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D&D 5E Dwarves Could Use A Rethink

Yes, that is what I am asking. Were does the modern (20th century+) version of dwarves come from? Or was it a fabrication from many didn't myths, legends, and folklore?
Tolkien inspired D&D, which was subverted by Warhammer, which was ripped off by Warcraft. And World of Warcraft took over the world.
Tolkien inspired D&D, which partially inspired Final Fantasy*, the second JRPG (after Dragon Quest/Dragon Warriors)
Tolkien inspired D&D, which inspired Ultima and Wizardry, probably the two root games of Western CRPGs.

So where they came from? It all boils down to Tolkien and D&D I'm afraid.

* In Final Fantasy 1 dwarves literally lived in Mount Duergar.
 

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King Babar

Adventurer
Yes, that is what I am asking. Were does the modern (20th century+) version of dwarves come from? Or was it a fabrication from many didn't myths, legends, and folklore?
The portrayal of dwarves in modern fantasy comes almost exclusively from Tolkien and his derivatives* (and Snow White to a lesser extent). Tolkien was in turn inspired by Norse and Germanic folklore.

From there it's all social osmosis. Similar to how many people's understanding of the Norse gods stems from the Thor comics (and its derivatives), our modern concept of dwarves has only a loose connection with the mythological inspiration.

It's funny to me that some call dwarves "stale" despite the fact that their portrayal in modern fantasy is incredibly consistent, something about their archetype has a definitive appeal and trying to rethink them seems like change for the sake of change.


*includes D&D, Warhammer, Warcraft, and many other works of modern fantasy. Also "derivative" isn't meant to imply that these are lesser works.
 



It's the beards. We just have to normalize bearded female dwarfs.
In my setting, while female dwarves can grow beards, the really salacious choice is mutton chops.

"Groth! look at her. Baren' her chin to the world. 'tsa scandal it is."

Also dwarves have long, silky eyebrows too.
 

Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
It's the beards. We just have to normalize bearded female dwarfs.

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MGibster

Legend
Yes, that is what I am asking. Were does the modern (20th century+) version of dwarves come from? Or was it a fabrication from many didn't myths, legends, and folklore?
I'm guessing the modern 20th century version of the dwarf comes from the same place we get elves from, J.R.R. Tolkien. And Tolkien created his dwarves by taking elements from myth and molding them into what he needed to build his own modern mythical story.
 

Dwarves are great as-is. Don't break what's not fixable, or whatever that old saying is.

The "staleness" of dwarves is a strength for roleplaying games overall because it provides a common framework for examining and understanding the game. Dwarven stereotypes--stout, bearded miners and smiths who are fond of ale and mead--allow new players to grasp with immediacy the tropes of the game. When the GM says, "You see a dwarven blacksmith at his forge," neophytes to D&D can picture Gimli with an apron, hammer, and tongs, thereby immersing them in gameplay.

Alternadwarves create a jarring experience because it shatters this shared cultural understanding.
 
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turnip_farmer

Adventurer
Dwarves are great as-is. Don't break what's not fixable, or whatever that old saying is.

The "staleness" of dwarves is a strength for roleplaying games overall because it provides a common framework for examining and understanding the game. Dwarven stereotypes--stout, bearded miners and smiths who are fond of ale and mead--allow new players to grasp with immediacy the tropes of the game. When the GM says, "You see a dwarven blacksmith at his forge," neophytes to D&D can picture Gimli with an apron, hammer, and tongs, thereby immersing them in gameplay.

Alternadwarves create a jarring experience because it shatters this shared cultural understanding.
When I'm making my fantasy worlds, I like to lean heavily into the traditional stereotypes, but I will also have populations that subvert the tropes. But they're not things you create as a PC at the beginning. They're the ones that you discover when the party has to go on some adventure forcing them to cross the Great Desert of Level-Appropriate Plot Segregation. That's where you can find your cannibal halflings and your surface-dwelling dwarf mages.

I know there's nothing new in this, but that's how I like things to work. They can always play a cannibal halfling barbarian after their original character gets eaten by a desert worm. And we don't need to waste time at the beginning explaining the world as everyone understands that the game begins in Bog Standard Medieval Fantasyland #574.
 

When I'm making my fantasy worlds, I like to lean heavily into the traditional stereotypes, but I will also have populations that subvert the tropes. But they're not things you create as a PC at the beginning. They're the ones that you discover when the party has to go on some adventure forcing them to cross the Great Desert of Level-Appropriate Plot Segregation. That's where you can find your cannibal halflings and your surface-dwelling dwarf mages.

I know there's nothing new in this, but that's how I like things to work. They can always play a cannibal halfling barbarian after their original character gets eaten by a desert worm. And we don't need to waste time at the beginning explaining the world as everyone understands that the game begins in Bog Standard Medieval Fantasyland #574.
One of the things I like to do is take the basic tropes and then add or tweak one or two things about it. I don't like the deliberate inversion or subversion of the tropes because it feels lazy. The "cannibal halfling barbarian" is too many new spices into the old soup, so to speak, and it feels like a slovenly attempt to generate a unique character through bizarre and senseless alterations.
 

