When the Old Pantheon became gods, they created three races. The third of these, the dvergr— dwarves— acted as world shapers just as the Old Pantheon once were, and they were fashioned in their creators’ image from the earth— but much smaller, to prevent them from posing a threat to the Old Pantheon’s chosen children. So that they would not interact with the spirit world, the dwarves were created without emotion, ambition or soul; they were simple worker drones.
When the gods warred in the Spirit Rebellion, the giants and goblinfolk formed into vast armies— but the dwarves kept toiling, for that was all they were meant to do. When the Old Pantheon was banished, the dwarves were spared the curse of the splintered fate of their cousins. Indeed, the new gods sympathized— specifically Magrun the Runelord who, in his wisdom, bestowed true life into the dwarvenfolk. He engraved mystical runes into the stony flesh of the dwarves, words of power which spoke life and love into each and every dwarf. Every dwarf is born with mystical runes on their body, often running in a line down their limbs and backs, sometimes upon their foreheads and chests.
Every dwarf has a unique runic signature that is never repeated, and every dwarf clan has a runic signature passed down from generation to generation. These runes, which resemble crystalline symbols embedded seemlessly into their stony flesh, typically begin to glow when a dwarf becomes overly passionate or enraged. They vary in coloration from dwarf to dwarf, but members of a clan typically have similar hues.
Magrun, while generous, did not bestow this gift without a price. He assigned dwarves into groups, claiming each group as a clan. From there on would each clan be responsible for their family’s ascendence in the afterlife— since the runes only gave the approximation of souls and not true souls, the dwarves cannot pass into the afterlife. Instead, they would simply pass into oblivion upon death, entering the Noslumber as dwarves have come to call it. So they shall remain until a clan completes their Clan Quest, at which point Magrun will ascend all clan ancestors, whose runes have been scribed into the clan’s Ancestral Annals, to paradise. From there on, their clan can live in peace with the knowledge that their eternal souls will be born upon death.
Still, few clans have decided that the oblivion of Noslumber is not such a bad fate, and opt to forget their Clan Quest. Other few clans seek their own quests for immortality.
Clan Quests typically involve one of three things: the creation of a legendary, world-changing item (which often requires lifetimes of research and obtaining the rarest and most fantastic materials possible), the extinction of a particular group of foes (which is often a burgeoning nation of their former cousins— giants and goblinoids), or the building of resources to engineer cities and strongholds of astounding architectural marvel (a feat that could take vast amounts of wealth to fund). So some clans are destined to forge the only sword that will slay Ixik the World Eater, or wage an eternal war against the frost giants of Kab-Gadun, or construct the majestic dwarven stronghold of Yngmar. Each of these have pitfalls that could take milennia to sort out— making a legendary item but having to wait for the legend to unfold, wiping out all of Kab-Gadun except for a small group who fled and carried on the bloodlines elsewhere, and the unfortunate destruction of a city before completion, or missing the one celestial ruby meant to sit atop the balustrade. Sometimes a clan’s quest fails to be informed to descendants and they don’t know what to do, and must seek out the answers through seeking historical clues or divine congress. If a clan is wiped out, their quest may still be completed by someone else. This won’t benefit the helpers personally, except for earning the eternal gratitude of a dwarven clan of spirits.
Sometimes Magrun himself will assist a clan who has hit a snag in their Quest, but only after undertaking another minor quest.
Most dwarven societies (particularly true for Voldhamr) are broken into five castes, according to their Quests: At the top of the caste system are the Thjoden (the Nobles), those whose Clan Quests have been completed. Second are the Huskarls (the Engineers), those whose Quests involve the construction and maintenance of dwarven cities. The next tier are the Drengs (the Warlords), those who fight the foes of the Gods, and also the Meisters (the Smiths), those who craft items of legend. The fifth and lowest are Utlag (the Forsaken), those whose clans seek no Quest. These castes are not a reflection of an individual’s profession, only the honor and respect due to one’s clan. A Smith could very well be a farmer or miner and still be afforded the honor of a Smith. However, it is usually the case that the dwarf’s profession is based on their clan’s goals— for example, Engineers whose Quests lend to the need of construction workers and administrators, and the Smiths who need miners, craftsmen, and researchers. The Warlords of course need warriors, along with spies, medics, and logisticians.
An Utlag has no chance to rise into positions of power, and are essentially treated as slaves and laborers until the day their Quest is realized. Those who choose exile over slavery are never welcomed back to society, whether they complete their Quest or not. This applies to future generations as well— so for most Forsaken dwarves, a culturally-accepted slavery is vastly preferable to the eternal exodus of their entire ancestry. Still, there are some places in the world where one can find small towns of exiled Utlag, who live happily under their own societal rules.
Jungle dwarves on the island of Azkarad. They’ve become accustomed to above-ground living and a jungle island lifestyle. They typically wear light clothing and adopt guerilla tactics in battle. They’ve developed darker, bronzed skintones and have a tradition of tattooing decor around their runes according to their caste.
Utlag are not treated as pariahs on Azkarad— they’re looked upon more with pity than contempt, and those who become Utlag unwillingly are often assisted to reclaim their Quest. Those who willingly throw down their Quests are mourned as if already dead, but are allowed any position in society. If you can contribute to survival, you’re important enough to respect.
Standard dwarves as outlined above, they are the most widely spread across Jorden-Maa, and the most likely to be seen by outsiders.
The Black Dwarves, Dvergr originated from one of the oldest Warlord clans who were believed to be lost in the Second Apocalypse. They didn’t die, no— with fervor and bloodlust they scoured the deepest holds for infernal hordes, chasing the hellspawn to the ends of the earth… even into hell itself where no gods could follow, including the divine Runic power of Magrun. During their protracted defense of a Hellgate, their runes slowly turned black and veiny. The devils were eventually beaten back and the Hellgates sealed, but despite returning to Jorden-Maa mostly intact, the Dvergr would never be the same. When their runes became corrupted in hell, they were cut off from the blessings of Magrun— indeed, Magrun himself could no longer sense their existence. Though they completed their Clan Quests, they could feel, deep within, that they and their ancestors were damned. So they denounced Magrun and the Gods, thinking he had deceived and forsaken them. And they could bear no more children, truly doomed. Bereft of spirit in the bowels of the earth, fleeting whispers came to their people, gifts of ritual knowledge from the Dead God Samael. In return for their devotion, he would promise two things: a way to procreate, and his word that he would never turn his back on them as Magrun had done.
So the Dvergr were shown a new way. Though they shall never give birth again, the dwarves may forge offspring from stone and metal, imbuing them with life through magical runecraft much in the way Magrun first blessed them, using sacrificial ritual to transfer souls. Now they toil eternally to acquire the materials they need for their offspring, all the while serving as the Dead God’s first and strongest cult.
Any dwarf that spends too much time in hell will share the same fate of damnation as the Dvergr.