You are Slab, a rough sculpture as if slapped-together from pieces of mud. You were a gladiator for the enjoyment of your human masters. Never with more than your rough hands, you were forced to kill – men, dwarves, things. One of your dwarven victims whispered a secret with her last breath. The secret was you were always free. From earth you came, to earth you shall return, and the earth cannot be owned. You squeezed your owner’s throat and showed him how flesh enslaves us all.
In the Symbaroum game I run, I recently wrapped up a pair of adventures (Quenched in Gristle and the Cradle with the Pale Soil) that revolved around the true origin of the dwarves and their unique place in the world. Naturally, this isn’t something that Järnringen has released, so it’s lore that only exists in my home game. I present it here as a collation of in-world research that reach a conclusion that may or may not be true, depending on how you want to use it in your game.
The Sculpted Slaves of Symbaroum
Authored by Master Xaras of Agrella
Masters of Memory, Speakers of the Language of Fate, Children of the Earth, Shadowless. The dwarven race goes by many epithets, as befits such a fascinating and mysterious species.
Despite their superficial similarities to our own species, and the settlement of dwarves into our own esteemed realm, there is much we do not know about this folk. Some of the most authoritative knowledge we have about the dwarven race comes from sage Gamalga of Kadizar, who went to great lengths to discover the secrets of their origins. She interrogated the reluctant noble dwarves of Yndaros, she ventured to the closed gates of Küam Zamok, and she demanded answers from the lords of elves and trolls.
The tales that Gamalga extracted from the elder races suggest that the dwarves were originally “worms in the rotting carcass of the World Serpent” and that they were uplifted to intelligence by the sorcerers of Symbaroum to serve as slaves. They are supposed to have forged their secret language in defiance of their masters so that they could foment rebellion and construct their own secret culture. Gamalga also tells that both trolls and elves tremble before the power inherent in this dwarven speech, as did the Symbarians who learned to fear their creations.
Gamalga’s findings are of course largely invalidated and obfuscated by the limits of her barbarian heritage, the deceitful nature of the elder races, and the fanciful language that the information has been woven into – but there is information there, and conclusions to be drawn.
Let us begin with the sorcerers of Symbaroum who supposedly awakened the dwarves. I posit that these are synonymous with the legendary Morphantic Lords, who were supposed to have mastery over not only life and death but the shape of life as well. These are attributed the creation of many of the twisted creatures that can be found still guarding the ruins of Symbarian complexes to this day, and possibly also the astonishingly lifelike statues of stone and metal that are sometimes recovered from Davokar. Who other than the Morphantics would have created the empire’s slave race?
And what better material for them to work with than a material that has no soul and therefore cannot suffer the effects of their corrupting arts?
We know definitively that dwarves do not have shadows. From my own travels with a dwarven cleric by the name Vak I know by first-hand observation that dwarfkind has a unique interaction with corrupting energies: it does not stain their soul, but rather it inflicts very real wounds and wasting effects on their physical bodies. Luckily, my acquaintance Vak was a healer and thus able to use his mystical gifts to overcome the harmful energies that his powers unleashed on his body.
Being primarily a pyromantic mage myself, I could not help but draw parallels between my observations of Vak and the fire elementals bound in my service. Most scholars maintain that fire spirits do have shadows – shadows of raging flame. Indeed, I have seen the same images when I have cast my true sight on my Flaming Servants. But I posit this: we do not see a shadow – we see their true elemental form. In precisely the same way, we do not see a shadow when we inspect a dwarf – we see their true earthen form, because dwarves are elementals.
Yes, I know this may be a radical position to take, but entertain it for but a moment: We know from excavations that the symbarians employed Flaming Servants similar to our own, so they clearly had knowledge of elemental spirits and binding them. Certain members of our own order (Letotus, Almagander, Imbrogio, et al) have theorised about calling and binding elementals from other pillars than that of fire. It is said that the Archmage Caolapta knew how to call spirits of lightning and acid, but of course her experiments ended in disaster and none of her rituals have survived to the present day. I now theorise that when the elves describe the origin of the dwarven race as “maggots in the flesh of the World Serpent” they in fact mean that they were spirits of the Pillar of Earth, and that the Morphantic mages found a way to not only summon them but to also turn them into flesh and bone.
