Thursday, August 18, 2016

Sometimes, it's too Important for Voice Mail

The crosswind was really starting to act up when the phone call icon popped up on my implant hud. Constance. At 2 AM. On a Wednesday.

With a sigh, I subvocally activated the vidphone pop-up, partially obscuring the rain-splattered roof of the Aztecnology helipad far below. Constance was, predictably, not looking too happy.

“Where the fuck are you?” she asked, crossing her arms.

“Umm..” I considered telling her that I was 40 stories off the ground on the outside of a very upscale hab tower, staring through my implants at the location where a very off-book Thunderbird was about to land some very-very off-book passengers.

I considered also mentioning that the crosswind was adding to the considerable load on the grapple line and making steady sighting dicey, not to mention threatening to blow me off the side of the building.

After some contemplation, I decided to go with “At work.”

“Seriously? How stupid do you think I am? You expect me to believe that the shitty little corp you work for has you out at 2 AM on a Wednesday? For the money they pay you?”

So. The booty call had not worked out the way she’d expected, and now she was trying to figure out if I was cheating on her. Just what the doctor ordered to make this run more interesting.

The lashing wind forced me to adjust my footing, boot treads barely keeping me braced and stable on the sheer glass side of the hab tower. Glancing up, I saw faint lights from the approaching Thunderbird.

“Listen, Constance, this is really not the best time..”

“Who is she, you asshole? Is it that blue-haired minge you were chatting up at the museum opening? I TOOK YOU TO THAT EVENT, YOU PRICK.”

Normally I like looking at Constance, even when she’s mad. Hell, especially when she’s mad. But the Thunderbird - black against the black storm and black glass of the hab towers, was coming down now. With a mental flick, I minimized her image to a blinking green icon and switched to thermodynamic vision, zooming in on the helipad far below.

“I’m not cheating on you, Constance,” I replied, keeping my breathing calm and bracing the familiar weight of the rifle against my shoulder. Range, ammo indicators, windspeed all whipped up on my hud, framing the digitally enhanced helipad with information.

“Likely story. I swore after the last elf that I was just going to date safe, boring humans. You’re worse than tom-cats, all of you. Put on the tridee, you prick. I want to see your face.”

“I’m on my bike, Constance, I’ve got you on the datajack.”

The Thunderbird landed, rotors hammering the pooled water on the pad into a fine mist, swirling around the figures as they debarked. The numbers displayed a rapidly degrading targeting situation. Rain pelted against me as the crosswind howled, slipping off the surface of my eye-shields. Now or never.

“First you’re working, now you’re on your bike? Which is it, Gwydion? I’m serious, you need to stop lying to me, or we’re done here!”

Thermographic showed three shapes getting out of the thunderbird, pixelated against the rain and hurricanes of spray. There. The second one, only partially showing a heat signature. “Target has extensive cybernetics on right side of body.”


“No, sweetheart, just traffic is a bit fucked out here, having to pay attention.”

Letting the smartgun targetting reticle rest on the head of the second figure, I pause. Heavy cyberwear on the right side. Let him turn his head and glance around, just like a military background teaches.

Now. Recoil. Implants dampening the muted crack of the shot. That familiar feeling of a bullet going just exactly where it’s supposed to go. Collapsing the hud, zooming back and flipping back to regular vision, even as the figure on the helipad crumples. Time to go.

“I’m on my way back home. We finished up a little while ago. I can meet you someplace, if you want.”

The grapple line whirls, dropping me towards the elevated parking garage far below. On the helipad, the bodyguards are just drawing their weapons, starting to scan the surrounding area, but I’m on a different face of the building now, descending quickly.

“You’re asking me out, after cheating on me? That’s pretty gutsy, even for you, Gwydion.”

Touching down on the roof of the garage, I call up my account balance. Not the boring corp striver one, the other one, in the offshore datahaven. The interesting one. Looks like everything is good to go there, payment came through.

“I’m not cheating on you Constance, why the hell would I cheat on the most interesting lady I know?
Besides, you’d murder me if I did that to you.”

“You’re fucking right I would. With a knife.”

“I know that. Listen, how about that new Tir-sushi place you were talking about? The one with the hologram walls and waterfalls. My treat.”

I bring Constance back up as I pack up the rifle into it’s case. Hands moving automatically, no attention required. She looks happier. A bit.

