Everybody knows dwarves are tribal creatures whose lineages are traced back in great detail and reverence. Dwarves don’t necessarily see it the same way, but that’s the common belief held by short-lived humans who speak of the stout race over mugs of ale when other topics fail. Truthfully, dwarves are just as unsure of their origins as humans are, they just have longer time to walk the world and forget where they started. Many clans exist, and each has its own culture, community, and ideas. Getting to know them can make or break your trip outside of the small human kingdoms that eke out delusions of grandeur amongst the woods and weeds of the world.
Here are a dozen dwarven clans for your world. Roll on the table the next time you need a random clan, or seed the setting with specific clans to suit the campaign as you see fit.
1.Goldbraid – A very old clan, as old as dwarves can remember. Everyone agrees that the Goldbraids have been around for a very long time. Some say all dwarves originated with the Goldbraid clan, but the Goldbraids deny this, since no Goldbraid would ever turn his back on the clan to forge his own way. The Goldbraid are deeply hierarchical and had a complicated system of titles and social strata; individuals and families looking to change their station must very carefully do so by amassing wealth, marrying wisely, and avoiding stigmatizing scandals. The Goldbraid clan mostly resides in the massive hollow mountain capital of Kingsreach and its satellite fortresses; social status decides how close you are to the center and the top of the capital, or where you are relegated to the satellites. Despite the apparent inequality of social station, the stoic Goldbraid detest life outside of their mountain kingdoms and remain entrenched in the hierarchy games of Kingsreach, which is so populous and large that its braziers and halls light up the sky over the mountaintop at night as if it were a mighty volcano.
Common traits: Blonde, haughty, obsessed with social machinations.
2. Maulwedge – The Maulwedge clan are known as quarriers, making their cities in the walls of endlessly-descending digs. Their ingenious systems of cisterns and cenotes provide ample water for cooking, cleaning, huge subterranean fisheries, and water wheel-driven mechanical devices. They share their spaces with a friendly race of burly blemmyes, who help carry stone for the Maulwedge dwarves and serve as sentries. The Maulwedge society is very egalitarian, and it is not rare for the ruling class of elected senators to marry, live amongst, and mingle with other citizens regardless of their tenure at the post. Maulwedge dwarves are prolific traders, selling quarried stone and whatever ore they come across to enthusiastic human, halfling, and even elven clientele. Their openness to trade has made them common partners of many settlements, and they are trusted by many. Their complex machinery is the marvel of their region, and the many engineers they produce have become sought after experts for militaries, settlers, shipwrights. The Maulwedge clan is happy to share most of their inventions, but many find some of the most complicated machines to be too difficult to operate and maintain without Maulwedge dwarves to crew it.
Common traits: Pale, broad-chested, friendly, often lost in thought devising a better water wheel.
3. Coldhammer – The Coldhammer clan claims to have split off from the Goldbraid clan eons ago, and considers the Goldbraid denials to be an act of grievous insult and hostility to this day. Their records purport to show the foundation of their clan by a family of exiled Goldbraids, who refused to beg forgiveness for an unspeakable social sin from an unjust king to restore their social status, and instead established a remote mountaintop settlement with likeminded families. The Coldhammers identify with the indefatigable crag-roaming goats of their mountain peaks, and incorporate their likeness in many crafts and sigils. The Coldhammer dwarves interact infrequently with others due to their location, but have become numerous enough to rival all but the Goldbraids in scale. They are largely insular, and politely ignore other humanoids, but they are friendly to all dwarves who come seeking refuge. Despite this, their name is spoken of in reverent whispers by those who have been lost on mountain expeditions. Those pitiful men who might have died from whipping ice storms and altitude sickness found instead safe haven, rescued in the dark of night from certain freezing death to be warmed at the hearth of the goodhearted Coldhammer, and escorted nearly wordlessly back down to safety when the weather next allowed.
Common traits: Hairy arms and back, blue eyes, excellent garments of fur and leather.
4. Shieldsunder – The Shieldsunder clan also claim lineage from the misty dawn of the Goldbraid clan untold centuries ago, but bear no ill will to their supposed former relatives. Unfortunately, that good grace does not go both ways, for the Goldbraids loathe the Shieldsunder dwarves and their boastful laughter; the story of the establishment of the Shieldsunder clan casts nasty aspersions at the Goldbraids. To hear the Shieldsunder dwarves tell it, they are said to have been formed when the Goldbraid king of old, valuing his treasure too greatly to spend it on wars and fearing the reputational damages of lost battles, would not take up arms against a deserving foe alongside an ancient ally – and so his bravest men took up the cause themselves and overthrew a tremendous siege to establish their own dominion in the process. The Shieldsunder have, as far as they claim to recall, been mercenaries ever since. Their society values stories and songs of great adventure, profit, and battle above all other pursuits. Young dwarves are encouraged to travel abroad to quest and fight and return to the shieldhalls of home to sing of their successes. The greatest warriors of the clan are immortalized with statues and hymns in their honor, and spoken of reverently at all formal clan gatherings.
