History, Keeper, Blood Totem, Military, ClansAuthor: Excelsior Entertainment © 2003
HistoryIt is said that before the dawn of the Firstborn, before even the Elves walked the world, the Dwarven Gods carved their children from the toughest stone and metals they could find. With their Founders teaching them to survive, the Dwarves carved their huge Ringholds across the land, the Gods themselves guiding their hands. Each Ringhold reflected a secret map of the universe, maybe even a key to reality itself. As the Dwarves spread out across the land, new Ringholds appeared. Dwarves from the different Clans would travel in peace for months to visit their kinsmen in distant lands to trade, share stories and marry. It was a time of wonder and technological advancement. It was the last time the Dwarves ever knew peace.
The other races were still young and carving out their own lands. The Dwarves were the masters, considered an elder race worthy of fear and respect. The Dwarves were not to be challenged for in addition to their advanced civilization the Dwarven Gods walked among their people and defended them against attack. It was not too long before the other races learned to give the Dwarven Ringholds a wide berth. Among the Dwarven Clans the High Council was formed to deal with all matters Dwarven and handle inter clan concerns.
Once every five years, the heads of the Dwarven Clans would gather to reaffirm their pledge of brotherhood and support. In a vast chamber deep in a Ringhold the Clan Leaders would begin their meeting by reciting the Iron Oath. This sacred pledge, handed down to them by their Gods, ended with each Dwarven Leader grasping the bladed Iron Ring, symbol of the Council, and adding their blood to a sacred goblet. When this was done by each Dwarven Leader, mead would be mixed in with the blood. Pronouncing the bond of the High Council intact, the hosting Dwarven Leader would light the contents on fire intoning their Gods one last time before the flames were extinguished. Each leader then took a deep drink and passed the goblet to the next until all had reaffirmed their bonds of brotherhood. While a symbolic gesture, the Dwarves hold this ritual as one of their most sacred and serious.
As the young races of Chronopia expanded, the Dwarven world shrank and the vast areas they used to traverse became more and more dangerous as the quarrelling younger races would make terrible wars.
With the wide lands becoming embroiled in chaos, the Clans became increasingly distant from each other. Trade slowed down, marriages between the Clans slowly ceased and the Clans settled into a period of isolationism born of their desire for peace. In their solitude, the Clans began to develop their own ways and traditions and in time their own separate histories; histories where dealings with the other Clans became a distant dream. In this period of Dwarven isolationism something tragic began to happen. The Clans began to stagnate in their solitude and a strange spiritual unsettling occurred. Some Clans, alone and deprived of the strength of their neighbors, became susceptible to the whispers of the Dark One, searching for answers during this strange time; their own Gods seemingly incapable of staving off this gradual entropy.
Slowly, inexorably, the other races became strong and the Dwarves remained locked away in their Ringholds and stayed deep in the Under Realms. Suffering the affronts of the younger races the most, the Jackal Clan came to view the isolation and non-interference policies of the Dwarves as unacceptable and threw off its malaise. Calling upon the High Council of the Dwarves to join it, the Jackal Clan took up arms against the other races, inflicting devastating casualties to any who dared venture near their realm.
At some point during this bloody period the Jackal Clan set their sights on founding a new and much feared Dwarven Empire where all Dwarves would again walk the lands freely and the lesser races would serve them. It was a vision that placed the Jackal Clan at the forefront of the High Council, a position they began to covet. Despite all their urgings and powerful arguments, the Jackal Clan quickly found no other clan willing to join them in this plan. Even the Gods themselves shunned the action of the Jackal Clan.
The Jackal Clan found themselves alone, and the other Dwarven Clans seemed to them no better than the lesser races. It was at this point that the Jackal Clan began its campaign of Dwarven domination, not willing to give up on its dark dream of a new, committed Dwarven Empire. According to some accounts the Jackal Clan believed that once the other Clans witnessed their actions against the young races, they would join their cause. To some extent this seemed to be the case as several smaller Clans that disagreed with the policies of the Council began to side with the Jackals against the other races.
In time, the High Council began meeting more frequently to deal with this new aggressiveness from within their own people, and when debate and argument met with impasse, communication ceased. It wasn’t until the Jackal Clan raided a settlement that was controlled by the Wolf Clan that a Dwarf actually raised arms against a fellow Dwarf. This began the period the Dwarves refer to as the Kinslayer Wars.