“Alright, but if you smell like some 10-nuyen slut when I get there, I’m going to drown you in one of those waterfalls. After I cut off your balls.”

“Sounds fair. I’ll meet you there in 20 minutes?”

“You better not be late.”

“I’d rather fall off a building.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

There is a Place Where it is Never Warm

There is a place where it is never warm.  Cast in shadow by glacier-fringed granite peaks, slashed by freezing winds and hammered by icy seas, the Frozen Shore is a place of cold and death for most creatures.  Only the frozen citadel of Atlantis, carved from the base of a towering glacier, ever shows signs of life.

Gods can live and die many times, rising from the dust to answer the calls of their followers.  This is known.  What is less known is that the bones of gods, unlike other bones, do not wear away.  They are not devoured by insects, rodents or time.  Like the seas, they are eternal, and the seas claim them all eventually.

But the bones of gods, like magical rings, have too much weight for the sea to hold them forever, so the bones are washed up onto the Frozen Shore, where the Atlantean servants of the Angakoks pick among the frozen tangles for necromantic treasure.  On most days, the Frozen Shore is a quiet, desolate place; the moaning wind and crashing waves are the only sounds.  

Today, the shore echoes with unusual noise.  The massive ice citadel accreted on the slopes of the cliffs is under siege by hundreds of wolfskin-clad warriors, crossbowmen and armored warriors.  Fires burn along the upper slopes of the beach, and the smashing roar of the attacks drowns even the pounding of the ceaseless waves.  

As the attackers form up to assault the frozen gates, massive blue-skinned figures appear on the battlements, throwing down chunks of ice and stone.  Smaller, fun-clad figures move among them, throwing javelins and icy spears.  Whirling gusts of wind, moving as if guided, toss many of the missiles away, but the rocks and ice fall among the attackers, driving them back.  Still, the huge gates have taken damage, and the attackers begin massing for another assault.

As the fur-clad ranks of the attackers draw together, something seems to ripple along the line.  Perhaps it is a change in the sound of the waves, or of the howling of the wind, but whatever it is, their beast-sharp senses pick it up.  They begin to turn, fixing their eyes on the sea and the long bone-covered strand.

Suddenly, the breakers shiver and fall apart, revealing glittering ice rising beneath the water.  Hundreds of helmets break the surface of the water, ice-white shield rims appearing beneath them as legions of Atlantean warriors wade onto the beach. On the flanks of the huge blocks of ice-clad warriors are other Atlanteans, smaller, clad in armor of polished coral and with shields of polished turtleshell and long coral-tipped spears.  

Among the ice-clad heavy infantry tower other figures, huge Atlanteans in sleek sealskin with staves carved from the bones of gods.  Atlanteans never cease growing, learning, hungering, and the Angakoks are the largest, wisest and hungriest of the Atlanteans, priest-mages in service to the Unturned Stone, god of Atlantis.

With a deep, croaking cry, the Atlantean host leaves the sea and begins crashing forward, like a wave carved from glittering ice, over the bones that the sea cannot swallow.  Conch-horn trumpets moan and whaleskin drums thunder as the force moves towards the assembled Midgard army.   As they move, the ice that coats the rocks and bones of the beach begins to shudder, then rises into tall, jagged humanoid forms, surging forward to attack.

Howling, the wolfskin-armored skinshifters rush forward, and lightning begins crashing down from the sky, smashing into the Atlantean formations, but the bolts are few, too few, and the icy ranks of the warriors flow forward into the Midgard line.

The savage initial impact of the skinshifter charge hammers at the ranks of the Atlanteans, but the ice armor and frozen shields, tempered to diamond hardness by the cold, turns aside even the massive blades of the skinshifters.  Then the frozen swords begin to slash out, and the shifters begin to die.  Frenzied, they throw aside blades and humanity, transforming into massive, ravening wolfmen, but teeth and claws have no more effect on the frozen armor than swords did, and still the ice blades rise and fall.

In the center of the line, a column of bone-armored atlanteans, armed with heavy bone glaives, chops a hole in the Midgard line.  With a billow of frozen air, a dozen black-armored wights, necrotic blades in hand, push through the gap, slashing aside the frozen Midgarders.  Even the winter-born skinshifters flinch back from the inhuman cold of the wights.

