will be confused observations of dwarves aged under 30, when the full beard starts to develop.
  • “Young” dwarves are those dwarves aged under 10. A dwarf resembles a beardless garden gnome in size when it first emerges from its pot. They are “born” with full knowledge of their language (and the other languages listed for PC dwarves) and all the lore which allows them to detect secret doors, sloping passages and so on, as well as an instinctive talent for carving stone.
Next: Gnomes.