[OSR] The orthogonal dwarf

@vgunn's thread on a new dwarf inspired me to create a completely new class, orthogonal to the fighter, mage and thief by literally opening up new possibilites in play. The race is short and weak, more like the dwarves in Snow-white than Lord of the Rings.

Prime Requisite: CON
Hit Dice: 1d4
Maximum Level: 7?

Dwarves are supernaturally gifted miners, using a heavy pickaxe they tunnel through 1' of solid rock or 5' of earth per turn. The resulting tunnel is 3' wide and 3' tall. The work is loud and tiring, requiring two wandering monster checks each turn. A dwarf can excavate a number of turns equal to his Constitution score each day and will need a good nights sleep before working again. In some dungeons the very earth is infused with evil and working it is slower, if the dungeon level is higher than the experience level of the dwarf the pace is slowed by the same proportion (a 2nd level dwarf tunneling in the 3rd dungeon layer would excavate 2/3 of a foot per turn).

Using a chisel and hammer the dwarf can spend a turn tapping a section of wall to determine the approximate size of a room behind it, provided the wall is less than 10' thick. The chisel and hammer can also be used to undermine a wall section, collapsing a 10' squared section of wall provided its thickness is less than 1'. In this case creatures on the other side must roll for surprise even when alerted to the tapping on the other side.

A chisel & hammer counts as a small item, a large pickaxe as a large item. Pickaxes are poor weapons dealing 1d6 damage when used in two hands.

Dwarves can wear mail or lighter armor when working, heavier armor interferes with their tunneling ability.

On account of their short limbs dwarves cannot use two-handed weapons or bows. They must wield medium sized weapons in both hands. Dwarves are slow, their movement speed is 60' per round when unencumbered and 30' when encumbered (anything more than mail + pickaxe).

Dwarves fight and save as mages but have a +4 bonus against Blast & Breath. They suffer half damage from fire.

XP to level 2: 1,500


  • That is brilliant. I love the tunneling math, and how clearly this is a specialist class like the Thief. I wonder why nobody's done that before. Probably has to do with the Gygaxian lock-down on the fantasy genre - tunneling like that is a tad too unrealistic for the orthodox D&D campaign.

    But that aside, a very worthwhile consideration. Reminds me of how the better sort of roguelike games include a very stable, firm basis for hack'n'slash, and then spice things up with strategic wedge elements that recontextualize the strategic landscape, turning everything upside down. With this sort of dwarf in the game the PCs are empowered and the GM is encouraged towards hygienic dungeon design, as he has even less chance to micromanage the content in a setpiece fashion than usual. You get too clever with the dungeon geometry, the party's just going to bring in some dwarves to knock down some walls.

    I have the sense that I'd want to expand the class just a bit to mess with the players; some secondary talents or growth possibilities that'd make it less of a one-note thing. Sort of like clerics frankly exist to be heal-bots (in most mechanical frames), but they are also supposed anti-undead specialists and there's also a bunch of pseudo-useful magic attached.

    One way to achieve that sort of flex would be to just drop all the fairy folk into one character class and tell the player to pick the sort they want to play at chargen - and pick your own optics and name, the GM doesn't care if you want to call yourself a "leprechaun" or "gnome" or whatever. So you could pick tunneling, invisibility, flight, etc. - one big, fat specialist talent in exchange for being a weird gnome thing. Later you'd get talents of the other types at reduced effect, e.g. a secondary talent at 3rd level (with efficacy equal to level/2), a tertiary one at 5th level (at efficacy level/3 of course). This way the dwarf, even if practically a one-trick pony, would have the potential to widen his repertoire in the future, which might help with player perception of the character's role. Sort of like how Spock picks up new space fairy tricks whenever the writers run out of ideas [grin].

    Another approach would be to think up some dwarf-themed secondary use for the class. Like, maybe they could lay traps? (Works particularly well if the setting just considers dwarves, gnomes and kobolds to be the same thing.) That would work with the architectural strategic expertise theme. Maybe like Thieves get to specialize in some editions, you could even let the dwarf prioritize their tunneling or trap-laying for some variety. Or they tie to different Ability scores.