With a wave, the Vanir lord calls forward his reserves, throwing them forward to plug the hole.  The howling mass leaps into the teeth of the cold and the slashing glaives to close the gap, but the wights shrug off blows, and the wounds on the glaive-wielding atlanteans close with unnatural speed.  For a few moments, the lines waver, but then the Elementals, living ice powered by the will of the Angakoks, strike.

Clots of darkness seem to form over the battlefield.  On wings of darkness, shrieking Lammashtas, servants of the lords of Tartarus, descend, attacking skinshifter and atlantean alike.  Skeletal hands reach up from the ground, catching the legs of the embattled Midgarders, and from the flanks, lighter-armored atlanteans and more of the bone-armored Assartuts close in.

Suddenly, it is over.  The Midgard line breaks apart, some fleeing up the beach, others, too frenzied to see the rout unfolding, stay and fight.  Neither reaction makes any difference.  For a time, the frozen mountains ring with shrieks and slaughter, until finally, the only sounds are the wind and the waves...

Akutturat, First Angakok, stood on the outcrop of ice overlooking the beach and watched the little brothers feed.  Weary from spellcasting, he leaned on his god-bone staff and enjoyed the bite of the frozen wind and lash of the icy sea spray.

Malanakut, Commander of the Ice Guard approached, ducking his frozen helmet to show reverence as he neared the First.

“Losses?” inquired Akatturat, as he continued to gaze out at the blood-soaked bones of the beach.

“Minimal, First.” replied Malanakut, keeping his head low.  “None escaped.”

“Excellent.  Well done.  Your battle strategy is to be commended.”

“Thank you First.  We have re-opened the citadel, and the siege is lifted.  Those within are in good condition, and the army will be ready to march soon.”

Akutturat gaped his jaws in elation, showing the rows of razor-sharp teeth lining his mouth.

“Feed the fallen to the little brothers and elder brothers.  Strip their bones and cast them upon the shore as an offering to Mother-sea and to the Unturned Stone.  Freeze their naked skulls into the Watching Wall, so they can watch the sea and stone until the end of the age.”

Feeling his exhaustion fall away, Akutturat turned from the sea and stared up the valley.  “The spear-wielding men and their elephants have broken our treaty.  We shall kill them and cast their bones upon the shore, and I will eat the heart of their goddess myself.”

Friday, February 20, 2015

D&D 5E Session Summary: Clearwater Mill

This post is by special guest author and player of Hilbo Huggins, +J Malfair.

We will pick things up at Rivercrest - A walled Forest Gnome community along the Clearwater River.   There are a small number of farms outside of the town but the gnomish town looks to have seen better days.   Having said that it's still up and running and fighting for survival.

We're welcomed into the town and their mayor Burgles invites us into his home.  We accept and we settle into a lengthy conversation.

We find out what we can about Clearwater Mill (where the Splinterbeards are from) and he lets us know that the dwarves came down this way several years before but he hasn't really heard from dwarves since.

For the past year or two the water has been polluted by something upstream, they dont wash from it or drink it but it's terrible.  

He lets us know about Orc and refugee camp issues (bandits and such) that are happening to the north east of Rivercrest.  The refugees near Blingenstone evidently have things pretty rough right now and it's pretty much anarchy up there. 

He is interested in forming a trade relationship with GoldenHills and with Leagrove.  We are amenable to talking about it and favor the idea but we need to deal with things back home first before we suggest anything specific.  The gnomes have a lot of wool and wood that would be useful and lack metal or good tools.

He gives assigns one of his scouts to us to guide us as safely as possible up to the old dwarven hold at
Gammin, Gnome Scout
Clearwaters Mill.  So make our way up through the hills and mountains, guided by our suitably able guide.   He brings us into view of the entrance and when we're there we can see those Giant things with the big eye and several smaller ogre type creatures milling aorund near the entrance.   There are carts full of reddish snow that have been drawn down the hill.   The front entrance looks to be pretty well defended.

We have scout show us around to the top entrance and we find a place to climb down that isn't nearly as visible to the guards.   We do so and we enter the old Splinterbeard hold.

