Regions: Damara, Impiltur, the North, Silverymoon, Vaasa, the Vast, and Western Heartlands.
Found largely in the northern reaches of western and central Faerûn, shield dwarves are the dominant northern branch of the Stout Folk. Renowned for their smithwork and craftsmanship, shield dwarves have endured a centuries-long decline in the face of never-ending wars with orcs, goblins, giants, and trolls.
Shield dwarves are descended from the founders of Shanatar, a legendary dwarven empire that once rules the caverns beneath modern-day Amn, Tethyr, and Calimshan. After Shanatar fell, the shield dwarves migrated north, founding kingdoms such as Ammarindar, Delzoun, Gharraghaur, Haunghdannar, Oghrann, and Sarbreen. Although those kingdoms have also largely fallen, the Stout Folk of the North endure. The Thunder Blessing has served as a welcome reprieve for the beleaguered shield dwarves, giving hope that the descendants of ancient Shanatar may one day reclaim the glory of their forebears.
Taller by half a foot than their gold dwarf cousins, shield dwarves average 4 1/2 feet tall and weigh as much as an adult human. The skin of a shield dwarf is fair or lightly tanned, and her eyes are usually green or silvered blue. Both genders wear their hair long, and males (and a very few females) have long, carefully groomed beards and mustaches. Hair color ranges from light brown to red, with all shades fading to silver or white as time progresses.
Shield dwarves keep to their word, whatever the cost, and are incredibly stubborn, unwilling to concede an inch unless there is absolutely no alternative. Such intransigence has enabled dwindling shield dwarf populations to hold on to ancient strongholds with just a fraction of their original defenders. However, it has also led to clan feuds and long-standing misunderstandings with other races that have sapped the strength of the Stout Folk. Shield dwarves love worked beauty, seeing the world as raw material to be forged and shaped into something more than the original.
Shield dwarves trace their history back to Taark Shanat, third son of the great ruling clan of Bhaerynden. In the legendary times more than twelve thousand years ago, the Great Crusader and his eight sons led a great westward migration of dwarves from Bhaerynden in hopes of founding a new homeland. The Cloaker Wars pitted dwarves who followed Shanat against the mysterious inhabitants of Rringlor Noroth, who rose from the depths of a great chasm in a battle for control of the caverns of Alatorin. The Stout Folk eventually prevailed, after Taark slew four blue dragons who claimed the Rift of Dhalnadar as their demense. By the hand of one of the dwarven gods, probably Dumathoin, the skulls of the four wyrms came together with a throne that emerged from the cavern floor to form Wyrmskull Throne. Taark renamed the wyrms' lair Brightaxe Hall and founded the kingdom of Alatorin. Shield dwarves mark the founding of Alatorin as the beginning of the First Great Age of Shanatar.
Once Alatorin was established, the eight sons of Taark Shanat set off to found their own kingdoms in the caverns to the north (beneath modern-day Tethyr and Amn). Each son claimed one of the children of Moradin as his patron deity and so each of the subkingdoms they established became tightly linked with the church of that particular god or goddess. Around -9000 DR, skirmishing broke out between the eight northern kingdoms, as each fought to extend its borders at the expense of its neighbors. Over time, the skirmishes evolved into open warfare, pitting thousands of dwarves against one another.
While these wars raged, the drow of Guallidurth took advantage of the dwarves' distraction to attack the caverns of Alatorin, which were far removed from the frontlines of the fighting. The First Spider War was fought from -8170 DR to -8150 DR and ended with the capture of Brightaxe Hall and the collapse of Alatorin. Aghast at their folly, the eight reigning kings of that era forged an armistice, and turned their armies against the drow. The Second Spider War raged from -8145 DR to -8137 DR, and ended with the drow retreating from the caverns of Alatorin.
In triumph, the eight kings marched their armies back into Brightaxe Hall, pledging never again to fight one another. Seeking to reclaim the vision of Taark Shanat, the eight kings pleaded with their gods to pick one of them to sit on the Wyrmskull Throne. In response, the gods revealed the visage of the reigning king of Ultoksamrin, high priest of Dumathoin. Shield dwarves mark this event as the beginning of the Second Age of Shanatar and the elevation of Dumathoin as patron of their race.
