The Opal Empire
Dwarves are generally quiet, kind, and honest. Their society is a strict meritocracy based on tests and proving one’s abilities. The dwarves prize social harmony and knowing one’s place in society. They are great builders and architects but are exiled from their original home underground. They now live in new mountain cities and swear allegiance to the elves of the Opal Empire.
Rules of the Five Houses
The dwarven race had many gods once upon a time, but then the gates of heaven crashed shut and everyone was cut off from their mercy. The dwarves adapted to this lack in a curious way: they designed a secular philosophy of living that did not rely upon divine influence. Morality, they argue, is something bigger than gods. It is intrinsic to being alive. Thus, they invented the Rules of the Five Houses.
The five houses represent the concentric circles of life, from the inside to the outermost circle: self, family (house), clan or country, race-kind, and all living things. Attached to each circle are rules and laws, a set of proper behaviors, and rituals or instructions for facing life’s common problems. There are rules for acting properly in everyday life and laws for acting in a moral way. Above all, the dwarves focus on five sets of virtues:
altruism / charity
justice / fairness
kindness / politeness
loyalty / faith
integrity / truth
They are a strong meritocracy: everyone earns his or her position through testing and promotion. Men and women are equals in society. There are no formal social classes, though informally, certain “privileged” occupations enjoy a certain amount of prestige. The ideal that “everyone knows one’s place” is sometimes used by the privileged as a bludgeon to keep the less privileged members of society in check.
They take their “testing” to extremes, sometimes. Dwarves love to start bloody, but not usually fatal conflicts between clans and houses (“houses” in the usual sense, not the “Five Houses” sense). They feel that constant battle keeps their warriors ready for war, should the real thing come.
Each circle of dwarven culture has its own sets of tests used to evaluate and place its members into proper vocations. Those who are worthy are promoted out of their houses to clan service. The clan promotes its best to the city government, and the city promotes its best to the highest level of service (governing all dwarves and serving as ambassadors to other countries). No one is supposed to inherit positions based on considerations of family or money, but certainly these things play into dwarven politics.
Philosophy and Learning
Dwarves believe that the universe is a machine that can be studied and understood. They approach everything in this manner. As a result, they’ve acquired libraries full of books on fields like botany, metallurgy, statecraft, agriculture, family, psychology, exercise and martial arts, spirits and exorcism, taxonomy, alchemy, architecture and masonry, mathematics, and ecology. They prefer to understand something well before taking action, though they do not have the patience just to wait for their problems to go away like the elves do.
The Dwarves are great builders. They build things to last. While the elves criticize them for building plain, ugly structures, dwarven architecture has its own simple, solid beauty. Buildings are laid-out according to well-understood architectural principles to maximize comfort, light, and usable space. Roads and alleys are planned carefully to move traffic efficiently and quietly. Unlike human and elven cities, dwarves build their cities in layers, using the stone plateaus they prefer to build on as quarries, and constructing an undercity in the hole they dig the stone from. Thus, a dwarven city may look small and simple on top, but the many layers underneath hide their secrets.
Over thousands of years, dwarves have nearly perfected the magic for cutting and moving stone. Other races would not attempt to tunnel and dig the way they do, since it is much harder than surface building. The dwarves have little problem with this work, adding new layers under their cities over the centuries.
Dwarves are technically sovereign, though they are subject to the laws of the Empire. There is always quiet talk of rebellion, but ultimately the dwarves have made a practical calculation that war is more expensive than subjugation. The elves, to their credit, understand this as well, and they are careful not to fasten the yoke too tightly around dwarven necks. They do not force religion upon them. They do not interfere in their governance. They do not enslave dwarven citizens unless they break elven laws in elven lands. The elven Empress expects generous taxes from the dwarves and she expects support in military operations.
The highest leadership is the Deliberative Suzerain Council of representatives from nine cities.
Physically, dwarves are smaller and stronger than humankind. Their eye color varies widely, but their hair is usually gray, black, or brown. They wear plain clothes, usually layered robes and skirts/kilts of white or beige, that hide a lot of gender differences. Simple bits of color—trim, belts, and swatches—indicate position and responsibilities; dwarves are expert at interpreting these. The people with the highest power and responsibility wear the plainest robes, since everyone is expected to know who they are.