A Guide to Dwarfen Society

Demihumans are fun to play and really add to the flair of a world, my major problem with this is that I think that players play them for the wrong reasons. The don’t play them to really step out of what it is to be human, and explore a completely different philosophy, but to gain bonuses when rolling the dice, which is sad.

I suppose that bonus hunters are a pet peeve of mine. It irks me when people choose proficiencies that grant bonuses over things that their character may be more interested in, and sadly, there really isn’t anything that we can do about this behavior! I mean, in my current game, all of the players have picked the NWP of Quick Draw, it is a western prof. which enables the player to always have the first attack, it started with a gunfighter, and now even sailors and explorers have it. The only one who has to roll Initiative is my poor wife who is as anal about roleplaying as I am. But, what can you do?

Lets get back to the subject of different races. I think that 3e took this idea a bit too far, making all monsters capable of being player characters, I don’t think that we really need to get that involved in all races, it simply dilutes to impact of major races and produces more work then it really has to.

Perhaps my beef with the elf isn’t really the elf itself, but the way that players chose it just to gain better bonuses. I have been corrupted by my own bigotry and haven’t given the elf its fair shake, which isn’t cool to the race.

Before my foot gets crammed so far down my throat that I can’t breath, let’s back off of the elf for a bit, and focus more on a race that I have no problem with, one that rarely gets mentioned in this great blogger world of ours, The Dwarf!


The dwarf is not a short human, and shouldn’t ever be played as one. They see humans as too young of a species to really matter. They were here before the humans, and, no doubt, will still be here long after they have killed themselves off.

Elves to them are simply little pansies who lack any desire to work. They don’t understand them the most of all, and they don’t try to. Dwarves just except things as they are, they focus more on themselves and on their families and race then they do on the outside world. These things mean something to them, while the fleeting desires of elves mean absolutely nothing.

Dwarves are hard workers, and this is their pleasure! Their jobs are their arts. They are superior craftsmen who have discovered a secret which they guard with their lives, the secret of STEEL! This could be the greatest invention of all time, and it can add a lot of flavor to a campaign world if you keep the secret of steel reserved to the dwarf alone. The strongest metal that humans can produce is Iron, which of course makes steel weapons all the more desirable.


The dwarf comes from Norse Mythology, which believes that Dwarves hold up each corner of the world. These creatures were more akin to monsters, and were dark creatures known for treachery and manipulation. The dwarf, while smaller then us, were capable of amazing feats of strength and great craftsmanship. Their work being superior to human and god in quality, and amazingly they can accomplish this in less time that it takes for us, or even the gods to accomplish the same task of a lower quality. This is their gift! Some myths also claimed that the dwarf was turned to stone if they were exposed to sunlight.

I’m not sure how their image changed when they were later added to fairy tales, the 7 dwarves of the Snow White story being the most famous examples of the dwarf in popular culture. Perhaps this is because of the surviving stories of Dwarves from the Norse, it is actually the gods which are taking advantage of the dwarves, not the other way around. They trick the dwarf with their cunning ability to lie, something that the dwarf really frowns upon.


The dwarf is not a magical creature, however humans typically believe that they are simply because the dwarf is, in many ways, technologically, more advanced then humans. They confuse science with magic, but the dwarf knows better.

A dwarven sword isn’t embedded with some mysterious magic, it is +1 because it is made of better materials, and sharpened by a master who is using techniques passed down by several hundreds of generations.


Dwarves have their own religion which is older then mankind’s; usually they actively engage in Ancestor worship, as it is their families and bloodlines which is most important to them. They achieve immortality through creating objects which will stand the test of time, and keeping an oral history of the exploits of their brave forefathers, seeking to become great heroes themselves.

The dwarf typically has no afterlife, they live through their children. Warriors may believe that they will be reincarnated, or share the Norse belief that upon the end of times, the brave warriors who died in battle will be released from the other-world to fight and smite their enemies, until that time they will sit with the great Dwarf God of War in his hall and exchange stories of glory and bravery unmatched by all races.


The dwarf is actually the first line of defense in defending the overworld, as it is they that engage in active war with the creatures of the under-dark. Many races forget this, and take it for granted, not realizing that if the dwarves were to fall then the war would be inherited to them, who are not as sturdy or as apt for dealing with the horrors which would infest their lands in mass groves.

