The dwarves, or dwarva, as the dwarves refer to themselves, are one of the major humanoid races of the Dragon Age setting. Strong, stocky, and shorter than any other humanoid race, the dwarves are skilled builders and boast a long tradition of courage and martial skill that has served them well in their millennia-long battle against the darkspawn.
They once developed a huge, great empire which spread across vast underground networks of twelve great thaigs that spanned the breadth of Thedas with its population outnumbering both the humans and the elves. However their world was all but destroyed during the First Blight, and they are now a race in decline.
The single-mindedness of the dwarves is credited for the race's survival. Their ability to dedicate their efforts to a cause helped them survive in conditions that no other race would have long been able to and gave rise to a level of technology that far surpasses anything else in Thedas.
Dwarves are known to be increasingly infertile due to their proximity to the darkspawn taint, a situation which has given rise to anxiety for the future of the race, as well as the invention of noble hunters to bolster the children born to noble houses.
In Dragon Age: Origins, dwarves are a playable race for the Warden by choosing the Dwarf Noble or the Dwarf Commoner Origin. Furthermore, in the Awakening expansion, the Orlesian Warden-Commander can be a dwarf.
Racial benefits: +1 strength, +1 dexterity, +2 constitution, 10% chance to resist hostile magic
Racial benefits: +25% Magic Defense
Dwarves are responsible for introducing the common tongue, currency, trade and entertainment to humanity. They have mastered clockwork, mechanical weaponry, and limited steam power. Dwarven clockwork, while uncommon, is notable, as time-telling in Thedas is inexact.
Unlike the other races, dwarves do not naturally enter the Fade as they do not dream and lack magical ability. In fact there is no recorded exception to their inability to learn spellcasting however they are not completely barred and may enter the Fade in exceptional circumstances. This is reflected in their resistance to magic, and accounts for their high tolerance to lyrium exposure.
Dwarves also possess a unique ability called "Stone sense", a talent for subterranean navigation derived from the race's progenitor, the Stone. Stone sense is described as the ability to hear the distant song of lyrium. This connection allows dwarves to sense a passageway before reaching it and can navigate the Deep Roads without getting hopelessly lost. However, in the games, this talent is not implemented neither as a game mechanic nor as a plot device. Dwarves who live on the surface for a long time gradually lose this ability and those born on the surface appear to not possess it at all.
Due to their underground life, dwarves have developed superior vision in the dark. This ability is also shared by the elves. Furthermore, because of their hardy constitution, sickness is thought to be rare among the dwarven folk. But due to constant warfare, proximity to the darkspawn, and low fertility rates the numbers of underground dwarves decrease steadily (except during the Blights) for nearly a thousand years.
- Main article: Dwarven history
Records of early dwarven history in Orzammar's Memories go back tens of millennia. However, there are large lacunae in the records of the earliest years due to records being lost or erased. As such, origins of the dwarves are not clear. Nor is it clear when the first thaig was built or the founding of the first dwarven kingdom. The Primeval Thaig discovered during the Dragon Age is also of unknown chronology. The Titans and the dwarves lived together during this time but their exact relationship remains unknown.  In -4600 Ancient, the elves first made contact with the dwarves and eventually the elves made war upon the titans and dwarves, killing many of the former and driving the latter underground. Between -1195 and -975 Ancient, the dwarves fought a war against an attacking force of Scaled Ones which ended with the retreat of the latter and has not been seen since. A few centuries before the First Blight in -385 Ancient, Paragon Fairel established the first surface thaig.
After humans arrived in Thedas in -3100 Ancient, the Dwarven empire expanded and worked with both men and elves. They formed an alliance with Tevinter in -1200 Ancient that still holds two millennia later. In -1170 Ancient, the capital was moved from Kal-Sharok to Orzammar and the period following this was marked by a great flourishing of art, commerce and engineering. In -975 Ancient, elves fleeing the destruction of Arlathan found temporary shelter in Cadash Thaig. This resulted in the thaig being destroyed by the dwarves of Kal-Sharok to prevent risking the alliance with Tevinter.
