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Building a Fantasy Army – Dwarves

Physiology and Biology

Fantasy dwarfs (dwarves) are actually most realistic of fantasy races (along with elves). They tend to be significantly shorter than humans, but as broad or even broader than them. In humans, short athletes have better muscle definition. Because strength depends on muscular crossection, shorter individuals are stronger, pound-for-pound, than taller ones. Thus stocky build would make dwarves strong and resillient to physical attacks. Tradeoff is the loss of locomotive efficiency, which would make dwarves unable to move at high speed or for long distances.

Since dwarves stereotypically live underground, they would be able to get by with less oxygen and would also have to be able to filter out the dust.

Environment and Society

Dwarves are also stereotyped as having a good memory and holding grudges for a long time. They are solid, enduring, stoic and conservative, holding onto their tradition with steadfastness.

Dwarves tend to live in underground mountain cities, which also often (or nearly always) double as mining operations. They tend not to expand on the surface, and likely procure most of the supplies (such as food) through trade. Fact that dwarves tend to live in mines means that any surface engagements they fight are likely to happen in mountains. They are also likely to be relatively wealthy, with comparatively numerous middle class of merchants, artisans and so on. Both of these facts mean that dwarven cities will not have any problems fielding numerous and well-equipped heavy infantry militia, akin to Greek city states and their hoplite armies. They will not, however, have much of anything else.

This fact also means that large and powerful dwarven kingdoms may be unlikely, as kingdoms will tend to remain cities. A loose feudal or federal order involving several cities under one overlord may be possible, but far more likely is just a loose alliance since defensibility of underground cities means that forcing them into obedience may be even more difficult than with fortified surface cities. As a result, overall armed force of such an alliance will consist solely of armed forces of individual cities, or rather detachments from such armed forces provided to the central authority – either permanently, or for individual campaigns. Any central authority, if it exists, will be weak since enforcing its rule will be nearly impossible.

Strategy and Enemies

Dwarves are not likely to be an expansionist force. Their long lifespans would also mean slow breeding rate, necessitating conservative approach to warfare in order to limit casualties. This tendency towards defense would also be reinforced by their physiology which would make it difficult for dwarves to carry out any offensive maneuvers.

Conversely, raiding may or may not be used against dwarven cities. If they can grow their own food, then anything short of a direct attack is likely to be ineffective. If they cannot, however, then starving them out is a viable option, and it may be achieved either through a direct siege or through raids.

Organization and Logistics

Dwarves would likely rely on defensive militia for most of their needs. Their low population, defensive mindset, and lack of open terrain requiring complex maneuvers all play into the strengths of militia while mitigating its weaknesses. Militia troops would have the motivation and the knowledge of the terrain – terrain well suited for the dwarves themselves, and extremely difficult to navigate for most other fantasy races. Unlike surface warfare, there would be no complex maneuvers: all that dwarven infantry needs to do is to place themselves as a plug in the hole. Thus would however make them extremely rubbish at mounting assaults. Instead, offensive surface warfare is likely to be waged with the help of mercenaries and auxilliaries, while offensive warfare underground would make use of dwarven knowledge of mining.

As a result, dwarven armies could be very numerous for the size of populace. Proportion of population under arms could go between 6% and 12% – and considering that dwarves live longer than humans, maybe even more.

Dwarves are likely to provide or buy their own equipment due to the militia structure of the army. However, it is also possible that the state will provide weapons from state-owned armories, which may then be paid over time. Armour thus may be mail, coat of plates, or full plate.

Dwarven soldiers are likely to carry their own supplies on foot – underground cities are not likely to have many, if any, pack animals available. This, along with their stature, will limit their operational reach, though in a lesser measure than it would for a human or elven army since dwarves are likely to be able to carry more weight relative to their own body weight. Still, a dwarven army is likely to have about half of the operational radius of the human army at best, and will be less able supply themselves through foraging, significantly limiting their offensive options unless river or sea resupply was available.

Weapons and Tactics

Main characteristic of the dwarves is that they are strong and resillient, but slow. Due to living underground, they are unlikely to have much cavalry. Instead, they will be primarily an infantry army.

In underground warfare, primary focus will be on establishing chokepoints. This means heavy infantry, with either shields and spears and/or warhammers, or else plate armour and two-handed warhammers (that is, polehammers).

On mountains, similar tactics will be used. Heavy infantry will be used to hold the passes, acting like a literal plug. Unlike underground combat however, infantrymen may be supported by archers. Yet dwarves may not have any archers due to living underground.

In open field warfare, dwarves may seek to compensate for their height disadvantage while making the most of their advantage in strength. This means that they will rely heavily on bows – longbows for them, though they may be short bows for most other races. To protect archers from cavalry, they will have to deploy heavy pike infantry, though short arms might limit the length of the pike and thus its effectiveness against a cavalry charge.

However, neither bows nor pikes are weapons dwarves are likely to have any cultural inclination towards. Instead, most of the weapons will have their origins in mining tools – hammers, pickaxes, axes and shovels. This will also make dwarves well able to deal with plate-armoured opponents. As far as specialistic weapons go, pollaxe, polehammer, halberd, warhammer, bec-de-corbin, Lucerne hammer etc. are likely to be used.

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