We fight come upon a room where there is a giant overseeing two ogres throwing the red snow into the river.  We have a brisk fight, Sly uses magic to push the two ogres into the waters below and the rest of us chop up the giant in a spirited affair :)     The snow appears to be snow with a number of pollutants that are extremely disgusting in it.   It's pretty clear why the river is polluted if they're throwing this shit into it.

We continue on and find ourselves at in the temple complex of the halls.   Our goal is to find proof of the Splinterbeard duplicity so we go about trying to find evidence. 

We see a number of reliefs and carvings of Moradin in his aspect of the 'the keeper of secrets' but the murals are all odd in that they have a number of non dwarven or abnormal influences on them.  Vines and such which do not normally appear in them.  (noted by everyone especially Korrum).

We enter the temple proper where we find 3 acolytes in robes (insane and broken dwarves) and a rather menacing fellow who orders them to attack.   In a fairly painful encounter we manage to down the Barbarian and the acolytes taking one of the acolytes prisoner.   (we question him and ask him a tonne of questions - please see email chain from last week- we did the questioning between sessions)
The Erlking
The short version :
        The Splinterbeards turned to the Erlking a dark fey who showed them the secrets that Moradin would not.
        The Erlking is coming (this came up a lot)
         The Erlking is what's infecting the rivers/forests and directing everything here
         The Erlking will kill us

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dwarves! 5E: Session Summary - Jailbreak Episode 1

This was a big session, so I split it into 2 parts:

The jailbreak is a classic trope, and it’s usually a fun one.  Putting the players in a situation where they are at a disadvantage, and have to juggle stealth, timing and speed in an environment specifically designed to hinder them.

So when we left off last time, the party was in the custody of the Splinterbeard clan, acting (allegedly) on behalf of King Ironhammer, and were being transported to the king’s private dungeon.
The party decided that it was too risky to make a move while being transported, so they hung tight while during the trip.  They were marched underground, first along the major tunnel between High Grass and Goldenhills Hall, but then turning south under the mountains on the southern edge of Goldenhills territory.  Luckily, Korrum’s background is as an Underdark Guide, so he was able to get a good idea of where they are.

The trip ended at an unremarkable section of corridor.  The escort moved a concealed panel of stone aside, revealing a narrow stairwell.  The guards hustled the party through a small complex of rooms, clearly barracks of some sort, then into a room with a heavy stone slab, raised by a heavy winch and pulley.  Under the slab was another narrow stairway, leading further down.

The lower level proved to be a series of circular rooms, joined by narrow corridors.  The guards
escorted them to one of the circular rooms with a 5’ hole in the floor.  They lower a rope ladder and down the party goes, into the dark. The dark proves to be a dirt-floored cell – beehive-shaped and about 20 feet deep, with the access hole at the very top.

But these are CHARACTERS, so they don’t sit there very long.  Well, for a while.  Couple of hours or so.  Just to let things quiet down.  Then Wanderer, who has managed to keep a dagger, some thieves tools AND his magical chain (change self and sleight of hand are wonderful), is on the case.  A very brief session of lockpicking results in everyone out of their shackles.  From there, it’s a matter of getting up to the top of the hole.

They decide on a Hilbo-assisted jump-launch – which goes somewhat awry.  Wanderer’s luck and dexterity keep him from crunching on the stone ceiling, and he manages to catch the lip of the hole.  He rolls out, and quickly discovers that there are several guards close by, and manages to get out of line of sight before he is spotted.

Using one of the magical powers of his enchanted chain, Wandered slips into the Fey and slides around the guards into another corridor.  He finds more locked doors and sees an odd-looking metal wall at the far end of one corridor.  Deciding that continued exploration is risky, he goes full Changeling.

Shifting himself to look like one of the guards that brought them down to the dungeon, he turns right around and walks into guard chamber.  Slickly convincing the guards that he’s been sent down to get a rope ladder, he strolls into the guardroom, gets a rope ladder and goes back over to the hole where the rest of the party are trapped.  Critical success on Deception rolls are handy.

However, the hole is still in direct sight of one guard, who is himself in direct sight of two other guards, so Wanderer has more thinking to do….  Illusions are your friend here.  Wanderer steps out of sight, creating an illusion of “himself” falling over into the pit.  Inspired.  A guard comes to help, and gets kicked into the pit.  Wanderer (still looking like a guard himself) motions the third guard over, and Slie (from in the pit) starts shouting “I’m OK, but I need help getting out” and doing a damn fine job of sounding like the first guard.