The High Council was sundered by this and the Jackal Clan no longer attended the gatherings. Outraged members of the Council cast the Jackal Clan and its allies out of the Fellowship and disputes amongst the remaining Clans immobilized the Councils’ functionality. Bloody battles later erupted between the Jackal Clans and their distant neighbors, a war that would soon drag other Clans into fighting against each other.
When the Jackal Clan thought it could gain advantage by pitting Clan against Clan over imagined slights, it would. The dark whispers of the Jackal Clan dragged the quiet Dwarven world into bloody conflict and fratricide, though the Jackal Clan would find the final glorious victories it envisioned denied it by the Wolf Clan, the Jackal Clans most ardent opponents.
Were it not for the rise of the Firstborn to present a common threat to all Dwarves, the Dwarven Clans might well have destroyed themselves completely. The High Council, called together by the emissaries of the Elves, was presented a problem far greater than themselves. The devastated Jackal Clan, proven right by the plight the Elves presented, were allowed back into the Council and hostilities amongst the Clans were stopped so that their leaders could focus on a new and more deadly threat.
Joining with the Triad brought an end to the Kinslayer Wars and united the Dwarves in a way that had not been for hundreds of years. Together with the Elves and the Blackbloods, they conquered the Firstborn and found themselves with not only new land and trade, but also new slaves. Slavery was abhorrent to most Dwarves though it was a major part of the plan the Jackal Clan had for the lesser races. Following the shattered Jackal Clan lead, the Vulture Clan chained thousands of Firstborn into slavery and marched them into the Ringholds where they would serve the remainder of their short lives under their Dwarven masters. Tragically the Jackal and Vulture Clans discovered the taste for blood sports and found that their slaves were perfect for entertainment as well as labor. Massive arenas were constructed for the Firstborn slaves to suffer and die in, all for the decadent amusement of their Dwarven masters.
In this new age of Dwarven strength and growing decadence, the Dwarven Gods were now old; their strength greatly reduced. Their day was passing, too long had their children forgotten the very ideals they were taught, the Iron Oath had become but a token gesture, little used since before the Kinslayer Wars. The flow of their great power was at ebb, the world a different place with new Gods and equally powerful demons emerging. In the fullness of time there would come an event, now referred to as the Wilding, which marked the last days of the Dwarven Gods.
It began following the Jackal Clans ignominious defeat at the hands of the Wolf Clan near the end of the Kinslayer Wars. Outraged and bitter, the seeds of rage took hold of their hearts and the Jackal Clan began to again hear the siren call of a dark presence. Within the span of years, under the sway of this dark power the surviving Jackal Clan turned fully to the Dark One, all thoughts of ruling a Dwarven Empire supplanted by dreams of destroying their kin utterly. The result of this hatred would be the Wilding.
Dark, primal energies were unleashed throughout all the Ringholds, threatening every Dwarf in the Under Realms. It was only a final defiant act by their Gods which saved the Dwarven race as they shielded their offspring from the brunt of the eldritch sorceries and absorbed it into their own haggard and time-weary frames. The result of this act of sacrifice was madness and devastation as the energy twisted the Founders, re-forging them into berserk and crazed monstrosities; dark, bitter imitations of their former selves.
For years thereafter they ran wild in the Ringholds, the Dwarves forced to fight them to survive. Untold thousands of Dwarves died during this time, unable to bring themselves to take up arms against their mad creator-gods. For those that would fight, untold numbers of warriors met their deaths under the onslaught of the mad gods, an onslaught that was only stopped when the greatest hero of all time, Kahlin Cagn, found a way of taming the berserk beasts and communicating with them on a basic, animalistic level.
In time, he became the first of the Keepers and a whole new era of Dwarven life began. Reconvening the High Council, Cagn passed the secrets he had learned to the other Clans and the role of Keeper spread throughout the Holds. The Caged, as the crazed and twisted Gods soon became known, were now protected by their people, tended to in every way to ease their suffering and calm their minds. In times of war when the Ringhold was threatened however, the Caged were released to protect their kin in new ways, as berserk killing machines on the field of battle. In time, the Keepers began to realize their continual contact with the Caged had affected them on a primal level. They developed strange and wondrous powers, abilities that were divinely derived. At the basest level, they became able to talk to other beasts and understand their wishes, an intuitive bond shared by the Founders with the wild having been passed down to the Keepers. Some Keepers found ways to transform their own bodies and become like the beasts they watched over, inflicting terrible casualties on Dwarven enemies. This manifestation is referred to as a Blood Totem, the hybrid of the Caged and the Dwarf.
