Monday, November 23, 2009

Dwarven Oddity

Today I'll speak about dwarfs and also continue some of the topics that surfaced in two previous posts.

The first of them is the problem of race-as-class. I've presented the main argument (apart from the one that it's the OD&D way of doing things) in favor of this rule when I was talking about elves. It simply underlines the difference between humans and fantastic races. Today I'd like to present the argument against the rule, which again helped me shape another demi-human race.

The argument I have in mind is the fact of homogeneity of demi-human cultures. Some might ask, what the fuck am I talking about?! What I want to say is that somehow we are stuck for better or worse with the stereotypical view of "one race = one culture".

You may object, by saying that many RPG's and settings have a lot of variation when it comes to demi-human subtypes. But a race subtype like for example drow, is often (correctly) called a sub-race, that is, one of the different races that together create the race group/category of elves, or so it would seem system wise.

A good example of this way of thinking is the treatment of elves in the Forgotten Realms 3e Handbook. We have 5 elven races, each with it's own distinct ability modifiers, however the descriptions point more to the difference on the cultural or lifestyle level, more than to any important morphological* differences, which would in my belief justify the ability mods. The exception here are the drow, due to their significantly different environment. The other problem is that the descriptions of different elven cultures are at leas laconic and amass to something like: "yellow elves are yellow and are scholars, green elves are green and fight, wood elves live in woods...", which isn't really any useful information to me.

I also find this whole approach unsatisfactory because it's logical continuation would be providing different ability modifiers for human nations. This solution is for me a dead end for three reasons. First, it's an unnecessary complication. Second, I don't see any significant morphological differences between the British, the French and The Germans and finally, I'd feel I might be getting dangerously close to racism.

But let's get back to the problem of cultural homogeneity.

I think that creating sub-races is the lazy approach that gives the illusion of variety instead of real choice. We might come up with an endless number of "dwarf types", call them Shield Dwarves, Doom Dwarves, Monkey Dwarves and so on... And even then 99% of players will end up role-playing all of them as an archetypical dwarf.

All this (and this ingenious post) led me to think that perhaps there are two cultures of dwarfs in my world. One are the classical nordic/tolikenish dwarfs, the other are the slavic dwarves. There is no morphological difference between them, thus they are treated equally in terms of mechanics.

The reason for introduction of those cultures is that I'm tired of having all the same dwarfs all around. Also, since I'm Polish and so are my players, the slavic dwarfs will be right at home, being a cultural archetype easy to relate to for all of us.

I've decided that, as a legend has it, at the beginning there were two brothers, who split the mining duties between themselves. One decided to go dig down into the mountains to find precious stones and unknown metals, the other decided to stay close to the surface, building quarries, coal mines and so on. There is no antagonism between two dwarf nations and all are considered equal, helping and trading with each other.

The last problem is of dwarven females. They exist, but in very small numbers, thus it's quite obvious that some dwarves have decided to marry human females thus bringing half- dwarves to the world. Unlike half-elves, their dwarven counterparts are accepted by their society, however they remain infertile.

The last thing is, because of the shortage of women, dwarven society has developed a very complicated matriarchal clan system. The head of each clan is a woman. I'm seriously considering introducing some kind of polygamy...

More on that to come!

*I mean the scientific term, as used in physical anthropology

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