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Author Topic: On Dwarves... Part Four : Dwarven Diets  (Read 7007 times)
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« on: September 11, 2011, 09:42:30 AM »

I decided now that we've got this fancy new site up and running, it's about time for another edition of On Dwarves... to break the place in. The subject this time : Dwarven Diets. I'm not talking about dwarves trying to shed a few pounds but rather what they regularly eat.

If they live underground, normal agriculture is pretty much right out. There are likely some plants that could grow there and fungus is an option. In this sort of setting there are probably creatures that can be hunted for food. It's difficult to imagine these things making up for everything they eat, though.

How do you handle this in your setting? Do you just not worry about it and hand-wave it away?

If you were building a setting from the ground up and considerations like this were to be important to it, how would you choose to make it work?
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« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2011, 09:55:46 AM »

the "dwarves" of Arga, the Dura, eat salt, earth, and the occasional pinch of powdered gold.
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« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2011, 01:30:43 PM »

A few ideas:

Viking-style dwarf raiders who pillage farmland and poach game from above-worlders.

Dwarves are carnivores; hunting parties emerge from underground periodically to find game.

Dwarves are supreme technologists who trade their gadgets for food with above-worlders, possibly supplemented with alchemically synthesized glop.

Dwarves are elemental creatures who don't need to eat at all but die if they stray too far from the underground for extended periods.

Dwarves are savage creatures who eat goblins (or elves).

EDIT: Some more:

Dwarves raise flocks of mutant, domesticated cave-bats and fish in huge underground seas full of albino fish and crustaceans.

Dwarves are weird bearded vagabonds who live beneath human cities and eat rats and garbage (and the occasional stray cat... or human beggar).

Dwarves grow hydroponic veggies and genetically engineer meat-beasts.
« Last Edit: September 11, 2011, 01:43:45 PM by Steerpike » Logged


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« Reply #3 on: September 11, 2011, 01:58:02 PM »

I'm personally a fan of hydroponics, myself. In a world of magic, getting light is hardly that big of a challenge, and oxygen-producers at the bottom of large cave systems would actually come in handy, as you don't need to pump air down to them.
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« Reply #4 on: September 12, 2011, 08:47:36 AM »

Some solid ideas. A lot of them, though, like raiding and raising bats, seem like they would only partially solve the problem. It would probably have to be a combination of things.

Considering their limited space, does anyone else thing that limited cannibalism could be a viable option?
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« Reply #5 on: September 12, 2011, 09:22:54 AM »

Tons (I mean tons) of non-human species eat one another, and there are plenty of human cultures which sanction cannibalism too, either ritually or due to food shortage.  It's probably not some kind of hard-wired taboo that most intelligent species develop so much as a social taboo we've arrived at culturally (I'm no expert, of course, but that's how it seems to me).  Cannibalism might not fit our image of typical dwarf culture, though.

My suggestion would be to combine many methods of gathering food and distribute them  across different populations. Perhaps there are tribes of semi-feral cannibal dwarves who raid human settlements and send out hunting parties, and then there are docile fungus-farmers who rear bat-flocks for meat and trade with topworlders for other foods in exchange for precious metals, or something.
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« Reply #6 on: September 12, 2011, 09:38:30 AM »

I could see a situation where the worst offender criminals (rapists, muderers, ect) would be fed to the lesser criminals that are imprisoned.
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« Reply #7 on: September 12, 2011, 10:08:28 AM »

Assuming the dwarfes lives in mountain hold, then they could have goats and such like grassing on the mountain side, within an area that predators can't enter and the goats can't leave, due to cliffs or walls being carved into the mountain itself and the only acces to the inclosure is via a tunnel to thier underground home.
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« Reply #8 on: September 12, 2011, 11:05:20 AM »

Goats sound reasonable and suitably cool. Raising rams as battle mounts would be cool also...I think that was in a video game. Was it WoW?
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« Reply #9 on: September 12, 2011, 11:17:29 AM »

The situation partially revolves around why the dwarves have chosen to live underground in the first place.

The idea we generally get of dwarves living below-ground in huge cities/complexes comes from Tolkien, of course, specifically Moria.  Why live in Moria?  Because of the mines - specifically the mithril mines.  We know that a small coat of mithril chain such as that worn by Bilbo/Frodo was worth more than the shire.  Looking it up, mithril is worth ten times its weight in gold (presumably that's unworked mirthil).  That means that even if the amount of mithril produced over a given time is tiny, the dwarven miners and their families would be fed for years by sale of a few mithril objects.  Make a handful of those chainmail coats, helms, jewelery, swords, etc and you've effectively bought yourself enough "malt beer and red meat off the bone" to last you a good long while.  So in Tolkien's universe, at least, establishing permanent underground communities - which would be incredibly difficult to engineer, construct, and maintain, of course - is actually worth it, and trading for the majority of your food would easily be viable.

