Those who know dwarves speak of their gruff yet friendly demeanors, their mining expertise, and their penchant for working things out of stone and metal. However, dwarven culture is rich with protocol, and the slightest misstep in etiquette can often lead to embarrassment, harassment, and sometimes discord. Simply put, there are certain behaviors and rituals one must follow in dwarven society lest one be ridiculed or shunned.
The Eleven Dwarven Axioms of Etiquette Edit
Dwarves who are raised in dwarven communities are raised to embrace the eleven Dwarven Axioms. Variations of these exist in every dwarven kingdom from Hammerhold to Aundaraun, usually chiselled into the great pillars that support the vaulted ceilings of the magnificent dwarven halls. Children are made to recite these axioms by their fathers, and those who fail to pick up on them are labeled dunces and forced to learn them by carefully chiselling each axiom into a rectangular slate tile. The tiles are then mounted to the walls of the dwarfling’s cave as firm reminders.
- “Be loyal and honorable to your king.”
- “Honor your clan, your family, and your ancestors.”
- “Stand by your word.”
- “Never forget when you’ve been wronged.”
- “Never turn your back on a friend in need.”
- “Anger and pride are both good for the spirit.”
- “In the hearth, the woman is always right.”
- “Never come between a dwarf and his weapon.”
- “Never make light of another dwarf’s beard.”
- “Never make light of another dwarf’s livelihood.”
- “Honor those who have honored themselves"
The Eighth Axiom of Etiquette, “Never come between a dwarf and his weapon,” inevitably spawned what some dwarves refer to as the Unsung Twelfth Axiom: “Never come between a dwarf and his ale.” Some dwarven kings insist on adding new Axioms to the Eleven handed down through generations, but these faux Axioms are often for gotten and seldom universal.
Greetings & Salutations Edit
Dwarven salutations generally vary, but etiquette dictates that greetings should be polite, succinct, and respectful. Strangers are afforded similar treatment unless they are outwardly hostile or undeserving. Friendly salutations border on boisterous, with dwarves patting each other on the back and speaking highly of one another’s families. It is poor judgment for one dwarf to react angrily to another dwarf for no reason, and such anger is contagious and almost certainly reciprocated. Greeting a dwarf by insulting his good name or his family invites curses and two-fisted violence, as most dwarves will not allow his honor to be sullied or his clan defamed. Even feigned insults are frowned upon, as dwarves find no humor in mockery. Dwarves do not shake hands as humans do. When greeting or bidding farewell to a dwarf, an individual places his or her right hand on the dwarf’s right shoulder. For particularly emotional greetings or departures, this is done while simultaneously using one’s left hand to grasp the dwarf’s right forearm. This is called the binding. Dwarves consider the shaking of hands a “human gesture” but take no great offense.
Placing one’s hand on a dwarf’s left shoulder is done only when one wishes to convey grim or ill tidings. Dwarves who desire no formal or close acquaintance typically nod once as a succinct sign of acknowledgement that doubles as a gesture of respect. A dwarf who wishes to ignore another merely turns his head 90 degrees to the right. At worst, this is considered an affront. Turning one’s head 90 degrees to the left is an insult and tells the recipient that he is unworthy even to stand in the presence of the gesturing individual. This is often a precursor to violence. Dwarves do not wave. The halfling tendency to wave at everything and everyone makes dwarves roll their eyes and clutch their warhammers.
Lastly, pulling a dwarf’s beard (even playfully) during formal and informal greetings and farewell biddings is guaranteed to incur lifelong animosity. A dwarf’s beard is not to be tugged. Complimenting another’s beard, however, is sure to to leave an endearing impression.
Clan Status Edit
Dwarves are proud by nature, but no proud dwarf was ever born to a disgraced clan. Family honor is the most important thing to any dwarf, and one would sooner die than watch his or her clan sink into disrepute. Dwarves are protective of their immediate family and relatives regardless of the distance separating them. For that reason alone, kingdoms of dwarves never fail to unite against common enemies, because the clans tend to be spread throughout these kingdoms, and one clan always stands together. A dwarf who defies his family defies his clan. Defying one’s clan makes the dwarf an outcast, and exile is the worst punishment most dwarves can imagine (worse than imprisonment or death). The “standard protocol” is for young dwarves, male and female, to defer to their closest elders. Younger brothers obey older brothers, while the eldest brother obeys his father and uncle. This structure of obedience works equally for the women, who defer to their sisters, aunts, and mothers. The individual clan structure is typically patriarchal, with a grandfather-like figure making decisions for the good of the entire clan and his sons or nephews keeping their respec- tive families in line. Before an enterprising dwarf strikes out on his own, he is required to win the favor and blessing of the Clan Father dwarf. To leave without pledging one’s unwavering faith to his clan in the presence of the Clan Father is poorly regarded, and defying the wishes of the Clan Father is punishable by exile.
