The bravest and most stalwart of the races of Annwn (as any dwarf would be sure to tell you), the dwarves make up one of the two core pillars of the ancient goodly races, alongside the venerable elves. Though suspicious and avaricious, their courage and tenacity more than make up for these shortcomings.
Short and stocky, dwarves are easily identified by their size and shape. The average dwarven male stands 4 to 4 ½ feet tall and weighs between 150 and 170 pounds. Female dwarves are, on average, one to two inches shorter and approximately 20 pounds lighter than their male comrades. Both sexes have ruddy cheeks, dark eyes, and dark hair. All males have thick, dark beards, fading to grey or white with age. Contrary to human folklore, female dwarves do not have beards, but instead a soft, downy coating of hair that is only visible upon close inspection. An average dwarven lifespan is approximately 350 years.
The dwarven language is deep, guttural, and utilitarian, with no concept of changing meaning via tone or inflection, as evident in other languages. Synonyms are generally absent in the dwarven language – as any dwarf would tell you, there is no need for the word ‘large’ when you already have the word ‘big’. The language does; however, have seemingly infinite terms to describe gradations in state – there are, for example, 24 different terms to describe exactly how lustrous gold can be.
Dwarven clothing tends to be heavy, somber in color, and serviceable. Made from thick wool or spun strands of fungi, it is designed to keep the wearer warm in the unheated places of their strongholds. Boots, belts, and hats are usually made by of tanned leather from the hides of cattle or giant lizards. To the human eye, colors are uniformly drab, with grays and browns most common. To a dwarf, with over 500 words to describe different rock hues, particular shades of gray and brown reveal much about the clan and status of the wearer.
Dwarves tend to be dour and taciturn. They are given to hard work and care little for most humour. They enjoy beer, ale, mead, and even stronger drink (but care little for wine). Their chief love; however, is precious metal, particularly gold. They also highly value all gems, with the notable exception of pearls (referred to by dwarves as “fish tumours”). Strong, brave, and focussed, it is natural for dwarves to excel in fighting, warcraft, and scientific arts such as engineering. Never overly fond of elves, and with a fierce hatred of orcs and goblins, dwarves have historically taught all three races a healthy respect for a dwarf on the warpath.
Worship of the Stoneborn, the dwarven pantheon of gods, is the central pillar of society for most dwarves, and priests are common in all dwarven communities. Although dwarves are deeply in touch with the natural world around them, nature is always viewed through the lens of what it can provide for the community, rather than as something valuable in its own right. As such, there is no tradition of druids within the dwarven races. Dwarves are uniformly ill-disposed towards, and distrustful of, arcane magic, and as such dwarven mages and sorcerers are also unknown (with the notable exception of the derro subrace).
All dwarves have an innate connection to earth and stone, but an inherent aversion to the sea. Their short, stocky builds make them ill-suited for riding horses or other large mounts, (although ponies and war rams present no difficulty), so they tend to be a trifle dubious and wary of these creatures. Collectively, these factors limit the range of their travels, and it is a rare dwarf indeed that has ventured far from the mountains of central Moravia. Although naturally isolationist, dwarves are decidedly pragmatic when it comes to trade, and most communities have at least some ties to their neighbours. In reality, it is the ‘reclusive’ dwarves which have interacted most directly with humankind throughout Annwn’s history.
Dwarven society is based around the core concepts of loyalty to family, clan, and gods. Families are called hearths, a term which means “the place where children are born and raised.” The hearth is the basic unit of dwarf society. A clan may be composed of two to a hundred or more hearths, depending on its strength.
A hearth includes grandfather and grandmother, their children, and any offspring of their children. Family members share the same dwelling and are extremely close-knit. Unlike human or elf families, the dwarven hearth is not an insular unit, but part of a larger clan. Hearths within a clan are united by blood, and this links the clan together, making it more than just a collection of individual families. A hearth has a single line of descent. Cousins, aunts, and uncles are not part of the hearth but, as members of the clan, are close to the family.
Dwarves are not romantics. The vast majority of marriages are arranged by clan elders. Their main concern is to secure the continuation of the clan by ensuring that children are properly raised. They select suitable males from eligible candidates and ensure that the family has a warm and secure place to live. Dwarf society is about one-third female. Dwarves are monogamous, and marriages are entered into for life. Divorce does not exist in dwarf society. Couples who have grown distant from one other will continue to share the hearth and the responsibilities of child rearing. Only death can end a marriage.
It is rare for a female dwarf to forgo marriage, though there are some so dedicated to their craft that they feel unable to take on the added responsibility of a family. Though this choice is officially respected, it is often quietly a contentious issue amongst clan members. It is expected that females who choose to have a family will take up their craft once more when their children are sufficiently grown. Thus, while most high-ranking members of a guild or military are male, it is not uncommon in these institutions for some females to also hold positions of authority. Within a clan, authority is vested based on age and wisdom, and females and males are therefore equally represented amongst clan elders.
