Finished at last! You may have noticed that there was no post, Monday, for the first time in a long time; well, there would have been, but I simply couldn’t get this finished in time, and by the time I realized that, it was too late to start another. Still, I don’t miss deadline often…
I had quite a lot of interest in the first of my articles on Ergonomics and a number of requests for more, especially covering those topics that I didn’t really get to expand on in Ergonomics and the Non-human, so here goes…
Why choose Dwarves for the second race subjected to ergonomic scrutiny? There are two reasons: first, they are (after elves) perhaps the most iconic race available for PCs to play; they are common to a massive number of RPGs, not just D&D/Pathfinder. And second, they make the ideal illustration for the process, and especially how range of motion, aka Kinesiology, can affect the anatomical profile of a race. Elves touched on the subject, but focused more on the basics of mechanical action, i.e. limb length.
As always, this is just one possible view of Dwarves – it’s certainly not canonical. The purpose of these articles is not to redefine the species in question but to give GMs the tools to integrate the species within their own game worlds, reinforcing the verisimilitude and uniqueness of those worlds. Readers are encouraged to take the principles that I outlined in the first article and apply them to their own variations on the theme.
The other principle worth enumerating here (because it probably didn’t get enough air time in the first article) is the way in which the GM can cheat from “the back of the book”. We start with established common ground, apply the process and a bit of inspiration, and use other factors from the game world / basic description as our desired destinations. Whenever there’s a choice, choose the option that takes you closer to the desired end-point, which is to say, justifies and explains other aspects of the race’s profile. Those aspects might be social, or political, or biological, or psychological, or simply a reputation for being good at certain things; how cool is it when the biology of the race not only explains the basis of that reputation but gives it quantifiable details?
Basic Proportions of Dwarves
The most common view of Dwarves is that they are relatively short, with very solid proportions. This is often achieved by reducing the number of “heads” in the vertical measurement without changing the size of the head, relative to that of an ordinary human of equivalent vertical proportion.
The more “heads” there are in the original body-shape, the larger that body is relative to the head – and a small difference goes a long way. The iconic superhero look is based on 9 or 10 heads, while the normal human has 7.5 to eight. If the heads are both roughly the same size, then you end up with a far more muscular look. Take that enlarged body and compress it vertically by cutting out “heads” and you end up with a squat, broad shape. Enlarge the result back to the old super-human height and you end up with the Hulk, or the Thing from the Fantastic Four. Don’t do so, and you get the iconic Dwarf.
Of course, the decision of where to cut those heads is all-important. As a general rule of thumb, any reduction in limbs should be roughly equally divided amongst both upper and lower limbs, and should affect all four limbs equally. So the arms get shorter by the same amount as the legs. Cutting a half-head from the belly area gives an over-sized chest; cutting it from the upper body gives a rotund, portly (and overweight) look.
If these changes don’t go far enough, you can always add an extra quarter-head in width to the location of the shoulders, while also making them larger.
The upshot is that Dwarves have very wide shoulders and this is just as important to the anatomy of the race as their height is.
Dwarves weigh roughly the same as the full-height human of the same horizontal dimension, if not more. That implies that they have more bone and muscle, especially the first, as these are both more dense than the overall average. Fat, on the other hand, has a lower density than the average (which is roughly the same as water, overall), so for their size they have relatively little fat.
This makes sense in light of the innate characteristics common to Dwarves. They are usually described as having strength & resilience higher than that of the full-sized human of equivalent horizontal dimension.
What’s more, the shortness of their arms requires greater inherent strength to achieve the same effect. This is shown by the circumference of a circle, using the shoulder joint (because that’s where arm length is measured from) as the center of the circle – a 90-degree movement by a longer limb in the same amount of time has the end of that limb moving faster than a shorter limb. That is equivalent to the amount of force that the limb can impart when it hits someone or something.
It’s easy to demonstrate this for yourself. Moving your arms in and out from the shoulder, feel how hard the inner side of your elbow can hit the side of your chest for a given expenditure of effort. Then, for the same expenditure of effort, feel how hard your wrist can hit your chest. Notice how much faster your hand moves than your elbow – and how much more force it generates when it hits?
Just to hit as hard as a human does, a shorter-limbed creature like a Dwarf has to be stronger. But Dwarves are supposed to be able to impart more force than the typical human, so they need even more strength on top of the increase we have already surmised.
Strength at a price
Strength generally comes at a price, a reduction in flexibility and suppleness. Anyone who’s ever watched the summer Olympics must have noticed how weightlifters walk. They can lift amounts in the super-heavyweight division, but they walk like tree-trunks. In particular, they have relative inflexibility at the elbows, knees, and back.
I’m going to assume that this also affects Dwarves, but I’m going to go further. Since we need Dwarves to be even stronger to compensate for their reduced limb-length, and that for mass reasons, they need more muscle and bone than a human of equivalent body-width, and have to pack all of that into a smaller frame, I’m going to assume that Dwarves have more muscle – and more muscle needs more muscle anchor points, in other words, more bone.
The skeletal structure – torso
If our Dwarves have more bone, and not just thicker bones, then they will have a different skeletal structure. So let’s give them one. I’ll start with the torso, and assume that instead of having ribs like humans, they have subcutaneous plates of natural bone, flat strips placed on their thinner dimension and curved around. These can even overlap slightly, give the Dwarf’s vital systems a natural boost. These flatter, broader, ribs extend all the way to the coccyx. But these would make the dwarf more vulnerable to crushing effects, for all that they enhance the ability to resist stabbing penetrations and lacerations; to protect against that problem, I need to internally brace the skeletal structure.
From the spine, then, four protrusions extend out to flat plate-like ends. Two are angled at 45 degrees to the spine in the horizontal plane (some Dwarves would have this bracing right-side forward, others left-side forward). Two angle at 45 degrees in the other direction horizontally, but also at an angle vertically, front to back. With a layer of shock-absorbing fat sandwiched by a two paddings of muscle between these flat plates and the ribs, we end up with a torsional rigidity that imparts great strength – and relative inflexibility (Racing car roll-cages are all built using similar structures).
The shoulder joints would also be larger. I envisage these joints as having round covers of bone, like a hollow ball, with openings in the ball for the limbs to project through. There would be similar structures in the pelvis that internally armor the entire lower torso. (I’ll get to why in just a moment). Humans have a cover of bone at the knees – the kneecaps – but the Dwarfish shoulder and groin joints would be larger, wrapping around the joint more, and connected to the bones containing the joints by cartilage.
