Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Yet More on Dwarves and Gnomes

(I'm pleased to see that these posts have struck a chord with a lot of people, judging by the unexpectedly large numbers of comments and emails I've been getting in relation to them. I'll also confess to some surprise at the amount of "scientific" thinking being applied to the question of dwarven reproduction in my campaign setting, both because it's not a mode of thought I typically employ when designing a fantasy setting and, more importantly, because there are many unknown variables that make such extrapolations difficult, if not impossible, to make reliably. I mention this not to discourage such discussion, which I actually enjoy, but only to point out that one is likely to reach very different conclusions than I have -- to the extent I have any conclusions at all -- given the differences in our methods of world creation.)

Here are some additional facts on dwarves and gnomes:
  • Judging by the immense sizes of dwarven strongholds, many of which are now completely abandoned, there was once an extremely large population of these beings. Some of the largest such strongholds could likely have housed millions of dwarves, whereas now most are home only to thousands.
  • The one-son tradition doesn't seem to be based wholly on superstition. There's evidence that, in the past, dwarves routinely created more sons and strife resulted. The dwarves refer to this time simply as "the Tumult" and note sadly that dwarves turned against not only each other but also the Makers (the mysterious god-like beings some non-humans revere rather than the gods of Men). Once order was restored, the Makers forbade the dwarves to have more than one son each or dire consequences would ensue.
  • The dwarves say that, as bad as having a knocker for a son is, much worse can result from a second or subsequent son carved in violation of the Makers' dictum.
  • Unlike elves, dwarves are not immortal. In time, they will revert to the stone out of which they were carved but the process takes close to a millennium for most dwarves.
  • Gnomes occupy an odd place in dwarven society, being simultaneously a source of embarrassment, for the line of dwarf with a gnome in it will inevitably die, and pride, for gnomes are what enable the dwarves to create the enchanted items that maintain their dwindling society.
  • Consequently, most gnomes are kept hidden away within dwarven strongholds; outsiders rarely hear of them, let alone see them.
  • Needless to say, gnomish adventurers are extremely uncommon.
  • Many gnomes believe that there is a way for their kind to reproduce and work hard toward finding the means to do so.
  • There are many tall tales of gnome-only enclaves in the southern lands, who are self-sustaining after having discovered the means to propagate themselves.
And that's pretty close to the extent of what I currently know about dwarves and gnomes. Since, so far, the campaign has not focused at all on dwarven society, I'm frankly surprised that I know even this much, but it's a topic that's obliquely related to several other aspects of the campaign, such as the quest for immortality and the identity of the Makers, so I've given it a little bit of thought.

21 comments:

  1. So you pretty much make this up as you go along?

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  2. So you pretty much make this up as you go along?

    Mostly, yes. When I need an answer to a question I've never needed an answer to previously, I just go with what comes to mind at the time. Obviously, that answers isn't without some precedent, either in my own thought or in something I've read/seen before. I make no claims to originality, let alone divine inspiration, for any of my ideas, but they're rarely pre-planned and are generally something I come up with at the table or in response to something that happened while playing. I lack the time and interest nowadays to do a lot of extensive "theoretical" worldbuilding; I prefer a "just in time" manufacturing process, if you get my meaning.

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  3. I don't know. I've always run gnomes as if they were a separate people, akin to Tolkien's "petty-dwarves." Of course, these are your thoughts.

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  4. I don't know. I've always run gnomes as if they were a separate people, akin to Tolkien's "petty-dwarves." Of course, these are your thoughts.

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  5. Fair enough, but do you ever find this approach leads to inconsistencies or outright contradictions? Some years ago I ran a game set in a homebrewed milieu and although I did a reasonable job of it I think every so often the players would pipe up with "But last time you said only secular dwarves are found in Tharshoone" or whatever and I'd have to do some quick backpedalling or retcon on the spot...

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  6. Fair enough, but do you ever find this approach leads to inconsistencies or outright contradictions?

    Of course, but I generally consider inconsistencies and contradictions to be spurs to further creativity in order to explain them away. Plus, I like to keep my players guessing, so, when they point out an error I've made in continuity, I just smile and nod and say something like, "Yeah, that is odd, isn't it?" :)

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  7. So gnomes are like gay sons? Embarrasing for the family, yet a source of pride when he lands a gig in Vegas with another gnome, a white tiger, and lots of illusions?

