Female dwarves

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Big Mac
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Female dwarves

Post by Big Mac »

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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

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

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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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Re: Female dwarves

Post by Tom Bulls Eye »

agathokles wrote:
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.

GP
In fact, it is the only female dwarf mentioned by name in any of Tolkien's works.

In one of the appendices to ROTK, Tolkien writes that Dwarfs breed slowly, for no more than a third of them are female, and not all marry; also, female Dwarves or Dwarf-women look and sound (and dress, if journeying—which is rare) so alike to Dwarf-males that other folk cannot distinguish them, and thus others wrongly believe Dwarves grow out of stone.

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Re: Female dwarves

Post by Sturm »

Yet this notion is problematic in modern times, and IMO unfit both for rpg and visual media. In fact in the Hobbit movie trilogy female dwarves were clearly shown as female, because not doing so would have seemed very odd and possibly chauvinist.
Also I do not see the appeal of playing a female dwarf if she is supposed to look and behave like a male. That's a Tolkien idea which cannot age well.
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Re: Female dwarves

Post by gmkeros »

Dunno. Pratchett used female dwarfs looking like male dwarfs quite effectively.
Of course he used it as an allegory for other things, but he was quite good with it.

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Re: Female dwarves

Post by Tom Bulls Eye »

Sturm wrote:
Thu Jul 16, 2020 10:59 am
Yet this notion is problematic in modern times, and IMO unfit both for rpg and visual media. In fact in the Hobbit movie trilogy female dwarves were clearly shown as female, because not doing so would have seemed very odd and possibly chauvinist.
Also I do not see the appeal of playing a female dwarf if she is supposed to look and behave like a male. That's a Tolkien idea which cannot age well.
gmkeros wrote:
Thu Jul 16, 2020 11:13 am
Dunno. Pratchett used female dwarfs looking like male dwarfs quite effectively.
Of course he used it as an allegory for other things, but he was quite good with it.
Indeed, Pratchett used the Tolkienesk concept of dwarves very efficiently and funnily in his books, which could serve as a story mode for a female dwarf in RPG, but Tolkien in particular used it to differentiate between the Children of Illuvatar (Elves and Men) and the Children of Aulë. Aulë's children were 7 male dwarfs, crafted not created and not imbued with independent life at their crafting.

Tolkien wanted this difference, and playing a RPG in Middle-Earth should reflect this fact.

But I would never go on to call it chauvinist that Tolkien envisioned this difference. Biology is far too diverse for assuming that human bi-sexual reproduction and common male-female phenotypic behavior is a requisite or a must-have model for any intelligent species. It's merely the one that evolved to prominence on Earth.

In fact it is more likely, that Tolkien's 2:1 ratio of male-to-female dwarf originated the other way round given his sources of inspiration (i.e. the Nordic/Germanic dwarves of the Edda, the Rhinegold etc.) where dwarfs were male and created from stones. It's comic relief in an inspired play on the myth of dwarven creation, while emphasizing the difference between humans/elves on one side and dwarves on the other.

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Re: Female dwarves

Post by Sturm »

All true but Tolkien was a man of his times, born in 1892. He was apparently a fantastic husband but it's impossible to doubt that his notion on the role of women in society is completely outdated. Despite Eowyn and Galadriel, there is a valid reason why Arwen's role in the original movie trilogy was enlarged and Tauriel was created for the Hobbit movie trilogy. Female agency is just too limited in the books.
That's fine for books written in the early XX century, but not so much for modern movies, understandably.
It is obvious that in more recent fantasy the roles and agency of women have greatly increased. No modern writer would ever create a male only party, nowadays. Likewise I think that a DM should not limit the behaviour and appearance of female dwarves in play.

