[Let's Read] The Complete Books of Demihumans and Humanoids

VoidDrifter

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So, I know there's already individual Let's Reads of the different Complete Book of X splats, but... this is one of the AD&D splatbook series that I find most interesting, so I was wondering if I should (could?) give it a shot?
 

NobodyImportant

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Do you mean The Complete Book of Humanoids? When I search The Complete Book of Demihumans and Humanoids, this thread is one of the first results.
 

DMH

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Do you mean The Complete Book of Humanoids? When I search The Complete Book of Demihumans and Humanoids, this thread is one of the first results.
He means 4 books- Dwarves, Elves, Halflings & Gnomes, and Humanoids.

And sure, I will read the thread and make a comment once in a while.
 

yukamichi

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I really enjoyed these books, I'd tune in to a conversation about them for sure. They're really interesting as far as "fantasy ethnography as evinced through game mechanics"-style writing goes.
 

VoidDrifter

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Alright, since folks think it's okay for me to do so, then let's start things off with the first chapter, shall we?

The Complete Book of Dwarves
Preface
I have something of a complicated relationship with dwarves. I like them, but at the same time, I've always felt they don't quite live up to their potential. I've enjoyed more than a few dwarven characters in D&D novels - Bruenor Battlehammer was one of my first exposures to a non-human protagonist character in a fantasy novel - but, at the same time, I feel like dwarves have a certain inherent restriction in most peoples' minds.


The typical dwarf is more or less drawing upon Tolkien's own dwarves, who themselves have their roots specifically in Nordic mythology, and this may provide a bias against them. In Tolkien's works, dwarves are more or less unimportant, whilst elves are the former great race, supplanted now by man. Dwarves come across as quite mundane by comparison, and that seems to have affected perception of dwarves, for better or worse. Which is a shame, because dwarves have a potential that goes untapped - in no small part in D&D because of the original divergence of dwarf and gnome.


The Complete Book of Dwarves was the sixth in the Player's Handbook Reference series, coming after the Complete Handbooks of Fighters, Thieves, Priests, Wizards and Psionics. It's the first of the four PHBR books that will deal with non-human races. It opens with an "in-universe" introduction to the dwarf race, narrated by one Balor the Hill Dwarf, who describes his own race. It sets much of the tone for dwarves in the book; proud, defiant, and more than a little arrogant. It's then followed by a summary of what this book is about and what it contains. There's nothing really to focus on here, so let's move on...




Chapter 1: The Creation of Dwarves
This surprisingly brief chapter - it only spans 5 pages, not counting the full-page sketched illustration of a dwarf-like god forging a dwarf on an anvil that precedes it - examines dwarven creation mythology and how they explain the world around them.


Surprisingly, Moradin is not mentioned. Instead, the basis of this creation myth is a generic "Maker", a primeval creator who literally fashioned the world on an anvil from an endless flame and supply of molten ore, his quenching trough being the source of all water and life on the world. After the world was created, he gave life to lesser gods, and then to dwarves.


But a god of evil arose and sought to imitate the Maker; his efforts gave rise to all the monsters of the world, predominantly goblinoids and giants. His creations are inherently impure, for they were not mixed with water from the Trough of Life. His efforts also inspired other gods, who created the other "civilized" races; elves, gnomes, halflings and humans. But these races are "sickly and pale" because they lack the iron that was forged into dwarven souls.


Magic is described as something created by the god of evil and shared with other races, and which marks all races, even those not of that god's get, as inherently evil; their taint caused the surface "demihumans" to conspire to steal dwarven gold, and when they woke the dragons from deep beneath the earth, they cowardly bargained for mercy by telling the dragons of dwarven wealth, caused the dwarves to be scattered from their ancestral homes in the ensuing rampages. Whilst dwarfdom thrives now, all dwarves yearn for the day when they will rediscover the First Caverns, whence they will find safety from the attacks of monsters and the ways of elves and humans...


I just need to take a moment here to interject that this dwarven creation myth is quite amazingly arrogant and dwarf-supremacist in its undertones. People tend to think of dwarves as "the humble ones" compared to elves, but this book portrays them as more than equaling the legendary arrogance of the fey-folk. I'm not really sure how I feel about it... on the one hand, it presents the dwarves as being fundamentally human and wrestling with character flaws, but on the other hand, I'm not so sure the author intends for this arrogance to be perceived as a flaw, per say. Cultural nuance was... not exactly TSR's strongest point.