This arrangement would make all four limbs as flexible, front to back, as humans, but less flexible out from the sides, and with less rotational capacity in the arms – 60 degrees instead of 270 degrees. Assuming a similar degree of side-to-side and rotational capacity at the hips would actually make a Dwarf more flexible in this limited capacity as a human.
The key to all this internal structure can be made evident by a simple experience – turn your head using your neck muscles as far as it can comfortably go – usually almost 90 degrees. Do this in the direction of your off-hand – so, if you’re right-handed, turn your head to the left. Then, holding that position, feel the tension in the muscles – you will soon realize that you can feel the force all the way down to your shoulders. Now try moving your arms forward and back just a little, still holding this pose, and you will find that the side that you are facing away from will be just a little tighter and more restricted in it’s movement because those muscles are already rigid. The neck anchors to the skull at one end and the shoulders at the other, and on down the back.
Dwarven torso muscles have two sets of anchor points – one set interior to the bone shapes described, and one outside that is more typically humanoid. So there isn’t much difference to look at, but they have twice as much muscle and bone as the equivalent human, and far more structural strength in the torso, protecting their vital organs.
The reduced directions of flexibility permit a muscle structure more optimized for strength in those directions the Dwarf is flexible, giving them the equivalent to a third set of muscles in terms of force generated. The “second set” of muscles compensates for the shorter limbs, and the “third set” makes them stronger than humans – in those directions that their limbs move.
An evolutionary side-note: If we observed this phenomenon in a species in modern times, we would probably assume that the cross-bracings evolved from vestigial limbs – meaning that Dwarves evolved from a variety of eight-legged creatures with external exoskeletal structures, perhaps something akin to an armored spider. Which doesn’t mean much in its own right, but there are many creatures on earth that bear some resemblance to the form of ancient pre-humans – the various species of ape, for example. So this raises the prospects that somewhere out there, armored spiders might still be found…
The skeletal structure – limbs
I intend to employ a similar set of principles in the limb joints. I envisage locking bone structure at elbows & knees, making it easier and more natural for the limbs to stay rigid and firm – but at the price of reduced flexibility in all but one direction. Ankle and wrist joints would have structures similar to the shoulders – which makes the ankles of a Dwarf slightly more flexible than those of a human, but the wrists slightly less flexible.
The Legs start wide at the hip and bow slightly. This permits the ankles to be close together when desired, or splayed but with feet still flat (thanks to those ankle joints).
The legs of a Dwarf thus form natural triangle shapes, with with the point up, or the point down. When in battle stance, this gives the choice of far greater stability – try rolling a typical d4 by pushing at the side or top – or the capacity to change direction quickly when running, with the ankles closer together.
The consequence of this anatomical difference would be a rocking hip motion when running. Dwarves would tend to be superb broken-field runners, capable of turning on a dime without slowing down – but with a smaller change of direction possible than a human. Faster to turn, but with a bigger turning circle, as it were.
The finger and toe joints would have bony spurs that slide along cartilage along the horizontal plane of fingers. This enables the fingers to be either loose and flexible, or locked in a grip far stronger than that of a human – but a Dwarf would not be able to change between these two states as readily as the more flexible human joints.
A lot of these differences exist to enable the Dwarf to utilize his greater torso strength through his limbs while affording his joints greater rigidity, strength, and protection.
The Circulatory System & internal organs
Let’s think about the other legendary traits of Dwarves. Superior endurance coupled with explosive delivery of force and only a slight reduction in ground speed, relative to a human. Biological systems evolve to optimize either sustained effort over time or sudden bursts of energy – not both. Dwarves appear to have both – or, at least, the ‘sudden burst of energy’ equivalent of a human coupled with a far greater endurance. Since a natural circulatory system can’t let you have it both ways, I started to wonder if one was enough…
Dwarves have two bi-chamber hearts (human hearts are bi-chambered) – one high energy, one low-energy high endurance. The high energy system is slightly better than human, but it has to be, simply to meet the heightened requirements of the dwarf’s greater musculature during battle.
I also propose that Dwarves have twin sets of lungs, one wrapped around the other. These appear superficially to be one pair of organs; the difference is only detectable through dissection and following the blood flow. The outer lungs extract oxygen that the inner lungs haven’t already grabbed. Human breath is about 18% unused oxygen! I’ll get to why, in just a minute.
The first heart provides blood supply to both the hearts, the arms, and to the brain, and is fed by the inner lung. It provides normal blood flow for short bursts of high energy activity. Again, bear with me, and it will all make sense in a minute. The second heart provides a secondary supply to both hearts, derives it’s oxygen from the outer lungs, and also supplies the torso and legs.
This enables a dwarf to run or work at simple tasks for hours, if not days, with only brief rests. Having a second, low-pressure circulatory system actually reduces activity levels in the first heart, which simply keeps brain, inner lungs, and itself ticking over. Dwarves, in ‘endurance mode’, actually enter a slightly meditative state (reducing their sleep requirements) and enables them to just keep ticking off the miles or the repetitive strokes of whatever tool they are using. In ‘Endurance Mode’ they have, at best, limited awareness.
A Dwarf may be winded after a battle, but will rarely if ever arrive at one short of breath – no matter how hard and long they have had to run to get there.
I started making a list of all the dietary requirements that Dwarves would need more of. Calcium. Iron. Metabolizing agents, esp Magnesium, which facilitates muscle control and the management of the absorption of calcium. Iodine. Vitamins C and K. High levels of carbohydrates for endurance mode. Sugars for activity mode – from fruit, and honey, but especially from ale.
They would probably have two separate fat stores – one for ‘endurance mode’ and one for ‘activity mode’ – with slightly different chemical compositions. Endurance-mode fat would be slowly metabolized, and equally-slowly replaced. Activity-mode fat would have a composition that permitted rapid breakdown into energy. This makes it a biological necessity for a Dwarf to get roaring drunk after a good rousing fight!
Outside of the ale, their diet would require a lot of milk, green vegetables like spinach, bread, red meat, and fish. They would probably go in for sticky, over-sweet desserts. Tarter flavors like lemon and grapefruit would be rare luxuries. And they would probably need to consume more salt than a human of equivalent mass.