Note the Pratchett makes fun of Tolkien's description of female dwarves, using it for comic and feminist purposes in his books. Indeed his comic use of Tolkien's depiction of female dwarves precisely highlights how absurd it is for modern taste.
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Re: Female dwarves

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Sturm wrote:
Thu Jul 16, 2020 1:00 pm
All true but Tolkien was a man of his times, born in 1892. He was apparently a fantastic husband but it's impossible to doubt that his notion on the role of women in society is completely outdated. Despite Eowyn and Galadriel, there is a valid reason why Arwen's role in the original movie trilogy was enlarged and Tauriel was created for the Hobbit movie trilogy. Female agency is just too limited in the books.
That's fine for books written in the early XX century, but not so much for modern movies, understandably.
Tolkien was man of his time for sure, but I think the lack of central female characters can also be attributed to a) that he was trying to imitate the Sagas and myths of the old Norse and others which also had very few female characters and b) that he was writing about wars, inspired by his experiences during WWI where he would also have encountered few women in the field etc.

Its hard to say of the depiction of dwarf women was related to this at all, or if he was simply trying to present the dwarves as more exotic beings, or if this in fact was an example of Tokien's own sense of humor.

I liked PJ's decision to give Arwen a more central role and and I also liked the character of Tauriel even though the love story (stories?) seemed forced and the overall use of Legolas among the many reasons that trilogy did not work for me.
Likewise I think that a DM should not limit the behaviour and appearance of female dwarves in play.
I agree, I would allow someone wanting to create a female dwarf character not to have a beard and pretty much decide her appearance and behavoir as the player wanted. Although if the player wanted to create a 6 ft tall female dwarf I would probably have the player come up with some kind of explanation for that :)

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Re: Female dwarves

Post by Sturm »

Sure traditional stories had a typical role for women and the exceptions, like Eowyn, were indeed noted as strange exceptions, but this just does not fit anymore modern sensibilities unless you are writing some historical novel. And even in that case modern writers tend to, correctly, highlight how in most cases the role and agency of women was downplayed in ancient chronicles.
I too did not like very much the depiction of Legolas in the movies but I cannot argue against the expanded role for female characters, it was just necessary for modern sensibilities. In fact I cannot recall any major fantasy books of the last decades which do not have more than a woman in prominent roles.
in LoTR is much less evident due to the presence of Galadriel and Eowyn, but in the Hobbit the absence of female characters is striking and Tolkien's description of female dwarves does not fit very well with modern rpgs.
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Re: Female dwarves

Post by Falconer »

This is much ado about nothing, methinks. Tolkien was a product of his time—I’m sure when he fought in World War I, it would have been unusual to see a woman in the trenches. YET, he gave us an adventuring female fighter (Eowyn), an adventuring female magic-user (Lúthien), a female ruling monarch depicted as the most powerful magic-user (Galadriel), and many more examples powerful and individualistic women who were constrained and unhappy in a traditional role and may or may not have been able to break out (Aredhel, Erendis). Sure there are women who function in the story primarily as wives and mothers (Arwen), but, why shouldn’t there be? On the other hand, they are all described as traditionally beautiful. Then we come to female dwarves, who, though they sadly do not feature significantly in the stories, we are told they represent a non-traditional standard of beauty, and that few of them are interested in traditional roles as wives and mothers. What’s wrong with that?
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Re: Female dwarves

Post by Sturm »

Well I would not say they are depicted as non-interested in traditional roles, I would say they are overlooked. Elven society seems to be more egalitarian, but dwarven society IMO does not make much sense, hence why Pratchett made a very intelligent parody of it.
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Re: Female dwarves

Post by Parzival »

