Sunday, April 28, 2013

Heigh Ho!

Given that messing around with fantasy games has been a hobby of mine for a couple of decades and I have a very particular sort of brain I have sought out all the words in English that refer to the things of significance to the kinds of games I like. I've long since worked out the rather telling etymological origins of whatever words I find most interesting - wizard comes from Middle English wysard and is much like dullard or drunkard but wiser, warlock comes from Old English waerloga - oathbreaker, and enchanter comes from the Latin incantare and so on. One of the interesting things I discovered recently is that the OED attributes the origin of dweomer (which only ever appeared as an element in compounds pre-Gygax) to Old Norse dvergmal - dwarf-talk. Little details like this are very telling in that they suggest a secret history of things long-forgotten. So dwarfs were actually deeply associated with magic and their very speech was magical.

Dwarfishness is sublimated male sexuality. They epitomise that archaic bargain between the attenuated male mind with its focus on extricating function from materiality and the spatulate female mind with its encompassing of social and environmental context. Dwarfs cannot conceive of the expansive thing that surrounds them but are digging and honing pointedness of purpose and covetice. The Rumpelstiltskin story typifies this bargain and appears in a large number of permutations. The story is that of the covenant between the sexes. One sex can do stuff that the other sex needs but claims mating rights in return. The other sex utilises social chicanery to evade the terms of the covenant. Hilarity ensues.

There is a way of looking at males as parasitic entities*. The fact that their investment in offspring is the lesser means they are compelled to go to greater lengths to demonstrate their fitness. Their gonads dictate this strategy - to infect viable females with endearing offspring that they will dedicate their lives to protecting and perpetuating the male's germline. Some males have this attenuated focus turned up too high: I once encountered a boy who couldn't speak but could focus for hours on rattling random objects around in a plastic container. I didn't know for sure but suspected he probably wasn't popular with girls. Such focus needs to be diluted with a little bit of context awareness.

When Dwarfs are thwarted they lose their shit. This is their schtick and sets their narratives in motion. This is what dwarfs are like and it matters not whether they are the kind of dwarf that is like a corpse that lives in the earth and hides from the sun or the kind that vies with the gods in superhuman romance epics the thing that binds them together is that autistic focus on the thing that consumes them and their tendency to fly of the handle when denied it.


Traditional Scots English is replete with terms describing dwarfs and dwarfish creatures. There are actually many more synonymous terms terms than exist in modern English. There is an extent to which the terminology is quite revealing of a negative attitude towards dwarfism and associations of sickness and deformity. I think it could be safely asserted that most of the terms refer to humans suffering from malnutrition or various disorders stunting growth but there are some that definitely refer to the mythological entities in question. Many refer to specifically deformed or squat or sickly or sinister dwarfs and obviously many are merely spelling/pronunciation variants;

Ablach, Ablich, Aiblach, Aploch, Awtus, Blastie, Bod, Boodie, Bottrel, Buntlin, Crile, Croil, Crok, Crowl, Croyl, Cryle, Dachan, Dreegh, Dreich, Droch, Fere, Herie, Knurl, Knurle, Knurlin, Knyaff, Nauchle, Nirb, Nurrit, Piz, Pizie, Pizzie, Setterel, Shaird, Shard, Sharg, Shargan, Shurf, Skeyf, Snauchle, Urf, Urling, Warf, Wratack, Wraul, Wroul, Wurl, Yurlin

(Incidentally this reminds me of
one of my favourite ever OSR blog posts from the long extinct  dormant Valley of Blue Snails blog and which old Dogsbody almost certainly derived from this article about mediaeval bynames. Fantastical racism is something I very much enjoy. ) 


Dwarfs covet treasure. It is what they do. There is an extent to which it can be said that they are the embodiment of that notion. As a result of this fact and of the fact that dwarfs have been around a long time and have histories tangled up with that of treasure there is a very real chance that individual hoards and individual articles belonging to individual hoards have some kind of dwarf yearning after it and swearing bitterest vengeance against those who would keep it from them. As such, for every hundred groats worth of treasure found in a hoard there is a 1% chance that there is a dwarf that feels very strongly that he has some claim over it. This chance is much greater for legendary treasures of dweomercraft (and certain other things) 20% of which have a dwarfish claimant. Depending on their natures, dwarfs might be willing to negotiate or in some cases make bargains but, dependent upon their nature, they may just start killing . It is not always clear how they know that their beloved hoard has been unearthed but they will tend to turn up in 1d20 days.

Avaricious claimant;

1. Trolde - eldritch mysteries

2. Svartling - devices of artifice most cunning

3. Trow - funerary trappings, barrow-hoards

4. Pech - beast fells, objects of horn and bone, bronze weapons

5. Blastie - fine fabrics and magical garments

6. Shargan - weird pets, strange creatures

7. Knockerman - rare ores, uncut gems

8. Bodach - figurines of domestic gods, ornate vessels and silverware

Fell Dwarfs


Grewsome Trolde: Corpse-worm white haunters of the burrowing dark. Loathsome and long-buried odium incarnate creeping through the endless night of the underworld. Dead-eyed and reeking like grave-sod they are, gnawing like rats at the world's root. Trolde seek an unspeakable mystery in the blackest chasms and shun the light that shuns them in return.