Keepers, for reasons not spoken of, become fixed in their heightened Totem forms. Forever after a Blood Totem, the former Keeper will slowly find his memories fade as the pain shared by his Gods overwhelms him. In short order his personality and very essence will evaporate leaving only a powerful Blood Totem behind. Now a True Blood Totem, he will be tended to by fellow Keepers and live the rest of his days deep in the bowels of his Ringhold.
In the end the powerful blow dealt to the Dwarven Gods by the actions of the Jackal Clan came back to haunt them. Their blood oath, sworn for millennia and abandoned so quickly, had caused the members of the Clan to suffer fits of debilitating guilt, a curse that has been passed down from generation to generation and to this day prevents them from raising a hand against their kin ever again. The shattered Jackal Clan is no longer part of the Dwarven Fellowship, has no Ringhold of its own, and has no place on the Council. They are but scattered nomads, wandering in the Devout’s cause and serving their new Dark Master.
The Keepers, Caged and the Blood TotemsWhile sorcery as such does not play a role in Dwarven society, the Keepers and the Caged they watch over are vital to their continued survival. Encased in the toughest of armor, the Keepers themselves tend to be the hardiest of Dwarves. Indeed, they have to be more than tough to cater to the savage whims of the beasts they keep chained in the pits of the Holds. If they were not strong, they would find themselves being eaten alive, or at the very least torn limb from limb. As it is, many Keepers are regarded as being more beast than Dwarf.
Trained from birth to watch over the Caged, they speak a primitive guttural tongue understood by the Caged as well as most natural animals. After time, Keepers gain the ability to manifest the aspect of their Caged Gods. In tending to the Caged, Keepers sometime receive grievous wounds and it is through these wounds that the blood of the Dwarven Gods mingles with that of a mortal dwarf. The result is as magnificent as it is horrific for the Keeper can alter its body into the form of the Caged that infected him. A keeper in this transformed state is known as a Blood Totem; a state which allows them to see the world through the eyes of a beast, if only for a short while.
If the Keepers are considered to be wild and untamed, there are no words capable of describing the Blood Totems they become. The Blood Totem is more than a mere beast but less than a God, towering not only above the Dwarves but over all the other races of Chronopia. Each Blood Totem is specific to the Clan they come from and their attributes and form reflects the disposition of the Caged they tend. Some Keepers, after taking the form of a Blood Totem too many times remain permanently transformed. These individuals are known as Pure Blood Totems and are revered by the Dwarves, for in them the bloodline of their Gods continues on.
MilitaryDwarves are regarded as the most tenacious fighters in the world. The main body of the Dwarven land army is its heavily armored and disciplined infantry. These are organized into legions and they are well equipped and armored - generally in full plate. Most Dwarfs prefer to wear full-face helms that are fashioned in the image of their bestial Blood Totems; hence these vary in construction, complexity and intricacy depending on their rank and standing in society. Some are even forged from the special ‘blue steel’ - a relatively new alloy that has been developed from new ores discovered deep within the Hold’s mines. Some, however, prefer to go into battle bare headed though they decorate their faces in war paint depicting their Clan’s symbol.
Although all Dwarfs appear to be similar, each of the Clans has their own particular natural attributes and favored weapons. The Vultures are well known for their accuracy with their deadly crossbows, but also like to wield their heavy war mallets in close combat. The Wolfs are regarded as the fastest of all Dwarves. They prefer the lighter single-handed crossbow combined with their long hafted war axes. The Dark-Tusks are noted for the cunning and guile and swing heavy pick axes and morning stars in hand-to-hand combat. The Blood-Bones are certainly one of the stronger of their race. They like to close with their enemy and cut bloody arcs with their infamous clawed gauntlets, the bravest of these warriors are entered into the Maulers - war bands specializing in hand-to-hand combat with bladed gauntlets strapped to each hand. Finally the Horned Ones are notorious for their battle charge. They combine their beast-like charge with their deadly clawed halberds and double-headed axes, an onslaught that few foes can resist.
Standard bearers are an honorary position in the Dwarven legions and these warriors will gladly sacrifice their lives in order to protect the standards of their Clan. The loss of a standard comes as a great blow to even battle-hardened Dwarfs and they fight fiercely to protect it.
