Female dwarves

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Big Mac
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Female dwarves

Post by Big Mac » Thu Dec 19, 2019 8:54 am

A while ago Tabletop Loot Tweeted about a boy who told his sister she couldn't play a dwarf, as there were no female dwarves in Lord of the Rings.

That has made me think about female dwarves in Middle-earth.

The Dwarf-women article on Tolkien Gateway confirms that (unlike in D&D worlds) they do have beards. So female dwarf PCs could be passed off as looking like male dwarves.

They are also supposed to be a third of the population.

Do you have dwarven women as something secret in your game, or do you have more female dwarf NPCs?

Do your female dwarves wear beards...or do they shave them off?

Is this something you would change on a clan-by-clan basis?

EDIT: I found a YouTube video, with some female dwarves from The Hobbit.
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Re: Female dwarves

Post by Sturm » Thu Dec 19, 2019 9:41 am

In my games I generally preferred to have dwarf women as numerous as men and without beards. I'm worried that depicting them with beards could make them comic relief characters which I do not always want to convey.
Also the idea they are less numerous than men it's problematic. Could create a warlike society or a population which does not have a human-like sex drive.
Still the fertility of long lived races it's a problem fantasy authors do not have considered much, but should have. With a human-like fertility, dwarves and elves could produce dozens of children in their lives, but if we assume they do not then we have to assume their fertility is much lower.
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Re: Female dwarves

Post by Big Mac » Thu Dec 19, 2019 12:53 pm

Sturm wrote:
Thu Dec 19, 2019 9:41 am
In my games I generally preferred to have dwarf women as numerous as men and without beards. I'm worried that depicting them with beards could make them comic relief characters which I do not always want to convey.
That's a good point.

I know that some people have complained about D&D races like Kender or Tinker Gnomes being comic relief.
Sturm wrote:
Thu Dec 19, 2019 9:41 am
Also the idea they are less numerous than men it's problematic. Could create a warlike society or a population which does not have a human-like sex drive.
I suppose that some people might like that sort of thing in their tabletop games, but it didn't feel like a theme that Tolkien was trying to push in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. So I think I'd want to go with stuff that supports the vibe I feel in the books.
Sturm wrote:
Thu Dec 19, 2019 9:41 am
Still the fertility of long lived races it's a problem fantasy authors do not have considered much, but should have. With a human-like fertility, dwarves and elves could produce dozens of children in their lives, but if we assume they do not then we have to assume their fertility is much lower.
That's true.

I thought that D&D treated races like elves as being children, for much longer than humans, to compensate. I think The Complete Book of Elves had something about elves not having so many children. I don't remember what D&D said about dwarves. But it's going to be different from Middle-earth.
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Re: Female dwarves

Post by lookatroopa » Thu Dec 19, 2019 1:19 pm

Dwarves as I depict them are an anthropomorph maggot-like people, inspired by A Book of Creatures' take. Their beards, shared by female and male alike (a culturally meaningless and biologically muddied distinction, due to the prevalence of intersex individuals), are similar in texture to arthropod bristles (see the yeti crab).

Even when people choose to depict dwarves as near-humans, I much prefer it when female dwarves grow and keep their beards, though I also kinda like the middle ground of female dwarves with sideburns, which I've seen pop up in a couple of places. My thought is that the social stigma which (generally speaking) leads human bearded women to shave really shouldn't traditionally exist among dwarves, and only really occurs among those who integrate into i.e. human or elven society, with the latter probably even pressuring the men to shave. Of course, the flipside of this is that the more hirsute human women integrated into dwarf society also wouldn't shave their beards, and might even wear false beards to compensate (harkening to the stoning scene in Life of Brian).

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Re: Female dwarves

Post by Sturm » Thu Dec 19, 2019 1:33 pm

A long infancy it is not enough to explain a low birth rate, you have to add either a much lower sex drive or a much lower fertility. I do not know if there are any kind of explicit mentions of a lower sex drive in Tolkien. If they have instead a lower fertility this could have far reaching consequences on romantic and sexual relations.
But the AD&D Complete Book of Dwarves seems to assume both a lower sex drive and a lower fertility, as it says that only one third of dwarves are females and many males do not marry. It also says couple have tipically only one or two children, and no divorce. Dwarf infancy however is not much longer than human one, as children are said to go to school between 10 and 25 years old. Marriage however is expected at about 50 years old and de facto mandatory for females. It is the picture of a very traditional, very patriarchal society which frankly is a bit outdated for the modern world.
Not sure if more recent products took a different approach.
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Re: Female dwarves

Post by Sturm » Thu Dec 19, 2019 1:43 pm

Just checked also the Gazetteer of Rockhome (main source for dwarves in Mystara) where females are depicted without beards (while the AD&D Complete Book of Dwarves only says they often shave) and the text stress out there is complete equality between males and females, and women often do the same professions of males. There is also no mention of a lower number of females, but it says about 40% of dwarves, both sexes, do not marry, maybe suggesting a lower sex drive than humans.
It was published in 1988, 3 years before The Complete Book of Dwarves but it seems a bit less traditionalist, credit to Aaron Allston.
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Re: Female dwarves

Post by ripvanwormer » Thu Dec 19, 2019 2:59 pm

lookatroopa wrote:
Thu Dec 19, 2019 1:19 pm
Dwarves as I depict them are an anthropomorph maggot-like people,


What if they become flies when they mature.