It is the dwarf that invented the arts of mining, the art of creating weapons, the art of constructing armor. It is they that first unlocked the mysteries of metal and gems. Trade with the dwarf is more necessary for humans and elves, then it is for the dwarf. Trade is only profitable to dwarves for the money and good-will that it brings to the race. The dwarf desires to live peacefully with the other races, however gets disgruntled by the rudeness and misunderstanding that they get from the others.

Dwarf’s are proud people, who take pride in their work and don’t understand why others are not the same way. They do not share the same sense of humor as the other races, they never think that somebody’s failings are humorous and they resent when others laugh at their own follies or underestimate them because of their size. Dwarves are great craftsmen, and awesome fighters whose bravery is unmatched by any race. For this reason others don’t seem to understand them. A dwarf won’t lash out when made fun of, but will silently grumble about the lack of respect that these silly sub-dwarves have for them.

The biggest thing that the dwarf needs the other races for is food. Dwarves have developed a taste for domesticated meats, and surface grains which are flavorful and tender. They have entered this field to some extent. They don’t farm grains, as typically the ore they seek is not located near any usable farmland, but they do barter for domesticated animals which they have learned to raise, but this is a rather recent occurrence for them (within the last 2,000 years, which to a dwarven mind is a new science.) Dwarves who move to the city or village are not just selling their wares, but buying grains and animals to be shipped back home. All dwarves believe that living among the other races is a temporary situation, and are simply doing such because it is profitable for the rest of the family.


Because of their long life-spans (roughly 350 years), breeding is, and always has been a problem for them. The males greatly outnumber the females, thus most male dwarfs know that they will never have the opportunity to breed or find romance. By nature, they are not a romantic race, marriages are always arranged and the suitor is judged by how much money he has earned or the fame that he has generated by being heroic.

One of the greatest problems for the dwarf is that since they breed so slowly, their wars can last forever. An enemy who was defeated can run and hide and replace their numbers quickly and return to fight again. This fact is one of the biggest factors of how a dwarf sees the world around him. He can fight the great grandson of a creature that he had killed recently, he doesn’t see this as the great grandson, but as the original Goblin horde which has come back for another lesson.

A dwarf who makes a deal expects this deal to remain permanent. A human’s son and grandson is expected to honor the deal as well, when this doesn’t happen, or if a favor done hundreds of years ago is not returned then the dwarf feels slighted. This leads to misunderstandings, and honor, being so important to the dwarf, can easily cause a grudge. It is for this reason that dwarves choose to limit their dealings with the other races.

Others get angry with the dwarf because of their ways. The dwarf never haggles, a price is set by a dwarven guild and that is that. A sword that is sold for 50gp in the city, will be sold for 50gp in the country as well, and it doesn’t matter if you buy a hundred of them, or just one, the price is still 50gp per sword and that is that. This refusing to budge on the price, and ignoring the city guilds has often led to harsh feelings and even wars. Humans expect to make a profit off of everything, but they won’t be making one from the sweat of the dwarf!

One of the greatest enemies of the dwarf is the dragon. The dwarf stockpiles treasure, and it is this (plus the fact that dwarves are made of meat) which attracts the Dragon, who can push the dwarf out of their lairs and take them over themselves and there is very little that a dwarf can do to stop it. Then some humans move in, they slay the dragon and think that the treasure is theirs for the taking! Even if the Dragon has been living there for 10,000 years, the Dwarves know that that treasure is by blood rights, theirs! This, of course, is another source of conflict among the races.


Like humans, there are different races of Dwarves. These races are broken down by different languages, cultures, beliefs, and regions. Some get along with each other, but believe that it is they that are superior to the other; while others do not, and may in fact be embraced in war.

Many of the different races live on different levels. The deeper a dwarf lives, the more dwarven he believes himself to be, and the more he dislikes and distrusts outsiders of any race, including his own. On the other extreme, there are dwarves who have lived on the surface for so long that they have forgotten the old ways, some are merchants who have developed a taste for surface life and have developed a fear of the underdark, while others who have been abandoned or ostracized by their people have become castoffs and exist in racial ghettos which exist in many large cities.


Finally, we come to Law and Order within dwarven society. Most crimes do not exist in this society. When the family name means something, you protect it. The greatest sin that a dwarf can commit is a breach of honor. Stealing from dwarves in the form of overcharging for shoddy merchandise, crafting poor quality items, or breaking an oath are considered high crimes. Dwarven Jails do not exist except when at war, in which case the losers are typically imprisoned in labor camps until they all die out or find some way to reform. Oath breakers and poor craftsmen or bad businessmen are instead ostracized from the rest of the dwarves. This punishment may or may not be permanent, but it can take many years or even generations for even the most honest slight to be forgiven.

