“Beefsteaks and porter are good belly mortar.”
An Old Dwarven Proverb
Dwarves are a short, stocky, barrel-chested humanoid race. The average dwarf stands between 1.25 meters tall. Yet, the dwarves are so broad and solidly built that they often outweigh humans. Dwarves are considered to be mature at 40 years old and live to be about 200-250 years old.
The powerfully built dwarves have thick arms and legs and virtually no necks. Male dwarves sport long thick well-kept beards which they groom and decorate endlessly. They have thick, rough skin and rock hard bones. In addition, dwarves have dense muscles and are remarkably strong for their size. These attributes have led to fanciful stories that dwarves are born from the very rock in which they live. Some believe that dwarves and grum are related, but dwarves are a bit taller and much tougher. Almost all dwarves have wiry hair which comes in a variety of shades, brown being the most common. Eye color is usually brown or grey, with rare individuals having blue or green. Female dwarves do not have beards, but they are almost as stocky and angular as the males.
Dwarves have thermal vision and can see heat sources (warm blooded creatures, etc.) in absolute darkness. This infravision allows them to navigate caves in absolute darkness by seeing minor temperature variations in air, stone, sand and vegetation.
Dwarves can consciously alter their body temperature, with some effort, which allows them to become invisible to thermal version (by mimicking the temperature of their surroundings).
A dwarven miner (taking ale to the other miners, and draining a few mugs himself).
Dwarves are fierce warriors fighting with a grim determination few would care to face. They are quiet when in the presence of other races and will only speak when they have something of importance to say. Dwarves rarely make idle conversation. Dwarves tend to be quiet, stoic, businesslike and gruff. They rarely laugh in mixed company. Their dour nature is evident in some of their common sayings. A well known one is "Coincidence is the harbinger of dark tidings”.
Dwarves take themselves very seriously. An insult can not be ignored. It must be answered. Dwarves hold a grudge forever. With almost mathematical precision, wrongs and grievances are mentally catalogued and remembered until such time as they can be redressed.
Dwarves likewise detest jests at their expense. More broadly, they dislike frivolity. It serves no purpose. A dwarf is happiest when being productive, when getting things done, when accomplishing something.
Dwarves are very hard workers who throw themselves into their work. For dwarves, labor is enjoyable. The harder the work, the more they like it. No dwarf would ever shirk responsibility or allow others to carry his load. It's a matter of pride.
Dwarves are one of the oldest races of Khoras. Dwarves believe deeply in serious personal relations. For them, it is important to always follow certain rules of conduct. Etiquette and honor above all else, respect to elders and courtesy to women. Dwarves practice restraint and discipline, especially in social situations dealing with other races. Dwarf society is well ordered, heavy with rules and slightly oppressive. It is a tradition among the dwarves that they do not show weakness of emotion. This is especially true for the men and most male dwarves will not cry, no matter what the circumstances.
Among their own kind, dwarves are a high spirited cheerful people. When not working, they enjoy drinking, dancing, singing and storytelling. Few have seen this side of dwarf culture. Those that have, tell of celebrations and stories told after dinner in the fire light.
Dwarves are very competitive and love to test themselves against others in contests of strength, drinking, craftsmanship and wit. Most dwarves enjoy gambling as well.
Dwarves love stability and permanence. Like the stone and metal that surrounds them in their underground home, they believe life should be as stable. They believe that they can carve and craft a perfect, harmonious, strong and unchanging society by building it with strong, unchanging laws.
Dwarves DO have a sense of humor. It tends to be a dark sense of humor aimed at the failings of the weak and the lazy. Dwarves also delight in their wealth. They enjoy hoarding wealth, but also enjoy displaying and flaunting it. Every crafted item is, not only made well, but crafted to be pleasing to the eye. Dwarven jewelry, in particular, is breathtaking to behold.
The chief deity of the dwarves is Uxamar, the Deep Father, the Living Stone. Dwarf legends and myths are many. Most deal with honor, glory and war. Some dwarven myths speak of a great war on the surface of the world and tell of how the dwarves of long ago fled the battle fields of the surface and sought refuge and solace in the ground.
The greatest dwarven hero of all time is a mythical figure named Mirodin. Mirodin is called the "father of the dwarven race". He is said to have led the dwarves to the underworld and taught them to forge a home from the great caverns below and to survive in the great dark of the underworld. Mirodin is credited with crafting the Throne of Mirodin atop Mount Harrokune. He is also said to have created the dwarven clans and led the Hammerfists, greatest of all clans.
