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Shield dwarves, also known as mountain dwarves, were among the most common of the dwarven peoples. Once the rulers of mighty kingdoms across Faerûn, the shield dwarves had since fallen by the wayside after centuries of warfare with their goblinoid enemies. Since then, shield dwarves were less commonly seen throughout Faerûn, though during the Era of Upheaval the subrace, spurred on by the Thunder Blessing, began to retake an important role in local politics.
The shield dwarves are on average half a foot taller than other dwarves. They are the most common dwarf in the north of Faerûn. They have light skin that is fair or lightly tanned and green or silvery blue eyes with long light brown or red hair, growing white or gray with age. Most males and even some females have large beards and mustaches. The females are slightly shorter and less heavy than the males.
Shield dwarves are a cynical and gruff people, but they are not, despite a reputation to the contrary, fatalistic, still possessing some hope for the future. Typically, shield dwarves take time to trust and even longer to forgive but the dwindling of their race has led many to be more open to other ways of thinking. Shield dwarven attitudes have in the past been typically divided between the Hidden and the Wanderers, two separate schools of thought amongst the race, though since the Thunder Blessing this separation has begun to erode. The Hidden, like the gold dwarves, believed it best to take an isolationist policy towards other races, fortifying their mountain homes and continuing their ancient ways, while the Wanderers have been more adventurous, seeking their fortunes on the surface world.
However, while shield dwarves have not always been as open-minded as they are today, there is a long tradition of adventurism in the race and many young dwarves, particularly since the Thunder Blessing, have hoped to find glory in doing great deeds in distant lands. Less self-interested shield dwarves have also taken to the adventuring life to reclaim ancient strongholds or treasures long lost. Whatever the case, most shield dwarves who venture beyond their homes are fighters or clerics trained in personal combat, leaning on the strong martial traditions of their people against the orcs, goblins, trolls, and giants that threaten the race. Experienced dwarven adventurers might well go on to become battleragers or dwarven defenders, while clerics might become runecasters. Arcane spellcasters are fairly rare, however, among shield dwarves, who distrust magic.
Traditionally, clan allegiance and caste placement meant everything among the shield dwarves but as their civilization has declined so has the importance of these identity constructs. Although bloodline is still a mark of pride for a dwarf from a particularly strong clan, personal accomplishments have come to mean more practically than the old ways, which seem increasingly irrelevant. Among the Hidden, traditions remain strong, but there is an increasing number of shield dwarves willing to leave the mountains for a life as adventurers or craftsmen among humans.
Family life remains a prime concern for dwarves, however, and while elders play a diminishing role in childrearing, the relationships between parent and child or siblings remain as strong as ever. Most dwarves are literate and are taught to read at an early age, before being handed off to an apprenticeship appropriate to their caste. In the workplace, shield dwarves are taught to work both for not only themselves and their family but for the greater whole of their clan and most shield dwarves are, while proud of their work, fairly humble and avoid ostentatious displays of decadence. After a shield dwarf has expired his or her ability to work physically, they remain a valued part of the community for their experience and wisdom and when they die they are honored with funeral rites appropriate to their legacy.
Shield dwarves speak a number of Dwarven dialects, the most common of them being the Shanatan language, which is spoken along the Sword Coast from the Shining Sea to the Spine of the World. Further inland, a number of shield dwarves speak Galenan, which is heavily influenced by Damaran. Most shield dwarves are also fluent in Common and the extensive trading contacts of the race has encouraged many to learn Chondathan, Damaran, and Illuskan and even Elven and Gnome as well. Shield dwarf warriors might also be encouraged to learn the languages of their enemies, such as Draconic, Giant, Orc, or Goblin.
Art and Leisure
Shield dwarves are fine craftsmen but more than among other dwarven races, their craft tends to be war. Shield dwarves accumulate a wide variety of weaponry in the fight to defend their homelands and unlike many dwarves do not limit themselves simply to hammers or picks, drawing upon axes, urgroshes, spears, swords, and mauls as well. Shield dwarves typically equip themselves in heavy armor fashioned from mithral, which they favor over the adamantine of gold dwarves.
For pets, shield dwarves favor bats, canaries, or small lizards such as the spitting crawler. Like other dwarves they use larger lizards or mules as beasts of burden and employ ponies as their war steeds, except in Iltkazar, where many ride upon riding lizards. Shield dwarven ponies are most commonly Island, Nether, or Whiteshield ponies. In the Far Hills, dwarves have been known to ride dire bats, navigating the underground tunnels that make up their home upon the flying mammals' backs. Other, more adventurous shield dwarves might also try to mount dire boars.
Magic and Religion
While shield dwarves are openly dismissive of magic, they nonetheless rely on it to a significant degree in the defense of their homelands. Among the Hidden, illusionists and abjurers are immensely valued, since they can hide or protect a clan from enemy attack, layering their defenses with protective spells and rituals. Shield dwarves also make extensive used of magic items, though the Hidden and Wanderers differ over which type of items are best employed (armor and weaponry respectively). A few magic items unique to the shield dwarves include doorbreakers, hammers of staggering blows, stonereavers, and foesplitter axes.
