The Duergar: The Glint Of Gold

DuergOf all the races whose lore Tolkien stole for his various books, the Duergar - or dwarves, as we call them, although that term has been historically appropriated for short humans who would rather it fell by the wayside - are the least changed by his fiction. Lore about them is sparse but extremely consistent.

In modern fantasy gaming, the term "duergar" has come to mean a sub-race of evil dwarves, as opposed to jolly "Snow White"-type dwarves, but in actual lore there was no such division (unlike the Alfar). The term "Duerg" (plural "Duergar"), or Dverg, or Dvarg, or the German Zwerg, is the general term of reference for the dwarfish race.

Tales of the dwarves are strongest and most common in Germany. Many stories tell of the Duergar living in caves under the mountains, helping the working folk in the surrounding areas. According to stories from Bohemia to Bavaria, entering the tunnels of the Duergar could transport one to another world, which suggests that up until a couple of hundred years ago, there were functioning doors to Svartalfheim in the German mountains. There are many tourist caverns in Germany that are referred to as the "Dwarves' Cavern", in memory of this past era.

The stories also speak again and again of the infamous exodus of the Duergar in the early 1800s, when many peasants tell of seeing them all march away into the mountains, never to return. Many farmers had good relations with them - stories are told of mortal families who were closely entwined with the Duergar, who helped with farm labor, traded for food, lent them cooking-ware for weddings, and occasionally had affairs with mortal lovers - and according to their accounts, the rise of the hammer-mill mines discomfited the underground neighbors to the point where a mass exodus was planned and carried out. Several accounts exist of friendly Duergar apologizing to mortal allies regarding their imminent disappearance.

The interesting thing about these tales is that they postdate stories about the faery peoples closing their doors by a century or two; this suggests that what drove the Duergar out of our world was not so much the onslaught of Christianity that so peeved the Alfar, but the oncoming industrial revolution. While we might think that the metallurgic Duergar might approve of such things, one must remember that by all accounts, the idea of wastefully strip-mining huge holes in the earth and making it uninhabitable would be very much against Duergar ways. They have always treated the areas under the earth as other races of the Nine Worlds have treated the above-ground areas - as a valuable place to be stewarded and cared for.


History of the Duergar


Legends say that when the great sacred giant Ymir fell, maggots chewed his body, and the taste of his magical flesh gave them humanoid forms and intelligence, creating a new race. The Duergar themselves do not agree to this creation myth; they believe that the first Duergar were stones that came to life with the touch of the new Sun, born in the Earth and burrowing their way upwards. Either way, they are clearly native to the Nine Worlds, unlike the Alfar of both types who may well be immigrants from elsewhere.

During the era before Ymir's death, the Duergar were ignored by both Jotun and As alike. When Ymir (whom the Duergar called Blain) was killed and the flood came, they survived by floating on the lower part of his body. When it washed up, his lower spine became the mountainous country that they claimed as their home. Burrowing into the rocky hills in search of water, they slowly became an underground people who rarely surface except to deal with other races. They were ignored still further, for a very long time, until their reputation as craftsmen began to spread and suddenly all the other races were at their doors, hands outstretched. At that point, they began to engage in the thriving trade that has since become their major source of wealth, if wealth can be described as what they get from the outside rather than the precious metals and gems that they own.

The first fathers of the Duergar are held in great esteem by their people, although none of them are still alive. Modsognir ("Frenzy-Roarer"), the eldest, sacrificed his life for his people some time ago; his story is one of the greatest of Duergar songs. Durin ("Sleeper") lived the longest, and the only one whose death is bad luck to speak of. The others have songs that are sung on special holidays to commemorate them. Two of them, Lovar and Svarin, have a grave-mound in Svartalfheim that is a special pilgrimage-place for their people.