The human cultures which combine meat and dairy products include Indian and US Southern cuisine. Both tend to have strongly-spiced, fiery flavors. It fits my perception of Dwarven ‘manliness’ to have them enjoy cuisines that other people can’t tolerate with ease, and there’s something very Dwarven about grinding things up with a mortar-and-pestle! Dwarven cuisine is probably more Tex-Mex than Indian, but there would be some Indian-style recipes as well. And all washed down with lots of sweet ale.
I also spent a little time thinking about how these anatomical differences would manifest as health problems in Dwarves. There won’t be much that’s unfamiliar here, but these would all have greater impact within Dwarven society than in a contemporaneous human society.
Two hearts, twice as much risk of heart disease, especially in light of the Dwarven diet.
Metabolic problems I: Reduced Endurance Mode
Early signs of a problem with the low-pressure heart would be reduced capacities in Endurance Mode. This leaves a Dwarf able to fight, but not able to get to the fight – a sure recipe for frustration and an explosively-touchy temper. The solution: move to where the fighting will come to the Dwarf. If a Dwarf hangs around human taverns all the time, especially in the seedier parts of town, it’s a good bet that he is suffering from this ailment. While this might be inconvenient for the Dwarf, it’s probably not going to be directly fatal in the short- or medium-term.
Metabolic problems II: Reduced Activity Mode
More serious, and probably more lethal, would be most of the traditional symptoms of heart trouble in humans, which signify a problem in the high-pressure circulatory system. While a heart attack would be less lethal because the secondary heart would keep the central organs and both hearts supplied with blood, it is likely to cause brain damage at the very least. Worse still, this would leave the Dwarf unable to fight, and that means he becomes an object of pity amongst his fellow Dwarves – something that no Dwarf could tolerate.
It’s necessary that the high-demand system has first crack at the available oxygen, and hence the innermost of the lungs is the one that provides air for ‘activity mode’. The ‘endurance mode’ system can get by on whatever the high-activity mode has left behind – which is why Dwarves go into a state of reduced consciousness while in Endurance Mode, it minimizes demands made by the high-energy system and leaves more supply for the endurance-mode system.
That leaves the entire body more susceptible to dust in the air, which causes damage the Dwarves refer to as Blacklung. Dust coats and clogs the innermost lung, restricting the supply of oxygen to both lungs. Of course, because they are natural miners, dust is all the more prevalent, so this would be a major killer of Dwarves. Blacklung is akin to asbestoses.
Of course, to humans historically, the name refers to the condition that afflicts coal miners, and which used to be a terrible killer in the early days of the industrial revolution, when the demand for coal skyrocketed. While Dwarves would mine and burn some coal, especially in their forges, they would not need to do so for heat – temperatures underground are far more stable than those above – and coal does not work all that well for producing light.
Nor would Dwarves use, by preference, anything else that burned to produce light, because they are in a relatively enclosed space and the dangers of rendering the air toxic would be quickly learned. They would need to adopt some other system, unless and until they found a way to circulate the air.
It might seem that this would also make Dwarves especially vulnerable to gas attacks, but this would be incorrect. A Dwarf’s response to being in a short-of-air situation would be to drop into endurance mode, so as to consume as little air as possible, while holding their breaths and functioning on ‘autopilot’ until clear. This means that they could hold their breaths for longer than a human, making them less vulnerable to this mode of attack – in the short term.
Twice as many muscles means twice as much exercise is needed to stay healthy. Some of this would be derived through normal working activities, but the rest would need to be deliberately sought out. Whether they copied the idea from humans or came up with it on their own, organized sports would be common amongst Dwarves, especially those that involved a lot of running and endurance. Rugby and Soccer would be popular – but probably with three times the game-length. These would put a premium on endurance in active mode and awareness in endurance mode, and so the elite fighters amongst the population would also be the elite sportsmen. While Dwarves might wrestle or engage in other forms of faux-combat, these would not exercise them in endurance mode all that well. Marathons through the tunnels prior to such matches would redress the balance – and be uniquely Dwarven.
Joint inflammations would be a more severe and common problem to older Dwarves. The complexity of the joint structures would naturally make this a more routine problem. What’s more, the reduction in flexibility means that it is harder for Dwarves to work around the problem. It would therefore be far more crippling than the human version.
Skeletal Issues – The Spikes
I have a problem with my metabolism that sometimes results in sharp spurs of bone growing from various skeletal structures, especially in the pelvic region. These have, in the past, grown long enough and sharp enough to lacerate my kidneys, for example, or puncture an intestine. Such bony spurs are far more common than people realize, and are a consequence of the bone’s ability to knit; I haven’t broken many bones, thank goodness, but when I have done so, the bones have knitted more quickly than expected – and with considerable “lumps” of bone at the site of the break.
To some extent, this is a problem with metabolizing excess calcium. With most people, these spurs grow and then break down and get reabsorbed by the body before they can do any real damage. These were an early sign that my body’s metabolizing of magnesium was out of whack, because magnesium regulates the body’s handling of calcium, amongst other things.
With so much more skeleton, and the need for additional calcium in the diet for bone strength, Dwarves would be far more susceptible to this. Because these spurs tend to grow from the sharper points of the bones such as the Iliac crest and from other bony ridges, and at the heels and joints, the ends of the joints would be especially prone to this problem in Dwarves with dietary or metabolic problems. Bony spikes under the skin would be common and usually not a problem; in fact, they would usually be invisible to the naked eye, but could be felt.
Painful in humans, they would be both more common and more capable of severely restricting the activities of Dwarves.
Eye strain is all too common in humans. It frequently arises as a result of insufficiently varying the focal plane of the eye, and can result in permanent short or long-sightedness. Dwarves, by nature of the environment they usually live in, have even less capacity for varying the focal plane of their vision, and hence eyestrain and consequent vision problems would be all the more common.
The symptoms of aging
All of the problems listed, with the exception of the “Reduced Endurance Mode” metabolic problem, would be common in Dwarves as they age. This is especially true because a medieval society is going to be far less able to diagnose and treat nutritional problems than we are in the 21st century.
Since most Dwarves would tend to be the types who would not want to go out helpless and laid low by disease, at the first sign of symptoms of any of them, they are likely to look around for a good hopeless cause they can sink their teeth into, and hope to die trying.