Despite their newfound unity, dissension still lurked within the breasts of many of Shanatar's citizens. The kings of both Barakuir and Drakkalor both thought that they were entitled to sit on the Wyrmskull Throne, backed by the whisperings of their gods who had sought to have Moradin name them the patron of the shield dwarves. Before such dissent could erupt into open strife, the illithids of Oryndoll attacked the eastern subkingdoms in -8100 DR, beginning a conflict that came to be known as the Mindstalker Wars to the dwarves and the War of Cloven Thoughts to the mind flayers. The illithids were driven back by -8080 DR, but in their wake the surviving Stout Folk discovered that the caverns of Barakuir, which had been cut off in the early days of fighting, lay empty. Clan Duergar had been carried back to thralldom in the mind flayers' realm.
The Second Age of Shanatar lasted for nearly 1,800 years. Around -6150 DR, the drow of Guallidurth once again attacked the caverns of Alatorin. The Third Spider War lasted nearly thirty years but ended with the Stout Folk abandoning Brightaxe Hall to the drow. The dwarven refugees brought the Wyrmskull Throne with them, marking the end of the Second Age of Shanatar.
As the Third Age of Shanatar dawned, the emperor of Shanatar made plans to establish a new subkingdom in the Realms Above. Dwarven scouts were sent up to the surface around -6100 DR, where they allied with the humans of the region to oust the remaining djinni despots. The alliance between the dwarves and humans quickly foundered because the rulers of Coramshan turned to evil gods. In response, the dwarves claimed the surface lands north of the Marching Mountains as their own, establishing the king of High Shanatar around -5960 DR.
High Shanatar flourished for centuries under the rule of House Axemarch, but the seeds of its destruction were planted within a century of its establishment. A conflict over a looted tomb led to skirmishing and eventually open warfare. The First Kingdom of Mir was established after Iltaker fell to Murabir Mir of Coramshan in -5330 DR, marking the beginning of the centuries-long expansion of Calimshan at the expense of High Shanatar. By -2600 DR, the last known dwarves of High Shanatar had fallen on the northern banks of the Sulduskoon River, and High Shanatar was no more.
As High Shanatar struggled to hold on to its territories in southwestern Faerûn, Deep Shanatar struggled with challenges of its own. Successive waves of emigration led many young dwarves north to found new realms but also depleted the ranks of those who remained. Over time, the northern kingdoms of Drakklorm Korolnor, Sondarr, Torglor, and Xothaerin slowly dwindled away as their inhabitants migrated north. The kingdom of Oghrann was established beneath the Plains of Tun in -5125 DR. Ammarindar was founded beneath the Graypeak Mountains around -4160 DR, and Delzoun, the Northkingdom, rose beneath what is now the Silver Marches around -3900 DR.
Unfortunately for the shield dwarves, their conquests in the North proved illusory, and the glory of Shanatar was never reborn. Oghrann fell in -3770 DR, and Haunghdannar in -3389 DR. Delzoun and Ammarindar lasted many more centuries, but the Northkingdom eventually succumbed in -100 DR, and Ammarindar was overrun in 882 DR by lingering horrors unleashed by the Netherese of Ascalhorn.
In the South, after centuries of decline, the final fall of Deep Shanatar was precipitated by the Stout Folk themselves. Impelled by centuries of bitter resentment, Clan Duergar invaded Ultoksamrin and Holorarar around -1800 DR in a series of conflicts known as the Kin Clashes. Only Iltkazar survived the gray dwarf invasion, leaving Shanatar fallen in all but name.
Despite their centuries-long decline and deserved reputation for dourness and cynicism, shield dwarves have never succumbed to fatalism. Shield dwarves have traditionally been divided into two camps--the Hidden and the Wanderers--although such divisions have begun to fade since the Thunder Blessing. While members of the former group have literally hidden themselves away from the outside world, content to pursue their traditional way of life, members of the latter group have gone out into the world, unbowed by their race's relentless decline.
Shield dwarves are traditionally slow to trust and slow to forget slights, but a dawning realization of their race's plight has left many willing to seek out new ways of doing things unconstrained by traditional prejudices or practices. Shield dwarves have a long and proud tradition of adventuring, and many shield dwarves follow this route simply in hopes of equaling or exceeding the deeds of those who have come before. Others seek to recover long-lost strongholds and treasures that have fallen to orcs or other beasts. Since the Thunder Blessing, the question for many young shield dwarves is not why they should become adventurers, but why they should not.
