This will be my first in-depth post about the races of Sker, starting with the dwarves in semi-alphabetical order.
The dwarves are one of the three native races of Sker, and are the ones who gave the island its name. They are the most organized society of the original three races, and also arguably the one who has lost the most over the years.
The dwarves’ existence began beneath a mighty glacier, the Mjedkull (“Mjeth glacier”). There, the first dwarves awoke, deep in the earth, and carved out a great city along the edge of the glacier: Télmir, meaning “birthplace.” The dwarves are a hardy, hairy bunch, and they had a natural talent for sculpting and carving. Télmir was a tiered city, carved into rock and ice and overlooking a great canyon leading down towards Sker’s largest and longest fjord, the Kulla. In this city, the dwarf social structure was born, a system made up of three tiers: aristocrats and nobles, warriors and traders, miners and craftsmen. Though society became divided in these castes, the dwarves have always taught one another to value the contributions of each part of society – though the castes dictate the duty each new dwarf will carry out when he or she comes of age. Dwarf society is led by women, the matriarch organizing the family and the household. Women and men have equal right to virtually all positions in society, though women are typically given the most significant duties – generals, queens and merchant ladies rule large houses. Caste is dictated by only the woman’s caste, however, and occasionally stories emerge of dwarves “marrying up” to change castes – though such things are quite uncommon.
The dwarves live a relatively atheistic life. Though some dwarves worship gods, most dwarves are more interested in the tangible world. Yet the dwarves are all the same a spiritual people, their society instead revering its ancestors and heroes. This has grown especially important in modern times, as the ancient dwarf kingdom of Mjeth, once spanning across Sker, albeit mostly underground, has since fallen into ruin, and tales of its greatness still linger on in the memories of the dwarves. Each dwarf house, great or small, has a household hero, an exemplary dwarf who respected his or her duty and achieved something in life. Often, such tales are exaggerated, but the dwarves take pride in any hero, whether the dwarf had been a fearsome general who saved a city from orcs, or a miner who dug twice as much as his neighbours. Each family has a shrine to their hero, and in some cases a family may even be created if a hero is immortalized from a family who already reveres another dwarf.
Such was the case for one of the most famous dwarf heroes, Ndorni. Ndorni was a mighty general who rose through the ranks of the dwarf armies until she was high general, commanding all the army’s soldiers. She was put to the test when the orcs first breached the surface, her legions suffering a crushing defeat at the Télmir canyon, which came to be known as Thruindar, the “Bloody Canyon.” Humiliated and disgraced as she watched the city be taken, she took her few remaining soldiers to Vellir where they faced the massive hordes of orcs. Ndorni challenged the arrogant Orc-King to single combat and slew him, then cast his armies back into the earth, not to be seen for years. Her bravery and heroism led Vellir to change its name to Ndornir, and the plateau on which Ndorni fought was renamed “Ndornivellir,” or “Dorn’s Run.”
Other notable dwarf heroes include:
King Bjoddi, who took the throne after the death of his wife, Queen Aeldi, and led a successful campaign to retake Télmir. He also developed the mythral forges, pushing dwarf smithing to new heights and higher standards. Though Télmir was lost after his death, his rule encouraged other dwarf men to take charge in leadership roles. He was further immortalized with the renaming of the Vellfoss (“Plains-waterfall”) as “Bjoddfoss,” and as the fort he built beneath the falls grew to a full-sized city, it took the name Bjoddir after him.
Jarngi, a dwarf miner who led the drow on their fateful mission into the depths of the earth to slay Gruumsh, the orc god, and stop the orc hordes. Though she died with most of her companions, Jarngi was hailed as a heroine by both dwarves and drow, and both cultures revere her sacrifice.
Orcs play a significant part in dwarf history, as they were the ones who destroyed the kingdom of Mjeth and forced the dwarves into the situation they are in today. Few dwarves have any notion of the size of their former kingdom or how it came to be under attack by orcs, but from the day of the first attack on, the dwarves have been locked in a struggle to survive against the orc hordes. Thankfully, after the death of Gruumsh and the Orc-King, the attacks subsided somewhat, the orcs lacking a leader to organize their attacks, yet they remained in the captured cities, squatting in vast numbers amongst the ruins.
In more recent history, dwarf society has been coping with the arrival of humans on Sker. Differences in ideology and society have led to strained relationships between dwarves and humans, but this has not stopped the increase in interaction between dwarves and humans. Human traders are accepted into the dwarf commons, and men may join the dwarf castes if they marry a dwarf woman. Mul, the offspring of these unions, are tolerated within dwarf society. The one disadvantage comes from the fact that humans cannot be immortalized as dwarf heroes, and as such any human-dwarf family must pray to Pelor or be a piece of a larger household. For dwarf men married to human women, this can often cause difficulties as the dwarf is forbidden from continuing to revere a dwarf household hero, as his human wife has no dwarf household hero. While no new developments in dwarf tradition have helped to fix this problem, a lack of public interest in the matter prevents it from gaining much ground in the dwarf assemblies.
Dwarf society is governed by a queen or king, who presides over the Assemblies – three political bodies for each caste. The upper castes have more political power, but all three have an equal number of representatives. The queen or king is elected from one of the houses in the upper assembly, and rule until they no longer are fit to do so. In extreme circumstances, however, the assembly has a right to revoke a king or queen’s power, though this has not happened for centuries.
That’s a basic low-down on dwarf history, culture and society. Their cities can be found on the map as A, B and C – though Télmir is abandoned to the orcs.
Next, we will talk about elves, the most widespread of the native Sker races.
If you want to use Sker some time, I hope this helped give a sense of the dwarf culture. If you want to do things differently, or use these ideas for your own campaign, I hope this has provided some idea material.