Hill dwarves live in areas of rolling hills. Their strongholds are primarily located underground, though they frequently have outposts on the surface. A typical male hill dwarf stands 4 feet tall and weighs about 150 pounds. They are stocky and muscular, with skin a deep tan or light brown in color, ruddy cheeks, and bright eyes. Their hair is typically black, gray, or brown. They favour dark, somber, earth-toned clothes, and wear little jewelry.
Hill dwarves are the most common dwarves. They have adapted well to life above and below ground, and are the subrace most likely to interact with humans or other surface-dwellers. The alignment of hill dwarves is usually lawful good.
These dwarves live beneath the mountains. Their strongholds are usually isolated and they have little contact with other races. Mountain dwarves tend to like their privacy and actively discourage visitors to their strongholds.
A typical mountain dwarf is, on average, slightly larger than their hill cousins, with males being approximately 4’2” tall and 170 lbs heavy. Their hair is a lighter shade than their kin, and their skin is slightly more red in color. They also have markedly larger noses (although well short of those sported by gnomes).
Mountain dwarves claim that they are the first dwarves and all other dwarves are descended from them. They are somewhat wary of hill dwarves because of their closer dealings with humans, elves, and other races, but nonetheless get along well with these surface cousins. The majority are of lawful good alignment.
Deep dwarves live far beneath the surface of the earth, in Ungol Mord, mid level of the Underdark. It is unknown if they have always lived there, or if they went deep underground to escape a dreadful cataclysm, marauding monsters, or were driven downward by their kin (either the duergar or surface dwarves).
Deep dwarf males average 4’ to 4’2” tall and weigh about 130 to 150 pounds, noticeably leaner than their surface kin. Their skin varies from pale brown to light tan, and often carries a reddish tinge. Their eyes are large, but without the sheen of the surface dwarves; in color, a washed-out blue. Hair color ranges from flame red to straw blond.
Deep dwarves honour the Stoneborne; however the clergy forms a far less integral part of their society and day-to-day life than that of their surface kin. Mining is the primary focus of deep dwarven clans, with even smithing and jewelry making considered secondary professions. Mines are sometimes the source of pride to whole communities, with entire clans devoted to working them.
Deep dwarves have little or no contact with the surface. It is too far for them to travel to the world above. Kingdoms are often on friendly relations with hill or mountain dwarf communities above, but actual contact is rare. Deep dwarves are just as conservative as hill or mountain dwarves, and consider themselves to be the sole repositories of dwarven culture. Many view the surface subraces as tainted by the influence of humans.
Out of necessity, deep dwarves frequently trade and form military alliances with the more proximate duergar, but hold a healthy suspicion for their grey-skinned kin. Deep dwarves are in a perpetual state of open warfare with both the drow and illithids, their two most bitter enemies. The majority of deep dwarves are lawful neutral in alignment.
It is said that there was a time in history when the surface dwarves and duergar were one race, but that a cataclysmic battle separated them forever – according to their surface cousins, the victorious dwarves drove the duergar underground, while according to the duergar the defeated dwarves were exiled to the surface. Little is known about this legend, but it is true that the duergar, also known as grey dwarves, live well-hidden in the darkness of Ungol Rren, upper-most level of the Underdark, revelling in evil deeds and despising their cousins living on the surface.
Duergars are taller than most dwarves, with males averaging 4’4” to 4’6” in height, and weighing 180 – 200 pounds. Their build is gaunt for a dwarf, even more so than the deep dwarves. However, this appearance is not an indication of weakness, despite the wasted look of a grey dwarf’s muscles and flesh. Instead of muscular bulk, the duergar have developed strong, thick bones and extremely resilient tendons. This gives them the same strength as other dwarven races while seeming frail and thin.
Duergar are unique from other dwarven sub-races not only in build, but also appearance. Both male and female duergar are bald, though males retain the capacity for facial hair, always pale grey to white in colour. Skin colour is a palid grey, with dull black eyes. It is not unheard of for some duergar to interbreed with fiends; the offspring of these unions often sport quills or other spines where a normal dwarf might have hair or a beard. Duergar are physiologically incapable of smiling, and do not laugh.
Duergar physiology grants the grey dwarves several abilities, and one weakness, unique to the subrace. Duergar are immune to illusions, phantasms, and magical poisons. They also possess the supernatural abilities to disappear from site, or make illusionary duplicates of themselves. They are severely afflicted by sunlight, becoming significantly weakened in its presence. Despite these magical abilities, the duergar, like other dwarven sub-races, do not hold with the study or use of arcane magic.
Most grey dwarves dress in drab clothing that matches the colour of stone. Valuing the elements of stealth and trickery more than their kin, most duergar warriors are lightly armoured, preferring leather or light mail over bulky plate.