Shield Dwarf Characters
Constant warfare with orcs, goblins, trolls, and giants have imbued a strong martial tradition in shield dwarf culture. Most dwarves learn to defend their homes and clan, with fighters, paladins, and martial clerics being commonplace. Other shield dwarves focus on time-honored skills, following the path of the expert or rogue. Arcane spellcasters are quite rare, with few of sorcerous inclination.
Favored Class: Fighter. A shield dwarf's favored class is fighter. For centuries shield dwarves have fought a war of genocidal destruction against the orcs, goblins, trolls, and giants of the North. Fighters have always served at the core of shield dwarf armies, ever defiant in the face of overwhelming odds.
Prestige Class: Battleragers are legendary dwarven warriors who can enter a divine battle frenzy through ritualistic singing. Given to drinking, rowdy and boisterous singing, and drunken dancing, battleragers love to plunge into close-quarters battle, heedless of any danger.
Shield dwarves of some accomplishment frequently adopt the dwarven defender prestige class, and many of their clerics become runecasters.
Shield Dwarf Society
Although clan and class divisions were once strong among shield dwarves, generations of decline have largely broken their once dominant influence. While shield dwarves are still incredibly proud of their bloodlines, individual accomplishment now counts for more than longstanding tradition or the dictates of clan elders. Shield dwarven life among the Hidden is still dominated by craft and forge, but increasing numbers of shield dwarves are making their own way in the world as adventurers or as craftsfolk dwelling in human-dominated communities.
Shield dwarves are raised in tight family units, with clan elders playing a diminishing role in overseeing their upbringing. Book learning is common, and most children are apprenticed to learn a trade as they near maturity. Adult shield dwarves are expected to support themselves and their family as well as bring honor and riches to the clan. While shield dwarves do not shy away from displays of wealth, they avoid ostentatious or decadent behavior. As shield dwarves age, they are honored for their wisdom and accorded respect for their past accomplishments. Families and clans are expected to honor their elders in death with solemn funeral rites and tombs befitting the deceased's reputation and accomplishments.
Generations of Wanderers have created large and thriving dwarven enclaves within most human settlements, with all shield dwarves welcome as part of the loosely knit dwarven "clan." Shield dwarves occupy the roles of smith or craftsmen in many human communities and are well respected for their skill as artisans. Few shield dwarves turn away from veneration of the Morndinsamman, but most are quick to learn the local trade tongue and make friends with other races.
Language and Literacy
Like all dwarves, shield dwarves speak Dwarven and employ the Dethek rune alphabet. They also speak Common. The primary shield dwarven dialect, Shanatan, dates back to the founding of Shanatar and is still spoken by dwarves along the Sword Coast from Shining Sea to the Spine of the World. To the east, in northcentral Faerûn, most shield dwarves speak the Galenan dialect, strongly influenced by the Damaran human tongue.
Common secondary languages reflect the extensive trading contacts maintained by shield dwarves with their neighbors in the North and include Chondathan, Illuskan, and, to a lesser extent, Elven and Gnome. The shield dwarves of north-central Faerûn are more apt to learn Damaran than Illuskan as a secondary language. Many shield dwarves also learn the languages of their traditional foes, including Draconic, Giant, Goblin, and Orc.
All shield dwarf characters are literate except for barbarians.
Shield Dwarf Magic and Lore
Shield dwarves have been engaged in a perpetual war against goblinoids and giants for centuries, so their magic reflects a martial bent. Anything that helps slay more giants is a welcome addition to the shield dwarf arsenal.
Among the Hidden, magic from the Illusion and Abjuration schools are immensely important, because they guard a dwarf clan from discovery and attack. The Hidden create layer after layer of protective spells to guard every entrance to their strongholds. Many an invading orc horde has been tricked into leaving or frustrated into exhaustion without ever seeing the shield dwarves they're fighting.
Spells and Spellcasting
Shields have a strong divine spellcasting tradition, with many of the Stout Folk called to serve the Morndinsamman as clerics, paladins, runecasters, or runesmiths. Arcane spellcasters are much more rare, but increasing in number.
