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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Denizens of Finiens: Dwarves

Like the Humans and Halflings, the Dwarves had their origins in the dark and ancient continent of Paziou, amidst the jungles and mountains and long-lost civilizations of prehistory. And even from those earliest eons, they were strange, stuck out from the norm, and somehow did not quite fit with their cousins in land. Dwarves were decidedly different in so very many ways from their neighbors. Taller than Halflings but shorter than Humans, yet they were clearly not of the same blood, the same kin. Magic treated them differently than it did the other two species - in fact, dwarves were greatly notable for the reduced effects many types of magic had upon them. They lived long, much longer than either other race, but reproduced very slowly, keeping their numbers limited. Powerfully built, their stocky frames and low height made them slow movers but capable of bearing great burdens… a fact that, or so it is theorized, did not go unnoticed by the powers that were in those ancient lands. It is suggested that in the Age of Ancient Magic, when Humans were clearly the ruling power and Halflings likely a broad citizenry, the Dwarves may have once been a servant caste or slave race. It would certainly explain many things, among them the great care and value placed upon freedom and liberty by the Dwarven culture of the modern day.

Despite - or perhaps because of - the likelihood of their subjugated status in ancient Pazioun civilization, the Dwarves are responsible for the vast majority of The Scattering that followed. When the Age of Ancient Magic came to an end, the Dwarves led the withdrawal, moving in droves out from Paziou’s heart toward its coasts, with the Humans and Halflings following behind. They made their way to the extreme ends of the continent, and when the oceans prevented them from moving further, they set to work. Clearly their prior occupation or culture had produced a great number of capable craftsmen, as Dwarven ingenuity and invention was responsible for the entirety of sea travel for many, many years. Dwarven ships were crafted, crews assembled, and - armed with nothing more than their own bravery - sent into the uncharted blue.

Dwarven culture took to the sea as swiftly as the fish that swam below them. Here, out in the endless ocean, something took hold of their people that had been missing for generations upon generations of life on land. When the first ships made their returns to Paziou, speaking of far-off lands, bizarre creatures, strange weather, and all the ocean’s wonders, more ships were built, more crew welcomed aboard, and passengers - Humans and Halflings seeking lives in far-off regions - taken on; yet when their destinations were reached, the passengers would disembark but the vast majority of Dwarves were content to remain, seeing no gain nor pleasure to be had setting foot on dry land again. Here, the only land they needed was the wood beneath their feet, the rocking ocean their horizon and the salty air their lifeblood. Aegir, Father Sea, had been found by his long-lost children, or so the Dwarves claimed, and now that they were home they would never leave.

And why should they? While the other races squabble and battle and die over chunks of land, Dwarven territory was unlimited. Wherever the ocean rolled, Dwarven land would be. Who could seize the sea? Who could strike claim on the ocean? Who could tame the tide? So long as water flowed free, so too would the Dwarves, until the depths ran dry.

Ever since, Dwarven life, culture, pleasure, and labor have been inextricably tied to the ocean. Many Dwarves are born, live their long lives, and die without ever setting foot on dry land (perhaps discounting the occasional island, which most Dwarves consider “not DRY land” and thus merely a rocky portion of the sea), the waves rocking their cradle as a child and welcoming them into Father’s embrace when they die. Those few who do spend time on land usually only do so as part of taking stock, resources, supplies, or cargo for their next journey into the boundless blue. Dwarves are sailors of all stripes, from merchants to nautical soldiers to pirates. Their loyalty is to captain alone, and the crew is as much clan as comrades - often a captain is an elder of the family, a powerful matriarch or patriarch whose kin and offspring serve as the majority of their crew, and it is not unusual for newlywed dwarves to select a handful of choice siblings and cousins to establish a new crew on a new ship shortly after vows are shared.

