Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Ancient Dwarven Spirits

"As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and a jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves."

Dwarves are one of my favorite fantasy races.  There's just something utterly fascinating about miniature warriors that think they are just as big and strong as anyone else.  Their hubris and often sour attitudes only makes them even more charming from an outside point of view.  The biggest trouble with dwarves is that despite the rapidly expanding face of fantasy dwarves have stayed pretty much homogeneous as little angry, bearded Scotsmen wielding axes who are unified against everyone else in the world.  The duergar offer a variation on this but still pretty much fit under that umbrella.  What I think the dwarven world needs is something to break up the unity that makes them all kind of seem the same.

The path that I'm taking on this is to separate the dwarves religiously.  The older, more conservative dwarven tradition will be one focused upon ancestor worship while younger, less traditional dwarves will begin to take up the common gods of the world.

Veneration of the Ancients

The good and proper dwarven way is to strive for mastery and perfection in your chosen craft.  This is obviously fulfilled through creating armors, weapons, and other fine treasures but could also be mastery of farming, war, or scholarly works.  Traditional dwarves have no need for deities as they believe that all that is worth doing in this world can be done by mortal hands.  This isn't to say that in a setting where the gods are obviously present they would be foolishly atheist, but worship would be token offerings at best.  Instead these dwarves pay homage to the ancient dwarves of legend (especially in their bloodline) who most excelled in their own field.

This creates a situation in which each individual dwarf can see a potential future in which they may be objects of greatness and story thus inspiring them to choose their calling and follow it in a direct and steadfast way.  It also becomes very important to make sure that others know of your greatest works and likely ensures that boasting is a common part of life.  Another way that these dwarves can show off their prowess is through the symbolic tattoos they get on their shaved heads.  Examples include:

  • Warriors: Weapons, foes, death signs
  • Crafters: Objects created, images of tools.
  • Scholars: Runes and magical symbols.
Benefits of Veneration

In addition to being able to use spirits of ancient dwarves for any number of story-driving points, at the time of a dwarf's death allow him to make a skill check of his chosen Craft, Knowledge, or Profession that can't be modified by magical items or effects.  If he succeeds at a DC of 30 then he may sacrifice any chance of reincarnation in order to infuse the tools of his profession with his spirit (+1 to the appropriate skill).  Even if he fails the check, he still can no longer be reincarnated though he doesn't provide the bonus.  Each tool may only contain a single skill though multiple dwarven spirits could raise it above the initial +1.

These tools likely should only give the bonus to direct blood relatives who venerate the spirits that are providing the bonus.  In addition to this, it may be a good idea to require a Skill Focus feat before allowing the bonus to kick in.  Although this could theoretically get out of control, the DM really ought to be able to prevent their players from having +60 Armor Crafting hammers.  This should be more about flavor than about grabbing for points.

Alternately, you could decide to keep the spirits of the ancestors around in the dwarven world.  The mines and kingdoms of the dwarves would fill with ghosts and spirits, moving about and assisting in inspiring their blood-kin toward great works.  This is probably the best way to deal with warrior-dwarves who could provide some kind of small bonus to attack or damage while they are actively possessing another dwarf of their bloodline.

  • 3-6 dwarf warriors
  • 4-10 dwarf ancestral spirits
The dwarf warriors should fight essentially as they normally would for an encounter.  Making them at an appropriate level to the party will cause this fight to be more dangerous than normal though the ancestral spirits will not actually be working as real monsters.  The spirits should still be put into the initiative order all the same as they will be interacting with the field of battle.

All spirits to move 20 feet per turn as a standard dwarf though they can pass through walls.  If a spirit moves out of line of sight of ALL of the warriors it ceases to exist unless summoned in a lengthy ritual.  Spirits may occupy the same space as a dwarf warrior and provide a +1 to attack (or attack and damage if you are feeling mean) when they are doing so.  More than one spirit may occupy the same dwarf allowing stacked bonuses.  Hitting a warrior (regardless of damage dealt) forces the spirit out and pushes them 1d4 spaces in a random direction.  Spirits pushed into dwarves or players in this way grant no bonus.  When all dwarf warriors are defeated the spirits will likely disappear on account of being outside of line of sight.

Any thoughts on spiritual ancestral worship is more than welcome!  I'm still kind of working out how this idea really interacts with the game world and am not positive that it's balanced enough for real use.  At very least though it's a way to add a bit of extra lethality to a dwarven encounter.  Thanks for reading!

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