Over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted tinker with ideas for playing an artificer in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. A while back we did a video series about the best race to play each 5E D&D class and with the artificer being the only new official class since the Player’s Handbook we were compelled to add a new title to the series. The discussion on YouTube brought up some intriguing ideas and if I’m honest the artificer class itself didn’t really captivate me until I was watching the video. One of the races they mention for potential best artificer doesn’t make the final cut for them but for me it shot to the top of the list and remained there like mountain bedrock. At least for my own growing campaign setting the best artificers are dwarves.
3 dwarves for 3 Artificer Specialists
In all the 5E D&D games I’ve run in my own campaign setting dwaven culture hasn’t shown up on the radar. No dwarven characters arrived in the small coastal village of Fristad seeking adventure, and no adventures involved dwarves or dwarven places — current or past. I hadn’t put any thought into dwarves’ place in the world since it never came up. During the video Dave mentions how in mythology from our own world dwarves often feature as supremely skilled crafters, and this immediately made me think of Eitri from Avengers: Infinity War.
I like the idea of dwarves with mystique. People have heard of dwarves but no one ever sees them except Really Important People. Rulers of nations might get to commission a dwarven artifact, if they’re lucky. The most accomplished adventurers in the multiverse could find themselves visiting a dwarven realm for some epic purpose. Eitri, the King of the Dwarves in the Marvel film, lived at Nidavellir, a spectacular cosmic location. Imagine an adventure taking characters to a forge orbiting a neutron star in order to create a weapon capable of defeating the big bad of a campaign.
“Nidavellir’s forge harnesses the power of a blazing neutron star. It’s the birth place of my hammer. It’s truly awesome.” — Thor to Rocket Raccoon
A place for dwarven artificers to work their craft doesn’t need to be quite so difficult to reach, but it can inspire just as much awe. Years ago in a game the adventurers were brought to a mystical dwarven forge by a master smith they rescued. She was a leader among her dwarven society and showed her gratitude by creating the moonspear that the party’s wood elf monk went on to use pretty much the entire rest of the campaign. He loved that thing not for the mechanical benefits (although they were pretty terrific) but for how and when the party acquired it. The rescue mission was a side job they took on, which led to a fun challenge reaching the mystical forge and then participating in the procedure of crafting the weapon.
I’d like to try and recapture a bit of that moment in my games these days and I think representing this iconic 5E D&D race as dwarven artificers along with tall tales and fantastical locations is the way to do it.
Dwarven artificers — Alchemists
This Artificer Specialist creates magical effects to heal or harm through studied knowledge of the natural world and how combining different components together can produce a variety of results. Knowing how and when to best utilize their creations, whether to give life or to leech it away, requires Wisdom so for this Artificer Specialist hill dwarven artificers fill the role perfectly. Hill dwarves are naturally tough too, and at higher levels as an artificer their toughness gets a boost with acid resistance and poison immunity.
Hill dwarf society straddles the line between subterranean and surface life. A remote valley makes a great homeland for the masters of alchemy, and to punch up the fantastical elements we’ll put a leyline intersection there. An abundance of magical energy allows rare reagents to flourish and the hill dwarven artificers here experiment with the most powerful substances in the world. The elixirs and restoratives produced by hill dwarven artificers are the stuff of legends, panaceas capable of curing deities and bestowing spectacular physical enhancements on mortals.
Adventurers’ first encounter with dwarves likely involves hill dwarves. Mountain dwarves and duergar traditionally occupy more remote places than a fresh off the boat party of 1st level characters might encounter. Alchemy feels like a more relatable form of artifice to introduce first, too. Magical potions and consumable elixirs could have a big impact on low level adventures. For a party of 3rd level characters chugging an elixir for a flying speed of 10 feet for 10 minutes expands party options tremendously.
Consider a situation where the party’s nemesis is an evil sorcerer whose tower floats in a chasm and has no windows or doors, with powerful winds swirling around it at all times. It’s extreme, but for the sake of illustration if the party does some investigating into how they might overcome such a challenge they hear of a hill dwarven artificer and as the story goes they can capture the wind in a bottle. After digging up a lead on where to find the legendary potion maker and a difficult journey to reach them, the party assists the hill dwarven artificer in an alchemical experiment to create an elixir granting flight to whoever drinks it. The rogue chugs it, sneakily flies over to the tower with strong ropes and grappling hooks and the party confronts their enemy.
Now the party earns the stature to discover the next level of dwarven artificers.
Dwarven artificers — Battle Smiths
A Battle Smith Artificer Specialist defends and maintains allies with the help of a construct companion. Their spells and features tend to put them in the thick of things with melee weapons in hand alongside their steel defenders who match their Strength making mountain dwarf artificers a great choice for this Artificer Specialist.
