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Urist_McArathos

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On the Nature of Dwarves
« on: July 25, 2011, 10:42:33 pm »

On the Nature of Dwarves

A study of the dwarven race, compiled from the notes of the legendary sage Nimir by the work of Althor the Narrow, scholar of Triador

ASSEMBLER'S FOREWORD: I was tasked by the Triadoran Senate to compile a set of books for study by its ambassadors on the various races and nations of our known world.  Naturally, the priceless knowledge contained within the sage Nimir's personal library at Starhelm was my first choice for learning what would be needed to accomplish this task.  The sage, always eager to help spread the accumulated knowledge of his life's journeys, was quick to respond to my request for access to his library, though he informed me he would not be on hand to aid in the task.  He had chartered a ship for the Kerish Isles, and was intending to travel even further east, as pirates there frequently told stories about a strange land further out in the ocean that he dearly wished to explore for himself.  I was thus left with only the sage's numerous ledgers, journals, notes, and musings to work with, but no sage to direct my understanding or transcriptions.  I have done my very best to present the information found at Starhelm in an orderly manner and as complete as possible.  My own opinions and additions (beyond slight reformatting and rewording to allow the miscellany of his work to fit together cohesively) will be clearly marked in the text that follows.

Introduction

Why are dwarves the way they are?  We humans see a race of short, stocky, bearded folk who seem to love nothing in this world more than drink, digging, and violence.  Indeed, to the lesser lived races such as man, they are utterly impenetrable: an enigma wrapped in a beard, their behavior incomprehensible and at times frustrating to ponder.  Were we more narrow-minded creatures, we might suppose that dwarves are a race that care nothing for the outside world except to confound it for daring to try to make sense of them.  This is altogether an unfair assessment, as I learned firsthand.  I was privileged to spend a great deal of time among them, and feel it is my duty to share what I have learned.  I do this that my fellow man may at last understand our subterranean allies.  The simplest way is to simply begin with the dwarf himself, and move upwards from there to more complex issues.  As for the dwarf itself, we shall proceed in a similar manner: start with the most superficial aspects and gradually move inwards to his very core.

Physiology

Dwarves are an unusual race to behold at first, and one marvels at them at various times for their seemingly incredible differences in physical being.  However awe-inspiring the dwarven physique may be to a lay observer, dwarves are not like dragons: there is nothing magical or supernatural about their form and essence that lends them their features.  Like man, dwarves are a mortal and mundane race though, also like man, one that is truly remarkable in said form and essence.

Your typical dwarf is approximately three and a half feet to four feet tall, not quite half the size of a man but substantially shorter even at their tallest.  Dwarves are broadly built creatures, stout and sturdy and easily weigh as much as a full-grown human despite their reduced stature.  Their limbs tend to be stout as well, thick with well-defined musculature.  One notices, as a matter of course, that they tend to be hairier than humans.  The body hair of a dwarf male is easily visible, and though their females, like ours, have less of it and finer hairs at that, they too are noticeably hairier than a human female.  Dwarf males are famous for their long, thick beards and mustaches.  Both men and women tend towards long hair that is also thick and lustrous.  Rumors persist of bearded dwarven women, though I must state I've never seen any.  I presume this to be simple bigotry and slander against them, perhaps perpetuated out of a desire to make them an object of ridicule.  I personally suspect the elves may be involved in this, but I digress.  Ed: Rumors of dwarven women bearing beards in other, remote and distant settlements cannot be verified, but the dwarves themselves will say nothing on the matter, as is typical of them on most dwarven matters.  I consider it an open question, though Nimir does not.  Regardless, it is fundamentally unimportant to the matters of diplomacy and understanding dwarves, and so I did not pursue the question further.

All of these are adaptations to life underground.  Dwarves have, over the long centuries, had to tunnel further and further and as such have become quite an athletic race.  Their muscles are both powerful and capable of incredible stamina; such is unsurprising in a race that bores through solid rock to build its homes.  It is said that a dwarf miner in his prime (which lasts considerably longer than a human's) can dig through rock as a man does through earth and soil.  I have witnessed this phenomena firsthand, and agree that the prowess of dwarven diggers is nothing short of breathtaking.  Their hairy bodies suit them well in the caves and tunnels of their homes.  The underground is a frequently dank place, shut off from the warm air and sun of the surface.  Creatures abiding in the deep places of the world find the world constantly a chilly and clammy affair, but the protective insulation of body hair traps their body heat while keeping dew from forming on their skin and leaching away their warmth.  The prominent, fleshy nose of a dwarf also helps to warm the air they breathe, further aiding in their comfortable existence in the deeps.  Many marvel at just how pitch black a cavern can be, and wonder how a dwarf manages to see in the deep.  It is said they have a cruder form of vision (like orcs and other fell creatures deeper beneath the world) that allows them to see in the most pitch-dark of places, albeit all is colorless and blurry.  I'm not sure what amazing feature of their eyes manages this, nor could I verify it as the cities I was privileged to visit kept well-lit public areas at all hours.  Lights were put out in private quarters for sleeping, and as such it was not the time for in depth questioning and examination. 

