Religion and the Afterlife
The forging of the world, as understood by the Dwarves: First there was A-dui, the one who was not forged. Next, A-dui forged the Thirteen Forefathers. With their help, A-dui forged the world, and then the Chamber of Souls, which they filled with the souls of all the dwarves who would ever be born. According to some dwarves, after the Chamber of Souls was created A-dui was sacrificed by the Thirteen Forefathers and divided into many pieces; it is A-dui’s body which comprises the souls of the dwarves, and after the last dwarf has died these pieces will come back together and A-dui will behold the work that the dwarves wrought in its absence.
In any case, the dwarves believe that the world is as yet only partially created. Their task, which they have carried out for countless generations, is to continue this act of creation by taking simple matter and forging it into artifice. When the whole world has been so converted, the time of the dwarves (and of all other things) will come to an end, and there will be only A-dui, who will look upon the work of itself and of the dwarves which it created, and be pleased. Understandably, the dwarves have no tolerance for people who might damage any of their works. Each one is a sacred work, and to steal or (worse) damage these things is to oppose the will of A-dui.
The one who crafts the thing has all rights over it; as A-dui crafted the world and all the things therein, A-dui has supreme right over them all. This means that the dwarves subscribe to a form of divine command theory in ethics: whatever A-dui commands is right, by definition, because no existing thing is justified in opposing A-dui’s will.
Because each dwarf was created before the world was populated, dwarves believe that they each have a particular part to play in A-dui’s plan. One’s interests, talents, and so forth have been foreordained by A-dui, and one has been placed at this particular point in time in order for one’s unique characteristics to perfectly synergize with the characteristics of other dwarves. For this reason, dwarves do not easily fall into despair. Even when things seem to be at their darkest, the dwarves remember that they were placed in these circumstances for a reason, and A-dui desired for no others to be in their place. Perhaps they will die, but they will not fail; whatever happens, it will eventually work out in accordance with A-dui’s will.
At least, this is the view of the majority of the dwarves. Since the shattering of the world, some of the dwarves (including the majority of one clan) have ‘lost the faith,” so to speak. The event was a tragic one for all of the dwarves and a terrible time, but it caused some of the dwarves to, for the first time, doubt that the Great Work of A-dui would be completed. It is beyond the power of the dwarves to fix the broken world, they say, and the works of A-dui have been frustrated forever.
There are four main holidays in the dwarf calendar: Putrefaction Night, Division Night, Xanthosis, and Phoenix Day. On Putrefaction Night, the dwarves remember those who came before them, those whose bodies have nourished their own bodies through the cultivation of corpse-soil. There is much dancing and drinking on this night, and before everyone goes to sleep (or gets ready to pass out, as the case might be), the oldest dwarf in the group eats a fermented fish head, in order to give good luck to the coming year (Putrefaction Night is held just a few days before the end of the year).
On Division Night, dwarves take this time to remember their fathers and children, each giving honor to the other; the father acknowledges the deeds of the child, and the child acknowledges the wisdom and authority of the father. On Xanthosis (referring to a specific kind of yellowness that occurs with decay), the dwarves set out gold objects to sit in the sunlight, symbolizing a taste of A-dui’s Great Work, which will be to the unfinished world, the dwarves say, as gold is to ash.
On Phoenix Day the dwarves garb themselves in red and white and look forward to the return of A-dui. As well, each dwarf will break something in the morning and then, dressed in the red and white of Phoenix Day, remake or repair that object. The exact object does not matter: one dwarf might break and reforged a sword, and another dwarf might divide a loaf of bread and use the pieces in an entirely different dish. This holiday is most-strongly celebrated by those dwarves who believe that their souls were made from the division of A-dui’s body, but other dwarves still observe it because of how it relates to the completion of the Great Work.
After the Great Work of A-dui has been finished and A-dui returns to behold it, A-dui will crush the world into dust and start everything over again. Said the poet: “The glories of A-dui go on and on without end / They are more eternal than the sun / They are the upward wave / They descend below the sea / Yet the wave rises once more.” This is the reason for the name of Phoenix Day. It is a matter of debate among the dwarves exactly how many times this has gone on. Some of the dwarves say that the world has been made and destroyed seventeen times. Others say that the world has been made and destroyed eleven times, but that if you took one of those times, then you would see how there had been eleven creations and destructions in that time, and on and on, in a sort of mystical Matryoshka doll.
Family and Social Life
Five days after a dwarf has completed its budding, it will be brought before the local authorities in order to receive the Examination of All Days. The Examination is a formal procedure for determining how much a dwarf remembers, and exactly what. Dwarves who personally remember certain pieces of information (rather than remembering after having had to be told) will be given certain positions of responsibility depending on that information.