The names of many of the Duergar have come down to us, although there is little lore about their individual personalities. Some of their names are: Ai, Althjof, Aridva, Bafur, Bari, Bifur, Bombur, Dolgthvari, Dori, Fal, Fili, Finni, Frosti, Fundin, Gandalf, Ginar, Gloin, Har, Haur, Heptifili, Hor, Hugstari, Ingi, Kili, Modvitnir, Nain, Nar, Nidi, Nori, Nyi, Nyr, Oin, Onar, Ori, Radsvinn, Rek, Siar, Skafinn, Skirpir, Thekk, Thjodrerir, Thorin, Throin, Thror, Vali, Vig, Vindalf, Virpir, and Vitr. If some of these names sound familiar, it's likely because J.R.R.Tolkien borrowed them wholesale for his "Lord Of The Rings" books. For the record, the Duergar are aware of this, and find it hilarious.


Duergar Natures


The Duergar are a race of short, sturdy, long-bearded people. There are few duergar-women, and those few generally have several husbands and command a lot of power, although they seldom leave their homes and deal with other races. Sometimes the woman shortage forces some Duergar to abduct females of all species, although Jotun women tend to be more trouble than they are worth. Ivaldi himself, the King of the Duergar, captured a Valkyrie and forced her to marry him and bear him children until she escaped.

Physically, they are short and powerfully built. Both male and female Duergar are said to grow facial hair; having a beard is a sign of adulthood among the Duergar, and shaving off one's beard is only done forcibly as a penalty or penance, a sign of humiliation. They do often dress and plait their beards and hair elaborately with jewels. Duergar clothing itself tends to the utilitarian, but for festivals (or to prove their wealth) they will wear elaborately embroidered (although simple in style) clothing, with lots and lots of fine jewelry.

Duergar are widely acknowledged to be the greatest craftsmen of the Nine Worlds. They crafted Odin's spear and ring, Freya's necklace, Thor's hammer, Sif's golden wig, Frey's ship, Fenris's chains, the Mead of Poetry, and many other treasures for Aesir, Vanir, Jotnar, and Alfar alike. It is generally accepted that if it is Duergar-make, it is excellent quality. Their work is traded all over the Nine Worlds, although it is usually the special custom orders that end up in the myths. Duergar can be workaholics, miserly, greedy, possessive, and materialistic; they can also be amazingly creative. They drive a hard bargain for their work, and take pride in getting the best of the bargain; although they will work for anyone who will pay them, they have a long-standing mistrust of the Aesir, as the members of that race have robbed them so many times. They are skilled with their own system of runes, and have their own magics, which they will not reveal to anyone.


The duergar are very focused and mission driven. I suspect, though, that the image they portray to me is drawn from my own ideas and ideals of what a "dwarf" is supposed to look like. They are far more positive and boisterous than they have often been portrayed. The great lesson that they have taught me is to never look at an item just one way. When I would watch one crafting, he would take an item, like a piece of marble, and he would turn it, turn it, and look at it. Often it seemed to me that this was the longest and hardest task in the creative procedure. Then, with a flick of the wrist, he would draw something out from it. The object was not the art, but what was drawn out of it. The “voice of marble” is something far more valuable to be added to a piece of paper than any writing or illumination. Their "magic" was similar in many ways to what the Alfar did, but was far more direct. They would chant just a syllable or two and "push" it into the object. They really used their hands a lot; a mere brusque syllable and they would smooth out a jagged edge on a rock or warp the metal like putty.