Much of the life underground is fungal in nature.  Hardly surprising; fungus thrives in wet and cold environments, and can grow and prosper without the life-giving sun or nutritious and soft soil that our surface flora require.  However, fungi are frequently toxic: any mushroom-harvesting provincial can attest to the sundry risks involved in that trade.  While we of the surface can avoid the issue with our abundance of crops, dwarves have no such luxury and must survive on the crops of the underworld, such as they are.  The centuries of constant exposure to the various mushrooms and lichens of the caves has strengthened their constitutions in remarkable ways.  The dwarven liver, I was amazed to learn, is much larger than a man's.  Perhaps almost threefold in size, and all this in a creature that is, at best, pound-for-pound man's equal in mass.  The liver is not just larger (which allows more function), but far more efficient and hardy than ours if empirical observation has anything to say on the matter.  Lesser toxins and foul substances are harmless to a dwarf, and even more potent poisons struggle against their hardy substance.  This allows them to safely enjoy their natural sources of food (I may point out here that it is not so toxic to kill a man, but humans among dwarves may find their stomachs in distress for some time until they adjust).  Naturally, this also explains another of the dwarf's most obvious traits: love of drink.  All creatures that taste the sweet effects of alcohol seem to enjoy forever after its artificial euphoria; dwarves are certainly no exception.  However, their immensely sturdy livers, great muscular mass, and natural fortitude against toxins all combine to make intoxication a great challenge.  Dwarves thus must partake of far more alcohol to feel its effects, and can enjoy much stouter brews and spirits than men as a matter of course.

How is it, one may wonder, that dwarves seem so at ease deep underground?  How do they seem to know so innately whether their path is level or askew, and how is it they can reckon with startling precision their depth below the surface?  Furthermore, how is it they seem to have a supernatural knack for discovering mineral wealth of all kinds?  The answer is found deep within the dwarf's mind.  It is no sorcery, but rather a remarkable adaptation that is so minute, the dwarves themselves only recently (by their reckoning) managed to understand it.  It is said that dwarves have metal on the brain, and this lay statement finds itself in unusually close proximity to the truth.  Dwarves do in fact have quantities of that most uncanny substance, magnetite, within their brains.  Now, study has revealed that this alone is not something unusual: divination has shown that most creatures seem to possess trace amounts of this reactive ore within the confines of their heads as well.  It is the concentration that is unique.  Most sailors know that a needle of magnetite, suspended correctly and handled with care, will invariable show the way North.  However, the presence of certain other metals and as-yet-not-understood phenomena can alter the reading, though typically this can be avoided with simple enough precautions.  The dwarf brain thus acts like a masterful version of the crude compass of the sailing ship; just as men can, with practice, discern their direction and facing through no external observations dwarves can do so as well.  It also appears that they can detect not just the direction to North, but also their angle relative to it.  The difference between their current angle and the angle they find normal tells them how far above or below they are from that comfortable point of reference and thus, via some basic mathematics, a rough idea of their depth or height.  In a world with no stars to guide them, this skill must be honed to precision.  Thus, reckoning their depth and direction becomes second nature to a dwarf, which is no doubt what allows them to detect valuable lodes of ore.  The complex way the metal ores interfere with their sense of direction must surely make them aware of their close proximity to those precious stones.  It is said that dwarves can sniff out a vein of iron or gold, but the truth is that it is perceived and pursued in a process far more wondrous and awe-inspiring than crude odors could manage.

((Next post: Dwarven Culture))
« Last Edit: November 04, 2014, 02:06:19 am by Urist_McArathos »
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Dermonster

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Re: On the Nature of Dwarves
« Reply #1 on: July 25, 2011, 10:53:11 pm »

This looks really interesting. Looking forward to more ^.^
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ImBocaire

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Re: On the Nature of Dwarves
« Reply #2 on: July 25, 2011, 11:05:36 pm »

Dwarven biological brain-compasses?

