Sunday, April 1, 2018

Magick & Madness In The Blood - The Dwarven Races In Old School Campaigns

Delving into the original Dungeons & Dragons set I began to think about the Dwarven race in Dungeons & Dragons.

In the twisted world of  German mythology the Dwarves of old were twisted things created at the beginning of Earth. But I've been doing a bit of research on the background of these beings.
"Beyond the Proto-Germanic reconstruction, the etymology of the word dwarf is highly contested. Scholars have proposed theories about the origins of the being by way of historical linguistics and comparative mythology, including that dwarfs may have originated as nature spirits, as beings associated with death, or as a mixture of concepts. Competing etymologies include a basis in the Indo-European root *dheur- (meaning 'damage'), the Indo-European root *dhreugh (whence, for example, modern English dream and German Trug 'deception'), and comparisons have been made with Sanskrit dhvaras (a type of "demonic being")"
Now supposedly the Dwarves of old were formed from maggots from the blood of Ymir the ice giant but in ;"The Poetic Edda poem Völuspá details that the dwarfs were the product of the primordial blood of the being Brimir and the bones of Bláinn"

In stanza 9 of Völuspá, the first poem of the Poetic Edda, Brimir and Blain are both interpreted as alternate names for Ymir, although distinction between origin and issue is often difficult to discern in Norse mythology:
"Then all the Powers went to the thrones of fate,
the sacrosanct gods, and considered this:
who should form the lord of the dwarfs
out of Brimir's blood and from Blain's limbs?"
— Larrington trans."

Are these earlier proto Dwarves? These might possibly the forerunners & ancestors of the Dwarven race  of Ymir. But today the names Brimir  Bláinn are alternatives for Ymir's corpse. But what if their prototype creatures instead the maggot creation still stands. 

 "The Prose Edda, however, describes dwarfs as beings similar to maggots that festered in the flesh of Ymir before being gifted with reason by the gods"
The gift of intelligence is often seen as a burden in some mythologies but it makes the Dwarves on par with the Germanic gods & vulnerable to their machinations. Ymir's Dwarves were responsible for many of the gifts, artifacts, & tools of the gods.

If Ymir's Dwarves were that clever then it stands to reason that they'd create their own slaves & servant race to take some of the burden from themselves. The majority of the enchantments & heavy magicks were handled by Ymir's Children. Dwarves of Dungeons & Dragons filled in many of the day to day roles.

Three dwarves equipped for battle.
(David Sutherland from the Holmes blue book basic D&D

This is part of their role as smiths, jewelers, magicians, etc. & also part of the origin for D&D's royal Dwarven bloodlines (at least within my own campaigns);
"The Poetic Edda and Prose Edda contain over 100 dwarf names, while the Prose Edda gives the four dwarfs Norðri, Suðri, Austri and Vestri (Old Norse 'North, South, East, and West') a cosmological role: they hold up the sky." These royal lines helped to maintain the cosmological & planar gateways both behind creation & under the Earth. There was a bloody war between the Dwarven race & the proto Drow.
"In addition, scholars have noted that the Svartálfar (Old Norse 'black elves') appear to be the same beings as dwarfs, given that both are described in the Prose Edda as the denizens of Svartálfaheimr"
Ymir's Children are both powerful magick workers but have several dark sides & secrets; "Very few beings explicitly identifiable as dwarfs appear in the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, and they have quite diverse roles: murderous creators who create the mead of poetry, 'reluctant donors' of important artifacts with magical qualities, or sexual predators who lust after goddesses.
They are primarily associated with metalsmithing, and also with death, as in the story of King Sveigðir in Ynglinga saga, the first segment of the Heimskringla — the doorways in the mountains that they guard may be regarded as doors between worlds.[6] One dwarf named Alvíss claimed the hand of Thor's daughter Þrúðr in marriage, but he was kept talking until daybreak and turned to stone, much like some accounts of trolls"

Harvey Leech, a dwarf. Wood engraving. Wellcome

The healing powers of Ymir's Children are well known in certain circles; "After the Christianization of the Germanic peoples, tales of dwarfs continued to be told in the folklore of areas of Europe where Germanic languages were (and are) spoken.[8] In the late legendary sagas, dwarfs demonstrate skill in healing as well as in smithing." There is some evidence to suggest that that they had a hand in the creation of man;
"A stanza preceding the account of the creation of Ask and Embla in Völuspá provides a catalog of dwarfs, and stanza 10 has been considered as describing the creation of human forms from the earth. This may potentially mean that dwarfs formed humans, and that the three gods gave them life.[12] Carolyne Larrington theorizes that humans are metaphorically designated as trees in Old Norse works (examples include "trees of jewellery" for women and "trees of battle" for men) due to the origin of humankind stemming from trees; Ask and Embla."

A depiction of Ask and Embla (1919) by Robert Engels

So what of the proto Dwarven race of
Brimir  & Bláinn? These are the  Svirfneblin, or Deep Gnomes who get along with the Dwarven race but mine areas close to but not too close to the Dwarven race. There has never been a war with the Svirfneblin.

Cold & hot warfare with the Drow assures this even though their mutual slow combats with these races of old. The Drow have not forgotten their Fall from the Elves original role of cosmological guardian ship. But that's another blog entry.

Ymir's Children also had their own Fall giving rise to the race of Dwarven madness in the Derro. They war continually with their own children in the darkness of the Earth whenever they encounter them.

We know that Ymir's Children survive well into the far future of Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique. They must have survived the Ragnarok for they will bare witness to the end of the gods & help in the creation of the next race of humans.
"In Norse mythology, Ragnarök is a series of future events, including a great battle, foretold to ultimately result in the death of a number of major figures (including the gods Odin, Thor, Týr, Freyr, Heimdallr, and Loki), the occurrence of various natural disasters, and the subsequent submersion of the world in water. Afterward, the world will resurface anew and fertile, the surviving and returning gods will meet, and the world will be repopulated by two human survivors."

Then the Awful Fight Began (depiction by George Wright, 1908)

By the time we get to the time of the far future we're literally going to see hundreds of cities of Ymir's children abandoned under the Earth offering prime pickings for a group of very fool hardy adventurers. Here's where I'm drawing on Clark Ashton Smith's cycles of stories for this. In the end Ymir is not going to let his children parish until their role in the cycles of fate & time are fulfilled.

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