More About Dwarves

Where I have recently adjusted my view on elven physiology, I’m now considering a similar adjustment to dwarves, but to the exact opposite extreme.

What if dwarves, unlike humans, were born with clearly defined gender characteristics? Furthermore, let’s assume that dwarves experience no variation in gender identity or sexuality. Dwarves are either male or female, and they are always heterosexual.

As before, I feel the need to make a disclaimer: this is a fantasy world. If my ideas offend you, I suggest you figure out how to deal with that response because your offense has nothing to do with my goal. I’m looking for a way to make the races in my world-setting distinct and unique from each other (other than the standard racial abilities which, as I’ve demonstrated, are rather insufficient at making each race culturally different). We good now? Good.

The difference between humans, elves and dwarves begins with an understanding of gender and sexuality in real-life. I won’t claim to be an expert and I’m certainly not going to try and settle the debate ~ far better educated and more intelligent persons have already done the legwork, if you’re interested in exploring the topic further. For our purposes, what matters is the decision to make elves and dwarves unique when compared to humans.

Elven physiology is such that they are born without physical characteristics that are typically linked to gender. Likewise, their psychological profiles are unaffected by gender identity or sexuality. When elves approach puberty, their bodies start to produce hormones that will eventually change their physical forms, as well as their minds, cementing individual gender and sexual preferences. Elven society, therefore, has been shaped by this evolutionary development: they embrace it by recognizing that elven children are genderless, that elven teenagers need time to discover their gender and that there are more than two genders among the general population.

Dwarves are at the opposite end of this spectrum. They are born with clear male and female physical characteristics, and their psychological profiles are clearly mapped to their gender. Further, although they don’t necessarily identify with a sexual preference as children (because that’d be seriously creepy and we don’t need to take it that far for a game), they do exhibit clear patterns of behavior that are closely associated with gender: “boys will be boys,” and all that ~ which is nonsensical in real life persons when any amount of rational thought is applied to the axiom, but works for a fantasy race and its associated cultures.

Dwarven boys are miniature caricatures of their adults male selves, displaying all the common stereotypes we associate with men: they are aggressive, confrontational, given to acting before talking, do not openly display emotions, etc. Conversely, dwarven girls are thoughtful and talkative, concerned with emotion (theirs and other people’s), caring and gentle, etc. Dwarf boys like to play war. Dwarf girls like to play house.

How should this affect their culture?

Dwarves might be more inclined to separate occupations into distinctly male and female domains. All blacksmiths will be male (or at least a much higher proportion than you might normally find in a medieval human society), as will all armorers, men-at-arms, miners, carpenters, masons, sailors, etc.; while females could be seamstresses, scribes, bakers, librarians, jewelers, priests, etc. Of course, there are some professions that aren’t limited by gender, such as farmers, fishermen or scholars.

Where elves sequester their young within their society, keeping them apart from outsiders, dwarven youth are more inclined to know their future at a younger age. They’re ready to enter their apprenticeships earlier than humans. We might even say that they begin to show adult physical traits a year or two earlier, leading to the general dwarven population appearing to be younger than humans, while elven populations appear to be older. These appearances might not mean much for the individual cultures, but they affect how outsiders view and interact with that culture.

What of sexual relations and marriage? I can see an exaggeration of male stereotypical characteristics as leading to cultural standards such that dwarves view brothels (and similar establishments) as perfectly natural, while they tend to put women on a higher level ~ not that they demonize sex workers but that they expect the majority of women in society to simply not engage in such work. Yet I’m reluctant to take it to that extreme for all dwarven cultures, because I can easily see an egalitarian approach where young dwarves as expected to eventually find a partner and settle into a proper marriage, but before that, anything goes. I think these stereotypes can’t really tell us anything about all dwarven culture without including influences from specific religions, local history and customs, and other factors.

One thing I’ve learned through this process is that I need to update my NPC generator: I don’t have a spot for gender or sexuality, and given what I’m exploring in these posts, I’ll need a method to make it distinct from human to elf to dwarf. For example, if I accept the notion that dwarven psychology is closely tied to gender, then I want to adjust the numbers for my personality, motivation and desire charts, to better reflect the idea that certain personalities are “more masculine” than others. This doesn’t mean that male dwarves would never display feminine personality traits; merely that, on average, they’re less likely to come up.

I hope that this series has helped you to see your game in a different light or to challenge some base assumptions. Even if you don’t end up changing anything, it helps to reevaluate your game now and again, if only to reaffirm and solidify your understanding of how your game world works.

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3 thoughts on “More About Dwarves

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  1. Potentially, if dwarves are so defined by their distinct genders to such a degree (which is interesting to be sure), it might in part or in full be a consequence of greater sexual dimorphism (i.e. differing traits between genders). Some or all of their racial characteristics could differ between genders to really drive home the point that they are different.

    1. I hadn’t thought about taking it that far, honestly. There’s something distasteful about assigning stats and abilities based on gender. Yet that seems to be the suggestion: if we’re willing to take our fantasy to extremes of violence, magic and the like, why should we necessarily stop short of gender-based distinctions?

      That said, I probably won’t, except as cultural (soft) game elements, mainly because the race must first-and-foremost serve a purpose: that being a viable option for the player.

      1. I defenitely agree that having gender-based stats feels kinda distasteful normally (especially when some angry person argues that women should have a strength penalty and nothing more, and even more especially for humans). But as a concept for a distinctly non-human race, I think it could be interesting. But then again, it might as well be two separate species if they have different stat blocks, and it may not be the best fit for such a human-like race as dwarves…

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