Dwarfs Are Cool, Since When?October 5, 2008
It was about the last thing I ever expected out of Warhammer Online, but this is simply the first MMO that has ever made dwarfs cool. Not just for me, but for a lot of folk, considering how well-populated their ranks are and the general enthusiasm I witness for people playing the classes. Sure, that could be because the race boasts two incredibly powerful careers — Ironbreakers and Runepriests — as well as a jury-rigged scrappy runt (that’d be the Engineer), but I think it goes further than that.
Dwarves seem to get the short (no pun intended) stick when it comes to MMOs and RPGs — they aren’t as mysterious as the elves, as well-rounded as humans, as fearsome as barbarians, or as well-groomed as ogres. They fit the role of “angry little man”, sometimes “comic relief”, and more often than not, “meat shield”. You don’t see a lot of the other races protesting when dwarves get sent up to the front line for the initial slaughter, because who will mourn the dwarves?
In MMOs, dwarves present an aesthetic problem — they’re typically short and squat, which isn’t something that society praises these days, and while the male dwarves can hide behind thick beards and at least look like midget mountain men, the female dwarves fight an impossible battle to be found attractive by anyone, including the male dwarves. Sometimes I think that’s why gnomes were invented, so that dwarf players could point to ONE other race and go, “Hey! At least we’re not that!”
Yet WAR’s dwarves seem to sidestep a lot of this negative stigma. I’ve been trying to put my finger on how WAR accomplished this feat, and in doing so I went on a little adventure to trace dwarfs/dwarves in some of the major 3D MMOs up to now:
Pre-MMOs: Dwarves, like all of the best things in life, descend from good German stock. In this case, their mythology (also Norse and Dutch). Depending on the source, dwarves differed in height, but often had a connection with the earth, metalworking, and ancient magic. They were most famously picked up for use by C.S. Lewis (Narnia’s Trumpkin) and J.R.R. Tolkien (LOTR’s Gimli) in the mid-20th century, Disney for use in Snow White, and then adapted as one of the stock fantasy races for Dungeons & Dragons. By the second half of the 20th century, we more or less adapted a standard stereotype of the dwarven race: short, stocky, miners, short-tempered, axe-users, antagonistic to elves, beardy, and (most importantly of all) ale drinkers.
EverQuest Dwarves: If you wanted a good basic front-line fighter, dwarves were it. From an article on Bright Hub: “The dwarves of Everquest are short and burly. Their high strength and stamina make them good fighters for a good race, and the high wisdom that goes along with that makes them a significantly attractive race for both paladins and clerics.”
Warcraft Dwarves: Scottish and proud of it, baby! WoW’s dwarves took the D&D/LOTR/Warhammer look and stereotype, and added a few touches of their own, including the Scottish feel and steampunk accessories (such as tanks and guns). They could originally be Hunters, Rogues, Warriors, Paladins and Priests (although to see a dwarf rogue, or a dwarf female, or a dwarf female rogue was a rare thing indeed). The dwarf Hunter became one of the icons of the game, and was featured in the original trailer.
Everquest 2 Dwarves: It’s like they were people made plastic and then shrunk down with Adobe Photoshop. Other than the whole axe-and-beards motif, I don’t see why they even made it off the drawing board.
Lineage 2 Dwarves: What the…? I guess this is what happens when cutsie Japanese/Asian tastes get ahold of the once-proud dwarves: they turn into the weirdest schoolgirls on the planet.
Lord of the Rings Dwarves: Short, humorless and 59% metal, these dwarves made excellent Guardians (LOTRO’s tanks) and featured some of the absolute worst architecture of the game. If you like right angles and ugly decals, this was the race and homeland for you!
Dungeons & Dragons Online Dwarves: “Grr! I’m a dwarf! And I’m mad or something! I look very constipated! I have to cuff all of my jeans because they don’t make them in my size! Grr!”
Dwarf Hamster: Okay, it’s just here to be cute. Awww.
Warhammer Dwarfs: That’s Dwarfs with a “F”, and don’t you forget it, mister!
Like many fantasy representations of dwarves, Warhammer’s dwarfs are on their way out of history (we can thank Tolkien for this cheery attitude), mainly due to their everlasting grudge match with the Greenskins and their fantastically low birthing rate. On the surface, they don’t stray too far from the dwarven stereotypes: they’re short, way into facial hair, all about being stout little tanks, craftsmen of extraordinary talent, and they can’t decide what they like better: beer or fightin’. Like Warcraft (or Warcraft like Warhammer), these dwarfs eschew fancy-pancy magic for cold iron and steampunk sensibilities. You get the sense that if they survive long enough, their war machines and war gadgets represent the future of warfare in this world.
So, really, why are they so cool? It could be that they’re just so omnipresently stubborn, which assaults you through everything in the game: their look, their quests, their tendency to bark out annoyed “chuffin!” swear words when hit. It could be that in a world full of swords and wispy tree-magic, they’re all about firing a blunderbuss in your face or using ancient runes to call forth earth’s power. It could be that in a war, these are the guys you would most want at your backs, sides and front. Mythic’s artists did a pretty great job with the modeling, especially in the armor department, and they escaped the “fat little guy wearing chainmail” pitfall we’ve seen elsewhere.
And whether or not we’ll ever see them in the game, you can’t deny that the suicidal mohawk’d Slayers are just about one of the most awesome classes in the entire Warhammer Fantasy universe. Bottoms up!