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Re: Female dwarves

Post by lookatroopa » Thu Dec 19, 2019 3:19 pm

ripvanwormer wrote:
Thu Dec 19, 2019 2:59 pm
What if they become flies when they mature.
They're normally neotenous, but certain chemicals or magical effects do trigger a change into a more fly-like being, similar to how metamorphosis can be artificially induced in axolotls.

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Re: Female dwarves

Post by Lord Kjeran » Thu Dec 19, 2019 5:02 pm

I like Dennis L McKierian's Mithgar take on it: female dwarves are rare and thus sequestered and not seen by outsiders.

That said, I like the idea of female bearded dwarves who are out in the world and that no one thinks to ask their gender because everyone knows that dwarves are born of stone. :)
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Re: Female dwarves

Post by BlackBat242 » Sun Dec 22, 2019 8:49 am

I consider dwarven women to be somewhat rare in adventuring circles - perhaps 1 in 20 is female. These almost always grow their beards long, and adopt male dress and mannerisms - mainly to keep the myth of "all dwarves you meet are male" going (there are reasons [mainly religious] for this, but dwarves never speak of these outside their own society).

In normal dwarven society married women keep their beards trimmed & fairly short - originally to make cooking & child-rearing easier and cleaner. Yes, more female dwarves would be handling those tasks - it is logical that those with the biological equipment to care for (and feed) infants would be doing so, and if they are already staying with their children, they are best-placed for other domestic tasks. Once their children are more self-sufficient, and begin schooling etc, then the females would migrate back to other work - but they keep their short beards as symbols of their having found the favor of Barronar (see below).

I agree with the fertility theory - it would seem logical that a side-effect of mining etc would be an increased exposure to toxic metals etc - which would decrease fertility and possibly cause birth defects. Therefore, any dwarf, male or female, with such fertility issues would be prohibited from breeding - and thus would not bother marrying in most circumstances.

Fertile dwarves would be discouraged from placing themselves in unnecessary danger, as would be found in the adventuring life.

The idea of there being more male dwarves than females is not out of the question... it could be a side-effect of the toxic metal issue - which would lead to females being discouraged from entering professions where a higher risk of contamination is present, as well as from leaving the safety of dwarven strongholds.

Fertile females would be considered to be "blessed of Barronar", and having borne healthy children they would gain an increase in social status.


Barronar: Dwarven Goddess of Safety, Truth, and Home (greater goddess), with the additional aspect of Patroness of Love and Marriage (but not necessarily "romance"). (1E Unearthed Arcana)
Note that her entry in the 1E UA clearly states that her beard is brown, and is normally braided into 4 rows!
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Re: Female dwarves

Post by agathokles » Sun Dec 22, 2019 10:40 am

Big Mac wrote:
Thu Dec 19, 2019 8:54 am
as there were no female dwarves in Lord of the Rings.
Which is not entirely true. One specific dwarf lady, Thorin's sister Dís, is mentioned, the mother of Fili and Kili.

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Re: Female dwarves

Post by Falconer » Mon Dec 23, 2019 5:24 pm

I copy Lord of the Rings Online’s approach, which is that if you select Dwarf as your race, you don’t select sex (leave it blank on the character sheet). Because they are indistinguishable to non-dwarves, as Tolkien states.

That said, if a female player wants to play up the femininity of her dwarf PC, it’s fine with me. I imagine them having full beards, but, honestly, I don’t think too hard about it. Just make the occasional joke along the lines of the D&D movie (“You got to get yourself a nice 250-pound dwarf, with hair on her chin you can hang on to!”)
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Re: Female dwarves

Post by Havard » Mon Dec 23, 2019 8:48 pm

Not based on Middle-earth, but I like how in the excellent comic book Rat Queens, female dwarves sometimes shave their beards as a statement of emancipation/Dwarf feminism :D

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Re: Female dwarves

Post by ripvanwormer » Tue Jan 07, 2020 7:03 pm

Havard wrote:
Mon Dec 23, 2019 8:48 pm
Not based on Middle-earth, but I like how in the excellent comic book Rat Queens, female dwarves sometimes shave their beards as a statement of emancipation/Dwarf feminism :D

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It's a big thing in Terry Pratchett's Discworld books that traditional dwarfs all use the pronoun 'he' and don't acknowledge gender, while those who dwell in human cities experiment with human modes of gender expression (although they still have beards).

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