Totally canon.
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Urist Imiknorris

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Re: On the Nature of Dwarves
« Reply #3 on: July 25, 2011, 11:16:40 pm »

Oh god, the dreaded dwarven culture exposition. Can't wait.
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ImBocaire

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Re: On the Nature of Dwarves
« Reply #4 on: July 25, 2011, 11:34:02 pm »

I predict that the next installment will consist of the statement "Fuck if I know. On to the military."
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Urist_McArathos

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Re: On the Nature of Dwarves
« Reply #5 on: July 26, 2011, 04:31:05 pm »

((This whole thing is actually a bunch of notes of mine I used for writing a novel that's still in progress.  I've made a few adjustments for the Dwarf Fortress universe, but otherwise the same.))

Culture

Now that we know a great deal more about the body of the dwarf, we can begin to understand their unique way of life.  Clearly, biology affects society, and this is a tremendous part of the way dwarves live their lives.  As stated before, dwarves have a love affair with the drink, one that seems excessive even by the most immodest standards of humanity.  Is it that they are overly fond of merrymaking?  Surely, the grim and dour people that stare at foreigners from across their foam-headed mugs between wordless gulps cannot also be a race of jovial spirits.

That is not true, but the fondness for drink is not inextricably linked to a love of wenching and dance.  Alcohol is tough on the liver, and a dwarf starts out his life as tender and soft as any other newborn babe.  Mother's milk does much to nourish young into their adolescent years, but it nurtures rather than hardens.  A life that will doubtless be full of toxic fungi and noxious spores requires all the preparation one can manage.  To prepare their young for the hardy life ahead of them, dwarven midwives recommend that infants always be fed a portion of beer before any nursing at the breast.  The beer is said to toughen their stomachs, and a dwarf babe not fed the diet of beer and milk is said to grow up sickly and frail for years until the harsh fare of his homeland does the work his mother did not.  I cannot verify if this be scientific fact or homespun wisdom, as all the mothers I encountered adhered to this advice, as did the parents before them.  It certainly has the ring of truth to it considering what I have learned of their diet and lifestyle.  As one can imagine, this early exposure to alcohol only strengthens their tolerance for it.  Of course, alcohol serves yet another vital purpose that humanity, with our comfortable life above the rocks, cannot readily understand.  Water on the surface comes fresh from many sources: flowing brooks and streams, rains, the melting snowcaps of the peaks, rushing groundwater filtered through the aquifers; fresh water is an abundant resource for those of the surface world.  Venture below the earth, and you will find that water is far more precious.  Aquifers are a well digger's blessing, but a miner's bane.  Most dwarf settlements avoid them altogether.  Cave rivers are a startlingly rare thing, and most pools and lakes below ground are stagnant and still.  It is rare to find truly potable, clean water under the surface of the world.  Alcohol, on the other hand, is free of the filth and pestilence found in water.  One need only think of the confined nature of a cave to realize that an outbreak of cholera would be a disaster, and it is clear why beer is the drink of choice of dwarves.  Water is of course passable (and preferred for those who are ill or weak, lest the alcohol push their taxed systems too far), but it is considered a secondary option for reasons that, as mentioned, are quite clear to those who know what life underground is like.  Thus, dwarves are raised on alcohol by their nurturing mothers and later keep to it as an act of public health.  Is it any wonder dwarves are such legendary drinkers?  One does not praise a human for his ability to quaff water by the flagon.

Ornamentation and external displays of wealth aren't seen very often among dwarves; as a people, they tend to prize functionality and practicality.  Jewelry and guady displays are therefore usually seen as superfluous or pointless.  This is not to say dwarves do not make jewelry (for indeed, dwarven jewelers are undeniably among the finest alive), nor that they never wear it.  More to say that dwarven fashion and decoration tend to take other, subtler routes that more appeal to dwarven tastes.  Dwarven engravings and clothing are frequently decorated with geometric shapes and designs (fractals are popular with more skilled artisans), due to the dwarven love of mathematics (more on this later).  This is why hair styles, and beard styles, are extremely popular amongst the dwarves.  To a dwarf, a beard is a measurement of the individual in a very literal fashion.  Its length, color, thickness, and luster all tell details about the dwarf's age, virility, strength, and more.  Since loose hairs can easily become entangled or damaged, it is a practical matter to restrain long hair and beards.  For a dwarf, both male and female, intricate braids and weavings are a way to combine functionality, practicality, and fashion.  This of course is no surprise: beards are perhaps the most iconic feature of the entire dwarven race.

