The once-magnificent Dwarven Empire spanned much of the known realm, although the details are poorly recorded in human history. The dwarves of the modern era are a pale shadow of their former selves, having retreated to only a handful of secluded subterranean holds. From their hidden fortresses, they occasionally foray out to secure what trade they deem necessary with the humans and other races of the world, although such arrangements are often tolerated only thinly, propped up by the dwarven desire for material security.
Like many intelligent races, individual dwarves vary in disposition and behavior, but in general, dwarves tend to be avaricious, loyal, and highly industrious. Their societies tend toward high degrees of communal cooperation, resulting in great works of architecture and engineering. To a dwarf, loyalty to the clan is everything, and every effort is made to build up the group, rather than the individual. Despite this, it is not uncommon for dwarves to have a greedy streak, and once a dwarf’s commitment to the clan is satisfied, a few extra metal ingots “for a rainy day” tend to find their way to private stashes.
Clans are of great importance and influence in dwarven society. Equivalent in many respects to a human noble house, a dwarven clan is essentially an extended dynastic family which acts with singular purpose. Lowly 17th cousins of the ruling Barthaz toil away at menial tasks for the advancement of the clan, while the Barthaz’s immediate family usually serve as high-ranking warriors and advisors. It is almost unheard of for the high-ranking members of a clan to live a life of luxury, as such slothful indulgence is one of the gravest sins in dwarven culture. The status of the clan as a whole is often a more important indicator of an individual dwarf’s position in the social hierarchy, rather than the dwarf’s position within the clan. A low-ranking cousin of a prestigious clan will often have greater influence and standing in dwarf society than the ruling Barthaz of a minor clan, although this is not always set in stone.
Dwarven metallurgy is renowned throughout the civilized world, and the vast majority of magical arms and armor that have been discovered are of dwarven make. Many such items trace their history back to the Dwarven Empire, though only a minority of such finds are truly noteworthy.