[The Welcoming Committee is a category of posts created in the spirit of Meavar’s New Player Relations initiative.]
One of the first things we do as LOTRO players is create a character; and one of the first choices we have to make here is what race our character will be. In this four-part series, we will look at each of the races from the perspectives of lore and gameplay.
Today, we look at the Dwarves. Khazâd ai-menu! The Dwarves are upon you!
Who are the Dwarves?
Dwarves can be found throughout Tolkien’s Middle-earth works. For me it’s The Hobbit that best depicts their society and customs. To understand the origin and early history of the Dwarves, however, we do need to turn to The Silmarillion. There, in the Valaquenta, we are told how the Vala Aulë, master of crafts, created the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves in secrecy. Aulë had been impatient for the coming of the Children of Ilúvatar (the Elves, and later Man) because he wished “to have learners to whom he could teach his lore and his crafts.” Because he didn’t have a very clear image of what the Children should look like, Aulë took a more functional than aesthetic approach to the look of the Dwarves: knowing that Melkor/Morgoth’s shadow was ever present, he made the Dwarves sturdy and strong. Of course, Ilúvatar (the Creator, the highest being in Tolkien’s mythology) soon found out what Aulë had done; when he confronted the Vala, Aulë offered to sacrifice the Dwarves, saying that he had not created them in order to wield power (the way Melkor/Morgoth would by transforming Elves into Orcs) but as an expression of admiration for Ilúvatar’s own craft. The Creator turned the Dwarves from what had basically been automatons to full beings, and “adopted” them as his own. And thus the Dwarves were born.
Later sections of the Silmarillion offer more details about the Dwarves. We learn the name they used for themselves (Khazâd), and what they were called by others (Naugrim: the Stunted People; Gonnhirrim: Masters of Stone). We’re also told that they moved westwards, from far to the east (where they originated) through the Blue Mountains in Ered Luin, and towards Beleriand (keep in mind that the post-Silmarillion map of Middle-earth is missing a great portion of land west of Ered Luin, after that part of the continent sank into the sea). And, of course, we learn about their great love for crafted things, and their tremendous skill. The Dwarves craft dwellings and items for other races, especially the Eldar, although their relations aren’t always cordial: “Ever cool was the friendship between the Naugrim and the Eldar, though much profit they had one of the other.”
As I mentioned, for me the Dwarves are best depicted in The Hobbit. Although The Silmarillion gives us the most important details about their birth and early times, it’s The Hobbit that really brings them to life, in my opinion. From the moment they come trooping through Bilbo’s door, singing songs of war and treasure, through their long journey and final battles at the Lonely Mountain and Dale, we come to understand much about the personality and customs of these master crafters. Bilbo provides a perfect guide, as he (like the reader) struggles to comprehend what drives Thorin’s company to seek out an ancient home and dragon-held treasure; to be willing to alienate Elves and Men in order to protect their belongings; and to finally turn around and ally themselves with Elves and Men when a common enemy arrives. We learn here that many of the troubles of the Dwarves are related to the very objects they so lovingly craft, and that there’s a complex blend of justified pride in their craft and jealous protection of its secrets. However, once the greater foe arrives, the Dwarves prove to be honorable and brave, and (thanks in part to Bilbo’s diplomacy) finally settle into peaceful coexistence with the Men of Dale.
In The Lord of the RIngs, Dwarven culture is represented mainly by Gimly, a member of the Company that sets out from Rivendell. Here, we focus even closer, for a look at how an individual Dwarf interacts with other races. We see both the secrecy and noble bravery that are present in The Hobbit, even as Gimli’s relationship with Galadriel and Legolas seem to herald a new age in the relations between Dwarves and Elves. He will become the only Dwarf to eventually sail west, leaving with Legolas once his final times draw near.
So how does all this translate to LOTRO?
Playing a Dwarf in LOTRO
Passive Skills and Traits
For players who choose race/class combinations according to traits and bonuses, it’s important to know what makes Dwarves special in gameplay. But even for those of us who don’t take these characteristics into consideration when making a character, it’s interesting to see how Dwarf-lore was adapted by LOTRO.
The LOTRO Lorebook has a nice chart with a detailed description of Dwarf Skills and Traits. Here’s what you get as a Dwarf:
- Passive Skills (these exist and are in effect from the moment the character is created)
- Lost Dwarf-kingdoms: reduced Fate. Like the Elves, the Dwarves are fading out of Middle-earth by the time the War of the Ring begins.
- Stocky: Dwarves have less Agility than other races, because of how they were fashioned by Aulë
- Sturdiness: however, Aulë’s design provided for higher Might and Vitality than other races, as well as more common damage mitigation
- Unwearying in battle: Dwarves enjoy increased in-combat Morale and Power regeneration, although they regenerate more slowly out of combat
- Slotted Traits (these are earned after certain levels/deeds, and must be slotted the way Virtues and Class Traits are)
- Guile and Conviction Bonus: increased effect to certain fellowship maneuvers
- Dwarf Axe-Damage Bonus: increased damage with axes. Baruk Khazâd!
- Dwarf-endurance: increased Vitality for your group
- Endurance of Stone: a skill that temporarily lets you take less damage
- Fateful Dwarf: improved Fate (helps balance the Lost Dwarf-kingdoms passive)
- Head-butt: a short-distance melee attack. Fun!
