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Author Topic: On Dwarves... Part One : I Like Dwarves, Do You Like Dwarves?  (Read 6246 times)
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« on: November 24, 2009, 08:58:37 AM »

Ever since I first started to have an interest in anything fantasy*, I have liked dwarves in particular. I really couldn't say exactly why. I must have just felt some connection to how they were portrayed or really enjoyed a certain dwarf character early on.

Anyways, I was wondering if anyone else here felt the same way. I know that elves tend to be more popular and some people here would rather create a race all of their own, so I am curious about this. If you do, without getting into too much detail*, why is this so? Also, if you dislike dwarves, why is that so? Or maybe you are just indifferent toward them, simply accepting them as part of the terrain and little more. If that is that case, I would also like to know if there is a reason for it.

I'm mostly creating this thread to get a discussion going and to learn about the views of others. If there is interest in this, I plan to eventually branch the discussion out into different aspects of dwarven culture and what, exactly, people think makes a 'typical dwarf', since they have been portrayed in many different ways. Of course, if there is little or no interest, I will just let the topic get buried while I go play with dwarves by myself (and you won't be invited!)

*When I say "fantasy", I mean pretty standard Dungeons and Dragons / Lord of the Rings / that kind of thing. I know that the word can be interpreted in different ways, and I even use it with a broader meaning myself, but that is a discussion for another time.

*It isn't that I don't want to hear the specific details, it is that I intend for those discussions to come later. That is, if there is interest in this line of discussion.
 
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« Reply #1 on: November 24, 2009, 09:20:29 AM »

On the whole, I do like dwarves, probably the best of the "standard" Tolkeinian fantasy races (although Halflings can be very fun, I find they have to be a bit more nonstandard to be so, and much as I love Orcs, they can be troublesome to incorporate smoothly into a game as anything but enemies)
They're gruff, tough, they like beer, and they have super awesome beards. Plus I am quite fond of axe-wielding characters.
However, it is possible to "do dwarves badly" I think... and this is less to do with straying from the roots of what makes a dwarf a dwarf (I do like a bit of experimentation, as I'm sure you're all aware) and more towards interpreting those core dwarven values... wrongly. I understand that that's entirely subjective, but I stand by it. If the balance of mining, fighting, drinking, and beard-wearing isn't to my liking, I can be very unhappy with a certain author or setting's dwarves. This can even be down more to the writing style and characterization than any overall racial or cultural trends.

EDIT: I've always been slightly puzzled by the idea that dwarves should have Scottish accents. Does anyone know where this came from and why?
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« Reply #2 on: November 24, 2009, 09:34:07 AM »

Scottish miners? I'm just glad they don't speak with an Austrian accent...
I also think that dwarves are my favorite Tolkienian race. They are more than just humans with pointy ears, and their culture is more "realistic" than the whimsical elven one. Not to say that they are fonts of originality though; but they are inoffensive to most tastes, and fit well into a common sword and sorcery setting; halflings always seem misplaced as most anything but a thief, and elves seem most at home in their forest cities. Dwarves, on the other hand, would be right at home in any given dungeon.
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« Reply #3 on: November 24, 2009, 09:44:44 AM »

My favoritism of dwarves in Tolkien-esque fantasy is that they are portrayed as having a strong (in the sense that you might say a kind of food is strong), vital culture.  All the others feel a little bit dead: elves are too refined (and normally defined as dying anyway), halflings are too soft, humans often seem to be caught up in hating someone.  The closest is orcs, but there's just something about a race being evil that makes it feel limited.
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« Reply #4 on: November 24, 2009, 10:14:18 AM »

My first main 'view' is that all the trad races are archetypes, and we use them aprtially out of affection and partially because their history gives players and GMs a common ground.

One of the fun challenges a GM has is to take this archetypes and change them enough so that they are specific to the setting, without destroying that shared communal idea.  

I don't know if dwarves are really less popular than elves, but they are often portrayed as less magical; and in a game where magic and magical power are extrememly important, this is a major handicap for the dwarves.  

More later.

(oh, yeah---racial alignment tendency has some issues as well.  Orcs are always evil?  Dwarves are always lawful?  I say poop.)
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« Reply #5 on: November 24, 2009, 10:28:53 AM »

Dwarves seemed to be left rather vague and ill-defined in the Lord of the Rings. I haven't read The Hobbit or the Silmarillion though, so perhaps my vision of Tolkien's dwarves is limited.

In mainstream Fantasy I think the race falls too easily into a narrow stereotype. I've also yet to see a good example of female dwarves.
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« Reply #6 on: November 24, 2009, 10:52:35 AM »

Ghostman

I've also yet to see a good example of female dwarves.

Discworld proves that dwarven women already exist, dwarves just don't want to admit it.
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« Reply #7 on: November 24, 2009, 12:13:38 PM »

Jade Stage dwarves

Part of what I tried to do with all races is to make them more interesting by twisting expectations. Most of these things have been written about to the point that they're rather stale: everybody has expectations, and everybody's somewhat disappointed when those expectations are precisely met (not exceeded, not subverted, but met).

I took the standard idea that dwarves are peerless crafters and smiths, and expanded it out to encompass all the applied sciences. This is where the idea of chreotechs came from. So there are dwarves that are matchless artisans or armorers, sure, but there are also dwarves that are pioneers of architecture, agriculture, chemistry, surgery, and so on. Individual dwarves tend to have a passion, and to pursue it with intense focus.

