This is the second installment in the B/X race-as-class variant series. Elves can be found here.
My approach to dwarves is slightly different than to elves. Makes sense to me, since elves and dwarves should be distinct from one another as well as humans. The result is not necessarily a list of dwarf "variants" but instead a table of variant features that mechanically distinguish dwarf PCs while still preserving that sweet core of archetypal dwarfness we all know and love.
All dwarves start with Infravision (60’) and have a 2:6 chance to detect construction tricks and room traps. Players roll twice on this table to determine additional features:
- Hard head. Your head is harder than a cannonball. You can shrug off all but the most dire damage it sustains. There might be some physical indication of this feature, like ram horns or a block-shaped cranium.
- Magic tools. You have a set of magical tools you can work with to quickly repair damaged equipment. Once per day, you can fix a broken object as per the mending spell. You can also use the tools to magically repair damage to equipment, even from non-mundane sources like oozes or rust monsters. It takes an hour to repair equipment for each -1 penalty it accrued. The strange tools only detect as magic when you work with them. Otherwise, they just seem like normal dwarf-tools.
- Pack mule. Your endurance and near-supernatural packing skills means heavy loads are no problem. You can carry an extra 500 coins (or 5 extra inventory slots; etc.) of treasure and equipment that doesn’t count toward your encumbrance.
- Perfect spatial reasoning. You have an extraordinary sense of scale and direction. You can determine lengths and distances at a glance, and can throw and catch with almost perfect accuracy. +1 to ranged attack rolls.
- Heigh-Ho! You can sing a song to make any hard manual labor you’re doing, like clearing stone or building a structure, take half the time. Other dwarves working with you can sing along to also get the bonus, even if they don't have this feature.
- Keen senses. You are particularly tuned-in to your surroundings, especially in constructed and subterranean environments. You have a 2:6 chance of listening at doors and through dungeon walls that are less than a foot thick, which you can detect when searching.
- Tinkerer. You love toying with contraptions and gizmos. You have a 3:6 chance of detecting room traps when searching, and a 3:6 chance of salvaging something useful from deactivated trap mechanisms, mechanical constructs, or other sorts of complicated machinery.
- Gourmand. Dwarves are already famous for their vast appetites and expansive cuisine, and you’re more of an adventurous eater than most. You can safely consume just about anything you can get your mouth around and with adequate cooking gear you can prepare a passable meal from even the most meager ingredients (within reason—you can turn grass and boot leather into food, but not dirt or rocks). You’re a pretty slick cook in general to the extent that the food you make would knock the socks off a common peasant and impress even a haughty aristocrat.
- Azer. Despite what is commonly supposed, Azers are not dwarves from the “elemental plane of fire” (which doesn’t exist), but instead a special class of pyrogenic dwarves who practice ritual flame eating and are said to be born from magma... Your skin is shiny bronze and your hair is either red-orange or blue like a gas flame. You are unharmed by normal fire and extreme heat. Additionally, you get +2 to saves vs. fire magic or breath attacks, and take 1 less point of damage per dice (these effects do not stack with fire resistance granted through magic). You can also chug a flask of lantern oil (doesn't need to be lit) and spit it out like a flaming oil attack at a range of 10’, ignoring armor. Strong spirits work the same but the flame is shorter lived, only dealing damage on one round instead of two. As a consequence, water is repulsive to you. You get a -2 penalty to attack and damage rolls when wet (bring an umbrella) and if you’re fully submerged you must save vs. death or pass out and sink like a stone.
- Riding goat. You are the proud owner of a trained dwarfish riding goat. However stubborn it may be, the two of you share an indelible kinship. HD: 3 AC: 7 Att. Kick x2 (1d6) or Ram (1d8+1). Move 120’ (40’) can climb steep surfaces and navigate difficult terrain at full speed. If given a run-up of, 20’ you can forgo your attack and make the goat charge, granting its ram attack double damage. Morale 12.
- Geomancy. You are versed in the esoteric art of dwarven geomancy. When underground, you can accurately determine what dungeon floor you’re on, and you can spend a turn performing a dwarfy dousing ritual to get a rough approximation of where corridors you can see lead—whether they go to dead-ends, continue forward, turn, branch, open up into a room, etc.
- Berserker. Epigenetic hatred of monstrous humanoids burns at the very core of your being. +1 to hit and damage against monstrous humanoids and giant types, and unless you are restrained or succeed on a Wisdom test you attack them on sight and cannot run from battle. The bonus improves every three levels, becoming +2 at level 3, +3 at level 6, and so on. You have a badass mohawk.
- Percussive technician. You have a knack for making sure things work properly. You have a 2:6 chance (modified by the situation) to make damaged machinery function again by whacking it with a hammer a couple times. Also, your base chance for opening a stuck door is 2:6 before any strength modifiers. Attempts you make to open a stuck door or even force one off it’s hinges generally don’t produce enough noise to alert nearby monsters—you’re a good enough handydwarf that just a tap is all it takes.
- Blood of Stone. A dwarfish way of saying you’re tougher than a bag of nails. You get +2 starting hp and +1 additional hp every time you level up. You also only need to rest every 12 exploration turns instead of every 6.
