This is really cool.
Race Profile: Dwarves are Highly Civilized, Highly K-selected, and Highly Specialized for alpine environments. Dwarves are masters of infrastructure, investment, and planning
In eons old as rock itself, the earth was cold and still,
But the mountain yearned for purpose, to have a voice and will,
And so the mountain reached within, to make itself a mind,
Reached down into her molten womb, and birthed forth dwarven kind.
Since then we measure not the time, in seasons, moons, or suns,
But put our hands on to the ground, and feel her earthen thrums,
Ever faithful are her sons, upon whom she relies,
We give her slopes both shape and life, they’d have not otherwise.
We build roads through the snowline, like braids in silky hair,
And down to mountain valley floors, build terraces like stairs,
We craft fine instruments and tools, machines of industry,
And in her rock carve fortresses, to smite our enemies.
Amid this toil she aids us, grants gifts so graciously,
Of iron and tin and copper, from peaks down to the seas,
And from the depths with calloused hands, come gems in mighty swells,
But every single shard we take, we give back just as well.
We strike out dead and drying ash, but put back fertile mud,
We strike out veins of silver, but put back veins of blood.
And while we take great treasures, from peaks both proud and tall,
We give one thing to mother Earth, she yearns for most of all.
From frothy seas and oceans, the mountain gets her lime,
From rolling hills of sandstone, the mountain gets citrines,
From the sun and twinkly stars, the mountain gets her gold,
But from the heart of dwarven kind, the mountain gets her soul.
Dwarves are highly skewed toward K-selection, with impressive strength, fortitude, and a long lifespan compacted into a short, compact body. Dwarves are also highly specialized, with their bodies significantly adapted to mountain life and very cold climates (stout form that retain heat, abundance of body hair, superior lung capacity). Though they are usually found almost exclusively in very defensible mountain river valleys they are also frequently and successfully feral in the context of nomadic hunters in arctic and tundra environments.
Dwarven caloric and (especially) protein needs are considerable due to their impressive strength and long lifespan. Even with their short height mitigating some of the caloric cost, dwarven population density tends to be lower compared to humans, who’s bodies are much more economized. Their plodding speed and poor agility make them mediocre soldiers in an open field, but their strength and fortitude make them experts in close quarters, tight formation combat with heavy armor. Dwarves are known to be masters of the phalanx and both defensive and offensive siege warfare.
While early social succession dwarven societies lean heavily toward small and tight knit social groups, a conspiracy of life history factors strongly encourage the evolution of dwarven societies toward very defensive, long lived, infrastructure intensive, balkanized civilizations. Dwarves are famous for their impenetrable mountain fortresses, vast expanses of terraced fields that climb steep hills, aqueducts and quanats that channel glacial melt from mountain tops, tunnels, mines, bridges and granite cut stone roads that snake along ridges and mountain peaks.
Weaker, shorter lived races like humans and goblins have a significant incentive to build infrastructure with weaker, shorter lived materials like wood and thatch, which is easier to acquire and takes significantly less effort to build with. After all, there’s no point in building homes and monuments that will last a thousand years if your life is brief and you are aware that your ancestors will likely be displaced.
On the other hand, everything about a dwarf’s life history complements laborious, great works of infrastructure. Their considerable strength, stout build, and exceptional ability to recover from injury mitigates much of the effort involved with stone construction. Their hundreds year life span also means that the extra effort spent on durable infrastructure will be directly enjoyed by those who build them. What’s more, the defensive nature of their mountain homes also means that they are unlikely to be displaced by war, insuring that intensive investment in infrastructure is worth it, even if it takes decades or even centuries to see a return on that investment. Outsiders often simplistically believe that dwarven proclivities toward banking has solely to do large quantities of previous metals and stones in their mountain homes, but the most compelling reason is the tremendous emphasis on “investment” that dominates their lifestyle and culture.
