Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Articles of Dragon: "A Special Section: Dwarves"

For issue #58 (February 1982) of Dragon, I'm going to cheat a little -- well, a lot -- by focusing on not just one but four different articles. I think it's justified, though, because the articles cover closely related topics and three of them were written by a single author, the inestimable Roger E. Moore, in those days not yet the editor-in-chief of Dragon. "A Special Section: Dwarves" is also an important collection of articles, one that, in my opinion, marks a turning point in the history of D&D. Indeed, it's a collection that makes me wonder if perhaps the Silver Age didn't begin sooner than I have suggested in the past, for these articles were extremely influential and ushered in not just explicit follow-ups by Moore himself, but also a growing codification of not just D&D's non-human races but many other aspects of its fictional milieu.

The first of the four articles is "The Dwarven Point of View," which presented a psychology of the dwarves, explaining aspects of their thoughts process and, by extension, the society and culture that arose from them. "Bazaar of the Bizarre" featured two new (and forgettable) dwarven magic items, while "Sage Advice" answers a battery of increasingly nitpicky questions about dwarves. "The Gods of the Dwarves" is probably the most well-known of the four dwarf articles in issue #58, if only because it was officially canonized by Gary Gygax, who included it in his 1985 Unearthed Arcana expansion to AD&D. I'll also never forget "The Gods of the Dwarves" because it included an illustration depicting Berronar, the dwarven goddess of safety, truth, and home, with a beard:
I've long had a fondness for this piece of artwork, both because I relentlessly used it to bludgeon those who denied that female dwarves had beards (in contravention of both Tolkien and Gygax -- so you know it had to be true!) and to emphasize that dwarves weren't just short, stocky humans. They were, effectively, an alien race and to expect them to conform to human ways was absurd, not to mention demonstrating a severe lack of imagination.

When this quartet of articles was released, I adored them and made every effort to incorporate as much of them into my ongoing campaign as I could. Nowadays, I have much more mixed feelings about them, chiefly because they, almost certainly unintentionally, became the fount from which subsequent discussion of dwarves flowed. That is, later writers -- and even TSR itself -- treated Moore's ideas as normative, the result being that, as the '80s wore on, the portrayal of dwarves in D&D became less diverse. At the time, I didn't care; indeed, I was very happy with "official" information on dwarves and all the demihuman races, because I wanted my campaign to conform to the conceptions of my betters in the hobby. In retrospect, though, I feel less happy with these articles and wish their influence had been more limited.

23 comments:

  1. Moore also wrote articles about the Tinker Gnomes, Kender, and Gully Dwarves for the Dragonlance setting. Sadly most of this material was badly edited when it was used in the later Dragonlance Adventures sourcebook.

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  2. What I've never understood about AD&D is the following: if AD&D doesn't have an official world, how can it have official guidelines for such and such-- shouldn't the exact details depend on the setting, and even of the particular game master? Heck, even in the (sometimes) overly detailed world of Glorantha, one of the key concepts is "Your Glorantha Will Vary" (YGWV).

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  3. I have a soft spot for the Dwarven point of view among the articles cited.

    While it is true that AD&D doesn't have an official world, these guidelines and ideas are independent of the setting-they must be read regardless of any setting conception-

    Settings come at a later point in time, and they could of course modify aspects, or the game master might modify them himself at will.

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  4. It's not a beard. She's clearly wearing her regular hair braided under her chin. An unusual coiffure, but perhaps not if you're a dwarven goddess. ;-)

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  5. No, that's definitely a beard. You can see how it follows the line of her jaw from chin to ear, and where the braids start.

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  6. I used to be enamored by the 'Point of View' articles back in the day. However; I just recently purchased about 60 old Dragon magazines and when I tried re-reading 'The Elven Point of View', I found I just couldn't slag through it. I am with James, apart from the guidelines in the rules, the DM should have been more instrumental in making the races 'points of view'. I know, I know it was just guidelines, but I took it as Gospel and looked down on alternative views as 'not in the rules'. That was a minor thing, but it made me a a less imaginative DM and player.

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  7. On the subject of female beards...

    I've always decreed that only some female dwarves have beards and that, to a dwarf, they are a sign of virility, fertility, and strength. Having a beard, in general, makes a dwarven female more attractive, to other dwarves. Similarly, I had gnomes attracted to large noses and hobbits to large, hairy feets.