    Obviously one wouldn't want to go too far with piling up features. It's just that with only the tunneling the dwarf feels a bit like the Cleric must have felt when it was first conceptualized as a vampire slayer class in a campaign rife with vampires: "This Turn Undead ability is totally amazing!" I think history has demonstrated that the turning ability alone would make the Cleric too much of a one-trick pony.
  • Another approach would be to think up some dwarf-themed secondary use for the class. Like, maybe they could lay traps? (Works particularly well if the setting just considers dwarves, gnomes and kobolds to be the same thing.) That would work with the architectural strategic expertise theme. Maybe like Thieves get to specialize in some editions, you could even let the dwarf prioritize their tunneling or trap-laying for some variety. Or they tie to different Ability scores.
    Treasure evaluation and magic item identification (which is, IIRC, quite an untapped area in B/X, with trial and error being the default process, right?)
    Upon reaching name level, a dwarf can craft a magic ring.
  • edited February 2018
    Yes, all good stuff. I'd prefer to package it in some neat way so it's not just a long laundry list. Some sort of "Dwarf Lore" or "Gnome Gnosis" ability, maybe, that lists the various capabilities for dungeon mapping, treasure evaluation, monster recognition and such in one place. Could just be a table of skill percentages for each individual activity like Thieves get, of course. Still a good idea to put it under one heading.

    (I tend to be very particular about the conceptual structuration of the mechanical detail that flows through our fingertips while playing D&D. My homebrew famously insists as a design rule that every character can have at most one class feature per level, precisely because I want to control the overall complexity in a formal way.)

    My immediate gut sense is that a dwarf with tunneling, trapping and a suitably expansive/useful dwarf lore ability would be about right in terms of specialist focus and adaptability - probably wouldn't need more than that. Like the Thief (the most prominent specialist class) his specialty is common enough that it's almost justified to keep him around on all adventures by default. Also like the Thief, he has his own "adventure paradigm" where he's at home: where the Thief is about cat-burglarizing manors and tombs in a solo way, the Dwarf could be about living the dungeon, being a native and molding, taming the place to your advantage. Playing Dwarf Fortress, in other words [grin].

    Pre-trapping the battlefield is a similar awkward specialty combat role as the Thief's backstabbing fetish, too. Something that sort of makes sense in fictional terms, but will probably get blown all out of proportion by attempts to make it "viable" as a combat build [grin].

    (When I say that a class has an "adventure paradigm", I don't mean that they actually do that thing very often in actual play. The Thief is a good example here: we all know where the thief's literary inspiration comes from, and it's conceivable to play stealth-focused solo burglary adventures in it, yet in practice it's pretty rare. Still, the intuitive understanding of what the Thief is for helps anchor the class in the game.)
  • edited February 2018
    @Eero_Tuovinen thanks for the praise! My personal view of what a fantasy dwarf is was heavily influenced by the Myth: The Fallen Lords game. There they are small and slow artillery units, chucking flasks of nitroglycerin and planting bags of gunpowder to create massive traps (but just as often they get hit with an arrow, spill their bags and then an errant spark blows it all up prematurely). They were completely helpless in melee.

    The fire resistance was a nod at making burning oil a more viable weapon for them in combat. This niche could be solidified further by removing the risk of critical failure, but that would push this into combat territory. The innate magic of a dwarf might cause burning oil to burn longer or fiercer if they apply it? My players barely use burning oil so I haven't seen it in practice.

    Perhaps an undermined section of wall could be set to collapse by tripwire or pulled rope. Only the outer layer of a wall can be undermined to collapse, the inner layer requires proper excavation. Creatures passing within 5' of it when it collapses need to Save vs Blast or be buried in rubble, suffering 1d6 damage and require a Save vs Paralysis to free themselves. If two wall sections facing each other are undermined (all the way up to the ceiling, if it's 20' tall you need a ladder) the ceiling collapses too dealing 2d6 damage to those underneath it failing their save. I'm not sure what other traps they would set. Bear traps, caltrops, pools of flammable oil are available to everyone.

    Tunneling into the floor creates a pit, even 1' could be enough to cause a creature to trip or step on concealed spikes.

    Their secondary skill is already included, tapping walls to determine the rough size of room could be used by the side of a door. It's like a mirror to the listening at doors ability, you learn the architecture instead of the inhabitation (although you alert those on the other side).

    Undermining a wall is quieter than full excavation, requiring only one wandering monster check.