Few know how much of this is true. But it is widely known that it is dangerous to insult Mirodin in the presence of a dwarf.
Dwarven wizards are quite rare. Dwarves find the force of magic unpredictable and dangerous. Their organized and rigid lifestyles reflect their organized and rigid minds. The flow of magic is too chaotic and fluid for most dwarves to grasp. There are a rare few among the dwarvenkind who are able to learn and use magic. Typically less than 1 in 75 dwarves has the necessary mental traits to study magic. This is considerably less than the human norm of 1 in 50. Only about 1 in 5,500 dwarves will actually pursue magical study and only 1 in 400,000 will become a true wizard (compared to the numan norm of 1 in 125,000). These individuals hold a special place in dwarven society. They are seen as touched and are given a great deal of respect mixed with a small amount of pity at having been given such a burden as magic.
While many other races and cultures use orichalcum in their magical research and spell casting, the dwarves do not. Dwarves are highly sensitive to the mineral and exhibit allergy like reactions. Breathing the dust of raw orichalcum or handling the mineral causes breathing problems and severe skin rashes respectively. For these reasons, the dwarves do not mine orichalcum. Some underworld organizations have even been known to use potent and concentrated orichalcum powder as a form of dwarf specific poison, although such a poison would be expensive and difficult to make.
Dwarves have lived and still do live almost entirely underground. Most dwarves hail from one of three realms - Urmordia, Ulkran and Uthran. However, large groups of dwarves can also be found in the Drakkellian Alliance, Arkalia, Normidia, Kalimura and Vorrik. Several smaller independent dwarven fortified towns exist in the mountains of Ithria.
In the underworld, where most dwarves live, terrain varies wildly and weather is non existent underground. The most plentiful resources are stone, metal, minerals, gems and water. Fauna and flora are scarce which makes hunting, agriculture and animal husbandry difficult, but not impossible. Because they are subterranean, dwarves do not suffer any boundary conflicts with any other greater race. They do, however, have to contend with other subterranean races (i.e. the skrell, the sarthak and the occasional dythillin).
The dwarven people tend to live their lives away from the other races inhabiting distant mountain ranges. There are three main dwarf nations.
Urmordia is a mammoth underground city-state. This huge complex is a cavern system of many levels, huge rooms and multiples connections to the surface. It is known for its many ancestral halls and council chambers. Urmordia is the oldest and is the origin of all dwarf history. It was built during the Great War and later abandoned near the end of the Age of Chaos for reasons unknown (to most other races).
Ulkran is, by far, the largest underground cavern complex in existence, nearly twice the size of Urmordia. It spans dozens of kilometers underground and is reported to be more than a hundred levels deep. Ulkran is more recent, being built during the Age of Sorrow, after Urmordia was abandoned.
Uthran is a much younger nation (founded during the beginning of the Age of Rebirth) and is a cultural fusion of dwarf and human. Many of the cities have small underground complexes beneath them. Many of these separate complexes interconnect into a network which spans the nation. The largest such complex is underneath the Forge.
In addition to these three main nations, there are several smaller independent dwarven strongholds scattered throughout the mountains of Ithria. Typically these strongholds will be less than 10,000 dwarves, little more than an independent dwarven town, but usually inhabiting a single city-fortress. The largest of these independent dwarven strongholds is Irondale, located in the Northern Tusks.
Finally, there are those dwarves who choose to live in the major cities of the world, intermingling with other races freely. Some are outcasts, others do so by choice.
There are no true subraces within the dwarven race. Although different clans vary in hair color, eye color, stature and other genetic charasteristics, there is still only one dwarven race.
Dwargrums - There is a dwarf-grum hybrid known as the "dwargrum" which occurs with some frequency. Any time dwarven and grumman cultures have contact, there will inevitably be a few dwargrums born. Dwargrums are stockier and more muscled than grum, but more creative and socially outgoing than dwarves. They are usually welcomed in both communities.
The dwarven language has its origins in the old Irenni tongue. It also shares some basic grammatical structure with the modern Northern language. Dwarven consists of prolonged vowel sounds, rolling rs and clipped consonants.
Dwarven writing is often stamped into metal sheets which are bound into huge, heavy books. This is normally done for any document of "importance". Histories, genealogies, legal documents, family recipes, architectural or engineering schematics and the like are metal stamped. Parchment and vellum are used for things of a more transitory nature - personal letters and the like.
