It is uncertain just how long the Dwarves have been a part of the desert lands in a geographical sense. Due to their subterranean nature, the timelines between their people and that of surface dwellers are difficult to correlate upon or in the wake of contact. They could have very well been living beneath the floodplain and its surrounding lands before the Pharosi or even the Nomadi arrived there, or they could have found their way to the caverns beneath the region after the Pharosi led their people west. Regardless, the Dwarves have an incredibly long lineage, and even their written history goes back longer than many other races’ oral histories, and thus the Dwarves’ own spoken word is even more ancient. It is said that the Dwarves lived much deeper beneath the earth than they do now, though reasons for migrating upwards are vague and shrouded in possibilities. Some say an ancient enemy slowly drove them up, others speak of dwindling resources, while others suggest cataclysmic natural events in the deepest caverns of the world. Whatever the case, it is generally agreed upon that in these primeval days is when the Dwarves first came across powerful buried relics that predated even their memory.
These relics, now generally referred to as ‘The Remnants’ were the remains of immensely powerful entities that had already left the world, but whose unfathomable might allowed pieces of them to linger on to continue influencing the plane. Some of these Remnants were supposedly the actual physical remains of these entities – bones, eyes, organs, and other body parts, but others were items possibly used by them, or else objects charged with the last bits of power of the beings upon their leaving. Dwarven history states that these objects whispered to them, voices from beyond the stone, beyond the veil. Some now claim that the Dwarven language was born out of these whispers, and that their tongue is subsequently the true language of the world as a whole. The Dwarves learned from these Remnants, and their culture grew around a respect for these bygone entities, and from these interactions did they come to advance, build, and create.
These events transpired eons ago, long before the Dwarves moved close enough to the surface to meet races from above the ground. Even to the long-lived Dwarves themselves, the places of old deep in the caverns of the earth are of a primordial time, far removed from their current lives. To their own caring, applicable history for the Dwarves goes back about 4,000 years, but their history in regards to Rekkar-Serrat begins about 1,200 years ago, when they met the Pharosi.
First contact between the Dwarves and the surface-races of the floodplain occurred several centuries after the Pharosi conquest, as the humans were solidifying their hold over the land and erecting the cities that would become their new empire. When the Pharosi began excavating stone and ore for their cities and palaces and jewels and currency, they also uncovered the Dwarves. As was their custom, the Pharosi first acted as aggressors, having found yet another race in their new land to subjugate or otherwise overcome. The Dwarves were unfamiliar and unprepared for such a sudden and open show of hostility, having lived for many years without contest beneath the earth. After the initial exchange of blows, the Dwarves retreated deeper into their caverns, but the Pharosi gave chase, more out of pride than anything else. Here, in the deep places of the land, the Dwarves had the advantage. The Pharosi were accustomed to fighting on huge open fields where they could wash over their foes with sheer strength, but in the winding corridors of stone that the Dwarves populated, such tactics proved ineffective as their forces simply bottlenecked at every turn. The Dwarves collapsed tunnels and caves, wiping out Pharosi forces with relative ease. It only took a few short years for the Pharaohs of the time to realize that subjugation of the Dwarves was too costly and ultimately too pointless – they still had to master the surface, and worrying about the people beneath them who had made no moves against them was only a waste of time and resources.
Their enemies withdrawn, the Dwarves resume their lives, regaining the places that the Pharosi had originally chased them from. The Pharosi knew that they still needed the mountains and mines to build their empire, however, so came to the Dwarves a second time, peacefully. The Dwarves were unconvinced at first, still bloodied by the Pharosi aggression, but the Pharaohs made arrangements to compensate the Dwarves in exchange for assistance in excavation and building. Though some Dwarves thought the notion foolish, to assist such recent enemies, ultimately their greed got the better of them and cooperation with the Pharosi begun. Dwarves have since been a fixture in Rekkar-Sarrat, coming to integrate with surface society in the past thousand years.
Dwarves are a stout race, shorter than humans but taller than Gnomes or Halflings. They stand around four and a half feet in height, compact in frame but solid, sturdy, and stocky, with long arms for their build. Males and females are of similar height and weight. Their hair is usually dark brown, black, or grey. Blonde, red, and lighter brown hair color is virtually unseen amongst them. Their eyes follow suit in coloration, often matching the hue of the hair. Male Dwarves are capable of growing facial hair to great length in relatively short amounts of time, but most do not, for long, bushy beards require a great amount of maintenance in a land of sand, and the subterranean temperature of Rekkar-Sarrat, though relatively constant, tends to be hotter than the under-realms of other lands. Many Dwarves keep facial hair cropped or trimmed short, even if they spend most of their time underground, and Dwarves who tend to the surface may keep none at all.
