In this series I will be looking at each of the individual nations of Faerûn in turn, in alphabetical order. This series is based around the status of each nation as of 1371-72 Dalereckoning (at the end of D&D 2nd Edition and the start of 3rd Edition). The maps are drawn from The Forgotten Realms Interactive Atlas CD-ROM and their respective 1st and 2nd Edition sources. They are not necessarily current for the 5th Edition of the setting (which is set c. 1496 DR), as borders have changed and some towns and cities have fallen, whilst newer ones have risen.
- Ruler: Queen Karriva of Clan Simmerforge and the Council of Deep Lords
- Capital: Underhome (pop. 49,650)
- Settlements: Daunting (12,000), Eartheart (44,008), Firecaverns (39,000), Glitterdelve (26,000), Hall of Echoes (9000), Hammer & Anvil (8000), Harlending (11,000), Khôltar (7643), Magkstok, Rimmator (10,500), Sundasz (8000), Tarnhall, Thuulurn (5600)
- Population: 1,308,960 (dwarves, gnomes, halflings, human)
- Area: due to vertical changes and Underdark caverns and tunnels, incalculable
- Military: The Steel Shields, a standing army of 14,000 headquartered in Eartheart; the Peacehammer aerial cavalry, consisting of dwarven griffon-riders, who can quickly traverse the length of the Great Rift
- Languages: Common, Dwarven
- Religion: The dwarven pantheon, particularly Moradin Soulforger, Clangeddin Silverbeard, Dugmaren Brightmantle and Haela Brightaxe
- Exports: Gems, gold, jewellery, magic items, silver
- Imports: Fruit, grain, livestock, produce
- Sources: Dwarves Deep (Ed Greenwood, 1990), Underdark (Bruce R. Cordell, Gwendolyn F.M. Kestrel, Jeff Quick, 2003), Shining South (Thomas M. Reid, 2004)
Many dwarven kingdoms remain extant in Faerûn, but these mostly take the form of isolated mountain holdfasts and remote mining communities. Even some of the better-known kingdoms, like Citadel Adbar or Earthfast, span at best a single large city and then a number of smaller outposts. The true, great dwarven kingdoms of the famed past – like mighty Delzoun of the North or Deep Shanatar, below what is now Amn, Tethyr and Calimshan – are long since gone to dust.
With one exception. Underhome, the Deep Realm, the Gold Empire. It has many names, but is the last remaining large dwarven nation in Faerûn, possibly on all of Toril. It meets the surface realms through the spectacular land formation known as the Great Rift, (in the dwarvish tongue, Aglandar, the Sword-Slash) a massive scar on the surface of the planet which must rank as among the most spectacular sights in all the world. Here dwarven towns and cities can be found with both surface parts and corresponding settlements thousands of feet below in the Underdark, linked by ingenious lifts and magic. The Deep Realm then extends for hundreds of miles to the east and north, with hundreds of large tunnels and thousands of small ones linking dwarvish settlements far below the surface, along with some allied gnomish settlements. The extent of the Deep Realm is startling, with its north-eastern-most border lying under Azulduth, the Lake of Salt on the far south-western borders of Mulhorand.
The empire’s greatest strength is found at the Great Rift. The Rift extends for some 340 miles from north-west to south-east and is around 1,000 feet deep, with the walls dropping almost sheer into the ground. Climbing the walls of the canyon is ill-advised. The floor of the rift would be quite arid if it was not for the Riftlake, an immense body of water fed by the River Shaar which links to the Rift via a narrow gorge, where in some places the river disappears completely underground (thus, travelling by boat to the Riftlake from the Shining Sea is impossible, with the river navigable only as far as the ruins of Peleveran on the side of the Landrise). In the north, the rift is wide enough (over 70 miles) that the opposing walls are virtually invisible in the haze, but in the south where the canyon narrows dramatically to less than 30 miles, it becomes an impressive sight.
The edges of the Rift are fortified, with no less than sixty-two watchtowers guarding the edges, some separated by only a few miles. Some of the towers are large and elaborate affairs with a garrison of many dozens or hundreds of dwarven warriors. Others are more modest affairs with just a few observers on assignment. Some of the larger forts have lifts or switchback stairs allowing access to the floor of the Rift, or entrance into the Deep Realm alongside it. Most of the Riftedge Towers are cunningly designed so they can only be entered from below.
