Our Dwarves Are All The Same
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Basic Information

Note: This article is about the race/species of Dwarves as found in works of fantasy and in European legend and does not concern humans with dwarfism, who are very much not the same.

Sadly, Dwarves do not get a trope called Our Dwarves Are Different, because none of them ever are.

The only difference that ever occurs between Dwarves in different games or works of fiction concerns Dwarf women. Either they look just like the men and can't be told apart, or they lack the beards that denote Dwarven men, or the Dwarves are a One Gender Race. Beyond that single distinction, every single setting has the same Dwarves. Should someone come up with a Dwarven variant that's even the least outside that stereotype, they'll label it a Gnome or Hobbit or Duergar or Kender or Goblin or something else, and then have the traditional Dwarves appear in the same world.

The Dwarves Are Always:

  • short
  • stout
  • proud
  • loud
  • armored
  • axe-swinging
  • beard-wearing
  • beer-drinking
  • elf-untrusting
  • gem-cutting
  • metal-working
  • tunnel-digging
  • mountain-dwelling
  • gold-coveting
  • hard-working

…and not only are all default dwarven civilisations the same, but tradition also dictates that there should be little or no variation within them. Individualism and dwarves appear not to mix.
Dwarvish wizards are pretty much unheard of, yet the race is known for making powerful magic weapons and artifacts. Go fig.

Related Tropes:

This one-vision state of affairs is particularly sad, because when J.R.R. Tolkien put dwarves into his work, he very intentionally diverted from (and added to) the original subject matter. Prior to Tolkien, Dwarves were known from Norse Myth and Fairy Tales. In Myth they were descended from the worms or maggots that grew in the corpse of a giant that became the earth. They would die or turn to stone if exposed to sunlight. In Fairy Tales, dwarves tend to be creepy little fellows that take your children if you can't guess their name, or who "shelter" the Damsel in Distress who then becomes their maid. The connection to metallurgy, and especially Gold has been there from the beginning, whether spinning straw into gold or giving golden wigs to fertility goddesses. (Overall, there's a very good chance that all the old dwarf tales are either coded myth from some long lost Mystery Cult, or at least heavily metaphorical.) They were also, in many instances, hard to separate from the "dark elves". Tolkien stepped away from the Dwarves-as-plot-device and Dwarves-as-metaphor paradigm to give them their own culture and excise the creepiness. The results were so potent, that hardly anyone ever remembers the pre-Tolkienesque Dwarves.

The post-Tolkien dwarf also tends to be non-magical in character (except when it comes to supernatural metallurgy) which is, again, at odds with the dwarves of folklore who are often possessed of significant - albeit often quite specific - magical powers (often including shape shifting).

See Also:



Game and Story Use

  • Make your game unique! Mix up your dwarves a bit!
  • One option is to mash Dwarves, Hobbits and Gnomes together into a paste1.
    • If there was one "little people" race instead of three (or more), you wouldn't be pigeonholed into a single character type. Why can't the deep-mountain miners, the hill-dwelling tobacco-farmers, and the wacky steam-punk engineers all be the same species? Why must each of those be a different race, especially since the only physiological difference between them seems to be a few inches added to a single body part (I'm referring to beards, feet and noses, respectively).
      • Wish I could claim the credit for this idea, but I saw it at the SoogaGames Blog first. Definitely an idea I will steal for my next fantasy campaign.
  • Another possible subversion is to make dwarves into some kind of earth elemental - much as gnomes seem to have been in some legends - or machines such as the Gloranthan Mostali.
  • Smaller subversions such as the dwarflike, but passive Tinukeda'ya of Tad Williams' Osten Ard or the hairless, desert dwelling dwarves of the Dark Sun setting also count.
  • And then there are the Dwarves-who-are-actually-elves of The Elder Scrolls (although there seems to be at most one of them left alive at the time at which the games are set).
    • Maybe mash this up with the Gloranthan Mostali and have arrange for the dwarves to have dumped their living bodies and uploaded themselves into their automata and/or some kind of soul jars - hence the perception of "dwarven ruins full of dangerous automata". Also, the "power cores" from automata and other "dwarven power stones" that delvers loot and sell as sources of magical power…
      • Also fun to see players reactions when they discover what it really was they were selling/using.
  • The Artemis Fowl series very much reverts to the worms-of-the-earth theory of dwarfishness.
  • Of course, however much the dwarvern species may differ from the fantasy standard, as above the sub-clause of this trope will still require prevent any variation within that species.
    • Where such things matter, this should help to anchor the dwarves to the faction of Law
  • For those interested in playing straight, consider applying Confucian memes to the dwarves - a highly community minded, low individualism culture with a strong respect for ancestors, tradition and hierarchy … would describe both Confucianism and traditional dwarves.
  • Consider giving the "evil magic midget" role to goblins …and making them more closely related to dwarves than anyone likes to admit.
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