((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.))
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. It's 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))