Band of Bugbears
Dwarves are one of the oldest races in Arcadia, and have flourished to a degree unmatched by any save for Humans. The physiological similarities between humans and dwarves are unmistakable, but their lifecycles are radically different. Dwarves are not born in the same way as the majority of sapient species do. Magical inspection has revealed that Dwarven souls will occupy tiny tiny nuggets of ore deep underground. During what is most analagous to a gestation period, the nugget of ore works its way through the surrounding stone. Eventually, the dwarven infant emerges, sheathed in a thin layer of stone. The infant will remain in this state for approximately 1-2 weeks, and will then crack through the stone. From this point on, the newborn dwarf is biologically speaking indistinct from more conventionally reproducing races. It is unknown how the gestating infant is capable of forcing its way through solid stone, nor how it is capable of inerringly moving towards the nearest open pocket of space capable of fitting the eventual newborn.
This strange process is mirrored in many ways by the manner in which dwarves die. A deceased dwarf remains flesh and blood for approximately 48 hours. Magics have been developed, and are still in use, that can extend this time given a dedicated spellcaster. Lacking this, the dwarf’s bones begin to crystallize, and turn into an otherwise unique stone. This process is irreversible once began. After 7-12 days, the dwarf’s body will be entirely composed of this stone. The next few hours are critical. If buried under at least 10 feet of soil, or entombed with loose stones, the dwarf’s body will discorporate over a period of 3 days. Tests done show no remaining traces of the unique stone of the dwarf at this point. However, if a dwarf is not buried, the stone hardens, and if tested is indistinct from a variety of hard stone. It is theorized that the type of stone is determined by the area that the dwarf was born in, but granite and marble are the most common.
This very literal concept of “stone to stone” informs a great deal of dwarven culture. It is considered a tremendous misfortune to go unburied and be rendered a statue, as it is believed that this traps the soul of the dwarf within the statue, never to be reborn. This has been shown to be completely false, the soul, lacking a physical component, is not restrained by the solidified body any more than it would a glass jar, but the superstition persists, and so arranging a proper burial is considered the most critical respect owed a fallen dwarf.
Stone to Stone is the center of the most common dwarven religion, Sedivism. Sedivism has gone through many incarnations since its founding an estimated four cycles ago, but at its heart it has remained very similar. Key teachings involve the duty of all metahumans to aid and protect their neighbors, the importance of regular sacrifice to Shotah, the Sedivist God. Sedivism is a monotheistic religion, and does not acknowledge the existence of other Gods, however Sedivistic teachings have traditionally been more insular than evangelistic. While certainly possible for a non-dwarf to bleed upon the Sacred Stone and join the faith, this is rare, and while not opposed, not encouraged either. Dwarves are not required to perform this ritual, as the minor cuts incurred during the emergence from the infant’s shell is considered to provide a sufficient sacrifice. While it is nominally up to the internal laws of any particular dwarven clan, in practice being a Sedivist is required to be buried in the barrows of a clan, so while similarly possible, it is rare for a dwarf to convert to another religion.
Dwarven society is organized in loose “clans” that, despite the name, are without exception political constructs rather than collections of interrelated families. While the process by which the head of the clan differs from clan to clan, almost all dwarven clans place nearly complete power in the hands of a single ruler, who is blessed by a Sedivist totaque(priest). In the modern era, most clans exist within another country, and with few exceptions, have given up sovereignty to the country they exist beneath. In practice, this usually takes the form of a loose vassalage or federalistic system, where citizens of the clan rarely interact with their nominal ruling body save for taxes or passports, and clans are granted money to provide social services and the like.
Dwarven clans occupy massive underground complexes referred to as caverns. These generally take the form of large, reinforced open areas that resemble a normal city block, underground, with tremendous numbers of small and large channels allowing for movement of people, animals, supplies, water, and even waste between the different open areas. Caverns tend to be “deployed” in a particular configuration, and it is the mark of a well-ordered cavern and clan that a cavern can be converted to another configuration quickly. With the exception of the “expansion” configuration, this rarely involves the digging of new passages, instead buildings are put to different uses and the members of the clan redistribute themselves. Hence a clan can array itself in such a way to build hundreds of weapons a day when in a “production” form, and a scant week later, can provide a nearly impenetrable defensive line, with the population housed in the deepest tunnels when a “defense” form is ordered.
Dwarves are famous for being industrious craftsmen. In less technologically advanced eras, the massive forges found in dwarven caverns produced weapons, tools, and other metalworks at a faster rate and higher quality than any other facility. IN the modern era of mass production, the other races have made significant gains on the dwarves, but a dwarven production cavern still has the highest production through-put of any factory or factory-analogue. In practice, when massive quantities of an item are required, however, surface factories are used, due to the comparative ease of expansion of production capability. The production lines and machines are often of dwarven design and make, meaning that there are few mass-produced products that do not have the fingerprints of a dwarf on them, even if they never spend a day underground.
