With the conquest of the Teeth by the gnolls, most dwarves have retreated to their last remaining stronghold in the area, in the Empire of Altan. Dwarves have long been welcome there, as it was their engineering skills that saved the holy city of Lindberg from drowning in the wetlands, and many dwarves still resided there. Although the gnolls are still on the warpath, the dwarves dream of one day recapturing the holds of their ancestors. Before the gnolls invaded the southern Teeth, the dwarves were long-time enemies of the orcs of Chthonia (whose refugees resulted in the tribes in the Empire), the goblinoids of the Cliffton area, and various tribes of giants.
Dwarves’ skin and hair tend toward dull earth tones, showing their connections to the mountains and their lack of originality and flamboyance. Only their eyes shine in metallic hues. They are built compactly, with short legs and necks and flat heads to optimize their advantages in corridors built too low for hobgoblins or giants to be able to invade effectively. Whereas this last element is most obvious in bald-headed males, it is the beardless females who are more likely to show off their “four-packs,” with well defined muscles almost seeming to have been hewn from stone.
An old legend tells why male dwarves have hair on the bottoms of their faces and females have it on the tops. When the Demiurge crafted the race, He gave extra padding where it would be needed the most: males protect their mouths that they use to command and to haggle, while females guard their heads so that they can do the real thinking. A less accepted version states that males have beards that hang down their fronts so they can safely face their foes, while females have hair flowing across their backs to protect them while they flee. In any case, both sexes trim and braid their tresses neatly, tied with understated yet sturdy metal clasps to armor them against enemy blades.
Dwarves’ extremely short, thick necks help them take blows from taller races. They often augment this with heavy helmets. To keep from needing more headroom, adornments for rank and achievement tend to project to the sides, up to the width of the shoulders. (It is often said that a dwarf with broad shoulders is destined for greatness.) These generally take the shape of flanges or horns, with wings occasionally appearing among those who live on the surface.
Although they are built compactly to work underground, dwarves were crafted to be great miners and smiths, so their muscle structure and habits adapt best to wide-sweeping weapons such as picks, hammers, and axes. They have made some compromises for fighting in close quarters, such as the spear end of the urgrosh, but since the emergence of goblins and gnomes from Chthonia, the latter have been increasingly employed as specialists hunting the former in small tunnels. As dwarves have good upper-body strength but short legs, their favorite ranged weapon (for beyond throwing-axe range, at least) is the composite longbow with the handhold and arrow rest positioned below the center.
As dwarves rarely do anything in a hurry, they favor foods with long shelf lives. Dwarven goat cheese and fruitcakes are perhaps their most famous dishes, and their hardtack certainly lives up to its name. The dwarves of the Teeth dug numerous salt mines to preserve their meat, while those dwelling beneath Lindberg have made a tradition of pickling. Dwarves also have a taste for well aged ale; in rigid dwarven society, this serves as the one form of release, and dwarves are often more forgiving about actions taken while tipsy. However, this is intended to be as valuable a training method as tourneys and axe-throwing contests, as it helps them to build their famed resistance to chemical toxins and to practice singing sagas and bashing heads while impaired.
Another tale claims that dwarves use different-capacity trays of mugs from humans due to their different numbers of abdominal muscles. When lying back in a deep chair, a dwarf only has lumps to hold four flagons. Dwarf mugs have rectangular indentations in their bottoms for this very purpose, but do not work for humans and their softer beer bellies.