Dragonmarks 5/31: The Dwarves

Before going any further, I’d suggest that readers take a look at the current canon online material about the dwarves:

The Dwarves of the Mror Hold, Part One

The Dwarves of the Mror Hold, Part Two

Another thing to check out is The Shard Axe by Marsheila Rockwell, which examines Mror dwarves in more detail than any other novel I know of.

With that out of the way and the standard disclaimers – this isn’t canon, just my personal opinion – let’s get started.

Each race in Eberron seems to try and subvert some aspects of that race’s traditional fantasy stereotype while upholding others. These subversions seem the least pronounced in the cases of the dwarves, possibly because they’ve gotten the least air time. Which aspects of the dwarven stereotype did you try to play straight and which did you try to subvert?

First, I agree with you on both counts. The dwarves and the Mror Holds have received considerably less attention than Zilargo, Aerenal, or the Valenar, and the ways they differ from their cousins in other settings are subtler than those of the elves, gnomes, or orcs. So: what are the distinctive elements of the dwarves of the Mror Holds?

I cut my teeth on The Hobbit as a child. One particular phrase stuck with me…

As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and a jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves.

This was something I wanted to reflect in the the Mror dwarves. They are a very material people. More than any other nation, they are a people who love material things. Some have asked why we gave the Mark of Making to humans instead of dwarves; one reason is because at the fundamental base of things, I see humans as being innovators… while dwarves are hoarders. The word treasure is a verb as well as a noun – to value something highly and preserve it carefully. Treasure is a part of Mror culture in a way you don’t see anywhere else. Quoting the Dragonshard pt 2:

Humans often see the Mror dwarves as greedy and vain. The truth is more complicated. Most Mror dwarves appreciate fine workmanship in a way that few others can comprehend; the dwarves will literally fall in love with objects. Looking at a beautiful goblet, a dwarf sees the toast he will share with his wife (when he finds her). A Mror dwarf can tell stories about every valuable object he owns, either looking to the past he has shared with his treasure or the future he expects to have.

Beyond this, the Mror see personal appearance as far more than simple vanity. A dwarf’s accoutrements reflect his wealth and thus, his power, but they also indicate his appreciation of beauty, his judgment, and his intelligence. A poorly dressed merchant has a hard time in business. If he cannot judge the worth of his own clothes, who will trust his merchandise? As a result, a Mror dwarf may spend more on his clothing, armor, jewelry, and weapons than on his home. The Mror are stoic and content to endure physical discomfort and hardship. Sleeping on stone is preferable to wearing drab clothing.

This ties to the fact that I’ve always seen the dwarves as the nouveau riche of Eberron. Until recently a significant portion of their revenue went to Galifar. Now Galifar is broken, and the dwarves are continually expanding their mines and recovering new relics from the depths. My thought has always been that the Mror Holds are per capita one of the richest nations in Khorvaire. This ties to Kundarak as the bank of Khorvaire: they are the kingdom of gold. Sure, the dwarf fighter is hard drinking and loves to fight… but he drinks from the finest goblet you’ve ever seen and has diamonds in the haft of his axe spelling out its name. In a sense you can think of them as rap stars, wanting every possession to have a story and make a statement.

This connects to another element: I’ve always seen the Mror Holds as the true heart of the Aurum. This young conspiracy seeks to use its wealth to supplant both kings and the established economic powerhouses of the dragonmarked houses. While it has members from all nations, the Mror Holds are both a center for vast wealth and a place that has only just come into its own. Essentially, its guild lords are looking out at the world and seeing that the Dragonmarked houses have stacked the deck; if they want to achieve their dreams, they need to level the playing field. Hence, the Aurum. Now, that makes the Aurum sound a little more malevolent than it might; many members of the Aurum simple wish to enjoy their wealth and influence. But the Mror Holds is its heart, and it is there where the Concordians seek to forge a new kingdom with their gold.

