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Old 10-19-2015, 06:40 PM   #1
VariousRen
 
Join Date: Apr 2015
Default A dwarf by any other name...

Is still a short, sturdy creature fond of drink and industry.

I'm running a low tech fantasy game, with the main two races that dominate the continent being humans (standard), and elves (think Tolkien-Simeralian style elves). I specifically used elves because I wanted the players to have an idea of what they would be like, even without meeting one. They're strong, fast, good shots with bows, and live to be very old. All very standard LotR and D&D stuff.

*Anyone playing in Brekhan, or watching on youtube, spoilers ahead!*

Now I'm running into a problem later in the game while trying to design a different race. The race in question is, from a design point, a dwarf. Lives underground, does a lot of mining, makes huge fortresses with elaborate traps, grand dinning rooms, the whole nine yards. If it were a relaxed style of game, I would call them dwarves and be done with it, but the game is built pretty strongly learning things about the world first hand. I want to avoid all of the D&D and LotR lore baggage that comes with calling something a dwarf, so that I have space to design interesting quirks as the players learn more.

My question is how different should I make these subterranean dwellers so the players don't just say "Oh, so it's a dwarf" and then jump to conclusions like "So they must hate elves!" or "They must all be greedy, and have bonuses against giants!".
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Old 10-19-2015, 06:50 PM   #2
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Default Re: A dwarf by any other name...

Make it clearly a goblin or kobold instead? Or a troll or troglodyte? Really, the best way to make people not make assumptions is to have those assumptions turn out to be false, so if you don't want them to think it's a dwarf, make it not a dwarf.
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Last edited by Anthony; 10-19-2015 at 06:58 PM.
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Old 10-19-2015, 07:01 PM   #3
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Default Re: A dwarf by any other name...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anthony View Post
Make it clearly a goblin or kobold instead?
Yeah, make them skinny and blue, instead of stout and bearded. Then they are kobolds, and not even the little dog-faced lizard people of D&D. At that point the players won't have any preconceptions about them.

Or perhaps a knocker, svartalf or mole-person.
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Old 10-19-2015, 07:02 PM   #4
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Default Re: A dwarf by any other name...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anthony View Post
Make it clearly a goblin or kobold instead?
Goblins. Short, industrious, cave dwelling, with a knack for gadgets. It fits then well enough you may have problems with the players assuming they are ugly.
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Old 10-19-2015, 07:05 PM   #5
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Default Re: A dwarf by any other name...

Well, the Norse legends sometimes call the underground dwellers svartalfar, "dark elves." You might take a look at what they're like.

Another thing that a lot of people associate with dwarves is being all male, or mostly male, or male-dominated, or the women having beards, or some combination. You could alter this. In my current fantasy campaign, one of the assumptions is that dwarf women are dominant, and part of their dominance is control of the hearth—which includes not merely cooking but metallurgy.
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Old 10-19-2015, 07:36 PM   #6
VariousRen
 
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Default Re: A dwarf by any other name...

I don't want to trick the players into thinking one thing while having a different thing down in the rules. I want it to be obvious from the beginning that these creatures who fill the same combat and economic role in my fantasy game as Dwarves (industrious producers of goods, vast cavern builders, magic immune, martial prowess, ect), follow completely different social systems and interact completely differently with the world.

I was curious if anyone had experience for how much I would need to change to avoid player assumptions. Would a different name be enough? Do I need to change the physical appearance as well? What about entirely different physiology, like 3 noses and a mouth on each hand? The players won't know everything about their society that I know, and I want to make sure that "I don't know yet." is the answer rather than "Well, most dwarves like gold, these ones probably do too."

Saying "Well I never said thesedwarves like gold, so you all die/lose money/other bad thing." Is a little too misleading as a DM.
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Old 10-19-2015, 07:37 PM   #7
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Default Re: A dwarf by any other name...

Being highly magical using rune magic to enhance everything they create would be a very "dwarven" thing to do, but would be very non-D&D dwarven.

Give them a version of Vulcan Pon-Farr once a year or monthly, depending on how great a disadvantage you'd like it to be, with a mitigator of drunkenness. So on the surface, they're similar to normal dwarves in that they drink a lot which seems to be compulsive carousing, but they're really quieting their murderous, sexually-arroused, crazy rage.

Just be normal but short. No fart jokes, no Scottish accent, not even squat proportions. They're just smaller humans in every way. The ones the players meet happen to be miners, but they live above ground.

Make them *really* hate elves. And let that bleed over to races that are as tall and thin as elves, like humans.

Make half-elves impossible, but half-dwarves semi-common.

Narnian dwarves were sons of the earth. They are all male, and spring or are mined from the ground somehow. (Note that Narnian dwarves could reproduce with humans)
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Old 10-19-2015, 07:46 PM   #8
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Default Re: A dwarf by any other name...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Culture20 View Post
...
Just be normal but short. No fart jokes, no Scottish accent, not even squat proportions. They're just smaller humans in every way. The ones the players meet happen to be miners, but they live above ground.
...
Technically, humans under 4'9" are idiopathic dwarfs regardless of other features or genes.
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Old 10-19-2015, 07:49 PM   #9
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Default Re: A dwarf by any other name...

On Kelewan in the Riftwar books, there is a species of sapient insect native to Kelewan that digs underground, trades with the humans near their domain, and have treaties to provide mutual defense. They fulfill many of the roles of dwarves while being very alien in motive and action. http://midkemia.wikia.com/wiki/Cho-ja
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Old 10-19-2015, 08:22 PM   #10
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Default Re: A dwarf by any other name...

Quote:
Originally Posted by VariousRen View Post
My question is how different should I make these subterranean dwellers so the players don't just say "Oh, so it's a dwarf" and then jump to conclusions like "So they must hate elves!" or "They must all be greedy, and have bonuses against giants!".
Depending on the context in which your characters (or players, whichever) initially learn of this new race, making a quick strike against established stereotypes could definitely be done.

Perhaps they encounter the dwarves acting in their capacity as allies (or allies-for-hire) for elves in some sort of conflict.

Perhaps they meet a dwarven trade caravan on its way to (or from) elvish lands.

Perhaps dwarven religion has a strong monastic inspiration with vows of poverty, etc., and an emphasis on tithing one's wealth to the dwarven church.

Maybe there aren't any giants? Maybe they're on good terms? In the Iron Kingdoms campaign setting, dwarves and giants don't really have anything to do with one another (admittedly, giants don't really have anything to do with anybody, as there are only a handful of known ones and hardly anything is known about the race as a whole), but dwarves and ogrun (your basic SM+1 burly fellows) are on excellent terms, and it isn't uncommon for a dwarf to have an ogrun bodyguard (so to speak). (Ogrun are decidedly not ogres. They're an intelligent, civilized, and often quite serious race that happens to be quite tall and typically full of muscles.)

Or, as has been suggested, make them so blatantly not dwarves from an aesthetic standpoint that there will be no tendency to associate whatever the race happens to be with its dwarfy inspiration. They have four arms and an exoskeleton. Their lower body is that of a serpent. They're actually made of rock or metal, like an entire race of sapient golems, and they reproduce by carving offspring out of the walls of the mountains. They're mole-people. They're bat-people (advance disclaimer of all responsibility for bat-men jokes).

Between "Introduce them in a way that immediately shatters one or more conventional dwarven stereotypes" on the one hand or "Introduce a race that is so blatantly not a dwarf that no further metaknowledge stereotypes can follow," I think you've got some good options on how to go about it.
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