The third guard turns his back on Wanderer and takes a dagger in the throat for being dumb, and shortly thereafter (aided by a Silence spell from Korrum and a nasty shot with a hand crossbow by Wanderer) there are 4 dead guards and no alarm raised.

So now the party really gets into it.  They liberate their gear, find a number of imprisoned servants who inform them that the King is maybe insane, and has imprisoned them for “trying to poison me,”  “plotting to murder me,” and “stealing the thoughts from my brain”.  They also release an elven Expeditionary from Leagrove, who has been missing for 6 months and a dwarf, Dorren Eigar, apparently a cousin of their friend Khidre.  Wanderer notices that Dorren’s “street clothes”, which they found in a chest near their own equipment, conceals considerable hardware in the form of hidden daggers, garrotes and poisoned darts.

Next up: Guards!  Guards!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

So You Want to Build a World?

When I started putting together my campaign world, I looked around for things to make my life easier, and I found some:

donjon fantasy world generator

This is the one I use.

Click to embiggen.

Welsh Piper's Hex-based campaign design

I used them with Hexographer to make this kind of stuff:

You can embiggen this too!

And I drilled down to get this:

Bigger!  Click on it.

Still, I've always wanted to SEE the world.  Now I can with Map to Globe.

Just click on the Map File link in the top right, browse to the file you got from the donjon creator and PROFIT.  Actually, no profit, just free tools to get you an awesome rotatable, zoomable version of your very own fantasy world.  Like THIS ONE HERE.

I fucking love computers.  Huge thanks to everyone at donjon, Inkwell ideas, Map to Globe and to Welsh Piper!  DM Out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My (Abbreviated) Appendix N

My buddy +Torben Schau identified 10 books that influenced him, and asked me to list 10 books that influenced me.

This was hard, because I have, by my estimation, read at least 4000 books in my life (based on 3 books/week since I was 8 years old, rounded down to account for re-reads). I did finally come up with a group of 10 books that I found very influential. I listed them in no particular order, because really, it's hard to categorize "influential."

1. Deadhouse Gates – Steven Erikson.

 This book remains my single favorite fantasy novel. And I've always loved fantasy, so basically this is my favorite book of the 4000 or so I've read. For me it is the perfect blend of worldbuilding detail, adventure, war, tragedy and heroism. If I ever, as a writer or DM, come up with characters as great as the ones introduced in this book, I will be happy forever. For Malazan fans, this is where we first meet (and sometimes, say goodbye to): Icarium, Mappo Runt, Coltaine, Bult, Duiker, Lostara Yil, FUCKING KHARSA ORLONG, Leoman of the Flails, S'ormo Enath, Stormy, Gesler, Heboric Light Touch and Baudin Younger. I did that list from memory. Man, what a great book.

2. The Lord of the Rings – J RR Tolkien

Stuff like The Hobbit and the Gammage Cup introduced me to fantasy, but Tolkien's masterpiece really nailed down my love for the genre. The part where Aragorn tells the hobbits that Weathertop used to be known as Amon Sul, and that that Elendil watched from the Tower for the arrival of Gil-galad before the Last Alliance set out to wage war against Sauron gives me the chills every time I read it.  The FIRST time I read it I was about 10 or so, and all I could think was "WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE AND HOW DO I LEARN MORE ABOUT THAT?"  Tolkien, as much as any writer, influenced my deep love for history, and my affection for those striving against vast odds.

3. Voltaire’s Bastards – John Ralston Saul

One of the non-fiction books on the list.  I read Voltaire's Bastards when I was living in Australia, and it blew me away.  His deconstruction of how a series of logical "rational" decisions can lead to terrible consequences has stuck with me my entire life.  I still try to work backwards from the desired outcome when making decisions, so this book definitely had an abiding impact.

4. The Watchmen – Allan Moore

A comic.  Possibly THE comic.  This book made me realize you could get as much, or more, out of a comic/graphic novel as you could out of a traditional novel.  Ozymandias is very much Voltaire's Bastard, so I'm not surprised those two works come very close together.  Plus, it's the most brilliant deconstruction of the Superhero you're ever going to read.  All comics look different after you read The Watchmen, and if that isn't influential, I don't know what is.