Dwarven designers of weaponry favor simple, hardy designs over more elegant or complex designs, even if these designs would be more effective. The predominant philosophy is that a weapon that has malfunctioned or broken down is preferable to an inferior but more reliable weapon. Dwarven police forces still exclusively carry revolver-style firearms, despite the larger ammunition capacity and fire speed of auto-loading weapons. The only exception to this rule seems to be machine guns, which the natural chokepoints of caverns make terrifyingly effective.
Armored vehicles, while seemingly a natural fit for the cunning craftsdwarves found in almost any clan, have proved unpopular. The dwarven focus on fixed defenses gives them a low opinion of the protective abilities of mobile armored units, and dwarven offensive doctrine relies on a slow, inexorable advance of infantry with repeated stops to regroup and build fortifications and dig trenches. This results in a force that almost completely eschews modern armored vehicles, instead relying on high quality anti-tank guns and artillery pieces to provide infantry with increased firepower. Military planners often joke that “heaven is elvish cavalry and dwarven artillery, and hell is dwarven cavalry and elvish artillery”.
The dwarves have also eschewed air power almost entirely. While their anti-aircraft guns are of unparalleled quality, dwarven heavier than air flight is something of a joke. The most successful dwarven aircraft, the XL-2 Quake, proved to be an incredibly durable and effective fighter-bomber, but was rejected for wide service unilaterally, when it was discovered that each aircraft required over a thousand man-hours of work by dwarven rune-smiths to make the stone and metal body of the aircraft light enough to take off, and that damage that on another plane would be merely cosmetic would interfere with the magic enough to cause a crashlanding. While dwarves can on occasion be found among the crew of bomber craft, they make poor pilots as a whole, even of craft designed by other races.
Dwarves have an average magical aptitude, although they have a unique magical tradition. While crafting complex magical items is almost impossible during the Fade, dwarven rune magic allows spells that normally would have fairly short durations to last much longer, or to be stored and activated later. “Casting” one of these rune-spells the first time can take many hours, however, with more complex magics often requiring multiple rune-smiths working in convert. Thatic magic is almost unheard of in dwarven societies, however, with almost all dwarven magicians who do not become rune-smiths instead learning Gnostic magic. While gnostic magic and rune-smithing have many similarities, rune-smiths have very little luck understanding the arcane equations of gnostic magic, just as gnostic mages have little luck comprehending the rune-language that powers rune-smithing magic.
Dwarven food is considered by most other races to be a bit of a crapshoot, bouncing between stunningly bland meals of a strange mushroom porridge that makes a staple of the dwarven diet, to almost inedibly spicy dishes served on more noteworthy occasions. Dwarven foodstuffs tend to be derived from various species of mushroom or potato, with meat being a rare delicacy. Eggs, however, are a more commonly consumed food, as there are several variety of lizard that produce eggs of a quantity and quality deemed appropriate for the dwarven palate, even if the resulting omelette may be less than appetizing to non-dwarves. In stark contrast, however, is dwarven alcohol. While potato vodka is the stereotypical dwarven beverage, small quantities of grain are often grown by dwarven clans for the purpose of distilling grain alcohol from them, and many clans choose to fill the countryside near the exits of their caverns with grapevines. While the true connoisseur will prefer elven vintages, the fantastic expense of purchasing elven alcohols makes dwarven alcohol of all formats the dominant upper-shelf choice.
The dwarven language is full of harsh consonant sounds and is notable for the complete lack of a “ss” sound. Dwarven words tend to be long, compound constructions that self-describe the concept, leading to a very precise language that can take quite a while to convey real meaning. A sub-tongue known as “shop-talk” is also spoken by dwarves and those they deal with regularly, which is useful only for mercantile pursuits, simple commands, and unpoetic description, but is very favorable as a “tourist language” for those visiting dwarven caverns.
Dwarven nomenclature is unusual, as dwarves have no “family names”. Instead, a first name is given by the director of the creche the infant dwarf is born into, and the “family name” is derived by taking the week the dwarf was born in and the day of that week, and applying them in a compound manner. Hence, Redrick Stonehammer is born in the third day of the first week of the year, but Igor Riverhammer is born on the third day of the twenty-third week. While for many years dwarves were given first names that were unique to dwarf-kind, increased cross-cultural contact has altered this, leading to an increased number of dwarves with human, orcish, or even elven names.