Time for the dwarves to get some attention. I’ve been mulling them over since I got done with the elves, but it wasn’t until today that I really nailed down some of the details about their society. I think I’ve managed to strike a fine balance between being new and interesting while also recognizably dwarven.
The age old trope of elf vs dwarf is probably not something I need to cover here. Suffice to say that I like it. I wanted to set my elves and dwarves at odds ever since I started working on this setting. The haughty, immortal elves needed to have some kind of force resisting their society, to explain why they haven’t already spread to all four corners of the map.
You may want to do the exact opposite for your own world and that’s fine too. Your elves and dwarves can be as chummy as you please, just remember that everything needs to be motivated. I’ll be going through my usual process of asking myself hard questions and trying to find sensible answers, but when you’re building your own setting try to come up with some difficult questions of your own. Paint yourself into a corner and then see what creative ways you can escape.
I set out to make my dwarves the exact opposite of my elves by picking out the key elven features and then flipping them on their heads.
Elves are Immortal, Dwarves are Mortal
Not only do the dwarves age and die, they also seem to rush headlong towards peril. In true Norse fashion, they believe that dying while fighting is the best way to go. Unlike the patient elves, for whom there is always another chance, always another day, the dwarves throw themselves wholeheartedly into every endeavour. They know that they will one day die, and so they embrace the brevity of their lives.
Elves are Otherworldly, Dwarves are Of-the-Earth
The aloof and alien nature of the elves and their insistence on cleanliness creates a stark contrast with the physical, gritty nature of the dwarves. Most settings have their dwarves hailing from subterranean cities, but mine take their earthy origin to the extreme. These dwarves are true children of the earth.
When a dwarven adult wants to raise a child they do not mate, like elves and humans do. Instead they sculpt a humanoid idol out of clay and decorate it with gemmed eyes and other features made from precious metals. These idols are called Homunculi and each year on the spring equinox a secret ritual is conducted to bring them to life. They emerge as living children with the approximate size and intelligence of a five-year old human child, although with dwarven proportions.
The dwarves believe that the gem colour used for the Homunculus’ eyes and the types of metals used in its decoration will determine aspects of the child’s personality. Furthermore, all Homunculi are sculpted holding either a sword or a shield depending on whether the parent wants them to be an Attacker, someone who sails out on raids, or a Defender, someone who protects the homestead. For the dwarves, this is the closest thing they have to a gender identity and while other races may have labelled these roles as male and female the dwarves don’t see it that way. As a final note, the gems, metals, and item assigned to a Homunculus are not fool-proof settings, and natural variations often occur.
Elves are Masters of the Arcane, Dwarves are Attuned to the Land and its Beasts
While the elves have their heads stuck in the clouds, seeking out and drawing on external sources of power, the dwarves have long known how to tap into the energies provided by nature. Their inherent bond to the earth allows them to become powerful shamans and druids. Elven magic is often used to affect the world around them and as a counterpoint to that dwarven magic is more often focussed internally or on the self. Healing and shape-shifting are the oldest of magicks practised by the dwarves.
Elves are Individual, Dwarves are Communal
The life of an elf is one spent in the pursuit of perfection, their greatest drive is to attain mastery with various skills. The life of a dwarf, however, is spent for the betterment of the community. If an elf saw a stranger in need, they would only help if it were of no cost or risk to themselves. But dwarven society has a strong sense of karma as espoused in one of their old sayings:
I give my life to my brother,
I lend my might to my friend,
And I have a drink for any stranger.
There we have it, the big three races in all their shiny detail. They’re all still very recognizable as elves, dwarves, and humans, but I think I’ve given them some interesting twists that would make this setting fun to explore.
As I’ve kind of reached the end of a topic here I thought I would leave it up to the readers where I went next. My current ideas are:
- Spend a post quickly covering the minor races of the setting. Where are the gnomes and the halflings? How do dragonborn and tieflings fit in?
- Start working towards a home base. Pick a human city and start filling in the details. Which city is the most interesting?
I’ll have a twitter poll running for the rest of the week.