-Rod Landreth, seidhmadhr


As a rule, they will lay curses on the things that they make, so that if they are stolen they will immediately begin to make their new owner's life miserable. Don't even think of paying a less than fair price for something of Duergar-make; they have a keen sense of what the market will bear for their labor, and the curses just aren't worth it. They will also lay curses on something that they make under duress, as the history of the sword Tirfing in Hervarar's Saga shows. Tirfing is made because the mortal warrior Svafrlami catches the two Duergar chieftains Durin and Dvalin alone in a Russian forest, and threatens them with death unless they will make him a fine sword that will cut through anything. They give their word in order to redeem their lives, and return with Tirfing, one of the finest swords ever made. However, they inform Svafrlami just before disappearing that it is cursed; it brings war and strife like a magnet to its owner, and once it is drawn, it must be appeased with human blood or it will turn on its owner and kill them. It isn't long before Svafrlami is done in by Tirfing's treachery, and it is then passed down through generation after generation, leaving a ridiculous body count and destroying nearly everyone who touches it, unless they are extremely pure of heart and very careful. At least once it is buried with its owner, but his shield-maiden daughter digs it up again. Finally it is buried once again by her grandson, after still further carnage.

On the other hand, doing favors for a Duerg and having them indebted to you can be a very profitable thing, as is shown in the tale of Thorston's Saga. The sailor Thorston saves the child of a dwarf, who is so grateful that he immediately gives the man the literal shirt off his back and all the magical items in his pockets. The woolen shirt is enchanted to be protective and ward against fatigue while swimming, and the dwarf also gives him a ring that will bring wealth, a black stone to make him pass unnoticed, and a three-colored magical flint with a striker. The dwarf instructs him that striking the white side of the flint will bring rain and hail, while the yellow side will bring sunshine, and the red side will create a bonfire. While Thorston is surprised at the gift-giving - he protests that he does not expect to be paid for saving a child's life - the story is an example of the Duergar system of value. It is not that the child's life could be bargained for in material goods, it is that the life of one's child, returned to you, is well worth all of one's magical possessions.

Anyone who is a craftsperson has a chance of making friends with the Duergar, although you can expect a lot of snide comments on the quality of your work. If you can take that well, instead of bridling and taking offense, they may actually offer to teach you to do better, or at least not turn you down when you ask. If you get the chance to study any sort of craft with a Duerg, take it. They won't be gentle teachers, but there is no better authority on the subject, and it's worth putting up with their cantankerous natures. Duergar are extremely loyal to friends who treat them with respect, and the humans of Midgard have often been enriched by their aid.

Folk of many different races have cheated or stolen from them, and this has given rise to a certain amount of mistrust on their part towards just about anyone who is not one of their race. Of all the races in the Nine Worlds, they are the most reticent and have the least to do with anyone else. They rarely teach any but the simplest of their magics to outsiders, and as a rule, there is no penetrating their secret societies, no matter how much they like you. They have crossbred with humans in the past only rarely, and even more rarely in the recent centuries, so there are far fewer humans with Duergar bloodlines as opposed to those of Alfar and Jotun, or the various Gods. Even today when humanfolk are making overtures once again to the ancient races, they have hung back. They will be friendly to those who treat them well, but do not mistake this friendliness for any chance of learning their secrets, or you will come smack up against a gruff wall of retreat. It is better to respect their privacy when dealing with them, and let them set the boundaries.

If there are few mortals with Duergar blood, there is still a good deal of it splashed around in other places in the Nine Worlds. Some giants are known to have married Duergar men and women and had half-breed children. In some cases, one child will be mostly giantlike while another might be mostly dwarflike; their combined bloodlines do not work as humans might. One example of this would be Mimir, whose sons by a long-dead Duergar wife were Dvalin, Alfrik, Berling, and Grer, the forgers of Brisingamen. Another would be the giant-farmer Hreidmar, who seems to have been half-Jotun and half-Duergar, and whose sons were variously Jotun-seeming (Ottar and Fafnir, both shapechangers listed as giants) and Duergar-seeming (the wise Regin). Other cases come down to us as forced attempts (such as Ivaldi's Valkyrie-wife) and near-misses (such as the brilliant Duerg Alvis who asked Thor for the hand of his daughter Thrud; Thor challenged him to a game of riddles, and when Alvis won, turned him into a stone.