Max. Charisma 3. Equipment options:

1. Gloom Lanthorn - of battered lead, burns black bile , foils infravision 30', 20 groats

2. Iron Guthook - d6 dmg, 5 groats

3. Nadder-Stane - perforated stone through which it is possible to detect invisible 1/day with 1% cumulative chance of seeing a vagrant enormity which sees right back, 300 groats

4. Brither Bulhorn: sinister grey snail exudes 1 dose of sleep poison per day, it takes 3 turns for the snail to apply the poison to the weapon, 100 groats

5. Fenris Cur: Feral, gaunt and haggard, hairless, earless, snarling hell-jackals AC: 7 MV: 180' (60') HD 1/2 dmg: 1d3 ML: 4, 100 groats for 3

6. Ethercap's Bile: grants +3 STR and -6 INT for d6 rounds before 6 turns of debilitating vomiting, 50 groats for 3 doses

 Svartling: Blue-black and bristly smithy-workers of the shadowy underworlds, forever forging chains to bind the hated uplanders to despicable thraldom in their endless mines. Beauty to them is the hammering clangour of the rhythm of artifice and the colour of bruises and iron and soot. Of old they were the craftsmen of the gods but they are fallen into shadow. 

Max. Charisma 5, Equipment options:

1. Iron Mole-mask - +1 AC, +1 to saving throws vs. fire, 100 groats

2. Orichalchum Habergeon - (mail coif) +1 AC, +1 to saving throws vs. lightning, 120 groats

3. Adamant Warhammer - 1d6 dmg. +1 vs. heavy armour, 50 groats

4. Aureal Lodestone - Drawn to gold within 5', poisonous: -1 WIS per week to user, 180 groats

5. Unbreakable Manacles of blue-black steel - 150 groats

6 .Heavy Windlass Arbalest: ROF 1/2 dmg d10, 80 groats

Dun-Trow: Solitary stunted things in stone towers long-abandoned. In the brochs and duns of the bleak emptiness long forgotten and forsaken they squat, shaggy and a-glower. They inhabit a sullen brown world of sullen brown desolation. Their only occupation is hobbling about on twilit paths to the secret places of their hoarded trinkets and dancing the quaint awkward mysteries of their birthright.

Max. Charisma 7. Equipment options

1. Noxious sphagnum brew - of sovereign virtue 'gainst the pox, allows second saving throw, 60 groats

2. Toadstone - poison antidote, +2 to saving throw, 150 groats

3. Wulver-skin - Stinking black fur, +1 to AC, +1 to saving throws vs. cold, 80 groats

4. Ancestral blackthorn cudgel - 1d6 dmg, 20 groats

5. Flint Skean - Stone sacrificial knife - d3 dmg but can strike invulnerable spirit entities, 50 groats

6. Copper Eft Amulet - Coiled newt, verdigris encrusted, acts as a mystic key into seemingly impassable brochs, 60 groats


Pech: Little grey stone-ghosts from an archaic epoch. The pech are uncouth and woady, craggy-browed and unlovely - weird shades in earthy guise. They bear inscribed upon their bodies curious designs, the sigils of ancestral beast-gods and sacred trees and things unknown spiralling and coiling on the flesh. In chambers beneath the lonely hills they forge weapons and panoply of gilded bronze but guard their secrets with bestial ferocity.

Max. Charisma 9. Equipment options;

1. Leaf-shaped ancestral bronze sword: 1d6 dmg, can harm otherwise invulnerable spirits, 100 groats

Cruths (mystical tattoos);

2. Badger's Rage: +1 dmg 1/day, 100 groats

3. Salmon Leaping: win initiative 1/day, 100 groats

4. White Bull at Bay: heal 1 dmg 1/week, 80 groats

5. Heron's Vigil: only surprised on a 1, 1 hour/day, 80 groats

6. Sagacious Birch: Read Languages 1/week, 120 groats




Petty Dwarfs


Though it may seem I'm appropriating the nomenclature of the Noegyth Nibin, in truth those are actually Petty-Dwarves. I'm using the now largely obsolete pre-Tolkien plural and am nothing if not pedantic.


Blastie: Diminutive drunken gaberlunzies, tattered and lumpen. Blasties hide in the shade of mannish edifice and wheedle and gripe after scraps. They have made an art of grimacing drolleries and tumblings to elicit guffaws and alms from the bigger folk who might otherwise fear and hate and enslave them for their ugliness. Articles of finery suggestive of unobtainable gentleness and grace awake a covetous fire in their humble hateful hearts.

