Races of Altherys – The Dwarves

Also known as the Stout Folk, the Dwarves are considered to be one of the shining examples of perseverance in Altherys; though it is a perseverance highlighted by tragedy and misfortune. Dwarves are like Elves and Humans in that they are technically not native to the continent, having come from lands beneath the earth called the Deep Realms. Unlike the elves, however, who were exiles but came willingly to colonize Altherys, dwarves share their tragic plight with the western peoples of mankind.  Like the men of Tyrenmor, the dwarves lost their homeland to a tragedy largely shrouded in mystery, and their culture is believed to reflect what had come before.  As natives of the Deep Realms, dwarves are out of their element on the surface world but have gained an immense foothold in the years following the Second Era’s beginning – a foothold that they intend to keep.

Dwarves are surprisingly nowhere near as diverse at first glance as the other races.  Their numbers are comparatively few, and the largest of their populations prefer to keep to themselves either in their traveling bands or in their mountain strongholds.  Despite this lack of numbers, however, the differences between the various subraces of dwarf are astounding.  Even more astounding is their cultural diversity; at the communal level, individual clans of dwarves are likely to have dozens of traditions unique to their clan alone, allowing them to stand out from their fellow dwarven kin.  It is this cultural and physical diversity that often defines the dwarves, highlighting the mix between being melancholy refugees or stoutly xenophobic isolationists.

Dwarves of Altherys are most likely encountered on the road rather than in their mystical mountains.  In fact, the majority of the race, despite claiming to descend from an underground-dwelling people, tend to live above the ground.  These dwarves can usually be found either in roving, nomadic caravans seeking work where they can find it, or in human settlements where they make their living as laborers, miners, craftsmen, and occasionally hired muscle.  The rest of dwarvenkind look down upon these dwarves, either in general pity or in great disdain, as they are seen as less than their regular kin.  The feeling is mutual, however, for despite losing much of their heritage many of these dwarves remember that it was their mountain-dwelling kin that banished them from their homes in the first place.

Dwarves are perfectly well known for their physical strength, their innate talent in craftsmanship, and their resistance to magic, particularly to the schools of the arcane.


Etymology

The term “Dwarf” is a word of mixed origins, being a mix between a High Tyrenese word for small folk and a bastardization of the dwarven name for themselves; Duarr. The name simply means, “People,” when translated from its ancient dwarvish, and reflects their simple nature in explaining things and their origins. (For example, the word for “Bronze Dwarf” is Boroznduar, and is usually in reference to their much tanner, bronzish skin. Metaphorically it could also refer to the Bronze Dwarves being a mix of peoples, trying to be strong but still not remotely strong enough to match their betters).


Origin

Dwarves originate from the Deep Realms; the vast underground realm that is believed to cover the whole length of Altherys. According to dwarven legend it is believed that they always dwelt there, as there are no surviving records or oral traditions that speak of dwarves living on the surface before the First Era.  (Some scholars disagree with this line of thinking, given how similar in appearance dwarves are with humans and elves). What is known and recorded is that dwarves once held a vast empire deep underground whose size rivaled that of ancient Remes.  This was not a traditional empire ruled by a single king, however, but was based around several city-states bigger than any known city in the world, each with territory stretched for many leagues in every direction. This empire had lasted for untold generations in the time before the First Era.

The Dwarven Empire would eventually come to an end, however, during the time known as the Goblin Wars (though not the same conflict that occurred in the Second Era, many Dwarves believe that to be an extension of their own war many centuries prior). Goblins were also a race native to the Deep Realms and had no empire of their own, keeping their distance from the dwarves for centuries. This uneasy truce ended when a series of raids and skirmishes escalated out of control, forcing the normally peaceful dwarves to defend themselves. Hundreds of thousands of goblins took part in attacks on Dwarven strongholds, using monstrous beasts they tamed from the great dark to aid them. It was a war of attrition that the dwarves found that they could not win, as citadel after citadel was destroyed by armies that seemed to be without end.

