Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dwarves: Not Grandpa Tolkien's Type, Dagnabbit

Today is the first installment of "Fun Fact Wednesdays", the name being a placeholder and the day changing to Thursdays starting next week (due to a new work schedule). The point of these articles are to present unique aspects of Aeria, the world in which the "Arellia's Son" trilogy takes place. I'll be going over what makes these aspects unique and fresh in the fantasy genre, as well as my design goals, decisions, and challenges along the way from initial thought to final product. Today's topic? Dwarves. The Aeria kind; a different kind.

When most people think of Dwarves, they think of the stereotype first presented in the lord of the rings. Those singing, stocky, heavy bearded ale swigging dwarves who lived deep beneath the mountains, loved to dig too deeply, and just loved being blacksmiths. This fantasy convention has saturated Dungeons & Dragons and roleplaying games of all types, even in World of Warcraft where the stereotype of a scottish accented, pudgy man with hammers and axes is ever present the same as its been in a million other fantasy settings.

When designed the World of Aeria, which began a small amount of time before Rogue's Bane, the first book, I hadn't given it much thought and it wasn't until the book had been printed through lulu and edited for the first time that I found I fell into the same stereotype. It was like every other setting where Dwarves were just ho hum and the same. I made a conscious effort to do something different, to help them stand out as I wanted all of the races to stand out and be much more personable, unique, and interesting for readers who were typical fantasy buffs.

When thinking of the Dwarves, my mind immediately jumped to the opposite of the usual stereotype. In most fantasy they have a scottish accent, live under mountains, are known for metalwork and stonework, and are generally distrusting of anyone not a Dwarf, keeping to themselves and their mountain homes. The opposite of that was an outgoing race of people, prone to expansionism, exploration, and priding true grit and survival on adventures and new frontiers where they could forge new alliances and expand their empire, focusing more on increasing wealth through finding it rather than creating it.

What immediately sprang to mind was the wild west of America's early days. Free spirits, new lands, and settling down new territories with an expansionist mindset was the perfect fit. The Dwarves of Aeria embrace all of these, and it shows in a few design elements that could help the reader feel the same way I did. I decided to place the Dwarves in the mountains in the southwest of Tanimor, a range that separates the verdant Greenway and forested areas with the mesas, desserts, and badlands of the the southwest corner of the continent. Putting my own spin on reasons for exploration, the Dwarves were forced to hole up in mountain homes (much like pueblo Indians) to hide from the war between the Elves and the Narshak and to eek out an existence in the harsh lands. Once the wars were over, they quickly expanded outward, settling outposts and striking out into the badlands to mark their territories and gain new resources. New lands were a frontier to the Dwarves, and they have an innate ability to survive in harsh conditions and confront hardships head on.

The Dwarves inherited a lot of stylistic elements as well. Instead of the scottish accent, another method to bring to mind the frontier spirit was to instead give them a bit of southwestern twang and slang. While typical fantasy Dwarves might inquire about a nearby town with "Aye lad, which way to the the bloody store? Ach, off I go then!", an Aerian Dwarf will instead speak out with "Reckon the store's over that way, eh? Best be gettin' over." Dropping the g's on a lot of words adds the slight accent from their western inspired grit, and some familiar words to readers like "Reckon, Ponderin', Right Proper", etc help to establish the image. While some of the bolder western elements stand out as cliche (although you'd not find me so bold as to have them lassoing cow creatures or having ho downs, because there is too much of a good thing), melding them with the fantasy genre helps to give them their own identity that I feel really combines the best parts of both. Chocolate Dwarves with Peanut Butter Wide Brim Hats.

While Aerian Dwarves are still short, stocky, and very thick in muscle and spirit, they don't lavish extravagantly braided beards. Instead you'll find them bearded or goateed, cut shorter and practical for the heat of the southwest climate. Aerian Dwarves aren't often seen in great metal armor, with shields the size of their bodies and master crafted hammers. Instead you'll more often find them in loose chainmail or leather suits of armor, both much cooler in the hot sun and readily available from the creatures that roam the mesas. Dwarves strike out, explore, set down outposts and towns and quickly move on much as ghosttowns and gold rushers did in early America, so well crafted goods meant for long term use aren't as highly prized as mobility and re purposing. Unlike traditional fantasy Dwarves, Aerian Dwarves might be surly but value skill, friendship, and someone to count on. When your life takes you through wild, unexplored territory and you embody the spirit of expansionism and frontier sensibilities, friends and allies are a well guarded resource.

All in all, the end result of Aerian Dwarves was a Dwarf that spoke differently, lived differently, saw the world differently and acted accordingly to all of these things combined, and I couldn't be happier with how they stand out.

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