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Dwarves who live in human cities tend to congregate in their own neighborhoods - ghettos that are often walled from the outside world, where non-dwarves are seen with suspicion and all wealth is carefully hidden from outsiders. These areas have often hidden traps and defenses - a prudent measure, since there are infrequent pogroms against the dwarves when the human majority is looking for some kind of scapegoat.

These dwarven enclaves are often ruled by a so-called "Hidden King", a dwarf whose actual name is never revealed to non-dwaves. Sometimes they are actual exiled nobles from the dwarven realms, but members of old, established families who have lived in the same city for centuries are more common. In the best case, these dwarves are elder statesmen, judges, and respected advisors to their communities. In the worst case they are nothing more than crime lords who extort their fellow dwarves and ruthlessly crush all dissent. However, the ability of a single ruler to act quickly during times of crisis has proven very useful during in times of persecution, and thus most dwarves support the system. Hidden Kings are most common in the following regions: Desert of Thunder, Flannish Cities, Hobgoblin Dominions, Lake of Dreams, Parginian Rim, and Thenares. In all these regions, dwarves have faced persecution in the past, and might again do so in the future. Hidden Kings also exist in the Eternal Storm and Great Southern Chaos regions, since the political situation there is too unstable to allow dwarves to prosper without any firm leadership. Elsewhere, dwarven expatriate communities are usually ruled by a Council of Elders, which thanks to the reduced threat from their non-dwarven neighbors can afford to take more time when deciding matters of policy.

Another important aspect of expatriate dwarves is from which dwarven realm they can trace their ancestry. Dwarves from Gol Algor tend to me more outgoing and freely mingle with gnomes - and in some cases, even humans who appreciate their skills. Dwarves from Gol Grungor tend to be either staunchly conservative, suspicious of changes and outsiders and usually isolationist from the rest of the city, or (in the case of many younger dwarves who were born and grew up in human cities, as well as expatriate merchants) openly rebellious and contemptuous of dwarven traditions. Dwarves from Gol Murak tend to be subdued but hard-working, and usually donate a large portion of their income to support the war effort of their distant home.

Usually, the Hidden King is a member of the cultural group whose members represent the majority of dwarves in the city, and often dwarves from a different origin are seen as second class members of the dwarven community. However, in regions where dwarves from two different kingdoms are represented in roughly equal numbers - such as the Alliance of the Pantheon, League of Armach, and Lake of Dreams regions, there might be two (or more!) Hidden Kings in a single city, with their followers locked in vicious fights for dominance.

In theory, all dwarven professions are open to both genders, and a member of a certain profession can be expected to be judged on his or her merits alone. Ipractice, because of the low dwarven birth rate, dwarven women are subject to considerable social pressure to marry and give birth to and raise at least two children. After this, their obligations towards the continuation of the dwarven race are considered fulfilled, and they are free to pursue a new profession - even divorces are common and acceptable after this stage if the marriage was one of duty and not love (and such a divorce has no effect on the inheritance rules for their children). However, this means that over the spans of their lives, dwarven women tend to have less time to develop their skills in their chosen craft, and rarely rise to the peak of their professions.

Dwarves are generally seen as a dour and unemotional people, but this perception is untrue - dwarves are just as emotional as humans, but since they tend to live and work in very cramped environments, it is not considered socially acceptable to display strong emotions which would affect all others around them and increase tensions. Such displays are only to be shared with one's closest friends and relatives, and not with outsiders. The major exception to this is when dwarves gather to drink large amounts of alcohol during feasts or pub evenings - drinking alcohol during these occasions is seen as a permissible release from the day-to-day demand to keep one's feelings in check, and dwarfs will be loud, boisterous, and very blunt once they have consumed a few kegs of ale or beer. This can rapidly degenerate into physical fights, which is why most dwarf pubs have very sturdy furniture. The next morning, once all the participants are sober again, most will remember the cause of any fights, but it is considered a faux pas to comment on anything that happened under the influence of alcohol. This procedure helps dwarves to bring their grievances into the open and gives their leaders the opportunity to address them without having them aired at more formal and sober occasions where hurt feelings and grudges might have resulted - after all, everything that was said was "only said in alcohol".

List of Articles about Dwarves

Adventure Ideas

Designer's Notes & Resources

I didn't want to reinvent the wheel for most of the "standard" fantasy races, and thus I stayed fairly close to the typical tropes when it came to the dwarves of Urbis. Instead, my main focus is how dwarves in human cities live - how they interact with humanity, and what kinds of compromises they make to survive and prosper. Their ghettos are inspired by Jewish ghettos throughout European history.

A major source of inspiration was the portrayal of dwarves in the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett, which started out as parodies but now have become a fascinating culture of their own.

Dwarven drinking customs were inspired by similar behaviors among Japanese corporate employees, who have similar customs to air problems in an unofficial way.


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Urbis - A World of Cities © Jürgen Hubert. All material on this site excepting forum posts is owned by him.