Dwarven art makes use of the plentiful resources that their subterranean world supplies. The most common dwarven art form is stone carving. Such sculpting of rock may take many different forms : statues and statuettes, glyph stones, simple tablets, large structures and bas relief may all be found in dwarven society. Dwarven art tends to blend with craftsmanship. Every wall, door, bridge and tunnel is, in its own way, a work of art. Dwarven craftsmen take great pride in their work and tend to decorate everything elaborately. Such decoration is usually complex, maze-like geometric designs, similar to Celtic art. Often bridges, towers and the like will have dwarven runes upon them declaring the name of the structure, the name of the builder, the date it was constructed and other pertinent information. Tombs will have even more such writing with lengthy histories of the deceased and the deeds of his life.
Another common dwarven art form is sand drawing. Using colored sands, dwarven artists will cover a flat rock or a cavern floor with a thin coating of sand. Sand drawings also exhibit the highly complex geometric patterns that are found in other dwarven artwork and craft. Such designs are often punctuated by smooth round rocks, piles of colored sand or small mounds of painted pebbles. Because there is no wind and little air movement underground, such sand drawings can be kept intact for a very long time.
The Life Halls are the most magnificent achievement of dwarven art. A life hall is a large caverns in which nature is allowed to flourish. Such caverns have thick and abundant plant life, carefully arranged to take advantage of natural coloring. Life Halls usually have atleast one waterfall and several brooks. Animal life is often brought to these caverns to add to the environment. While most life halls are located in Urmordia, which has thirty eight, the dwarves of Ulkran began working on several Life Halls there during the Age of Legends.
One final form of dwarven art is unique to the race which dwells beneath the land. Generational art is any art which utilizes mineral buildup in caverns. Such art usually involves tying silken strands between stalactites and stalagmites in patterns. As the mineral rich water runs down the silken strands, it deposits the minerals along the length of the fiber. Dwarves will often gather water from nearby stalactites and deposit them on the strands themselves. The minerals buildup and solidify just as they do to form so many of the beautiful naturally occurring mineral formations found in caves. This process takes many thousands of years, of course. So, work on these projects is passed from father to son and so on for countless generations. Even the oldest works of generational art have only a paper thin, crystal clear film of hardened mineral on the strands. But these works are said to be very beautiful for those who have seen them.
Although most surface races don't get to see much of it, dwarves love to sing and have many boisterous drinking songs, mining chants, long operas and social sing-a-longs. The dwarves will even huge theatres in their underground cities with excellent acoustical properties.
One notable singing style which the dwarves have created is known as dwarven "ullu" chanting. This involves a group of dwarven males (usually four to eight) who will sing without musical accompaniment. Their voices will harmonize with each other, each singing a slight variation on a central theme. The differnet voices will weave about each other forming a complex tapestry of sound. Ullu singing involves much repetition, often repeating a single familiar pattern repeatedly with only minor variations. Most people find ullu songs mesmerizing and quite beautiful. Usually there is a lead singer who song tells a story, typically a fable.
The most popular musical instrument is the dwarven sack pipe (a large instrument of metal pipes and tubes with a leather wind bag attached). The sack pipe is worn on the body with a special harness. It takes a lot of lung power to play one of these correctly. The sack pipe produces several droning notes at once. Other smaller pipes and flutes are popular as well. Most other musical instruments are percussion based. Various types of drums, gongs, metal pipes are struck with wooden mallets.
They are a secluded race, and tend not to interact with outsiders (except for trade and adventure). Dwarves are a reclusive race, though not as xenophobic as the Baenites. Their cities are found only in mountains or hill country. They generally dislike any outsiders (especially anyone more than twice their height). They are usually very distrustful of anyone bigger than themselves. Dwarves are also known as the erda, the stonefolk and the tellurians (which is an ancient thullian word). Dwarves generally get along with grum a little better than most other races and have a grudging respect for humans. Dwarves have a mild dislike of elves and phellysians. They do not trust orcs and ogres. They find the avarians arrogant and difficult.
Dwarven dishes are centered around meat and potatoes. Dwarves love meat in all forms - hearty stews, thick steaks and roasted meat on the bone. Most dwarf dishes are variations and embellishments of those two basic foods. Their food is flavorful, but tends not to be overly spicy. Dwarves blend subterranean agriculture, surface agriculture, animal husbandry (herds of goats and cattle kept on high mountain fields) and hunting to fill the meat lockers and smoke houses. Besides meat and potatoes, dwarven meals often include fish from underground rivers, roots, tubers, mushrooms, bread and ale. Dwarves also harvest a giant species of stench root which is the basis of several dwarven dishes.
Food is stored in regular pantries and "cold pantries" (special underground chambers designed to take advantage of natural sources of cold such as underground rivers).