The Duergar do more than just mine metals and gems out of their underground tunnels; they cultivate them with magics as a gardener would cultivate a garden or orchard. Gems and crystals are farmed there, and caverns carved out with such attention to detail that it might take many generations before the original designer is satisfied. It is the opposite ideology from our wasteful ideas about the understructure of the earth. Ironically, they have little value for the surface areas of the earth, and have been guilty in the past of unsustainable and destructive use of upper-Earth, including cutting down too many trees or damming up rivers.

When they are at their best, the Duergar have immense patience, especially when locked into a creative frenzy. It is a state that we humans tend to associate with an inner Muse, but the Duergar have a name for it in their own language, a name that expresses a complex range of spiritual ideas. It is the idea that one is so seized by the object that is being created, from its first birth in one's mind to the final moment of manifestation, that one can think of nothing else. One eats and drinks and breathes nothing except the creation of the object one is bringing into being; the language used by them to describe this state casts the manifesting object both as lover to be pursued and child to be birthed. They consider this state to be a holy and blessed one, and craftsmen caught up in it are treated as sacred and lucky. There is an entire art among their people of being the support system for someone caught up in a creative frenzy; they are respectfully chivvied into eating and drinking and sleeping, and excused from all other duties. To fake such a state is nearly impossible, for the Duergar believe that certain energies are released from someone in this condition, and the lack of these energies would be noticed. Besides, the final work would speak for itself as to whether it came from divine creativity or simply self-delusion.

When a Duerg goes bad, as happens with some of them - in fact, it is an unfortunate fact that some of the best-known Duergar in history are their criminal exiles run amok - it usually centers around overwhelming greed and covetousness. One example of this is the occasional wifeless Duerg who steals and holds a woman of another race captive, forcing her to bear him children. Another rather famous one is the brothers Fjalar and Galar, exiled from Svartalfheim for various crimes. They traveled to Vanaheim and killed the magical and wise homunculus Kvasir, hoping to be able to make a magical potion out of his blood that would give them power. The boiled-down blood gave men poetic ability and visions, but the brothers did not value this, so they went to Jotunheim in search of a market to sell it. The tale is told of how they murdered Gilling the giant more or less out of spite, and killed his wife for being the only witness. Their son Suttung tracked them down and nearly broke their necks, and they offered him the Mead of Poetry as weregild.

Problems of this sort have created the reputation of greediness - and specifically greed to the point of lethality - that has dogged the Duergar. It's not as if they don't have the love of material objects and property as a racial trait; they do - and that is why they are most aware of it. All their rules and laws, including their spiritual rules, are set up to acknowledge this and help them to handle it in honorable ways. They will also point out, if someone brings it up to them, how often they have historically been cheated or stolen from by other races and many of the Gods themselves. Look to your own assumptions about money and property and value and greed, they say to those who level the finger. At least we have no delusions about where we stand with it.


Dealing with the Duergar


In general, if we take the folkloric rules into account, the nature of the Duergar was to be helpful in return for needful things, to drive a hard bargain, to be reticent and secretive, and to value their dignity. In the stories, when mortal farmers make enemies of them, it is either because they pried into secrets, deliberately set them up to be made fools of for the general amusement of onlookers, refused to pay for a gift, or denigrated the helpful efforts of their short neighbors. One example of the latter comes from German folktales of farmers who woke up to find their grain all cut down weeks before ripeness. They screamed and cursed the dwarves who had claimed to be their allies, and grumblingly bundled up the grain and fed it to their cattle, who were at least extra fattened for the winter. Mere days later, a hailstorm came that would have flattened and ruined every stalk of grain had it been standing.

Other examples included many tales of farmers refusing to return items they have borrowed, or pay for favors arranged. The Duergar hold the web of obligation in high value; a gift should be repaid with a gift, and so on. If no return gift comes from the initial offering, they will simply move on and never help again. If, however, the trade of obligations begins, it is expected to continue as best as possible. Attempting to bail out of a long-term relationship of mutual aid with the Duergar is considered a betrayal, and they feel within their rights to strike out at the betrayers. They have sympathy for lack of resources, but feel that some effort ought to be made. Duergar have a strong work ethic and think little of people who don't; laziness is never an excuse with them.