In -395 Ancient, the first darkspawn appeared underground, foreshadowing the First Blight. During this time, the thaigs became disconnected from each other as the Deep Roads became unsafe and occupied by the darkspawn. Paragon Aeducan rallied the dwarves out of their internal feuding and achieved the first victories, saving Orzammar. Paragon Caridin invented the golems in -255 Ancient and continued to make them until his King, Valtor, abused the process to remove political enemies. Without more golems, the dwarves could not defeat the darkspawn. Eventually Dumat was defeated with dwarven assistance in the Battle of the Silent Plains in -203 Ancient.
Even without the guidance of an Archdemon, the darkspawn continued to harry the dwarves, hold the deep roads and keep the thaigs in isolation from each other. This resulted in a new practice, starting in -195 Ancient, of each kingdom electing its own king. In -40 Ancient, Orzammar sealed its multiple thaigs off from the deep roads completely. The two kingdoms of Gundaar and Hormak fell within a decade. Kal-Sharok was also considered lost at this time, however, this was a mistaken belief. As far as anyone knew, all of the remaining dwarves in Thedas lived in the kingdom of Orzammar or were surface dwarves.
Much later, during the Towers Age, the dwarves fought along the Alamarri against the Chasind Wilders and even later, during the Fourth Blight they assisted in the relief of the siege of Marnas Pell. At around this time Ortan Thaig was also lost.
In 9:12 Dragon, it was discovered that Kal-Sharok was not lost, but had survived. Relations were tense as Orzammar demanded allegiance, which Kal-Sharok refused as they had been abandoned by the capital. After exchanging hands between the dwarves and the darkspawn numerous times, Bownammar fell permanently to the darkspawn in 9:13 Dragon. In 9:30 Dragon, there was a succession stalemate between Bhelen Aeducan and Pyral Harrowmont. This was resolved by the The Warden and for their role in ending the crisis, the Warden was given troops to end the Fifth Blight. In 9:32 Dragon, House Helmi led an army which cleared the Deep Roads all the way to Kal'Hirol and reclaimed it for the dwarves. Orzammar was not directly impacted by the return of Corypheus in 9:41 Dragon. However, earthquakes during this time disrupted lyrium mining operations underneath the Storm Coast and The Inquisitor assisted the Legion of the Dead and Shaper Valta in discovering their cause and ending the tremors.
- Main article: Caste
The dwarven social hierarchy is ruled by complex, interrelated, and rigid castes. The casteless, commonly known as "dusters" after their ghetto of Dust Town, are the lowest rung of dwarven society; outcasts in their own city, unable to take up work among the higher castes, nor to defend their honor in the Provings or fight the darkspawn to protect the city, dwarves rejected by the Stone itself. Dwarves who are exiled or born on the surface are also officially casteless - but with an increase in the number of higher-caste dwarves choosing to live on the surface, it is becoming difficult for some surface dwarves to be considered permanent exiles. The average dwarf will never see the surface, and often will have superstitious beliefs concerning surface-life (such as falling into the sky, or the sun falling to the ground).
Above the casteless are servants, artisans, miners, smiths, merchants, warriors and nobles. Among the nobles, the deshyrs are a group of dwarves who participate in the Assembly on behalf of their house. While it is possible for some dwarves to better their family's station by performing great deeds and/or siring children with higher-caste dwarves, these remain rare and difficult circumstances. Lower-caste dwarves who rise in caste are generally considered "upjumped" by the highest castes. In dwarven society, children inherit the caste of their same-sex parent; should a son be born, he would inherit his father's caste, or his father's lack of caste, should that be the case.
Monarchy is the dwarven standard of government, but heredity tends to be a weak factor in determining who sits on the throne when the time comes for a new ruler. While a king may propose his heir to the throne, the next ruler is ultimately determined in the Assembly by a vote of the deshyrs.
It has been mentioned that most of the wealth of the dwarves comes from selling processed lyrium to the mages of Thedas. The Chantry holds a monopoly on lyrium trade with the dwarves (in order to maintain control over templars and mages), but there remains a flourishing black market of the substance, dominated on the dwarven end by the Carta in Dust Town.
- Main article: Education
Education in Orzammar appears to be given to those with caste and may in part be administered by members of the Shaperate. Among the casteless there is no formal education and most are functionally illiterate.
