The Let's Play Archive

King of Dragon Pass

by Haifisch

Part 24: Dwarves

Well, that took me way too long, but here you finally go: Dwarves. They're evil little buggers and it's their fault that Gloranthan humanity essentially still lives in mud huts. How is this? Well, read this post and find out! As nobody has yet done a writeup on them, I'll start with the basics of history, biology and society.

A short history of dwarvenkind

"The only person who would ever envy a dwarf is someone who hates good food, good work, and good cheer."
-- Sartar proverb

The vast majority of dwarves call themselves the Mostali. In an expression of creativity that is characteristic to the dwarven mindset, this name derives from their primary divinity Mostal, the keeper of the World Machine. Mostal, as a god, is dead. He was killed ages ago together with his brother Stone, which in dwarven mythology is the reason the World Machine is as screwy as it is. He has no real active role, so I won't be going into him in detail. It is important to know, however, that he was a god of Law. Stone, the substance, is considered a very lawful thing in and of itself. This kinship is why dwarves live deep within stone, surrounded by stone and in many ways consider themselves to be stone.

Dwarves, like most races, are old. The earliest dwarves were created during the God Time, that quasi-mythical age of perfection that occured before the Lesser and Greater Darknesses, when Chaos first came into the world and fucked up everything for everyone. Their creator was the, again creatively named, god called Maker. Maker is much older than most gods. Together with his brother Grower, the chief ancestor of the elves, he helped form the Gloranthan cosmos as we know it. Grower is the god of the organically created. His domain is that which shapes itself, as living things do. Maker, by contrast, is the god of the inanimate and the made things. He created that which is unchanging and that what was changed into its current form by outside forces.

Because Maker was not very good at his job, he decided he needed help. Thus, he created the first dwarves from rock. He created a big bowl, took stone, and ground it in the bowl until the first dwarves sprang forth, called the Rock Mostali. The Rock Mostali were a lot less stupid than Maker and helped him create the more detailed, more advanced and more alive next generation of Mostali, called the Lead Mostali. These were better yet and so sprang forth eight original races of dwarves. They were called the God Time Mostali and aren't around anymore. Most people don't miss them much. All modern Mostali are Clay Mostali, which both gives them a modicum of mutability and embarrasses them to no end. They're worse than metal mostali in basically every way.

The dwarves were involved in many famous conflicts of history, because they were created with an inherent capacity for making cool stuff and an equal inherent stubbornness that kept them from knowing when to drop an issue. None of these conflicts changed dwarven nature in the slightest, so there is no real point in knowing about the details. Nearly all dwarves alive today are as identical to the first dwarves as they can manage to make themselves. As such, I'll just go on and discuss contemporary dwarf society, because it is identical to all of dwarf society ever.

Dwarven society is characterized by changelessness, sterility and the complete unwillingness to have anything resembling the meaning of the word "fun." This is, in many ways, an aspect of their religion, which focuses on the idea that there is a perfect, ideal state of the world and modifying it can only make things worse. Everybody has a place. Being in that place is good. Not being in that place is bad. As has been mentioned before, a Mostali who sticks to what he knows is immortal. They will not age or die, ever, unless they decide that they would really like a vacation or someone drops a Troll on them. This gives a certain immediate incentive to their spiritual ideas that most human societies lack, even with God Magic being as tangible as it is.

At any rate, dwarven society is notoriously static. A young dwarf will complete his training, take his place at the same assembly line that his father and mother and great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother and - well, you get the idea - work at and stay there until the universe ends, quite literally. Accordingly, dwarven society is based on highly regimented and extremely specialized castes. There is no such thing as class mobility and barely only even a consciousness that class exists. You do what you do because that's what your ancestors did. The idea of doing something else is so rare that dwarves consider it a spiritual illness bordering on demonic possession. There are dissidents, but they are both rare and do not last long, as they do not benefit from dwarven immortality anymore. Most are exiles and make their living as adventurers.