Dwarves, at their peak of fitness and experience, are therefore the most prone to become heroic examples, and all their greatest and most-renowned warriors fall in battle – or beat the odds despite undertaking the most dangerous of tasks. Middle-aged Dwarves are the most dangerous to be around.
One Vulnerable Location
With so many of their joints armored naturally, Dwarves are very resilient and resistant to injury. They can grip more tightly, and are far less likely to dislocate joints because these are also held together more tightly. It’s very hard to seriously wound a Dwarf without killing him.
But there’s one location where Dwarves are just as vulnerable as anyone else, and it’s one that is all the more reachable because of their shortened stature: the throat and neck. This is something to bear in mind when considering Dwarven armor designs.
Having considered the anatomical differences of the Dwarf (and gone into far more detail on the subject than I did with Elves), it’s time to think about how to simulate these differences so that we can get a feel for how they will alter the way Dwarves do things, what they would be good at and what they would not, and how their tools would develop to either compensate for their natural deficiencies or take advantage of their natural benefits
Stiffen Elbows and Knees
Simulating the natural “locking” of the arms and knees is easy – we simply hold those joints rigidly with our muscles and see what effect that has. Simulating the shorter limb-length is a bit trickier – the best solution I can come up with is placing a rolled-up newspaper under the armpit. The end of the newspaper is about the right length for the tip of the Dwarfish fingers.
Range Of Rotational Motion
Holding a pen flat against the palm of the hand with the thumb permits some simulation of the range of rotational motion; Humans can manage about 270 degrees of rotation, from palms flat and facing outward from the body to to palms facing behind us, to palms flat to our sides, to palms facing forwards. Dwarves have only about 90 degrees of rotation – from facing behind them to flat against their bodies. That means that if they are gripping something more substantial, like a weapon, they have to raise their arms to rotate it so that it doesn’t hit their bodies; humans can bend their elbows and shoulders to perform this action more easily (try it by holding one end of that rolled-up newspaper).
Now sit down somewhere and notice the side-to-side capabilities of your ankles. Most of us can go from feet flat on the floor to about 30 degrees feet inwards, and only a small rotation in the other direction (feet outwards). Dwarves can go about 40 degrees inwards and about 20 degrees outwards. That means that they can stand with their feet together and flat on the floor despite the width of their torsos – much wider than ours – or can be stable with feet flat on the floor with their legs spread wide.
The Effect On Gait
If you stand up and try to walk without bending your knees, you will find that your natural gait is to stagger from side to side with each step. Forwards locomotion is reduced to between 2/3 and 1/2 of normal. The longer and faster your stride, the more pronounced this effect is. This gait, rolling from side-to-side with each step, is how Dwarves would run.
Now try holding your knees rigid but at an angle (effectively shortening your leg length and simulating the slightly bowleggedness of the Dwarf), and keeping your feet close together when both are on the ground (knees facing slightly outwards) – you can’t do it without a Chaplinesque gait because your feet are also pointing outwards. Dwarves have the rotation in their ankles to enable them to keep their feet facing forwards. Although it looks and feels slightly silly – that Chaplinesque characteristic again – you will find that you are able to walk quite quickly and smoothly. Maybe not quite as fast as normal – but close to it.
Climbing stairs with either of these gaits is quite difficult, because we rely on bending our knees to lift our legs appropriately. To climb a set of stairs practically, with the running stride, we need to turn from side to side with each step, so that the lifting of the foot is enough to carry us up to the next step. Narrow stairs would be even more difficult. With the bent knees, it’s not so bad – but I found myself coming to a full stop after each step, so progress took perhaps twice as long as it normally would. Dwarves don’t do human-scale steps very well.
The Dwarfish Grip
The best way to simulate a Dwarfish grip is to hold onto a pen or implement of some kind in a fist-grip and then put on some sort of heavy glove – a ski glove, or a gardening glove, something without a lot of stretch to it. The other way of simulating the grip is when the normal practice is not to use a fist-grip, for example holding a pen – the Dwarfish grip would hold such an object as tightly as thought it were being held in a fist. But there’s a downside – a human can go from a fist to an open hand with the fingers stretched out in a fraction of a second (about 7/10ths by my rough guesstimate). Now do it one finger at a time, not starting the next one until the previous one is outstretched. Each one still takes about 7/10ths of a second, but fully releasing the grip takes about three-and-a-half seconds – and that’s if you’re in a hurry. Now imagine that it takes twice that long to close and lock your grip: one, two, three, four, five, six, locked. What this means is that you don’t change tools casually – but once you do take a grip on something, nothing will make you release it until you are good and ready.
Vertical arm motions are no problem for the Dwarf. This brings their full strength into play. What a human could do with some effort in this respect, a Dwarf can do easily. Things like holding a heavy telephone directory or hardcover book at arm’s length horizontally for a period of time (which is surprisingly difficult). To simulate how difficult something is for a Dwarf, halve the weight.
Horizontal arm motions are far more difficult for a Dwarf than a human. They have very limited range of motion at the elbow – only out to an angle of about 30 degrees, given the skeletal structure – and have limited strength to apply. To simulate both effects, double any weight. So instead of a can of soft drink, use a bag of sugar. Instead of one D&D supplement, put two in a plastic bag. And remember that you can’t bend your elbow more than about thirty degrees (one-third of a right angle). Now, here’s a funny thing: if you can bend your elbow so that your elbow is in a straight line below your wrist, you can hold up a much heavier weight than if you try lifting it straight out to your side. Try it with a heavy book. So the combination of double-weight and limited elbow mobility is a double-whammy.
Having roughed out the parameters of the anatomical differences, it’s time to apply that to everyday activities and the tools that have evolved to go with them….
Axes come naturally to this sort of musculature. The handles may be shorter, but that only gives increased control. The arms and greater strength mean that the Dwarf can use a greater mass axe-head and let it do most of the work; all he has to do is guide it. His elbow joint and rotational flexibility in his torso gives just enough freedom of motion that he can chop trees down with an axe; and, once a tree is more-or-less horizontal, he can really go to town on it, using his strength to full effect – bend backwards with the axe back over his shoulder, arm fully extended, then lean forward as it the axehead passes over his shoulder to put his entire bodyweight into the blow. The toughest log can be reduced to timbers in no time.