- Main article: Dwarven diet
The diet of the dwarven race is unique to all other races in Thedas, owing to the majority of dwarves living their entire lives underground. The diet of those living in the thaig of Orzammar are the most documented, as opposed to the unknown diet of the more secretive dwarves of Kal-Sharok. As a result of living underground, a dwarf's diet relies heavily upon foodstuffs harvested, and animals found, in the Deep Roads.
- Main article: The Stone
Unlike many other cultures in Thedas, dwarves do not worship anthropomorphic gods. Instead, their philosophy promotes personal excellence and an almost intimate tie to the Stone that houses them. Referring reverentially to "the Stone", the dwarves speak of it as being alive. They are the Stone's children; they respect her, they fear her, they cherish her, and they give thanks to her for protecting them and providing them with her bounty. This religion has been practiced for two thousand years by the dwarves.
Their other cultural beliefs are more akin to ancestor worship. Dwarves who lead a strong and noble life are said to strengthen the Stone when they die, becoming one of the Ancestors. Those who are ignoble or disgraced would weaken the Stone and are therefore rejected by it for all eternity. Surface dwarves and casteless are believed to be rejected by the Stone.
Every once in a while, a dwarf is declared by the Assembly to be particularly noble. If the required motion is passed in the Assembly, these dwarves become Paragons and are revered during their lives as living Ancestors. When a dwarf achieves Paragon status, a noble house bearing their name is established. The deeds of a Paragon are carefully recorded in the Memories, records of lineage and deeds that help determine what caste a dwarf is born into. The word of a Paragon is held in such esteem that you can surpass even the king's word. Furthermore, a dwarf can be declared as a Paragon even posthumously.
Surface dwarves still preserve their beliefs in the Stone, while some do not follow or care for any religion. Only a small minority of them is part of the Chantry.
Gender and sexuality
- Main article: Sexuality and marriage
In spite of the fundamental conservativeness of the dwarven culture, sexuality plays an important role, largely due to the low racial birth rate. It has been suggested that the root cause of the low birth rate may be "corruption-caused infertility" contracted from exposure to the Deep Roads. As is common in surfacer society, nobles and other high-caste dwarves are expected to marry only within their caste. Dwarves do not often mate with other races as such contact is limited in the isolated Orzammar. And as they naturally consider themselves superior to other races, and such mingling is looked down upon in any case.
Female dwarves appear to have little control over their sexuality, as their chiefest asset, regardless of caste, is their ability to bear children. Noble females are especially pressured to marry and bear children. Male nobles are expected—even encouraged—to be promiscuous, in order to sire as many children as possible, often with noble hunters. Noble females are expected to guard their virtue.
Casteless females understand their value in Orzammar is solely in breeding among the castes, which gives them agency, in a fashion, as noble hunters, who seek the sexual attentions of noble males in order to advance themselves (and/or their families or 'sponsors'). Casteless males have a more difficult situation, as they can only hope to sire children with higher-caste women - most of whom are not in a position to pursue affairs with them, or are not interested in doing so.
Prostitution exists in Orzammar, with the finest brothels being restricted to the highest caste dwarves, such as warrior caste. Additionally, in terms of courtship, it is noted that for a dwarven male to wear both vambraces indicates he is unmarried and eligible.
- Main article: Shaperate
The judicial functions of government are split between the king and the Shaperate. The king and his warriors deal with crime and maintain order, while the Shaperate deals with civil disputes. The Shaperate is also ultimately responsible for the preservation of all records current and historical. As a result, it is the supreme authority over the authenticity and binding nature of contracts, as well as legal precedent. The Shaper of Memories is considered a role of absolute impartiality in dwarven society, and commands enormous respect as a disinterested third-party in legal matters.
In dwarven society the role of the Shaper is one of great honor, privilege, and also hardship. A Shaper must honor the Stone, protect it, and present a new history to the Memories. However, this means that a Shaper must seek out knowledge and history beyond the city and its inhabitants, venturing into the Deep Roads to record the history of lost thaigs and ruins and dwarves whom the Memories might otherwise forget. A Shaper must be prepared to risk all—perhaps even their own life—so that the dwarven race might reclaim its lost knowledge and learn from it.
Legion of the Dead
- Main article: Legion of the Dead
The Legion of the Dead is an independent branch of the dwarven army which answers directly to the king or queen of Orzammar. It is considered to be the most intimidating and devastating dwarven military force and most attribute this to the fact that the Legionnaires consider themselves already dead.
