Saturday, 1 January 2022

Demi-Humans & Alignment: Dwarfs

Continuing my extrapolation and twisting of original material to create a new chassis to run old school modules I'm jotting down some notes about so-called "demi"-humans. 

This was originally meant to be part of the "alignment" post. Likewise my post about elves (forthcoming) was supposed to go on the end of this one, but I started to ramble...

Previous posts in this series:

Image courtesy The Internet


What is a Demi-Human? 

Dungeons & Dragons has always taken a Tolkien-esque approach to "demi-humans" and "humanoids":  dwarves [sic] and elves are treated as "races" rather than the magical spirits that appear in our myths and folklore. This treatment is extended to orcs, goblins, gnomes etc. The clue is in the terminology used: they are human-like or human derived, or variations (or corruptions) of humans.

Folding that back on itself, what if they became "in world" what they are outside the fiction: projections of human ideals? These are spirits rendered flesh: they exist because of our stories and folklore, and our belief in tales of ancient kingdoms in forgotten mountains or slender gender-fluid aliens materialising in dark forests.

They do not have economies and cultures and taxonomies, they are archetypes.

Demi-Humans and Alignment

When I first started to think about alignment again, may brain did this:

  • Law vs Chaos
  • Clerics vs Magic-Users  
  • Dwarfs vs Elves

As with other binary pairs, there are (multiple and interesting) exceptions, but I like this set up as a foundation.

Troupe: Main, Second, Retainers 

One facet I would like to build into this Adventure Game is troupe play: players managing a small entourage of characters surrounding a central character. I will produce a longer post on this in the future but essentially it looks like this:
  • Main character (fighter/cleric/magic-user)
  • Second (usually same class as the main character, or maybe 0-level "normal human")
  • As many retainers as they can afford (including no combatants)
The "second" provides the main character with a squire, apprentice or acolyte to support them in their enterprises in return for training. It provides the player with someone to take on the main character's possessions and responsibilities in the event of their death.
It's mentioned now because I envisage a special relationship between the demi-humans and their second, quite unlike that between a wizard and their apprentice or a cleric and their acolyte.Instead, the "second" is the demi-human's anchor to the physical world, without whom... well, you'll find out.


...not dwarves

Human myths and folk tales tell of a diminutive spirits dwelling in deep caverns carved into the hills and mountains, blessed by and in the service of God/The Gods/Law/The Flying Spaghetti Monster. In the Age of Chaos they either fought alongside Righteous Humans or forged a magic weapon for the Cultural Hero.

Aside from these folk tales, the only traces of their culture is in the following:
  • A liturgical tongue, said to have been taught to humans by the dwarfs.
  • Secular (though solemn) dirges, songs and poems in that ancient language.
  • Shrines comprising life-size stone (or more rarely metal) sculptures of dwarfs dotted throughout the countryside, especially in hills, mountains, valleys and the entrances to cave networks.

For adventurers it is the latter that is most significant: it is said that under the right conditions these effigies come to life, seek out a sensitive individual of lawful alignment and drag them off to find adventure.  

The Form and Distribution of Dwarf Statues

Dwarf effigies vary in form from region to region, and correspond to the ancient myths about these magical beings vary from region to region. There are 3 common features between all cultures:
  • Diminutive height not less than 3 feet and never greater than five feet.
  • Exaggerated facial features (including but not limited to one or more of the following: pointed ears, long noses, especially narrow or especially large eyes, wide or non-existent mouths etc) partially obscured by facial hair (including eyebrows, ear and nasal hair as well as beards, moustaches and sideburns) or more rarely a decorated mask.
  • Martial equipment and attire: there are no cases where dwarf-effigies are not carrying at least one weapon and wearing some item of armour or helmet or other protective item (i.e. carrying a shield). 

So far there are no exceptions to these rules, though the body of knowledge on the subject is by no means exhaustive. Given the huge amount of variation within these three constraints, it is likely that as further territories are rediscovered these facts may need to be revised.

What is notable is the small degree of variation within particular areas, and how these rarely correspond to existing territories. For example, in the valley of the River Urd the dwarfs on the north bank have slender, cloaked bodies, heads entirely covered by helmets and carry two-handed swords; those on the south correspond to the archetypal stout axe-wielder. 

Indeed, while the majority of recorded effigies are (or at least present as) male, there are many exceptions. These include the bare-chested "beechwood berserkers" with their fierce countenances and pendulous breasts of the western foothills; the "Maiden Paladins" carved from granite in full plate with glaives and the masked "hill-wives" of the ancient terrace-farms wielding lethally-modified farm implements. 