Clothing is somewhat divergent among them, with builders, miners, and other laborers favoring sturdy work clothes while those of higher standing and nobles of the many Dwarven houses dress according to their station in well-tailored finery. Dwarves of this fashion tend to layer to better hint towards how much they have, wearing doublets, capes, shawls, mantles, and gloves over shirts and leggings. Hats are common among them as well, ranging from simple hoods to wide-brimmed and flashy numbers. Jewelry is common as well, particularly rings, and most Dwarves wear the signet ring of their house, noble or no.
Dwarves in Rekkar-Sarrat come in two breeds. There are the Dwarves tied to the culture of their people, which comprises most of them, and there are the Dwarves who are more integrated with surface society and are often much different than their counterparts.
The Dwarven culture revolves around social and political intrigue known as shadow games, in which noble houses try to outmaneuver one another for power, wealth, and prestige. This lifestyle has made Dwarves rather untrusting and somewhat paranoid while at the same time being social savants. Dwarves value wit, guile, misdirection, and insight. They are precise and deliberate in their bluffs and schemes, always aware that a misstep could cost them. They tend towards selfishness and sycophantism, but are generally loyal to their house. Greed is a common flaw amongst their people and drives much of their society and the decisions that they make through life. Manipulative, they often try to think a few steps ahead, and therefore also are cunning in finding solutions for problems and new ways to do things.
Almost paradoxically, Dwarves also value hard work, determination, and perseverance. Though they try to accumulate as much as they can through subterfuge and manipulation, they understand that the harder one works, the bigger the payoff, whether it be physical labor or social scheming. Such philosophies make Dwarves good candidates for any job, for they put their all into whatever they do. Dwarves tend to treat almost everyone as a secret enemy but open friend. They will deal with anyone, but are always on the watch for signs of deception or betrayal.
Dwarves are not prone to wild displays of emotion. They keep their calm in most circumstances, never wanting to expose a weakness. They are pleasantly stoic to most, civil even when engaged in altercations or disagreements. They do not make threats or promises openly.
Dwarves removed from the complexities of Dwarven society, which includes Houseless Dwarves and Dwarves who are a few generations into the surface, have drifted from the subterfuge and schemes of their culture. These Dwarves are more trusting of others, having worked alongside humans, Gnomes, and other peoples all of their lives, learning from their societies and customs. Such Dwarves have more in common with those they have shared land and settlement with, but still display some of the typical traits of cultural Dwarves. Determination, hard work, perseverance; such ideas are important to Dwarves of the surface. So too do they share the greed of their shadow-play kin, but their selfishness is not so unlike that of the other people of the surface.
Society and Government
Dwarves dwell primarily in the few mountainous regions in the plain. Not river-folk by nature, they tend towards rocky or hilly areas further away from the water, relying on underground springs, wells, and streams. Though most Dwarven settlements can be found beneath the Wall of Karsuss, they can still be located among the populations of many towns and outposts. Other than humans, they are also the most likely race to be found in frontier or border towns in what is considered dangerous territory. Dwarves still find much business as mineral merchants, surveyors, contractors, and builders, and remote human settlements have much opportunity for them; erecting buildings for the settlements themselves, finding sources of water and other resources beneath the ground, and managing defenses against aggressors.
Many enterprising Dwarves made their way to the northern reaches of Rekkar-Sarrat 300 years ago when the Dwahani began their own nation-building, finding great amounts of work in assisting them. To this day, the provinces of Almessyr, Tartasif, and Abul harbor a fair amount of surface-dwelling Dwarves. There are also Dwarven outposts and settlements in the Horsewatch Hills, a chain of hills and mountains separating the province of Abul from Ghitu Azrak. The largest Dwarven surface settlements are Baeda and Hebir, where the Dwarves operate extensive mining operations. Stone, ore, gems, and oil are all excavated from the mining cities and are traded domestically and exported on ships. These two cities are also the two main doorways to the larger Dwarven world under the surface, though outsiders are usually unwelcome in the greater Dwarven network. Ever since the Pharosi incursion those many centuries ago, the Dwarves have been a bit more defensive in allowing anyone in. The true extent of the Dwarven population and territory is unknown to surface races, and even most Dwarves who have taken to the surface are ignorant to it.
