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Arth Lore

Arth Lore: Dwarves – An Overview of the Underfolk

Dwarf Warrior in Andarun

Dwarves are said by the other races of Men to be just as cold and hard as the mountains they hail from. Yet those who have known them to be as warm and inviting as the clanhomes they dig within the crags and crevices of their windswept homelands. And even those friends of the Underfolk will tell you that the Dwarven temper can be as explosive as the firedamp and gas vents deep within the mines they excavate, though they say as much at the risk of being shouted down for carrying a metaphor too far.

Whatever is said about them, all agree that the Dwarves are the most enigmatic of the races of Man. Most creation legends say that they were the among the four original races, alongside the Sten, the Elves, and the Gnomes. Yet even in the earliest myths of the agekeepers’ archives, the Dwarves are depicted as withdrawn and distant from the rest of Arth’s peoples.

Proud, bold, and stern, Dwarves are known for their stoic demeanors, superb craftsmanship, and legendary stubbornness.  A Dwarf stands a one or two heads shorter than a human, but it would be a mistake to describe them as ‘small’ (and a dangerous one to say so within earshot of a Dwarf.)  Their stout, broad-shouldered frames are at least as heavy as any human, and with a much lower center of balance.

Dwarves are all mortal, and also all male. This raises several obvious questions among the other peoples of Arth. As noted in Orconomics,

Most of the common folk know little of Dwarven reproduction, as Dwarves are famously taciturn about matters of sex and procreation. However, it is clear to everyone that something is different about Dwarven courtship. There are no Dwarven couples, no visible Dwarven courtship rituals, and, crucially, no Dwarven women. Every Dwarf in existence is male and, by all appearances, solitary, until he shows up with a tiny, bearded baby strapped to his back and flailing a toy hammer. A plethora of humorous theories and jokes about how such a child might come to be born can be heard in any alehouse on Arth, provided there are no Dwarves present.

However, another key feature of Dwarves is that they wouldn’t pay an Imperial dollar for someone else’s thoughts on most matters, especially those pertaining to Dwarven culture.

Dwarves live in an honor society, and like most honor societies, their culture revolves around shaming each other while trying to avoid being shamed. Any number of factors affect a Dwarf’s honor, from the length of his beard to his aptitude at his trade (which makes a performance review with a Dwarf even more miserable than most.)

Dwarven cities are called clanhomes, and each—predictably enough—is home to a clan of Dwarves. The differences between Dwarven Clans are mostly geographic or financial rather than physical or cultural. (Contrast this with the Gnomish Clans, which are related to each other in only the loosest genetic terms.) This may have something to do with the fact that clan bonds; while a Dwarf revers his clan, there are a number of circumstances under which he may switch to another without shame for anyone involved.

Within a Clan, Dwarves organize by familial ties. However, in matters of honor and status, a Dwarf’s family and father are less important than the Family and Father that he has pledged service to. These Fathers are older woldsmar and warriors with enough status and wealth to enlist the services of younger Dwarves, and in turn these Fathers have sworn fealty to Ancestors. The oldest and most powerful of these Ancestors in each clanhome is a Dwarven king.

Across clans, Dwarves form great Brotherhoods, which are mostly defined by the roles they’ll take on in battle should a Clan go to war. These Brotherhoods also help define a Dwarf’s place in civic life, professions available to him, and honor awarded to him. Dwarves seldom switch Brotherhoods once initiated. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon for a Dwarf to switch Clans and move to another Clanhome in service to a Brotherhood.

Increasingly, however, Dwarves are moving into the cities of the other races in search of fame and fortune. Most traditions hold that these Dwarves retain their clan and Family even as they leave the clanhome. However, these Dwarves are also more likely to find themselves banished and clanless if their actions bring too much dishonor on the clan back home. Given the distance between the dishonored Dwarf and his clan’s Ancestors, banishment is often the only punishment that can possibly be enforced.

2 thoughts on “Arth Lore: Dwarves – An Overview of the Underfolk”

  1. Eric Schooley says:

    I’m very interested in the Orchid Festival Gorm mentions before he sees theough the bull fed to him at the beginning of the adventure. In fact, I’d like to shamelessly steal it for a Pathfinder campaign. Would you care the elaborate on it a bit? Thanks!

    1. Hey, Eric. I’m glad you found some inspiration on Arth! Of course, anything you want to use as a Pathfinder muse is great! But as far as Arth’s Festival of Orchids goes, it’s almost certainly not what you think. 😉

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