These can be seen as the basic ground rules for dealing with the dwarven people:

1) Joke with them, but don't humiliate them, nor do anything to deprive them of their dignity. Occasionally you will find Duergar who are ill-made or slightly deformed (although nothing like some of the amazing and bizarre bodies of some tribes of Jotunfolk); they will generally hide this fact under bulky clothing, and you should simply pretend that you don't notice. They tend to have the most trouble with deformities of the legs and feet; some folktales tell of villagers who tried to peer under the long robes of helpful Duergar allies, or made them walk through ashes in order to look at their footsteps, and thus gained their anger. They are a private people, unlike the Jotunfolk, and feel that these things are none of your business. Let them have their dignity, at all costs, even when they are getting drunk and doing stupid things. The next morning, just pretend none of it ever happened and they will be grateful.

2) Don't go prying into Duergar secrets. They are clannish and a bit paranoid - having been robbed so many times by outsiders - so if you are left alone with something that you are told is a "secret not for your eyes" - say a door or chest, don't give into curiosity. The likelihood is that there's nothing in it but a trap, set to test you. You will gain more from your courtesy and forbearance than from nosing about. If they tell you that something is not for you (or your kind), take them at face value and drop the subject.

3) If you don't wish to enter into a web of obligations with a Duergar, thank them and politely leave, cutting off all contact. They will shrug and get on with their lives, but you will get no more attention or aid from them, ever, and they have long memories. If you decide that it's worth the effort - and their aid can be very useful in time of need - then you must hold to it until you're dead. You can always renegotiate specific parts of the agreement - they are a practical people and understand renegotiation - but once in, you're stuck.

4) Whatever they give you, accept it gracefully. Likely, as with the farmers and the cut grain, it will come in handy eventually. Spirit-worker Estara T'Shirai mentions that: “My husband used to visit the Duergar; as I recall he found them surprisingly 'eat, drink, and be merry' in disposition when at home. They expect an exchange of gifts with visitors, and unlike with the Alfar, you had best take what they offer or you will insult them. Exchange of permanent goods implies a permanent link; exchange of things like ale better for laying groundwork.” On the other hand, they will take what you give them with equal grace, even if you don't have much. In many ways, it's the thought that counts. However, if they ask something specific of you that you clearly have to give, and that won't wreck your life (although it might inconvenience you), you'd best do it without excuses.

5) Bargain if you like; they enjoy a good bargaining. But don't insult them with offers that devalue their work. They know what their work is worth. You may not. Keep that in mind, when you deal with them in the marketplace.



Lessons the Duergar Have Taught Me

by Fuensanta Plaza

You wanted me to write about money, and about what Andvari the Duerg has taught me. I’ll try. I wish I were a writer and could do justice to Andvari. He is not “only” the patron of money; he is the patron of possessions of all kinds. That is why, when I was a young child, He taught me that I owned my own dignity and my self-worth. They are mine by right and cannot be taken away from me without my consent. Therefore my father’s behavior (when he ranted at me in public, shouting at my five year old self that I was a rag, a piece of shit, an insane child) was his possession, not mine. As long as I understood this, as long as I did not hold those insults for him no matter how often he presented them to me, he had to hold them. My father had to keep his ridicule, and I kept what was mine - my dignity. And so, I was invulnerable. Andvari taught me this (how the heck did he manage to teach it to a five year old?) and thus, Andvari saved me.

Money is as sacred as dignity and self worth. Yes, it has been desecrated; but you can only profane that which was holy to begin with. Some of the money I have belongs to me by right; some belongs to me by accident. Money that is mine by accident is dormant (no matter how high an interest it yields). It is neutral. When I find the person who owns that money by right, and hand it over, that money regains its sacredness. It lives again. If I do not hand it over, that same money will die and rot. Oh, it will be sitting in my bank account, it will show up in my bank statements, but it will poison something within me.