The grey dwarves do not worship the Stoneborne as do other dwarves, having turned from the path of the Eight to that of Laduguer, Lord of Toil, long ago. His grim doctrine, espousing work and sacrifice without mercy or rest, is all-pervasive in duergar society. Priests serve him directly, but all grey dwarves are expected to live as he bids. From infancy, the word of their god dictates how duergar work, eat, speak, and dress. The Lord of Toil, through the guidance and enforcement of his clergy, shapes every aspect of his chosen race’s existence. From their first cries at birth to their final rest in the burial cairns of their clan, a duergar takes each step as their greedy, insatiable Lord demands.
Once a century, every duergar must submit themselves to The Judgment, wherein their toils are weighed and measured by Laduguer. Those whose efforts and achievements are deemed inadequate by the Merciless One are crushed in his stoney fist. A small few, certain of failure, flee before The Judgement, living as outcasts within the Underdark. These pariahs are slain without mercy when discovered by other duergar, lest they themselves fall afoul of their unforgiving deity.
Duergar society is a grim and joyless place. While all dwarves are gruff and hard-working to a degree, the grey dwarves take this to an extreme. There is no concept of music in grey dwarf society, save the tuneless beat of the war drum. Stories serve only to drill the tenets of Laduguer into the duergars’ heads, and dancing and song is unheard of. Stoic, cruel, and single-minded in nature, grey dwarves have only two desires – to fulfill the will of their harsh deity, and to advance their own position at the cost of their peers. Though joyless, they retain the avariciousness of their cousins, driven by a lust for both wealth and power. Duergar feel greed towards everything they see, from the caverns that surround them to the creatures they encounter and enslave. Anything a duergar comes into contact with is a potential possession waiting to be claimed and taken.
Duergar are masters of treachery and deceit, and are engaged in an everlasting struggle with the other races of both the Underdark and the near-surface in their search for dominance over those realms. The duergar number surface dwarves and the drow chief amongst their foes, but are on hostile terms with virtually all Underdark races, save the deep dwarves. Most duergar are lawful evil in alignment; those who are not are quickly purged.
Though in truth a degenerate sub-race of dwarvenkind, rare is the dwarf who counts the mad, murderous derro as distant kin. Long ago, during the dark ages that followed the Godswar, the derro were deep dwarves like any other, until their kingdom fell to the monstrous illithids of Nyartho-ibha. With the dwarven pantheon empty, there were no gods to hear the captives’ pleas for succour, and countless generations of the enslaved warriors were subjected to the magical experimentations and controlled breeding programs of their mind flayer captors. The end result was a dwarf unlike any other: sadistic, magic-imbued, and completely unhinged.
Unfortunately for their illithid captors, the experimentation produced an unexpected side-effect in their stock– for as the derro madness grew, so too did their resistance to the mind-flayers’ mental assaults. Proving as clever and stealthy as they were murderously insane, it was not long before the enslaved derro turned on their former masters, slaughtering them wholesale and claiming the kingdom for themselves. To this day, Nyartho-ibha remains the only permanent kingdom of the derro, though they have spread far and wide throughout the Underdark in small, disorganised bands.
The average male derro is 4’ tall and weighs 110 to 130 pounds, noticeably leaner than the other dwarven subraces. Their rough skin is a pallid white with bluish undertones, spotted with short tufts of coarse hair. Their hair is straight and shock white; males sport bushy mustaches but are rarely capable of growing beards. Derro eyes are both unique and disturbing, being a uniform white with neither iris nor pupil.
Like the duergar, derro have several abilities unique to their subrace. A derro’s state of insanity makes them immune to most mind-effecting spells, while all have the ability to cloud the minds of their opponents, and create magical darkness, phantom sounds, and bursts of piercing magical noise. Like the duergar, derro are severely weakened by exposure to sunlight.
Most derro wear a loose costume woven from the hair of underground creatures and dyed in deep reds and browns. Tending towards stealth and assassination, derro shun heavy armour, preferring leathers made from the hides of underdark beast, frequently studded in copper or brass. Many derro prefer weapons designed to cripple opponents over killing them. However, the unpredictable and individualistic nature of the derro make any attempt to generalise appearance difficult at best.
Unique amongst the dwarven subraces, derro are decidedly misogynistic, with women treated as second class members of the community, tasked solely with domestic affairs and child-rearing. Nonetheless, derro females remain as murderously violent and unhinged as their male counterparts.
Derro do not worship any deities, perhaps a holdover from when the gods abandoned their race in its time of need. They are; however, the only dwarves capable of mastering arcane magic, and most derro enclaves are ruled by powerful sorcerers known as savants.
The derro are a strange and sadistic race. It is very common for a derro to devote his or her self to some strange quest, such as collecting only certain types of gemstones for a magical device or slaying as many members of a particular race as possible. No two derro are the same, though the race as a whole has made a name for itself by its marked cruelty. It is said that a derro lives for two things: the enslavement and slow, humiliating death of other humanoids, and the perversion of knowledge for their own dark ends. All derro are chaotic evil in alignment.