Besides mining and other forms of labor, Dwarves are heavily invested in the trade and commerce of Rekkar-Sarrat. Fiercely protective of their enterprises, Dwarves do whatever they can to completely master the mines and quarries of the region, and also strive to maintain their domination of masonry and construction. Noble families maintain their status by accumulation of wealth and prestige, and send their laborers and retainers all over the floodplain for work to bring it in. They are largely successful at this, and their only real competitors in these fields are themselves. In Rekkar-Sarrat, Dwarves play at power through avenues both political and social, and the only larger senses of camaraderie and community they maintain are to their houses. Personal and familial wealth is of great import to a Dwarven house, and there is generally no concept of sharing. Any “sharing” of money, resources, or services is considered a loan that is expected to see a return. The scarcity of food and water in the desert lands, even underground, historically made the Dwarves there more competitive than cooperative, especially due to the fact that they had no outside enemies to content with. Dwarves were largely unmolested in their corner of the subterranean world before the Pharosi uncovered them, having not the conflict with orcs, goblinoids, and giants that other races who live underground or in mountainous terrain do. With no consistent outside threat to unify them, the Dwarves looked inward for their conflict. Intrigue is a large part of daily life among the Dwarves, especially among noble houses. Nobility is not always hereditary for Dwarves, but always dependent on social standing which is in turn determined by wealth and other assets, favor, military strength, and political power.
There are no monarchs among the Dwarves, nor elected officials that preside over their settlements or their people. Dwarves are self-regulating at the house level – each clan or house operates autonomously but is always checked by the power of other houses. The most powerful houses can influence the operation of other houses and society at large, while other houses always try to become more powerful. As such, Dwarves tend to be selfish (if not for themselves, then at least for their families and houses), calculating, shrewd, and cunning. Power plays usually come out of favors, exchanging money or other commodities, or arranging the embarrassment or financial downfall of another house.. The social and political intrigue is outwardly very rarely is settled by violence, though inter-house conflict is constant. There are strange rules of engagement that exist between the houses, and outright war, violence, murder, or even assassination is both seen as risky and uncouth. If one house were to attack another openly, or get caught being behind the assassination of another house’s noble, even if successful, the perpetrator house would actually lose standing rather than gain it. Dwarven culture and all of its trappings are professional and find their place in business, and any power plays or shadow moves must be done in very specific ways. That is not to say that there are never violent plays – quite the contrary – but if they are done within the parameters of the rules, then they “never happen.”
Dwarves may belong to a house without actually being related to the core members of the house, serving as retainers, laborers, servants, guards, spies, advisors, or in other roles. Simply being affiliated with a noble house is such a manner is beneficial, as being so politically counts the individual as a member of that house. Particularly esteemed retainers of a house might eventually be officially adopted by the nobility of the house, granting them full rights of household; this can also be obtained by marrying into the nobility. It is more common for nobles of a house to marry among their retainers than to wed those of other houses due to the mistrust sewn between house lines, but sometimes houses make allegiances with one another through marriages. Houses can also have lesser houses that branch off of them, sometimes created if a noble member of the house moves elsewhere with their own family or retainers. Being houseless is a great dishonor and danger in Dwarven society, marking the individual as the most distrustful of people. Houseless have no allies, no means, and nothing to offer within the Dwarven shadow games.
There are communities of Houseless that dwell on the surface, however. In the centuries since they began integrating with the Pharosi and others, some Dwarves have simply drifted away from their own society and formed their own, or have joined with those of Rekkar-Sarrat. Such Dwarves may have never officially been marked as Houseless, but virtually are by being generations removed from the shadow games. These Dwarves serve as soldiers, mercenaries, and freelance laborers to the cities of the surface, but are always looked down upon by Dwarves of houses as inferior at best. Dwarf houses often see these Dwarves as potential enemies, for they impede upon the Dwarven businesses and trades that help to fund and stabilize the houses themselves.
The nature of the Dwarves’ penchant for intrigue makes for another avenue of business for them among other races. They have found that information, secrets, and intelligence can be worth just as much as gold, ore, gems, and metals. Many Dwarves that live throughout Rekkar-Sarrat operate espionage businesses where they use their connections and savvy to find out information that other people want. This has put them in high demand among the nobility, the rich, and the devious of the other peoples of the river. Dwarves are also drawn to the arcane arts, perhaps due to their tendency towards intrigue and guile. Bards, wizards, sorcerers, and witches are all very common amongst Dwarves, and many houses specifically train their members in these practices. Independent of the Dwarven houses are institutes of arcane training run by unaffiliated cabals of Dwarven mages who cater to the development of students from any house. Achieving high marks or renown within these academies often brings prestige and thusly power to a house, and although the houses often try to influence and sway the cabals, they remain rigid in their political neutrality.