But, unless you want it for firewood, that’s not going to get you very far – and Dwarves, as already explained, don’t go in for fires very much. Saws are needed to trim the wood into a more useful shape.
Horizontal sawing is not something that a Dwarf is going to be good at – not with this skeletal structure. They don’t have enough front-and-back or side-to-side flexibility in their torsos. Vertical sawing, once the piece of wood is manipulable, is a different story, but even then they face practical difficulties – when people saw wood, they tend to hold the wood with one hand and move the saw back and forth using the elbow joint in combination with the shoulders. Dwarves can’t do that; they have to saw with the whole body, and that’s lot more easily done either as a two-dwarf te
Having roughed out the parameters of the anatomical differences, it’s time to apply that to everyday activities and the tools that have evolved to go with them.
am or by using a waterwheel and sawmill.
If they are going with the two-dwarf option, which will be the case in most campaigns, the wood is likely to be trimmed on the spot – why carry excess wood that you’re going to throw away? Trim it and just cart off the bits you were actually going to use.
Not that there would be a lot of wood used by Dwarves. Metal and stone are their stock in trade.
Woodworking & Furniture style
The reason is that woodworking tends to require a lot of precision work, a`lot of readjustment of grip, and wood is too soft a material for clumsy work. One misplaced blow to a chisel, in direction or strength, and the woodworking project can be completely ruined. Stone and metal are far more forgiving, a single incorrect blow is usually not fatal to the project, and they are more suited to being worked with the inherent strength of a Dwarf.
There are only two things that a Dwarf would generally use wood that they have worked themselves for – mineshaft supports, where the elastic strength of the wood can be useful, especially with some additional bracing by metal components; and relatively rustic and cheap furniture.
Getting prepared timber from humans or elves, on the other hand, permits the dwarf to assemble items, and assembly is something they are good at. Nails can be forged to the exact length required, for example. So Dwarven-built chests would be far superior to those by most other races, but only if the timber elements were sourced from another race.
Dwarves are relatively strongly armor-plated on the insides, so much so that they aren’t generally going to be worried by swords or knives, but crushing weapons are a different story, even with their internal bracing. Their choices when it comes to armor are going to reflect these concerns; most armor varieties are designed to protect soft flesh and internal organs from things that aren’t going to bother a Dwarf. In fact, three types of armor – perhaps four – would predominate.
The first is leather, either hardened or soft, for the extra speed and mobility that it confers. This would be favored by scouts.
The second is padded banded mail. which distributes the force of crushing blows, For the same reason, but offering a little more protection (but heavier weight) would be a mail shirt which drops not to the knees but to just below the groin; the reason for that is that most of the Dwarfish mobility comes from the hips and not from the knees. They can’t risk the mail-shirt being too confining to that mobility.
Finally, we have heavy plate, the ultimate protection – especially when the armor is built up to match the strength of the Dwarf, with just enough capacity for their weapon. Another, more lightly armored Dwarf would be appointed as a second, to both carry anything else the Dwarf might need, and to help them take the armor off and put it back on when necessary. The second needs to carry his own weapons and equipment as well, of course!
Vital to all these armors is a collar. It might be made of bone and leather, or lacquered cane, or metal, or any of half-a-dozen other combinations, but the principle goal is to protect the throat. These collars tend to be conical in shape with or shaped as a sideways “U” in cross-section (bulge out), the goal being to deflect blows either against the jaw (which can also be reinforced with armor) or better yet, downward to the chest. Some Dwarves have even shaped their collars to integrate a dozen or more sword-catchers attached to a helm, so that anyone who strikes for the (vulnerable) neck ends up with a broken weapon.
Given the tremendous strength of a Dwarf in straight-ahead up-and-down motion, any weapon that relies on this sort of motion is favored. Weapons that require thrusts are less suitable, because most of these require elbow and wrist flexibility; Dwarves are not very effective with rapiers, for example. Heavy, slashing, swords; maces and bludgeons; and, most especially, picks and axes. These all make maximum use of the natural advantages of the Dwarf.
Spears and pole-arms are less effective, because they generally demand elbow flexibility. However, if the Dwarf can set himself, can charge, or can employ some form of spear-thrower that substitutes for his reduced elbow flexibility, these can still have a place. Ordinary bows are not on the shopping list, but that’s all right because heavy crossbows are so much more Dwarven in style anyway. To load such a crossbow, the Dwarf literally stands on the bow while his neighbors keep it stable as he pulls the string upwards.
Mining involves three actions: loosening the rock, separating the ore, and transporting both ore and tailings to wherever they need to go. Loosening the rock involves driving metal poles deep into the rock with big sledgehammers to break it up, pick action to prize these chunks of rock out, and a lot of lifting of rock. The last is a problem when you don’t bend very well, but the Dwarves use a sidewards-facing bucket on a pole and a number of flat scraping implements to drag the rocks into the bucket, then swing it up onto a table for sorting.
This requires the floors to be extremely smooth, so a secondary job in Dwarven mining is the use of chisels and hammers to chip and shape the rock floors with all the finesse that they can produce. Because they don’t bend very well, these have long handles, 3 feet long or more. Wire brushes are also used to smooth the floors. Dwarven mines may not be as smooth as a marble floor – but they aren’t far removed. The walls and ceilings, while a little rougher in texture, are also remarkably square; unlike a human miner, who might extract a chunk of ore from the wall and leave a pit to mark it’s location, A dwarf will start a full tunnel. Who knows how far the ore vein might extend until they dig it?
As a result, Dwarven mines are full of tunnels that may be only a foot deep, or may go on for miles.
Dwarves are also big on right angles, at least when it comes to navigation. Their mine walls slope gradually inwards towards the top so that the shorings are supported by the walls; the Dwarves will carve out hollows, swing two half-timbers into place, then nail each to metal joining plates on the three exposed sides to create a single rigid structure. flat bands of iron also run the width of the tunnels, connecting to the joining plates; if the ceiling begins to give way, the timber supports will fracture; but these iron bands will hold them together long enough for the tunnel to be evacuated and/or reinforced. As a result, while mining tends to be a relatively dangerous occupation for humans, very few Dwarves are ever lost in accidents.