Dwarves are lawful and loyal to their clans. Clans earn honor through heroic deeds, loyal service to the king, and great achievements. Whether this entails building a great bridge across a chasm or slaying a deep dragon, the honor bestowed by such accomplishments bolsters clan pride in the eyes of the community. Dwarves are expected to acknowledge the achievements of other clans, and a clan with a particularly distinguished lineage is placed atop a pedestal and becomes the model that other clans strive to emulate. It is considered fine etiquette to compliment a dwarf by recounting some tale of how his clan achieved “greater glory,” perhaps by telling a gloriously-spun tale of how the clan purged the caverns of drow during the Great Rockfall 200 years ago. Since it is impossible to retain all of one clan’s accomplishments, dwarves generally regard members of other clans with utmost respect. In this way, dwarven clans may share in each other’s honor, and the community remains in high spirits. A clan that graced with a long line of heroes will often sing the praises of a clan whose accomplish- ments are more modest and, in so doing, reaffirm its own sense of pride, honor, and integrity. When a dwarf dishonors his clan, he is placed under close observation and coerced into redeeming himself in some fashion. If the dwarf continues to disgrace himself and his family, he is cast out before the honor of the entire clan is sullied by his misdeeds.In extreme situations, all recognition of this dwarf is erased from community lore, to the point where no dwarf will speak of the individual or recount instances of his dishonor. The Clan Father may even instruct his daughters to strike the name from the stone tablets that chronicle his family’s lineage.
Gender Roles Edit
Most dwarven realms and communities are governed by a single ruler who is almost always male. (Dwarven queens are rare. A queen rules only so long as it takes for one of the dead king’s heirs to reach the age of 100 years, at which time he is deemed old and wise enough to take his mother’s seat on the throne.) Dwarves of both genders support this patriarchy and honor their liege with loyal, humble service. However, males do not “rule the roost,” so to speak. In fact, within individual homes, the females usually hold sway. Dwarven males are typically haughty and proud, and it is the duty of the women to humble them. They laud their husbands, sons and brothers for their strength, dedication and pride; they also chastise them severely for laziness, boorishness and (sometimes) infidelity. In the hearth, the women command the men, and dwarven etiquette dictates that no male dwarf may rightfully belittle or oppose the “women of the hearth.” Dwarven men are expected to be kind and faithful to their wives, sisters and daughters, no matter how abrasive and shrewish their demeanors. A male dwarf harming a female dwarf is almost unheard of, for the hearth (the home) is where the men learn humility. This is ingrained early in a dwarven male’s childhood; even the most churlish males bend before the iron will of their female counterparts (which explains why so many men spend long hours working in the mines). There is no inequality among dwarven females. (This is not true of the males, who sometimes prize their stature above one another.) The women are usually “hearthkeepers,” devoted to their families in every conceivable regard, and they share many of the same responsibilities. In dwarven culture, a female of any clan can speak freely to any other female dwarf within the community, including female members of the ruling nobility (such as the queen, if there is one). However, an invisible hierarchy does not permit women to address members of the male nobility or males of high standing without first seeking permission from their wives or daughters. Breach of this protocol is considered a disgrace not only to the offending female, but to her immediate family as well. It is common practice, regardless of social standing, for a dwarven woman to petition other dwarven women for the “privilege” of speaking to their respective mates. Male dwarves of any status may speak freely to anyone within their own community, male or female, including members of the nobility or royal family. Within the male patriarchy, women have no voting rights in matters that affect the community at large. (A dwarven queen would be an exception.) The king and his male subjects are the ones responsible for the community’s protection and continuance. (Certainly female dwarves contribute in more subtle ways.) The perception is always maintained that the men are “in control” and the women support them, even when the truth is otherwise.
Civility and Lack Thereof Edit
Some dwarves have gained enough wisdom in their years to appreciate civility. They cast off impertinence like a wet blanket and have neither the time nor energy to harbour resentment to others of their kind (and other civilized demihumans or their acquaintance). However, many dwarves actually prefer to hold grudges. Gripes and grudges are custtomary in dwarven society, and a dwarf without at least one gripe orgrudge is worthy of suspicion. Disdain is embedded deep in dwarven culture and jaded dwarves are accorded a fair measure of respect. Grumbling, grinding one’s teeth, and snarling are sure fire ways to win another dwarf’s admiration or, at the very least, respect. Many dwarves are perceived as “gruff by outsiders because their anger is contagious. Scowling at unfamiliar passers-by is as common and well regarded as a broad smile greeting familiar face. It should not be mistaken for aloofness or actual disdain.Dwarves who are perpetually dour are respected, but those who fail to enjoy themselves or take light of their periodic stoicism are inapproachable and friendless. Thus, dwarves try very hard to cast aside their inbred anger in the company of friends and family, reverting to their gruff demeanors when confronted by strangers and distant acquaintances. Dwarven transactions and merchant relations can border on hostility, but it is considered poor etiquette for a dwarf to leave any meeting genuinely upset. Even two dwarves who refuse to see “eye to eye” can part on equal terms and look forward to their next meeting.