There are certain sages who believe that the distribution of these typologies maps onto the ancient dwarf kingdoms of old. More radical scholars speculate that actually they mark the extents of older human polities prior to the age of chaos and the subsequent ascent of the Church of Law. While the latter hypothesis is certainly interesting, it is somewhat undermined by reports of these effigies returning to life and seeking out a nearby human to act as their temporal guide.

Reports describe these statues-made-flesh as being like their previous form in every way, aside from the warmth of their breath and their flesh, though their skin does retain some resemblance to the material of which it was previously comprised (including any moss or lichen that was once clinging to it) .

The Dwarf-Seer or Dwarf-Friend

Usually a young person on the cusp of adulthood or, more rarely, an elderly human in their dotage, dwarf-seers (or sometimes dwarf-friends) belong to a particular type prevalent across human communities. All share a frailty of either their flesh or mind (or sometimes both), a god-fearing nature and a lawful alignment.
When the knock comes they will be ready-and they will be no less terrified for it. The statue rendered flesh, this diminutive warrior of righteousness, has come to take them on a life of clambering down dark holes and battling the despicable minions of chaos.

Dwarf PCs

The player must be prepared to take responsibility for at least two characters: the dwarf and the dwarf-seer. The dwarf is only fully sapient when within 30' of their dwarf-seer: if they are separated from the seer then one of the following occurs:

  • The dwarf returns to their statue form and is unable to perceive or interact with the environment until the dwarf-seer returns. 
  • The dwarf transforms into a non-corporeal wraith moving at a rate of 20'/round in the direction of the dwarf-seer. They may not otherwise interact or perceive the environment until they are once again within 30' of the dwarf-seer, at which point they automatically regain corporeality. 
  • If the dwarf-seer is slain the dwarf immediately disincorporates, returning to the site at which their effigy was previously located. The dwarf may be revived by a future dwarf-seer, but they will start over as a level one dwarf fighter: it is effectively character death and dwarf players should be aware of the additional vulnerability of their character(s).


Dwarfs use the same level progression as fighters, with the following exceptions:
  •  Hit dice are ten-sided (D10 as opposed to D8)
  • 10% penalty on XP gained (and no bonus for their prime requisite)
  • Save as dwarfs
  • There may be dwarf clerics in special circumstances and even dwarf magic-users (see below).
 Dwarfs have good hearing and keen sense of smell, which may provide additional clues when exploring subterranean or wilderness environments at the Gm's discretion. 

Dwarfs have no special ability to see in the dark, however in the absence of light they may assume a non-corporeal form and, as long as they are within 30 feet of their dwarf-seer may move at a rate of 20'/round and explore their immediate environment. In this form they may pass through and over materials, creating an impression of the texture, structure, scent and flavour of such elements. They cannot see or hear when in this form, but always know where they are in relation to their dwarf-seer. In this form They are invisible to most creatures except for certain enchanted creatures such as fey and undead, but cannot physically interact with them (except of course to ascertain their form and scent etc.)

This is quite a powerful tool to explore dungeons but it is of course constrained by two factors:
  1. The limited range (once beyond the reach of their dwarf-seer, they lose control and sapience)
  2. There is no visual input: they can only sense and analyse areas they pass through or over, and have no concept of the environment beyond their immediate space.
This information can be relayed to the rest of the party upon their return to physical form. Alternatively, if the dwarf-seer is able to meditate for a full round, the dwarf may communicate to them telepathically and the dwarf-seer may relay that to the rest of the party verbally. In a grating monotone. With their eyes rolled back in their head. 

Starting Gold and Equipment

The level 1 dwarf begins with weapons, armour and clothing appropriate for their culture. They have no other equipment or money other than that which the dwarf-seer provides for them.


Dwarfs speak the liturgical tongue ("dwarfish") and any languages known to the dwarf seer. They may communicate with others of lawful alignment in the manner described here


Dwarfs always begin as lawful and must always act in a lawful manner. There are two ways in which this can change:
  • Through magic or curses
  • By becoming human
Dwarfs who spend a night carousing with humans and then witness the rising of the sun become human. While their physical form is unaltered the following changes occur:
  • Their alignment becomes neutral.
  • They lose their special abilities and bond with their dwarf-seer.
  • Their saving throws progress as those of a human of the same class (they may keep their current saves however- 5th level dwarf fighters who becomes human keep their saving throws until they reach 13th level as human fighters)
The same process is followed if a dwarf is magically altered or cursed to become neutral. Dwarfs whose alignment is magically altered to chaos become magic-users, as detailed below.


