Originating in the mountains to the north, dwarfs reached southward with settlements that grew into independent kingdoms united by culture and the council of dwarf kings. The identity of an individual dwarf is defined by the tension between his clan, his caste, and his king.
Dwarfs have two languages – High (Khuzdhali) and Low (Dwarfish). A dwarf does not start to learn the High language until at least their adolescent years and spend decades mastering its finer points. Though not shared with outsiders, there are certain words that have spread into common knowledge (most dwarfs comment that an untrained tongue attempt to speak Khuzdhali is like listening to gravel grating on steel)
Khuzad – Dwarf
Valdovak – Leader, King
Vadak – Commander
Kal – Mountain or keep
Ruk, Rukits – Goblins, Orcs
Tavo vardak – What is your name?
Mano Vardak – My name is …
Veik – Friend
Lagan – Greetings
Kron-karalis – High king
Karel, Karelvis – Warrior, man at arms
Zel – Gold
Navek-Kal – A Cursed Place where Dwarfs Dug Too Deep
The written word has a sacred significance within dwarf society.
On the Strata of Dwarf Society
My name is not my own. I have borrowed it from my ancestors and must return it unstained.
My honor is not my own. I carry it for my descendents and must give it to them unbroken.
-Dwarf coming of age ceremony
The caste system dates back to the early foundations of dwarf society, namely the first King Under the Mountain. Caste defines a dwarf’s occupation and social status though an individual may be recognized with the greatest honor possible and be declared by their king to be a clan founder for their great deeds.
The alliances between clans is a bond of honor and blood. Clans of lower caste will commonly seek a clan of higher caste as a patron. Clans of similar standing may band together under a common banner, be it a common ancestor or strategic marriages or regional occupation. From this system arose the fealty to a common king as the leader of all local clans.
Each clan belongs to one of these castes and it is the rare exception where an individual is permitted to cross to another caste or clan. The exact calculus examines the lineage and deeds of the dwarf and it is not unknown for material wealth to play a factor. The Kraags oversee the process but it is the King that gives it official sanction when it occurs. Even marriage may be forbidden for crossing over too many steps in caste, forcing lovers to keep their union hidden or fleeing as a now unnamed family. Traditionally the line of inheritance is through the same gender parent, often giving rise to dwarfs seeking to gain status through children of a high caste.
Otherwise a dwarf will live out his life according to the caste and clan that he is born into.
Those Who Lead
- Nobles (Kings and Nobles Houses)
- Warriors (Generals, Fighters, Slayers)
- Priests (Cleric, Kraags, Lore Keepers)
Those Who Make
Those Who Serve
Those Who Have No Clan
- Otherwise stripped of Clan or Caste
NOTE: The martial nature of dwarfs means that every dwarf from a maid servant to the king is expected to know the right end of a hammer to smash with. A lowly caravan guard is seen as a servant though might receive more respect for serving a talented weapon smith than a higher caste miner.
There are opportunities for a dwarf with no clan name or caste rank to establish such renown as to be adopted by a clan, which in the southern kingdoms are becoming more and more common.
It might be asked why there would be any point to having a social class restricted from all normal forms of interaction or employment. For those devoutly following certain kraag interpretations of the stone lore, there are tasks beneath even the lowliest servant.
The stigma of a dwarf with no clan being automatically a criminal or worse is actually false. Though many are driven into less than legal dealings, many were rendered clanless due to severe loss of social standing, being a clan all but wiped out, or having disgraces his clan sufficiently for an official appeal to cast him out. The original origins of a clanless dwarf stem from early wars between the clans where the defeated were stripped of their names and put to slavery.
Kraags are many things at once. They are keepers of the dwarf lore and history. They are advisors to kings and commoners alike. They are curators of orthodoxy and teaching the words of the ancestors, including the lengthy task of instructing the use of Khuzdhali. Without the endorsement of the Kraags, a dwarf may soon find themselves losing their clan status.
Some Kraags are extremely literal, bearing their role with as a hammer. Other moderate Kraags use the analogies of ‘mining through the ways of the ancestors’ and ‘even the stone itself must give way to the changing waters’. By definition, there is no such thing as a reformist or radical Kraag.
The importance of the Kraags came long ago, primarily in response to the rise of the chaos dwarfs who rejected the traditions of the ancestors. By abandoning the ways of the ancestors, the _ navek-khuz _ were left weak and vulnerable to the seductive whispers of false power. So tainted, there arose a terrible war that devasated the dwarf population and further hardened the laws of the dwarfs for generations to come and shaped the future outcome of the War of Kings.
Views About the Surface
Enough dwarfs have spent time on the surface that it is a very ill educated dwarf who still clings to superstitions about falling off the Aerth if they don’t hang on to stone. However there is a certain stigma still attached to dwarfs who willingly remain on the surface, commonly called ‘sun mad’ and ‘soft in the stone’. In the very traditional kingdoms, such a dwarf risks being treated as one of a lower caste.