Now, an astute reader might ask: “Would not an elemental body be far more strong and resilient than a diminutive human form?” and I would be inclined to agree. I believe that the Morphantic mages inflicted the mortal form on the dwarves both as a way to enhance their intelligence and as a means to control their creations. By making the dwarves flesh and blood, the Morphantics knew that they could feel pain and suffer death by ordinary means, and as such they could be led by fear.
We know that Flaming Servants are given form by symbols and gain consciousness by being imbued with words and names. I will leave it to my betters to explain precisely the affinity of the burning element and the spiritual expression inherent in language – but I posit the following theory: Language underpins reality in a similar way as the elemental pillars do. Or, perhaps not language, but a more primal layer of concept, knowledge, meaning and connectivity. This may be the same underlying matter as what Mentalists and Illusionists tap into when they bend thought and alter perception. In any case, spirits pulled from the elemental pillars are born with a primal knowledge of this underpinning language. This is what allows them to understand instructions in a language they have never before encountered, this is what awakens them when they are named.
And this would be why the secret dwarven language carries genuine mystical weight. Their oaths, their condemnations, their words of bonding, their family names, their curses of retribution – they not only carry what we might call the weight of law from a social and societal point of view… they establish genuine mystical fetters. A Flaming Servant will serve his namer with unquestioning loyalty, much like a dwarf will do anything in their power to serve the will of their family and elders. A dwarf who is exiled from their house cannot return until their penance is complete – not due to societal pressure but because they are compelled to do so. And the Oath of Retribution is so potent that I have seen creatures fall dead from harming a dwarven Speaker. From first-hand experience I can say that hearing the secret language spoken aloud with intent can only be described as feeling the tremors just before an earthquake or an impossible weight settling on the building you are within. My erstwhile companion Vak could make a netherworld tomb creak like a galleon in a storm. I know that he spoke words, but when I try to recall them now they slip from my inner eye like the details of a dream.
The accounts of elves and trolls in Gamalga’s research say that the princes of Symbaroum grew to hate and fear the secret power of the dwarves, so this was clearly not something they had intended for their slaves to possess. I believe that the symbarian morphantics in their hubris saw only that they could summon elemental spirits and grant them intelligence, and then they cursed these pure creatures with mortal lives. What better way to control a slave than to make it shed its earthen body for fragile flesh and bone – turn an immortal into a fleeting life? Fear, pain, hunger, cold, loneliness, desire – these human concepts were forced upon the new race that the morphantics sculpted, in an effort to create a diminutive folk that the lords of the empire could rule by the same measures as they ruled their fellow men: threats, starvation, and cruelty. It is no wonder that the dwarves fomented rebellion against their masters.
And when they overthrew their masters, they were regarded by the other elder races as abominations to be hunted and exterminated. Not much is known of what happened to dwarven society after that, but from the recently-exiled dwarven noble houses we can at least glean that they established a societal structure that seems based on the human society they escaped – one ruled by the natural law of nobility and bloodline primacy. Perhaps that society is now being overthrown by a movement that eschews everything to do with the curse of their human heritage, for surely there must exist some fundamental urge among the Earthbound to return to their naïve original state?
Further study of the dwarven condition is imperative. It may yield tremendous secrets of Symbaroum’s history and the great mystics of its age, and if my theory is correct it may also open previously unimagined paths in the school of elementalism. I am putting forward a motion to organise an expedition to Küam Zamok in hopes of establishing contact with the new regime there, and I am adding 20 thaler to Master Solpetro’s standing bounty open to dwarf volunteers able to reliably shed light on the rumors and mysteries surrounding their race. There are countless unverified accounts that could yet yield immense revelations if they are proven correct: Are dwarven naming conventions indicative of a genderless society? If so, is gender another thing that was forced upon them by the Symbarians? Is it true that they reproduce asexually by shedding and burying their own limbs? Are the living terracotta constructs discovered beneath the Pyramid of Serand of the same origin as dwarfkind? So many questions, so much yet to learn.