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Ever since I read The Hobbit as a kid, I have been a dwarf fanatic. It was in fact my appreciation of dwarves like Thorin Oakenshield and Bruenor Battlehammer that opened the vaults of roleplaying and wargaming for me. Maybe it's their no nonsense approach to life or the way they stick up for themselves and their mates, but give me dwarf over an elf or a hobbit any day. And give me a battalion of dwarves and I'll have the world by lunchtime.
However, dwarves are often grossly under-estimated in both RPGs and wargaming. I could probably go on forever as to why dwarves are so excellent in the wargaming world, but for this article, I'll stick to RPGs. It is my hope that after reading this document, you will have a better appreciation of the potential dwarves offer in an RPG.
Pros and Cons
Many gamers I play with seem to always go for elves, humans or a mix between the two races. Many gamers don't realise the good side of the dwarf, only seeing their disadvantages: their short stature, and their limited speed and agility. Of course, if you are looking for a character who is fast and agile or your stereotypical bookish mage, then choosing an elf or human might be a good choice. However, this is not a choice to be taken too lightly. Inexperienced gamers often end up with a character that they don't enjoy, not because they have a kick-ass or weakling character - what your character is has nothing to do with it - but because the character doesn't suit them properly. The only way to avoid this is to give thorough consideration to the pros and cons of the character's race before making a decision.
Dwarves are tough. Pure and simple. Their stocky frame allows them to take hits and still get up afterwards. Because of this, the typical dwarf is often found up in the front lines hacking away at anything that gets too close, giving time for the more delicate characters like elven archers and wizards to rain death on the enemy. Despite their size, dwarves in most RPGs also have good strength and constitution, allowing them to travel many miles with a great load. They might take their time, but they won't drop dead from exhaustion.
Speed - or rather the lack of - is not a problem once you consider where most dwarves have come from and how they approach battle. In general, dwarves are depicted as hill and mountain people, they live in caves and love the subterranean life. Taking this into mind, dwarves are unlikely to sprint across a plain, climb a tree or dance around their enemy in combat. Also, the dwarf's lifestyle teaches them not to rush into things. Unless enraged, they are slow to act and always take every aspect into account first. They consider defence as well as attack in combat. They are slow to make friends and enemies, but even slower to forget them.
The lack of magic among dwarves, at least as it stands in AD&D and Warhammer, may come as a disadvantage. Especially when some magic items can blow up in a dwarf's face if he or she is not careful. But with this disadvantage, there are advantages. In games where the dwarf race doesn't have magic, they usually have a resistance to magic. Also, dwarves often have a generic knack for magical items like weapons and armour, and there are dwarven clerics. Dwarves are rarely totally devoid of magic.
What is a Dwarf?
To fully appreciate the value of the dwarf, I will now take a closer look at what makes them what they are. There are many ways to describe the average Joe Dwarf than just squat and stocky. I find the best way to sum them up is by using the acornym:
D stands for dour. Dwarves are very serious and narrow minded creatures, especially in areas of trade, elves and humour. Dwarves are often considered as the fantasy equivalent of the grumpy old men, eternal pessimists, always looking down - or, more correctly, up - on the ever-smiling optimists. This isn't always the case, however. Dwarves simply see things differently from humans and elves and tend to read between the lines thoroughly before running off into things. Their methodical minds make them quick to learn from experience that the world doesn't owe them a living. Dwarves would not call this pessimistic, they would call it practical or common sense.
W stands for workers. Dwarves are an industrious folk, always putting in long hours of hard labour before knocking off home - or to the pub, which ever comes first. Dwarves are famous for being miners, blacksmiths, or artisans, and they take well to any job which involves using their hands. And with their strong sense of community, dwarves will generally be skilled in some trade other than fighting. Some gamers may find this idea boring, but it can add much dimension to the character. Besides, having someone who can repair your weapons and armour at any time and for half price is always a good thing.
A stands for alcohol. Dwarves know how to drink, and know how to do it well. They are ever-ready to pull out a keg of Bugman's XXXXXX and Stumpet Rakingclaw's 90 proof Holy Water. All dwarves drink to some extent, as it is integral to their culture. If you'd prefer to play a teetotaller, then you should forget about playing a dwarf.
R stands for remembering. All dwarves have long memories, and not only remember past grudges, they enjoy it. No dwarf ever forgets the wrongdoings someone does against them, and no dwarf will ever forget their friends, past or present. Family pride is also very important. Dwarves are also deeply rooted in history and tradition. No dwarf has ever totally approved of the inception of a new idea. Dwarves will only accept something if it makes a big difference. Their motto is: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".
F stands for fuzzy. Dwarves are renown for their beards. Dwarves admire beards and the longer the better. In many RPGs, dwarves are often recognised by the length and neatness of their beards. Look at every fantasy picture of a male dwarf and he's guaranteed to have a bit of fuzz. And in many cases, the females do as well.
S stands for stoic. A dwarf is more likely to tough things out than admit they're in trouble. Dwarves, unless they are in desperate need, will pass themselves by for the sake of a friend or comrade whose need is greater. They're not so much selfless, they just don't like to recieve help, because it looks like weakness. A dwarf prides himself on standing on his own two feet, and owing nothing to nobody.
How to Play a Dwarf
So you've decided to play a dwarf. How then, should a dwarf act around friends, countrymen or anything else for that matter? Dwarves usually regard each other as equals. Unless the dwarf demands respect or obedience in the case of a lord or a master craftsman, or is a known enemy, dwarves will treat a stranger of their race in the same way as they would treat a brother or sister. Also, to the eyes of a dwarf, a friend or companion may as well be part of the clan.
However, dwarves are always suspicious of non-dwarves. This doesn't mean that your dwarf character should go around being racist to everyone. All this means is that your character should be slow to trust, and wary of the actions of others. Dwarves always watch their backs and keep an eye out for trouble - which you should be doing anyway!
Most dwarves respect the law of the land. A dwarf will defer to the authority of a lawman within the lawman's territory, so long as this man - or elf, or whatever - is just and strong. If there is one thing a dwarf hates, it's cruel or weak-willed scum running the gaols and taking bribes. Corruption and back-door politics grates with the dwarvish sense of fair play.
When insulted, it is very rare for a dwarf to simply take it on the chin. Many grudges are founded on that one little remark some smart-ass made in the bar, two doors down from the mage's guild, in the city of Aster, 38 years ago, on a Monday. Insulting a friend or family member is even worse; dwarves take all insults very personally. And even if they should forgive the slight, they never, ever forget it.
In a word, the best way to describe a dwarf is tactless. Dwarves are the RPG equivalent of the stereotypical blue-collar worker. They are never afraid to express themselves or their opinions, and are always true to their passions and beliefs. They are as rough as guts, sarcastic, politically incorrect and painfully honest. However, although they are open with their thoughts, they are stoic about their feelings. If a dwarf is mad at you, he won't scream or shout, he'll just put an axe through your skull.
Here then, I have given you a good overview of the way of the dwarf: how a dwarf should look, think and behave. This, of course, is merely my own interpretation. Ask another fanatic about dwarves and you'll probably get a different answer. I hope only that in this article I have broadened your mind on what it takes to be the 'little big man' of the group. And that perhaps I have inspired you to make your next character one of this mighty and often undervalued race.
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