- Main article: Provings
The Provings are public arena battles fought for the sake of honor and glory and to entertain the masses. They take place in the Orzammar Proving arena. Dwarves believe that a fighter who wins a Proving has the approval of the Paragons and so they use Provings to settle debates and honor challenges that could not be settled otherwise. This usually falls to warrior caste champions. Some Proving matches are fought to the death, but even in a dwindling society such as Orzammar, one death in a Proving is thought preferable to the widespread bloodshed of a conflict between noble houses. In recent years, the Provings have also been used for entertainment and events to honor special guests, and each year the best fighters in Orzammar meet for the "Trials of Blood," a great tournament that crowns the kingdom's best and most popular fighter.
The great gladiatorial battles of the ancient Tevinter Imperium are based on this dwarven tradition.
The Warden has at least one opportunity to take part in a Proving - through either dwarven origin story and/or in the process of soliciting Orzammar's aid against the Blight.
- Main article: Golem
In ages past, Paragon Caridin magically crafted huge stone and metal golems to act as war machines for the dwarven armies. The craft of making new golems was lost with Caridin himself, and the main body of war golems, known as the Legion of Steel, was lost in a futile search for him.
- Main article: Surface dwarves
Dwarves who have left the Stone's embrace are considered by their subterranean brethren as non-dwarves, lost and rejected by the Stone. They have no caste and no right to be reinstated. In sharp contrast, the humans respect surface dwarves and value their hard-working ethics, cunning and skills they bring. Surface dwarves usually work in the Dwarven Merchants' Guild supplying Orzammar with surface goods and exporting its products but there are many smiths, stonemasons, bankers as well as Carta thugs.
Many dwarves have moved on the surface, either as members of expeditions funded by dwarven houses or guilds, for their own personal reasons, or as a punishment. In ancient times, the punishment of exile was very uncommon and was considered to be one of the fiercest.
According to dwarven scholars, surface dwarves may soon outnumber their underground-living peers.
- Main article: Thaig
The Memories tell us that our kingdom once reached far beneath the mountains, and that the thaigs were almost beyond counting.
There are currently three remaining dwarven cities where once existed twelve great kingdoms adjoining the dwarven empire. Orzammar is the largest, greatest and proudest of the three. The other dwarven cities are Kal-Sharok and Kal'Hirol.
Kal-Sharok was thought to be lost to the darkspawn incursion after the First Blight, but in 9:12 Dragon King Endrin Aeducan of Orzammar learned of Kal-Sharok's survival, although it had done so only at great cost, and with a great deal of resentment against the dwarves of Orzammar who had sealed off the Deep Roads and given up Kal-Sharok for dead. Far from a joyous reunion, communication between the kingdoms has so far consisted of Orzammar's insistence that Kal Sharok pay homage to its king and Kal Sharok's response that they consider the denizens of Orzammar who gave them up for dead to be wraith-blooded traitors to the Stone. It is unknown what the future relationship of the two cities will be, if anything.
The last is Kal'Hirol which was lost to the darkspawn and recently reclaimed by the dwarves of Orzammar.
- Main article: Assembly
Orzammar—as the ancient empire likely was before the division into city-states—is a constitutional monarchy, consisting of a king and one legislative house entirely of nobles (approximately eighty of them at the time of Dragon Age: Origins). Other castes are not represented in any fashion in the Assembly. The noble houses which are allowed to have a deshyr and represented in the Assembly are those which can trace a general, deshyr or a Paragon among their ancestors. Subsequently, lesser noble houses may not have a vote in the Assembly as well as the number of deshyrs in the Assembly can easily vary. The Assembly holds the power to advise the king, approve or veto acts of the king, propose policy, declare Paragons, and elect new kings. Furthermore, the Steward of the Assembly is a non-voting member.
- Main article: Dwarven royalty
When the king or queen die, the Assembly goes into deliberation until they choose the next monarch, by majority vote. It is traditional for the king or queen to nominate their successor, usually their eldest child, or less often, a younger child or even someone from another House. This decision carries a significant political weight during the election, however it is not enough to determine the new ruler. Fighting, blackmail, and assassination can be intense as contenders for the throne vie for power, and can last for a very long time before the succession is resolved. Dwarves, as they themselves note, are hardheaded and stubborn in their decision-making.