- Return to Thorin’s Gate: a Map back to Ered Luin, which allows you a second instant-return if your main Map is set elsewhere
- Shield Brawler: improved combat defense
We can see how much of the character described by Tolkien has been incorporated into these characteristics: sturdy and strong, knowledge of a passing time, and great combat skills. These are the traits that will help your Dwarf face the numerous dangers that await throughout Middle-earth.
Male or Female?
One of the first things you will notice about the Dwarf creation process is that there’s no option for Male or Female: the screen simply says Dwarf. This is an often-debated feature, since many players assume that their Dwarf character will, by default, have to be Male. But there are both lore-appropriateness and flexibility here, depending on one’s play-style. First, there’s the reason why no explicit Dwarf genders are offered upon character creation. There is little information about Dwarf society from the standpoint of male/female relations. We know that Aulë first creates the Seven Fathers, and that the rest of the Dwarves are descended from them. There’s also some mention of the highly secretive nature of Dwarven society: they often don’t share their real names with strangers, they don’t teach their language the way the Elves do, and they keep many of their family details to themselves. It is hinted that there are relatively few Dwarf women compared to men, and that they often choose not to marry, no matter how many suitors they may have. There’s also a mention of the women heavily disguising themselves when they travel, so that to outsiders they can seem indistinguishable from the men of their race. It is nowhere stated that Dwarf women are hidden away and used to keep the race alive, or second-class; indeed, we get the sense from the few mentions in Tolkien’s works that the women are actually fairly powerful, and that there are few (if any) new Dwarves being born.
How does this influence our character selection? Well, once again, the creation screen says “Dwarf”. It doesn’t say “Dwarf (Male).” This means that, for people who wish to play a female Dwarf, the option is entirely possible. Now this is also something that’s been debated by the community (Dwarves in dresses, or with openly female names), because some people think it’s pushing the option too far; after all, the nature of the Dwarves dictates that a female out and about would never give away her gender. However, this shouldn’t keep players from creating a Dwarf they truly love, so the choice is up to you.
Your next choice when creating your Dwarf will be class. We will go more into the various classes in LOTRO in our next Welcoming Committee series, but for now it helps to know what classes a Dwarf can be, since not all of them are available.
For a Dwarf, we can choose to play a Champion, Guardian, Hunter, Minstrel, or Rune-keeper. The classes Dwarves cannot play (mainly due to reasons of lore) are Captain, Burglar, Lore-master, and Warden.
One of the interesting aspects of character creation in LOTRO is that you not only get to choose a race, but also an origin within that race. Choosing an origin will affect the appearance of your character (general body shape, plus available ranges of skin, hair, and eye color) and also give you a backstory to work with for roleplaying.
For Dwarves, this means that you can choose from one of five branches:
- Blue Mountains: From Ered Luin, where many Dwarves had lived in exile after being ousted from the Lonely Mountain
- Grey Mountains: The birthplace of Durin, the first Father of the Dwarves
- Iron Hills: The birthplace of Dáin, a relative of Thorin Oakenshield, and known as the King Under the Mountain
- The Lonely Mountain: These Dwarves were once driven out by Smaug, but (see The Hobbit) have reclaimed their ancestral home and treasure. Ruled by the King Under the Mountain
- White Mountains: A southern kingdom, lately besieged by Oathbreakers
Thus, origin gives us important details about Dwarves: where they originate; their ties to other famous figures; and their place in Middle-earth history. There are no advantages or disadvantages to choosing one branch over another; it’s simply a matter of personal preference.
The character creation screen gives us some good tips for naming our Dwarf. Dwarves tend to have short names, inspired by Northern European languages. For example: Thorin, Durin, Gloin, Gimli, Ori, Dori. If you need some inspiration, the Viking Answer Lady has a good list of Old Norse names, along with their meanings. There’s also an interesting Dwarven Name Generator at this site that also lists meanings for whatever you get.
Before I end this article, I’d like give one further roleplaying tip for Dwarves, although I know many people are already aware of this. We’ve all seen the Dwarf stereotype that has appeared repeatedly throughout games and movies in the past couple of decades: always drunk (or looking for a drink) and speaking in a terrible mock-Scottish accent. Tolkien’s Dwarves are, however, nothing like that. As you read through the books, you will notice that they’re extremely thoughtful in their song and poetry (See Gimli’s beautiful recitation of the song of Khazâd-dûm), and use common formulas for courtesy (“At your service, and your family’s!”). In The Hobbit, the Dwarves arrive at Bilbo’s house in an orderly (though loud) fashion, and promptly sit down for tea, not a drunken brawl! Also, the cultural “feel” to the Dwarves is certainly more Norse than Scottish.
Of course, this doesn’t preclude the possibility of boisterous drinking and merry-making in our Dwarves, and I’m sure that some of them might even take it a bit too far and become bad eggs. But in general, there’s a real sense of nobility and honor to Tolkien’s Dwarves that I feel is often buried by the stereotype.
I hope this has been a useful introduction to the lore and characteristics of Dwarves, both in Tolkien’s works and in Lord of the Rings Online. Next up: the Race of Man!