When I think of mountain dwarf society I think of opening of The Hobbit film. Mountain dwarf halls are colossal and the dwarves there work metal and stone with machine precision. Adding another layer with mountain dwarven artificers and steel defenders permeating their culture adds plenty more fantasy. The mountain dwarven artificer home might not be a mountain at all, but a place like Wakanda from the Black Panther movie. But to the outside world it looks like a treacherous mountain and certain peril awaits anyone foolish enough to approach uninvited. The little known about mountain dwarves paints them as grumpy, perhaps harsh folk but this too is an illusion. In the home every mountain dwarf knows the secrets of artifice and building a steel defender companion is part of the fabric of society.
Adventurers invited to the mountain dwarven artificer homeland must prove themselves trustworthy, and gaining a mountain dwarf’s trust is no easy feat. The great secret of mountain dwarves is the vast deposits of mithril, adamantine or whatever mythical metals you can imagine. I like the idea of mountain dwarf culture being highly advanced. Along with dwarves’ long life spans a relatively low population could really flourish and advance. Borrowing further from Black Panther these mountain dwarves consider their stewardship of the rare minerals a great responsibility and they are proud to do their best. Tier two characters with notable deeds to their name may be honored by a visit to the home of mountain dwarven artificers, particularly if they pursue honorable goals.
What if a new villain emerged after the party defeated the evil sorcerer with the tower and the swirling air and all that, and this new threat comes instead from deep below the surface. The party uncovers a plot by a medusa mercenary in command of a horde of xorn disrupting regional economy. Clues point toward the mythical mountain dwarf homeland. Mountain dwarven artificers approach the party unexpectedly, each with an amazing construct at their side. Adventurers are escorted through the veil of secrecy and discover an incredibly advanced culture. The mountain dwarven artificers do not yet feel comfortable revealing themselves to the world, but they offer to aid the party against the medusa. A special construct — an adamantine defender! — can be created to accompany the party on their adventures. But of course they’ll have to do something earn the honor or help in the process somehow.
With all this uncovering of mythical metals and underground threats it’s time to get really outlandish with the dwarven artificers.
Dwarven artificers — Artillerists
The Artillerist Artificer Specialist make things go boom. These magical engineers create engines of destruction and lay down elemental damage with their magic. A duergar artificer relying on Strength who can enlarge themselves and set up an Eldritch Cannon for cover fire to survive and thrive in a dangerous world deep below the surface pairs nicely.
Traditional duergar history has them lured into an ambush by mind flayers and enslaved for generations before fighting their way to freedom. Left grim and dour by the experience, they eventually turned to evil after returning to their original homes where the rest of dwarves were like sorry, y’all are evil now. Bye bye! Left with nothing but toil duergar leaned into it and carved out a place in the world below where they work endlessly producing weapons of war. Duergar civilization is a bleak existence with mandatory factory work making Eldritch Cannons. Most of these — and certainly the most powerful versions — remain with the duergar in an ever more fortified stronghold deep underground.
Only the most dire threats would be worth the nearly impossible journey to reach the duergar artificers and only the greatest of treasures enough to coax them into interacting with an adventuring party. The Underdark is already an alien place to surface dwellers and even mundane subterranean creatures, and the dwarven artificers of the duergar civilization add an almost sci-fi quality with laser turrets and mobile assault platforms, wandslingers and magical bombs. And even then, a meeting would be terse at best. Duergar value toil and efficiency, and wasting valuable work time talking with adventurers would burn an already short fuse quickly. These dwarven artificers have extraplanar orders to fill — get to the point!
The adventurers have come a long way. An evil sorcerer and their flying minions seemed like a dire threat way back when the hill dwarven artificer shared the secret of alchemy with them, and if it wasn’t for the mountain dwarven artificer and the adamantine defender the mercenary medusa may have crippled the economy. The problems only ever seem to escalate am I right? But now the party faces the ultimate 5E D&D villain — an ancient red dragon. I know there’s more powerful creature out there but when it comes to an iconic monster this is the top of the list. When they learn of the duergar and their Eldritch Cannons, making the trek to the underworld for an edge against a terrifying enemy is worth the risk!
Exploring new worldbuilding ideas always generates fun concepts to share with 5E D&D players and I’m really satisfied with these dwarven artificers. Now that I have some context for dwarves and their culture in my own setting, whenever a new player adventures there with a dwarf character they’ll have some special qualities to incorporate. I can begin adding elements of these ideas into my games and start developing how dwarven society fits in with everything else. In fact, in just a few hours I’ll be running our very first Nerdarchy Team Game and I’ve already got a few ideas how to sprinkle some of these concepts into the setting.
If you’re interested in dwarves we’ve got a lot of stuff here on the website you might want to check out.
- D&D Dwarves – What 5e Character Class Should You Play
- Delving Deep on D&D Dwarves with Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes
- Spice Up Your 5E D&D Dwarves with Ring Magic from the Kobold Press Deep Magic Series
- D&D Subraces for Dwarves: Gully, Frost and Mul
- D&D Dwarf Lore – Do Dwarven Women Have Beards