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  8. Are the methods of Dwarf reproduction well known to players/NPCs (I guess they would be to your dwarf player...)?

    With many abandoned dwarven holds of very large size, the potential for there to be thousands (or more) of stillborn statues worth at least 10,000 gp each I would think would be irresistable for some of my shadier players. That or a perfect target for assorted governments looking for funds or even Knockers.

    Unless the remaining dwarves move them somewhere, once a hold is abandoned. Or some sort of legend/rumors exist to keep people out of abandoned holds.

    If you don't mind, I might steal aspects of this for my campaign. I really like it as it puts the legendary dwarven greed in a "real world" context. I do have female dwarves, so I'm thinking more along the lines of dwarves having to carve decorated statues of their would be mate as a dowry of sorts to give to their in-laws.

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  9. I like this, just not for Dwarves and Gnomes. I'll have to find a race that this would work for.

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  10. Very clever, James. Solicit commentary on this topic and, like a good sand-box/old-school DM, pick and choose from the speculation to add to the "truth," which is, of course, not fully developed by yourself!

    This is, of course, a complete compliment - it also helps the rest of us by giving other DMs new ideas to explore.

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  11. @James:

    "And that's pretty close to the extent of what I currently know about dwarves and gnomes. "

    Yeah, but with these few thoughts you've shared with us you've added many, many layers of historical and mythic depth to your setting. I enjoy settings with a rich history and ancient mysteries for the players to explore (It's one reason I loved the WFRP Old World setting so much.), and your writings about Dwarfs and Gnomes has provided that in spades. It has me wishing I lived in your area to play in your game.

    @JD:
    "Fair enough, but do you ever find this approach leads to inconsistencies or outright contradictions?"

    Ah, but those are desirable, for they represent the uncertainty of knowledge that people living in that world would likely have. Think how contradictory the tale of an ancient feud told by the opposing parties would be; each would be convinced they knew "the facts." I think this kind of conflicting information (as opposed to, say, conflicts regarding the rules) adds to the setting.

    Security word: "Glari," a little-know Dwarf from Khazad-dum who was known for staring.

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  12. With millenial lifespans, you address my main complaint about only having 30 some odd interesting generations. Those 30 generations encompass a very very long time which is what I think you really wanted. It also spreads out the shock of 1 in 5 dwarf "lineages" ending each generation. The gnomes are very interesting.

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  13. Love what you've done with dwarves/gnome. It is not only fairly unique but adds a quality of sadness to dwarves not usually seen. I have to say this is my second favorite take on dwarves after terry pratchett's.

    Lazarus Lupin
    Art and Reviews
    http://strangespanner.blogspot.com/

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  14. Unless dwarves come into spontaneous existence without a father, the one-attempted-child rule dooms the dwarves to inevitable extinction. What threatened consequences could be dire enough to cause the dwarves to assent to inexorable annihilation as a race and culture?

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  15. I really enjoyed this small series. Well done!

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  16. If you don't mind, I might steal aspects of this for my campaign.

    Be my guest; that's why I write this stuff, after all: to share with others. Ideas are cheap.

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  17. Solicit commentary on this topic and, like a good sand-box/old-school DM, pick and choose from the speculation to add to the "truth," which is, of course, not fully developed by yourself!

    That's more or less been my practice since the late 80s at least, so it's something I do without even thinking about it :)

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  18. Something interesting I didn't know but just found out from reading patristics: "gnome" in Greek means intention, opinion.

    Yeah, I know, the fantasy creature's naming is all the fault of that one weird Renaissance alchemist guy's nomenclature for elementals... but it's still interesting.

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  19. Does this mean there is a linguistic connection between "gnome" and "Gnostic?"

    Lazarus Lupin
    http://strangespanner.blogspot.com/
    Arts and Reviews

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  20. spontaneous generation of dwarves! A mountain that foes long enough without out internal activities will generate a sizable new colony of dwarves in a natural cave.

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  21. I like the cultural thing with only having one son but I would instead have it purely be a stigma and "The Tumult" would be a time when a great many dwarfs where created thus the giant halls but it also created many more knockers and whatever else comes from slipshod production of a dwarf. That generation of dwarfs see the problem so they decide it is better to have only one and deal with it instead of many but have your mines filled with evil. Thinking this is just obvious and rather wanting to forget it the knowledge would quickly be forgotten. this would leave the option for some ambitious dwarf to run off to a secluded mountain and create a new dwarven civilization if needed.

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