Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dwarves Are Lazy Because They Are Hardworking

The industriousness of dwarves is well established, even across multiple settings.  They're also dour, obsessed with gold, and possessing of an ambiguously Scottish accent.  They don't like elves or trees, but they like grand halls and forges.  Family and tombs.  Honor and beer.  Lots and lots of beer.

Dwarves are extremely well characterized.  The dwarven character is as strong and as distinctive as the character of Homer Simpson.  Except one is a single dude and the other is an entire race.

Race is the lazy way to define your character.  (That's one reason why I killed all the humans.)

What I mean by well-characterized is: I have no problem imagining what Homer Simpson would do in any given situation, just as I have no problem imagining what a dwarf would do in any given situation.  As soon as you told me their name, I knew them.  I can already hear their voice.

And of course, that's why people play dwarves.  They're prepackaged bundles of character.

No longer do you have to define your character through word and through deed!  You merely have to say "I'm a dwarf!" and people know all about your character, exactly as if you had said "I'm Homer Simpson!"  It's a big shortcut, and best of all, this characterization doesn't require any roleplaying at all.

Imagine the inverse.  Imagine that you decided to play Homer Simpson the fighter, but that you introduced him to the other players as Scrotar the Gladiator.  And then you said things that Homer would say, and did things that Homer would do, and over time, the other players (and in-game NPCs) would get a very good feel for your character.  He would be very well characterized, and you would have earned it.

But that's difficult, and takes a long time, which is why people like being dwarves. It's nice to have NPCs treat you as your character expects to be treated, and if you're a dwarf, that takes about five minutes.

The same is true for elves (haughty, beautiful,slim, clean, beardless, magical, serene, fuckin' Mary Sues), orcs (yell, smash, intimidate, be tough as a two dollar steak), and gnomes (chipper, excitable, mischievous, witty, impulsive, mildly magical).

People who change their setting so that "their dwarves/elves/whatever are different" would be wise not to change their dwarves too much, since players expect a certain degree of cliche dwarfiness to be present (so they can roleplay their character easier) even though they might sigh at how generic the dwarves are in this setting.

You Should Play a Dwarf If. . .

If you're new to roleplaying, by all means, be a dwarf.  The easiest characters to roleplay are the ones that are the most strongly characterized.  A stereotypical dwarf fulfills that niche handily.  And after you establish your dwarfiness, you cban start striking out into new territory, away from your racial stereotype.  Perhaps you're the only dwarf who likes trees.  Or maybe you're a shitty craftsman.  Or you eschew beer in favor of opiates.  That's (mildly) interesting stuff.

Or you might just play a hack and slash game, where characterizations don't really matter because everyone is a murderhobo.  In that case, this whole essay is moot.  Go put on your pointy helmet, beard-face.

You might not be a confident roleplayer, or you might not have a good idea for a character.  In that case, may I suggest a dwarven ancestry for monsieur?  It's strong, reliable, and easy.

Or you genuinely don't give a shit about characterization.  For you, the game lies in other directions.  That's fine, too.  There's many ways to play a game.  Don't let me shit in your fun-bucket.

You Should Stop Being a Dwarf

There is no if.  You should stop being a dwarf.

Just be a human.  Anything a dwarf can be, a human can be.  Greedy?  Humans can be that. Honorable?  Humans can be that.  Drunk and possessing a ridiculous accent?  Humans can do that.  Scornful of elves and their fruit wines?  I already do that all the time.

Rolling a human forces you to come up with a unique character concept.  If you can't come up with one, and would prefer to fall back upon the ol' bearded crutch, consider some famous personalities.  Be Bill Murray from Ghostbusters.  Be Nolan's Batman.  Hell, be Nolan's Joker.  Be a good-guy version of Hitler.  Be Scrooge McDuck (miserly, loves his asshole nephews).  Be Borat.  Be Princess Mononoke.  Be that guy from the Old Spice commercials.  Be Han Solo.

Show, don't tell.

Second, being a demi-human can actually interfere with a lot of roleplaying/characterization choices.  Want to romance the human princess while you're a halfling?  Get ready for a lot of size jokes.

Did you have an arm replaced with a troll's arm and a second row of teeth from a mutation?  Well, that sounds alright for a human, but for an elf to have those things, it seems a bit overloaded, conceptually.  Like a half-demon dwarf who invented the grenado and is attempting to be the next king, also seems a bit overloaded.  But half-demon human seems alright, I think.


Strawman: when we play fantasy races we can explore new roleplaying opportunities!  Like what it's like to be a dwarf who's afraid of the dark, or an elf who is dreaded how her husband will die from old age while she is still young.  Can you really explore those things if everyone is a human?

Of course you can.  You can have Genghis Khan's son who is afraid of horses.  Or you can be in love with a person who is dying from the Slow Death.

Or, if you really want that whole "lives underground, drinks heavily, reveres ancestors" thing, have you thought about how weird it would be to just transpose humans into the dwarven lifestyle?  We already accept the dwarven culture as normal, but humans who spend their whole lives underground, digging their own graves, toiling over furnaces, and birthing their children atop anvils. . . that's way weirder.  And therefore, more interesting and more memorable.

Also, another benefit to having everyone be a human: it creates a zone of normalcy within the party.  The game stays firmly rooted, and doesn't drift up into kitchen-sink fantasy, where everyone is a different race of unique snowflakes.  This leaves room for weirdness later, so that when the elves emerge naked from the trees gnawing on pieces of babyflesh, they are the other and they are weird and horrible and alien.  As it should be.

The forest should be a little alien and hostile.  This is harder to do if you have elves in your party.

The underground should be unknown and oppressive.  This harder to do if you have dwarves in your party.


  1. I definitely feel your pain on the "you could replace that race with some eccentric humans and it would be MORE interesting" point. I think there are two ways to go from there.

    1. Make your races very ecologically different from humans. Make your dwarves eat only bugs and root vegetables (since getting meat and wheat for ale underground is not readily explainable). Give them sun-blindness. Have them forgo their metal armor and such since lighting big forges underground is a great way to die of carbon monoxide poisoning. Essentially, make them too weird to be human. This would have the desired effect because only the most committed and creative players would successfully choose to play such a character.

    2. Or, just go race-as-class. This is my option of choice. It sounds counter-intuitive, but if you make all the dwarves, elves, etc. MORE like each other, rather than less, it draws the same creative and committed players to that class. Classes have always been a more interesting defining feature than race, so a dwarf wizard is always a wizard first, and dwarf second (read: last). But if your game makes all dwarves (mechanically) gruff fighter-types with a penchant for stonework, then the player can't default to their class choice as a way of making their character unique.

  2. I disagree. It has been shown again and again that creativity shines brightest when working with restrictions. I believe that most reasonably experienced roleplayers can play an interesting dwarf, so long as they are willing to detach themselves from the stereotype. Even if they embrace the stereotype, roleplay involves a lot more than liking ale and being gruff.

    You argue that anything you can do with a dwarf you could do with a human. You can turn this argument on its head fairly easily: anything you can do with a human, why not do it with a dwarf? Just because your settings says dwarves are generally one way or another doesn't mean the PCs can't be the interesting exceptions.

  3. "Race is the lazy way to define your character."

    Yes. That's one reason I killed all the demihumans.