- Wayfarer. You’ve explored some faraway lands and have picked up a couple languages on your travels. You can speak Gnomish, Goblin, Kobold, Hobgoblin, Orc, Bugbear, Ogre, Dragon, and one additional language of your choosing. You also do not have to rest the usual one day out of every week when traveling overland.
- Dwarven thrower. You specialize in a Dwarven fighting style that emphasizes throwing big weapons. Any melee weapon becomes throwable—even weapons you are not typically able to wield due to your size. Range: 20’/40’/60’.
- Indomitable. Dauntless doesn’t even begin to describe it—you can’t be put down for nothing. Once per day, you get a free reroll of any save. If you fall under the effects of supernatural fear and mind-controlling spells, you can make a save at the end of each subsequent round to end it.
- Metal teeth. You got your chompers replaced with well-crafted metal denticles. You can chew through anything up to the toughness of iron.
- Gemstone eyes. In place of eyes you have two beautiful, glittering jewels. In addition to functioning as normal dwarf eyes, they grant full-color darkvision with a range of 120’ and allow you to instantly appraise the value of gems and other treasure items.
- Roll twice, ignoring repeated results.
Variant of the variant: Dwarf Clans
Another way to spin this if you want specific dwarf class options (like elves) instead of random table rolling: roll or pick two qualities from the list. These are now the qualities associated with a specific dwarf clan. Repeat this process a couple times until you have enough dwarf varieties to be satisfied.
Now, for example, the various clans in your campaign are goat-riding trollslayers, fire dwarves with metal teeth, jewel-eyed geomancers, wayfaring gourmands, and hearty stone-bloods with ram horns. During character creation when a player rolls up a dwarf, they decide what clan they want their character to be a part of and thus possess those features.
Dwarves are rarely idle. At home, when they’re not eating, sleeping, or drinking ale, they’re hard at work. Another thing about dwarves: they are incredibly productive. Ridiculously so.
The typical amount of maintenance and upkeep required to keep a dwarf society up and running only takes so long. And so they commonly partake in a practice they refer to as “dwarf science” (sometimes translated as “stupid dwarf tricks”): essentially, large-scale projects, oftentimes of questionable utility, that require high amounts of ingenuity and industriousness to complete.
Dwarf science spans a wide variety of endeavors, such as megalithic Antikythera computers, baroque fortress defense mechanisms, meticulous life-size statue replicas of famous battles in dwarf history, and increasingly ridiculous and elaborate methods of channeling and transporting magma.
At 9th level or above, when a dwarf PC constructs or acquires a stronghold and other dwarves come to live there, dwarf science can begin.
The dwarf PC has some control over what sort of projects get worked on, but in truth most dwarves are too self-directed and dwarf society too diffuse to effectively stick to doing projects for someone else.
Only one dwarf science project can be commissioned by a dwarf PC per year. The rest of the time, it is assumed that dwarves are doing their actual jobs or pursuing their own projects.
Examples of the sorts of dwarf science projects that can be commissioned are as follows:
- The extracting and processing of marvelous materials (create equipment made of mithril, adamant, alchemical quicksilver, or other such materials with unique properties)
- The engineering of war machines both great and terrible (create wondrous weapons, powered armor, advanced and/or autonomous siege engines, catapults, ballistas, etc.)
- The creation of Vehicles of terrific capability (create advanced seafaring vessels, landships, clockwork autonomous caravans, etc.)
- The contriving and arming of fortress security measures (develop various tricks, traps, and defense mechanisms to thwart sieges and invasions)
- The crafting of wondrous items (plumb the archaic depths of dwarf ancestral knowledge to create magic or otherwise fantastical items)
- Other areas of development not immediately relevant to the interests of the adventuring dwarf (civic infrastructure, art & architecture, etc.)
Rough approximations of what can be accomplished in a single project period:
- 20 weapons or gear for individual people*
- 5 things that could be used by 5 people, or 5 things that greatly enhance the capabilities of one person (like mech suits or single-occupancy vehicles)
- 3 somewhat elaborate fortress defense mechanisms or 1 very elaborate one
- 1 vehicle or vessel that can hold 20 people or more
- D10+10 single-use wondrous items, d10 single-purpose items with charges, d6 single-purpose items or multi-use items with charges, or d4 multi-use items
- 2 large-scale public works or 1 very large-scale public work—work with the DM to define what these are and what they’re for. They can have some situational utility (ie a pneumatic chute system for easy transport of messages and small goods, stables for animal training, rudimentary hydropower dams) but they would otherwise attract more dwarves to your stronghold and boost morale.
*people here referring, of course, to dwarves
Larger-scale projects can be accomplished as long as the time, cost, and manpower scales are adjusted accordingly. Dwarf science may also require rare materials, resources, or expertise that would necessitate (of course) an adventure in order to acquire.
It should be noted that the dwarf science rules have not been playtested and may need some adjusting. Do the rules also require some amount of handwaving and work on the DM's part to fill in some gaps? Sure. But that's just in-keeping with the stronghold and domain rules from B/X. I'm not lazy; I'm just keeping the tradition alive.
The three wonderful dwarves featured throughout this post were made by Goran Gligovic. Check him out.