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.

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