Money is like soil – it must transform, or it will die. It must transform into people’s dreams, or needs, or both. The frightening thing about Fafnir, whom so many people unwittingly follow, is that he does not allow the treasure to evolve, to transform itself into college for one friend, or a watertight roof for another, or a garden for the sake of the earth we stand upon. Fafnir’s money sits there and rots, as does he who guards it. But every time one gives something back to its rightful owner, a little bit of the world’s imbalance is corrected.

It is also important to never give away what is yours by right, be it money, strength, energy, whatever, or you cause the balance to go off kilter again. It is simply wrong to steal – even from oneself. You keep what you own; you are the steward of what you do not own, until the rightful owner comes along. Andvari did not mind Loki taking his treasure – all but the ring--because it was not his by right. The ring, however, was his. What people don’t understand is that Andvari did not curse the ring; he did not need to. He merely pointed out that it was cursed, because when you take away someone’s rightful possessions, that object becomes accursed. It is the law of cause and effect, not of revenge. All possessions, be they spiritual or material, are subject to the law Andvari taught me.

I love money – hey, I’m Andvari’s great-granddaughter, a piece of good fortune that leaves me awed and grateful and deeply happy. I love what is mine, and will defend it tooth and nail. I equally love it when I am given the immense gift by the Gods of righting a little bit of what is wrong, of correcting a little bit of the distortion. Maybe because I love money, money has always loved me back. I know that if I ever cling to it (and it is true, even if it is a cliché, that one should not cling to what one loves), it will leave me and find a better owner and a better steward. Money is a live, sentient power with a will of its own, somewhat like a landwight.

The real difficulty (at least for someone with no social graces and a Taurus, with Mercury in Taurus to boot!) is learning a way to give rightful owners their rightful property in such a way that they understand you know it was theirs all along. That way, you are not insulting them by playing at being some lady bountiful. I hate patronage. Yet it’s difficult, because people have been conditioned to regard money as impure.

Let's say you know a person who needs money. Let's say all you have is $25 to give. If you give that person $25, he/she will most likely resent it on some level; but if you bring them a frigging fruit basket of equal cost that he or she needs like a violinist needs boxing gloves, that’s considered all right, as though money were so defiled that it has to be transmogrified before being offered. The truth is, money is pure. We are the ones needing an attitude adjustment in regards to both giving and taking.

My respect for one friend, which was already high, soared the evening she said to me, “We are indebted to you, Fuensanta.” I was appalled at the idea and stammered, “You are not indebted to me – I was thanking you, with my gift.” She thought about this for a second, smiled a wonderful smile, and said “In that case, you are welcome.” And all was well. I guess it only took her one second to understand all that it is taking me an hour to write.

I believe that Andvari horsed my maternal grandfather, putting a little Duergar blood into my family line, because he was a little bit like Andvari Himself; and maybe Pedro Maria Arismendi became more like Andvari after he was horsed because Andvari would not take what was not his without giving back something in return. Pedro Maria was the elementary schoolteacher of a small Venezuelan fishing village, at a time when schoolteachers were considered “important” in villages. And at a time when nobody who was anybody carried their own parcels – there was always a servant to do so - Pedro Maria would go to the market and walk back nonchalantly holding the live chicken purchased for their supper. His shocked wife would remonstrate: “Pedro Maria, this is below your dignity!” The diminutive man would look up at his (huge) wife and calmly answer: “With chicken or without it, I am Pedro Maria Arismendi.” He knew what was his by right – his dignity – and what was his by accident – his status. I try to keep the wisdom of these two great-grandfathers, Andvari and Pedro Maria, in my head and in my heart.

Andvari once told me, “I forge consciences, not gold. I forged your ancestors. I forge you.” And so my prayer to Andvari is, “In the name of Andvari, forger of consciences, may I never mistake what is mine by accident for what is mine by right.”