Typically a male is chosen as king, but on rare occasions a female is chosen as queen.
The other crucial authority of the Assembly is to declare Paragons. Declaring a dwarf a Paragon is essentially declaring a new noble house, since that Paragon and their family will be elevated to noble status. From then on, they will have the right to their own deshyr in the Assembly. All other growth of the Noble caste depends solely on the fertility of its females. Because dwarven society (in particular the nobility) is essentially conservative, nominations for Paragon are extremely rare.
While the king may propose legislation, the Assembly has the authority to block the king's actions through dissent and deadlock, limiting the king's ability to affect domestic law or international relations. The king's primary functions are as an important figure in ceremony, and as the Commander-in-Chief. The king's greatest autonomy is in the deployment of troops in the Deep Roads and the training of warriors. It is unclear whether the king is also the de facto general of the dwarven army, though it is implied that each is a separately-held office and his role as Commander-in-Chief is mainly as a figurehead.
One would be hard pressed to find a people prouder of their history and accomplishments than the dwarves of Orzammar. They have done much of great worth. Their architectural feats alone are staggering. But their greatest triumphs are also all long past, and their pride eclipses them. In fact, the dwarves' pride has contributed substantially, if not definitively, to Orzammar’s current condition. There is little doubt that their embattled kingdom could stand the military aid of any surface kingdom that would be willing to provide it.
The dwarves of Orzammar are not xenophobic, but neither do they believe that there is much of worth to be found beyond their stone halls. They believe dwarves to be the most formidable race of Thedas and condescend to outsiders on the unusual occasions when they interact. To their credit, most dwarves of Orzammar can be readily convinced that some particular human or elf is worthy of respect based on deeds either observed or reported, but at the same time, these dwarves also argue until the end of their breath that these individuals are unusual exceptions to the general rule.
Grey Wardens and the dwarven people have always had a kinship through their shared battle against the darkspawn. Dwarves are consequently viewed as excellent recruits to the Order due to their experience against the darkspawn. It is also known that dwarven Grey Wardens lifted the hundred day siege of Orzammar. However, as there are fewer dwarves due to low birth rates, there are also fewer dwarven Wardens. Grey Wardens are also the only surface organization to care about the endless war the dwarves wage against the darkspawn in the Deep Roads.
When the time of a Grey Warden's Calling draws near, a Warden honors a longstanding agreement between the Wardens and the dwarves and serves a year fighting darkspawn in the Deep Roads at the side of the dwarves. When the advance of the taint is unbearable, the Warden is celebrated by the dwarves and then enters the Deep Roads for their Calling. As noted by Alistair, the dwarves respect the Grey Wardens for their sacrifices.
Between 9:41 and 9:42 Dragon, the Inquisition may gain Orzammar's friendship and as a result the reigning king will send legionnaires and financial aid to support their efforts against the Elder One. Later on the dwarves of Orzammar will request the help of the Inquisition with finding the cause of repeated earthquakes and putting an end to them.
The dwarves of Orzammar maintain a good relationship with the Orlesian Empire with which they share borders in the western side of the Frostback Mountains. They provide the empire with lyrium and minerals, as well as smithing. Lyrium is especially important as it is used by Circle mages as a mana replenishment resource of their more complex spells and consumed by the Chantry's templars.
Furthermore, Queen Valda Aeducan forged a trade agreement with Emperor Etienne I in 7:80 Storm and gifted him a bronto trophy to commemorate this event. The relations between the two nations were further improved during the reign of King Barran Aeducan who made an expedition to the Deep Roads with Grand Duke Gratien in 8:31 Blessed. A deepstalker trophy was gifted to the Grand Duke to commemorate this event and both trophies are currently on display in Winter Palace.
The dwarven empire has been allied with the Tevinter Imperium for more than 2,000 years. Dwarven influence can still be seen in Imperial Proving Grounds and the use of three massive golems called Juggernauts, to defend the capital of Minrathous. The lyrium trade is the primary reason for their close alliance, and the magic-centric Imperium is mainly dependent on Orzammar to meet its immense demand. Except the trade alliance, it is also known that the dwarves helped Tevinter during the Fourth Blight by lifting the siege of Marnas Pell and they received many accolades of the ruling Archon.