Of course, this relies on a fairly stable economy with rich trading partners and the like.  I could be wrong about this, but I assume Middle Earth is iron age, i.e. no steel weapons or armour.  Mithril is like titanium crossed with silver, so it would make sense for people to covet it.  Reading up on things, I've noticed that Eregion, an elven Kingdom in the second age of ME, sprang up specifically in symbiosis with Khazad-dum, with the dwarves mining mithril and the elves working it in smithies.  Food isn't specifically mentioned, but it's hardly a stretch to imagine elven bakers trading boatloads of lembas (one bite of which is sufficient for a full day's march), or alternatively just lots of game and grains if trading lembas is forbidden or something silly like that, for mithril.

EDIT: Maybe those elusive dwarf women aren't miners but gatherers/agriculturalists?
« Last Edit: September 12, 2011, 11:21:01 AM by Steerpike » Logged


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« Reply #10 on: September 12, 2011, 12:17:56 PM »

I've never really understood how dwarves living underground is supposed to prevent them from practicing agriculture on the surface. Just because you carve your house into the rock of a mountain doesn't mean you're somehow unable to come out of there to plough, sow and harvest as needed. I'd imagine that the slopes above an underground dwarf city would look very much like this, with some tunnel entrances added:

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« Reply #11 on: September 16, 2011, 10:43:48 AM »

however, that's all assuming that they need a "human" diet of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and what-not.

Assuming we are talking about fantasy dwarves and not Peter Dinklage, there isn't anything that says they need to eat what we consider food, let alone eat at all. instead of thinking how fantasy dwarves would fit in with our view of societies and thinking about HOW they live underground (if we are staying with the troupe), we should focus on interesting reasons WHY they live underground. Steerpike already mentioned economic reasons, but that leaves plenty of other things to work with: religion, biology, physiology, politics, history, etc.
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« Reply #12 on: September 26, 2011, 06:01:01 AM »

I haven't been around a lot and sort of ket this die prematurely. I'm going to try to fix that right now.

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the "dwarves" of Arga, the Dura, eat salt, earth, and the occasional pinch of powdered gold.
I really like this. I take it that they are actually sort of like elemental creatures, then?

Looking at things the way Steerpike explained makes a lot of sense. If the dwarves and the elves were constant partners, they coukd probably fare quite well. Dwarves have largely come to be almost avatars of he earth, now, though.

I also understand that it would be easy enough for dwarves to farm on the surface of hills and such but what about the deep mountains or deep underground? In the past, to reconcile D&D merchant sort of dwarves and Tolkien underground dwarves, I have had settlements of both. The ones on the surface tended farms and ranches for food that they would trade with the underground dwarves in exchange for materials to craft and sell to others on the surface.

Señor Leetz

however, that's all assuming that they need a "human" diet of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and what-not.

Assuming we are talking about fantasy dwarves and not Peter Dinklage, there isn't anything that says they need to eat what we consider food, let alone eat at all. instead of thinking how fantasy dwarves would fit in with our view of societies and thinking about HOW they live underground (if we are staying with the troupe), we should focus on interesting reasons WHY they live underground. Steerpike already mentioned economic reasons, but that leaves plenty of other things to work with: religion, biology, physiology, politics, history, etc.
I've always just had the come from underground. In a fantasy setting they could have been created there or maybe they had a reason to dig so deep but that was forgotten centuries ago and now they just continue to do what they have always done.

An interesting idea would be to have a setting based around dwarves who evolved and became what they are in caverns underground without outside influence. Digging tunnels would pretty much be like exploring the surface of their world. Those tunnels would then be converted into whatever they needed the space for. Maybe they'd even try to dig their way to heaven or some surface promised land from legends, if you change the origin a bit.
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« Reply #13 on: September 26, 2011, 06:28:14 PM »

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An interesting idea would be to have a setting based around dwarves who evolved and became what they are in caverns underground without outside influence. Digging tunnels would pretty much be like exploring the surface of their world. Those tunnels would then be converted into whatever they needed the space for. Maybe they'd even try to dig their way to heaven or some surface promised land from legends, if you change the origin a bit.
This gets me thinking: if dwarves evolved to live underground, they might have developed long, firm claws like a mole for digging, or might secrete an acid from their skin that dissolves the earth and rock.  Not technically "diet" related, but an interesting thought.
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« Reply #14 on: September 27, 2011, 03:59:36 AM »

Seraphine_Harmonium

This gets me thinking: if dwarves evolved to live underground, they might have developed long, firm claws like a mole for digging, or might secrete an acid from their skin that dissolves the earth and rock.  Not technically "diet" related, but an interesting thought.
Actually, dwarves being related to moles is pretty easy for me to imagine.
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