All told, there are 15 types of occupation involved in the Dwarven approach to mining:
- Surveyors, who track the course of ore veins and plan how best to route the mineshafts to access them;
- Iron Poles & Hammerers, who take steel poles of up to an inch or so in diameter and up to one Dwarf in height and drive them into the rock to break it up and loosen it;
- Picksmen, who use picks to convert the loosened material into loose rock, some of which falls directly into an ore cart, some of which lands on the floor;;
- Rock Gatherers, who use dustpan-like tools together with rakes and brooms to gather up the material that misses the ore cart;
- Cart Push/Pullers, who move the carts around, first to the sorting and grading tables, and then to the ultimate repository of the forge or the tailings dump;
- Sorters and Graders, who assess the quality and purity of the ore that has been retrieved after separating ore-bearing rocks and minerals from worthless rubbish;
- Floor carvers, who use hammers and chisels on long shafts to break up any hard rock protruding from the floor, ensuring a smooth surface for the rock gatherers and cart push/pullers;
- Brush Polishers, who employ wire brushes to smooth out any smaller imperfections in the floor, especially chisel marks;
- Wall finishers, who smooth the worst of the roughness out of the walls and ceilings (providing more work for the rock gatherers) and who mount light sources and carve out the recesses where mine Braces will be fitted;
- Brace Cutters, who cut trees into shaft braces, dress them, and then cut them to length as needed for each individual shaft;
- Brace Stainers, who apply a brightly-colored surface stain to the braces that protects them against insect incursions and also contrasts strongly with the wood underneath so that any fractures in the timber are more obvious;
- Brace Haulers, who carry the wooden braces from the cutting & staining area to the points where they are needed;
- Brace Lifters, who hoist the paired half-braces into position within the mineshaft;
- Brace Joiners, who apply the uniquely Dwarven metal brace elements that join the two half-braces into a single reinforced unit and declare the resulting mineshaft extension safe or unsafe (adding more braces if necessary); and finally,
- Foremen. who oversee this entire gymkhana and transform it into a fast-moving, rock-eating, ballet of synchronized activity.
Limited knee-joint mobility means that Dwarfish chairs come in two varieties: Deep-seated easy chairs with footstools (which look remarkably like thrones to the uninitiated) and something more akin to kitchen stools. In both cases, to accommodate the Dwarven proportions, these are very wide. Given the state of Dwarven carpentry, the stools are either built to order by another race, or are very simple in construction. It is not uncommon for the seats to interlock, producing something that looks more like series of trestles supporting a flat plank on which many Dwarves sit. The thrones are more often carved out of heavy rock and adorned with tapestry-like coverings, richly decorated, which serve to insulate the Dwarf from the cold of the rock. Cushions for these ‘thrones’ are viewed as a decadent luxury that many aspire to.
Most Dwarves in any leadership position would aspire to a ‘throne’ style chair. (NB: it might be amusing if the Dwarfish words for leader, authority, and ruler all sounded the same to human ears so that they thought everyone who sat in such chairs was a King).
Getting into or out of a throne would be a relatively difficult process, as anyone who has sat back in a recliner chair will appreciate – especially since the Dwarfish knee doesn’t readily bend at the joint. In consequence, those who have such chairs tend to stay in them, once seated, until they absolutely have to get up.
It would therefore be the custom amongst Dwarfish royalty that they would be seated on traveling chairs of similar design which were carried by a number of other Dwarves in a litter. (Few others could spare the manpower, or they would all travel in this manner).
Dwarfish seats are too wide, too deep, and too short to be comfortable for any other race. If a human adult sits in such a chair, he can either sit back and have his ankles dangling in front of him (and too low to the ground), or he can sit forward with his knees sticking up (the height issue again) and his feet flat to the floor, with his back some distance from the back of the chair and therefore unsupported. Think of a sofa that is too deep and too low to the ground, and you’ll get the picture.
Tables, Cutlery, and Crockery
Since Dwarves are almost standing up on the common ‘stool’ chairs that most use, most tables are much higher than would normally be the case (relative to their height). Standing in front of an ordinary kitchen table shows that the height is roughly half-way up the thighs; when we sit, that puts it at waist level.
Dwarves also have their tables at waist level, but it’s at the standing waist, or close to it. For a human, that posture would require the height to be about one foot taller; since Dwarves are shorter by somewhere between six and twelve inches, their tables tend to be about six-to-nine inches taller than a human would find comfortable.
Dwarfish elbows also don’t bend very well, so each Dwarf would require quite a lot of table space, and would prefer to keep things at arms length. This encourages the use of large platters of food and longer table implements. Dwarves eat with what we would use as barbecue forks and salad spoons.
The size of the plates encourages and exaggerates the myth of the Dwarven appetite, as does the fact that they can go for longer periods without food and break these fasts with a feast. A dwarf would generally prefer one large meal less frequently than smaller meals more often. In reality, their net consumption of food is not going to be all that different from those of well-fed humans (more meat than peasants get, and smaller variety of vegetables, but that’s about it). Dwarves are meat-and-two-veg type eaters, with lots of spices. And lots of beer.
Dwarfish beds would also be at a relatively tall height (as I pointed out last time, chair seats and beds tend to be the same height). Softer beds are harder to get in and out of without knee and elbow flexibility, so they would also tend to be fairly firm, and quite possibly would not have anything we would regard as a mattress at all. What’s more, the Dwarven body is more strongly supported by their skeletal structure, and is less flexible, so they would not receive as much benefit from a soft bed as humans do. Flat slabs of rock covered with a blanket would probably suffice for the moderately well-off. For the less prosperous dwarf, though, there would be a cheaper alternative.
A couple of feet out from the wall, at about waist height, and running the length of the wall, Dwarves could inset a long beam in the same way as they do in their mineshafts. Add a second right next to the wall, and run a length of thick canvas over it, tied beneath through eyelets, probably with leather that was wet when it was tied. As the leather dries, it hardens and shrinks, pulling the canvas “beds” taut. Several Dwarves could easily be accommodated along the length of a wall on a single such ‘hammock’.
It’s easy to envisage a series of these simple canvas ‘bunk beds’ in a room, giving barracks-style accommodations.
