Say the word “dwarf” to a fantasy fan and the first thing that likely comes to mind is their opulent beards. Throughout the majority of fantasy literature and roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, dwarves are immediately identified with the follicle splendor of their facial hair. What follows is a brief collection of ideas for ways in which dwarves might use or augment their beards. While background information and D&D mechanics have been provided this is more to provide easy inclusion in a game. Feel free to alter the game mechanics to suit your style of play.
In many D&D settings, even the females of the species are depicted with beards that rival their men to a point where they are often indistinguishable between the sexes. [NERDITOR’S NOTE: Slave Pits of the Undercity, a classic D&D module, shows the first depiction of a female dwarf with a beard in D&D on the cover image by Jeff Dee.] As a race, dwarves cultivate and tend their beards, taking great pride in them and going to great lengths to maximize their chin-born peacockery. The loss of a beard is shameful for dwarves and often used as a form of punishment for those criminals horrible enough but not deserving capital punishment. It should be no surprise then, the lengths to which the dwarf race will go to protect and utilize the majestic splendor of their whiskers.
Beard tricks and items for D&D
Beards are good for more than fighting and looking impressive. By artfully weaving these small metallic cylinders into the braids and plaited hair of their beards, dwarves provide themselves a small space perfect for concealing a small key, a few gems, a spell component, lockpick or any other small item that can easily be concealed in the palm of a hand. Beard cylinders are waterproof and dwarves can easily conceal four of them in their beard without any risk of casual detection. Detecting a beard cylinder requires a successful DC 20 Wisdom (Perception) check.
Not all beard cylinders are intended for the concealment of small items. There are also full-size scroll and map cases often secured into dwarves’ beards. Generally made of stiff leather or metal, they can come in any number of materials and are able to contain a single scroll (including spell scrolls) or map. They can also be used to hold collections of smaller items should the dwarf desire.
Some dwarven cultures go to great lengths to protect their beards. Wrapping them, or tucking them away, is often very problematic and in some instances the practice of beard girding has been adopted. This is the process of weaving ropy strands of beard hair through metal rings, scales, disks or plates in such a way that the beard is shielded behind a flexible wall of metal. The result is heavy, but well worth the protection it provides dwarves’ beards. The practice has the added benefit of providing the dwarf with an extra degree of armor a suit of armor and shield alone does not allow.
A dwarf who girds their beard receives a +1 AC bonus on top of any AC provided by armor or shields, but does not stack with the bonus provided by a bearded helm. Beard girding is considered very inspiring to dwarves and a dwarf with a girded beard makes all Charisma checks at advantage when dealing with other dwarves.
Beard girding is incredibly uncomfortable and while a dwarf with a girded beard may rest for short periods (short rest) it is impossible to gain full benefit from a long rest unless they remove the girding. While the dwarf’s beard is girded, long rests will provide the benefits of a short rest. Beard girding takes one hour to don and 30 minutes to doff without damaging the beard and can be done as part of a long rest.
Bearded helms are used in deference of beard girding. A bearded helm is a helmet with a long apron of chain or scale attached to is bottom edge so it hangs over dwarves’ beard and chest. The bearded helm provides a +1 AC bonus on top of any already provided by armor and shields, but does not stack with the bonus provided by beard girding. Bearded helms, while impressive, do not provide the Charisma bonuses of beard girding, but does not have the same adverse affect on rest.
Keeping ones tools and important items at hand and unhindered by a voluminous beard is important, especially among worker dwarves. For many this has led to the use of metal hangers woven into the hairs of beards from which small tools, keys, pouches and other small items may be hung. Items hung in such a way are easily accessible and will not require taking an action to retrieve as one might when trying to go through a pack or toolkit. Items hung from beard hangers are unprotected and exposed and immediately affected by any of the things that might normally damage them.
Beard hooks and spikes
By braiding and weaving metal loops equipped with sharp hooks into their beards, dwarves can make themselves an uncomfortable target for grappling. Beard hooks force disadvantage on all attempts to grapple the dwarf as their prickly beard makes it difficult to grab them.