Max. Strength 10, Equipment options;

1. Juniper Spirit - Makes men maudlin yet malleable, +3 to reaction for potential hirelings, 3 doses for 30 groats

2. Firewater - Spit fire, d8 dmg. 10' range, ignore armour, 3 doses for 50 groats

3. Awfish Whisky - heals d2 dmg but crippling cramps (as hold person) for 1 turn, 40 groats for 3 doses

4. Tattermantle - +1 to reaction among roguish types, -1 to others, 20 groats

5. Hurdy-gurdy - CHA check to successfully play rousing tune, +2 morale if successful, -2 if unsuccessful, morale bonus only applies while tune is being played, penalty continues for 1 turn, 70 groats

6. Itching powder - DEX check to apply, -1 to AC and hit rolls for 1 turn to whosoever should be affected, failed check backfires, 30 groats for 3 doses

Shargan: Scrawny, scabrous and greedy cellar-dwelling gimps. Perhaps merely descendants of vile and debilitated humanity, the shargans occupy the desolate periphery of the mannish world, peddling articles of tin and repairing broken crocks. They keep caged menageries of vermin who are their beloved hateful children and furtively covet the comely and the innocent and everything that glitters.

Max. Constitution 10. Equipment options;

1. Fess-cat: Unnaccountably fierce grey feline, AC6 MV: 240' (80') HD 1/4 dmg: d2 ML: 10, 100 groats

2. Gangrel-bitch: loathsome, stinking she-dog, AC: 7 MV:150'(50') HD: 1/2 dmg: d3 + horrors ML: 5, 120 groats

3. Flaycruke : Tatty raven with dead eyes that yet see, speaks , AC: 7 MV 300'(100') HD: 1/4 dmg: 1 ML: 8, 150 groats

4: Gnattery Sow: Small, black and furious, forages successfully almost anywhere and can be milked for nourishment for one dwarf, AC: 8 MV: 120' (30') HD: 1 dmg: d2 ML:6, 100 groats

5.Duleskin Crabbe: In an urn full of gravel and brine, can pick locks 10% 1/day, 30 groats

6. Yellerish Warbler: Quaint songbird of irksome purplish brown hue, gives warning of encroaching danger, surprised only on a 1, 40 groats

Knockerman: Featurelessly drear and stony grey mine-sprites. Dull of countenance and bleakly impassive save for glimmerings of trenchant prankishness and the lust for mineral wealth in their hard eyes. Stone they love and veins of ore they sense like invisible radiance surging from the earth-deeps. Their desire to assist human miners has faded to a vague resentful murderousness.

Max. Wisdom 12. Equipment options;

1. Brazen Ear Trumpet: Detect sliding stonework 1-5 on d6, 80 groats

2. Tinker Hammer: Detect stone traps 1-5 on d6, 60 groats

3. War Mattock: d10 dmg, +2 to open doors, 50 groats

4. Lantern Helm: 20' illumination, adversely affects light-sensitive entities, +1 AC, 60 groats

5. Bane-Ore:Greenish lump repels cave vermin 20' (morale check), 120 groats

6. Signal Hammer: Tapping conveys signal through 100' of stone, d4 dmg, 10 groats


Chimbley Bodach: Old men of vigorous and vehement decrepitude smothered in coal-dust and misery. Of old they may have had some role in noble servitude to the ancient heathen godlings but they are reduced to living in abandoned chimneys and seething with the peculiar resentment held by the obsolete for those who still participate in the world-in-motion. Their thieveries are exceedingly petty and indiscriminate.

Max. Intelligence 10. Equipment options;

1. Ninkip-in-the-Cauldron: Apparently dead cat, knows the way 20% of the time

2. Blinding Smut: hurled in the air requires save vs. dragon breath or blind for 1d4 rounds, 50% chance it backfires.

3. Iron Earshank; 1d4 dmg, 1d10 vs. individuals without helmets, 80 groats

4. Mordant Pizzle-reek: A clay pot full of acrid foulness, acts as stinking cloud, 20' radius, 150 groats

5. Shuck Whistle: Wandering monsters arrive in d4 rounds, 50 groats

6. Smetchy Mantle: dull black tatty rags, allow surprise on 1-3, 30 groats


There are or were also Dweorgs or Dvergar, the ancestral and undiminished craftsman of the  morningtide of the world but they come not into this tale for they were man-high and comely to look upon and did not stink.

This is an appropriately dark and corrupted take on dwarfishness
* In the case of males of certain species of angler fish they have actually evolved to become tiny appendages attached to the female.


  1. The things they own are excellent, the rest is good too but the Stuff is very good.

    1. There is an endless amount of customisation that can be done with equipment. I have this inherently parsimonious approach to things where I am happy to play with the classes and races as they stand (in BECMI/LL) and to use setting-specific knobs and dials to customise things. Encounter tables and factions and places and religious shenanigans and all kinds of other stuff can convey mechanical advantage on the PCs without having to tinker with the basic engine which I see as being like the scale with which the music is played (while everything else is the tone and timbre and rhythm etc.).

      There's also this idea I have that the reward system is distributed between the mechanical rewards granted by levelling up and the mechanical and story rewards granted by cash and things and alliances and sundry other opportunities. I believe Traveller has no character advancement other than this and that can work.

      So, yeah, thanks Patrick and everyone else.