Before we can contemplate the possibility of multiple tiers of such bunks, we need to think about a ladder system optimized for a Dwarf. To use human ladder, you need to bend arms and legs`at the elbows and knees, respectively, and Dwarves don’t do either very well. What’s more, while Dwarven legs have greater side-to-side range than a human, their arms have less. After thinking about it for a while, I came to realize that stiff ladders are not the ideal solution for a Dwarf; instead, their best answer would be semi-independent pairs of half-width rope ladders, tethered to each other every twenty or thirty feet or so.
They would climb by placing one foot on such a ladder and then swinging that leg out wider, which effectively lifts the rest of the body upwards. Getting a new grip, with the opposite arm and a new foothold with the other leg, they can pull back the leg just used to climb, and repeat the process to the other side. This is all illustrated by the diagram, which I draw to confirm my own subjective notion that it would work. In fact, as the calculations show, it works surprisingly effectively – if “a” is the total height from fist stretched high overhead to bottom of foot (which is about 4/3 height for a human, and probably about the same for a dwarf), this technique permits up to 40% of that amount to be gained with every climbing step. This is so fast that the Dwarf would be held up by the time it takes to relax his grip – unless he used less than his whole hand to do so. Perhaps two fingers would be enough (given the Dwarves’ innate Iron Grip), which would give a climbing rate of 40% of 4/3 of the Dwarf’s height every 3 seconds or so. For a height of 5′, that works out to 0.9 feet per second (all right, 0.8888… if you want to get fussy), or 53 1/3 feet per minute. A 60′ climb: 67.5 sec. A 500′ climb? 562.5 sec, or 9 minutes 22.5 seconds.
A human would probably have to rest. I wouldn’t bet on the Dwarf needing to do so, though. You could even enhance this slightly by staggering the rungs a little.
The same trick would work with flexible metal ladders, which couldn’t be cut, and which a Dwarf could undoubtedly carry just as easily.
Things don’t look so rosy when it comes to a Dwarf attempting to use a human ladder. Not only would the rungs be farther apart, but humans tend to use solid ladders, as already pointed out. To climb such a ladder, the dwarf would need to lever himself out from the ladder, his arms fully stretched out before him. He would then need to swing up, using his arms, until his feet were above the next rung, enabling him to drop onto that rung. Repeat, That means that at best, the Dwarf’s climbing rate on such ladders would be one half of the human speed, because a human can use one leg to climb each rung rather than needing to position both feet on each rung before they could tackle the next. And to get even that pace, the ladder would need to be at a slightly greater angle to the wall than humans find convenient.
Climbing ropes work just as well as their own custom ladders for a Dwarf. Their natural capability of using their full leg strength while keeping their feet together would enable them to swarm up such contrivances. It might look more awkward than it would for a human, but in terms of pace, there would be nothing wrong with it.
The shorter the step height, the better a Dwarf is able to cope. But unlike Elves, Dwarves can’t use their toes as a substitute for the whole foot; so they will need smaller height with deeper steps and a flatter angle of rise. But steps would be rare in Dwarven cultures; their living spaces are enlarged from mines, and improved natural caverns, and that means that they would have flat spaces for the ore carts to take the detritus away. Instead of stairs, they would tend to employ slopes and ramps.
I’ve already touched on this a little. Dwarfish tools would tend to be designed for use at arm’s length. This is not as easy as it sounds – with one hand, and keeping both arms stiff, grip a pen or pencil like a chisel and make a hammering motion onto the end with your other hand. Be sure to angle the pen or pencil towards the direction to where the “hammer blows” are coming from. A lot of human dexterity in tool use comes from the elbows, something that might surprise people until they try this quick simulation.
Angled heads on the hammers and other tools, rather than at right angles to the handles, make a big difference. If you repeat the simulation offered above but don’t try angling the tool, assuming that the handle itself is angled above where it is gripped, you will find it a lot easier to accomplish.
Once you’ve accepted that principle, you start to realize that while their architecture might be rigidly straight lines, their tools (and especially the handles) would evolve to be anything but. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an old-style surgical kit, from – say – the early 20th century, with all it’s strangely curved tools, many of which we no longer use very often. I tried, but couldn’t find an image to illustrate the point. What’s more, specialist tools would evolve to do specific jobs that humans would employ a more universal tool to achieve, especially in the field of sculpture and stone-carving.
A human craftsman unfamiliar with Dwarven physiology would struggle to work out how to use these tools, Even if one did, or was familiar enough with the way a Dwarf works to understand the principles and the reasons for these tools to be the way they are, many of them would rely on the greater strength of a Dwarf to be effective. Human tools exist to maximize the delivery of effect from the tool, within the limits of shape of the tool; rather than evolving a differently-shaped tool to give more control with a chisel, we simply use a smaller chisel. Dwarfish tools would be full of oddly-angled heads, strangely curved and twisted shafts, and bends in the handles, and would be more concerned with the precise control of the tools. They would even have strange two-handed tools which required a second dwarf to swing the hammer that applies force through the tool. The reason for all this is that Dwarves have so much strength at their disposal that even a fraction of it can be too much for delicate and sensitive work.
Human tools, in comparison, would be like flint knives and stone axes; even in the hands of the most skilled work, the best that could be achieved using them, without a lifetime spent mastering their nuances, would be crude and brutish. It would perpetually astonish Dwarves that humans can achieve what they do in sculpture despite the primitiveness of their tools.
Dwarves can’t bend very well. I make this point over and over because it affects almost everything that they do and have. Standing up, and keeping your arms stiff and straight, you will find that you struggle to reach shelves that are lower than mid-thigh in height. Dwarves know this problem well, and place their shelves accordingly. To a human, these are also reasonably convenient heights, so this effect of the Dwarven physiology often goes unremarked.
What does get noticed is that Dwarves have no problem reaching for things – and as a result, they build all their shelves very deeply, far more so than is usual for a human. Shelves three feet deep are not uncommon.
Dwarves use the space beneath their shelves for chests. It might seem that they would have the same problems reaching down into these as they would reaching shelves that low, but this is not the case, thanks to a clever bit of Dwarven engineering: the Dwarven “Lifter”, illustrated above. With the Lifter depressed at the front – and note that the slope of the bottom of the typical Dwarven Chest makes this occur naturally – it can slide naturally into the space below the lip of the chest base. The Dwarf then puts his weight on the other end of the Lifter while holding onto the chest for stability. The bowed section of the lifter moves forward and up, constrained by the channel and slider that fits into it, and then lifts the chest. Clasps and chocks are then used to “lock” the lifter in place with the chest elevated as much as two feet into the air. (Note that typically, this operation is performed from both sides at once by different Dwarves). Within the chest, nesting sections can then be lifted out by handles that extend to the top of the chest.