For those dwarves who keep small pets or familiars, there is an item called a beard house. As the name indicates, this item takes the form of a small domicile crafted from wood, metals and other craft materials. Only tiny or smaller creatures can fit into this minuscule house. Beard houses often have doors or gates on them to allow the owner to secure the creatures inside.
The tradition of beard weights started as a way to strengthen the necks and backs of dwarven warriors or as practice for beard girding which puts a lot of strain on the neck. It was later found that the weights placed in the beards could be used to entrap enemy weapons in a beard or grapple an enemy’s limbs. Beard weights have become popular with dwarven monks.
Beard weights provide the user advantage on grapple checks. As a bonus action, a dwarf with beard weights can make an melee attack with them, inflicting 1d4 bludgeoning damage. Beard weights are considered martial weapons due to the complexity in using them as weapons.
There are are tales of dwarves who know a secret language of ciphers that can be woven into the braids of their beards. Through the used of complex knots, braids and plating a beard can be turned into a document capable of conveying about a handwritten page worth of information. The language of beard ciphers can be taken by a dwarf character as a replacement for one of the languages they would normally learn. It can also be learned, but teaching the secret language of beard ciphers is often restricted to certain orders and cabals.
Dwarven clerics have learned their beards are useful for carrying with them the trappings of their faith. One such item is an incense censer clipped to the end of a beard braid. From here, the censor is allowed to wave and spread the incense burning inside without endangering the dwarf’s beard. While these are usually used for mundane incense, they are suitable for burning magical mixtures and special incenses.
By matching hairs and strands to their natural beard, it is possible for a dwarf to conceal coils of strong twine that can support the weight of a dwarf. A single dwarf can hide 20 f.t of rope within the average beard, making the beard appear extra full. It is not uncommon for a group of dwarves to conceal several of these ropes among their number to use as a longer length of rope. It takes a full 5 minutes to unravel such a concealed rope.
Dwarves love their drink and what better way to keep their favorite alcoholic beverage near than to attach a flask to their beards? These specially made flasks are designed to be laced securely into a dwarf’s beard and can contain about 8 ounces of fluid of any sort. While most use them for liquor, they can be used to contain potions, poisons, or any other fluids the dwarf might need.
Holy water sprinklers
Similar to the attachment of censers to their beards, dwarven clerics have been known to equip their beards with reservoirs for holy fluids such as holy water. A dwarf with a holy water sprinkler attached to their beard can use a bonus action to splash the fluid on a creature they are in melee combat with. The fluids have their usual effects.
A special, nonmagical beard balm infused with herbal mixtures and mithril dust, this balm leaves the strands of a dwarf’s beard laced with shimmering mithril that catches the light and adds to its magnificence. A dwarf wearing mithril balm will have advantage in dealings with other dwarves. Some dwarf cultures restrict access to mithril balm to certain classes or ranks and still others consider it ostentatious and garish, so a dwarf must be careful with the use of this particular item. A single application of mithril balm will last for four hours of casual activity such as a social function, comfortable travel or dinner or an hour of rigorous activity like athletics, combat, or difficult travelling. After this time, the compound will have flaked off or lost its luster.
A dwarf’s beard is so much a part of its identity in most fantasy settings it seems a shame that it gets relegated to the status of fashion accessory. I hope you have enjoyed this exploration of some of the more mundane items and tricks that could be used to improve upon the majestic beard. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list and I hope you will let it inspire you to use these in your games and expand upon them. In a future article, I will explore more dwarfish beard lore, including magical items and accessories for the beard.
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The name Elf Bait comes from a running gag carried on since high school where my friends and I joked that our creative ideas were being stolen by tiny little elves that took our ideas to the powers that be. Over the decades this has become something of a badge of pride, knowing that we had ideas that were not only cool to us but deemed cool enough by professionals (not that we think they really took our ideas) for commercial use.