Monday, March 30, 2009

Demihuman Oddities

One of the things I really love about my Dwimmermount campaign is how readily my five players have all, to varying degrees, contributed to the development of the still-vague game world in which the megadungeon exists. This is particularly in evidence when it comes to the portrayal of the demihuman races.

In our latest session, we discovered a few things about the nature of dwarves, since Vladimir rejoined the party after a long absence. (As an aside, I am gratified that Dwimmermount's dwarves seem to be vaguely Slavic in conception rather than the Germanic or Scottish stereotypes that typically afflict the race). When asked where Vladimir had been while the party was off in Dwimmermount, his player explained that he'd been "making my baby." What he meant, of course, was that Vladimir had been using his time and treasure to carve a son for himself.

As I believe I mentioned once before, my dwarves are free-willed earth elementals who usually don't venture out from their subterranean strongholds. They're thus rather alien in nature, at least by human standards. I decided to sidestep the whole question about what dwarf women look like by establishing outright that there are no female dwarves at all. Dwarves reproduce (slowly) through a long and expensive process of crafting their descendants from living rock. Consequently, most dwarves don't really get the idea of gender or sexual reproduction, leading to all manner of misunderstandings when dealing with non-dwarves.

We also concluded that, because the process of crafting a descendant was so expensive, the newly-born dwarf -- who enters the world a fully functional adult -- is expected to repay his father and his clan, preferably in raw materials like precious metals and jewels. Most dwarven adventurers are in fact on quests either to repay their fathers for the expense of making them or trying to acquire enough valuables to be able to craft their own child. Thus, dwarves aren't really greedy so much as needy; they wish to acquire wealth to ensure the perpetuation of their elemental race and the cultural practices that have grown up around it.

As for elves, it was interesting how many later accretions to the OD&D conception of the race we just accepted without any thought. For example, we never once considered that sleep or charm spells might affect Dordagdonar, because we all knew elves were immune to both. They are in AD&D true, but no such immunity is noted in the three little brown books. Accepting this led Dordagdonar's player to assume that elves are immune to sleep because elves never sleep. They are always awake, which is why some elves, particularly younger ones, quickly grow bored and seek out excitement, even if it is among "ephemerals" like humans. Elven adventurers are thus elves with really short attention spans. We had also previously established that elves have quite the sweet tooth, with sugar acting as a mild narcotic, thus leading to jokes about "Pixie Stix addicts."

And these are all details that evolved through play, springing from tiny germs I'd planted early on in the campaign. I absolutely love this kind of stuff and see it as part of why I love this hobby so much.


  1. Okay, I gotta ask. What is your aversion to dwarven Females? Dwarf's find beards sexy!

    In my campaign, there is always a shortage of women, and only the most wealthy dwarfs can hope to get married and keep their family name alive. I've never had a female dwarf PC, I would think that many of them would be forbidden to adventure because they are so important to the race. This is the recipe for some thrilling social culture classes. Money and wealth are easier to get, and the true treasure is a woman.

  2. Dwarf women bug me for several reasons.

    1. I like my demihumans more fairy tale/mythological in nature and having no women of their own kind is in keeping with this.

    2. The bearded dwarf women thing comes from Tolkien and, much as I love the good professor's works -- I really do -- I don't like my chocolate in my peanut butter when I can avoid it.

    3. I don't really have any good models to draw in figuring out what a dwarf woman would be like as a character. They just don't appear outside of gaming.

    That said, I don't have any objection to dwarf women, bearded or otherwise, as a gaming artifact and they work just fine in certain settings. They just didn't fit the feel I'm going for in Dwimmermount.

  3. James,

    I admire the willingness to think up something truly weird (in the positive grand ole tradition of "weird tales").

    So often sword-and-sorcery falls back on old cliches and the only differentiation is just how pointy an elf's ears are...

  4. Slavic dwarves?
    Da, Comrade!

    V-word: Celuckla
    Definition: The hen whose feet Baba Yaga stole for her hut.

  5. I've used a similar explanation for Dwarves in my campaign, but the bit about having to repay one's maker is brilliant.

    Fantastic! Now fix halflings!

  6. The 'elves not sleeping' is from Tolkien, isn't it? Tolkien elves 'meditate' instead of sleep. I think that was the source of the immunity in D&D. (Although Tolkien elves certainly don't suffer from ADD!)

    The dwarf idea is very cool. I think that I might have to steal it.

  7. I really like that explanation of the process.

    In one of my old campaigns from the early-80's, Dwarves had no females but all halflings were women based on a tale from nordic folklore.

    Barking Alien

  8. Yes, I agree with you James. One of my favorite parts of D&D is mucking around with the demi-human races. Every time I create a new campaign, I try to make the demi-humans different than the time before, sometimes by a little and sometimes by a lot. Some friends have pointed out that I always seem to hose the elves (cursed, dying, their empire fell and everyone hates them, etc) Must be some kind of subconscious reaction.

  9. Amusingly enough, the reason I had the "making a baby" idea was that the ACTUAL reason I had missed a bunch of sessions was because I became a father.

    That said, I look forward to seeing the session account. ;-)

  10. The 'elves not sleeping' is from Tolkien, isn't it? Tolkien elves 'meditate' instead of sleep. I think that was the source of the immunity in D&D. (Although Tolkien elves certainly don't suffer from ADD!)

    I don't recall the sleep habits of elves in Tolkien, but you may be right.

  11. Some time in the late 80's it came time in my world to show what a dwarf chick looked like. I had some female Elfquest figures, featuring the somewhat squat but hot girls from that comic, so I used those. Sexy and vampy looking once painted, I decided that female dwarves were like some magnificent treasure - and few in number. I sort of pictured dwarf men in the Thunderhold tripping over themselves to impress them, much like the male Smurfs with that Smurfette.

    These days there are loads of cool dwarven female figures, in armor and out, that demand that they exist in your world!

    James, I don't think reducing all non-human things to dickless, sexless creatures is the way to go, nor is it all that in keeping with myth/legend. In all cultures, almost anything fairy-like or non-human were generally horny as hell. If they didn't have their own women, they coveted human ones.

    And Tolkien having female dwarves have full beards that the men love? Yeah, I'll say it: Tolk was an old weirdo.

  12. James, I don't think reducing all non-human things to dickless, sexless creatures is the way to go, nor is it all that in keeping with myth/legend.

    I haven't -- it's just dwarves. There are half-elves in my campaign and they're actually more common than elves, mostly because many elves decide that fooling around with "ephemerals" is a good way to alleviate the crushing boredom of their existence.

  13. dwarves somehow became slavic in our campaign, as well. for what it's worth, the meditation of elves seems to be the putative explanation for their immunity to sleep in 3.5. i assume the resistance to charm is based on the elves' traditional use of glamour. like what you're doin' here!

  14. I love this conception of dwarves. I always seem to end up running into that boring old vaguely-nordic idea, and this has so much more flavour.

  15. Just found this post, sorry I'm late. I received a heartwarming chuckle when you described the elves. Our group had created the same house rule in the mid 80's. The girl player had a serious addiction to pixie stix's. A sugar rushed magic caster hiding from the narcs was hilarious.