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Dethek was the name of a runic script used by the Dwarvish language,[2][3][4][5] as well as some human languages,[5] and by the giant, ogre, orc, gnome, goblin, and terran languages.[6] It consisted of letters, numerals and symbols for common words or phrases.[2][3][4]

"Dethek" was also sometimes used to refer to the Dwarvish language as a whole.[7]



The Dethek runic alphabet consisted of 24 characters. The sounds "w", "x", and "z" were represented by the same character.[2][3][4][5] 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.[citation needed] [note 1]

Dethek alphabet.png


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:

Dethek one to nine.png

The characters for 1, 5, and 10 were combined to created numbers up to 20:

Dethek ten to twenty.png

Numbers from 20 to 99 could be created using logical combinations of the 1, 5, and 10 symbols:

Dethek twentyone to ninetynine.png

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:

Dethek hundreds.png

To make 1000, flip a 10 symbol on its side in front of 100 (10×10×10=1000).[2][3][4] Additional thousands were added with a notch in the flipped thousand symbol:[8][note 2]

Dethek thousand.png


Clans and tribes and some of the most common words, races, or phrases had their own symbols.[2][3][4] These were useful for sign-posting or creating runestones.[3]

Each of the main races in Faerûn had a collective symbol assigned to it. The symbol applied to both singular and plural, leaving the reader to work it out from context:[3]

Dethek race symbols.png

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:

Dethek tracking symbols.png

Others were "Marthammor Marks", after the dwarven god Marthammor Duin, the Finder-of-Trails.[3]


Dethek was extremely lacking in punctuation.[2][3][4][5] This was probably due to the fact that dwarves rarely recorded anything more than simple instructions, warnings, or spells.[citation needed]

The first letters of nouns and words that began sentences could be capitalized. This was achieved with a simple horizontal accent over the letter:

Dethek capitals.png

Words were generally separated by spaces. To end sentences, the most common method was a large line or slash across the line.[2][3][4][5]

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.[2][4][3][5]

Any numbers enclosed in boxes were dates, written as day followed by year.[2][3][4]

The dwarven warhammer Oath-Hammer was adorned with runes stating "For my sons, Khondar and Khondos Stonebreaker, slain at the hands of the dark elves, whose spilt blood I will avenge a hundredfold before I die, so I swear before the faces of Moradin, Berronar, and Gorm."[9]

Emotional content could be represented in how the runes were oriented, such as how the dwarven warhammer Oath-Hammer was marked in slanted runes to express the rage of its creator.[9]


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.[2][3][4][5]

The simplicity of Dethek runes and their straight lines made carving them into metal and stone simple.[10] Despite this, runes inscribed on runestones were typically written in a spiral-form, from outside in.[2][4][3][5]


This example shows Dethek letters, symbols, and punctuation:

Dethek example.png

This piece of text shows how written stories using the collective symbols can be misinterpreted:

Dethek dragon example.png

Depending on how one wanted to tell the story, this passage could be read in two ways:

  1. Durlag slew the dragon with ease.
  2. Durlag slew the dragons with ease.

This example is a partial phrase demonstrating runes written on parchment:[11][12][note 3]


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.[2][3][4]

Strong links between the gold dwarves of the Great Rift and the early people of Unther led to the Untheric language using Dethek runes.[13]

Dethek runes were etched onto the entrances of many ancient vaults and dungeons throughout history.

The Siremun dwarves of the Firepeaks taught Dethek runes to the Raumviran people for the Raumvira language.[14]

The Damaran language used Dethek runes as a result of cooperation between the people of Impiltur and the dwarves of the Earthfast Mountains early in their history.[15]

Speakers of the Shaaran tongue picked up Dethek runes from gold dwarf traders from the Great Rift.[14]


The following languages commonly used Dethek writing for their written forms:


See Also[]


  1. 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.

    This image shows how the 'n' and 'o' runes vary between sources.

  2. 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.
  3. 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".



  1. Ed Greenwood (October 1990). Dwarves Deep. (TSR, Inc.), p. inside cover. ISBN 0-88038-880-3.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 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.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 Ed Greenwood (October 1990). Dwarves Deep. (TSR, Inc.), pp. 11, inside cover. ISBN 0-88038-880-3.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 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.
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 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.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 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.
  7. Thomas M. Costa (1999). “Speaking in Tongues”. In Dave Gross ed. Dragon Annual #4 (TSR, Inc), p. 29.
  8. Ed Greenwood (January 1983). “Runestones”. In Kim Mohan ed. Dragon #69 (TSR, Inc.), p. 14.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Thomas M. Reid, Sean K. Reynolds (Nov. 2005). Champions of Valor. (Wizards of the Coast), pp. 63, 67. ISBN 0-7869-3697-5.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Reynolds, Forbeck, Jacobs, Boyd (March 2003). Races of Faerûn. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 97. ISBN 0-7869-2875-1.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Reynolds, Forbeck, Jacobs, Boyd (March 2003). Races of Faerûn. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 108. ISBN 0-7869-2875-1.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Reynolds, Forbeck, Jacobs, Boyd (March 2003). Races of Faerûn. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 90. ISBN 0-7869-2875-1.
  16. 16.0 16.1 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.
  17. 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.
  18. Reynolds, Forbeck, Jacobs, Boyd (March 2003). Races of Faerûn. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 109. ISBN 0-7869-2875-1.