Most dwarven cultures tend to evolve to complement and reinforce the incentives furnished by their life history. Pragmatism and foresight tend to be emphasized, while romance and adventurism are not. It’s common in most dwarven cultures to hear cautionary tales of the young dwarf who’s short sighted decision comes back to haunt him 200 years later, or the farmer who was too lazy to terrace his fields, leaving the slopes barren of soil after just a few decades of cultivation.
Among other races, dwarves are generally seen to be incomprehensibly industrious to the point of being joyless. It’s oft said by outsiders that “a dwarf’s love of ale is their only remedy to a life that’s stale.” But this breeds two fundamental misunderstandings. The first is that dwarven ale exists primarily for diversion or amusement. The second is that dwarves find their lives dull.
To the first point, dwarven brewing of alcoholic beverages is so central to the lifestyle of dwarves not for its recreational purposes (though that’s a welcome side effect), but because it is an exceptional means of preserving and storing calories. A dwarf who expects his clan to live in a single place for hundreds of years will almost certainly endure a few sieges or some chains of poor harvests along the way. A mountain fortress stocked with years or even decades worth of calorie rich alcohol is an excellent hedge against these uncertainties. Dwarven ales have famously (or infamously) high alcoholic content, and when mixed with the year long, cold mountain climate, dwarven ales can last far longer than stored grain and is more resilient in the face of pests (though the flavor certainly won’t last as long, another reason for the infamy of dwarven ale).
To the second point, dwarves may live a life disproportionately consumed by hard labor and diligence, but the perception of most dwarves as to what makes for a satisfying life is very different from many of the shorter lived races. The highly sedentary nature of dwarven civilization tends to make dwarves sentimental for the familiar, be that clan members, a landscape, or great, durable works. If one were to ask a human whether they had lived a “good life,” they are more likely to point to how far they have travelled or their ephemeral achievements, aka, “I once was a city councilman” or “I once traveled to a far away place and experienced adventures.” A dwarf, on the other hand, would point at what they had built and that which stood the test of time, aka, “Look at the mill I have built” or “Look at this fine armor I made” or “Look at this family I have built.” To a dwarf, viewing these monuments to their lives brings them great satisfaction, and a part of that satisfaction exists during the process of constructing them.
This common cultural value for “permanence” and “pragmatism” infiltrates other aspects of dwarven life, such as their perceptions of marriage and family. Because civilized dwarves invest such an incredible amount of resources and time into their property, the cost of an abandoned marriage or broken family is prohibitively high. A hundred acres of terraced hillsides, waterwheels, aqueducts, fortified houses, raised roads, and workshops which took a thousand years to build can’t easily be divided between a husband and wife’s family should a marriage fall apart. Cautionary tales abound of the elderly dwarven patriarch who leaves his wife for a nubile young woman, only to tear his estate apart--- which took hundreds of years to build--- in the intra-clan feud that follows. Due to these complications and frequent cultural pressures, almost all dwarves marry for life. While not as instinctually disposed to monogamy as harpies are, infidelity in civilized dwarven societies is usually ruinously punished, either through social norms or law.
In addition, the need for collaboration in building out dwarven infrastructure tends to result in tight knit immediate and extended families, with some measure of joint ownership of family property. Long dwarven gestation, long childhoods, and the penchant of dwarves to live in mountainous “geographic pockets” further enhances their tight knit families and clans. Most marriage and familiar ties exist within the community, as practical geographic distance--- aggravated by rough terrain--- from other dwarven communities makes blood connections between communities far less practical. When coupled with the incredibly defensive nature of dwarves living in mountains and their ability to resist subjugation, dwarves are famously balkanized.