    Dwarven lore (as per @Rafu's suggestion)
    Dwarves are supernaturally gifted craftsmen and smiths. At 9th level they can craft magic items as if they were a wizard. At any level they can recognize the function of magic items, concealed doors and wondrous architecture (think magic doors, elevators, turning rooms) on a d20 roll of 14+. This chance improves by 1 each level. A failed roll means the dwarf does not recognize the item but he may attempt again after he has gained a level.

    I am wary of reliance on ability scores. 9 CON (minimum) allows a dwarf to dig through 8' of rock and then undermine the first and last section, 16 CON merely doubles this (the primary constraint is wandering monsters) so in most circumstances a 9 CON and 15 CON dwarf are the same, unless you bring of them.
  • Re: potential supplementary abilities, perhaps the ability to smell gems and/or precious metals, or even just "minerals" in general? It feels more open-ended than something like trap-laying (which I think their digging ability gives them the potential to do in a more free-form way already), and I think fits better with the idea of them being a quasi-supernatural telluric entity.
  • edited February 2018
    Re: potential supplementary abilities, perhaps the ability to smell gems and/or precious metals, or even just "minerals" in general? It feels more open-ended than something like trap-laying (which I think their digging ability gives them the potential to do in a more free-form way already), and I think fits better with the idea of them being a quasi-supernatural telluric entity.
    Yes that would fit the miner theme quite well and be incredibly useful to the typical D&D party. Funny too, the image of a dwarf sniffing the air and then running off like Scrooge McDuck when he smells a fortune. It could potentially be locked behind a level.

    Here is how fire affinity could work, another level locked or optional ability (a vision related ability that helps the party as a whole instead of infravision which used for solo scouting or emergencies).

    Dwarven flame affinity (chosen at 5th level)
    Fire burns hotter in the hands of dwarves. Torches and lamp oil are consumed twice as fast but cast bright light 40' with dim light extending a further 30'. Burning oil deals all of its damage in the first round and splashes deal 1d3+1 damage. Ignited pools of burning oil burn for half a turn but deal 2d8 damage to creatures moving through them.
  • edited February 2018
    They might choose at 5th level whether they have affinity for metals or flames (all dwarves have affinity for stone). Flame affinity is as above, metal affinity is some sort of metal detecting ability.

    Dwarven metal affinity (chosen a 5th level)
    The dwarf may spend a turn sniffing the air for nearby metal or a specific kind. Doing this he has a 50% chance to know the direction to the closest object made from the mentioned metal as long as it is within 60'. The direction is no more precise than the smell of fish would be to a human.
  • edited February 2018
    @Eero_Tuovinen if you're a sucker of symmetry (or simply packing all fey things into the same class) there should be the Dwarf (Svartalfr) and Elf (Ljusalfr). If the former works are described in this thread, starting out with affinity for stone then developing either affinity for fire or metal later on the Elf should start out with affinity for wood (maybe turn invisible at will in forests + some other magic tricks of that nature) and then gaining affinity for air (flying) or water (fish like swimming and breathing water).

    But I'm not a fan of symmetry so I'll leave that out of my game.
  • Cool stuff! Definitely a different take on the dwarf. I like the idea of gem/metal sniffing qualities that Yukamichi brought up.

    Rather than traps, what about a more spell-like ability which can lead ememies astray, leading them to fall down shafts or getting hopelessly lost.

    Pathfinder has a spell: Ghost Sound which allows you to create a volume of sound that rises, recedes, approaches, or remains at a fixed place. You choose what type of sound ghost sound creates when casting it and cannot thereafter change the sound's basic character.

    The volume of sound created depends on your level. You can produce as much noise as four normal humans per caster level (maximum 40 humans). Thus, talking, singing, shouting, walking, marching, or running sounds can be created. The noise a ghost sound spell produces can be virtually any type of sound within the volume limit. A horde of rats running and squeaking is about the same volume as eight humans running and shouting. A roaring lion is equal to the noise from 16 humans, while a roaring dragon is equal to the noise from 32 humans. Anyone who hears a ghost sound receives a Will save to disbelieve.

    Tommyknockers, brought to America by Cornish miners—does some similar things. There would be a knocking on the mine walls that occured just before a cave-in. Some thought these sounds of “hammering” were malevolent, indicating certain death or injury, while others saw their “knocking” as well-meaning, warning the miners that a life-threatening collapse was imminent. Yet, others believed that the knocking sounds would lead them to a rich ore body and or signs of good luck.

    So I’d make Tommyknocker an ability/spell for them.

