Thursday, May 5, 2016

Dwarven Architecture

Evolutionary psychology has been drawing on the backs of napkins for a while now, and one of my favorite theories concerns the genetic basis for the appreciation of beauty.  Why is beauty?

The rationale is this: protohumans were preyed upon by big predators, and so they benefited from living in places where they can see a long distance without interruption by bushes or tall grass.  Open spaces, instead of deep forests.  And trees gave us fruit (one of our favorite foods) as well as a refuge and a good viewpoint.

And so protohumans that liked living in those locations prospered, while the ones that liked living in tangled forests got eaten by thylacodons.  And that evolutionary motivator that made us move into rolling grasslands with a few tall trees, that motivator was beauty, or at least a certain predisposition toward a certain kind of appreciation.

One one hand, it's poetic.  Beauty saved our lives.  Trees plucked us out of the mouths of tigers.

On the other hand, it's dehumanizing.  The only reason we enjoy parks is because of some ancient genetic imperative in the back of our brains that has long since outlived its usefulness.

But that's just speculative.  Let's talk about dwarves, which are totally factual.

Dwarves are not just short, hairy, drunk dudes.  Dwarves are alien.

This means that they have alien notions of honor, of family, and of beauty.  They will disagree with you about what a city is supposed to do, and how you are supposed to interact with it.  They do not go to parks to relax.

Some Facts About Dwarves

1. Dwarves love to work.  Or more accurately, they get very uncomfortable if they ever feel lazy.

2. Dwarves lack creativity in all its many-splendored forms.

I would like to add a third: Dwarves suffer from agoraphobia.  They dislike open spaces, and are happiest when they are touching a wall.  Or better yet, two walls.  Things that are far away are ugly.

Put these three things together, and it becomes pretty easy to imagine a Dwarven city.

I drew this!
There are no long, straight streets.  It's not full agoraphobia, because dwarves don't find long distances scary or even uncomfortable.  They just find them displeasing, the same way that we find caves ugly.

I mean, caves are super cool, but they're very different from lounging in the shade in my backyard.  I can appreciate the cave, but I'm comfortable in my backyard.  I wouldn't want to live in a cave.

Dwarves feel the same way about the surface world.

The streets of their cities are dense, knotted things.  It is displeasing to see a great distance, and other dwarves look unappealing from so far away.  Therefore, all the roads are long chains of right angles, thick and monotonous.  It's not that they want to lose themselves in their city, they just don't want to be confronted with it.

The halls are perfectly square in cross-section.  The duplex blocks are the same plus-sign shape, imitations of an older pattern they inherited from their parent city.

Some human: "Wouldn't you be able to get places faster with straight streets?"

Some dwarf: "I don't know, wouldn't you be able to stop wasting space if you stopped planting trees in the middle of your fucking sidewalks?"

Without exception, the rooms are nearly all 20' x 20' squares.  This is the ideal size for a dwarf.  It's enough for a bed, a work table that doubles as a dinner table, and their choice of a giant hamster wheel or bench press.

The room size is standardized, like a tatami mat.  Even their larger rooms tend to be multiples of this same unit.  It makes it easier to fit rugs.

Dwarves love rugs.  Each rug represents a terrific amount of work, presenting in a fashion where its easy to see.  Every knot and loop was woven by hand.  

They also like how they can wear the rugs out by running around on them.

And off on the right side of the map you can see the winding.  This is a long path that has been made longer by turning it into a zig-zag.  It takes about 4 hours to walk, and it exists so that dwarves can take a nice long walk after work.  (Dwarves do very good on hikes.)

Dwarven labyrinths serve the same purpose: to stave off dwarven restlessness through physical activity.

At the far end of the winding is a statue of a dwarven angel, worn down into a humanoid lump by generations of dwarves chiseling their prayers into the angel's surface.  It looks like a beatific potato with minuscule script covering every inch.  (Dwarves are very good at writing small.)  Anyone who leaves a suitable offering will get +2 to their saves.  This lasts until they rest or break something.

And their love of work extends to their walls, too.  The walls of an old dwarven city are covered with chiseled lines, each only only a few millimeters apart.  They are patterned after the natural lines in the rock, or they whirl around each other like a fingerprint, or else an endless grid of squares, or else they are just the same labyrinth, endlessly patterned throughout the whole city.

They like to brag that their tessellated streets are covered in the same tessellations that the streets themselves have.  So in a way, each section of each wall is a map of that tessellation pattern of that part of the city.

Dwarven cities are insanely loud places.  That's why they shout all the time.  (During Hammer Day, you can hear them on the surface.)