Due to their ancestry and the spiritual kinship it involves, the dwarves really, really hate everything that could conceivably described as organic. They will not eat plants (that they recognize.) They will not eat meat (that they recognize.) They loathe eating anything that isn't tinned, processed nutritional paste or something called the Monthly Stew, which is a different kind of highly processed nutritional paste. Most dwarves do not know it, but the majority of their food is Soylent Green. No, I am not kidding. Their tinned goods come either in dwarf (best), human (mediocre) or elven (shitty) flavours. Only the food-preserver caste actually know about this, but somehow the dwarves still really love cooking books. There are literally thousands. Most other races find dwarven food highly nutritious but barely edible. They also usually can't figure out how to open the tin cans it comes in.

This leads us straight to the question of dwarven biology. Dwarves only barely consider themselves alive. In their own conception, they are basically animated constructs and manufactured by their parents rather than born. It's considered a highly tedious and time-consuming process. To most other races, however, there isn't an essential difference to the makeup of other living things - they have organs, eat food and presumably take a shit every now and then. Some things do make dwarves fundamentally different from other species, though. For one, they have a highly developed spatial sense that is based in a uniquely sensitive ability to feel air pressure and temperature. A dwarf can tell you the general shape of an enclosed space just by how air moves within it. If someone moves or opens a door, the dwarf will know even if the movement was completely silent and out his range of vision. This is how they navigate in the lightless tunnels that criss-cross Glorantha's underground, but also why they feel very uncomfortable in the overworld - everything is moving all the time.

The Machine Wars
Now to how the dwarves are one of the primary forces keeping Glorantha in the pre-medieval technological stasis that it has held since the end of the Darknesses.

As has been explained before, dwarves are both very good with machinery and very full of themselves. As a result, they consider all high technology (which is to say, everything better than an ox plow) and alchemy theirs as a matter of fundamental cosmic birthright. They don't like to share.

The greatest example is probably the invention of the dwarven metal, iron. Iron is the metal of death, the most valuable construction material in the world. It was created during the God War specifically as a weapon and has an inherent ability to cause harm to Trolls and Elves. It does not cause special harm to humans, which is an oversight that dwarves still lament to this day. Iron Dwarves, who worship that metal, guard its secrets jealously. When other races stole the secret of working iron, the Iron Dwarves set out to punish everyone who dared to make use of them. They were very successful. As such, humans know only a few things, like how to make swords. They never learned how to make firearms and nobody except the dwarves can create the metal at all.

The whole thing came to a head during the end of the Second Age, when a group of genius scientists under the patronage of the God Learners developed a brand of high technology that was unsurpassed by humans anywhere and seriously threatened the dwarven monopoly on technology. They finally built what was basically a magitek assembly-line factory on a small island in the middle of the western ocean that could produce the Ibirios (trademark!) impossibly sharp enchanted swords by the boatload. Gods everywhere fell into a complete panic and hundreds of prophets all across the land were simultaneously sent visions of impending doom.

This was the beginning of the Machine Wars, the event that threw down the God-Learner empire. Manipulated by dwarves, an alliance of Elder Races not seen since the God Time descended on the empire. Trolls, dwarves and elves slaughtered the inhabitants of the factory town. What devices the dwarves could not steal, they destroyed. The seeded the island with as many red herring devices that did nothing or something harmful as they could. The ruins of the city were filled with monsters, whose only purpose was to make sure that no human could ever return and reclaim the knowledge that they had lost.

This pogrom against science continues to this day. Specially manufactured slave-species of the dwarves scour the world for alchemists who experiment with gunpowder (which they will then consume, as well as everyone in the vicinity) or machinery more complicated than a pulley, which will be infested by little beasts called nilmergs and made to break down. Human technology has accordingly not advanced as much as a single net step since basically the end of the God Time.

To sum it all up, dwarves are huge cockbags who fuck things up for everyone and the world is substantially better off without them.