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Fantasy Armed – Weapons for Dwarves

Inspired by Shadiversity’s video series.

Physical characteristics

Dwarves are generally very short but very stout, being usually the same strength as – or stronger than – humans while being much shorter (or not that much shorter – Tolkien’s dwarves are between four and five feet tall, so on average a foot shorter than humans).

What this means is that they have advantage in any kind of a pushing or showing match, as well as in usage of weapons which are reliant on mechanical strength – primarily bows and crossbows. They would however be at disadvantage when using javelins and slings, where lanky, linear build is superior, as well as when using pollaxes and many other two-handed weapons as they would lack reach and leverage.

Dwarves would also have advantage in defense. As already noted, they would be advantaged in a shoving match (e.g. with shields). And due to being shorter than humans at same physical strength, they would be able to have the same weight of armour spread over smaller body area.

Further, dwarves tend to be physically more resillient to damage. However, their short legs on a relatively wide frame means that they would have very inefficient locomotion (for a biped, anyway). As a result, dwarves would be natural sprinters – very dangerous at short distances, and able to hold a chokepoint very well. But in surface warfare, dwarven armies would have very slow marching speeds and relatively short operational radius compared to more leggy species.

Best weapons

In surface combat, dwarves would rely primarily on bows and crossbows, as they would be able to achieve much greater ranges. This is a mechanical question, as they would be able to apply their strength over shorter distance. Using shorter bow of higher draw weight means that less force would be expended in accelerating bow itself, and more of it would be applied to the arrow, allowing for longer range. How common bows would be would depend on situation. Every society prepared for war against itself first. Since dwarves would be able to carry even heavier armour than historical plate – which itself was basically immune to longbows – and would also fight primarily underground, they may not use bows all that much. This would especially be true if dwarves – as primarily underground-dwelling species – were short-sighted or even blind.

For melee weapons, they would have to compensate for their reach disadvantage. This means using pikes, spears and polearms (specifically, halberds). In such scenario, dwarves would be at disadvantage due to their much shorter leverage and consequent inability to exert fine control over the weapon. This however would be compensated by the fact that they are much stronger than their height suggests which might give advantage in a bind. Between their strength and low center of mass, dwarves would be able to exert significant force on point (that is, in thrust), which would be advantage in, say, the pike phalanx formation.

For this reason however dwarves would not use longswords. Longswords rely on leverage and control, which for dwarves would be more difficult due to their stockiness. At the same time short legs and low height would mean that dwarves would not have mobility and reach required to exploit longsword’s advantages. Rather, better option would be a shield + a sword combination, where dwarves could easily use their natural advantages in lower center of mass and greater strength – to – weight ratio. This would still leave them at reach disadvantage against a taller opponent using two-handed weapon such as a longsword or a pollaxe, with dwarf being able to cover behind the shield very well, but unable to reach the opponent with a weapon. As such, shield and sword combination in surface warfare is unlikely.

In underground combat, reach disadvantage may not be a significant factor – though that would depend, as significant undergound habitats may need to be very spacious for reasons of ventillation. One way or another, very likely combination for dwarves in such a setting is a one-handed weapon – most likely a warhammer – combined with a shield. This combination would allow their natural advantages of high strength-to-weight ratio and good pushing leverage (due to low center of mass) to come to fore. At short distances, enemy may have no choice but to get out of the way of a charging dwarf or get knocked down. This would also translate to surface warfare in form of a shield wall or phalanx formation. Short height and stocky build of a dwarf would mean that they would find it easy to cover behind the shield, with very little explosed area.

Enemy could use a sword in a murder strike or a pollaxe to hook dwarf’s shield away, followed by a stab or punch in the face.

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