“All dwarfs have beards and wear up to twelve layers of clothing. Gender is more or less optional.”
― Terry Pratchett
Of all the prototypical fantasy races, dwarves seem to suffer most from stereotyping. I think the good folk a TVTropes summed it up pretty well here. The Fantasy Trip (both old and new) did little to add to this base, leaving them as shorter, stronger, less dextrous figures that can carry great weights.
On a lot of levels, I find the stereotypical dwarf to be fun. Loud and boisterous, quick to anger and loyal to a fault, dwarves are a natural fit for a lot of RPG players. But how can we kick-start dwarven character builds without reinventing the wheel every time? Here are a few ‘packages’ to help add flavor to your next dwarf.
The golden dwarves — or guldendvaerg — are the dwarves most commonly encountered by other races. They are the craftsmen and traders, and the lords of the great dwarven delves. In the Duchy of Dran, they would most likely be found in areas like Rubydelve or Highdeep . Their workmanship is only exceeded by their greed, and those that deal with them rarely have the advantage. The gold dwarves can also be very conservative, and their societies are rigorously structured and slow to change. Those that choose a wanderer’s life might be slightly more flexible, but will seem very set in their ways by the standards of other races. And if any dwarf was to take up the wizard’s path, it would probably be a gold dwarf.
Gold Dwarf Starting Package: ST 11(+1), DX 10(+4), IQ 11 (+3) Hero. Talents: Ax/Mace (2), Shield (1), Crossbow (1), Engineer (2), Armourer (1), Business Sense (2), and Recognize Value (1). Suggested advancements include Shield Expertise, Master Armourer, Architect/Builder, and Assess Value. Their ability to carry great weight inclines them toward heavy armor, hammers and heavy crossbows, emphasizing force over mobility. If you use Drawbacks, gold dwarves tend to be greedy, stubborn, or live by a strict code (minor Social commitment).
The other main branch of dwarf is rougher, even sturdier, and less civilized then their golden cousins. The iron dwarves (jardendvaerg) live on the edge of dwarven lands, carving out new delves (like New Delve in Cidri) or seeking a strike of their own. They are at home in the wilds, and are used to competing for resources with orcs, goblins and other denizens of the dark places. They prefer axes and spears in combat, and are experts in tunnel-fighting tactics. Perhaps because of the harshness of their daily lives, they revel in their enjoyments, heartily embracing strong drink, loud songs, and contests of strength.
Iron Dwarf Starting Package: ST 12 (+2), DX 10 (+4), IQ10 (+2) Hero. Talents: Ax/Mace (2), Shield (1), Pole Weapons (2), Mundane Skill, Menial/Miner (1), Underdeweller (2), and Toughness (2). Suggested advancements include Weapon Expertise, Climbing, and Detect Traps. Prolonged time underground might give an iron dwarf bad eyes, or they might have a Hatred (minor psychological drawback) against orcs, or be just plain mean.
New Talent: Underdweller/IQ10 (2). Similar to the Naturalist talent, but for the underground world. A figure with this talent is familiar with the creatures and plants that naturally occur underground, and can make 3/IQ save to spot natural dangers like potential cave-ins before they enter the area.
Beyond the furthest reaches of civilized lands lie the frozen domain of crag dwarves. These ice-shrouded peaks and wind-swept tundras are a forbidding environment and breed a formidable type of dwarf. Crag dwarves are slightly taller than their cousins, and tend toward paler coloring and silver-white to blonde hair and beards. Simple survival takes a tremendous effort, and crag dwarves do not have the luxury of embellishment in their crafts. But the items they do create — from tanned hides and ironwork from meteors that fall in these regions — are elegant in their practicality and durability. Crag dwarves are skilled hunters, and their groups work together seamlessly to bring down the most dangerous predators. They wear lighter armor than the iron dwarves, but carry massive weapons and fling javelins and spears with great accuracy. Between the harsh outdoors and long, dark winters, crag dwarves tend to be dour, brooding sorts than can carry grudges for decades.
Crag Dwarf Starting Package: ST 14 (+4), DX 9 (+3), IQ9 (+1) Hero. Talents: Ax/Mace (2), Shield (1), Thrown Weapons (2), Spear-thrower (1), and Alertness (2). Suggested advancements include Area Knowledge, Mundane crafting skills, Naturalist, and Tactics. Their environment leads crag dwarves to be loyal to their own, and vindictive toward others, and they may be seen as outsiders in civilized realms.
While it is often said that dwarves are obsessed by creating and hoarding fine objects, there are a few who turn that perfectionism inward, and try to craft their minds and bodies as solidly as an any axe or breastplate. These dedicates are known as tempered souls, and eschew the material world in favor of rigorous honing of their internal resources. They live apart from mainstream dwarf society, but can be seen guarding important persons or sacred locations. While they do not practice a craft, they do collect information and protect the knowledge and legacy of the dwarves. Occasionally, a tempered soul will take up a quest to find a piece of history, capture a new method, or simply view something never before recorded. It is rumored that she cloistered tempered souls are some of those most skilled wizards alive, but this has never been proven.
Tempered Soul Starting Package: ST 10 (+0), DX 11 (+5), IQ11 (+3) Hero. Talents: Unarmed Combat I and II (2), Thrown Weapons (2), Literacy (1), Writing (1), Silent Movement (2) and Toughness (2). Suggested advancements include additional Toughness, Unarmed combat III and IV, Scholar, or a focus on an area of knowledge. The life of a tempered soul requires a (minor)commitment if not a (major) vow to its ideals, and can cause a dwarf to become cautious or overly conservative.
Do the dwarves in your games have a unique set of skills or interesting outlook? Or did we just overlook some important aspect of dwarfishness. Let us know in the comments below.