After this creation myth, we see our first subchapter, which covers "The Creation of the World". It talks about how the longevity of dwarves gives them a greater historical clarity, but even they are not necessarily immune to mythologizing the most distant past, which means that whilst dwarves believe things strongly, what they believe is not necessarily true.


To emphasize this, it then discusses a short alternative creation myth, in which a Creator God makes the world and the dwarves, but is captured in his slumber by lesser gods, who forge the other races with his stolen forge and carelessly play with it, something that will ultimately lead to disaster, during which the Creator will be freed and he will destroy the other gods and their creations.


Mention is also made of a story in which the world was not forged deliberately, but an accidental creation, as well as a gully dwarf story in which the world was devoured by a giant monster, digested, and later reformed.


We're told that dwarven creation myths often have either a foretold apocalypse or, more rarely, an apocalyptic beginning. We're also told that different mythical beliefs can be a strong source of friction between dwarves and other races, as dwarves naturally view their own myths as fact and those of other races as fiction - shades of real life religious conflict, there. Examples of how this can shape inter-racial relations are presented in the viewpoints of a mountain dwarf, who believes that humans are inherently corruptible and dwarves must be willing to oppose them through violence and the strength of mithril, and a gully dwarf, who believes that dwarves must accept humanity's ways or be destroyed through weight of superior numbers.


The second subchapter is "What is the World?" This discusses how the dwarven view of the world's shape and the places of different races in it is shaped by their subterranean existence. Some myths take a harmonious vision, claiming each race was given part of the world best suited to it. Others claim dwarves owned all of the world once, but it was stolen away from them by the other races. The world's depth and what lies at its deepest point is another common centerpiece for dwarven mythology. Mention is also made of some dwarven myths claiming the world is a living organism or an intricate machine, with each race being created to look after part of it.


The last three subchapters discuss the dwarven viewpoint of the sun/moon/stars, the origins of the other dwarf gods, and the dwarven afterlife. They are all quite brief.


The celestial bodies are, in this book's eyes, not much of concern to the dwarves, who spend their lives deep underground. They compare them to gemstones or glowing fungi or sparks.


The dwarven gods subchapter, despite its title, is more of an examination of where the other gods came from, given their borderline henotheistic world-view. In short, it claims that three major origins are postulated by dwarven myths; that the Maker/Creator shaped the other gods, that all gods descend from a common ancestor but multiplied by creating races in their image and mating with them, and that gods are racial heroes elevated to godhood for great deeds or exemplary lives.


Finally, the dwarven afterlife briefly describes the three most common viewpoints on the afterlife; a Valhalla-esque hall of heroes, an endless afterlife of leisurely craftsmanship, or a nihilistic belief that a dwarf ceases to exist at death, and is remembered only by his stories or his creations.


Closing Thoughts:
All in all... not the most exciting of chapters, but I consider it decently written. The racial posturing honestly reminds me more of elf stereotypes than dwarf ones. It's pretty bare bones and, honestly, could have been done better, but it passes inspection for what it's meant to do.
 

NobodyImportant

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What do you mean? I will confess, one of my failings is a tendency to put a lot of detail and focus in what I write about, so the "chapter reviews" will probably be kind of on the long side...
I meant on the book’s part. A cursory creation myth is to be expected, but an entire chapter on the different belief systems held by different groups of dwarves is not.

I wouldn’t count what you’re describing as a failing - I love long reviews! This was a very good first step, especially for your first lets read. You got all the information to us without being boring, while not repeating the book verbatim or leaving in too much. I’m already looking forward to your next post.
 

DMH

Master of Mutant Design
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And most dwarves are Lawful Good how?

Actually I would think most members of most races would be neutral, at least towards other races. Tribalism is expected of anything like a human. It would be nice to see how conflicts between allied races should be played out. I doubt humans would reach for their sword if they were gentrified by halflings.
 

Silvercat Moonpaw

Quadruped Transhuman
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I have something of a complicated relationship with dwarves. I like them, but at the same time, I've always felt they don't quite live up to their potential. I've enjoyed more than a few dwarven characters in D&D novels - Bruenor Battlehammer was one of my first exposures to a non-human protagonist character in a fantasy novel - but, at the same time, I feel like dwarves have a certain inherent restriction in most peoples' minds.
I think dwarves suffer from being tragically human for a non-human race: their most non-human trait is that they live underground (and see in the dark, but you don't need that trait to have a "dwarf"). By contrast elves are weirdly magical.

Of course halflings suffer from a similar problem.
 
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