The war would come to a head with the siege of Orzan-Zardûl, greatest and oldest of the dwarven cities.  When the city fell and was sacked, the goblins slaughtered all within down to the last woman and child, forever staining the surrounding earth red from the blood.  It was then that the last dwarven king, Zamron the Walker, realized that the Goblin Wars were lost.  Fearing the extinction of his people, Zamron declared that the empire was no more and asked his people to follow him into exile, seeking salvation from the destruction left behind by the goblin race.  Most followed their desperate king upwards, guided by their king’s proclamations of a rumored land above that was covered in a ceiling of lights instead of stone.  Some followed much more slowly, choosing to harass and harry any goblins that would dare try to follow, becoming hardened as they separated themselves from their fellow dwarves.  Others outright refused to leave their homes, and so chose to remain behind and commit themselves to a last stand against their enemies.  Of those who remained behind, none know of their fate.

It was roughly halfway through the First Era, two centuries before the Third Kin War of the elves, that the Dwarves finally emerged from mountain caverns to a new and alien world. Zamron would never live to see the day, having died on the journey and entombed deep within, though his grandson, Zamron the Last, would build a grand city in his grandsire’s name over the site where they emerged.  Most refused to go further than the mountains, as the light of the sun was blinding and terrifying to them. Thus many decided to secure their footing at the edge of this new frontier, venturing out at night to seek out supplies and food under the cover of darkness so that the light would not blind them.

Despite emerging and attempting to settle peacefully upon the surface world, it was not long before the dwarves encountered new troubles.  Many of the mountains they emerged from were already home to a race of fair-haired, gray-skinned elves who used the mountain’s caves as sacred tombs to inter the dead.  Their encounters with the squat, hairy beings escalated into violence when their tombs were violated to make room for growing communities.  Dwarves found themselves hunted like common animals, while Gray Elves found their sacred places defiled and many of their own number killed in retaliation.  Though peace would eventually come between the two it would cement a near-permanent distrust between Dwarf and Elf for ages to come.


Physiology

Dwarves are easily the shortest of the Five Races, their height ranging anywhere from four to five feet on average. They are also the stockiest (for their body size), as much of their body mass is composed of strong, thick bones, powerful muscles, and broad chests built for heavy lifting. It is not uncommon for a Dwarf of modest size to be considered heavier than a human of similar averages. Their height is believed to be a result of living nearly their entire lives underground, as even today many dwarves make it a point to find work near mountains wherever they can, taking up jobs as laborers, quarrymen, miners, prospectors, and so on. Dwarves are a physically robust people whose strength lasts even as they reach old age, with even the oldest of dwarves being able to lift their own body weight with little difficulty. Dwarven constitution even allows for their race to have longer lifespans than most, with some elders occasionally reaching nearly their third century in age.

One advantage of dwarven constitution that marks them from all other races is their strange, natural physical resistance to magic, particularly the arcane arts. Dwarves are physically immune to many spells and magical effects that normally would harm others, which makes them ideal hires in situations that requires cleanup of hazardous materials that are the result of spells backfiring. Unfortunately this immunity comes at a cost, as dwarves are also unable to tap into most magical powers, making them blind to such concepts as ley lines or auras. They are completely blind to the source of Arcane magic, unable to even touch it, and the number of individuals who can access its sister source of Spirit magic are few and far between.  While many dwarves are just as likely to access the power of the Divine or the Dark Arts as what one would normally find amidst the other races they are largely cut off from magic altogether.  This has led to many in their culture having a distrust towards the strangeness of the Arcane.

Despite the fact that they are resistant to magic, dwarves do have ways to inadvertently touch the Arcane through Enchanting.  For reasons still unclear, certain dwarves are capable of casting runes made of various metals and forging them into symbols, sigils, and wards of incredible power, which are traditionally made into icons, weapons, and armor to grand them unique effects.  No one truly knows how this is possible and few outside of dwarven circles have studied it, as the gift is kept secretive by the many powerful Enchanting Guilds that exist throughout Altherys.  It is believed that this same skill is how many dwarves take up a profession in Alchemy, as the process of transferring raw magic material into potions for consumption works on a similar level (though this is unproven).

