Tuesday, August 21, 2012

When Good PC Races Go Bad: Dwarves

What makes a Dwarf turn to the diabolic arts?  What makes Elves evil?  In this series of posts, I'll inexplicably examine what might motivate an evil member of one of the normally good PC races- and how they might behave once they've gone over to the Dark Side.

Why, you ask?  Mostly idle hands and idle curiosity.  I also think it may provide some story ideas for people, or provide some more realistic motivations for in-game villains.  Keep in mind here I am describing evil individuals from the non-evil races- Duerger, Drow, and the like are another matter entirely.

Today we'll be dealing with the stalwart and reliable Dwarves.  How might a Dwarf- normally the embodiment of Lawfullness, Goodness, quality craftsmanship, and gruff-but-loveable-ness wind up as an antagonist for the player characters?  How would an evil Hill or Mountain Dwarf go about carrying out his evil schemes?  Read on for some suggestions.


Routes to Evil

Dwarves have an obvious routes to embracing the darker side of life in the mines: their temperament.  Dwarves are a notoriously prickly lot, prone to holding a grudge and remembering old wrongs done to them, their clan, or their family.  Ancient feuds over property rights, honors, who ran away at what battle, etc., could all fester in the Dwarven mind into a a marked taste for revenge.  A Dwarf who feels slighted by those closest to him might be particularly vulnerable for this sort of turn- a craftsman whose credit is usurped, a Dwarf noble whose hereditary rights are ignored or stripped away, or an innovative Dwarf whose innovations are rejected by his clan or guild might find himself fantasizing about taking vengeance on the very hold that birthed him.

Dwarves' Lawful nature would typically keep these sorts of impulses in check- or at least diverted into officially sanctioned outlets like crafting competitions or legal battles- but a Dwarf who feels that he has been betrayed or ignored by the very traditions of his people could take a turn for the Chaotic and decide to overthrow the established order- or just become Lawful Evil and decide that he is going to bend the system to his will in order to secure his own place in the world.  A Dwarf with poor will power or self control might go beyond the pale of what is permissible in Dwarven society, giving in to his baser impulses without any thought for the consequences.  These Dwarves are desperate and dangerous, if somewhat limited in their ability to plan and execute complex schemes.  Such evil Dwarves can find themselves exiled from their homeland and spend their lives as lackeys to more powerful evil-doers.

Evil Dwarves

An evil Dwarf is likely to approach his tasks with the same relentless endurance that Dwarves bring to mining and crafting.  A Dwarven villain will make a simple, reliable plan and then execute it to the utmost.  Still possessed of some of the Dwarven tenacity and principles, most Dwarven villains will think nothing of dying in the pursuit of their twisted vision of justice.  Just as stubborn as their Lawful Good cousins, evil Dwarves will prefer dying on their feet to living on their knees.

A Dwarven villain may share his Good-natured kins' antipathy towards magic, in which case his schemes will likely center around open, armed confrontation.  Evil Dwarves are not above hiring mercenaries to execute their depraved schemes, but only the most iconoclastic of evil Dwarves will tolerate working with orcs, goblinoids, or Duerger to accomplish their goals- to associate with such trash would be to lower themselves unbearably.  Dwarves haven't survived years of subterranean warfare by being ignorant of strategy and tactics, so a preference for straightforward approaches shouldn't be confused with charging into combat willy-nilly- Dwarven villains value their own lives, and above all else value achieving their goals, however evil, and will readily sacrifice minions and lesser beings if it will further their aims.

If evil Dwarves have a weak spot, it is that their residual traditionalism and conservatism makes can make them somewhat limited in their creative thinking.  While a rare evil Dwarf may be an iconoclastic innovator, most evil Dwarves will still maintain at least an appearance of traditional Dwarven approaches to the world.  They may scoff and chafe at what they believe to be 'needlessly complex' ("Gnomish!") stratagems- a race so fond of hammers has a natural inclination to treat everything in the world as a nail.  It may take a number of setbacks before a Dwarf villain decides that direct tactics and brute force can't solve a problem, but once they've moved on to consider other avenues of attack, they will be equally relentless in pursuing them.

Truly unusual Evil Dwarves will often intentionally adopt tactics that fly in the face of Dwarven tradition, making a point of tweaking the nose of their Lawful traditionalist brethren.  These evil Dwarves- generally Chaotic, and generally in open rebellion against their society- can be particularly deadly because of the unpredictability that they can introduce into the equation.

A defining trait of the Dwarven villain is his tenacity; an Evil Dwarf will not be scared off or dissuaded by anything less than his own imminent destruction, and even then, if allowed to live, will carry a grudge forever and look for opportunities to avenge himself or make himself a nuisance to his opponents.  Evil Dwarves can fall under the influence of an Ahab-like fixation on their objective, sacrificing everything to hang on to the bitter end- only to fire one last salvo at their enemy with their dying breath.

Evil Dwarf Concepts

  • A Dwarven Sorcerer who has faced prejudice because of his magical blood, and was ultimately exiled because of his unorthodox magical experiments.  The typical Chaotic Dwarven opponent, he looks down his nose at Dwarven society and seeks to destroy its foundations.  Totally willing to employ any and all methods available to him to show the 'narrow minded old coots' the errors of their ways.
  • A greedy Dwarven merchant.  Wronged in a business deal years ago that left him penniless, he has worked his way back to a secure financial position.  Now, he's ready to spend every last copper he has accumulated to ruin the people he blames for his misfortune.  And their children.  And grandchildren.  Their cousins.  Grandparents.  Neighbors.  Pets.  A Lawful Evil version of this villain will use networks of shady business deals, covert sabotage, legal wrangling, and other 'letter of the law' methods to achieve his ends, while a Neutral Evil or Chaotic villain might settle for just raising an army of mercenaries and raiding his enemies ships, caravans, and warehouses until there is nothing left but ashes.
  • A vicious thug.  Exiled from Dwarven society for crimes of passion, this Evil Dwarf could rise very high in the criminal underworld of a non-Dwarven city if he is intelligent enough.  Vicious and without mercy but still possessing a Dwarven sense of tradition, his mob absolutely declines to deal with the traditional enemies of the Dwarven people (passing up opportunities to trade with Hobgoblin slavers and Goblin thieves and fences, and even manning the walls of the city if an Orc army approaches) and enforces their criminal regime with an iron fist, ruthlessly punishing anyone who holds back from the Thieves Guild or refuses to pay protection.  Alternatively, a less intelligent version of this villain could be a trusted lackey of a more powerful crime lord, loyal to a fault but too dim to concoct his own plans.
  • A Dwarven noble who believes- rightly or wrongly- that his family is rightfully entitled to land now occupied by Humans, Halflings, or another civilized race.  His family was driven into flight from their lands generations ago- now, those lands have been re-taken, thanks to the painstaking efforts of the new inhabitants.  However, this Dwarven villain sees these new settlers as nothing more than usurpers.  When the courts and kings fail him in his quest for justice, he falls back on more ruthless tactics, employing mercenaries and enlisting loyal clan members to help drive the settlers from their land.  As their resistance continues, his methods will grow increasingly brutal and disproportionate.  This villain is likely to be Lawful Evil and thoroughly Dwarfish in most other respects, but has adopted an 'ends justify the means' approach to restoring his ancestral land.

Next week:  Evil Gnomes use Speak with Burrowing Mammals to Tell Moles Terrible Things about Your Mom

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