Several larger settlements can be found on the edge of the Rift. Notable is the Iron City of Khôltar, a nominally independent city dedicated to the smelting and forging of iron, relying on raw materials traded from the Deep Realm. In practice, Khôltar is dependent on the Deep Realm for its trade and existence.
More impressive is Eartheart, the largest dwarven surface city in Faerûn. The city is mostly contained on the landward side of the south-western Rift, protected by a massive curtain wall, but parts of it jut out over the Rift, with immense lifts and pulleys connecting the city to the floor of the Great Rift below. Mines dot the surrounding area, and it is a constant source of activity. Eartheart is home to the Steel Shields, a standing army no less than 14,000 strong (much of which is dispersed on guard duty around the Rift), and the Peacehammers, an aerial cavalry of griffon-riders who can quickly reinforce any part of the Rift within a few hours.
Access to the city was originally restricted to dwarves, so a tent city sprung up outside the walls to facilitate trade with other races. Over the centuries this has become a more permanent suburb of Eartheart known as Hammer and Anvil, a town 8,000 strong by itself.
Below Eartheart, a trade road winds its way north and east across the floor of the Great Rift to the opposite side of the valley. There stand the Great Gates, two massive 70-foot-tall doors apparently made of solid gold (various ingenious attempts to steal the gates – which by themselves could build a moderately-sized empire – have been foiled over the centuries) and covered in magical runes to strengthen them and bring warning of any attack. The Gates are resistant to magic and formidably strong: according to legend, the Gates once resisted a suicide-ram by a spelljammer dropping on them from orbit and showed no signs of damage afterwards, and reflected the magic from an enraged elder wyrm with such force it was killed instantly. Some believe the Gates are alive, fuelled by the souls of the greatest dwarven warriors who stand guard over Underhome in eternity. Others more drily suggest that the dwarves have incredibly effective bards writing stories about the Gates for them which are majestic exercises in hyperbole.
Beyond the Gates lies the Guardcavern, a fortified guardhouse and customs area. Beyond that lies three sequential caverns, each thousands of feet high and miles wide, each covered by a bewildering array of bridges and buildings. These collectively form Underhome, the capital city of the Deep Realm (although the Deep Realm is also frequently called Underhome as well), as impressive a sight underground as Eartheart is above it.
Beyond Underhome, a maze of caverns, tunnels and shafts open up, extending for hundreds of miles through the Underdark. More than a million dwarves and gnomes live in the Deep Realm, inhabiting dozens of settlements, mines and fortresses and patrolling the tunnels between them all. Daunting is the breadbasket of the Deep Realm, feeding the rest of the empire with its snail, fungi, mushroom, lichen and lizard farms. The Firecaverns are home to the realm’s artists. Glitterdelve is the site of the empire’s richest mines. The remote Hall of Echoes has a dark reputation. Harlending is located near deep tunnels dropping thousands of feet further into the Underdark and comes under frequent duergar and drow raids. Rimmator is a relaxed, easy-going mining town with an odd hunger for gossip from the rest of Faerûn. Sundasz is an aloof city with a superiority complex. Thuulurn is a dedicated monastery to Moradin, the chief dwarven god, and frequently sponsors expeditions to clear out the surrounding Underdark of monsters.
This entire area of the Underdark is relatively cut off from the rest, although a few isolated passages are believed to link north and west into the Deepwild. This area is the home of Llurth Dreier, the largest and most powerful drow city below Faerûn and Underhome’s mortal foe. Much of Underhome’s military and intelligence is focused on defending against drow incursions.
The origin of the dwarves on Toril is the subject of much debate, with some sages concluding that Toril is the original dwarven homeworld and they originated in vast, long-lost mines under the Yehimal, the gigantic mountain range in the far east separating Faerûn from Kara-Tur and Zakhara. Others believe that dwarves, much like humans and elves, migrated to Toril from other worlds in remote epochs for reasons long lost to the mists of time.