Many surface dwarves live in the Imperium, not considered citizens but rather foreign dignitaries, even if their houses have existed in the Imperium for ages.
The Tevinter Imperium hosts numerous dwarven embassies, since the days of Archon Darinius and his alliance with the legendary king of the dwarven empire, Endrin Stonehammer. There are dwarven embassies in every major city, much like dwarven settlements in other countries in Thedas. However Tevinter dwarves have their own branch of government, unlike dwarves in other countries. This body is called the Ambassadoria, representatives elected by the dwarves to advise the Archon and the Magisterium. The Ambassadoria is more of a lobbying group than a parliament.
Dwarven embassies in Minrathous, Neromenian, and Qarinus are entirely underground and are considered by dwarves to reside within the Stone, allowing those in the embassy to retain their caste. Some dwarves serving in Tevinter embassies never leave these underground fastnesses. No dwarves are known to be kept as slaves in the Imperium, presumably due to their fundamental importance to the Imperium in providing lyrium.
Despite this close alliance, there are two known cases in which some of the dwarves secretly breached this pact. The first was with providing safe harbor in Cad'halash Thaig for the ancient elves who were fleeing after the destruction of Arlathan. The dwarves of Kal-Sharok were informed of this so they attacked Cad'halash and killed everyone in order to hide all the evidence from the Imperium. The second occasion was when Amaranthine was held by the Avvars. The Imperium at that time were trying to conquer Ferelden and the dwarves secretly traded with the Avvars beneath Amaranthine.
Languages and phrases
- Main article: Dwarven languages and phrases
The dwarves had multiple languages that are no longer generally spoken, and only a few phrases remain in common usage. Now they speak the "common tongue", once invented in order to trade with each other and later introduced to other races.
- According to dialogue between Oghren and Zevran Arainai, dwarves are 100 times less numerous than humans.
- All the races in Thedas are said to live approximately the same length of natural life.
- Children between dwarves and humans are extremely rare because of the low fertility rate of dwarves in addition to the small chances of producing offspring with other races. Half-dwarves are shorter than humans but taller than dwarves. Furthermore, it is more often that such mating would happen with surface dwarves as such union would be heavily stigmatized in Orzammar.
- Children between dwarves and elves are even more rare. Their offspring would be dwarven to all appearances.
- Some of the old dwarven families' buildings are Dragon's Créche. They are buildings designed to kill the intruders, usually because they store important items. Such constructs take decades to complete.
- Though exceptionally rare, some surface dwarves have joined the Templar Order. Despite the dwarven exposure to lyrium and resistance to its ill-effects, it does not ensure protection from the addictions and other side-effects which are caused by a templar's required lyrium ingestion. Though it is unclear if they remain more resistant to its withering effects than other races, it is undoubtable that a dwarf's overall magical resistance would produce excellent templar recruits.
- According to Ander legend the traders coming across the Volca Sea to their port town of Laysh are called Voshai and they were hostile towards the people of Laysh, completely uninterested in learning the King's tongue for anything more than barter and were obsessed with purchasing lyrium. According to those legends the captains of each ship were dwarves and they were treated with such deference that it implied they held profound power in their society. No elves were working on the Voshai ships. Based on questionable reports in recent years many Voshai ships have returned to Laysh carrying tales of a "massive cataclysm" in their homeland.
- According to Darktown's Deal, Varric Tethras' fictional book, it states that the Merchant and Noble castes fund speculative business ventures headed by their kin on the surface and maintain secret ties with them in order to expand Orzammar's trade. It even says that the Carta's black market is secretly tolerated and encouraged because the dwarven elites know that trade with the surface is the only thing sustaining Orzammar's economy. However it is not known how much of this is fictional, exaggeration, or real.
- Early in development it was planned that dwarves would speak with a German accent. It was, however, scrapped and the dwarves speak with varying accents.
- Female dwarves were notably absent in Dragon Age II.
- Unlike any other race, there has been no dwarven romance available to the playable character.
- Dwarven culture takes inspiration from societies such as the Aztecs and Mayans.
- Qunari may refer to all dwarves, or possibly just bothersome dwarves, as "short mouth".