Feuds are a major part of the history of the Mror Holds; if there’s a place for the Hatfields and McCoys, this is it. As the Dragonshards note, when making a PC, think about the feuds you have inherited and discuss them with the DM; these can and should play out in the wider world.

A final element I’ll mention is the idea that the dwarves are heirs to a fallen kingdom. Part one of the Dragonshard speaks of the fact that the ancestors of the Mror Dwarves were in fact exiles from the great kingdom below the mountains… and that when they finally returned, they discovered this kingdom had been destroyed in the Xoriat incursion. So like the goblins, the dwarves are heirs to a kingdom that is far more impressive than what we have today. There are untold treasures beneath their feet, and techniques of metallurgy and smithcraft waiting to be rediscovered. There are ancestors to be avenged. But where do you begin? What threats lie below? And are there ancient secrets that are best left forgotten? The fact that on some level the dwarves don’t know their history is critical; they don’t know what happened to the kingdom after their ancestors were banished, or who their ancestors were prior to those crimes.

What was dwarves worship of the Sovereigns like before being absorbed into the Host’s mainstream? Do unique aspects of Dwarven worship survive?

To my mind, close analogues to Kol Korran, Dol Dorn, Aureon, and Onatar have always been a part of dwarven tradition. Kol Korran is the giver of gold, both he who sows the mountains and who guides the tongue of the merchant. Aureon is the First King and the Shaper of Laws, he who taught Onatar how to weave spells into steel… while Onatar finds the beauty in bare metal and stone. You’ll note that the Fist of Onatar and Korran’s Maw are both geographical features in the Mror Holds. They all have Mror names, but I think those names are close enough to the common to be recognizable, just as you have Ourelon instead of Aureon in Xen’drik. So essentially, the main thing the missionaries of the Sovereign Host did was to convince them to work in the other Sovereigns and to accept the common names.

I will say that one of the players in my DDN playtest wanted to work drinking into her cleric’s story. So we developed a sect tied to Dol Dorn and Olladra – the battle brewers, who seek to distil the divine into their ale and give strength to warriors through their drink. Her holy symbols were her tankards (she had three, each used for different sorts of spells) and worked the brew into the cosmetic description where possible. Again, this speaks to the dwarves being less completely-different-from-every-dwarf-stereotype than some of the other races in Eberron, but it was fun to play with.

In any case, yes, I do think unique aspects of dwarven worship survive. I think their iconography follows a different style than that of the Five Nations. They may have the Octogram around, but I also see engraved masks wrought in a distinctly dwarven style. Kol Korran’s mask is formed from gold, with coins beaten together, while Dol Dorn’s mask is one of hammered blades. Onatar’s priest wears a mask of raw iron, while Aureon’s is formed from broken crowns. When you speak to the masked priest, you face the gaze of the god: choose your words wisely.

Usually, dwarven culture is seen as very traditional and martial on fantasy settings, but Eberron sees them more like a financial corporation thanks to the influence of House Kundarak. Do you have any ideas on how to incorporate dwarves outside the M’ror Holds that make them feel more dwarven and not so just citizens of the nation they happen to be in?

This ties to the following…

I’d like to hear a little more about dwarves – especially the difference between “Galifar” dwarves, dragonmarked houses, and the clans of the Mror Holds.

So far I’ve been talking about the Mror dwarves. “Galifar” dwarves are those who spread across the kingdom when Karrn came to their land. Galifar forbid the practice of slavery, so dwarves were able to find work – and there are things they excelled at. The foundations of Sharn were laid by dwarven hands, as were many of the great cities of Galifar. So on the one hand you may have Galifar dwarves who have clung to their roots in the mountains, who have held to the old feuds. But I see many of the dwarves as having fully embraced their new homes and developing even more patriotic spirit than the humans around them. To the dwarf born in Sharn, this truly is his city. You? You just live in it. His ancestors quarried the stone and raised the towers. Their blood is in every block. If you wanted to expand this, you might actually see Galifar dwarves having less loyalty to a nation, and more to a specific city. A Sharn dwarf doesn’t care about Breland overall; he cares about Sharn, because that’s the city of his ancestors. While a dwarf whose ancestors laid the cornerstones of Wroat thinks Sharn is somewhat shabby… but WROAT, that’s a true work of art.