Laws are typically governed by guilds. Each craft is controlled by elders who form the guild directors. These men, and in some cases, women, are wealthy and typically have very noble ancestry. They are themselves ruled by ruling families, usually decedents of great dwarves who have become gods. The ruling family entrusts their world affairs to diplomats while they themselves focus on running the strongholds and overseeing the guilds.

In the case of a royal family dying out, typically a priesthood will take over and perform the same function in the ancestor’s name. Of course the greatest change which will take place once a church takes over, is the eradication of other temples. This typically leads to a long civil war within the communities which never really sees an end until an old enemy returns to force the civil war to end or take the city.


Dwarves need their own legends, their own gods, and their own ways of life. I hope that this article has gotten you to rethink the dwarf, they are more then just short humans who can muli-class and see in the dark, they should have a unique way of seeing the world, and as different from humans as possible.

Other examples of differing philosophies is their calendar. Ours is based on the planets and daylight, while dwarves do not observe such things. How do they measure time? Perhaps they observe the rise and fall of the water in a special chamber designed especially for this purpose?

They would also see many things that we use as utterly pointless because it is just as short-lived as we are, such as paper. The dwarf writes nothing down on paper, it is to much of a hassle, stone is the only reliable thing, and is only used if something worthwhile is there to actually spend time writing about, such as the deeds of a great hero etched in the stone around his tomb.

Their writing itself would probably be in runes, subtle changes in the runes themselves would give it a different meaning and would never change. Tradition is too important to a dwarf to actually lose their language or allow some fad to replace it. Dwarves would have thousands of words to describe different shades of gray, as they describe something which only the dwarf can see, as he works in stone, while bright colors which one finds on the surface would seem offensive to the dwarf.

This is a secret world which is on the same planet as the humans, but an alien one as well. This is the fun of playing a dwarf, and it should overshadow the fact that you can get an attack bonus when fighting a hated enemy.

Art by: Genzoman click to see his gallery.


kaeosdad said...

Terrific write up! I wish I could come across this sort of article more often.

Rick said...

Great artcile, Ripper. Congratulations. As a DM, I tend to see dwarves in the same light.

However, what really bothers me, more than the "short human" type is the "loose cannon dwarf" stereotype: you know, the rude, name-swearing, drunkard and berserking type of dwarf.

Anyway, keep up the good work.


Tim Jensen said...

You wrote: "I suppose that bonus hunters are a pet peeve of mine. It irks me when people choose proficiencies that grant bonuses over things that their character may be more interested in, and sadly, there really isn’t anything that we can do about this behavior!"

Are your players being rewarded more for using their interesting proficiencies, or the ones that give them the most system effectiveness? If you're the one handing out XP, then I submit there is quite a bit you can do about it.

Ripper X said...

Thanks for the feedback guys! It's always rewarding to hear from others.

Rick:Some players just play in stereotypes. If this is how they have fun, then more power to them!

Some of the best players keep playing the same characters over and over. They enjoy the hack & Slash aspect of the game, but they also find stuff like exploring your world, puzzle solving, or map making to be fun, they just suck at the roleplaying part because they can't do it.

Tim: I reward prof experience only for creative usage of it. Things that have instant rewards are reward enough in my book. However, I probably will reward the Gunfighter for winning duels of speed, because I place these situations into the game especially for him.

Noumenon said...

The dwarf writes nothing down on paper, it is to much of a hassle, stone is the only reliable thing

A corollary to this would be, don't try stealing the dwarven wizard's spellbook! Maybe that's why there are few dwarf wizards.

Ripper X said...

Hey Noumenon!

This does bring up some problems, but they are easily solved. Firstly, the Dwarf cannot ever be wizards.

That kind of magic just doesn't agree with them, they even have to fail a saving throw vs. spell to gain the benefits of positive wizardry, such as waterbreathing and featherfalling it could be because they were carved out of the earth itself, and have a relationship with metals that we humans simply can't understand.

A Dwarf can become a priest, and he can create his own scrolls, but I doubt that they would be made of paper, or at least paper made from wood pulp. Dwarven paper could be constructed out of specific mosses and subterranean plants, or, for lower spell-levels, the dwarves use magic runes, which utilizes words of power, this could be carved into thinly cut slate and placed in a protective bag.

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