Dwarf history begins in the Underdark, a vast network of subterranean tunnels that connects cave systems worldwide. There are many predators in the underdark — ranging from giant spiders, to myconids, to abberations too hideous to even imagine — and for thousands of years, dwarves were prey.
Eventually though, one band of dwarves stumbled upon a relatively isolated section of cave with only a few entrances and a supply of edible fungus. Those early dwarves settled there, and because they were protected from predators and threats, they developed a civilization, and learned the skills of mining and stoneworking. In that vast cave they built the city of Hagadûr, or in their tongue the great home, capital of the kingdom of the dwarves. While dwarves have built outposts and small towns in other part of the underdark, as they expand and seek to eliminate monstrous threats from their subterranean home, most dwarves still live in Hagadûr. As the population grows, more and more tunnels are dug to accommodate it.
The first dwarves to on the surface of the great orb arrived there by accident. Emerging from the ground in the Spine of the World, they found the brightness of the sun and the harsh weather of the mountains to be inhospitable, and they retreated back into the ground. Exile to the surface became punishment for unforgivable crimes. Many dwarves sent to the surface died, but some thrived, and built villages and communities there, adapting over generations to the conditions of the surface. Deep dwarves, recognizing that the children of those exiled shouldn’t be punished for their parent’s misdeeds, began to trade with these outcast dwarf communities, exchanging valuable ores for exotic surface goods.
These days, the two groups exist in easy harmony, though the deep dwarves still exile hundreds of criminals to the surface very year, and surface dwarves tend to distrust any dwarf they meet above ground with dark skin and fair hair. Surface dwarves operate mostly by clan ties, with each surface village ruled by a particular clan of dwarves, usually its founders. The rulers of these villages are the thanes, who pay lip service to the king of the deep dwarves, but are in reality totally autonomous in the villages they preside over.
Because of the advantages of having the dwarves as trading partners, and the logistical problems of mounting an invasion either into the mountains or the underdark, the elven empire has refrained from attempting to invade or attack the dwarven kingdom. Instead, the power of the dwarves is kept in check by harsh environment in which they live and it’s monstrous denizens, both in the underdark and on the surface.
Dwarves are shorter than humans, averaging slightly over four feet, but make up for what they lack in height with breadth. Dwarves have tremendously stout frames, with broad shoulders and thick powerful limbs. Surface dwarves have skin that ranges from ruddy pink, to tan, to coffee colored, with hair that runs the gamut between dirty blonde and jet black. Deep dwarves have dark gray skin, white hair, and pupil-less white eyes. They are slightly shorter and less stocky than surface dwarves. All dwarves live twice as long as humans do, maturing at about the same rate and then aging much more slowly beginning around middle-age.
Male dwarves (and some female dwarves, see below) wear full beards. They’re usually well-kempt, often with braids or pieces of jewelry — a dwarf’s beard is a point of pride, and few dwarves would let their beards become tangled, or worse, shave. Surface dwarf clothing is typically rugged and functional. They also have a penchant for tattoos, with each clan having a specific emblem (the brand their ancestor was given when exiled to the surface, often reflecting their crime in some way) that’s tattooed onto the sons at birth, and the daughters when they are married into new families. Deep dwarves tend to wear pale colors and a more delicate fabric woven from spider silk or glowing mushroom fiber. Dwarves of all kinds tend to wear metal adornments, studs, and jewelry on their clothes.
About half of female dwarves can grow some amount of facial hair. While it’s usually just downy sideburns or a handful whispy hairs on the chin, some have been known to be able to grow beards as luxurious as the males. Female dwarves living in communities integrated with other races often shave or pluck these hairs, but this is less frequent in more isolated dwarven villages.
More than anything else, dwarves believe in tradition. It is only through the insights of their ancestors that they are able to live in such inhospitable climates as they do today. While innovation is welcomed by the dwarves — especially innovation that helps them grow and thrive as a people — it’s important to them to recognize that progress is only possible because of the hard work of those that came before them. Dwarves have strong family ties for this reason as well. Clan ties are more important than anything else to most surface dwelling dwarves, and your average dwarf can recite his family line back at least twenty generations — though this
After tradition and family, the most important things to your average dwarf are precious metals, which they believe were a gift to them from their patron deity Umbruk. Finely crafted trinkets and gems are often passed from one generation of a family to the next, and dwarven thane-halls and throne rooms are often lavishly decorated in gold and other precious metal, most of which is donated by the citizenry to impress outsiders with the community’s wealth. A dwarf’s status is related entirely to the amount of wealth he has, and wealthy dwarves don’t hesitate to adorn themselves with that wealth in the most ostentatious way possible.
Finally, dwarves value booze. Dwarves are credited with the invention of ale and a variety of spirits including vodka and gin. Feasts are a part of almost every dwarven holiday, and those feast always include plentiful drink. Because of their natural resistance to poison, it takes more alcohol to actually get a dwarf drunk than a human or elf.
Deep dwarves cannot make their own ale, given than grains don’t grown in the underdark, but have a variety of spirits instead, derived from a variety of sources including fungi and the flesh of gelatinous cubes.
Dwarves believe they and the rest of the creatures of the underdark were created by tears of the god of death, Umbruk, as he retreated into the bowels of the earth after the death of two of his brothers in the battle against Tiamat. As such, they worship him almost exclusively.
Death rights, and the honoring of ancestors, are the primary mode of religious activity for most dwarves. These rituals are typically somber, though dwarven wakes — which come after and are just as important as the funerals — are raucous to make up for it, with much drinking and revelry to celebrate the life of the deceased.
Because of the important nature of ancestor worship in dwarven culture, typically towns and settlements are built with the town hall in the center, and then surrounding that a large circular underground tomb. Thusly, all of the political decisions are made in the presence of the andcestors, and the dwarves are constantly reminded of the sacrifices their ancestors made to get them where they are. Dwarves are typically buried in these tombs with many precious metals and stones, and as such the mausoleums are usually filled with traps and protections against necromancers and grave robbers — this also means that they double as places of shelter if the settlements are being attacked. Each town has a number of gravekeepers, who know where all of these traps are, and how to avoid them.
Dwarves speak Elvish and Dwarven. The dwarf language is full of heavy consonants and low vowels — it’s common for non-speakers to say that every word sounds like a hammer on an anvil. The language of the deep and surface dwarves is slightly different, having grown apart over the centuries, but native speakers have no problem navigating these dialectical differences.
Dwarves don’t have surnames the same way that most other races do. To distinguish themselves from other dwarves with the same given name, most dwarves simply use the name of their same gendered parent, appended with either -son or -dottir (pronounced similarly to daughter). Urik Ivorson, for example, or Darga Hildedottir.
Surface dwarves often use their clan names as surnames when speaking to people from outside their own village. These clan names are all compounds of two dwarven words, and are adopted from titles given to the clan’s founder. When speaking to a non-dwarf, it’s typical to translate these compounds into whatever language is being spoken as a sign of respect.
Male Names: Brok, Bjorn, Garid, Gurrin, Hadrin, Hamdar, Ivor, Oleg, Tellor, Urik
Female Names: Agnes, Darga, Elda, Hilde, Sigrid, Treja, Varna
Clan Names (Surface dwarves): Beardfist, Goldgrabber, Rockbreaker, Stonefoot, Trollbasher
_In Dwarven, the letter J is pronounced as Y. (As in many Germanic languages in real life.)
Surface dwarves use the ‘Mountain Dwarf’ statistics block from the player’s handbook. Deep dwarves use the ‘Hill Dwarf’ statistics block.