Pretty much every dwarf ever is this guy.
Confession time. Dwarves are far and away my favorite demi-human race. Their industriousness, their pragmatism, their vitality, their sturdiness, and their acceptance of technology in fantasy settings appeals to me on a visceral level. Given the choice, I’ll always play a dwarf character in any setting, save for maybe Shadowrun. Shadowrun’s about the only game where I simply can’t abide demi-humans, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. What we are talking about is A: how much I love dwarves, B: why they’re awesome, and C: why so many gamers seem to miss the point.
The answers to the first two questions are easy, so we’ll deal with them first. A: A lot and B: Totally awesome. There, with that out of the way, we’ll tackle the third and, frankly, trickier question. Okay gamers and gentle readers, lets talk. Seems there’s a lot of powerful stereotypes about dwarves that we simply cannot dispel. Unfortunately, since there’s no NAADP (National Association for the Advancement of Dwarven People), it’s up to us to dispel these gross misconceptions. Now, this is a pretty tall order. Why? Well, because a lot of gamers, and game designers/publishers, are lazy and unimaginative.
There, I said it. We are, on the whole, content to just accept the tropes set down for us by the first generation of elder-gamers and by the authors who inspired them. Now, there are strong exceptions to this. Iron Kingdoms has a great twist on dwarves, and, well…Did you know that Iron Kingdoms has a great twist on dwarves? It’s true! Aside from them, well, I’m drawing a blank. Any other settings out there not feature dwarves who have retreated to their mountain fastnessees after an apocalyptic war with Elves tens-of-millions of years in the dim past? Please, enlighten me. “But, but…that’s what dwarves do!” Do they? Do they really? That kind of thinking leads to our first stereotype, which is:
Every Dwarf is Gimli: Oh, noes! I can hear it now, “Gasp! How dare he say I miss the point! I’ve cosplayed Gimli over one-hundred times! I have eaten (more) Ramen (than usual) to afford the genuine replica Gimli movie axes from the back of the U.S. Cavalry catalogs to hang over my DVD collection! I’ve contributed numerous critiques and corrections to the Dwarf Wiki! I’ve even written love letters to (Jewel Saite/Summer Glau/Gerry Ryan/Scarlet Johansson/Milla Jovovich/et al) in ancient Khuzdul! I most certainly do get it!” Neckbeards will quiver in indignation, and a thousand thousand cheeto stained fingers will bend to their keyboards in righteous fury.
We have been stuck with Tolkien dwarves in every goddamned RPG and derivative, nine-thousand page, masturbatory fantasy novel by Roger McMaster Hickman-Weis for over sixty years now. All respect to Professor Tolkien and all, but It’s getting old. Really old. Seriously, kids. Lord of the Rings is sixty years old now! Can’t we have some sort of evolution away from the axe-swinging, beer-swilling, beard-wearing, mine-living, northern-European ruffian? Of course, none of this was helped in the slightest by Jonathan Rhys-Davies’ simpering, boorish, comic-relief portrayal of Gimli in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies which, in all fairness, wasn’t entirely his fault. Those movies came out and every gamer worth his Crown Royal dice bag, me included, said fuck yes! That’s how a dwarf should be played. You know what? We were wrong. Dead wrong. Gimli is a good start, sort of the ur-dwarf that all fantasy dwarves seem to have descended from. We need more though. More variety and some forward thinking when it comes to who and what dwarves are. If that happened, maybe we could get rid of:
Every Dwarf a Scotsman:
Every dwarf that isn’t Gimli, and many that are
, are apparently just very short Scotsmen with drinking problems and anger management issues. Seriously? What the hell is with us, and when I say us
I mean gamers and fantasy nerds in general, and the Scots? You know what, gamers? I’m going to drop some knowledge on you right here. Despite what Mel Gibson would have us believe, Scotsmen weren’t the only hard-charging badasses to ever swing a sword. You know who else kicked a lot
of ass back in the day? The Germans
. And the Poles
. And the Russians
and the Turks
and the Prussians
and the French
and probably a whole bunch of other people I’m forgetting. Hell, the old, old origins of dwarves before the likes of Tolkien and company got hold of them come from North Germanic Paganism
, i.e. the bloody Vikings! I’m sick and tired of seeing dwarves portrayed as the fantasy analog of football hooligans
who wear chainmail instead of Falkirk
jerseys and throw axes instead of cups full of Boddingtons. So, do yourselves a favor gamers. Put away your utilikilt and your blu-ray of Braveheart
and maybe, you know, come up with something other than a short dude in a kilt with a long beard for a character concept.
I Mine In My Mine and What’s Mine is Mine: Okay, this one I get. It plays into what I love about dwarves, you know, being the best craftsmen and miners and stonemasons in the world. I guess I don’t really have beef with this, it’s just a little pat. You know, there are dwarf farmers and shepherds and scholars and priests and all manner of other dwarves who work their short little asses off to support the aforementioned beer swilling, axe-throwing churls. You know what I want to hear for once? A story about, say, a bunch of dwarven civil engineers rebuilding an ancient dwarven city. Or, well, anything except another rehashing of Gimli son of Gloin.
Dwarven Women Have Beards: They don’t. Get over it.
Dwarves can’t (ride horses/swim/use magic/stand elves/go a day without starting a bar fight, etc.): Oh really? Why not? Who says, your old red box D&D? Think about it. Dwarves can’t be a single social and cultural unit in the same way that all Russians or Englishmen can’t. Sure, they have certain cultural touchstones and racial memories, along with their long traditions, but surely not every dwarf thinks the same way on every given subject. Dragon Lance did a decent job with this, especially in the Dwarven Nations Trilogy (which you all should either have read already or need to immediately read. They’re the best DL books hands down) where they showed all sorts of cultural differences between kinds of dwarves. These differences can be brought about by migration, isolation, or simply living in a different valley. Whatever the case, never assume that one dwarf is much the same as another.
Whew, glad that’s over. I guess I’ve gone on about this long enough. I’m sure I’ve missed a whole bunch of things to talk about regarding dwarves and their portrayal, but thems the breaks. Honestly it all comes down to personal preference. I prefer level-headed, pragmatic, mildly sardonic, law-abiding dwarves who are clannish, enjoy the comforts of home and hearth, are professionals at whatever they turn their hands to, and are as varied as any other race of people. If you want a dwarven society made up of drunken Gimli clones who sound like an enraged Sean Connery all. the damn. time. knock yourself out. Just, I don’t know, have a look outside of your narrow fantasy worldview sometime and get a little perspective. You very well may like what you see.