The mountainous region of Esgoloth is arguably the harshest climate in Asydia. The coldest temperatures of all the lands are seen here, and bitter winds and fierce blizzards drive this cold to the very bone. Ferocious beasts stalk the land and it is rumored vengeful spirits wander the wastes, both preying on those ill-suited to survive in Esgoloth. On top of this, countless steam vents, geysers and hot-springs pockmark the land, suggesting at the violent molten earth which wars with itself deep below the surface.
In spite of all the challenges presented by Esgoloth's climate, not one, but two forms of sentient life have thrived within Esgoloth. One of these are the White-orcs. The other, are the Esgol Dwarves.
The Esgol Dwarves are a hardy people who live a somewhat nomadic life on the surface of Esgoloth. They average at 4 feet in height and are very hairy (including body hair). Their hair and beards - usually white, black or a mottled mix of both - are grown to great lengths to help ward off the cold, and they take to wearing thick fur clothing, including fur cloaks and hoods, made from the native wildlife of Esgoloth.
Unique to other races in Asydia, the Esgol dwarves do not band together and create large towns and cities - rather, they make communes as small as a couple dozen dwarves, and rarely more than two hundred around hot springs, geysers and steam vents, depending on the size of these sources of warmth. When the population swells through births or other circumstances, some families are made to leave the commune, travelling the frozen wastes to find another hotspot where they may start a new community. Visitors are usually welcome within communes, but permanent residents are rarely allowed, as any given hotspot may only accommodate so many people at once.
A large reason as to why the Esgol dwarves do not create cities is that much if Esgoloth is a rolling, mountainous tundra and wood is scarce. The amount of wood required to heat and maintain cities is simply too much. In the communes, they may cut back their use of wood by warming themselves near the vents or hot springs for hours a day. Some dwarves have even managed create elaborate natural funnels from the vents to their homes, to warm them, and Massive steam tents are often made around these hotspots, which is where many dwarves spend much of their free time.
Lifestyle and hierarchy
There are few universal leaders in the Esgol Dwarf society; the first family to lay claim to a Hotspot is considered the leader of that community. The patron or matron of that family is referred to as the Master or Mistress of The Steam (usually just shortened to 'Master' or 'Mistress') and has the only say in what happens within his commune, but that power does not carry over to any other commune. If they were to travel to another commune they would merely be treated as guests. The only true power or leadership in the Esgol community is the power of Fame. Famous and well known people - especially warriors, hunters and killers of White-Orcs are treated with great respect, and feasts and celebrations are often thrown for such people if they pass through a commune.
There are no real shops, taverns or inns in an Esgol Dwarf community, but a family is always willing to take on a traveler for a day or two - in fact, extra rooms and beds and seats at the table are made for their homes with this in mind.
The average Esgol dwarf spends several hours of their day hunting; males and females alike. Entire families usually go on dawn treks to hunt for fresh meat. If their trip is especially prosperous, the may bury the extra meat outside their homes in the snow to enjoy over the next few days, but if other families are less lucky with their hunt, the community will share their spoils.
Much of the rest of the say will be spent in steam tents, where they drink fiery spirits, smoke strong tobacco and herbs and spend the day philosophising with one another. They say the spirits fire their core and the tabac warms their icy hearts. Because they spend much of their days debating philosophies and odd thoughts, the Esgol Dwarves are considered a detached, somewhat aloof race, always with their minds on something other than their surroundings.
Most dwarves inhale the vapors of the steam vents strongly within these tents, even putting herbs over the vents to create a curious aroma. They say the steam makes them think 'deep thoughts', and due to this odd practice the Dwarves are colloquially referred to as 'Steam-Eaters' by outsiders.
A possible reason behind these 'deep thoughts' may be that the volcanic fumes expunged from these vents are somewhat poisonous and addle their brains. Nevertheless, the Dwarves all seem healthy and long-lived; some surviving up to four centuries of age.
As a past-time, the Esgol Dwarves love to create things and their workmanship is first rate. The problem is the lack of materials; the land is barren of wood and the any mine which grows large enough to produce ore is inevitably overrun by White-Orcs, unless it is well hidden. Thus, they carve things out of stone, creating small figurines and models, as well as polished stone axes and hammers. Creating things is a remnant of the life the dwarves lived so long ago.
Centuries ago when they used to live in great mountain and subterranean strongholds, the Esgol Dwarves had a deity: Rivval, the elemental goddess of the tumultuous earth, fire and iron. Now, along with their ancient homes, their deity has been stolen; adopted by the White-Orcs. For many years, the dwarves were godless, some even adopting the beliefs of neighboring lands; faiths such as the One-God of Ralkhara, the pantheon of Sen-Rab and even the desert god Axtrami were taken up.
