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Dethek was the name of a runic script used by the Dwarvish language, as well as some human languages, and by the giant, ogre, orc, gnome, goblin, and terran languages. It consisted of letters, numerals and symbols for common words or phrases.
"Dethek" was also sometimes used to refer to the Dwarvish language as a whole.
The Dethek runic alphabet consisted of 24 characters. The sounds "w", "x", and "z" were represented by the same character. This might have been confusing for humans trying to translate into Common. It was not an issue for native Dethek users, as few words in those languages had these letters. [note 1]
The Dethek method of counting used a collection of straight lines, joined together to create a number. This means that each number appeared as a single character. The characters for 1 and 5 were combined in various logical ways to create the numbers 1 to 9:
The characters for 1, 5, and 10 were combined to created numbers up to 20:
Numbers from 20 to 99 could be created using logical combinations of the 1, 5, and 10 symbols:
To make 100, simply invert a 10 on top of itself (10×10=100). The rest of the hundreds could be created using combinations of previous symbols:
Other symbols were used for tracking and signposting. These were hieroglyphics based on commonly understood concepts: a foot to mark a safe trail, an inverted helm or drinking horn to indicate fresh water, and so on:
The first letters of nouns and words that began sentences could be capitalized. This was achieved with a simple horizontal accent over the letter:
To emphasize or show contrast against the writing surface, the runes could be painted. Names of people, races, and locations were highlighted in red, while the rest of the text was painted black or left unadorned.
Dwarf-written Dethek runes were preferably carved into durable stone, and less often into metal, and rarely written on paper or cloth due to the short life and fragile nature of such materials. Dwarven runes were usually carved or scraped into the stone walls of a building or cave; on a cairn, pillar, or standing stone, or inscribed or stamped on metal surfaces such as a weapon. Particular forms of dwarven writing were books of bound metal sheets or on stone tablets called runestones.
The simplicity of Dethek runes and their straight lines made carving them into metal and stone simple. Despite this, runes inscribed on runestones were typically written in a spiral-form, from outside in.
This example shows Dethek letters, symbols, and punctuation:
This piece of text shows how written stories using the collective symbols can be misinterpreted:
Depending on how one wanted to tell the story, this passage could be read in two ways:
- Durlag slew the dragon with ease.
- Durlag slew the dragons with ease.
It transliterates to: "bases of operation of the zhentarim or black network".
Dethek runes dated to back to the beginning of recorded history in Faerûn, but it was only one of a number of different runic scripts in use over the centuries, including individual clan codes. Dethek survived to become the most well known and commonly used runic script by the 14th century DR. The others became "dead tongues" and were little used at that time.
The following languages commonly used Dethek writing for their written forms:
- Orc (Hulgorkyn)
- The Dethek alphabet was originally shown in two sources, Dwarves Deep and the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (1st edition). The runes for 'n' and 'o' vary between these sources. The images for this article were originally made in accordance with the Dwarves Deep alphabet. However, the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (2nd edition) and Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (3rd edition) both follow the alphabet of the older Campaign Set.
- Unfortunately, no sources explain how how many extra thousands can be added or what symbol is used for any multiples higher than thousands. This may be because dwarfs had no need to describe any amounts larger than several thousand.
- The image is taken from the background image of a number of 3rd and v.3.5 Forgotten Realms sourcebooks. The full text reads "zhentil keep is also one of" on the even-numbered pages and "bases of operation of the zhentarim or black network" on the odd-numbered pages, with "the" presumably lost in the binding. Written diagonally across the odd-numbered pages is also "forgotten realms magic summoning magic". In the triangular sigil on page 232 of the FRCS 3rd edition are the words "good", "evil", "law", and "chaos".
- Ed Greenwood (October 1990). Dwarves Deep. (TSR, Inc.), p. inside cover. ISBN 0-88038-880-3.
- Jeff Grubb, Ed Greenwood and Karen S. Martin (1987). Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (Cyclopedia of the Realms). (TSR, Inc), pp. 8–9. ISBN 0-8803-8472-7.
- Ed Greenwood (October 1990). Dwarves Deep. (TSR, Inc.), pp. 11, inside cover. ISBN 0-88038-880-3.
- Ed Greenwood, Julia Martin, Jeff Grubb (1993). Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting 2nd edition (revised), A Grand Tour of the Realms. (TSR, Inc), p. 25–26. ISBN 1-5607-6617-4.
- Ed Greenwood, Sean K. Reynolds, Skip Williams, Rob Heinsoo (June 2001). Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting 3rd edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 85. ISBN 0-7869-1836-5.
- Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams (July 2003). Player's Handbook v.3.5. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 82. ISBN 0-7869-2886-7.
- Thomas M. Costa (1999). “Speaking in Tongues”. In Dave Gross ed. Dragon Annual #4 (TSR, Inc), p. 29.
- Ed Greenwood (January 1983). “Runestones”. In Kim Mohan ed. Dragon #69 (TSR, Inc.), p. 14.
- Thomas M. Reid, Sean K. Reynolds (Nov. 2005). Champions of Valor. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 63, 67. ISBN 0-7869-3697-5.
- Steve Kenson, et al. (November 2015). Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide. Edited by Kim Mohan. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 103, 105. ISBN 978-0-7869-6580-9.
- Ed Greenwood, Sean K. Reynolds, Skip Williams, Rob Heinsoo (June 2001). Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting 3rd edition. (Wizards of the Coast), p. most odd numbered pages. ISBN 0-7869-1836-5.
- Eric L. Boyd (2006-05-03). Environs of Waterdeep (Zipped PDF). Wizards of the Coast. pp. odd numbered pages, especially p. 15. Archived from the original on 2016-08-16. Retrieved on 2009-10-07.
- Reynolds, Forbeck, Jacobs, Boyd (March 2003). Races of Faerûn. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 97. ISBN 0-7869-2875-1.
- Reynolds, Forbeck, Jacobs, Boyd (March 2003). Races of Faerûn. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 108. ISBN 0-7869-2875-1.
- Reynolds, Forbeck, Jacobs, Boyd (March 2003). Races of Faerûn. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 90. ISBN 0-7869-2875-1.
- Steve Kenson, et al. (November 2015). Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide. Edited by Kim Mohan. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 112. ISBN 978-0-7869-6580-9.
- Steve Kenson, et al. (November 2015). Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide. Edited by Kim Mohan. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 117. ISBN 978-0-7869-6580-9.
- Reynolds, Forbeck, Jacobs, Boyd (March 2003). Races of Faerûn. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 109. ISBN 0-7869-2875-1.