I had mentioned earlier that the image an outsider usually gets of dwarves is a stoic bunch, cold and gruff to all who attempt to engage them in conversation of any sort.  I had said that many walk away from such encounters convinced that things like joy and merriment are unknown to the dwarven people.  Nothing, of course, could be farther from the truth.  Dwarves as a rule are very private, but tightly bonded to their comrades (Ed: this is covered in more depth in "Society", later in the text).  Amongst themselves, celebrations and jovial affairs are as commonplace as any race, if not more so.  Dwarves are particularly fond of music, which often surprises outsiders.  Elves, after all, are considered the quintessential singers and musicians of the world, and it is easy to see why.  Their ethereal voices, higher-pitched melodies, and preference for strings and wind instruments makes their songs delicate and almost otherworldly, "the way music ought to be" one might assess.  As their ancient rivals, one would think dwarves thus have no love of music beyond the pounding of hammer upon anvil.  While it is true that one is unlikely to lose themselves in awe of a dwarven revelry in the same manner as elves, they excel in something that no race, not even the elves with their poetic abilities, can equal: the sung epic.  Dwarven music is a simpler affair musically: the basic song is something that can easily be remembered and repeated, but the lyrics and additional sounds are another matter entirely.  Dwarven music, as far as I can tell, always has an epic attached to it in some form.  Their songs detail their grand history, their successes and failures, their homes, families, and more.  To dwarves, if it's worth remembering, it's worth singing over mugs of beer among friends.  As I said, the basic song is easy to remember since the story must be told through it; however dwarves utilize instruments not so much to play the tune, but to punctuate the story.  Instruments are used in tandem with the sung story to help illustrate it: numerous drums might accompany a section on marches to war; angry strings may be used to heighten tension as a duel reaches a fever pitch; sorrowful woodwinds compell the listener to stifle tears as the song details a tragic death.  I suppose it can be best said: elves write songs by themselves, dwarves compose symphonies as a people.

Partying and celebrating go hand in hand with music (in that dwarven music is rarely heard outside a gathering of family and friends or more), but dwarves do not only gather to sing of their history.  Festivals are held for many occassions, and some for no reason at all.  Dwarven society, as I've said, is close-knit and is heavily structured; each member is intertwined with his fellows far more so than in human societies (and in stark contrast to elven society).  Partying, celebrating, and making merry are thus critical to ensuring that tempers do not flare, bonds of friendship and community are always strong, and that wrongs are forgiven.  A party can be held to celebrate a piece of good fortune, to commemorate a holiday or event of importance, to help wash away the distaste after a stern disagreement or falling out, or simply because it's been too long since the last party and everyone could use a good drink and a day off.

For dwarves, naming conventions are somewhat unlike our own.  Dwarves are of the belief that names are incredibly important: whether it be an individual, group, city, kingdom, mountain, or anything else, dwarves respect the importance of names.  Amongst humans, the conventions are fairly simple: parents name their children (typically in line with tradition, though sometimes not); groups name themselves according to their own purpose or reasons, cities are named by their founders, kingdoms by their rulers, and sites by those that discover them.  For the dwarves, names are typically entrusted to the great wisdom of the divine.  Dwarf tradition dictates that a dwarf is given their own first name (their dwarf name) by their parent, and inherits their clan name as a matter of course (typically, clans are named for their trade or a noteworthy event in the clan's formation or history).  All other names and titles are typically chosen by divine lot; this practice includes (with increasing solemnity and care in order of importance) all other things named by dwarves, be they cities, keeps, titles bestowed upon champions, rivers, etc.  The lots are cast, allowing the gods to influence which words of the dwarven tongue are chosen.  Once the casting of lots is complete, the chosen words become the name.  This seemingly random affair can saddle a person or place with some very odd titles indeed; however, closer examination has revealed that this may not all be chance and hokum.  Dwarves pride themselves on finding a meaning behind names, believing that the name thrust upon them by the divine is a hint to their own destiny.  Sometimes, the name ends up being a glance at the greater glory that awaits.  Sometimes, only after it is too late, does the cryptic meaning behind the name become apparent.  While it is true that some dwarven societies abide by this rules less so than others, substantial evidence suggests that at one point this was the norm amongst the dwarves, and only in the relatively recent (Ed: recent by dwarven reckoning) times have things changed.

It has been said by some that the dwarves do not produce great art.  Certainly, paintings and tapestries are not their strong point, but how is this unexpected?  What artist would create artwork that will mold and waste away in the dank of a cavern?  Dwarves do not shun traditional, surface-dweller artwork out of a hatred of aesthetics but (once again) out of a concern of practicality.  Dwarves treasure things that endure because of their society's focus on longevity (Ed: more on this later).  Stone, the element of their homes, is a readily available and simple item to be transformed into wondrous works of art.  Dwarves produce marvelous statuary, for example.  Sculpture is hardly an atypical art, so this alone would be enough to negate the opinion that dwarves are not artists, but there are many more examples.  The beauty of their jewelry and cut gems is unsurpassed and also fits well within the bounds of accepted art.  What of other things, though?  Does not a dwarf's beautifully enameled and engraved armor and weaponry count as art?  Dwarven metalwork is second to none in terms of quality, and is never as simple as posts and planes fused together for a purpose.  Engravings, minor details, and the aforementioned geographic shapes and figures are all used to decorate dwarven metal crafts.