The biological urge to mate is a function of reproducing a species, and therefore will vary in frequency and numbers with the expected lifespan of the species. Humans typically live for less than 100 years— the Biblical “four score and ten” (that is, 90.), and human females are capable of reproduction for less than half of that time— realistically, about 20-30 years. Human males can contribute to the reproduction cycle much longer, but the limiter is the availability of females within the prime reproductive range, and of course the 9 month gestation period. And that leaves out such factors as the health risks of childbirth, infant mortality rates, and early death by other causes.
The point is that humans, comparatively, have a very rapid biological clock— they instinctively want to make kids and they want to make ‘em quickly and often (the key word being “instinctive”).
Now, switch to dwarves (and by extension, elves).
Dwarves in D&D and Tolkien live for literally centuries— some times as many as 5 centuries. How does the biological need to reproduce fit into that mix? In D&D, remember that dwarves are highly resistant to disease, poison, and even magical causes of death. This means you have a population largely unaffected by plagues— and presumably, this applies to dwarf children, too. A dwarf isn’t likely to die young. He’s also not likely to die old. So that means that once a dwarf woman produces two children, she’s probably secured “full replacement” for herself and her mate, with little chance of that being ended outside of war. If she has three or four children, she’s produced a population boom. Given these factors, it makes biological sense that dwarves would not be as fecund as humans, nor produce large populations of children within a short period of time. They’ve literally got centuries to “get around to that,” as it were. If you live a long time and don’t die easily, then you don’t need as many kids to keep it all going.
And with elves, that goes pretty much double (or jumps exponentially with Tolkien’s immortal elves!).

In fact, it’s possible that dwarves and elves are inherently “biologically picky” when it comes to the impulse to mate and the responsiveness of their reproductive natures. Just as many animal species produce fewer or no offspring in conditions of stress and scarcity of food sources, but become very prolific in conditions of abundance and security, so, too, might dwarves and elves— they are attracted to mates who are “ideal” and reproduce when times are also “ideal—” and that definition of “ideal” may be very, very specific, even in a biological sense.

So there you have a rationale as to why dwarven women and children are rarely seen, and dwarven men are pleased to slave for decades on a mine or a work of craftsmanship, or even to go adventuring for years without so much as winking at a barmaid. The dwarven women have all the time they want, and have high expectations of their prospective mates— most likely, extreme wealth and social status. So the men work hard for years to achieve that level of accomplishment. It’s the “long beards” with the bling who get the chicks! :D
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Re: Female dwarves

Post by Sturm »

Yes could be a possible explanation indeed. It's hard to imagine how could work the relationship world of a race living longer than humans as we more or less do not have examples in nature except for some tortoises and trees.
Looking at modern humans, should they live for longer times and in good health, I suppose the ratio of divorces would rise even more than today. Elves and dwarves in fantasy have been idealized so most sources imagine them as having long and stable relationships.
I don't think the issue has really been explored by fantasy writers, as most of them had and have not a scientific education, but a long living races with possibly centuries of fertility instead of the mere decades of humans would create some serious world building problems:
- if fertility, sex drive and infant mortality are similar to the human level they would produce lots of children, a dwarven couple could easily get to 100 and an elven couple much more, i.e. they would overwhelm the world in a matter of centuries
- if fertility is really low then to succeed in conceiving would become quite a concern for the whole society and for the individual
- if sex drive and fertility are both low then conceiving would become a mandatory obligation, even regulated by laws
Increasing infant mortality tenfold IMO is not a solution, as it would create quite a grim, or cinic, society. But also lowering fertility tenfold has important consequences on sex and reproduction. A race with a very low fertility is more likely to be promiscuous rather then monogamous, to increase the chance of conceiving.
If we want to draw a conclusion from how dwarves and other long living races have been described in fantasy sources, it's more likely they have both low fertility and low sex drive. This means they probably have some rather mandatory rules on marrying and mating.
And this could create the opposite consequence of your hypothesis indeed, i.e. dwarves will have to marry and mate whatever their success in life is, because the society cannot waste a good chance of having children.
The situation in which males had to gather resources in order to marry was and is typical of a society with a relative abundance of fertile women but a scarcity of resource. The dwarven society seems to be the opposite instead, i.e. scarcity of fertile women but abundance of resources.
So that's more likely to produce a society where females (or the society for them) will force the males to marry and mate at a given time. The drive to work and gather resources then it is unlikely to be related to marriage, which will have to occur anyway.

But obviously the real reason why this topic has not been really explored and thought through is due to the sexual taboos of our own society, which prefers to imagine its idealized fantasy races as mostly asexual or simply has modelled them on our own society despite the substantial differences :)
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