Man I really loved the whole write up Wallace has at Ludus Ludorum . He has a great take on Wood elves, and I really like how he’s tied them to the ecology of his world. So I’m totally shamelessly borrowing that set up to rework the dwarves in a setting I’m working on. If you didn’t know by now, I’m kind of a tinkerer when it comes to world building. I love to do it, and I have a thousand ideas all percolating in the back of my brain. It’s one of the ways I relax.
I won’t go super detailed into the analysis of what we know about Dwarves from 5th ed, we know they’re hardy, poison resistant, slow but steady, and everyone of them knows how to use axes, hammers, medium armor, and shields. Instead I’m going to jump right to what I’ve got for them.
Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!
The unbowed and unbroken.
For millennia the Khazâd of Gil Badhir have stood against everything that has tried to kill them. They’ve resisted invasions, they’ve survived disasters, and they’ve survived the harsh land in which they live. Nothing has killed them, and nothing will. Like the stone they endure.
The Khazâd have always lived here for our recorded history. It was once a verdant landscape filled with trees, ample food and water. Then the heavens exploded raining fire down onto our lands, forcing us underground. There we might have perished had we not found water and food.
Deep dwellers first appeared curious, they were even friendly offering bits of information and food to trade for the few treasures the Khazâd had left. When we had no treasure, they came to take slaves, to take what remained.
We turned our tools against them, the hammer and axe. We drove their raiders back to the depths. Then they came with armies and threatened to overwhelm us. But we built walls and we fought. Thousands of men and women died so the rest could live. But we held and stood as unyielding as the stone. Their armies broke upon us.
We never forgot their deeds.
The Elven emissaries came in peace. They offered trade, and brought with them crafts of wood, fine cheeses, and cloth. They wanted to buy our swords, and wanted our gold, and our gems.
We remember those times. The words of their emissaries were carved in stone. At first we were suspicious. Then after centuries we opened up and we traded with them. We built friendships. But for their long lives, the elves proved fickle. They wanted us to bend knee to their emperor. They broke the words of their emissaries.
War ensued. Terrible magics were unleashed upon us, and many on the surface died. Yet our fortresses stood strong. They rained down fire upon our lands, like what had happened in the beginning. This time we endured and we struck back. Their legions broke upon our fortresses. Twenty died for every Khazâd they slew.
They broke the fortress of Bir Darum, only to find three more stood in their way. We had learned. And we never forgot the lessons we had learned. Their empire died that day. It just took centuries for the body to realize it.
Remember children. The other races are fickle. They will forget. They will bring war upon us.
Yet as the mountains and stone. We never forget, and we will always endure.
Once the lands here were teeming with life. Then whether by sorcery or cosmic accident, disaster struck and fire rained down upon the lands. The impacts poisoned the streams, and burned the vegetation. Three quarters of the nascent dwarven race were killed in the cataclysmic event. Of the remainder, half left the lands and travelled elsewhere. The remainder went underground.
Deprived of much of what they depended upon for sustenance and of clean water, they turned to the fungus growing in the caves, and developed several fermentation techniques to make water palatable. As the few books and scrolls they had remaining started to deteriorate, they turned to stone-carving to preserve information, and eventually developed a form of clay that they used in lieu of paper. Records are initially engraved into the clay, then transposed onto stone slabs which provide a permanent record of their history. These slabs are decorated with runes of strength and protection that prevent them from breaking.
In the caves where they found solace, they eventually started to flourish. They dug deeper, carved out homes and palaces. They found coal to burn for heat and to smelt the ore they mined, and the strange metal that littered the badlands.
As life slowly returned to the world above, the dwarves domesticated goats and others as hardy as they pricing them for their meat, milk and cheese, not to mention leather and horns.
The Khazâd strive for perfection in all of their works and even their daily lives. Perfection just isn’t a goal, it’s oft times required. Outnumbered and facing not only hostile forces coming at them from all sides, they also have to contend with the harshness of the lands in which they live. Early on, several died or became deathly sick before they discovered what fungi they could eat, and which were deadly. The legacy of that lives with them today, as their bodies adapted to resist the poisonous fare.
The world above them is a land of extremes. The water is alkaline and isn’t potable without major treatment. Vegetation is sparse, stringy and often only the goats can eat it. Tubers are a rare exception and something that the Khazâd prize. The summers are deadly hot, and the winters unforgivably cold. Despite this, many dwarves still live on the surface, farming, tending herds and other activities that must be done year round. Winter is especially important as the heavy snow is a crucial addition to water stores for the coming year.
The fauna in the badlands is as harsh and deadly as the land itself. During the summer, armored lizards and poisonous snakes hunt the small animals and insects that live there. The dread, venomous Ring snake’s bite is powerful enough to kill a bull lizard in a single strike. Most of the creatures on the surface have evolved to be either venomous, or armored and vicious.
Underground is only marginally better. Slimes, molds, worms, as well as cave ins are a part of daily life. Infestations are burned out as fast as they are found. Mushroom farmers tend to the caves of fungi and spend hours painstakingly caring for the giant mushrooms that provide a staple of the dwarven diet.
Raids from below are commonplace, as are incursions from burrowing wyrms and other predators. Complex defenses and traps make it hard for any invader to make much headway.