5. The Book of Three – Lloyd Alexander

This book would be classified as Young Adult now, and I know I read it when I was around 8 or 9.  It was scary, mythic, tragic and ultimately triumphant, and ignited my love for Celtic/Welsh mythology.  The Huntsmen and Arawn have both featured in my RPG campaigns, and the tone and themes of The Book of Three have been influential in my gaming since forever.

6. The Judging Eye – R Scott Bakker

If Tolkien ignited my love for fantasy, R Scott Bakker and Steven Erikson brought it to a full burn.  I really liked the Prince of Nothing, but the Judging Eye absolutely blew me away.  The Second Apocalypse series is a modern re-imagining of Lord of the Rings, and read comparatively, it's quite a ride.  To me, Lord of the Rings is 3rd edition D&D, and The Judging Eye is DCC run by Rob Zombie.  Amazing, amazing book.

7. The Illiad – Homer

I have a degree in Greek and Roman Studies, and the Illiad is a huge part of why.  My dad had a copy of the Richard Latimore translation, and I read it in high school.  The clashing of the armor and the roaring of the armies as they smash together has stuck with me 'lo these many years, and I still love the doomed hero (and no, I don't mean Achilles, he's an asshole).

8. Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson

The only science fiction book on the list.  Glossolalia, a main character NAMED Hiro Protagonist, swordfighting, computers, virtual reality, an Eskimo badguy with knives made of glass and a personal nuke?  Stephenson taught me that a story can have all kinds of weird shit in it, but if it's awesome, none of that matters.  And Snow Crash is awesome.  It set my baseline for sci fi and futuristic novels.

9. The Deluxe Transitive Vampire – Karen Gordon

The other non fiction book.  It's about grammar.  And it's funny and clever and excellent.  What more needs to be said?

10. Aztec – Gary Jennings

Aztec is a Gary Jennings book.  So.  If you know Gary Jennings, that says quite a bit.  It's got sex, violence, more sex, extremely graphic violence, oh, and really well researched history.  I generally feel that you learn history better from high-quality historical fiction than any history textbook, and Aztec is pretty much WHY I feel that way.  Also, it has quite a bit of sex.  Books can have sex, in fact, I would argue that they mostly should.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Worldbuilding: The Dwarven Military

When you think of dwarven warriors, the axe and the crossbow are the weapons that come to mind.
Dwarven Axe by Faradon, from Deviantart
They are the iconic weapons of the dwarves, but surely, a dwarven army cannot function with such a limited range of weaponry? Dwarves, as evidenced by the vast sweep of their history, have been successful enough in war to defend their holds and halls from many enemies, so how does the dwarven military engine really work? Well, I can’t tell you how it works in YOUR world, but I’ll tell you how it works in mine.

Based on their culture and physical bodies, dwarves have several inherent advantages, which they work to enhance, and drawbacks, which they work to minimize.

In terms of advantages, dwarves are very strong and durable, build tough fortifications, and have very good equipment and the industry and resources to manufacture a lot of it.

Their disadvantages are that they are not very numerous, move relatively slowly, and are not particularly sneaky. Also, they tend to inhabit marginal lands (mountains and hills) that are not suitable for heavy agriculture.

So, then, how do the iconic axe and crossbow fit into this picture? The axe can be a devastating weapon. It has concentrated cutting power and weight, it is relatively cheap to produce compared to a sword, and it’s effective against both armored and unarmored opponents. The drawbacks of the axe are that it is heavy and relatively slow to strike with - a perfect weapon for a heavily-armored, strong and tireless dwarf.
by heidifury from deviantart
The crossbow can also be a devastating weapon. It is powerful, relatively accurate and easy to use (compared to bows). But it is also difficult and time-consuming to manufacture, requiring specialized industry. Again, a perfect weapons for dwarves – their strength makes it easier for them to reload, it’s very effective from behind fortifications, it can be used by relatively untrained militias (helpful for bolstering numbers) and the dwarves have the industry and technology to build and maintain them.

But that can’t be all… Militaries have to be able to fight in a variety of situations, to have flexibility essentially. Axes and crossbows are effective, but aren’t flexible enough on their own, so what do the dwarves do?

