Thursday, January 6, 2022

Preliminary thoughts on Dwarves in Povos: Barbarians, and Hill vs Mountain

So, our DM mentioned that if we finish this campaign (and given 3-6 months of prep time to set things up, preferably while someone else runs a game in which he can play some character who's completely 'round the bend) the next campaign he wants to run is a campaign set in the central continent of his world, and focused on the massive range of mountains that is home to a whole civilization of dwarves.

This intrigues me. 

My very first thought, of course, was to wonder what sort of character I might make for a dwarf-focused campaign -- and, by extension, whether a Battle-Rager can be an effective fighter in a 3.5 core-rulebooks-only D&D campaign. (The general rule for a focused campaign is that everyone should belong to the race we're focused on, but one exception in the party is allowed. In this case, one of my fellow players already claimed that spot with her idea for a halfling who keeps getting mistaken for a dwarf, which sounds way more amusing and awesome than my idea for a half-orc who wandered in and just decided that he was part of the clan no matter what anybody else thought about the matter.)

So there's my first thought: 

  • Dwarven barbarians absolutely do exist, it's just that they're a pair of breeds unto themselves: 
  • The Battleragers wear the heaviest armor they can, covered in spikes, and attack by grappling their opponents and basically stabbing them to death in the process. I'm not sure how well this works in 3.5 mechanically, especially as we level up; we may want to introduce something like a Lantern Shield as a new weapon exclusive(ish) to them, or look at a prestige class, or both. Battleragers are closer to traditional Dwarven troops; they are fierce and disciplined right up until the battle starts, at which point they throw themselves at enemies and use their rage to grab and lock down difficult enemies, disrupt enemy formations, and generally just confuse the hell out of anyone who's expecting the dwarven troops to just stand there and cover themselves with a shield wall, then advance in careful formations.
  • The Warhounds are closer to classic barbarians; they show up in animal skins (even if they have more traditional armor underneath), and do their absolute best to look like werebeasts as they attack with swords, axes, daggers, or whatever they just picked up off the battlefield. Bladed gauntlets are common, and many of them will cross-class with Druid or Ranger levels in order to actually assume beast forms or improve their hunting and stalking skills. Pure druids and rangers are rare among their numbers, but not unheard-of. 
  • There are dwarven barbarians who don't fall into either of these groups, but they're generally viewed as outsiders: disruptive, unwelcome, and dangerous. Being part of the the Battleragers or the Warhounds gives barbarians a place in Dwarven society. This is particularly important among the Mountain Dwarves, but the pattern holds among Hill Dwarves as well.

...Which brings me to my next thought: Hill Dwarves versus Mountain Dwarves.  

There's probably no real mechanical distinction here. They'd both use the template from the PHB. (Or not; that's open for discussion.) Hill Dwarves are the ones who live on the surface, building their homes from quarried stone; Mountain Dwarves are the ones who make their homes in the stone itself, beneath the great mountains. In general: 

  • Hill Dwarves are more comfortable with outsiders, more cosmopolitan and easy-going. In a lot of cases, they're the ones who make the connections for trade between the Mountain Dwarves and other surface kingdoms. Hill Dwarves probably do have at least one kingdom of their own on the surface, and the nobility of the Mountain Dwarves probably hates to acknowledge that. 
  • Mountain Dwarves are more socially regimented; everyone knows their place and what is expected of them. Mountain Dwarf society is tightly structured, with only limited opportunities for advancement, but it does take care of everyone; Hill Dwarf cities might have poverty and homelessness and beggars, but Mountain Dwarves do not. Those who cannot provide for themselves are provided for, albeit by a tightly-structured and not always friendly bureaucracy. For those who can't contribute in other ways, military service is a path to social advancement... or death, of course.
  • Hill Dwarves see their underground kin as stuffy, arrogant, and inflexible, while Mountain Dwarves see this as maintaining their proper traditions; mountain dwarves see the hill dwarf communities as hotbeds of impropriety, probably crime, and possibly outright heresy. "They lack discipline," is possibly the most cuttingly dismissive thing that a mountain dwarf could say about a hill dwarf.

There's a lot more to build out here, obviously. Among other things, I've barely touched on religion, spellcasting, law enforcement, or whether Dwarven monks are even a thing.

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