A large mountain range formed from the subduction of an ocean plate beneath a land plate can support dozens of ancient, independent dwarven city states. Because a dwarven army is far, far more effective fighting in their home territory than when invading the territory of others, many of these city states will be locked in a kind of low grade, unending warfare on the frontiers that can last centuries, with each side trying to slowly grind away at the border of their rivals. Due to the nature of dwarven anatomy--- in which they can take more punishment than they can give--- warfare between dwarves often yields very few casualties as well. This typically involves dwarven armies meeting in tight mountain passes, forming up in bristling phalanxes, and grinding against one another like two massive tanks until one side grows tired and slowly falls back to their defenses. The vast majority of battles are indecisive, with both sides able to claim victory back home.
Feuds between “mountain kings” can last so long and become so bitter that its common for dwarves to have better relations with the societies of other races, as opposed to that of their own kind, though this tends to be for the purpose of commerce. While dwarves tend not to go out in the world and conduct commerce much themselves as merchants, they happily invite the merchants of other races to trade bring goods into their territory for trade. Despite there being few dwarven merchants, they make up for it by producing goods that are almost always in high demand in foreign markets.
Not only do dwarves have a wealth of resources from the mountain to trade, when dwarven diligence is combined with their dwarven longevity (which makes time investments to build skill pay off in the long term), dwarven tools and arms enjoy a high baseline of quality and are coveted by other societies. What is also highly coveted is dwarven slaves for foreign mines, and its not unheard of for the bitter clan warfare mentioned before to produce a fair number of dwarven slaves. In exchange for these goods, dwarves have an insatiable appetite for the vast menu of food stuffs that they cannot grow themselves on their alpine farms, particularly meats (usually salted and preserved before hand) as well as spices and salt.
Because dwarves are obsessive hoarders of preserved food, spices are especially valuable to dwarfs because they not only furnish a wide range of micronutrients (essential for their longevity), but they can also can keep for a long time and be used as preservatives and medicines. Dwarves aren’t generally known for sophisticated cooking, but they are famous (or once again, infamous depending on your perspective) for the fact that they have raised pickling to a high art. Along with a wide arrange of preserved meats and alcoholic beverages hoarded away in their larders, dwarves keep a wide range of pickled vegetables and fruits as well, flavored with all manner of imported spices. Ideally during a siege, a dwarf will have with them years worth of salted meat for protein, ales (or as they call it, liquid bread) for calories, and pickled vegetables and fruits for nutrients and vitamins. While besiegers grow sick and weak in their camps, dwarves live comfortably and well fed in their fortresses. This logistical complication makes dislodging a dwarven city state very difficult if the attacking race is not dwarven themselves.
In the event that a large foreign invader of another race is formidable enough however, dwarven city states have been known to temporarily unite, suddenly discovering familial bonds between otherwise hostile leaders in dusty old manuscripts. Such an event might even be an occasion for some degree of centralization, though highly centralized dwarven empires are rare. When they do form they tend to do so slowly, with one dominant metropole relying heavily on transportation infrastructure to project power and influence. Sometimes, a particular metropole might leverage their commercially strategic position in a mountain pass to accumulate wealth and power to break the stalemate that is so often dwarven geopolitics.
Once a dwarven polity is powerful enough, it will be able to bring enough resources to bear to conduct the decades long sieges necessary to bring a mature dwarven city state to heel. A mountain range of dwarven fortresses united beneath a single “Emperor of the Mountain” is nigh indestructible on the defensive, and while single dwarven polities tend to keep to themselves, an imperial dwarven society can--- and perhaps will--- effectively project power beyond their borders. Dwarven, mountain warfare applied to the open plain is ineffectual when just one dwarven city state is involved, but dozens of polities beneath a single emperor can create a war machine that resembles a slow, unstoppable glacier. Imperial dwarven warfare frequently resembles that of ancient Rome. Wherever the army goes, a string of powerful forts and raised, durable roads follows. A dwarven imperial army generally involves powerful elite phalanxmen, intricate siege weapons like scorpians and onagers, and limitless logistical support. Dwarven armies are generally very slow moving and have very poor maneuverability, but regardless of season, will inch forward like an iron tortoise.