Dwarves often have a hearty breakfast before a hard day of labor. The most popular breakfast dish is dwarven oatmeal. Traditionally, this is a thick grey gruel that has bits of fried egg, crispy bacon, melted cheese, toasted bread and salted meat mixed in.
Underground agriculture is conducted with fields of subterranean vegetation (mosses, algae, fungi, roots and tubers) in huge caverns that are lighted through magical means. In some of the larger caverns that are well lit, the dwarves are able to grow just about any surface plant. Wheat, rye, barley and potatoes are most common.
Dwarves love ale and beer of all kinds and have created a number of different brews. Dwarven spirits are usually quite strong and flavorful compared to that made by humans. A unique drink is dwarven mud beer in which various grains are fermented in vats of silty mud. The silt and mud help separate gases and extract impurities during the fermentation process. It also lends a unique flavor to the beer. Many dwarves love mud beer since it quite literally "comes from the soil".
Dwarven society is highly technological and is greatly supported by technological crafts. Mining, blacksmithing, stone masonry and architecture are highly respected and greatly practiced in dwarf society. It has long been known that the dwarves produce the best natural metals and have the most advanced methods of forging those metals into weapons and armor. Dwarves are the forging masters of Khoras. Their skill at metalworking is unmatched and their jewelry is legendary. They support themselves by lending their skills and trading their wares with other races. Their stonework is equally magnificent.
Due to its abundance in the underground realms, dwarves burn coal in their hearths and forges instead of firewood.
Dwarven architecture tends to be linear and geometric in design. It has a heavy, block style with a great deal of repetition of design elements. Interlocking and interwoven geometric patterns are common.
The preferred weapon of the dwarves is the axe. Most dwarves use a heavy axe as their primary weapon, but may carry as many as five axes (including a handy chopping axe and two throwing axes). The heavy war axe is the official soldier's weapon for most dwarven regiments.
Most dwarven clothing is woolen (from cave oxen or mountain goats).
Dwarves keep a type of "cave oxen" which are used as beasts of burden. Cave oxen are a hearty short limbed and grey skinned variety of bovine with two short, very thick curved horns. Dwarves slaughter cave oxen for beef and leather.
The subterranean torchfish is a long, silvery 18 inch cave fish which is so oily that it can be used as a fuel source in lamps and wrapped around torches (from which the name is derived). Dwarves use torchfishes in their lanterns frequently and harvest oil from the torchfish.
Dwarves do most of their living, working (and hence traveling and communicating) underground. The most common mode of transportation is on foot, especially through natural caverns and small passageways. In larger hewn passageways, roads and bridges allow the use of all manner of carts and wagons. Some special areas have rails laid down upon which modified mining carts run. Gravity propels the carts downhill, dwarf muscle brings them back up.
There are a number of underground rivers, lakes and even seas in the vast underworld of Khoras. The dwarves squat, thick hulled vessels called durogars. These sturdy vessels have broad bellies, are typically two levels tall, are tiller steered and propelled by oars. Dwarven durogars can be seen, heavily laden with goods and cargoes, plying the deep cold rivers of the underworld traveling from one section of their massive city-states to the next.
Non-magical communication underground is accomplished via thunder channels. Thunder channels are long, straight tunnels (up to a kilometer) which channel sound. On either end is a large, polished parabolic stone structure which captures and focuses sound waves. A dwarf (usually a male with powerful lungs and good ears) stands at each end of the tunnel and speaks into the stone "dish". Sound is transmitted through the tunnel with little distortion.
Dwarves construct complex economic laws and use very sophisticated forms of currency. Ownership laws are quite detailed. Inheritance traditionally passes to the family and is subject to extensive legislation. Debt and credit exist, bound by both honor and law.
The dwarves have a culturally pure monetary system since they conducted virtually no trade with outside cultures until only a few hundred years ago. Since dwarves cling stubbornly to tradition, this system of currency has remained unchanged.
Raw iron forms the backbone of dwarven currency. A dwarf plucks his own wealth from the ground with his own hands. Purified iron is used as wealth based on weight. This follows the dwarven belief that hard work is rewarded and the lazy should go hungry.
Beyond mining iron from the ground as wealth, dwarves use large and decorative coins. The krona is a large copper coin with intricate etchings. It is the least valuable and most common coin. Forty krona equal one kegran. A kegran is a large silver coin with an embedded jewel. Usually a ruby or emerald. Seven kegran equal a mourin. A mourin is a highly decorative golden disk about seven inches in diameter. A mourin is etched with runes and simple images. It is almost always crusted with small gems. A mourin is more like a small work of art than a coin. Many dwarves specialize in the manufacture of these items. Others pay for them with raw iron.