Dwarven males are blunt and forthright fellows; the females are equally forthright but often more subtle with their words. Dwarves who are evasive and conniving rarely fit well in dwarven society and usually strike out on their own. To the elves, humans and halflings, dwarves lack any mod icum of social grace. However, dwarves measure their social interaction very differently from these other races. Politeness is always tempered with severity and directness. A dwarf doesn’t waste words finagling over the price of a battle axe; if the price is unreasonable, he’ll bid the vendor a stern farewell and look somewhere else. Haggling with the dwarf is tolerated only if the dwarf doesn’t feel like he’s being played for a fool.
Table Manners Edit
Most dwarves eat around the fires of their hearths. To stand morosely in a corner and pick at one's food is unbecoming. To take one's meal away from the table into another chamber is unforgivable (and never tolerated by the family matron). “Table talk” revolves around storytelling, and every dwarf seated at the table is afforded a chance to speak regardless of age. A dwarf who refuses to talk during the meal is regarded as an ingrate. Even a dwarf who is not hungry can still sit at the table and share stories with his family and friends; there is simply no excuse for anti social behavior at the dinner table. knife together three times after finishing a meal—a thank you to the chef for a job well done.It is impolite to make light of one’s food or to question the talents of those who have prepared the meal. (Complaining about rations is accept able, but slighting a specially prepared meal is poor etiquette.) The gods smile upon those who stuff their bellies and frown upon dwarves who cannot see the value of a cooked meal. Dwarven custom entails clashing one's fork and knife together three times after finishng a meal—a thank you to the chef or a job well done.
Dwarven Faux-Pas Edit
Dwarven faux-pas are rarely unfor- givable, but they do cast a dim light on the unwary perpetrator and often affect how other dwarves deal with them in the future. Below is a list of some of the worst faux-pas;
- Mucking up a dwarven legend or heroic tale. Forgetting the name of a dwarven hero is bad enough; mistaking one dwarven hero for another is just wrong. To begin recounting a tale and then not finish it is extremely rude.
- Calling a dwarf "What’s-His-Name” or forgetting his name altogether. A dwarf’s pride stems from his name and
that of his clan. To forget a dwarf’s name is to forsake his friendship.
- Failing to braid one’s beard before attending royalty, community events, dwarven weddings, or religious ceremonies. Some dwarves braid their beards on a daily basis as a matter of pride, and also to circumvent any possible breach of etiquette. An unkempt, unbraided beard is fine for everyday life, but braiding is symbolic of celebration and is expected in large public gatherings.
- Letting one who slanders your clan go unpunished. Whether the retribution consists of verbal beratement or physical assault, a dwarf must retaliate against any remark or action that slanders his or her family’s honor.
- Borrowing another dwarf’s beard comb. This just isn’t done.
- Sipping from another dwarf’s tankard. Dwarves do not share drinks (although they’ve been know to buy rounds for others). Drinking from another dwarf’s mug is a great way to start a fight.
- Shouting at the king. Unlike elven and human nobles, dwarven kings are known for their accessibility to the common folk. One of the great dwarven legends describes the time Yagard Stonesplitter screamed in King Galvan’s ear for three days straight, condemning the monarch for refusing to strike hard into duergar territory. The king was so impressed with the dwarf’s tirade that he appointed the weaponsmith Chief Military Advisor. Of course, the tale is untrue. Nevertheless brazen dwarves seeking advancement have often stood before their kings in times of strife and berated them only to be thrown out of the royal hall. (There are exceptions to this rule. In the kingdom of Granitemantle, the dwarves have an annual "Shout at the King" contest in which the dwarves with the loudest voices stand before the sealed doors of the palace and scream their lungs out. If the king can hear them through the 10’ thick stone doors, he honors these loud fellows with a meal in the palace that evening.)
- Spending or collecting coins of non-dwarven mint. Dwarves who are accustomed to traveling on the surface have overcome their loathing for non-dwarven currency, but they usu- ally keep one dwarven coin with them at all times for luck.
- Lying about one's name and refusing to divulge the name of one's clan. Dwarven thieves are known to wield disguises instead of warhammers, and they are often shunned for their duplicity. A dwarf who cannot stand and speak his name or declare his clan cannot be trusted.
- Cursing any of the dwarven gods. Dwarves have a deep spirituality, and they are cautious and wise enough not to anger their gods for fear of incurring an immortal’s anger and enmity. On the other hand, it is perfectly well for a dwarf to invoke a god's name to curse someone else as in “By Moradin's beard, you’re a foul wretch!”
- Failing to acknowledge another dwarf’s deeds or prowess. Whether he is a bridge builder or mindstalker, a dwarf likes to hear his name and deeds spoken of with respect. When a dwarf introduces himself by name and clan, the worst affront would be to reply, “And what do you do?” Even if the individual being addressed knows nothing of the dwarf or his deeds, the best reply would be, “You carry a proud name. Please tell me of your great deeds.” Dwarves who travel beyond their kingdoms carry word of their own deeds with them and are eager to gain a reputation.
Many thank to Christopher Perkins and Dragon Magazine #245