What It Means To Be A Dwarf
“It is common knowledge that dwarves are the greatest race ever created by the gods. We are far superior to the prancing elves, smelly goblins, filthy orcs, and misshapen humans. We are perfectly shaped, solid and strong, like the stones that form our dwellings. Our skins are the color of the earth, our hair and beards are of the finest hue and texture imaginable. But dwarves are more than just an attractive race.
Patient, diligent, and steadfast, we do not waver, even in the face of great adversity. Though we could choose to live on the surface if we wanted to, we leave its chaos for the humans and the elves. Our world is below ground, amongst the stones. Unlike the weak surface races, our eyes can pierce its darkness; our wits can navigate its dangers; our skills can reap its treasures.
Our craftsmen have created the finest cities and buildings in the world. Our bridges and high vaulted chambers are wonders to behold, with a strength and permanence of form that other races have never duplicated. We have no fear of magic. We shake off its effects as easily as we slay the goblins that lurk in the dark. We are impervious to poisons that would kill lesser races. Such is our vigor that even the strongest of curses fail to possess us, for our inherent vitality is invincible.
We dwarves are also great warriors, well disciplined, and organized into armies that strike fear into evil monsters everywhere. Our combat skills against the lesser races are beyond question. It is a particularly stupid goblin, pig-faced orc, or brainless hobgoblin who does not quake with fear at the sound of dwarven boots. Our axes have drunk deeply of the blood of such creatures; our hammers have smashed thousands of their skulls. We will continue until there are none left to kill. That is not an idle boast – it is an oath.
Yet we are a peaceful people. We do not seek war, nor do we steal from others. Those are the actions of other, less honorable races. We see to our own and those who attempt to steal that which is ours will die. That is the way of the dwarf. If you do not wish to feel our wrath, leave us alone.”
Bador Stonesong, Skald of Clan Dumadan
The Nine Core Dwarven Characteristics
What makes a dwarf a dwarf? Every dwarf is as individual and as unique as any human, yet all dwarves share personality characteristics that are essentially ‘dwarven’, setting them apart from their human comrades. Think about your character’s personality – what traits do they exhibit that marks them as a dwarf, rather than a human? Have you embraced your inner dwarvishness?
Most dwarves express almost all of the following traits to one degree or another, and if your character differs significantly in one of these traits, there should be a role-playing reason why they do so. Consider your character again – if their outlook doesn’t align with at least half of these characteristics, question whether you’re truly role-playing a dwarf, or just a short human with a beard and an axe?
Distrustful of Magic
Just as the dwarven physiology inherently resists the effects of magic, so to the dwarven mind resists accepting its use. Dwarves neither understand nor appreciate the arcane arts, and arcana has no place in dwarven culture. An unknown quantity, dwarves deeply mistrust it and its practitioners, suspecting that even the kindliest of its users will be tainted by its use with time. Even when forced to accept the efficacy of arcane magic for adventuring purposes, a dwarf will never overcome their suspicion of its corrupting influence, and will avoid being the target of even ‘beneficial’ magic as much as possible.
It should be noted that this suspicion does not extend to divine magic – a gift from the gods, dwarves well understand its nature and approve of the priests that use it.
Dwarves value order and stability in all things, and this extends to the physical world around them. They have an instinctive love of earth and rock, which represent structure and permanence. The surface world is far less predictable – seasons change and storms rise unexpectedly. Dwarves are naturally suspicious of forests – few natural landscapes are more fluid and changeable, and even structures built from trees decay and rot in a short period of time (by dwarven timescales).
All dwarves suffer from thalassophobia – an intense fear of any surface water body large enough to have waves. Ever-changeable and prone to treacherous storms, they are unpredictable and unstable, the antithesis to all that is dwarven. It would require the direst of needs before a dwarf would ever consider sailing on a water body so large that land could no longer be seen.