In general, shield dwarves are more open to divine magic and clerics, paladins, runecasters, and runesmiths are all fairly common. Shield dwarf clerics have even fashioned a few prayers of their own, such as mindless rage and shape metal. Shield dwarf clerics most commonly worshiped Dumathoin before the Spellplague, who was chosen as the chief god of Shanatar during the first election for the high king of the Wyrmskull Throne, for whom Moradin selected the high priest of Dumathoin, Ultoksamrin, though this eventually led Clan Duergar, the worshipers of Laduguer, to pull away from the other kingdoms of Shanatar, each of whom had their own patron deity but all of whom, except for Clan Duergar, recognized Ultoksamrin.
For the most part, shield dwarves venerate all the Morndinsamman and even before Dumathoin perished nearly all of the pantheon besides Laduguer and Deep Duerra had followers among the race. In practice, however, where Dumathoin did not dominate, Moradin and Berronar, the patrons of Alatorin, or Marthammor Duin, the patron of adventurers and explorers, did. Most prominent were Dumathoin's priests, who oversaw all burials among the race before the god's demise.
Relations with Other Races
Shield dwarves, while gruff, are not acidic in personality and generally enjoy the company of others, even if they are not of their own kind. Most of all, shield dwarves get along with other dwarves, even for gold dwarves, who they believe naive and overconfident. Although shield dwarves lay claim to a long history of disputes with the Tel-quessir races, most among both peoples are tolerant and even fond of the other. For gnomes, shield dwarves have nothing but fondness, particularly the rock gnomes and deep gnomes, and dwarves have a long tradition of friendship with most of their human neighbors.
There are exceptions to the shield dwarves' tolerance, however, and the race is openly hostile with their kin the duergar, who blame the shield dwarves for their enslavement by the mind flayers. Shield dwarves also have little tolerance for either half-orcs or planetouched, who are either too alien to their experiences to understand or too much like previous enemies. Earthsoul genasi are the only planetouched shield dwarves will easily trust and are in fact welcomed into most delves across the North.
The ancestral homelands of the shield dwarves are located primarily in the North. Shield dwarves can also be found in Damara, Vaasa, the Vast, and the Western Heartlands. Of all their strongholds, the most important is likely Citadel Adbar, formerly a part of Luruar. However, while the shield dwarves retain many homelands of their own, generations of emigration by the Wanderers has caused a vast diaspora of shield dwarves to spread across human lands. These scattered communities often form into loose approximations of a traditional dwarven clan, maintaining their own ways while integrating into the local community.
Although the shield dwarves came into being as they are in present-day Faerûn when a large dwarven migration headed north after the fall of Shanatar, their history goes back much further than this. Circa -12,000 DR, Taark Shanat led a migration of dwarves west from Bhaerynden, entering them into the Cloaker Wars with the inhabitants of Rringlor Noroth. When Taark killed four blue dragons the dwarves were victorious and settled the Rift of Dhalnadar as their new home, founding the realm of Alatorin. The lair of the dragons was renamed Brightaxe Hall and the Wyrmskull Throne was formed from the dragons' skulls.
Taark's eight sons spread beneath the areas now known as Tethyr and Amn to build kingdoms of their own and each adopted a child of Moradin as their deity, but fighting over territory broke out between these kingdoms around −9000 DR. This allowed the drow of Guallidurth to attack and capture Alatorin in the First Spider War, but it was later reclaimed by all eight kingdoms during the Second Spider War when they allied against the invaders.
Although unrest between the allied kingdoms began to increase, the Mindstalker Wars were initiated by the illithids of Oryndoll around −8100 DR. This conflict lasted around twenty years with the dwarves emerging victorious, but Clan Duergar in the caverns of Barakuir had been destroyed.
The Third Spider War began around −6150 DR when the Guallidurth drow attacked once again. After around thirty years, the dwarves were forced out of Brightaxe Hall although they took the Wyrmskull Throne with them.
Moving to the Surface
When the dwarves moved to the surface in search of new territory, an initial early allegiance with the humans against the djinni ended when the rulers of Coramshan turned to evil gods. The dwarves established the kingdom of High Shanatar north of the Marching Mountains around −5960 DR.
Fall of the Empires
The original kingdoms of Deep Shantar were destroyed around −1800 DR when the Duergar invaded what was once their home. This was known as the Kin Clashes and left only Iltkazar surviving.
More and more dwarves migrated north, leaving behind their old kingdoms and forming Oghrann, Haunghdannar, Ammarindar and Delzoun. Eventually, all of these dwarven settlements fell, the last of which being Ammarindar in 882 DR as a result of the demons of Wulgreth of Ascalhorn.
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