    Every culture has differing opinions on what is beautiful and desirable, and given that humanoids differ in culture and species, ideas about beauty can be wildly different.

    I wonder what Githyanki find sexy...

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  8. I took those articles on a race's point of view very lightly. To me they were options. An interesting read though.

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  9. Dwarven chicks in my world don't have beards. Very early on, I made dwarven females these super rare creatures, jealously guarded and practically worshipped until they were wed (usually to royalty). They were short, with large heads like the males, but with hot bods. Very beautiful. I used female Elfquest mini's for my dwarf gals.

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  10. I never held with female dwarven beards, myself. They were highly counterproductive to actually getting anybody to play a female dwarf- especially female players. Some "alien traits" are culturally neutral- forehead creases or pointy ears or odd skin colors or extra limbs. Beards are not one of them. Tacking one on a female dwarf just brought too much baggage along with it without giving a sufficient payoff at my table.

    You'll see this even with modern MMOs, with WoW being a prime example; the female characters there are all at least potentially pleasing to the eye, even those of races where males are plug-uglies. Why? Because while you'll get a decent contingent willing to play an ugly male, you'll find far, far fewer willing to jump in as an ugly woman.

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  11. Grognardia: "I was very happy with "official" information on dwarves and all the demihuman races, because I wanted my campaign to conform to the conceptions of my betters in the hobby."

    This is a generalisation from your own experience that you have been making as long as long as you have been blogging. Most creative AD&D DMs would not have treated any published material as necessary for their campaign. indeed the first article says,

    "This article is a set of guidelines for playing dwarven characters, and not a set of rules."

    Grognardia: "In retrospect, though, I feel less happy with these articles and wish their influence had been more limited."

    You mean of course "[I] wish their influence had been more limited [on me]"

    "This article is a set of guide- lines for playing dwarven characters, and not a set of rules."

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  12. Re: bearded dwarves, there's the one on the cover of module A1, the red-haired dwarf lady with the hammer. It's possible, I suppose, that it's not her beard, and could be part of her hair, but I've always seen it as beard.

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  13. Gygax, on bearded dwarven females, AD&D DMG, pg 16:

    "Considering that their women tend to be bearded too, it is not surprising that some dwarves are somewhat forward in their behavior towards females not so adorned."

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  14. @Jon Hendry: Elwita (the female dwarf from the A series) definitely has a beard; she also has a mustache (unlike Berronar).

    As soon as I saw James comment on the picture of Berronar, I knew what would dominate the discussion on this post.

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  15. "Considering that their women tend to be bearded too, it is not surprising that some dwarves are somewhat forward in their behavior towards females not so adorned."


    I'm thinking Gary is just channeling his high school/college experiences. The haunchy ladies with beards and 'staches would talk to him and maybe even play wargames with him. Like his dwarves, he wanted nothing to do with all that. But those decent looking, unbearded chicks would snicker at his clumsy attempts to communicate with them.

    Good on Gaz making canon dwarves pushy pervs whenever a girl came to the game table playing a lovely young lady. Always makes for great comedy hijinx when a female character is getting harassed by Gimli.

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  16. Hmmm... so you relished the chance to bludgeon anyone who suggested alternate, beardless females but simultaneously lamented a lack of diversity...?

    :)

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  17. Hmmm, I had the pleasure of knowing not one, but TWO true life girls, who had the face almost exactly like the Dawrven Goddess. Yes, they had a unique strain of personality, call it Duerren Chick (I prefer Old Greyhawk Duerr to generic Dwarf). Both were heavyset running to fat, large and in charge, one wore a (US) uniform, the other fawns over Heroes. Both could punch a man in the teeth and can drink a non-alcoholic under the table. One tended to be on the dum side, not in the affected crudeness of a lezzie trying to pass for a fat guy, but in the real way of being crude and not thinking through to consequences. They were still women single moms with exes, and like women, they were emotional beings, exept that emotionality... We were driving to a late breakfast after a night of partying, and the Duerren Chick had this empty look on her face, devoid of any thought. There was something primoidal and powerful stirring behind that vacant stare. I did not not what it was, but I did not want that sleeping anger or rage to be aimed at me, when it flared up.