What of geometry, and math?  I spoke of this earlier, and referenced it yet again.  Why should dwarves have any particular racial fondness for this study?  The answer is a rather simple one, once examined.  Dwarven society is rigid, as I have detailed (Ed: in the interests of clarity and cohesive structure, Nimir's lengthy dissertations on dwarven society's structure and laws has been moved to a later point in the document; this is why it has not been detailed yet despite this statement).  Dwarves are creatures of order, precision, and detail.  How is this not the mindset of a student of math as well?  Dwarves find the rigidity, predictability, and logic of math and geometry to hold a beauty unto itself.  Not unlike an elf admiring the growth of a tree or the movements of a fawn, a dwarf sees the complexity of a known equation or the interplay of shape and structures to be beautiful in its own right.  This is also why dwarves make such unsurpassed engineers.  True, we do not often think immediately of dwarves when we think of engineering.  We typically think of a gnome, peering over some piece of clockwork augmented with glamors and prestidigitations before unleashing his unique curio upon the world.  Certainly dwarves have no fondness for clockwork and gears, but they far outstrip gnomes in the field of engineering.  No, dwarven engineering is a thing of a grander sort.  Just as dwarves prize the community and value their common lives over the individual, so too are their engineering efforts a civic rather than personal thing.  Visit a dwarven city and marvel at its subtler yet grandiose engineering feats: the aqueducts which bring water and carry away sewage despite the absence of local water sources; the bridges and roads that move through the deep; behold the great mines, and the massive living areas, all perfectly chiseled and planned so as to prevent collapses or cave-ins; stand in awe at the splendor of architecture, and how dwarves manage to carve not just homes from the earth, but beautify their buildings in the same run.  The greatest capital of the dwarves is said to have a balcony for the coronation of the High King which opens out onto the summit, where the newly crowned monarch may behold the entirety of his realm, and yet stretches through corridors, stairs, ramps, and more all the way to the roots of the world, where no non-dwarf has ever tread.  This majestic feat of engineering and art shames the lesser races, who dare to hold up their infantile gewgaws and smears of paint upon cloth and dare to presume themselves artisans and craftsmen of legend.  The dwarves are not ostentatious or gaudy, as I've said before, but they do not need to be.  To them, the very incarnation of their prowess is literally all around them, and everywhere they go.

((Next update: dwarven society))
« Last Edit: November 04, 2014, 02:12:06 am by Urist_McArathos »
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Pan

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Re: On the Nature of Dwarves
« Reply #6 on: July 26, 2011, 09:34:36 pm »

This... this has never happened before... Things in Dwarf Fortress actually makes sense?!
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Sneaky Walrus

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Re: On the Nature of Dwarves
« Reply #7 on: July 27, 2011, 02:16:20 am »

Wow this is actually really interesting
more i say
MORE
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Demonic Spoon

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Re: On the Nature of Dwarves
« Reply #8 on: July 27, 2011, 08:07:54 am »

This is great. IIRC someone did do something like this before but that was quite some time ago but hell if I can remember the title. In any case its well written and a good read.
« Last Edit: July 27, 2011, 08:14:18 am by Demonic Spoon »
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Karakzon

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Re: On the Nature of Dwarves
« Reply #9 on: July 27, 2011, 08:41:00 am »

posting to follow and read.

keep it up. you are brilliantly captureing dwarfdom.
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ImBocaire

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Re: On the Nature of Dwarves
« Reply #10 on: July 27, 2011, 04:03:05 pm »

If I may make one suggestion:

PLEASE break up your paragraphs into shorter segments. The default skin on these forums makes anything longer than a couple sentences at a time nigh unreadable.

Formatting aside, though, it's awesome.
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Re: On the Nature of Dwarves
« Reply #11 on: July 27, 2011, 08:35:48 pm »

Great work even if the forum messed up the formatting a bit.
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Urist_McArathos

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Re: On the Nature of Dwarves
« Reply #12 on: July 30, 2011, 02:51:44 am »

Society, Part I

If the behavior of a lone dwarf is baffling to us humans, the structure of their societies is altogether alien.  It's easy to see why dwarves seem such a dour and unhappy people, utterly slavish to their draconian laws and incapable of understanding our world just as we are incapable of understanding theirs.  As before, a little thought on the matter can do wonders for making the murky and opaque issues clear and crystalline.

