Monday, August 26, 2013

Dwarves: An Overview

by Dominic Ford

Carved from stone, forged from metal, the Dwarves are the first truly mortal race born to Desylinn, and their civilization and culture reflect this most ancient heritage. Guided by Dragons for millennia, the Dwarven religion and philosophy involves a unique combination of ancestral honor and formalized rituals for seeking advice from the divine Dragons who live and work among them. The Dwarves built upon the schisms and division of their Draconic leaders, evolving into ten different clans, with five dramatically different cultures between them. Between their complex culture and the vast swaths of land their empty continent allowed them to settle, the Dwarves are a force to be reckoned with in Desylinn.
Fundamental Dwarven Culture
The most critical element of Dwarven culture is their uniqueness. The Dwarves understand that their systems would be ineffective or useless among other races, due to their unique heritage. Most of the clans have extreme gender divides, with males strictly forbidden from working with Stone and females equally forbidden from dealing with metal, to the point that female merchants keep husbands or brothers around for the express purpose of dealing with their metallic currency. Most clans also have some degree of racial purity expressed through this belief. The most extreme clan is the Silver clan, who believe that any sexual relationship with a non-dwarf is an offense deserving extreme punishments, including death if the union results in a child. They also frown on inter-clan marriage, something the White clan disagrees with entirely, as their women often attract suitors of other clans. The Red clan is the most dramatic exception to this idea of racial purity, as they have begun to accept the ideas of equality expressed by the Kindred and believe that this racial identity is part of what made the Mariean Empire so particularly unpleasant.
The clan forms the most critical element of identity for Dwarves, with their first loyalty belonging to their clan. Each Dwarf has the same clan as their mother, regardless of what clan their father is from, and their hair color matches their clan. While some clans, such as Red or Blue, are easily distinguished by outsiders, few can distinguish between Silver, Iron, Lead, and White, making many of the finer points of clan interrelations difficult for others to understand. Dwarves have eyes the color of their Father's clan, making inter-clan marriages more obvious. Although there is technically a caste system among the Dwarves, the Mariean Empire wiped out the actual differences and the bulk of the clans evolved into a primarily meritocratic society, focusing on Family instead. Family honor has taken on even stronger connotations since the fall of the Empire, particularly among the more martial Red and Silver clans who feel the need to prove their Families were coerced by the Empire to serve as their agents.
The Ten Clans and Five Alliances
The Dwarves, just like their Draconic deities, are composed of ten different Clans. Each clan has its own agenda and ideals, their own laws and politics, and their own goals and methods for achieving them. Each clan is closely allied with another clan, and in many cases hair color is the primary distinguishing factor of the two allied clans, as their cultures are fundamentally similar and tend to be strongly entwined. Understanding the Five Alliances is critical to understanding the Dwarves as a race.
Silver and Gold - These two clans are the most inclusive and most firm in their own superiority, particularly over other races but also over the other clans. They have strict ethical codes and are firm believers in tradition and maintaining all the old religious traditions. They abhor the lax moral values they see among the other Dwarves, particularly among the Red clan. The Silver clan specializes in martial prowess, and proudly served as special forces units for the Mariean Empire. The Gold clan specializes in music and strongly advocate the powerful ties a shared musical experience help to create.
Red and Iron - These clans couldn't be more different than the Silver and Gold, believing in the fundamental equality of the individual and that earning your position means more than family, caste, or even clan. Half-breeds with the Kindred and the Humans are becoming increasingly common, and hundreds of Red Dwarves have turned their back on their Clan by taking the marks of the Kindred upon themselves. The Red clan specializes in sheer physical strength. Against their will they were used as shock troops by the Mariean Empire, and they are have been scattered across Desylinn, making them the most commonly seen clan of Dwarves outside their own territory. The Iron clan specializes in all kinds of Smithing and metal work, and their clan has the weakest gender taboos, with many women taking up the hammer and learning their father's or brother's trade.
Copper and Lead - Located in the valley between the Northern and Southern Dragon mountain ranges, these two clans are among those most often seen by outsiders. The Copper clan is composed of two different groups, the central farmers and the fringe herders and outriders. Hunters, farmers, and highly expansionist, the Copper clan controls significant territory and the bulk of the food supply. The Lead clan specializes in mining, and are also divided into two groups, the Northern and Southern branches. Living in the foothills of the ranges, the Lead clan is slowly turning the mountains into valleys, as they level whole mountains to mine critical metals and build mighty structures of stone and metal.
Blue and Green - These two clans are by far the most secretive of the Dwarven clans, and both were hunted by the Mariean Empire. Although they possess very little territory of their own, the clans are important in their own right. The Blue Dwarves are the most powerful magic users, with strong and powerful spells few outside their circle have even heard of, much less mastered. They have vowed to never allow their enslavement again, and are willing to die in order to prevent it from happening. The Green clan has even less territory than the Blues, and instead live amongst the other clans, dyeing their hair and integrating themselves into the clans, often so fully and effectively that their closest friends remain unaware they are from different clans. They thrive on learning secrets, and gather information on the hidden ways of others.
Black and White - Both of these clans claim to be neutral in the feuds of the other clans, and have gone to great lengths to ensure that their neutrality is firmly established. The Black clan has the strongest healers in the world, and will give succor to any who find their Black Shrines, Dark Temples, or the Black Tower. The White clan took a pledge to protect the holy places, and somehow managed to hold out against the worst the Mariean Empire could throw against them. They have determined that in spite of their success they could have done better, and have begun to build a massive wall along their Western border. Half complete, they have just begun construction on a similar wall along the Eastern side. The andBoth walls are meant to prevent anything like the Mariean Empire from ever conquering Dwarven lands again. White clan took a heavy toll under the Mariean Empire, and have rejected standard Dwarven gender norms entirely in order to build and grow more effectively.
The Clanless
Two different kinds of people form the Clanless - those who were exiled from their Clan (and their descendents), and the unlucky few who are born outside a clan in the first place. Born with wild hair, mismatched eyes, or other genetic confusions, they are never accepted by their clan and are typically driven out before they reach adulthood. The clanless wandered for many years, but a large contingent have found their way to the Free Cities, where they have begun to unite together, far from their tormentors. Many of the exiles have chosen to embrace a wider vision of themselves, embracing less typical trades, practices, and ideas, most commonly men working with stone and women working with metal. In addition, most exiles have embraced alternative religious traditions, vastly different cultural norms, or even a new racial identity.
The Empire and Draconic Schism
When the Elves landed, the Dwarves initially ignored them, assuming that they would be entirely unable to defeat the barbaric tribes, much less breach the mighty Dwarven fortresses. By the time they realized their mistake, it was far too late and the Dragons slept. During this time, the Dwarves began to understand their own mortality better, as they no longer had access to the oracular Dragons. When the Dragons were finally awoken, the Dwarves had gone without divine response for two and a half millennia, and had become used to simply acting instead of demanding divine advice. As a result, a rift has formed between the Dragons and the Dwarves, leaving many to wonder if they will continue to consider each other as allies.
The Future
As the Dragons have all awoken and the immediate threat of the Empire has been quelled, the Dragons have once again resumed their petty squabbling. Although the Dwarves also engage in this, many have begun to wonder what the future holds for them. How long can Red and Silver disagree on everything without resulting in the death of innocent Dwarves? How long can the feuds continue before another force like the Mariean Empire steps in to intervene? What will happen if the Dwarves stop treating the Dragons like divine beings? Can the rest of Desylinn avoid being dragged into the intrigue and machinations of the various Dwarf clans?