Dwarves: Short, Stout, and Stoic

Short, stout, and stoic are the dwarves of Dungeons and Dragons. They are a race of fantastic builders, exquisite craftsmen, and, stereotypically, Scottish accents. These hardy folk have appeared in D&D since the beginning, but they’ve changed little - fitting for such a stubborn people. With over a dozen subraces, a plethora of iconic foes, thousands of years of history, and great mines constantly creeping with creatures, there’s plenty to talk about and use in your campaign when it comes to dwarves.

The third chapter of Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, releasing everywhere May 29, 2018, talks about the multiverse’s hardest folk and their evil and insane counterparts. The chapter is titled, Dwarves and Duergar, and is sure to contain the most up-to-date information about these little buggers.

Today, in preparation for Wizards of Coast’s latest book, we’ll be delving into the ancient mines of the dwarves, looking at their history in D&D, their lore, their uses, and a few ways to make dwarves in YOUR world unique.

Let’s roll!

Consistent Creatures

By Manzanedo

The dwarves of Dungeons and Dragons were inspired by Norse mythology, as well as Tolkien’s classic interpretation of them in Middle-Earth. Transferred directly from Chainmail, the predecessor of D&D, dwarves were originally a player character class. This quickly changed, and they became a race in AD&D alongside elves and humans.

As the RPG progressed, dwarves split into a variety of subraces such as the hill dwarf, arctic dwarf, and grey dwarf. Though their natural environments and appearances differed, the dwarf subraces kept the iconic dwarven demeanor close, all except grey dwarves, also known as duergar. While most dwarves tend to be lawful and good, duergar are commonly chaotic and evil. Most non-duergar are warriors, ranging from dwarven defenders to ballistic barbarians. Duergars, as a result of their creation at the hands of mind flayers, can manifest psionic capabilities, and utilize shadow magic and sorcery.

Aside from duergar, most dwarves are the same, from first edition to fifth edition. They’ve not truly changed at all, aside from a few statistical alterations. However, with a bit of creative flair, they’re easily malleable. More on that later.


Dwarves did not evolve naturally, nor did they just come into being. They were created - nay - forged by the god Moradin in the fires of his extraplanar workshop. Molded into a certain shape and hammered into existence, dwarves owe everything to Moradin and are sure to pay homage to the deity in their daily lives. 

He created them as a challenge to himself. Thus, many dwarves take up the same challenge as Moradin: To create something far greater than themselves, something that will last long after they’re gone. So far, no dwarf has surpassed Moradin’s creation. Though Moradin is the greatest dwarven deity, there are a plethora of others that are worshiped by all dwarves - except duergar.


Long ago, a clan of dwarves ruling over a great land experienced a terrible conflict with the other dwarven clans in their region. Their ambition was too great, their attacks too vicious, and the other clans threw them out of their alliance. Left without allies, the clan became vulnerable. A group of mindflayers below their land seized the opportunity and raided it with their mindless hordes, taking almost all of the clan hostage.

By Ben Wootten

Within their terrible laboratories, the mind flayers performed a myriad of horrible experiments upon the dwarves. During the hundreds of years of mutation and corruption, the dwarves transformed and became evil, jaded, and grey. Their skin and hair color changed. Their attitudes darkened. They gained psionic powers. They became duergar, the newest servants of the mindflayers. Eventually, their power grew so great that they were able to break free from the chains of the mind flayers and create their own society. Afterward, their kind quickly spread across the Underdark.

Of course, the dwarves and duergar of your world might be different - they are in mine - but in most D&D settings, those are the stories of the regular and grey dwarves.

Dwarves and You

Dwarves are one of the core races present in the many worlds of D&D, alongside elves, humans, and halflings. You can use them in a variety of ways, either as a player or a dungeon master. Laid out below are a few cool dwarven ideas for you to insert into your campaign!

Player Character Concepts

By Matt Forsyth
  1. You are an incredibly ugly mountain dwarf. As a child, you were the heir apparent to the throne but were cast out by the advice of your mother’s arcane advisor. Luckily, a tribe of wood elves took you in as you wandered the nearby countryside. They trained you in the art of the bow and arrow, but you never forgot your dwarven roots.
  2. You are a grey dwarf that joined the circus after leaving your deep, dark homeland for something brighter. Folks far and wide are entertained by your ability to read their minds and perform brain magic, but dwarves understand who and what you are. They are not as accepting as the circus and seek to end your career.
  3. You are a hill dwarf whose hold was demolished by a coven of hags. They corrupted your jarl, disfigured your folk, and took everything dear to you. Other than yourself, only three of your kin survived, but none wish to return to the haunted hold. You do.

Plot Hooks

  1. Local dwarves discover a new type of material. The rock is blood-red in hue and conducts magic with ease.
  2. A duergar army allies itself with a red shadow dragon. Their force threatens to cover the entire region in darkness.
  3. A disgraced dwarven king wishes to reunite with his people, but needs assistance in finding a lost and ancient clan relic.
  4. A cabal of insane dwarven wizards creates an abomination by combining a medusa, basilisk, and rust monster that now rampages in the Underdark.
  5. Elves threaten to overrun a nearby dwarf stronghold unless the dwarves return an ancestral blade stolen from the elf’s temple.

Different Dwarves

I’ve already stated that vanilla dwarves are unchanging, and I understand why: It’s the safe thing to do. Altering a classic race is difficult and risky, but sometimes, it can pay off. Thus, unless you’re pleased with minuscule pieces of different dwarves, such as the albino dwarves in Tomb of Annihilation, it’s up to you to change up this classic fantasy race. Luckily, it’s an easy and interesting exercise in creativity!

Generic dwarves are short, stout, and stoic humanoids that live in mountain fortresses. They use axes, they love to drink, and they absolutely despise goblinoids. In D&D, these are called mountain dwarves. Let me show you how easy it is to make new dwarven subraces!

By Fesbraa
  1. Lava dwarves: a subrace of orange-skinned, charcoal haired dwarves that live in and near volcanoes. They are masters of forging weapons and armor using lava, can channel the power of the Elemental Plane of Fire, and thrive in chaos. They may be descendants of azer.
  2. Snow dwarves: a subrace of mute and courageous dwarves who use their mastery of stealth and beast taming to fight. Fierce enemies of frost giants, fantastic at building structures made of ice.
  3. Aquatic dwarves: a subrace of dwarves who are the result of a clan of dwarves cross-breeding with tritons for a few centuries. Their hair and skin is flamboyant, ranging from bright yellow to dark turquoise. They have gills, tails, and sometimes webbed hands and feet. They specialize in creating tools and artifacts from the mystical coral of the sea. Sahuagin are their mortal enemies.

In Summary

Dwarves are an interesting and stoic race that have existed since the inception of Dungeons and Dragons. They are:
  1. Consistent across all editions.
  2. The result of a god challenging himself to make something incredible.
  3. Utilized in a variety of ways, both as a player and a dungeon master.
  4. Easy to modify and make compelling.
I hope you enjoyed this brief article on dwarves in Dungeons and Dragons. Make sure you check out dwarves and duergar in Wizards of the Coast’s latest book, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes.

Until next time, farewell!

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*Credit to Wolfgan for the featured art.

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