While all the Clans are fighting separate campaigns, the interconnection of many families and the renewed cooperation following the Wilding means that most Clans would go to another’s aid without a moments hesitation and as a result it is very common to find Dwarves from different Clans fighting on the same battlefield. Only the Vultures would pause to think of gold, or some other form of payment before deciding their course of action.
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Dark Tusk Clan In complete contrast to the Vulture clan are the Dark-Tusks. Led now by the four proud sons of Kahlin Cagn, they are perhaps the closest to the classical Dwarves of their own legends. They still try to uphold strength and nobility as cornerstones of their domain, something that is becoming increasingly hard to do in these treacherous times.
In the Golden Age of Dwarven society, their Gods and Overlords would meet at a chosen Ringhold and celebrate their lives and victories as well as plan any campaigns for the forthcoming seasons. During the periods of isolationism these Councils met infrequently. Following the Kinslayer Wars, the High Council of the Dwarves usually met every season to discuss the affairs of state. Since the Wilding, the Council is almost permanently in session.
The Dark-Tusks usually preside over these meetings, as they are still the most powerful of all the Clans. They have instituted the “Old Ways” back in the Council and begun keeping the ancient traditions of their ancestors at these meetings, including the recitation of the Blood Bonding Oath. The Sons of Kahlin Cagn have argued convincingly for a united front against the new onslaught the Dark One, citing not only concern of its military power, but its seductive qualities for turning brother against brother. Among Dwarven society, the Devout are viewed as an infection.
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Horned Ones Clan The Horned Ones were close to the Dragon Clan and many have still to recover from memories of the brutal massacre when the Elven Duke Valimyr treacherously destroyed the entire Clan to further his own ends. Violent in battle, they tend to be extremely pessimistic and angry, even by Dwarven standards, and have a strong dislike of all the other races, particularly the Elves. With their Ringhold of Gorrak Din taken over by the Dark Prophet Nemeth, the Horned Ones burn with an anger born of displaced hatred and frustration. While Gorrak Din is still not theirs yet, the Horned Ones, under the leadership of Ragnar Thrain are taking back ground slowly.
The Horned Ones seem outwardly resigned to their doomed fate as their lands fall under the ever-increasing shadow of the Dark Lord and his Prophet Nemeth. They urge the other Clans to aid them in the reclamation of their Ringhold and have most of their resources concentrated upon this one goal.
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Vulture Clan The Vulture Clan, with their Holds in the Southern Lands, is known to sell their swords to the highest bidder and is even rumored to have fought alongside the Devout. Indeed some say they are nearly as bad as the thrice damned Jackal Clan.
The Vulture Clans attendance of the councils is irregular, non-committal and languid, further fuelling suspicion that they are somehow in league with the Devout. While this has become quite a popular theory amongst the other clans, there is no definitive proof that this is the case. Their quick actions informing the Council about the Stygian menace have earned them a measure of respite from this suspicion though the Wolf Clan does not give them any ground.
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Wolf Clan The Wolf Clan is in many ways two Clans in one, with Black and Grey watching over their Ringholds together. The Black Wolves tend to favor war and the military strength while the Greys watch over the beasts and the administration of the Holds. The Ringhold of the Wolf Clan as a result of their long battle with the Jackal Clan has become a fortified stronghold against the enemies of Dwarves and remains inviolate to this day.
The Wolves appear undecided in the current debates, as they have a deep distrust of the Blackbloods and the though of again uniting with them is still quite distasteful. In spite of this reservation though, they do support the other Clans in their conflicts. The Wolves are the most vocal proponents for complete Dwarven unity.
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Blood-Bone Clan The Blood-Bone adapted best to the new order and has had several glorious victories over other races since the dissolution of the Triad. They have formed alliances with many of the other Holds and even fought alongside the Elves, specifically the House of Helios, against the Devout. Their power is increasing on the Dwarven High Council just as that of the other Holds is lessening.
The Blood-Bones also have an increasing presence in the court, backing the Dark-Tusks and arguing for increased cooperation with the other races against the Devout. They have seen the dangers these evil minions pose and how it was their machinations that led to the Jackal Clans seduction and subsequent fall. However dangerous the One King reborn may be, they see the bigger picture of the Devout threat all too clearly.
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