It is a thing of great regret to the dwarves that there are none alive who still remember the face of A-dui, and few who remember any of the Thirteen Forefathers.
When two dwarves of the same clan meet, and they are not known to each other, then they will recite their full names. This will allow them to establish which party should express deference to the other, and also their familial connection to each other. If dwarves of two different clans meet then there is no need for this; it is known already that they do not share any ancestors, and deference must be paid to the dwarf whose city the two are in.
Dwarfs suffer greatly from loneliness. A solitary dwarf will begin talking to itself on the third day, and begin to hallucinate the presence of other dwarves by the end of the first week. After two weeks, most dwarves will do anything (but sell out their clans) for a little company, but a dwarf who is left alone for too long will suffer irreparable damage. Many dwarfs will attempt to kill themselves before the first month of solitude is up.
Just as a dwarf has all rights to the sword or chalice which that dwarf has made, so too does the father have all rights over the child. Till the day that the father dies, the child is bidden to follow the will of the father, and even once the father has died the child is expected to live in accordance with the last desires of the father. This is the reason that dwarves are so concerned with honoring their ancestors—because they were made by their ancestors, they are obligated to act as their ancestors would have them do.
The dirt of a dead dwarf is used for agriculture. This dirt is especially fertile, and can be used to grow mushrooms or grain for several years before losing its potency. In some places, “corpse-soil” is the dwarves’ only source for good soil, and the dwarves otherwise subsist on meat, which is a diet to which they are better-accustomed than many other races. This practice is referred to as “the eating of the dead,” and is considered to be a form of carnivorous behavior no different from eating flesh. Dwarves have hardy stomachs and undiscriminating tongues, so they think nothing of eating carrion.
Indeed, a little bit of rot can often add a special flavor to the dish. Meat will often be stored in fermentation pits for weeks before it is mashed and eaten. Soybeans are used in a variety of dishes—soaked whole in vinegar and allowed to ferment, they become a cheese-like loaf, and they can be turned into a potent seasoning by being fermented with salt and fungus. Recipes for particular fermentations are passed from father to child and carefully guarded, with no hyperbole on the word. The clans take great pleasure in showing off their respective culinary styles to each other, but a dwarf who reveals the secrets of those dishes will be disgraced before his forefather and all his clan. It is generally not safe for non-dwarves to eat such foods, and anyone who dines with a dwarf should take care to inquire how it was made.
Some dwarfs do not believe that it is proper to kill living things. They hold that A-dui made all things to exist in their proper spheres, and that—unless it is vitally necessary to do otherwise—the dwarves should allow animals (and even plants, according to some dwarves) to live and cut short their lives. These dwarves are not vegetarians, but will eat meat only if it has not been killed for them, and prefer to eat meat from animals that have died from natural causes. The strictest of these dwarves will not even eat plant matter unless it has died, but all of them will eat fruit and seeds when they can get it, because eating these things in no way requires a dwarf to kill a living thing.
Dwarves prefer to use thrusting, polearm-type weapons like pikes and glaives, but also train in the improvised use of tools such as pickaxes and hammers. When they are expanding their cities it is not unusual for them to break into preexisting tunnels, because what is good real estate for dwarves is good real estate for orcs, demondim, and other beings. On these occasions, the party doesn’t have time to call for dedicated weaponry. Likewise, when a band of orcs tunnels in specifically to attack a work-party, the dwarves need to be ready to fight then and there.
When the dwarves know ahead of time that there’s going to be combat, however, such tactics are needlessly dangerous. Instead of fighting as close quarters, the dwarves use the tight environment to their advantage and try to keep the enemy at bay with long polearms. In most tunnels only a few dwarves can stand shoulder to shoulder—sometimes there’s only enough room for one dwarf—but dwarves in the second and third ranks can still thrust from the side, so that for every dwarf in the front, you are facing the business end of up to four weapons.
To capitalize on this, some dwarven armies simply give massive shields to the frontline and rely on the second and third ranks for offensive capability. Aboveground, the dwarves operate in much the same fashion and bear a strong resemblance to Greek phalanxes. Dwarves who frequently have to fight outside of the tunnels will typically use glaives and poleaxes, which give them a little more tactical room and offer a counter to mounted soldiers.
Just because cities are organized along clan lines does not mean that every city ultimately hearkens to the authority of one of the thirteen clan chiefs. There is a division between “outposts” and “strongholds,” which are ruled by delegates appointed by the clan chief, and “freeholds,” which are independent cities that were started when a group of dwarves had a dispute with the authorities of the clan and struck out on their own. There is rarely any hostility between strongholds and freeholds. In fact, they may be downright amicable with each other and come to each other’s aid in times of danger. In most cases, it seems, some dwarves just need a little bit of space in order to maintain feelings for the rest of their community. Freeholds are more likely than strongholds to have a significant number of dwarves from other clans.