MGibster

Legend
Alternadwarves create a jarring experience because it shatters this shared cultural understanding.
There is something to that. I've seen threads in the past about re-imagining dwarves for fantasy games and the changes are often so radical that I question the point of even calling them dwarves.

I've never been a huge fan of dwarves and I don't think I've ever played one in all my years of playing D&D. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that their popularity has waned in recent years. Tastes change and maybe younger players just don't like the dwarf.
 

There is something to that. I've seen threads in the past about re-imagining dwarves for fantasy games and the changes are often so radical that I question the point of even calling them dwarves.

I've never been a huge fan of dwarves and I don't think I've ever played one in all my years of playing D&D. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that their popularity has waned in recent years. Tastes change and maybe younger players just don't like the dwarf.
I think a good example is lacking to really sell people on them, goliath got a bump up from CR maybe if they make a cool dwarf it will happen again?

honestly, they also need more single setting diversity one kingdom is the serotype and all the others are more divergent from a little bit to really different but still full dwarves so you got to know the pure core of dwarfdom.
 

MGibster

Legend
Who said the dwarf wasn't sexy? In one of my Curse of Strahd campaigns a player had a woman dwarf and she made it a point to have a generously exposed decolletage. Strahd was quite enamored and was working on making her one of his "brides."


Look at those tiny feet!


I don't know why the popularity of the dwarf seems to have waned. Or even if it's waned. How much can we actually trust online surveys? (But if that's the only information we have...) I ran an all dwarf (non-D&D) campaign once specifically because I needed the PCs to belong to a hidebound society and realize they needed to make changes in order to progress.

And typically I use fantasy races as tools to tell a specific type of story. Which is why I've always had a problem with the sheer number of available PC races to choose from. In most D&D games, I don't really care what race the PC selects because it's probably not going to make a difference in how the actual game is played. Bringing a dwarf or an elf to Curse of Strahd or Keep on the Borderlands and your experience won't be markedly different had you brought an elf or a human. But obviously it makes a difference otherwise we wouldn't be talking about how unpopular the dwarf is.

It seems to me that in recent years the trend is to move away from making each race unique. Moving forward, ability score increases based on race, uh lineage, is gone. What does the dwarf actually bring to the table that players are interested in?
 


AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
I quite like how Rick Riordan does Dwarves in the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series. They're still skilled crafters that live underground and often have beards, but they keep a few cool bits and pieces from Norse Mythology, like them evolving from maggots, living in a world that is completely underground, gradually turning to stone in sunlight, and having lots of dwarves descended from Freya, and thus being a bit taller and more attractive than the typical dwarf. They also have this awesome (and a bit annoying) cultural lore about them always naming anything they create and asking all of its "great deeds" before they use it (like a dwarf asking the name of a stool in a bar before they sit on it, and the bartender telling them that it's named Heavy-Lifter that was the stool that Thor sat upon when he beat the record amount of flagons of dwarven mead that was consumed in one sitting, or something similar to that).
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Dwarves are great as-is. Don't break what's not fixable, or whatever that old saying is.

The "staleness" of dwarves is a strength for roleplaying games overall because it provides a common framework for examining and understanding the game. Dwarven stereotypes--stout, bearded miners and smiths who are fond of ale and mead--allow new players to grasp with immediacy the tropes of the game. When the GM says, "You see a dwarven blacksmith at his forge," neophytes to D&D can picture Gimli with an apron, hammer, and tongs, thereby immersing them in gameplay.

Alternadwarves create a jarring experience because it shatters this shared cultural understanding.
Sure, but there is plenty of room to make dwarves a bit more interesting than they are right now without redefining them.
Problems with Dwarves:

  • They're almost univerisally depticed as male.
  • They're highly (Northern European) culturally specific.
  • They unnappealing aesthetically
  • They're boring mechanically
  • They've become highly stereoptyped in terms of character and behavior
And finally.
  • The last point above has basically become central to their appeal so that if you change the first two, they lose that basic dwarfiness, and it's no longer all that clear if a revamped Dwarf is actually preferable to just making a new race.
4e had awesome female dwarf art, with a gorgeous and engaging general aesthetic.
 

Sure, but there is plenty of room to make dwarves a bit more interesting than they are right now without redefining them.

4e had awesome female dwarf art, with a gorgeous and engaging general aesthetic.
Yes. But put Dwarves into a google image search and see what you get.

Part of the difficulty of dwarves is it's hard to shift people's ideas of dwarves because they're so entrenched in popular culture.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I quite like how Rick Riordan does Dwarves in the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series. They're still skilled crafters that live underground and often have beards, but they keep a few cool bits and pieces from Norse Mythology, like them evolving from maggots, living in a world that is completely underground, gradually turning to stone in sunlight, and having lots of dwarves descended from Freya, and thus being a bit taller and more attractive than the typical dwarf. They also have this awesome (and a bit annoying) cultural lore about them always naming anything they create and asking all of its "great deeds" before they use it (like a dwarf asking the name of a stool in a bar before they sit on it, and the bartender telling them that it's named Heavy-Lifter that was the stool that Thor sat upon when he beat the record amount of flagons of dwarven mead that was consumed in one sitting, or something similar to that).
Gods I despise that author, but a few of his ideas have some merit.
 


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