Dwarves have a private religion independent to the deities or divinities of the surface. Their reverence revolves around strange beings that is symbiotic with their shadow game of social and political espionage. Thus, their religion is somewhat alien to those of the surface who practice more conventional forms of divine adherence. Dwarves invoke vestiges of long-gone entities, entities whose remnants – be they material or not – once could be found in the deep earth. The Dwarves speak of these remnants as being ancient even when they first began uncovering them, and now even these pieces are gone to dust and age, but they remember all too well the whispers and the power from them. Dwarves rarely go into much detail about their strange religion with outsiders – most don’t understand it, and some react negatively towards it, accusing Dwarves of demon-worship or worse. Dwarves are largely dismissive with any outside opinions – likely, some of the entities they invoke were in fact demons, and other beings of great power. For Dwarves, religion is just another concept of power.
The organization of their religion is just as fragmented as their sense of government. The vestiges that Dwarves regard, invoke, and channel are many, but themselves are unrelated beyond the fact that they are ancient and powerful and dispossessed of true form or purpose. As such, they do not exist in a traditional pantheon, though generally every Dwarf is aware of the collection of entities, usually just referred to as ‘The Deep Ones’ or ‘The Vestiges.’ There are not true temples to the vestiges, for there are no rules or codes that adherents must follow. Priests of the Deep Ones exist, though oracles are much more common conduits for their power. The followers of the Deep Ones care little for spreading their shadow-faith around – in fact, they believe that the more people who would draw on their power, the less power there would be.
The structure of the religion is generally not based on adherence or worship. Dwarves do not truly pray to the Deep Ones, nor are they expected to fulfill any sort of divine purpose on behalf of their “gods.” They certainly show respect to the Vestiges, respect for what they were and the power they still hold. Their relationship is seen as symbiotic – the Deep Ones can no longer act in this world, and in exchange for their power (usually magical), the Dwarves give them purpose and a way to influence the material world. Paths of arcane learning are generally regarded as just as religious as divine ones for Dwarves, if not more so. The institutions in which Dwarves learn, practice, and master arcane magic are the closest thing that they have to temples, the cabals of instructors who oversee them the nearest thing to clergy. These places, and the Dwarven concept of arcane magic in general, are based on what they refer to as the Seven Convocations. Convocations are the foundations for magic, a mustering of power channeled from and invoked through a Deep One. While many arcane mages in the world comply to the understanding of the seven schools of magic, the Convocations are different and wholly unique to the Dwarves and their own understanding of the Deep Ones.
The Seven Convocations are the Convocation of Blood, the Convocation of Bone, the Convocation of Breath, the Convocation of Soul, the Convocation of Sight, the Convocation of Shadow, and the Convocation of Thought. Each Convocation covers not a school of magic, but a related grouping of magics that gather together in accordance with different understandings.
The Dwarven language is referred to as Dwarven by outsiders, but they refer to it as “Garm Dorgor” which means “echoes (or whispers) of the earth.” Some Dwarves state that this speaks of their relation to stone, but others claim that it refers to the vestiges and entities around which their reverence is based, stating that the remnants of those powers conveyed language to their ancestors long ago. Garm Dorgor is guttural, low, and somewhat abrasive, though there is another side to it which is susurrus, soft, and sibilant, perhaps indicating that both schools of thought in regards to the language’s origin are correct.
The arcane arts are prevalent among the Dwarves, and many houses look to populate themselves with their ranks. Wizards, Witches, Arcanists, and even Bards and Sorcerers are relatively common among them. Rogues are also very common, as befitting their customs. Oracles are perhaps the most widely seen of the divine practitioners, as the Vestiges seem to mark Dwarves with their power in such a way. Dwarves who put emphasis on the Deep Ones outside of arcane talents may become Inquisitors and are valued pieces in the great shadow-games. Dwarves operating within the cities of Rekkar-Sarrat or elsewhere in the surface are also often Slayers, Fighters, and Rangers that serve as mercenaries, guards, or agents or spies for other Dwarves or houses.