    I think that typical AD&D beards for Dwarvedn men and pointy ears for Elves reduces potentially great and definitely alien races to mere props and stereotypes, where players put on pointy ears and play pointy-eared human pretending to be Elves. That is why player characters in Midlands can ENCOUNTER Dwarves and Elves while adventuring, but PC's are always human. How can we know what it's like to be a 600 year old being or to be a silicon-based humanoid lifew form. Maintains the mystique.

    Also, it's a pretty pathetic Holy Symbol. Pictures of AD&D clerics, with the imitation Holy Symbols (whose artists are trying to avoid any similarity to the real world religions) are so pathetic as to be laughable, like that shabbily hidden beard on that ancient Gygaxian rendition of the Dwarven Goddess. I know some conceited, up and coming, and non-traditional lawyers, CPA's and Advertising types, who hire commercial graphic artists and pay them good amounts of money (by MD and CPA standards) for the grapgic artists to9 coem up with memorarble, COOL and unique symbols to represent their professional practice. You look at one of those items on a business card, and it looks real-world, strange, eye catching, like a REAL religious symbol. And this was done by utterly commercial art folk, whose sole purpose is to sell product for their client. Why couldn't the D&D artists come up with some equally engaging for the clerics holy symbols. Were they amateurs not just in their drawing skills, but also in terms of their imaginations?

    To me, these pointy ears and dwarven beards is what makes the fantasy genre shallow, when compared with mainstream literature.

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  18. I always took the whole "bearded dwarf woman" and "dwarf women stay home" thing as an intentional attempt by Gygax and Co. to avoid having a bunch of dwarven female characters kicking around the world.

    Tolkien was doing it both because he kinda found it hard to decide whether dwarves came from rocks and reincarnated or not, and to avoid the usual Norse saga-politics. (Peaceweavers, powerhungry women ruining lives for generations, slaves, women gone psycho over the winter like that sister of Leif the Lucky's, shieldmaidens living like men particularly to get revenge for kin (used slightly for Eowyn), that really determined killer chick with the cursed sword who ended up founding a dynasty, women who never get what they want or too much of it, and so on.)

    Since Tolkien used so much of this material for the stories of Men, there wasn't much left for the stories of Dwarves.

    However, if you skip the "precious jewel chained to the house like a caged bird" crap, I think you'd find it more likely that the dwarven women usually stay home because they own the farms and the houses and everything, like many Norse women did. Just add "they own the mines and forges and refineries and manufactories", and you've probably got a much better picture of dwarven society. So sure, the young dwarves go out adventuring to make money, because they need money to get some kind of equality with the rich dwarven single lady industrialists and mineowners.

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  19. If I may quote from the Adventures Dark and Deep™ Bestiary, certain to become the definitive source on the subject of female dwarven beards:

    "Appearance: Mountain dwarves appear as stocky humanoids, generally always bearded (males and females alike). Their skin ranges from fair to light tan, with reddish or brown hair. Females do not have beards, of course."

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  20. Suburban, that's a great take on Dwarven womanhood! And the unfulfilled life of the shield maiden rings true as well. I thuik that it's a copout to simpolify things in fiction, bringing on the banshees and dealing with the consequences makes for stronger and more vivid writing.

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  21. There is a wealth of material by Tolkien on his vision of dwarves in the last volumes of the History of Middle-Earth. Among it are several musings on the nature of dwarf gender ... JRRT seemed inclined to say there was a severe imbalance between male and female births among the Khuzdul, so that females were effectively kept home to protect a scarce quarter of the race.

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  22. Huh. I forgot these existed. And I love all the resources on bearded dwarf women.

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  23. "...if you skip the 'precious jewel chained to the house like a caged bird' crap, I think you'd find it more likely that the dwarven women usually stay home because they own the farms and the houses and everything, like many Norse women did. Just add 'they own the mines and forges and refineries and manufactories', and you've probably got a much better picture of dwarven society. So sure, the young dwarves go out adventuring to make money, because they need money to get some kind of equality with the rich dwarven single lady industrialists and mineowners."--suburbanbanshee

    Brilliant!

    I'm definitely going to use that!

    I might even apply similar reasoning to explain why female gnomes & halflings tend to stay home, too.

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