Of Shadow and Flame
Dwarves are a patriarchal people. Roughly 3 of 4 of newborn dwarves are male, and and the species’ birthrate is low- only married couples produce children, and even then the average male dwarf’s sex drive is low, which checks the abnormally high female dwarf’s sex drive. A result of this racial predicament are a few large clans- clans which are comprised almost exclusively by brothers, uncles, nephews, and sons.
Instead of focusing on impressing the opposite sex, dwarves have a passion for their rich traditions and feudal guilds. They have historically focused on armor, ale, the roasting of meats, furniture, masonry, architecture, sports, (such as dweorg ringen) games of skill, jeweling, mining, arms and armor. All of such are traditionally male interests by almost any race’s standards, but the dwarves have taken a hyper-focused interest in excelling in these fields.
Inside one’s own clan, dwarves are warm and friendly, though rough around the edges in expressing it. They rough house, jeer, work with, and socialize with their kin- though very focused while “on the clock” at their craft, (which they are quite professional in pursuing) they also enjoy relaxation with one another. They are quick to do favors and implicitly trust one another merely on the basis of being in the same clan, as they are usually only a few family members separated from one another. Indeed, many dwarves from the same clan are so physically similar that they can be easily mistaken for each other by members of the other races. Because of how close the entire race is by blood and in their values, dwarves have enjoyed unparalleled stability and homogeneity as a people.
Competition between clans can range from friendly to deadly. Clans of dwarves are willing to compete and quarrel over almost anything. Posturing, trash talking, competitions, and sports are all supremely important in dwarven honor- an individual losing face represents a loss of honor for his entire clan. Thus, sporting events are very serious and important to dwarves, (betting is a foreign concept, as dwarves value the accumulation of wealth as a result of skill rather than luck, but also because the sport in and of itself is more than enough to keep their focus and attention- adding additional risk adds nothing to the competition). Gathering wealth, (often quite conspicuously) is also central to their innate competitive nature- the more opulent the house, the crown, the jewels, or whatever, the greener with envy other houses become. Espionage and sabotage is unheard of among dwarves, however. To them, becoming the best should never come at the loss of honor by cheating. Being the best is a reflection of one’s superiority on an even playing field, and perhaps the gods’ favor. Direct armed conflict is very rare among the dwarves, and thus there is no true dwarven army. A military force is unneeded for internal political conflict resolution, and there has never been a true external threat to dwarfkind.
Scholarship exists in dwarven society, but it is very narrow in its purview. History, law, and religion are the only areas of public study and cultural significance. Tradition and family are among the most important aspects of a dwarf’s life, and all of their academia is tied to these tenets. Painstaking records are kept in a communal library which is open for all to research and study- historical records are considered a part of every dwarf’s shared familial lineage, and so is an important extension of their racial identity. On a related note, law establishes the agreed upon values of their people, and firmly establishes the rules for commerce and inheritance, and establishes an impartial party to mediate disputes and to administer justice when violations of the law do occur, (which are usually merely fines). Other areas of academic pursuit, such as science, math, biology, philosophy, and other related fields are seen as a waste of time unless it can directly help produce a superior work of the hands. Those individuals and races who value knowledge for the sake of knowledge are seen by most dwarves as lazy, feminine, and worthy of ridicule.
Religion focuses on a few gods, (such as Dvmir the Allfather and Starktor Ramfaust) who personify all of the ideals of dwarven life. The gods are acknowledged and recognized on feast days, (such as Deor Duguth) but are indifferent to worship, as they are believed to be the first fathers of the dwarven race, not very different from a grandfather. Temples and the priests are funded by patron clans who gain conspicuous prestige by publicly donating to a common cultural thread all in the community share. Priests of the dwarven gods study their holy records which detail their religious beliefs, and are tasked with creating annotations, interpretations, and religiously-inspired works of poetry and prose for the layman to better understand their faith.
Marriage is complicated. Dwarf women are not very choosy in who they wed- they are capable of falling in love at the drop of a hat. Dwarf men, however, will only accept the burden of marriage if sufficiently wealthy and prepared for a life of responsibility in having to deal with a wife and raise a new generation of sons- despite the aforementioned hurdles, it is not uncommon for a dwarf father to have 20 or more sons. Each family draws a tie back to a clan head who their family reveres as king. When daughters are born they are used as an opportunity to draw a closer blood tie to another house, thus creating less animosity, (in most cases) between future generations of those families. As a result of this, houses have complicated political relationships depending on how much intermarriage there has been. Lavish dowries and political strategy is exercised in many marriages. Power shifts occur the most noticeably when a powerful wedding is negotiated- legal procedures, mines, heirlooms, and riches of all kinds are painstakingly traded whenever a new couple is formed.
A dwarf high king once united all dwarves under a single banner when there were fewer families and external threats posed existential danger to their race. As stability became the norm, however, the line faded away a few generations ago with High King Nibinbraum, who took no wife. Now no such high king is acknowledged, though most clans claim his lineage, and many an argument has been had regarding on whose head the high crown ought to rest.
To the average dwarf the surface world is uninteresting, its people inferior at the important things in life, its wilds untamed and dangerous. The sun and its worshipers, (as is commonly assumed by dwarves) have little value, and so are largely ignored. A few odd dwarvish merchants and traders have trading outposts where they serve as a small interface between worlds, selling finely crafted tools and armor which demand high prices from aristocratic clientele from the surface, and buy specifically choice goods which interest their own people- these are mostly in the form of food and drink, but occasionally a novel design in the form of an item or bauble which makes its way to an inspired dwarvish craftsmen who modifies and assimilates its form into his own work. Surface dwellers who do not live near dwarvish trading posts, and are not wealthy know very little about them, and usually only have only old, embellished stories regarding them. Dwarf exiles and outcasts are the only chance for most above ground to see of their people, and thus usually taint their above ground reputation.
Gnomes have a small role in dwarvish daily life- their brightest engineers are richly commissioned to help dwarvish architects create grand works of architectural wonder. Grand elevators and a cable shuttle system were recently built through their collaboration, although their dependability is still in question.
In the current state of affairs dwarves have enjoyed an extended period of subterranean superiority- the enemies of dwarfkind, (drow, giants, and other underground horrors) are not considered major threats. A newly discovered deposit of precious metal has been discovered in a region the dwarves call the Earherz or Earth Heart. The status quo has been upturned as all clans have rushed to stake their claim. Some have begun to question, however, how this deposit had never been discovered, recorded, and tapped before- was there a reason? Was this reservoir of riches intentionally avoided? Is this somehow- against all logic- new?