forest meadows

Dwarves out of the Mountains

A long-term friend of mine had been lamenting that while there seems to be a lot of push to diversify elves and ‘get them out of the forest’ but everybody seems content to leave the dwarves in their mountains. In my campaign world I do have dwarves still in the mountains, but I have a particular reason.

Dwarves, as a fantasy or rpg race typically have the following traits:

  • Short, stocky or round with a low center of gravity
  • Facial hair and plenty of it, sometimes on females as well
  • The Axe. If there’s no axe, there will be a hammer
  • Smiths, craftsmen and great builders
  • Beer, mead, ale… it’s all good as long as it’s not wine
  • Underground. Not just a little hole, but deep underground.

That’s a phenotype you can pick up and move anywhere, provided you can grow something you can then ferment and make into booze. So let’s see how they might fit in different environments.

  • Desert. If you’re going to live in the desert you have to worry about water and maintaining your body temperature, as it can get both unreasonably hot and cold in the desert, often switching from one extreme to another from day to night. Lots of animals have figured out that the temperature is much more stable underground and burrow, and the trees that survive find the water table. There are two very good reasons to build your home underground, and from there you expand your home into a city with networks etc. You can ferment the cacti. Darkvision would be handy as you’re not going to come up in the day if you can avoid it. I imagine they’d build large ventilation columns, a bit like termite mounds, reaching above the dunes, the only evidence of the city below.
  • Sea edge. I’m thinking cliffs, harsh and windswept towering above the churning waters. The windchill can be lethal, and the saltwater of the ocean is all but undrinkable without specialized processing. (Maybe they have that technology, maybe salt is a major export. Everybody needs salt before refrigeration.) Not much lives on sea cliffs aside from some agile birds that nest there, far out of reach of predators. Building your fortress into the side of the sea cliffs is a very defensible position, and there’s a huge amount of energy to be potentially harnessed in the wind and waves. Branching out into ships is difficult from cliffs, it may be easier to use underwater channels, if such a clever dwarf could devise a vessel to travel entirely beneath the waves. The lower tunnels of an sea cliff fortress are prone to flooding, so these dwarves are likely to be better at balancing and swimming than their inland brethren.
  • Ice. Where do you expect to find a phenotype that has a reduced body surface area to volume ratio (approaching spherical), comfortable insulating body fat and extra hair? Somewhere very cold. You can dig down into solid ice, which will be relatively more comfortable out of the wind chill, but if you build up with the excavated ice it will likely end up with snow accumulating on at least one side, eventually looking like a hill. Fireballs obviously strongly discouraged, and layered furs prefered over open flame for heat to preserve structural integrity.
  • Old forest. Nobody ever said anything about getting the dwarves out of the forest. I don’t mean your standard, idyllic, meadow filled forest. I mean the dark, overgrown, ancient, creaking forest with trees so old, massive and twisted that you can’t be certain they don’t have faces. The sort of forest where you can barely see the sky, and the hairs stand up on the back of your neck for no clear reason, but you can’t help but trust your instinct that something, somewhere is patiently waiting to eat you. Here it’s probably much safer underground, where you can at least establish a defensible position. I imagine large halls, edged with the passive roots of the still living trees, and probably a significant mushroom proportion in the diet. Elves above may not even know they’re there.

Really they can make themselves at home anywhere you need a defensible position. Break some stereotypes, throw some dwarves around.

(But you cannot toss them)