The chief of a clan or city is advised by a council of six dwarves, called the Mindful Ones. These dwarves are those who were recorded in the Examination of All Days as remembering more about the past than any others in the city or clan. Together with the local chief, they are a treasure-house of wisdom.
One of the more troubling things for dwarves is that not everyone remembers things the same way, especially from clan to clan. Debates on whether this or that detail is more accurate than a contradicting detail can carry on long into the night or even for several days, supported by testimony on both sides and support from historical records. Whole treatises have been written on the topic of a single day, listing all of the varied assertions, the arguments in favor for and against each of them, and the eventual conclusion of the chief of the clan, who has final authority over such matters. Because there is no-one with such authority between the clans, however, there are some disputes that have been ongoing for centuries, and the only thing that one can do is choose which clan to side with.
Relations with other races
The dwarves were created by the Thirteen Forefathers, under orders from A-dui, in order that there might be a people to continue A-dui’s work in crafting the world. The other races were not created to serve thus; rather, they are raw materials. This is not to mean that the dwarves intend to strip them down for parts. Rather, the dwarves are supposed to use them in whatsoever fashion is necessary to accomplish the Great Work of A-dui. It is no sin to lie to or manipulate a non-dwarf in order to further one’s ends (which are, of course, A-dui’s ends), because that is what non-dwarfs are for. As a result of this perspective, the dwarves only respect the laws of other races insofar as it is pragmatic to do so. They do not believe that other races can really have authority over them.
Non-dwarfs are not allowed into the cities of the dwarves, because these are sacred places and would be tainted otherwise. In addition to this, it is believed by the dwarves that they must have a certain amount of focus in order to carry out their sacred duty. One does not walk into a workshop without intended to conduct work, in order to avoid distracting those present, and a dwarven city is in some senses really nothing but a very large workshop. It goes without saying that non-dwarfs cannot enter the city/workshop with an intent to work therein, because they were made to be raw materials, not fellow workers.
The dwarven reluctance to go to war with other races (besides such beings as orcs) is partially born out of this perspective. To a certain degree, the other races are simply not worth their time. It is also pragmatic, however. Aboveground, the dwarves suffer from a height disadvantage, which is nothing to sniff at. In their cities, however, the terrain has been constructed to suit them perfectly. It is very hard to fight a squad of dwarves when one is crouched or on hands and knees in single file, and there are three or five pikes being shoved at you. Even the orcs have difficulties with fighting dwarves on their home ground and have to resort to drawing them out somehow (orcs are very good at filling tunnels with smoke) or using alternative tactics, like flooding the tunnels.
Representatives from many kingdoms, as well as monastics and other holy folk, come to dwarf communities to set beside the oldest dwarves and learn the history of the world. Among some people, it is a matter of custom that, when a contract is to be signed (especially a contract that will persist over many generations), the parties in question must have a dwarf to witness all the particulars.
It is said that the Orcs are there to “keep sharp the edges of our steel,” or in other words to make sure that the dwarves do not fall into decadence and forget their duty. The orcs will never be vanquished until the Great Work of A-dui is nearly completed. Until then, they will continue to harry the dwarves, provoking them like a poker stokes the fire of the forge.
The Demondim are hated even more than the orcs, because in creating the demondim-spawn they have attempted to usurp A-dui’s blessed role as creator. As one would expect, the demondim have proven unable to more than twist the creations of A-dui, but between this and the shattering the dwarves know that there is no greater foe than the demondim. When the dwarven hosts go to war, it is most often because they suspect the involvement or presence of the demondim.
The Xindi are viewed with a mixture of understanding and abhorrence, and the degree to which one dominates over the other varies from dwarf to dwarf. To some, a kinship is perceived in that the xindi eat the dead and the dwarves eat food grown from the soil of their dead. To others, it is a hideous distortion, because dwarves only use their dead as soil, but the xindi actually eat the meat of their dead (on a related note, many dwarves are uneasy about corpses in general, because it seems so wrong for intelligent beings to die and then remain and rot rather than dissolve into something useful).
Dragons are also complicated for the dwarves, but most come to the same conclusion: It is wonderful that dragons understand the value of created works, but for obvious reasons the dwarves would prefer that they understand the value of created works somewhere else. A few dwarven communities, however, have managed to come to amicable agreements in which a dragon helps to protect the stronghold in exchange for a regular supply of fine-crafted goods. Such an arrangement may be highly unorthodox, but since dragons take very good care of their treasure there is nothing blasphemous about it. Some dragons don’t even mind when these dwarves come to visit the hoard, which is a regular occurrence when it can be done.
Written by R. James Gavreau based on my notes.