Dwarven control of the world’s waters is not uncontested, however. The Tengu and the Rilkans of Senkaku both host a capable seafaring culture of their own. The Tengu are, by and large, noble privateers and merchant-knights under the authority of the Naga, protecting the waters around the Senkaku Archipelago and the trade routes by which their neighbors make way to distant “outsider” regions to ply their wares; they are often distrustful or even outright hostile toward Dwarves, seeing the entire race as profiteering pirates who would gut any ship they could, seize its treasures, and send its crew to the black depths below, if not claim the ship for their own and overrun it with a new crew of their barbaric bearded kind. The Rilkans, on the other hand, are more akin to the Dwarven sensibilities, fond of drink and song and the occasional boisterous barfight, and it is not unusual to see Rilkan crewmembers on Dwarven ships, and while the reverse is far less common it is usually not frowned upon.

And if any word can sum up Dwarves singularly, “boisterous” would be it. Dwarven ships are never quiet, always active, the crew constantly in motion and in conversation or song. Dwarves are greatly fond of alcohol, and count brewing to be among the highest skills of their people; large stocks of drink are a staple of Dwarven journeys, and they have a well-earned reputation for being able to make a fermented version of almost anything.

Dwarven culture and history is stored primarily in song, and bards are a frequent sight on any ship, used equally as lorekeepers, researchers, information gatherers, and keeping the crew entertained and happy. Dwarven songs are often bawdy, inciteful, and excessive, much like the rest of their culture, which thrives primarily on its lack of restraint and restriction beyond the simple rule of “what the Captain says, goes”.

And if there’s one thing a Dwarf likes more than a good song, it’s a good fight. Brawls are common on Dwarven vessels, incited over what other races and cultures might consider little things hardly worth the effort of offense; however, just as much so they are often over swiftly, with minimal harm done. Dwarves are a tough breed and heal quickly, almost universally, and these little skirmishes rarely result in long-term injury or lasting deformities or disabilities. Unfortunately they also do not tend to recognize that other races are not quite as durable as they are, and brawls and fights inevitably draw all available participants from an area into the melee without much care for intent or personal well-being.

Even children are not immune to these turns of culture, though Dwarves are generally somewhat responsible about keeping them out of direct harm at the hands of reckless and haphazard adults. Children are kept below-decks for the first several years of their lives, and while they are encouraged to roughhouse and scuffle amongst themselves, they and their mothers or caretakers are generally kept out of the path of destruction created by the rougher-housing adults on the upper decks. Hardy Dwarven constitution kicks in as soon as a year after birth; after being weaned, young Dwarves are already capable of handling alcohol, and it becomes a staple of their diet almost immediately. Predictably, the majority of the rest of their sustenance comes from fish, though fruits are also commonplace, and are among the primary goods that Dwarves trade for - the dangers of scurvy and other malnutrition ailments are a well-known danger in Dwarven society, and they have as a near-whole learned that while they can thrive at sea, there are benefits to working with the “landlubbers” from time to time.

Politically speaking, Dwarves have little sway. They have no countries of their own, alliances are rarely larger than extended families’ agreements, and conflicts are more often between individual ships and crews (or even just individual captains) than anything large-scale. Yet, at the same time, their enemies are also very few. Very few countries wish to risk the dangers of alienating all Dwarves, as such makes them an easy target and severely limits their ability to make any use of sea travel. Dwarves are a raucous lot, but they are long-lived, tightly-knit in their crews and families, and prone to holding grudges. Nowhere is this more evident than Anhur, where Dwarven blockades against travel through the Gulf of Paziou are frequent and sea travel highly dangerous, due to numerous incidents of aggression and insult from the Humanistic denizens of the desert country. The only other notable foe the Dwarves face as a unified whole are the Tengu, who have served as rivals for the sea for eons, ever since their own race’s crimes struck the Tengu from the skies and sent them to the seas instead.

Most Dwarves, however, are happily ignorant or dismissive of both these opposed forces, especially if their particular routes of choice never near the shores in question. And the ocean is vast, more than large enough for many, many crews to find their own waves to crest.


Notable Edits: Mechanics
Dwarves in Finiens use the “Saltbeard” alternate racial package as their default racial stats. In addition, their list of racial weapons is expanded.

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