Sometimes the regulars of an Imperial dwarven army may not even need to come in contact with the enemy at all. “Emperors of the Mountain” have been known to leverage the fabulous wealth of their mountain homes to establish permanent mercenary arrangement with other societies, most often humans, to keep any threats beyond their border subdued. When dwarves do march out themselves en-masse, it rarely involves war goals such as raiding for wealth, and instead typically focuses on securing valuable resource.
But we shouldn’t get the impression that dwarves are excessively outward looking. All things being equal, civilized dwarves still tend to keep to themselves more often than other races, except for one other specific phenomenon in particular: dwarven colonization. Every so often, a human society living upon fertile plains or elves living deep in misty woods might encounter a peculiar sight: a massive caravan of dwarves, moving en-masse over great distances to new mountain homes. Such caravans often contain decades worth of provisions, machines, tools, and generations of families, and these mass migration events can last for months or even years. These migrations can even upend the geopolitics and economy of a region as they pass through, with local powers provisioning the massive caravan for the precious materials the dwarves bring with them. In some cases, the dwarves might even be hired as mercenaries in local disputes as they pass through to help settle scores. Just a common, this large column of dwarven migrants might arrive at their final destination but discover that they are, in fact, in some other politi’s territory and need to either fight for their new homeland or come to some arrangement with the inhabitants. A clever human king might welcome such dwarves with open arms, furnish them with the goods they need to make a new life for themselves, and settle them in mountain lands that humans can’t easily settle themselves. The result could be a new, loyal vassal.
What is most peculiar about the phenomenon of dwarven colonization is that the reasons for these events are independent of common dwarven cultural values or psychology. They arise instead as the result of persistent incentives related to the life history of dwarves, and the geopolitics that arise from the common balkanization of dwarven societies.
The first thing to consider is that very few intelligent races are able to build great, population dense civilizations amid the mountains. The reason is straight forward: long term agriculture on high altitude, rugged terrain requires a significant amount of knowledge, expertise, and upfront infrastructure investments. While a farmer on alluvial soils might simply need to till the soil and throw down seed, an alpine farmer has many more challenges. First, the alpine farmer must have an appropriate understanding of various rock types with which to build terraces. Without terracing the slopes of their fields, most of the soil will be lost. The alpine climate also reduces soil temperate, so an alpine farmer trying to maximize their yields must select stones which are easily heated by the sun during the day and retain heat at night, thus elevating soil temperature and unlocking the potential of high cation exchange capacity of mountain soils. Appropriate soil must then be deposited in the terraced steps, and sometimes the appropriate soil must be transported considerable distances. Even without the aqueducts and quanats typically produced by dwarves, most other races don’t have the life histories to complement this complex process (individuals who live long enough to retain the necessary expertise easily, physical adaptations to the environment, societal reserves). As a result, most mountain ranges which aren’t already inhabited by dwarves tend to be sparsely populated by other races and ripe for an intrepid band of dwarven colonizers to found a new homeland.
However, there is another major factor that influences the phenomenon of dwarven colonization. The carrying capacity of a habitable mountain valley “pocket” is often overwhelmed faster than advances in farming infrastructure can produce enough food, resulting in frequent periods of overpopulation. While humans living on the plains can simply move to the fallow field a few kilometers away, the fragmented geography of mountains requires lengthier journeys. If the entire mountain range is already inhabited by dwarves (which is often the case), then these migrants may be forced to trek great distances to reach a new mountain home.
Just as often, dwarven settlers can be driven to migration as the result of war. When one dwarven city state gets the upper hand on another in a centuries long conflict, bitterness between the rivals is so deep that the victor may refuse to govern or subjugate the defeated, and the defeated may refuse subjugation. To avoid a decades long siege, the defeated may volunteer instead to go into exile in search of new mountains, bringing with them enough resources and expertise to start anew in the wild lands yonder. While it may seem like a terrible fate at first, if these dwarven exiles arrive in a mountain range uninhabited by other dwarves, they may be the progenitors of a new, and one day cast civilization.