Meanwhile the Kundarak dwarves have always stood apart from the others. When you look to history, they weren’t exiles like the ancestors of the Mror; they were the wardens, the guardians set to keep the exiles from returning. Once that duty was discharged they were free to pursue their own destiny, one they believe to be larger than the land of exiles. Essentially, I see the Kundarak as being the proudest of the proud – the only dwarves who can look at their family tree without the faintest trace of shame. They are fierce warriors, but they fight to defend what must be protected rather than in pursuit of vendettas or aggression. They see the value in unity, and in forcing a foe to exhaust himself against your shield before you cut him down.

In Dragonmarked, it states that there are 6 hereditary non-Kundarak bloodline chieftains of the House, but later states that Lord Kundarak is chieftain for his own bloodline. Does that mean that there are 7 chieftains in total, or is Lord Kundarak supposed to be counted as part of the 6? On a related note, later in that section it states that there are 9 bloodlines within House Kundarak.

I see this as an editing error. There are nine bloodlines. Each bloodline has a chieftain. Lord Kundarak is both the Kundarak chieftain and the lord of the house.

How does the kundarak banking works? Any merchant can enter in a enclave, drop his coins and get then at another?

It depends if he’s using the vault network or the banking system. The simplest answer is to have his gold turned into a letter of credit (notarized by Sivis), which can be turned back into gold at another bank by anyone. This has the advantage that it can be given away, and the disadvantage that it can be stolen. Otherwise, he can set up an account just like in our world; instead of computers, records are maintained using the vault network and Sivis messenging. Large transactions can only be performed at major banks, where you’ll have the equivalent of an Eye of Aureon to confirm identity; clerks may also require a strand of hair, so that the person making the withdrawal can later be tracked if identify theft proves to be involved. In any case, security is more elaborate than this, but you get the idea.

Traditional Dwarves are “Scottish” in speech, what are Eberron Dwarves’ real-world allegory, typically?

I’ve never assigned a real-world analogue to the dwarves of Eberron; this one is up to you.

Assuming the legends about Dwarves coming from the Frostfell are true, then would you find massive dwarvish fortresses there?

Funny you should mention that. Twice now I’ve written pieces for the Frostfell that have fallen by the wayside – once for the print edition of Dragon, and once for the 4E ECG. Let me see if I can find a way to get that published, or be authorized to post it here.

Also: what was your idea on what happened to Clan Noldrun? C’mon, I know you have one, share it!

Like the Mourning, I think this is a great place to explore your own ideas. But personally, I think it’s a great way to use the Derro – having adventurers find the sunken hold now populated by these twisted and deviant descendants of the first Noldrun dwarves. This could be the work of an overlord, or it could be the daelkyr responsible for the original destruction of the Deep Kingdoms; the derro are to dwarves as the dolgrims are to goblins.

Of course, you could always say that they became duergar, then pick up all the Underdark rising materials and replace the word “drow” with “duergar”, and suddenly POW, it’s Noldrun Rising!

There was one thing that I didn’t see, but might be worth addressing: in Eberron, as far as I can determine, dwarves lack the typical fixation on excessive facial hair. There aren’t enough illustrations to back this up, but it looks like most dwarves either have well-trimmed beards and/or mustaches, or are clean-shaven.

Eberron art generally does depict Mror and Kundarak dwarves as having short, well groomed beards. With that said, I have no problem with having families or clans who prefer longer beards; I’d just emphasize that these are equally well groomed. I could see a Soldorak lord braiding his beard and mustaches with gold thread and beading them with diamonds, and sneering “My BEARD is worth more than your castle!” to some Karrnathi count.