Racial Magic items
Shield dwarves favor magic items that aid in combat, whether offensively or defensively. Whether magic is best employed to protect or attack is a centuries-old argument among the shield dwarves, with Wanderers favoring magic weapons and Hidden favoring magic armor. In any case, all shield dwarves revere any magic item that facilitates craftwork, because the urge to create flows strongly in dwarven blood.
Iconic Magic Items: Shield dwarves have fabricated many unique magic items as well, such as doorbreakers, hammers of staggering blows, and stonereavers. They are justly famous for foesplitter axes, which are +1 keen battleaxes.
Shield Dwarf Deities
Shield dwarves have venerated the dwarven deities of the Morndinsamman since the dawn of Shanatar, although their mythology has evoled significantly over the millenia. Taark Shanat and his followers in Alatorin venerated Moradin and Berronar, but worship of those two deities receded as Taark's eight sons set out to found their own kingdoms, each choosing a patron deity of his own from among their eight children: Dumathoin, Laduguer, Abbathor, Clangeddin Silverbeard, Vergadain, Sharindlar, and the twins Diinkarazan and Diirinka.
When the eight kings came together to choose who would first sit on the Wyrmskull Throne, Moradin selected the king of Ultoksamrin, who was also the high priest of Dumathoin. This act cemented the Silent Keeper's position as patron deity of the shield dwarves but strongly disappointed Dumathoin's chief rivals, eventually leading to Laduguer's bitter exile and Abbathor's enduring corruption. By the fall of Shanatar, the shield dwarves had abandoned worship of Laduguer, Diinkarazan, and Diirinka, while younger gods such as Thard Harr, Gorm Gulthyn, Marthammor Duin, Dugmaren Brightmantle, and Haela Brightaxe had arisen.
Dumathoin is considered the patron of shield dwarves, and his church has by far the most adherents among shield dwarves. Miners and smiths venerate the Silent Keeper, but he also has a small following among those good- and neutral-aligned shield dwarves seeking secrets of arcane lore. The Mountain Shield is also considered the guardian of the dead and is propitiated by most shield dwarves during burials. Dumathoin's clerics take charge of all burials, inter the dead in secret vaults, and guard the funeral wealth of great shield dwarves.
Marthammor Duin, the Finder-of-Trails, is venerated by those shield dwarves who consider themselves Wanderers. He watches over good-aligned adventurers, craftsfolk, explorers, expatriates, travelers, and wanderers. Marthammor has a secondary aspect as the dwarven god of lightning, which curiously has attracted a small but growing number of wizards and sorcerers who specialize in evocation magic.
Relations With Other Races
Shield dwarves get along well with most other dwarven subraces, although they regard gold dwarven arrogance as naive and have little understanding for their barbaric wild and artic dwarven kin. Shield dwarves have a longstanding enmity for the descendants of Clan Duergar, dating back to the Kin Clashes that marked Shanatar's final chapter, and they attack duergar on sight.
Despite centuries of squabbling with elves and half-elves, shield dwarves have always managed to put aside thir differences with the Tel-quessir in the face of outside threats. Shield dwarves have always gotten along well with gnomes, particularly rock gnomes and deep gnomes. Colored by their experience with lightfoots, shield dwarves find halflings to be somewhat unreliable but easy to get along with. Shield dwarves get along well with most humans, particularly Illuskans, Tethyrians, Chondathans, and Damarans.
Shield dwarves see half-orcs as little better than their hated brethren, although exceptions do exist. The Stout Folk of the North associate most planetouched with the horrors of Hellgate Keep and view them with suspicion. Earth genasi are a notable exception and are commonly welcomed in dwarven delves across the North.
Animals and Pets
Shield dwarves favor bats (especially the common bat), canaries, and small lizards such a sthe spitting crawler as pets and familiars. They use pack lizards and mules as beasts of burden. Shield dwarves commonly employ ponies or war ponies as steeds, except in Iltkazar, were riding lizards are still the norm. Favored breeds include the Island pony, the Nether pony, and the Whiteshield (war pony). The shield dwarves of the Far Hills employ dire bats as steeds (fitted with exotic military saddles) to navigate the subterranean wells they call home. Shield dwarf barbarians and battleragers often employ dire boars as steeds.