My breakdown of elven personality, with traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws, was kindly received, so I have moved on to dwarves. This is still some serious easy-mode of stereotypes, but even halflings are a less-trodden ground than elves and dwarves in fantasy. As before, I’ve made no effort here to cover the less-common dwarven subraces – duergar, gully dwarves, jungle dwarves, arctic dwarves, and whatever else you’ve got – though I think only the gully dwarves would need a ground-up rewrite rather than a few tweaks.
Edit: Please note that this post has been re-edited and released in Through Their Own Eyes, now available on DriveThruRPG.
|1||I spend hours each day maintaining my tools, armor, and weapons, in that order.|
|2||I don’t quite trust the open sky. Give me a good cavern any day.|
|3||I don’t love gold. I just tell it that to get it in bed. – lifted from Terry Pratchett|
|4||I collect trophies from every honorable or worthy foe I defeat.|
|5||Once I’ve shared a pint with someone, I trust them with my life.|
|6||I can trace my lineage back to Moradin himself – and will, given half a chance.|
|7||Until we reclaim our ancestral halls, I don’t completely trust anyone except for another dwarf.|
|8||I’m always planning – and talking about – my next great creation.|
|1||Legalism: Even a thane or king cannot overturn a thousand years of precedent. (Lawful)|
|2||Self-sacrifice: I do not pray for lighter burdens, but for broader shoulders. (Good) – paraphrased from Phillips Brooks|
|3||Greed: The natural home of gold is among the dwarves. (Evil)|
|4||Rebirth: Only bold ideas and deeds can reverse the decline of the dwarves. (Chaotic)|
|5||Clannish: I’ll do everything in my power to aid another dwarf, even when they’re in the wrong. (Neutral)|
|6||Glory: I want my clan to sing tales of my deeds until the end of days. (Any)|
|1||I will light once again the forge-fires of my people in halls we abandoned.|
|2||I will not raise a hand against another dwarf, save for the duergar and the derro.|
|3||The dwarves owe debts to the other races, and I am bound to pay them.|
|4||Every trial of the world is my refiner’s fire.|
|5||Everyone who cheated me will regret their treachery.|
|6||Countless dwarf-made treasures were looted from our halls – I must reclaim them.|
|1||My appetites control me more than I control them.|
|2||My memory for treachery is much longer than my memory for kindness.|
|3||I’m easily goaded with any slight to my courage or honor.|
|4||I am full of bitter sorrows for the time I led my kinsmen into a trap.|
|5||We must return to the traditions that once made us strong, no matter the cost.|
|6||I wounded (or killed) one of my kin, and was exiled for it.|
Overall, the dwarven personalities that I’ve described here are slightly more friendly to heterogeneous adventuring parties than the elven ones were. Other than Thorin Oakenshield, dwarves are generally portrayed as being less insufferable than elves, because no one is more insufferable than elves; instead, dwarves are Proud Warrior Race Guys and mostly more likable.
On the other hand, I love this line by Balin in the films:
It appears we have lost our burglar. Probably for the best. The odds were always against us. After all, what are we? Merchants, miners, tinkerers, toy-makers. Hardly the stuff of legend.
It’s a reminder of the often-overlooked variability of Tolkien’s dwarves. Yes, they fight when Thorin calls them, but they aren’t professional soldiers the way Aragorn, Boromir, Faramir, and Éomer are. 5e is great at reflecting this in real gameplay terms, too – Guild Artisan and Guild Merchant are very good fits for most of Thorin’s Company, and maybe Entertainer for a few of them (since Tolkien specifies their musical instruments of choice), or Outlander (because they are all exiles). Movie-Thorin is clearly a Noble, while book-Thorin might be a Folk Hero.
Meta-Commentary on Monoculture
Kainenchen has correctly pointed out the fundamental laziness of monoculture – not just that I am implicitly treating all dwarves as being a single culture, but that D&D does so, at least along subrace lines. We don’t accept this for humans, which is part of why we treat them as “the most adaptable ones,” and it’s why I won’t be attempting to cover humans in this series – it wouldn’t mean anything for most campaign settings, and I would do more harm than good by defining the outer boundaries of what is human. Hypothetically, I could write a personality breakdown for Cormyr, another for Sembia, a third for the Dalelands, and that would at least mean something.
Hmm. I like that Backgrounds are as culture-neutral as they are, and you don’t need four traits, two ideals, two bonds, and two flaws. Maybe we could approach cultures as informing Backgrounds by adding a single chart: one that includes traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws all mixed together. The player takes the normal list of personality features for her Background, and adds one item from the culture’s table. If that’s still too much – or if it leaves players of human characters wondering why their race doesn’t have a personality – then… uh… I dunno. (Rewriting humans to have subraces is my personal preference.)