Elves say (only half in jest) that the only difference between dwarves and rocks is that rocks change their minds slightly more often.  It is perhaps a slightly insulting statement, but there is some truth in it: dwarves are, indeed, a race of great tradition that is hesitant to change or vary from the norm.  Why is this?  Is not change, growth, and understanding a part of life?  What is learning, if not examining one's position now and altering it based on what one has seen and experienced over time?  We know that dwarves learn; how else could they master the myriad of arts and talents they command?  So, why is it that they seem so stubborn and resistant to change in other areas?

One must consider the dwarven city before one can understand dwarven laws.  Dwarven cities are carved from the very stone, deep inside the mountains they call home.  This doesn't seem to be much of an indicator on the surface; is it possible that living among rocks and stones makes one behave like them as well?  Absolutely not; this is an absurdity, and one that would be laughed out of any proper forum of science.  Such thoughts are foolhardy even by country standards.

A dwarven city is confined; mining operations are expensive, difficult, and time consuming in spite of the natural talent of dwarven miners.  Consider that every project, no matter how large or small, must take into account the local geology, the weight and distribution of weight of the surrounding buildings, the prescence or absence of veins, and so on.  While for humans, building a new home is as simple as finding a spot of land unoccupied by any other and proceeding, for dwarves a project cannot begin simply because nothing else currently occupies that particular chunk of rock.  The interconnected and tightly-built aspect of dwarven cities means that every action that can affect the city as a whole must be scrutinized and regulated for the safety of the community.  To ensure that things are fair and consistent, laws must be written to handle a far larger number of scenarios and issues than humans normally have to resolve (there is little fear of a well needing to be dug through a farmer's bedroom for example, or a mine cropping up where a bartender digs his wine cellar).

This is also why the family unit is so tightly connected amongst dwarves; a new level or room cannot be added on readily for any given marriage or childbirth.  Dwarves frequently have to utilize common sleeping areas and communal living spaces for long periods of time until additions can be safely planned and added to the city proper.  Dwarves have little in the way of privacy; it's common for children to live with their parents, who sleep in alcoves across from their grandparents.  The whole family may share a single "bedroom" that is actually a number of holes in the wall for beds to be placed, with privacy curtains to give individuals (and couples) a moment of peace from their relatives.  Dwarves thus grow accustomed to close quarters throughout their lives: bedrooms are shared with relatives, dining halls shared with the clan, workspaces and public areas shared with the city as a whole; even individual graves a foreign concept.  How can one be buried in the soil when the nearest patch of dirt is a league above one's head?  No, communal catacombs are dug to house the bones of the passed.  As with any other project, the need to plan and consider the city as a whole means that only the most important of dwarves can be granted a personal tomb; even in death the dwarf has little space to call his own.

It is the same with possessions; so little room to spare means that storage space is also at a premium.  Frequently, everything besides the clothes on his back and a few cherished possessions are the property of either his family, clan, or city.  A dwarf must choose wisely what he calls his own; considering the premium he places upon space and the tendency for all things dwarven being made to last, it is no surprise that most dwarven possessions are cherished heirlooms.  So, with so little personal space, and so few things to call one's own, how does a dwarf cope?  How can a dwarf handle such a communal life?  The answer lies with their gruff and distrustful nature.

A dwarf's only true private sanctum is the inner workings of his mind.  It is the one space that never must be shared, where one's thoughts and opinions can be given freely, and one's imagination can run riot, free of the tedium of laws and bureaucracy and the needs of others.  While we humans can be quite free with our words, opinions, and the inner workings of our mind, it is a different matter with dwarves.  Consider the basic approach to an unhappy friend: a human would start by asking "What is on your mind?", and then helping this friend to resolve the issue troubling them.  Amongst dwarves, this would be unthinkable; a friend would never dare to force his way into the privacy of another's mind.  It is the one place he can truly call his own, and its sanctity is of paramount importance.  This is also why dwarves are so private and gruff amongst outsiders: to them, calling another a friend; trusting them with your thoughts and opinions; allowing them to see you as you really are, rather than as how you must be when conduction business; these things are precious, for once given they cannot ever be taken back.  It is a rare thing for a dwarf to call a human "friend", or to admit his emotions and feelings on a matter.  It is the sign of a great bond between them.  To dwarves, it is also the most fitting gift; after all, what are gold or baubles for gifts among a race that can literally pave their streets with precious metals, and pane their windows with gems?  It would be as a human giving a loaf of bread to a lifelong friend.

I spoke earlier of the many laws in dwarven society: dwarves has laws to govern many things in their lives, and order is of great importance to them.  They are a people who prize tradition, stability, and order, and their laws exist to protect these things.  Humans tend to think of laws as a list of things that cannot be done, whereas dwarves see them as a guide outlining what should be done.  This fundamental difference is due to the dwarven emphasis on the safety of the city and the community first.  New homes and caverns cannot be dug out with ease, and the damage that can be done from rogue behavior has the potential to be catastrophic.  The laws exist not to bar certain undesirable behaviors (as with humanity), but to shepherd the people of a community down the path that they, as a whole, must follow in order to prosper.  This need for society as a whole to follow the laws and regulations means that law enforcement must be particularly swift and strong to deter offenders.