In the last several centuries however, a new god has broken through the ice and settled within the hearts of the Dwarves. Sirael (Sigh-rail), maiden of frozen spirits, Mistress of Rime and keeper of the Mysteries has touched the dwarves through their dreams. She is a harsh goddess; holding dominion over the ghosts and wraiths of the land, and holds no love for Rivval, who abandoned the Dwarves when they were cast out of their homes. Her influence seems to grow the worse the weather is; many a dwarf insists they have seen visions of her when they slumber, whilst blizzards consume the land outside.
It has been noted and is of interest that Sirael appears to have some small similarities to the god of the Ouzquin Dremorix, Axtrami; in that she has dominion over dreams and appears to grow in influence as more people believe in her.
The Great Exile
The Esgol Dwarves are an ancient race, and they were not always the nomadic folk they are now. It is said that countless centuries ago, the Esgoloth Dwarves lived in great mountain strongholds and subterranean cities. Deep within the earth where magma keeps the temperature warm the Dwarves dug massive bastions. Filled with life and laughter, the dwarves of these deep mines and strongholds would dig ores and gems from the rock and create beautiful objects from them. It was an age of marvels and the dwarves prospered.
In that age, the savage White-Orcs lived in tribes throughout Esgoloth. Life was hard for them, and to make matters worse, their tribes constantly skirmished with one another. Many times, tribes of White-Orcs would come to the great doors of the dwarven strongholds, begging for shelter and mercy from the harsh cold of Esgoloth, and always the dwarves turned them away; secretly they were intimidated by the orc's violent ways and were fearful that the violence would carry to the dwarves if they gave them sanctuary, so always the Orcs were spurned at the door, sent to die in the wilderness.
For centuries, this was the way of life in Esgoloth, until one day an Orcish child was born. Asdu was his name, and was a fierce warrior and great leader. He had seen his family starve and freeze to death after being turned away by the dwarves and was hateful of them, and so as an adult he schemed and plotted. Asdu brought together all the warring tribes though Esgoloth. He solved their petty squabbles and combined the tribes into a fearsome army, which he then set forth onto the great dwarven strongholds. The dwarves had grown fat and complacent in their safeholds; uncaring of the happenings on the surface, and as such they were unprepared for the onslaught. The White-Orcs laid siege on their homes, and infiltrated their mines and strongholds through the great chimneys and abandoned shafts. The take-over was swift and brutal, and over 80% of the dwarven population was slain. The remainder were thrown to the wild, exiled from their great homes and sent to live or die in the snow and ice.
The dwarves survived as nomads, taking from the land and seeking shelter around the hotspots of the land as they do today. They lie in their small communities, stubbornly denying that what they lost was so great, yet secretly yearning to return to their hearths of old. The communities are too small and divided to fight back; perhaps one day a child will be born that will unite the dwarves as Asdu united the orcs, that they may reclaim their long lost homes. But until then they live their lives within the communities, inhaling their steam and drinking their spirits, and tell tales of how their ancestors used to make marvels unrivaled, out of raw ore and gemstones.
- The White-Orcs have taken over the role of the dwarves; they are filled with life and laughter, though they have retained their savage and dangerous nature. They dig ore and gems out of the ground and send them on caravans to trade and sell to neighboring regions.
- The White-Orcs and Esgol Dwarves hate each other. White-Orcs often send raiding parties out to Dwarven communities, and likewise, the Dwarves take any opportunity they can to lay waste to any caravans the White-Orcs send out from their strongholds. This is especially true, because the Dwarves covet the ore and gems which are so often in these caravans highly.
- The White-Orcs are determined that the Dwarves do not get a foot-hold underground again. Any mines that the Dwarves make are quickly invaded by Orcs - unless they are sufficiently hidden.
- An Esgol Blacksmith is said to create weapons and armor of fantastic quality, if people would but bring him the materials to work with and some gold (or a good bottle of spirits).
- The party has arrived, weary, at a Dwarven Community. The dwarves have heard of their reputation, and a great feast is soon planned in their honor!
- The party has been traveling through the snowlands for days, and a blizzard has struck them! They journey blindly through the freezing wind, directionless as they look for shelter. Finally, they come across a tiny village and bang on the door. The sound of several latches unlocking precedes the face of a kindly old dwarf, who welcomes them into the safety and comfort of his home while the blizzard abates.
- A renegade group of Esgol Dwarves are planning to attack a White-Orc caravan, but they need the parties help! A share of the spoils is the reward.
- A Dwarven community has grown too large and one of the families has offered to leave town and find a new hotspot. They ask the PC's to travel with them to find their new home.
- Major Plot: The Dwarves have reached a point where they desire their strongholds back! The PC's must aid the dwarves in many ways to gather the community, build an army, infiltrate strongholds, and then form a defense so that this cannot happen to the dwarves again!