The Standing Army. Most dwarf kingdoms of any size maintain a standing army. In a world with dragons, giants and orc hordes, that’s just common sense. For the dwarves in my world, there are usually 3 branches of a dwarf army, the Regulars, the Scouts and the Artillery.


Regular units are organized into “Guards” or “Watches”, with between 150 and 500 members, mixing male and female dwarves about 70/30. Most dwarf regulars are professional, full-time soldiers, equipped with high-quality half-plate or banded-style armor. A standard Guard will have a mix of roles, not unlike a pre-Marian roman legion. Front-liners carry axes, short swords (sometimes built into forearm gauntlets) and pick-backed hammers, and have round or rectangular shields. Imagine a line of 4’ high roman legionnaires with beards, and you have a pretty good picture of a dwarf front rank.

Flankers carry crossbows, and often work in teams, with a shooter, a loader and a shield-bearer (who can function as a front-liner).

Back-rankers carry polearms – glaives, halberds, Lucerne hammers, poleaxes. Often these weapons will have back hooks and spiked heads. Their job is to chew up the taller foes over the heads of the front-rankers. Back-rankers also often carry twist-bows (dwarf hand-crossbows). These are metal tubes with a powerful spring that are re-cocked by twisting the lower half of the tube and dropping a metal dart into the top. They are fired by pressing a firing stud forward.

The long life of dwarves also means that they train in a variety of different weapons and techniques. Against mobile or mounted opponents, Regular units will trade out their heavy infantry weapons for more crossbows and pikes, essentially converting into pike phalanx.

For underground operations, Regulars will switch out the round shields for more mobile bucklers, and equip more shortswords, daggers, picks and short assegai-style stabbing spears. They will also use a LOT more twist-bows.


Regulars are great in a stand-up fight, or in a dug-in position, but for other activities, the scouts come
in handy. Dwarf scouts are light troops who wear chainmail or reinforced leather armor, and carry heavy arbalests and hand weapons. Scouts are responsible for, well, scouting, but also long-range patrols, caravan guarding, underdark exploration and just about anything else that isn’t covered by the regulars. Their arbalests make them effective snipers, and scout units often work with regulars in large battles by holding rough terrain or shooting for enemy officers.

Scouts operate in smaller groups of 10-25, and are experienced at working independently for long periods of time.


Dwarves love mechanisms, and nothing says “mechanism” like a piece of artillery. My world doesn’t have gunpowder, so no Warhammer action, but dwarves still make some of the best artillery in the world. Any dwarf fortification is going to be well-stocked with artillery. Emplaced trebuchet and ballistae are common, and dwarves have the alchemical knowledge and technical skill to make flammable ammunition.

In the field, dwarves use highly-mobile field pieces, often made of lightweight steel frames. Onager and ballista-style field pieces are both used. Since dwarven armies are relatively slow, they use these pieces to support their troops and to punish more mobile enemies that might try to skirmish with them.

Artillery units in the field usually work with teams of a dozen or so, and often have flanker-style support units of 25 or so to protect them from mounted or flying foes.


Since there are relatively few dwarves compared to more prolific races, most dwarf holds maintain a tradition of extensive militia training. Again, the long life-span of dwarves means that these militia are usually much more competent and efficient than their shorter-lived counterparts, and the effectiveness of dwarf industry also means they are better equipped.

Dwarf militia units can ultimately call up to 75% of the population of a given hall, assuming it is for a limited time (like a siege or single battle). These units include both male and female dwarves. Dwarf militia wear chain armor and have round shields, hand weapons (axes, hammers and short swords) and most of them carry a crossbow, making them effective as both melee and missile troops. Some militia carry spears, and they are capable of basic military formation movement, unlike many other militia units.

Fortifications and Sieges

Dwarves are classic “turtlers” – they build extensive fortifications, defend tenaciously and rarely strike offensively, preferring to take and hold ground. They are masters of siegecraft, undermining walls, emplacing artillery and building extensive trenches, walls and traps. Read up on the Battle of Alesia if you want some examples of how dwarf armies might work in a siege.

Dwarf crossbows, artillery and stonework make assaulting dwarf fortifications a dicey proposition. Their skill in the underground environment also makes long sieges impractical, as they can bring in supplies via underground routes. Enemies like orcs often resort to irregular warfare – constant raiding of farms, trade and mines is more effective than standup warfare against the dwarves.