It is hard as a DM to get out of my own head and out of my own culture when I am running a session. Last year I was running an extensive campaign through eastern Persia, and no matter how hard I tried nor how my thought I gave to it, I could not make the people nor the environment seem appropriately Persian, either to my party or to myself. The party might differ: they did not like the extensive aridness or deserts, nor the perpetual struggle against that environment…so to some degree they might feel that they really did eat a little grit while adventuring there. Comments about hating the desert came up often.
But I personally felt I could not capture the “romance”…exotic animals, treasures, women, tribal conflicts and so on. I am, sadly, too westernized and too twentieth-century; it is hard to get into the headspace of a truly Moslem person.
That, I think, is a great difficulty in D&D. If it is hard for me to find the romance, having actual examples to point to and pictures I can produce for the party to see as they are moving through various habitats, how difficult is it to produce a truly unique perspective from the point of view of another race.
Yesterday I described Gnomes at length, hoping to create something of a motivation for that race and how they could be expected to act as NPCs. I see them as a nostalgic people, the one kingdom somewhat embittered or saddened by the violence of the world, the other insanely driven to destroy all who might threaten them. The former somewhat similar to those Jews who went passively into the ovens rather than fight, the latter similar to the state of Israel as it is today.
We have only the examples of the real world on which to draw…it’s not likely that I could invent a fully new cultural history, as it is the real world’s cultural history that’s likely to influence me. The best I could do would be to make myself aware of as many different possible cultures as possible. Which is what makes an historian.
When it came to making a background for dwarves, I found myself with two potential habitable (unoccupied) places in my world…neither of which would suit what most people would prefer. Dwarves, I think, would be put in Europe by most DMs…but Europe and European history is inconveniently occupied with Men. I was forced by my own premise to put the Dwarves far, far from Europe. I have no Dwarven kingdoms in Europe at all.
Both are in Asia.
The Paleolithic development of Dwarves somewhat reflects that of Gnomes. Dwarves, too, have a “deep” race living in the bowels of the earth (Duergar); they, too, came into existence with the end of the last Ice Age. Unlike gnomes, however, Dwarves did not “scatter.” They remained in tight-knit social organizations and very mountain-oriented…at least in their early history.
In the period of 11,000 to 6,000 B.C., Dwarves were clustered in the mountain knot of the Altai, at the northern end of the Tien Shan. This a region which would later be known in human history as “the birthplace of the Turkic peoples.” It is up to you to decide if that means the Turks who moved westward in the last half of the first millennium A.D. possessed in part Dwarvish blood…that has been the subject of much dispute.
The first Dwarvish migrations were modest in extent…a general drift eastward along the Western and Eastern Sayan mountain ranges. Several tribes, circa 3500-2500 B.C., reached the Khingan Mountains in northern China.
The first developed culture of Dwarves, however, began in the so-called Khakass Hollow (the Minusinsk Depression), a rich-soiled basin where the Abakan and Yenisey join, notable for a large number of lakes (including some which are saltwater), sparse hillocks and high grain production. The outflow passes through a deep gorge in the Yeniseysk Mountains before descending to the lower Yenisey basin to the north.
In this basin the Dwarves developed a culture—called “Khath”—to rival Egypt or Mesopotamia, circa 4,100 B.C. It would thrive for more than 2,500 years, passing through fourteen dynasties, delving deep into the mountain ranges on every side, trading with lands as far away as China, India or the Elves of Anduin.
It was this last association that steadily diminished after 1900 B.C. There were three races who would migrate south and east from the vast Tunguskan plateau of what we call Evenki: bugbears, hobgoblins and norkers. These races appeared quite suddenly after 2,000 B.C. and expanded quickly in numbers and ferocity. During the next three centuries, various benign Elven cultures along the Lena River were shattered by marauding norkers; bugbears swarmed up into the Eastern Sayan mountains and many of the Dwarven communities there ceased to exist by the late 18th century B.C.; Khath found itself sieged by tens of thousands of hobgoblins…for century after century war against the invaders would consume all the history of the period.
The end would come in the year 1114 B.C. with the Battle of Yaxjasso Knob; the cream of the Khath army was destroyed by twenty times their number. Khath was invaded, cities burned and great towers destroyed and hundreds of thousands of Dwarves were put to the blade. Tuvath, further up the valley of the Yenisey, would fall the following winter. As the spring of 1113 progressed, all cohesion was lost; remnants of the civilization fought for their homes and family; some would succeed and create enclaves of long-lasting resistance. Some would disappear forever.
A substantial number would move steadily westward and south into the foothills of the Altai, eventually finding peace in the valley of the Irtysh. They would found Croftshelm in 868 B.C., which would become the point whereby the Dwarves would re-establish their culture. Rothering (in Roth) would be founded in 601 B.C.
It was also during this period (which came to be called “the Mourning”) that great leaps in religious identity and knowledge were made. Prior to this period dwarves had paid little attention to spiritual matters…after this period their peoples would be led by great Patriarchs. They called the kingdom Altslok, meaning “Godsmen.”
The Patriarchal Awakening of the next age, from 100 B.C. to 300 A.D., coinciding with early wars against the Chinese of the Han Dynasty, would lead to a return of the Dwarves into their former eastern lands. Much of the warlike spirit of the hobgoblins had diminished; they had grown soft and disorganized. After several campaigns into the Kuz Basin (Kuznetsk) and over the Khakassian Range, the Altslok kingdom reconquered Khath (162 B.C.) and Tuvath (67 A.D.). These lands have remained part of Altslok since that time, and have many times withstood assaults by various races.
I love dwarves. They have to be my favorite…which is why I’m probably more detailed about them than with Elves. I haven’t yet gone into the rise of the Kingdom of Hoth, but that can wait. This is enough to digest for now.