The dwarven concept of wealth differs significantly from both men and elves. Unlike humans, dwarves are attracted to objects for their intrinsic beauty, rather than commercial value. However, unlike elves, dwarves have an inherent desire to possess such objects rather than merely admire them. They believe that the true value of wealth is in its ability to bring personal delight to its owner. It should not be flaunted, but rather carefully hoarded and displayed for one’s closest family or cherished friends. It’s not that dwarves are greedy – it’s just that they really, really like treasure.
Gold has the greatest significance to dwarves, not because of its value but because of its natural beauty and pliability. Gemstones come a close second, each stone seen as a shining example of the beauty of the earth (it should be noted that dwarves have no interest in pearls or other products of the sea). While gold and gems are their greatest love, all the metals of the earth have their uses and hold appeal, most notably platinum, silver, copper, and the rarest of all metals, mithril.
Dwarves do not believe in wasting time – when given a task they work at it diligently, until it is done right and done completely. Dwarves do not give up, but pursue their task doggedly until finished. The dwarven spirit cannot cope with indolence or boredom – a dwarf with no task will not rest until they have found one for themselves, be it a necessary one or not. Many an inn across Annwn has been unwillingly ‘spruced up’ by a dwarven patron with too much time on their hands.
Loyalty is no small matter to a dwarf, but a complex organisation of duties and responsibilities radiating out from the smallest social units of dwarven society to the largest. Every dwarf knows where their loyalties lie: to their family, their clan, their guild, their kingdom, and their friends; in that order. A dwarf would do anything, up to and including giving their life, to fulfill these obligations. A dwarven friendship is a solemn thing – not given lightly, but unbreakable once earned.
Dwarves are a long-lived race, conservative by nature, and are no fans of change or new ways of doing things. It is not a coincidence that they venerate the unchanging nature of rock and stone. Similarly, dwarves are notoriously stubborn, and steadfastly hold to their personal views and opinions – often long past the point where common sense would suggest they relent. This should not be confused with being argumentative. A dwarf is perfectly capable of agreeing to disagree, and letting someone do it their way – i.e. the wrong way.
Suspicious of Outsiders
Living underground for thousands of years with minimal contact with the surface races has affected the worldview of dwarves dramatically. They believe themselves to be the dominant race in the world, the primary force stabilising civilization and culture. Other races are viewed in a much dimmer light. It is not that dwarves are racist, just that their long histories have taught them the other races cannot be trusted.
Humans, with their short life-spans, flit about wasting time in petty pursuits or try to short-cut hard work to achieve power quickly. They are unpredictable and dangerous, though some may prove decent enough with a dwarf around to keep them focussed and provide guidance.
The enmity between dwarves and elves is infamous and hard-wired into the dwarven psyche. Unlike humans, elves do not have the excuse of short lifespan to explain their faults – instead they lack the most basic virtues of patience, diligence, and consistency. Many serious disagreements have arisen between the two races, often occurring when dwarves considered inter-racial agreements binding until the end of time, while elves thought they were to last as long as they were useful. For this, elves have attained a reputation for betrayal and duplicity amongst dwarvenkind. An elf should expect mistrust (at best) or outright hostility (at worst) when first meeting a dwarf, and even after much time has passed, will never be fully trusted. Every dwarf know that elves cannot help but prove false eventually – like the scorpion, it is simply ‘in their nature’.
Generally a private people, dwarves often have difficulty expressing emotion. Their society is structured to make displays of anger, envy, jealousy, or hatred unnecessary. In the face of frustrating or inexplicable behaviour, dwarves try to stoically persevere, bottling frustration inside with little more than a scowl or contraction of the brows, for the sake of preserving harmony. Dissatisfaction is typically expressed through grumbling or the general grumpiness ubiquitous to many dwarves, rather than through more confrontational displays of emotion.
To a dwarf, no meal is complete without a good drink to accompany it. This isn’t to say that drunkenness is more prevalent in dwarven society – just as with humans, some dwarves take this love of drink to greater or lesser extent. But it would be a rare thing indeed for any dwarf to pass up an opportunity for a mug of ale at the end of a day.
Ale is their great love; the darker and thicker the better, though heavy spirits such as whisky and rum are also appreciated. Few dwarves have use for the fruity, cloying taste of wine.