Normally, isolation and revocation of alcohol is enough to do the job: a dwarf separated from his fellows and forced to subside on the stagnant cave water and harsh underground fare soon grows lonesome.  He remembers fondly the communal meals, the sound of epic songs being sung, and the clean, refreshing taste of his proper meals.  The isolation also gives him time to reflect on his actions, and how they jeopardized the community as a whole and how to avoid them in the future.  Upon release, most convicts find themselves overwhelmed with a sudden feeling of joy: the return to proper dwarven society means an end to their treatment and the re-acceptance of their brethren.  Jail time is the preferred, but prohibitively luxurious, solution to the need for justice.  Jails, after all, require planned excavation, supplies, chains, guards, and food and drink to be prepared and hauled to the cells.  For obvious reasons, it's rare that the jail can find itself close to the kitchen and stills.  Only the most developed and strong of cities can manage a jail.  The alternative step is corporal punishment: the swift administration of a few blows to the offender allows the matter to be resolved quickly and efficiently.  For many, this is the ideal.  Dwarves are stout, and handle physical punishment better than humans on the whole.  Also, most dwarves find the idea of locking away the offending party and leaving them in a cell is both counter-productive and a detriment to the city, and unnecessarily cruel.  As said before, the need for a city to consist of friends and close family living together in harmony is crucial to success in such tight quarters; many dwarves feel prolonged incarceration only serves to deepen resentment and bad blood between the parties.  Better to take the beating, and shrug the matter off with a drink.  While some smaller communities rely upon whatever provincial law enforcement they find to handle the matter, more important outposts have a royal officer attached to their system of justice: an individual trained in proper administration of corporal punishment and the nuances and breadth of dwarven law.  Such a professional is a slavishly dedicated, frighteningly well-versed, but ultimately necessary part of a thriving dwarven community.\

Why such draconian measures?  Is a dwarf city really in need of such vigilance?  The answer is evident if you have considered the numerous factors at play in sustaining it.  I have covered exhaustively the dangers of structural damage to the intricately mined, engineered, and sculpted dwarven cityscapes, but there is more.  Dwarves rely upon their agriculture as much as humans, but space is ever at a premium.  Farms must be carefully maintained, harvested promptly, and tended relentlessly to ensure that every possible morsel grown is acquired.  Livestock that can be safely bred and raised in the underground is a rarity, and requires yet more space that can only grudgingly be given.  Waste is anathema to dwarven existence, as is wanton destruction or ignorance of the laws that have been written with prosperity in mind.  A poor harvest among humans can lead to hunger, starving out the weaker elements of society.  A poor harvest among dwarves can lead to starvation, a crippling alcohol shortage (due to a lack of fermented crops), which leads to water consumption (of frequently stagnant or polluted sources), which can further lead to an outbreak of cholera or dysentery, which can devastate the city in ways not normally seen among humans except times of war and siege.  Dwarves are strict not because they hate freedom, but because the city requires greater dedication and sacrifice to function.  Certain liberties surface dwellers take for granted are simply not possible in a society as intricately linked as the dwarven one.
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Lysabild

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Re: On the Nature of Dwarves
« Reply #13 on: July 31, 2011, 09:20:32 pm »

Good stuff.
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Urist_McArathos

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Re: On the Nature of Dwarves
« Reply #14 on: October 09, 2011, 07:24:11 pm »

Society, Part II

The dwarves have a great love of longevity.  It should come as no surprise that dwarves, as a race that live amongst things as ancient and enduring as the mountains would prize objects that can stand the test of time.  However, there are a number of practical reasons for this as well.

As mentioned earlier, personal space is at a premium for the dwarves.  This is true of the individual, the family, the clan, even the city as a whole.  With space so difficult to come by, it must be closely managed and prioritized.  Dwarven fungiculture must be carefully controlled, as mushrooms and fungi are more delicate to farm than traditional plants.  After the harvest is brought in, the food supply is of critical importance and receives priority of the storage space.  After food, the various industries that allow a settlement to thrive stake their claim on what storage space remains.  This process continues in descending order of importance until the already-confined space of the city is exhausted.  It is crucial, therefore, for space to be utilized to the best and most efficient ability of the dwarves, and for nothing kept to be a waste.  There simply isn't space for junk, clutter, or spares.