Dwarfs use the same experience track as fighters (unless they are clerics or chaotic dwarf magic-users), with a 10% penalty as described above (and no bonus for prime requisite).

Dwarfs gain experience through the following means:
  • Slaying monsters and aberrations.
  • Donating loot to churches, temples and other holy orders of lawful alignment at a rate of 1 XP per SP donated
  • Building a hoard of treasure in a secure, secret location known only to the dwarf and dwarf-seer. This is at a higher cost (1 XP per GP) but has the advantage of being available to other PCs in the event of the dwarfs death (at a price I've not yet decided... it also makes known dwarf-seers the target of bandits, seeking to uncover hidden dwarf hoards)
  •  The dwarf-seer my voluntarily stall their own progressions to increase the rate of the dwarf's progression (the player can transfer XP from the dwarf-seer to the dwarf).

Names, Family, Culture

The dwarf character may start with a name or this can be acquired later. They have no living relatives or family strongholds that exist outside of their own (or the dwarf-seer's) description of their past.

Are dwarfs real? Who's to say for sure. They feel real.


Dwarfs perceive all elves (except lawful elves) as glitches in space-time. They are incapable of acknowledging their presence. They cannot physically interact with them, and perceive others interacting with them as a form of bewitchment. They will mutter solemn prayers for the souls of those they witness enduring this curse.

For their part, elves perceive dwarfs as immobile statues and will mock all those attempting to interact with it (including enemies which engage the dwarf in combat).

This peculiarity is widely known throughout folklore and a common plot device in local myths and legends. Dwarfs will dismiss talk of elves as mere legend, and vice versa. Note that dwarfs who become human are no longer invisible to elves, and vice versa.

Death and Wounds

Though magical in nature, dwarfs take damage and heal wounds in the normal manner. When a dwarf "dies" they revert to their statue form until all mortals they met in this incarnation have died, at which point they will revive and seek out a new dwarf-seer.

"Raise dead" cast on a dwarf statue creates a mindless golem under the control of the magic-user or cleric. The diamond used in the casting of the spell is placed in a prominent position on the dwarf: if removed, the spell is broken and the golem reverts to a dormant state.

"Animate Dead" cast on a dwarf statue creates a golem that immediately attacks the caster of the spell. Once the caster is destroyed, the golem reverts to a dormant state.


Each night spent above ground a dwarf must find a quiet spot and assume their statue form for at least 3 hours in order to heal wounds (and regain hit dice, if these rules are used). A dwarf that stays up all night carousing with humans will become human upon witnessing the first light of dawn (see above).

Ageing & Illness

Dwarfs do not age, nor do they suffer from disease. They can only die through violence, and even then they revert to a statue like state and may revive once everyone who ever met them has died.

Dwarf Clerics

At fourth level the dwarf-seer may take on a second dwarf. This dwarf, if desired, can progress as a cleric with the following variations:
  • 10% penalty on XP and no prime requisite. 
  • D8 hit die
  • May use bladed weapons but only use the weapon with which they began their adventuring career (this may be bladed). Consequently, dwarf clerics will not use ranged weapons.
  • They may turn 
  • May not cast the reverse versions of spells unless in the pursuit of a higher goal. Will lose spellcasting abilities immediately afterwards.

Chaotic Dwarfs

Sometimes a curse or powerful magic item causes a dwarf to become chaotic. This has a unique effect on dwarfs, as follows:
  • Able to see elves.
  • Loses their power to disincorporate; however, bond with dwarf-seer is retained.
  • Dwarf-clerics lose the ability to cast divine spells.
  • All other abilities, saves, hit dice etc. retained however...
  • the dwarf now progresses as a first level magic user. They have no spellbook, instead receiving a random selection of spells each morning in accordance with their level.
  • They receive a fresh chaotic mutation with each new level.
  • They plunder their own hoard and fritter away their treasure on carousing.
  • Drinking in all night with humans no longer causes them to become human.
  • Experience is gained only through spending stolen treasure, at a rate of 1 XP per SP. this is doubled if the money is stolen from a lawful church or holy order.
If a chaotic dwarf dies, they revert to their statue state as above. If they revive (following the deaths of all the mortals who ever knew them), they revert to their lawful alignment and level 1 status.

Dwarf Seer PCs

Dwarf-seers begin as unremarkable humans but are absolutely necessary if one is to have a dwarf party member. Additionally, as they progress they gain additional abilities. 

Prime Requisite:         

None. Dwarf-Seers receive no experience bonus.