Whatever the case, it is known that dwarven settlements under the Yehimal were extant by 16,000 Before Dalereckoning (BDR), although this was merely the time when they first made contact with the elves and other surface races, and they could have existed for many millennia or tens of millennia before that. By 15,000 BDR a large number of dwarven clans had migrated west onto the plains of the Shaar and then the stretch of Underdark beneath the plains, founding the kingdom of Bhaerynden. Bhaerynden soon became enormously wealthy and sponsored the founding of satellite kingdoms across southern Faerûn, then extending northwards. They traded with the elves but steered clear of elven politics. When the Crown Wars began in 12,000 BDR, the dwarves refused to get involved, even as the armies of Ilythiir marched to war far above their heads. Around 11,000 BDR, Taark Shanat the Crusader and his eight sons led a large exodus from Bhaerynden, heading north and west to become the ancestors of the shield dwarves. Those who remained in Bhaerynden became known as the gold dwarves.
The shield dwarves of Shanatar – founded in 10,800 BDR with the establishing of Brightaxe Hall below the western elven empire of Keltormir – were less aloof than their southern brethren and soon provided weapons and armour to the Keltormiri as they struggled to protect their borders from both the Ilythiiri to the east and the expanding empire of Aryvandaar to the north.
In 10,000 BDR, the depredations of the Ilythiir triggered the Descent of the Drow, the cursing of the entire dark elven race by Corellon and the Seldarine. Ilythiir collapsed overnight, the dark elves fleeing the burning light of the sun to become the dhaerow or “Accursed,” drow for short. The drow of Ilythiir fled into the Underdark below their homeland, expanding in the depths and eventually coming into conflict with the dwarves of Bhaerynden. The gold dwarves soon found themselves fighting a canny and magically powerful enemy, and blamed the surface elves for making the drow someone else’s problem rather than dealing with it themselves. Within just decades the drow had founded the great Underdark empire of Telantiwar and were aggressively pushing into Bhaerynden’s territory.
Around 9000 BDR, as the final defeat of Aryvandaar on the surface signalled the end of the Crown Wars, Telantiwar successfully defeated Bhaerynden’s armies and took their capital city. The gold dwarves withdrew eastwards to other redoubts. Unbeknown to the drow, the dwarves had prepared a great trap against their advance and weakened the supports of their capital city, undermining it many times over. In secret, dwarven forces returned to complete this work.
In either 8800 or 7600 BDR – neither dwarven or drow records of the time are precise due to the ensuing chaos – the entire cavern containing the city collapsed downwards further into the Underdark. The dwarven undermining efforts proved far more successful than expected and the entire cavern network extending around the city for almost 350 miles collapsed as well, created a cataclysmic roar that could be heard clear across the continent. Vast amounts of rock and dust were catapulted into the skies, obscuring the sun for months. By the time the smoke had cleared, a vast canyon had formed in the midst of the Shaar, with the entire drow empire of Telantiwar lying obliterated below it. The gold dwarves returned in force, seizing and fortifying the Great Rift and building the surface city of Eartheart, the underground city of Underhome and the Great Gates to link them together. Telantiwar was reduced to a series of outposts, the greatest of which was Llurth Dreier in the north-west (founded in 7600 BDR). The dwarves may have killed as many dark elves as the entirety of the Crown Wars, and the drow numbers in the south of Faerûn were reduced to such an extent that it took millennia for them to become a threat again. Unfortunately, the same was not true of the dark elves of the North (who were descended from Miyeritar instead).
The establishing of both the Deep Realm and the western dwarven empire of Shanatar reaching the height of its power may have marked the highwater mark of dwarven civilisation in Faerûn, with at least two empires and numerous smaller kingdoms scattered across the continent. By 6000 BDR trade between the Deep Realm and the human tribes who had started to settle the Shaar had begun. Circa 1250 BDR, the empire of Unther attempted to expand onto the Shaar and faced resistance from both the human tribes and the dwarves of the Great Rift, alongside the elves of Nikerymath and the Yuirwood in the far north. The Yuir elves were forced to give grounds, but the dwarves were victorious in their struggles, preventing Untheric expansion to the Rift. Much of the northern Shaar fell under Untheric influence until 734 BDR, when the collapse of the first Untheric Empire saw a retreat from the region. Unther proved resurgent a few centuries later, but by 679 DR Untheric expansion across the Shaar was no longer practical.