While dwarven currency is prized in many nations for the materials and workmanship that go into them, the dwarves themselves care little for the money of other nations and usually melt such coins down for the metal.
Males and females are almost equal in dwarf society. Both are treated fairly by the people and laws. Males tend more toward business and war. Females tend more toward the family. However, even dwarf females are considered militant, shrewd, business minded and organized by most other races.
Dwarven marriages are monogamous relationships between a male and a female. They are binding until death. However, many of the older dwarves follow the older dwarf tradition. They believe that marriage is eternal and transcends even death. Hence, many dwarves will not remarry if their spouse dies.
Arranged marriages among the dwarves are common, though this varies a great deal depending on the clan.
The center of the dwarf household is the nuclear family - mother, father and children. Families are usually quite large, averaging four children. Sometimes a cousin or grandparent will live with a family. All dwarven families are a member of one of the dwarven clans. The dwarven clans are an important focus of dwarven life. There are hundreds of dwarven clans, each consisting of several hundred families.
Dwarven gestation is 15 months. Multiple births are slightly more common among dwarfs than humans. It is a joyous time as a new member enters the community. Births usually involve a small private ceremony with family and close friends.
Children are highly prized. Traditionally, fathers care for and raise male children and mothers raise the daughters. This causes a small, but acceptable gender rift in the society. Both sons and daughters are educated. Discipline is strict compared to other cultures, but fair. Dwarves reach maturity at about 40 years of age.
Dwarves bury their dead. It is only natural that dwarves wish to return to the ground after death. Dwarves belief that they and the land are eternally intertwined. Dwarves are formed of rock and upon death they return to the rock. Dwarves give little thought to the afterlife.
Dwarves have four names. The first name is their personal name, individual to the dwarf. The second is their family name. The third is their clan name. Each family is a member of a particular clan by tradition. The fourth indicates rank and position in dwarf society.
Social stratification is extremely rigid in dwarf society. From lowest to highest :
|Pyrtra||One who is shamed, dishonored or has committed a crime.|
|Hargos||A clansman and valued member of the community. Most dwarves are of this caste.|
|Korvak||Engineer, tinkerer, builder. These dwarves work metal and stone with tools. This also includes the artisans and craftsmen.|
|Thollis||Warrior, law enforcer, community defender. These dwarves are trained in combat and have many policing and security functions.|
|Qen||Priest, spiritual leader, philosopher.|
|Trimell||A worker of magic. One who studies life and life energy.|
|Symul||Political leaders, lawmakers, judges.|
Dwarven society is divided up into great clans. Both of the massive dwarven nations have hundreds of individual family clans, each of which may have hundreds or thousands of members. Clans compete for status, wealth and political positioning. Generally speaking, one dwarven clan will hold rulership of the dwarven city-state at one time. A dwarven king is expected to appoint other members of his clan to political positions.
Below are some of the largest and most wealthy clans:
Some dwarves are clanless and therefore, outcasts. Others are clanless by choice. Some dwarves are born to clanless parents. In any case, about 90% of all dwarves belong to one clan or another.
Usually, all dwarves living in an independent stronghold will be of one clan. For instance, the dwarves of Irondale are all of the Irondale clan.
Dwarven law is detailed, complex and severe. Laws restrict every facet of dwarf life. Enforcement and punishment is not emphasized as most dwarves see it as a matter of honor and etiquette to follow all rules and obey all laws. All laws are made and revised by the Symul. All laws are enforced by the Thollis.
Dwarven military strength is considerable. The largest dwarven armies are in Urmordia and Ulkran, both of which have many thousands of Thollis soldiers. These battle hardened warriors are always ready and well equipped. The military is organized into groups of twenty.
Dwarven Silent Speech is a gestural language that was developed by the dwarven military of Mordia during the War of Caverns. A silent means of visual communication was needed and this hand language was created. Over the centuries it has developed and, although it is not quite a full language, most ideas can be conveyed. In the last 100 years, dwarven thieves and thieving guilds have begun to use a variant of silent speech.
Urmordia celebrates the Reclamation Festival, an annual festival in honor of the recapture of the city, the Ceremony of Tears, a symbolic reenactment of the War of Caverns and a time of mourning and remembrance and the Festival of Light which celebrates dwarven engineering and ingenuity.
This website was last updated October 5, 2021. Copyright 1990-2021 David M. Roomes.