Common traits: Loud, drunk, adventurous, often ginger.
5. Valleybrew – Occupying a great ring of hills surrounding a misty valley formed from a massive crater, the Valleybrew clan are known to all around them as master vintners. Their kingdom is enclosed with a mighty wall, and it is said apocryphally that no human nor elf nor halfling has seen the inside of the valley since the gods walked the world. Though many of their storage halls are cut into the mountaintops, the Valleybrew dwarves live in homes built into the inside face of the great wall itself, or even in cottages throughout the valley where they tend to their crops. The city which rings the wall is best traversed by small boat, which ride on fast-moving canals filled by waterfalls, which makes travel around the giant wall fairly rapid. The Valleybrew dwarves sell beers, wines, and spirits to all comers, operating several caravans and a grand bazaar which takes place on the outside of the west wall or the east wall at the start of alternating seasons. Travelers from all across the land journey to visit the marketplace and its myriad auctions and rarities, but are never permitted inside the walls of the mysterious valley. Those who have tried to mount invasions of the valley have been universally repelled by the wall and the powerful dwarven ballistae which guard it.
Common traits: Reserved but polite, very interested in flora, tall for dwarves.
6. Silverpick – Named for the find that enriched the clan in its earliest days, the Silverpick dwarves are prolific miners and, more importantly, famous jewelers. A small clan, the Silverpick reside in a series of narrow pillar-like mountains in a densely forested area. Long ago they hollowed the stone needles into dwellings and shops, and traverse between them on grand bridges of masterwork masonry. Their locale is kept deliberately dangerous, with their soldiers breeding hordes of attack beasts to roam the forests nearby and deter would-be raiders and thieves seeking the contents of their voluminous coffers. Silverpick dwarves are extremely distrustful towards others due to repeated calamitous invasions by greedy armies, and will generally only do business with carefully-selected merchants; to protect themselves from treachery when dealing with merchants and caravaneers, they employ a series of drawbridges, portcullises, gated channels, and other precautions.
Common traits: Short even by dwarven standards, nimble, quick-witted, paranoid.
7. Oakwall – The Oakwall clan is a rarity amongst dwarves, in that they live much as humans do, and in the fact that they claim to be the originator of all dwarfkind. Few share their opinion about the origins of dwarves, but the Oakwall clan nonetheless maintains, loudly, that the various other clans were born when cowardly dwarves left the original dwarf settlements to build deep, cavernous mountain fortresses out of a fear of being overrun by bestial invaders. Only the brave few Oakwall, they say, stayed fast in their homes behind their palisades and fought valiantly to establish what is now the Kingdom of Oakwall. Oakwall dwarves are friendly to all, outgoing, and very loud. Their welcoming demeanor has made their kingdom and all of its villages popular regional trade destinations for merchants of all kinds. Oakwall dwarves have aided many of their kinfolk over the centuries, and so any disagreement about the history of their species is relegated to rowdy alehall debates when the Oakwall and other dwarves meet, rather than becoming the type of grudge held by the Goldbraid and the Coldhammer.
Common traits: Welcoming, cooperative, loyal to all allies (who are often not dwarven).
8. Wildspear – The small Wildspear clan have a reputation as being ferocious, untamed wild men. Some say the Wildspear clan is the closest thing to the savage wood elves to ever claim to be dwarves. Wildspear dwarves are, in point of fact, conscientious and careful rangers, herders, and woodsmen, whose remote location and dangerous environment have foisted upon them a survivalist sort of xenophobia. Their woodland camps are not permanent. The settlements tend to last a few years at a time before vanishing nearly without a trace. The Wildspear have survived against foe and beast alike by being adaptable and learning the ways of the wilderness. They do not have much interaction with any outsiders, let alone dwarves, and regard everyone they meet with suspicion and calculating self-interest. Their only external venture is to sell excess pelts and leather, which they have in abundance, once a year in the fall; during this time, hundreds of canoes are launched down crisscrossing rivers laden with animal goods only to return on the eve of winter with supplies and foodstuffs. Their modest way of life has made them – and their territory, which they zealously defend from interlopers – seem like easy targets in the past, but as their various failed oppressors would attest, their reputation as violent murders had to come from somewhere.