Throughout all of this, the Deep Realm remained secure. However, the nation’s long prosperity and wealth saw it grow decadent and overconfident. Around 657 DR, the realm was shaken by a series of raids by neighbouring duergar and drow city-states, which seemed to shake the nation from its lethargy. The government was streamlined, with the Council of Deep Lords established to advise the monarch, whilst the nation’s army was revamped into its current form as the Steel Shields. The realm’s action saw it become more militaristic, but also more secure, with a major war with the drow of Llurth Dreier averted thanks to these new measures.
In 1306, Moradin Soulforger granted the Thunder Blessing on the dwarven people. This dramatically increased the notoriously-poor reproductive rate of the species, and many more dwarves were born in the succeeding several generations, including large numbers of twins (previously almost unheard of). The Deep Realm, whose thinning numbers had become a matter of growing concern as distant outposts and entire towns were abandoned due to falling numbers, was particularly reinvigorated and in the sixty-two years since then, the realm has seen a boost in both population and its holdings, with abandoned towns resettled, its army expanded and even more wealth generated. The Deep Realm has even established new holdings, in the North Wall of Halruaa, the Smoking Mountains of Unther and even in the Giant’s Run Mountains near Tethyr.
Today the Deep Realm seems secure and prosperous, but its strength has also made it arrogant, and many sages, including Elminster, have warned that its overconfidence may prove its weakness.
The Deep Realm is ruled by Queen Karriva of Clan Simmerforge. She is advised by the Deep Lords, a council consisting the most powerful dwarven nobles of the Deep Realm. At least fourteen Great Clans each has four representatives on the council. They debate and set policy for the Deep Realm in consultation with the Queen and their military and economic advisors. Representatives from the gnomish settlements of the Deep Realm can also make representations to the council.
In terms of foreign relations, the gold dwarves have the advantage of possessing immense mineral wealth and metalworking that is the envy of all Faerûn and the disadvantage of overwhelming arrogance and a belief in themselves as superior to all other dwarven nations (especially the shield dwarves of the North, whom they consider rustic and in terminal decline) and superior to most other non-dwarven nations as well. The relative remoteness of the Deep Realm from other civilised nations prevents this from being a major problem, but also means they have few allies to call upon should they face a major war with the drow of Llurth Dreier in the future.
The Deep Realm has a standing army no less than 14,000 strong, the Steel Shields (one of the largest standing militaries in Faerûn), but in times of war it can expand that number immensely. Most dwarves are trained to defend themselves at a young age and the increasing aptitude of dwarven magic has made them strong in that arena as well.
Unsurprisingly, the Deep Realm of Underhome overwhelmingly favours the dwarven pantheon in its worship, with the chief dwarvish god, Moradin Soulforger, being the most popular deity. Clangeddin, Dugmaren and Haela are also widely-worshipped.
Dwarven Settlements and Rulers of the Deep Realm
- Underhome (pop. 49,650, ruled by High Queen Karriva of Clan Simmerforge)
- Daunting (pop. 12,000, Queen Haraura Shimmerhand)
- Firecaverns (pop. 39,000, High Princess Royal Rathauna Forgesilver)
- Glitterdelve (pop. 26,000, King Gnarlgar “Halfgnome” Flamebeard)
- Hall of Echoes (pop 9,000, War Princess Uranda Rythyn)
- Harlending (pop. 11,000, Deep King Hauroch “Swordbeard” Deathhammer)
- Rimmator (pop. 10,500, High Duke Dunderlau Bloodaxe)
- Sundasz (pop. 8,000, Axe Prince Ansal Thundermace)
- Thuulurn (pop 5,600, First Hammer of Moradin Thungalos Truetemper)
The Deep Clans of Underhome
- Clan Belindorn of Underhome
- Clan Bladebite of the Firecaverns
- Clan Brakeadder of Harlending
- Clan Crownshield of Daunting
- Clan Gemscepter of Daunting
- Clan Ghalkin of Underhome
- Clan Gordrivver of Underhome
- Clan Malthin of Underhome
- Clan Mastemyr of the Firecaverns
- Clan Sorndar of Rimmator
- Clan Talnoth of the Hall of Echoes
- Clan Undurr of Glitterdelve
- Clan Velm of Sundasz
- Clan Zord of Glitterdelve
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