Monday, June 20, 2016

Duergar Tyrant

Okay, let’s get this out of the way first: It’s time for a serious duergar novel, from the duergar point of view.

I am about the biggest elf fanboy there is, but even I think we’ve done dark elves to death.  Where are the novels about the gray dwarves?  The surprisingly good (if I recall correctly) Dwarven Nations Trilogy for Dragonlance certainly featured some dark dwarves, but they weren’t true duergar.  And while I believe some of the War of the Spider Queen novels for the Forgotten Realms setting gave the duergar some love (I’d stopped reading FR novels by that point, so I’m relying on quick Wiki and Amazon searches here), the spotlight still was on the drow as far as I can tell. 

I bring this up because I want to know more about duergar—particularly as they are a race in constant opposition to…well, everything, including themselves.  They toil endlessly, but unlike their surface cousins they seem to find no joy in it.  They are the crushing rule of law in a realm usually defined by cold, brutal neutrality at best and unrelenting (and often sadistic) chaos at worst.  They are dwarves, yet (again unlike their cousins) they are inherently magical…and a corollary to this is that they are dwarves who are able to become giants (courtesy of enlarge person).  What must it be like to spend time in a gray dwarf’s skin?  What must their cities be like?*  How does the architecture change when your entire society can become as tall as an ogre, but only once per day?  And speaking of once per day, what freedoms, temptations, or taboos arise when most members of a lawful race can become invisible…but only for a minute or two a day…in a police state, no less?

But here’s what we do know: Even more than hobgoblins, even more than the azer, even more than other subterranean races in general, duergar are about slavery.  Duergar simply expect to enslave others—their society and economy are based around this fact—and they are in turn slaves (or at least serfs) to their lords, their priest class, and their god.

Which brings us to the duergar tyrant—whose essential nature is right in her name.  When you can master the very elements themselves with your mind alone, in duergar society it is simply unthinkable that you would do anything less than master those around you too.  And since one duergar tyrant arises out of every 100 births, they are the literal 1%, a nearly inevitable aristocracy at least, if not a full-on ruling class.  There’s a reason psychic duergar are not called duergar file clerks or duergar abolitionists—in gray dwarf society, no such creature exists.  If you meet one, she expects to own you, crush you, or both. 

Duergar geokineticists are true lords of the earth—literally masters of all they survey, given their subterranean homes—and they rise to leadership positions in all but the most religious duergar societies (or they join the priesthood themselves).  Duergar hydrokineticists are civil engineers and cruel misers, guiding precious water to parched settlements with one hand while depriving (or lashing out at) their opponents with the other.  Duergar pyrokineticists are skilled blacksmiths and warmasters…if they stay part of duergar society at all.  (The chaos of their element often drives them away from their hidebound peers, and many become hermits or explorers.)  Duergar aerokineticists seem strange and alien to most dark dwarves; they tend to gather in monasteries near bottomless chasms to hone their craft.  Duergar aetherkineticists are more alien still, but the sheer flexibility of their powers and the indomitability of their wills often make them the most terrifying tyrants of all.

Adventurers are hired to escort a new prelate to the Fane of the Suffering Hand and see him installed with all the pomp he deserves.  But the Fist of the Twelve, the ruling cabal of geokineticists, do not wish to share any of their considerable power.  They plan to kill the prelate before he ever reaches the gates of Ard Agham.

The Monastery of the Winding Stair is a gloomy retreat where duergar aero- and aetherkineticists hone their crafts.  Captured adventurers are deposited at the monastery as part of a shipment of slaves.  Before they can escape, they receive a divine sign that they are to temporarily submit to the gray dwarves’ psychic lashes and follow the Winding Stair to its end…but their divine patron does not yet reveal why.

Occult Bestiary 23

*Related comment to all of the above: At this point I know more about Forgotten Realms’ Menzoberranzan—and, to a lesser extent, Greyhawk’s Erelhei-Cinlu and Golarion’s Zirnakyanin—than I do most non-coastal U.S. cities.  I didn't even have to look up how to spell Menzoberranzan. 

That said, I do have the amazing Dragon #267, an Underdark-focused issue I’ve raved about on this blog before, which features a gazetteer of Dunspeirrin, the duergar City of Sunken Spires.  Very worth searching out. 

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the section on duergar in Pathfinder’s beautiful Monster Codex, which has a bit more on the duergar race and plenty of ready-to-run NPCs that bring this dismal race to life and to your gaming table.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome work on this one, Patch - I enjoy the dark dwarves, too, and I think they deserve a little more love than they usually get. In an attempt to make them more common and developed in my homebrew setting, they play an integral role as the favored mortal creation of the gods. Their task is divinely inspired, and they have a pretty good reason for being reclusive or standoffish that relates to an ancient attack on the world by alien deities. By making pacts with demons, they delve deeper than any other race in order to find malignancies and planar rifts and seal them, thereby preventing the far gods from wreaking havoc.

    It's not completely original, but it gives the duergar a pretty necessary niche and a lot of responsibility - and it's why other nations allow them to take slaves. The endless number of workers required for their task means they can't afford to restructure their workforce or economy and risk missing a rift or allowing something through.

    Food for thought, though I'm definitely integrating the first and second entries for today into my newest campaign - maybe as the beginning quest!