Common traits: Dark hair, ruddy skin, shamanic culturally with no fixed gods.
9. Tidebane – The Tidebane dwarves are said to have earned their name many generations ago, when the first of their clan crafted great oar-driven triremes to escape certain death, cross inhospitable waters, and establish their colony on the uninhabited, windswept islands of the northwest. Their totems, by which they mark the passage of time with carvings of historical deeds and events, reveal many marvels to the trained eye, including manuals of construction and operation for their ships and more. Young Tidebane dwarves must study and memorize many totems held in high esteem by the ruling family, but each family has its own totems as well. Tidebane boats are often decorated with similar carvings, telling the tale of their trips to various locales, peaceful or otherwise. The Tidebane clan thinks very little of the non-seafaring clans, but gets along well with the Wildspear, whose canoes and longboats are well-known to the Tidebane and whose acumen as sailors is greatly respected.
Common traits: Tanned, hairy, unforgiving.
10. Craghollow – The Craghollow clan believes all dwarf clans descended from them, and considers the haughty attitude of the Goldbraid and their smirking rejection of their own supposed progenitor status to be false modesty and plausible deniability – and an insulting avoidance of the matter of Craghollow parentage. The Craghollow have great cavernous halls cut into the magma tubes and cones of a chain of inactive volcanoes. Herein they have great cities with the most impressive glacial aqueducts on the face of the world. Their pride in their incredible workmanship as masons borders on religious zealotry and they do not brook any insult to their stonework kindly. However, to most – especially Maulwedge dwarves, who they consider their closest cousins – they are well-mannered, if a bit gruff, and they are often found plying their trade as valued architects and masons wherever there is demand for such services. Mastery over stone is valued above all else, and their society is, in modern times, ruled by a council of craftsmen. This arrangement is decided anew every seven years. In the past, brief (by dwarven standards) civil wars were carried out when great disagreements over selections to the council occurred, but it has been six generations since the last of these so-called “Troubles”.
Common traits: Ron Swanson.
11. Rockneck – Supposedly so named for the punishment their forefathers faced, buried alive up to their necks in hot stones and desert sand, the Rockneck dwarves are now known for the massive terraced cities and almost unbelievable gardens they have carved into the inhospitable wastes they call home. The Rockneck dwarves are consummate desert survivors whose dark skin is often clad in layers of loose linen. Their three cities, are often called the bejeweled oases, are small but extremely lavish, filled with opulent luxuries and beauty. These cities are joined to each other by canal and road, and contain the entirety of the Rockneck clan. Dwarves from these cities are the first choice of caravans seeking guards and guides for transit across the dangerous desert. Rocknecks are quick to work with all but other dwarves – the clan bears a deep distaste for their own kind, and has held such an opinion since their ancestors were sent to the desert to be executed for long-forgotten crimes. Though they will not behave in a hostile manner, nor let a lost dwarf die of thirst in the dunes, they will not labor under the leadership of any other dwarf clan, nor will they do business with them.
Common traits: Dark skin color with striking green or hazel eyes, appreciative of gifts, believers in the elemental lords.
12. Steelsong – The small Steelsong clan, famed for its massive lava-fired foundries and forges, dwells in a city carved into the side of a sheer, mountainous cliff face. Its exterior is formidable, with tremendous colossi of stone and shining steel. The redoubt is as much a fortress as it is a city, and is accessible only by switchback roads leading to ring after ring of thick stone walls. The entrance to the interior of Steelsong Hold is a massive gate built within a great stonework face, itself hundreds of feet tall. The visage is that of the founding king of the Steelsong, a warlord in ancient times who valiantly carved a path for his people into the safety of the interior cavern network through teeming orcs and goblins so that the dwarves of his clan might escape cataclysmic natural disasters in a forgotten age. Since that time, the Steelsong have become expert warriors and smiths, producing some of the finest armaments in the world. Their wares are very valuable trade goods, and can be found in far off lands where they command the highest prices. Not once in the entirety of its existence has the clan been overrun or conquered, though they face constant threats from within their great hold as the untouched caverns deep below their home are said to lead directly to the underworld.
Common traits: Valorous warrior culture, most likely to be clean-shaven due to fire hazards, perfectionists.
I like these dwarves, and in the future I think I might do detailed profiles on them/their homes/their wares and specialties. I hope you like these dwarves too. If you do, and you use them in your games, let me know! I love to get messages and emails telling me where my weird ideas get used. You can get me in the comments below, by email, or on Twitter @dungeonspossums. Cheers!