Dwarven City Names

 Ancestry is as important to dwarven cities as it is to dwarves.  There are two main schools of dwarven city nomenclature.

In the first, cities are named according to their ancestry, according to where that city's founders came from.  For example: 

Hive 9, Son of Hive 1, Son of Hive 1, Son of Hive 24, Son of the Invincible Walls of the Underlord

Or Hive 9-1-1-24, for short.

Alternatively, cities are named according to a system of angles and distances, according to the angle formed between magnetic north and their founding city.  For example:

Hive Tangent Nine-fourths, Of the Fifth Parallel and the Third Sectorant

This is why it is so common to see Dwarven surveying teams in the Underworld.  They're not uncommon on the surface either.  Much better lines of sight up there, unfortunately.


  1. I understand the thing about right angles and squares and I find it cool.

    But circumferences also allow you to hide far away things, in a different aesthetic way. So there could be a different school of dwarven architecture that used circumferences. That way you can have your party exploring and getting used to the right angles dwarven city and then KABOOM spheric building.

    If dwarves know about earth being round you can even make parallelisms and put some esoteric believes in between.

  2. dwarves invented geomorphs right?

  3. For what it's worth - I work at a mining organization. It's a salt mine, mined in room and pillar formation. Almost all the rooms are offset, so the only straight, long hallways are the areas where a conveyor belt is run. Long ceilings without roof support == potential roof collapse.

    So, disliking open spaces for dwarves would be more than a aesthetic reaction - it would be a survival reaction.

    In the same way that we'd call an outdoor area 'barren' or 'empty' if it was missing trees or a certain amount of plants, any underground area that had more than, say, 70-80% of its material removed would probably upset a dwarf, because it would look unstable.

    1. That is brilliant and I did not know that.

  4. You might want arched tunnels rather than perfectly square. Stronger that way.

  5. You might want arched tunnels rather than perfectly square. Stronger that way.

  6. hmmm but if dwarfs despise the absence of walls, then whence the vast soaring vaults of moria? and wherefore the dwarfish preoccupation with bottomless chasms?

    1. maybe it's sort of a mingled fear-and-fascination thing, like the way james cameron feels compelled to explore the murky deep. maybe the dim dwarfish reptile-brain remembers the endless eons spent in lightless caverns before the advent of toolworking and excavation. thus gimli's awed appraisal of the caves beneath the Hornburg. i would imagine then that the huge dwarven halls are sort of a massive art installation or aquarium. i would imagine there would be intermeshing catwalks leaping across the great divides in fractal and branching patterns allowing the dwarfs to appreciate every aspect of the eerie interior, as well as obviating the obstruction of workflow that such a structure would produce in a 3-dimensional city.

      speaking of which, one thing Dwarf Fortress taught me is the importance of 3D architecture in a city built underground. often much more efficient to build up or down when every direction is viable living space. i would imagine the dwarven walkabouts and labyrinths would extend just as far up and down as sideways, connected by ramps and staircases subtle and grand

    2. Alternatively, The vast hall of Moria may, in fact, be a prison for dwarves. Note that the hall was virtually empty of anything but support pillars. And the map I just found supports the rest of this article for the most part:

    3. AJ that moria map has rooms that are miles across, they surely have a whole lot of pillars.

    4. The king's hall is an unsettling place. One should be unsettled in the presence of the king.
      Also, it shows of how great your architecture is if you have a massive hall like that.

  7. Interesting thought AJ, a gigantic torture chamber. the old ICE moria book had some pretty decent maps as well, spanning around 14 levels.

  8. The architecture part reminds me of some Dwarf Fortress city designs I've seen. The naming, not so much. :p

  9. If Dwarves hate rest, they must also hate sleeping, as it is a period of inactivity mandated by biology. It is a weakness. Their biology is lazy.

    By that reasoning, are 3.5 warforged perfect creatures?

  10. What about other parts of classically dwarven society, like the veneration of beards? I like to think that when dwarves fight a duel of honour, the winner takes the loser's beard as a trophy. Thus, the longer and more luxurious the beard, the longer the time since that dwarf last lost a duel. This could either mean that that dwarf is a fearsome fighter, or else so well-mannered that no one has cause to fight him.

  11. What about other parts of classically dwarven society, like the veneration of beards? I like to think that when dwarves fight a duel of honour, the winner takes the loser's beard as a trophy. Thus, the longer and more luxurious the beard, the longer the time since that dwarf last lost a duel. This could either mean that that dwarf is a fearsome fighter, or else so well-mannered that no one has cause to fight him.