Dwarven skin and hair color has varying ranges, though their skin is naturally a paler color.  This is believed to be due to the race’s lack of contact with natural sunlight, and it is not uncommon for a Dwarf to easily sunburn if they aren’t wearing proper protection. The only exceptions are Bronze and Copper Dwarves, as both of these races have regular contact with sunlight.  Despite this, however, their own skin tones are looked upon as unhealthy compared to the other dwarven peoples. Hair color has a slightly wider range, from dark blacks to silvery whites, though more often than not their hair is a shade of red or dull brown. Dwarves also have long, proliferate hair that grows nearly everywhere on their body save for their chest, face, digits, and private regions.  It is not uncommon for dwarves to cultivate this hair and braid it as a combination of status symbol as well as a way to keep it in check.  An immense part of status among dwarven men is the growth and cultivation of their beards, whose length, texture, and thickness are all graded as a sign of health and wealthiness.

Lastly, and perhaps as a consequence of their immense constitution, dwarves find it difficult to interbreed and have offspring with other races.  With the odd exception of humans (which is still largely little understood) dwarves are incapable of having trueborn, half-breed offspring with other races.  The few pregnancies recorded often do not end in fortune, as the ones that do not lead to miscarriage or stillbirths are often deformed and/or incapable of reproduction.  Despite this, human/dwarf hybrids are surprisingly healthy, stable, and fertile, which has led to no small debate on the nature of mankind’s virile nature.  This hasn’t stopped dwarves from looking down upon relationships with other races, especially those between dwarves and non-dwarves which often finds the most discrimination.


Culture

Despite the fact that dwarven culture becomes widely varied at the communal level, its root culture is nearly unanimously similar regardless of subrace, perhaps having changed little from the root culture they shared before the conclusion of the Goblin Wars. As the truest of strangers in a land filled with blinding light and political intrigues, dwarves have learned to keep largely to themselves; acting as isolationists unless dealing with matters of trade, alliances, or war. Even the Bronze Dwarves, who are a largely nomadic people wandering the roads from town to town looking for trade, keep mostly to themselves whenever possible; a fact that has only further managed to ostracize them among both dwarves and the other races alike.. Despite this fact, or perhaps because of it, Bronze Dwarves remain the largest ethnic group of dwarvenkind whose numbers cover much of Western Altherys from Fryslon to Vaelenor.

Dwarven craftsmanship is an aspect highly desired by many, including in particular the rich elite of many lands.  Due to their surprisingly deft and nimble fingers, dwarves have been known to create immense detail in their work, often taking simple tools and granting them their own particular flair in the form of runes, patterns, and carved reliefs of legends and/or important events in dwarven culture.  Many a dwarf has learned to take advantage of the positive stigma regarding things of dwarven make, and so choose to become smiths, jewelcrafters, carvers, and other sorts of artisan work, while close kinsmen take it upon themselves to act as merchants to sell their cousins’ products at a high price.  The term, “from rags to riches!” may get its origin from this fact, as even Bronze Dwarves have learned that to other races the color of their skin matters little so long as their craftsmanship can be claimed as dwarven make.

Though dwarves have endured centuries of war and strife at the hands of other races, and though much of their best smithwork includes weaponcrafting, they are not a warrior people by tradition.  Indeed, if the legends can be considered true, war was an alien concept to the more-or-less peaceful dwarves of the Deep Realms.  Due to the suddenness of the Goblin Wars, it was believed that the first weapons used by dwarvenkind were simply tools modified and sharpened for use in war.  This reflects in the weaponmaking of dwarves today, as most of their weaponry today are still occasionally used as tools of trade when not used for war.  Many of their most proficient weapons include battleaxes, warhammers, polearms, scythes, knives, and a number of throwing weapons.  One of the most common dwarven weapons in particular is the warpick.  Referred to as a crowbill by some, warpicks are often used to poke holes in enemy armor and to drag foes off of horseback in the middle of battle, where they are soon either flattened by a hammer end on the opposite side or skewered by one of the two spiked ends.  Though dwarves do occasionally make swords thanks to aid from human and elven smiths, they rarely use them for themselves, preferring instead to rely on traditional weapons that can serve multiple purposes besides combat.