Dwarfish pole implements are much shorter than those employed by humans, because Dwarves have little rotational capacity in comparison, and because a lot of the utility of such implements stems from elbow movements. However, they are not without their uses, even in Dwarven society; Dwarves may have limited rotational capability, but they have great strength, and the width of their shoulders effectively adds to the momentum that can be imparted by the heads. A Dwarf using a pole-arm of any sort is incapable of doing anything but putting his full weight and force behind the blow, and that – combined with the sharpness of the expertly-crafted heads – makes Dwarven Pole-arms at least as effective as their human equivalents.
There are two ways such weapons and implements are employed, depending on their design.
Vertical Plane Motion
This treats the pole-arm as an axe. Typically, this is employed by hook-billed weapons; the Dwarf brings the heavy, reinforced, head down upon the target, then leans back sharply, using the hook to penetrate the foes’ back, pull legs out from under opponents, rip shields and weapons from their enemy’s hands, and so on. This is necessarily a small-unit maneuver, because it typically leaves the Dwarf conducting it flat on his back as well – but it leaves the enemy highly exposed and vulnerable to an ally’s attack.
Horizontal Plane Motion
Holding the hilt of the weapon tightly in the off-hand and across the body horizontally and parallel to the shoulders, the Dwarf turns to face to one side of his enemy (the side the head of the weapon points toward). His other hand is half-way down the shaft, and holding it only lightly. He then twists his entire body as far as he can, coiling it like a spring; all told, this is barely enough to get the weapon facing 90 degrees from the direction of his feet. When he can go no farther, he swings back the other way (i.e. moves the head in a horizontal circle in the direction of the enemy) as hard as he can. Half-way through the stroke, he takes a step with the weapon-side foot, planting his feet for maximum stability, and at the same time thrusts forward with the off-hand as hard as he can. This combines a sideways and a thrusting motion, which works very well for sharpened and serrated-headed pole-arms. The goal is to thrust the weapon into the space between torso and limb, then use it as a saw. This is often a very lightly-armored point, and so this tactic wins the Dwarf a lot of battles. It is especially effective against opponents who are larger than human-sized, where it naturally finds the inner legs; a lot of species have critical blood flows that run through this area. The Dwarf also has enough wrist flexibility that, if he deems it desirable, he can twist the head 90 degrees at the last moment and, by raising his hands over his head, he delivers the sawing attack upwards into the groin area of such creatures.
Dress & Clothing
Buttons are inconvenient to a Dwarf, because he can’t release his grip quickly, and has a great deal of trouble bending his elbows to get the hands into position to do up such fastenings. Instead, the favor clothing which can be lifted overhead and dropped or draped into position.
A sure sign of a Dwarf with great wealth or power is therefore wearing clothing with human-style fastenings, because a lone Dwarf is incapable of doing up such devices on his own; he needs (and can afford) an assistant to assist him in dressing. Similarly, while Plate Mail may be the most effective form of armor, it requires a second pair of hands to adjust and do up the many fastenings; only the most elite of warriors are worth the use of another potential combatant in this way.
Dwarven Boots are frequently double-layered affairs, with strips of metal sewn into the lining between the layers, and padded with heavy cloth. These double as last-ditch weapons, as well as protecting the dwarf from accidental strikes with weapons, mining implements, or falling rocks. A kick from a Dwarf so outfitted takes a lot of forgetting!
Bows and Crossbows
Bows are another form of weapon that seem unsuited to Dwarves, and yet they have managed to adapt them to their needs and abilities. The secret is in having an extremely heavy draw, and not trying to draw the weapon very far back. It’s not unusual for a Dwarven light bow to have a pull of two hundred pounds or more. The force required to draw the bow compensates for the shortage of the draw.
If composite bows have been discovered, these are ideal for Dwarves, and will quickly become ubiquitous. Until then, light bows and crossbows will be roughly equally represented (The arms of a Dwarf are strong enough to draw and cock a crossbow designed for a human to use with his foot).
Dwarves In Conclusion
Dwarves are a very different proposition to Elves. Dwarves maximize the potential of some capabilities at the expense of reductions in others; they use their physiology to compensate for the shortcomings associated with other advantages. Their preferred environment offers maximum utility to their advantages while minimizing most of their shortcomings; who needs the ability to swing weapons from side-to-side in passages that are too narrow for that, anyway?
Outside that environment, they are a complex blend of advantage and shortcoming. Overall, they are less suited to a life on the surface than Humans, or Elves, but they are better suited to battle – which is one of the few reasons they will actually enter an above-ground environment with any enthusiasm.
The fact that they know their strengths and weaknesses, and have developed enhancements to take advantage of the former and reduce the impact of the latter, only makes them more dangerous. Think of them as small-sized but unusually broad Terminators and you won’t be far wrong. No matter what happens, they – absolutely – will – not – stop…
So, there it is at last. I hope it was worth the wait!
On an entirely different and separate note, I often get asked to consider promoting various kickstarter projects and other products. Sometimes I can’t do these for time reasons – the notice may be too short for example – and sometimes I can’t trial things because they require hardware or software that I can’t access.
Here are a number of such recent requests, for whatever they are worth:
Sheet Yourself 1.2 sounds really cool. It reportedly lets you design your own character sheets for your campaign, save them as a template, and do all sorts of other cool things. Unfortunately, it’s an App and I don’t have anything that runs apps. So I can’t review it properly, all I can do is point readers at it and let you decide for yourselves if you are interested: http://SheetYourself.com/
Realm works is a world building tool that is supposed to work with any RPG setting. I really want to try this out, but until I can get my main PC up and running, I don’t have the hardware. As soon as I can do so, a full review will be forthcoming. In the meantime, you can learn a little about it here: http://www.wolflair.com/realmworks/.
Rollable d4s from Leo Atreides is a kickstarter campaign that has already made it’s minimum goal. These look really good for younger kids and those with reduced vision, having large and easily-read numbers. The design makes it obvious that they really will roll, and the price is quite reasonable, so take a look: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/263612668/rollable-4-sided-dice.
Have a great week everyone!