Sunday, July 17, 2011


When I was a kid, I didn't think much of dwarves.

Originally, at least. But remember, that for the first 3-5 years of my gaming career, my sole role was as a Dungeon Master. My experience with playing ANY character class was nil.

When I finally did get the chance to play in a game as a PC, we were deep in AD&D territory and any race-class combo that didn't allow unlimited levels (or maximum in the case of assassins, druids, monks, etc.) was pretty much taboo. Our campaigns ran in the upper echelons of game play...and even when we would (occasionally) start over with 1st level characters, it was expected that SOMEday we would reach those lofty heights. Dwarves were limited in every class, with the possible exception of thief...but as they were pretty fumble-fingered compared to the halfling variety who would want to go down that road?

Only an idiot would play a dwarf.

My younger brother was one such idiot...the only one of our regular gaming circle that would ever bother to play a dwarf. Generally a fighter, maybe a fighter-thief...but then, AB started as a B/X player and dwarves were hearty and he was apt to get killed off early anyway. I'm not sure he ever expected to live long enough to get to "lofty levels," though later (when he was of a more "serious" frame of mind) he switched over to playing ONLY human fighters and human barbarians.

Everyone else was a human or a half-elf bard/druid or a halfling thief or a Drow cleric...etc. You get the picture I'm sure. Dwarves as a species were nearly extinct in my D&D games from about, O say, 1986-1999. Or thereabouts.

And yet, even though I didn't play MY first dwarf until D20, I started getting intrigued by dwarves earlier than that. And I can pretty much point to two sources that got me intrigued:

Revolt of the Dwarves
Obmi the Dwarf

Revolt of the Dwarves was a TSR "Endless Quest" book that I never read until long after I'd stopped reading "pick-a-path" books...I believe I picked it up at at an elementary school library one summer when I was acting as a night custodian ('s possible I thumbed through it earlier). What intrigued me more than the story was the artwork, especially Larry Elmore's cover:
Check out that badass front-and-center, naked blade in hand. No hammer/axe slinger this guy...he's friggin' Russel Crowe as Maximus in Gladiator. Does the image remind you of anything you might have seen recently? It sure does me.

But this is the kind of dwarfs I could get into...dwarves on charging destriers, lances in hand. Where were these guys when I'd been playing D&D before?

Obmi, first found in Gygax's module G3: Hall of the Fire Giant King, is likewise a serious badass, showing just how cool a dwarf in AD&D can be. Of course, I didn't pick up a copy of G1-3 until 1988 or so after I'd lost contact with my original gaming group. But Obmi certainly made an impression on me, as did his detailed characterization in Gygax's own Gord the Rogue novels.

Since becoming intrigued, I've had some experiments of a dwarven nature, myself...for example, I played my own fighter/thief/duelist in D20 (the skinniest dwarf you've ever met) and I picked up a whole box of Warhammer dwarf models to craft an elaborate Mordheim warband based on Thorin and company (even had a halfling sword-for-hire to make Lucky Number 14).

These days, of course, I'm playing B/X (er...running B/X) so all my dwarves are "just dwarves," not dwarven fighter/thieves or Tordek...and certainly they bear little resemblance in my mind to John Rhys-Davies as Gimli. But even though they're "just dwarves" doesn't mean they can't still be badass. The more I consider it, the more I want MY dwarves to look like the dashing cavalry on the cover of Revolt, and LESS like Flint Fireforge. Damn Dragonlance and its clownish demihumans (gully dwarves, gnomes) anyway!

Recently, I've introduced some dwaren-ish plot stuff into my weekly campaign. Even though I want to continue exploring the deserty-Arabic-Egyptian setting in which the characters find themselves, I'm thinking that I'm going to "up the ante" on the dwarf impact. I need to stop thinking Nordic and start thinking "short, burly alien species." I believe I have simply fallen into the same trap many DMs and world-crafters have before me, namely riffing off the traditional Norse mythology on which the dwarf class is based. There's no need to do that...many of the monsters one finds in D&D are of quite different origins (Greek myth and 20th century science fiction, for example). The game is already a damn hodge-podge. At least I can make the dwarves something worth playing!

By the way...our one dwarf player in our Thursday night game? Not one of the guys with a 3 Charisma. Now that's something to riff off.

[and, yes, in case anyone's wondering, this little post has been inspired by the inundation of dwarf pix to the internet from Ye Old Hobbit film. I'll take inspiration where I can find it. Who knows, maybe y'all are in for "dwarf week" here at the ol' Blackrazor...]


  1. I've always liked dwarves. I'm playing one now in our WFRP game. He's called Hammerhead Harry, and he's a small and thuggish version of Michael Caine.

  2. @ Kelvin: Oh, yeah! Completely forgot about WFRP! The dwarven "troll-slayers" (and their meaner cousins, the "dragon slayers") are some of my favorite bits of fluff of all time! I have got to model that in B/X somehow!

    Heck, just getting the bear fat to grease one's hair would be a challenge worthy of any dwarf (and a good way to meet that longed-for death as well!).
    ; )

  3. Do you like the Akkadian dwarfs of the RPG I'm developing?

    It's in spanish, but I think the images speak for themselves:

    I hope you like the dwarf slavers in mesopotamia theme.

  4. @ Wachinayn: Very, very cool...both the subject matter and the illustrations themselves.

    Still, my dwarves will be a fighting species, not just a noble/merchant class. Much as I like your interpretation of the dwarf, I probably won't be stealing your idea in the near future.

    Though you never know...
    ; )

  5. Mordheim rocks. I like my Dwarves kind of Norse-ish but I know what you mean, they don't need to be so totally locked in that interpretation.

  6. @ Pierce: Well, sure, and Norse dwarves are cooler than say, oompa-loompas. D&D dwarves are based on Tolkien and Tolkien's are based on Nordic folklore, albeit with his own spin...they have the characteristics of Norse without the Teutonic god twist, Mr. Tolkien being a Big Catholic and all.

  7. Dwarves are the only demi-humans I'd actually want to play. I like the roles/mechanics offered by elves and halflings in B/X, but I dislike all the generic fantasy baggage they bring.

    I could see Dwarves appearing in some form even in a R.E. Howard type of campaign. Halfings, gnomes, elves...not so much.

  8. I like dwarves.

    For the last couple weeks I've been putting together some ways to make dwarves scary bad guys over on my blog. Next week is all scheduled and ready to go to show the dwarven good guys that stop them. All aimed at B/X play.

    Dwarves in Warhammer are the most compelling to me. Talk about alien, they have this rock-solid lack of compromise or forgiveness that makes them dangerous to themselves and others.

    (By the way, thanks for dropping by to comment on my blog. Made it less echoey.)