Altherys Dwarven Races

Dwarves are not as diverse as the other races of Altherys, but their kind have made a notable presence throughout the continent from north to south, frequenting wherever mountains can be found. Bronze Dwarves, the most common ethnic group, are said to be found throughout the known world due to their nomadic lifestyle, their image becoming a mascot for the common image of dwarves to other Altherysians. The largest number of them are concentrated in western Altherys, which is believed to be where they first emerged from the Deep Realms.

Boroznduar

Boroznduar translates to mean ‘Bronze People’ in the Dwarvish tongue. Officially the name references the color of their skin, though metaphorically it is often used to describe them as a people – a mixture of many that forms the image that is Dwarvenkind, but lacking in any strength great enough to match that of their betters.  Over 90% of Bronze Dwarves are descended from the first refugees who emerged upon the surface of Altherys during the First Era, with the remaining 10% being of distant Iron or Gold Dwarf descent.  Due to losing their homelands through war, overexertion of resources, or from being banished from their homes by Iron and Gold Dwarves who emerged from the Deep Realms after their arrival, Bronze Dwarves now live a primarily nomadic existence.  Commonly looked down upon and disregarded by other dwarves, Bronze Dwarves live melancholy lives in hardship, seeking work wherever they can find it and doing their best to uplift themselves through song, dance, and good manners. Due to their nature as wanderers, Bronze Dwarves can be found throughout Altherys, though like all other Dwarves the greatest concentration of them is along the western coast. Bronze Dwarves have darker skin than their other dwarven kin, described as being overly sun-kissed or just a shade lighter than sunburned, which is remarked by other dwarves as unhealthy. They are also among the tallest of the Dwarves, having lived generations on the surface.

Feroznduar

Feroznduar translates to mean ‘Iron People’ in the Dwarvish tongue.  Of the dwarven races, the vast majority that still remain in their native mountain strongholds consist of Iron Dwarves, and as such they carry the name with a sense of fierce, stoic pride.. Of course, this pride is often remarked with a sense of dishonor among many Bronze Dwarves, as the Iron Dwarves were largely responsible for driving the Bronze Dwarves from their homes, having descended from latecomers to the surface used to living for generations harrying and harassing the goblin races.  Due to their aggressive approach to the surface, Iron Dwarves are largely isolationist who brook no nonsense from others, choosing to defend what’s left of their culture any way possible, violently if necessary.  This has put them at odds with other races, though they are not above the idea of brokering trade and good relations with their surface neighbors.  Iron Dwarves have populations that exist throughout Altherys, but they are mostly found in the north and in the west where their numbers are strongest, with the majority of them living in their traditional strongholds where they had first ascended to the surface world.  Iron Dwarves have paler skin equivalent to human skin such as those of the Fryss, and tend to also have paler colored hair than most other Dwarves.  They have the second largest population of dwarves on the continent.

Augoznduar

Augoznduar translates to mean ‘Gold People’ in the Dwarvish tongue, though rarely is it referred to in the literal or metaphorical sense any longer. The Gold Dwarves first appeared in the Second Era, claiming to be the trueborn descendants of the high kings of their ancient empire who finally returned to join their people. When they first appeared they attempted to unite the dwarves under a single banner, preaching xenophobic propaganda against the other races while to conquer or destroy any who stood in their way. Despite the attitude of some dwarven clans, most dwarves were not interested, and later sought the aid of the newly arrived humans when the Gold Dwarves began to grow in strength enough to be a threat.  The Gold Dwarves were soon routed in battle and driven off, their clans making their way across Drogoroth Glacier and into the Dragon’s Teeth mountains, where they are believed to remain to this day. It is unknown if the Gold Dwarf civilization managed to survive the coming of the Twin-Tailed Comet that hailed the end of the Second Era, as little word comes from the direction of those mountains.  Gold Dwarves exist in rare few pockets throughout Altherys, though the greatest of their numbers can surprisingly be found near Valenor in the south, where they remain highly xenophobic and isolationist in temperament.


Further Reading:

The Five Races

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