The nature of their storage forces dwarves to create goods that will endure the test of time, so that they do not need to worry about spare parts and replacements cluttering their store rooms.  A human may see no issue with, for example, keeping a shed of picks and shovels for mining close at hand in case any number of catastrophes or absent-minded clumsiness should strike.  For a dwarf, this kind of waste is unthinkable.  A room large enough to function as a human's shed could easily be a new sleeping quarters, or hospital alcove, or addition to the catacombs, or a small armory for a guard-post, or any number of other more critical functions than a closet for junk to gather dust.  For this reason, everything a dwarf makes must be sturdy, well-built, and enduring.  The lack of extra supplies means that the dwarves cannot count on a replacement being close at hand, and the extreme length of their lives compared to humans means that "built to last" means a working lifespan of centuries.

Although they may deny it, boasting that they were expert artisans since time immemorial, there had to have been a point in dwarven history where their tools broke frequently and they were constantly having to endure hardships as they improved.  Those years are long since dead and forgotten.  Today, a dwarf miner heads off to the mines with a pick his grandfather once carried to work; above him smiths hammer away and toil at forges and anvils that predate their oldest kin by centuries; the guards spar and practice with weapons so ancient, they have their own names, kills, and legends.  Amongst dwarves, a new tool or device, regardless of how well-built or carefully crafted, is not considered "well-made" until it has survived decades of flawless operation and use.  This is the reason dwarves are so quick to dismiss human crafts as "shoddy".  In fact, it is said that the dwarven word for "flimsy" or "crude" is a synonym for "man-work".  Elves, with their preference for soft, flammable, splintery wood are considered a laughingstock by the dwarven race.  "Elf-work" is an insult so deep and cutting that blood-feuds can be started by applying it to one's creation.

Naturally, well-built and sturdy tools eliminate the need for a great repository of spares, back-ups, and replacements.  This frees up room for storage of food, booze, ingots of metal, and trade goods.  However, a side effect of this is that once a tool is sturdy enough to survive a century or two of use, it typically is sturdy enough to survive indefinitely.  I have already mentioned that dwarves of today routinely work, fight, and make merry with tools and instruments that predate their great-grandparents.  After a few generations have used and handed down an item, it ceases to be a well made tool and becomes a treasured family heirloom.  Amongst humans we can relate to the great ceremony of receiving a father's prized possession, made even more precious if there is a story about how many generations back the item's lineage extends.  Consider then that amongst dwarves, even an axe or hammer passed from father to son has nearly a century of use behind it (almost three generations or more by human standards), and that most dwarves are the recipients of heirlooms nearly a millenia old or more, and it easy to see that to them these heirlooms are beyond priceless.

A dwarf will tend to such a prized possession with the greatest and most tender of care and maintenance.  This, of course, only extends the lifespan of the venerable item, which only enhances its intrinsic value amongst the clan.  The oldest of the items of a clan are artifacts that speak to the hopes, dreams, and thoughts of its creator, and have seen use throughout the clan's history.  Many are legendary items that are tied to the greatest events that a given clan or settlement has ever seen, and are in a sense living legends and a link to their past.  Stories in the great archives of the dwarven people detail legends about breastplates, weapons, and more of the greatest of dwarven heroes and their cities.  The connection between their deeds and their relics is obvious even to us humans, who build great museums to house our ancient curious and finds.  How much more valuable, then, are the treasures of a race as storied and ancient as the dwarves!

Of course, such attachment comes at a terrible cost.  Dwarves do not handle loss well, and the tale are many of the woes that come from lost heirlooms.  Dwarven soldiers will refuse to fight with "superior" weapons once they have become attached to their precious legacy weapons, and many a soldier has stoically gone into battle against a foe with a weapon that had little hope of making meaningful contact rather than dishonor their family by casting aside great-grandfather's cherished axe before it cleaved it's five-hundredth goblin (as was his dying wish).  Smiths and masons who toil to create the perfect masterpiece have been known to fall into deep depressions and even lash out physically upon hearing that something upon which they bestowed their greatest care has been destroyed by cirucmstance or unhappy chance.  There are also tragic tales of despondent, grief-stricken relatives who throw themselves directly into the path of certain death against foes in the heat of battle in a desperate bid to recover a priceless relic or heirloom that a fallen soldier carried into battle, lest it be lost forever by looters.  Such madness seems impossible to human observers, but amongst dwarves, who can fault the relatives for their efforts?

When a son or daughter is lost, the clan loses a member.  When a seven-hundred year old axe is lost, the clan loses its last true connection with countless ancestors and their deeds.  It is like a part of their entire history and identity is gone for good.  Death may certainly seem preferable than the loss of such a great and important heirloom.

((Next: home and family life))
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