    Another would be a dancing, cold-blue flame that again could mislead an enemy. Similar to a Will-O’-the-Wisp.

    These have the dwarves relying on cunning misdirection—which ties into them being short and weak.

  • @vgunn very cool, I will include that.
  • edited February 2018
    Here is how it turned out:

    Prime Requisite: CON
    Hit Dice: 1d4
    Maximum Level: 10

    Dwarves are 3' tall and weigh 7 stones.

    Dwarves fight and save as mages of the same level. They may not use large melee weapons or bows and must wield medium sized weapons with both hands. They are proficient with all other weapons, shields and armor but may not tunnel or undermine wearing armor heavier than mail.

    Dwarves move 60' per round unencumbered and 30' per round if they carry more than 7 stones. Their maximum carrying capacity is 5+Strength stones.

    Dwarves are supernaturally gifted miners with an affinity for stone. Using a pickaxe the dwarf can tunnel through rock or earth. Each turn 1' of rock or 5' of earth can be excavated. The tunnel is 3' tall and 3' wide. The work is loud and each turn provokes two wandering monster checks. Dwarves can tunnel for up to their Constitution score turns before requiring 8 hours of rest. In some dungeons the very rock is infused with evil. If the dungeon level is higher than the dwarf's level progress is slowed by the ratio between dwarf and dungeon level (eg a 2rd level dwarf tunnelling through rock in dungeon level 3 would excavate 2/3 feet per turn).

    Dwarves can undermine worked walls and cause them to collapse. To undermine a 10' square and 1' thick section of wall the dwarf requires a chisel and hammer and 1 turn of work. This work provokes one wandering monster check. After the wall has collapsed, if there is rock or earth behind it, it is unworked and can't be undermined. The dwarf can rig a tripwire to an undermined wall causing it to collapse when the wire is pulled. Creatures within 5' of the collapsing wall section must Save vs Blast or suffer 1d6 damage and be buried by rubble. Creatures can dig themselves out of the rubble with a successful Save vs Petrification and may attempt this each round. If the dwarf undermines wall sections facing each other and all the way up to the ceiling that too will collapse dealing 2d6 damage to any creature underneath it failing a Save vs Blast and burying it in rubble.

    Dwarves can spend 1 turn tapping a stone wall with a hammer to guess the size of the room behind it. If the tapped wall is 10' thick or less the dwarf can estimate the size of the room behind in square feet. In case of a thin wall or a wooden door any creatures in that room will hear the tapping.

    Dwarves suffer half damage from fire and have +3 bonus to Save vs Blast & Breath.

    At 3rd level dwarves gain the ability to create false sound mimicking creatures of a total HD equal to the dwarf's level. The sound can originate up to 60' away and will persist for 1d6 rounds after the dwarf stops concentrating. Any creature hearing the false sound may Save vs Spells to disbelieve it.

    At 5th level dwarves choose to gain affinity for metal or affinity for flame. Affinity for metal allows the dwarf to detect metals by spending 1 turn sniffing the air. The player names a metal and the referee names the general direction of the closest piece of that metal within 60'. Affinity for flame cause fire wielded by the dwarf to burn twice as hot. Torches and lanterns are consumed twice as fast but cast bright light 40' and dim light another 30'. Flaming oil thrown by the dwarf burns faster dealing its full damage in one round. Splashing oil deals 1d6 damage. Flaming oil patches lit by the dwarf last half as long but deal twice the damage.

    At 9th level dwarves can craft magic items as wizards. If the dwarf establishes an Underground Smithy he will attract 1d6 dwarven apprentices of 1st - 3rd level seeking training.
  • Affinity for metal will typically force you to split the party if you carry a precious metal you want to detect, so it essentially works up to the point of you finding any treasure.
  • Yeah, this is interesting. I like the idea of using classes to open up different or new types of strategies for the players.
  • Very good!
  • Would use this (if I were playing exploration oriented D&D).
  • I love this idea too! Next do elves :)

    My personal taste doesn't go with this idea: "Dwarves fight and save as mages of the same level"

    These dwarves look like specialists and it seems unfair to treat them like mages, who are the unassailable powerhouse generalists of the game. But this is completely tweakable in anyone's home game.
  • Since they level faster than mages their actual combat prowess (in the forms of HP, hit bonus and most of all AC) will be somewhere between a mage and a cleric.
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