I was also tired of the settings where dwarves are isolationist-- whether by deliberate policy or in practice. In a lot of worlds, they burrow into their little underground nations where they're well out of the way, and you're hard-pressed to meet any dwarves besides the one "PC" dwarf (hi, Gimli). So I changed that, too. The dwarven nation Cardannis is essentially the Jade Stage's Rome; once the seat of a world-spanning empire, it's given up all its colonies and imperial ambitions, but not before spreading its language, culture, religion, etc. across the globe. It's hard to escape the influence of Cardannis in this setting, even though the kingdom's flat broke and its army is overextended just defending its own borders.

Tolkien's dwarves

Silmarillion nerd alert:

Dwarves are the only race in Middle-Earth that was not created by the creator-god Iluvatar; they are also (technically) the firstborn sentient race (no matter what the elves will tell you).

Basically, before creating the world, Iluvatar shows all his attendant spirits a vision of what the completed world will be like, with all its splendors and its peoples, and asks them "who wants in on this project?" Those who opt in find themselves on essentially a blank world-- not really fully realizing they had been shown a vision of the future, and they'd have to work to realize it. Iluvatar is like "hey, get this place ready, I'm gonna make some people later."

Aule gets impatient, waiting for Iluvatar to make people; Aule saw people in the vision of the future world, and thought they were awesome, so he decides to quit waiting and make his own. But he didn't really get a good look at them, so they're a little ill-proportioned (also, they're inert statues; Aule is a craftsman, but only Iluvatar can grant people the spark of life. Whoops!) So Aule's checking out his statues ("Nice work! I'm awesome... but why aren't they moving around?") and Iluvatar is like "Hey, I told you I was gonna make people, what is up with this?"

So Aule realizes he's stepped out of line, and he picks up his hammer to smash the people he's made... and they cringe away from the upraised hammer. Iluvatar is impressed enough that he gives them the spark of life-- but he doesn't want them to be the firstborn people, so he puts them into deep-freeze until after the elves and humans awakened.

So. No wonder dwarves are awesome; they have a proud heritage: crafted by the most radical of the Valar, and also they get to call "firsties" on the world. Not bad.[/spoiler]

Dwarf supremacy.
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« Reply #8 on: November 24, 2009, 01:24:55 PM »

I don't have any special attachment to Dwarves, or really any non-human race, any more than my feelings for humans. They are all more or less the same to me. Any race can have a fun culture. Since I'm not into trope anything, existing tropes for dwarves have just as little influence, when compared to any other kind of racial trope. I guess I'm very much neutral on the topic of races for fantasy in general.
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« Reply #9 on: November 24, 2009, 01:32:00 PM »

I like dwarves.

I've also seen a lot of different takes on Dwarves. Dragon Age, D&D, Tolkien, Discworld, Warcraft, WarHammer, etc...

The most important thing for me, is the beards. Dwarves *have* to have beards. Doesn't have to be some kind of be-all end-all epic facial hair fortress, but some kind of facial hair is required (or at least, important to dwarves).

That being said, I don't see the need for female dwarves to have beards. I have nothing against them having beards, I just don't find it necessary. Also this is usually used exclusively for hilarity...

...and the same joke told a thousand times gets old quick :p

My most recent brush with dwarfdom was pretty well done. Dwarves in Thedas (the world of Dragon Age) live in a cast-based society, worship their ancestors, a lot have beards (especially the noble cast), live underground, literally cannot use magic, etc.

Dwarven women are basically in the same place as human women are compared to humans. However... they have super-long arms.
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« Reply #10 on: November 24, 2009, 04:20:38 PM »

I am rather weary of so many games and settings that choose to focus on the 3 big good guy races - Humans, Elves and Dwarves. Humans are always the empire building tyrants, Dwarves are always the drunk warriors and Elves are always the aloof ranged combatants.

It's just so boring to see these three races constantly united together against a common, oft overwhelming, enemy (i.e. Mordor, the Blight, the Horde, etc.).

Having said that, I love all three races (I just wish we could get some diversity once in a while).
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« Reply #11 on: November 24, 2009, 04:50:05 PM »

Kindling


the balance of mining, fighting, drinking, and beard-wearing

Could be an interesting thought experiment to pick one of these "core" features and change it drastically, while leaving the other ones untouched. Then come up with reasons why these altered dwarves are the way they are, and in what other ways do these reasons influence their culture.

Dwarves that fit the archetype except they don't mine/live underground?

Dwarves that fit the archetype except they are pacifists?

Dwarves that fit the archetype except they won't touch alcohol?

Dwarves that fit the archetype except they consider beard-growing a taboo?
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« Reply #12 on: November 24, 2009, 05:00:20 PM »

Ghostman


Dwarves that fit the archetype except they are pacifists?


Gandi would a poor dwarf make.

Ghostman

Dwarves that fit the archetype except they won't touch alcohol?


No alcohol!? They're not from Utah tongue

Plus with out alcohol what do the Dwarves really have? Mining? Fighting? Heck, you're probably dooming the whole Dwarven race to oblivion, for with out alcohol, how can a dwarf be expected to enjoy intimate relations with bearded women?  :p
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« Reply #13 on: November 24, 2009, 05:23:10 PM »

Elemental_Elf

I am rather weary of so many games and settings that choose to focus on the 3 big good guy races - Humans, Elves and Dwarves. Humans are always the empire building tyrants, Dwarves are always the drunk warriors and Elves are always the aloof ranged combatants.

It's just so boring to see these three races constantly united together against a common, oft overwhelming, enemy (i.e. Mordor, the Blight, the Horde, etc.).

Now you know how I feel when people keep making humans the most versatile/adaptable/plucky/common/etc. race.
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« Reply #14 on: November 24, 2009, 05:24:33 PM »

And a dwarf without mining is like vreeg without wine drinking
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