The Basic Dwarf -- Mentzer Reflections Part 11

Dwarves are essentially short fighters.  Mentzer says so: "Although the dwarf class is different from the fighter class in many ways, their tasks are the same."  They share the same level titles and the same hit die (d8).  Their XP progression is very similar, with dwarves needing only 200 more XP to advance to second level.  Considering how good the dwarf's saving throws are, the dwarf makes much more sense, mechanically speaking, to play than the fighter.  That advantage goes away as one progresses through the BECM sets, though, once things like level limits are considered.

Which brings up an interesting question: if you bought the colored boxes in order (where you didn't buy the Expert set until you advanced to level 3) and played a demi-human, would you feel robbed once you discovered level limits?  "No one told me my dwarf could only go to level 12!"

Of course, 13 year olds aren't necessarily focused on mechanics.  It's as much about flavor as anything else; we had plenty of fighters back in my youth with the red box.  In my current examination of Mentzer, I am as much interested in the setting and flavor elements implied by these class descrptions as anything else.

Outside of the physical descrption, we really only get two sentences about dwarf culture from Mentzer.  Dwarves are stubbon, practical, and like good food and drink.  They love gold and value craftsmanship.  Not a lot to go on here, which is probably why all our Basic dwarves were essentially the dwarves from The Hobbit with the pathological treasure-fever toned down.

Dwarves have infravision to 60 ft.  I think a lot of confusion could have been eliminated if the descrption of how one sees things (cold as blue, warm as red) was just left out.  Sure, infravision is the ability to see heat.  But dwarves can also see things that don't give off heat (a table or skeleton) and there's nothing to suggest that intense heat would "blind" the dwarf.  How about just letting them see in the dark up to 60 ft?

Dwarves also get additional langages: gnome, goblin, kobold.  This implies that dwarves come into contact with these other races enough to learn their langages.  Hmmm. . .

"All dwarves are experts at mining" (45).  This gives them their detection abilities for traps, sliding walls, sloping corridors, and new constructions.  I know there's some discontinutity between mining and, say, a snare trap.  I wonder how this larger affinity with traps (and new construction) could be explained as a racial ability via mining.  Maybe one could think of it as "affinity with stone and things of the earth" where the stones literally talk to the dwarf, telling him how old they are and how they've been rearranged.

I also love the drawf illustration by Elmore here.  He's holding his axe forward, but has this sad and tired look in his eyes.  It's almost a "son, don't make me use this" look.  Good stuff.


  1. I agree. That dwarf illustration was awesome. To this day, when I think of Flint from the Dragonlance series ( I know, but it was cool when I was eight), I think of THAT dwarf. Not the official flint pics.

  2. @Brian-Fancy meeting you here :) And yes, I'm looking at this series too for next issue. Your piece just needs a final tuning and it's ready to go. I really like blogs for that. Someone can do a series of posts and go into more depth. I believe your presence has made up my mind here.

    Professor Pope, I am in the process of launching an ezine and would like to highlight this series. I like for authors to include any motivations or inspirations for starting the series. If you care to email any please do so. And no rush, this first issue is filling up fast and waaaay behind schedule.

    Now where did that pesky Quantum Ogre go?... :)


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