  • XP track as magic-user. 
  • Hit Dice: 1d4 per level up to 9th level. 
  • To hit as magic-user. 
  • Save as cleric.
  • Gains XP by slaying monsters and donating treasure to lawful temples or holy orders at a rate of 1 XP per SP.


  • Any permitted but... 
  • Will need assistance from dwarf to put on heavy armour.


Simple weapons (club, dagger, hand-axe javelin, mace, staff, spear, sickle) with no penalty. 
Martial weapons (swords, lances etc.) attack at disadvantage.

Special Abilities: 

Level 1    
  • Dwarf-friend: Receives call to adventure and attracts dwarf. If this dwarf dies, the dwarf-seer must seek out another effigy and revive the dwarf if they wish to continue adventuring. 
  • Share experience: a dwarf-seer may "gift" any experience they gain to their dwarf. This may not cause the dwarf to gain more than one level between expeditions or delves.
  • Telepathy: the seer may communicate with their dwarf telepathically, as long as the dwarf is not in statue form. They must be concentrating in order to do this (i.e. may not be performing any other action nor be defending against a melee attack).
Level 2
  • Dwarf-sense: the dwarf-seer gains the ability to interpret underground structures, geology, seismology and rudimentary metallurgy etc. This makes it easier for them to find secret doors and identify hidden traps.
Level 3
  • Pool of Vitality: The dwarf-seer may share HP and hit dice with their dwarf(s), and vice versa.
  • Say a Little Prayer: Once per day (and an additional time per day for each level over 3) the dwarf-seer may prayer for divine intervention to assist them. This manifests as a first level cleric spell, chosen by the GM and applied creatively to the situation. 
Level 4
  • A Whole New Dwarf: The dwarf-seer may now take on an additional dwarf.
  • Holy Orders: that additional dwarf (and any replacement dwarfs) may be dwarf-clerics (if the player desires). Note: additional dwarfs may be played by other players if preferred. 

Level 5:

  • Tall Tales of Wee-Folk: after a long period of time adventuring with dwarfs the seer has now acquired an impressive number of tales, both real and imagined. They may use this skill to receive free hospitality (of rough quality) for themselves and their travelling companions, though they should be wise not to try this in the same place more than one night in a row. Alternatively, this skill can be used to distract or enchant individuals- for lawful purposes, of course.
Level 6:
  •  Liturgical expertise: following prolonged exposure to dwarf language and culture, the dwarf-seer is now well versed in the liturgical tongue. Among other things, this enables them to identify whether a scroll is arcane or divine in nature (or other). If divine, they may use "read magic" once per day to identify the spell (s) it contains. Once a scroll is known, they may cast it at will.

Level 7:

  • Dwarven Party: the dwarf seer may seek out and revive a third dwarven companion. Any (or all) of these dwarfs may be dwarf-clerics.

Level 8:

  • Dwarf Scholar: taken their liturgical expertise to a whole new level, the dwarf-seer may transcribe cleric/priest spells from existing scrolls and or priestly tomes/ books of prayer. This costs 100 GP per spell in materials and votive offerings. It takes one day per scroll.

Level 9:

  • Vision Quest: the dwarf-seer is provided with a vision of an ancient dwarven artefact, abandoned hoard, royal bloodline, awakened evil etc. They, their dwarfs and any retainers must embark on a   quest to retrieve the treasure/restore the hoard/destroy the ancient evil etc.
  • If the dwarf-seer completes the quest their player may choose to retire the seer. Alternatively, the GM might come up with new quests and/or initiate schisms and sectarian conflict within the ecclesiastical hierarchy in response to the quest's outcome.


I've been sitting on this post for so long now it's inevitable that in the end it was mostly spat out rather than arranged neatly on the plate, so apologies. I'll try harder with elves.


Initial concept:

Hit Points, Hit Dice, Death and Dismemberment etc.

...and a very old "dwarves" post I made:

A slightly less old but more mundane


  1. love this shit so much, makes me wonder what other options there are for one-player-two-PCs setups. maybe like a Mad Max 2-esque Master-Blaster thing, or an artificer who has a bond with a sentient armor suit (which can then be passed on to future PCs...)

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Master-Blaster was great, especially the "reveal"... for a long time I thought Blaster was supposed to be the farm hand from the first movie, but later found this wasn't the case... though the actor who played the farm hand (Max Fairchild) was in Mad Max 2 as a different character. He also had a small part in Salute of the Jugger, which I've written about before.

      I like the big/little, brains/brawn pairing. My toddler has a picturebook called "Superworm" and the antagonist in that is a sorcerous lizard and his crow sidekick. it's such a good look!

      Artificer/sentient armour suit is awesome. Remote controlled mechs? Dungeon drones?