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June 20, 2013, 12:45 am

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Dwarven Sapper


Sneaky bastards, the lot of them


The Dwarven Sapper is a rare member of the Dwarven military. Sappers differ greatly from the typical appearance of a dwarf, they are all cleanly and expertly shaven, and they are also chosen from the more slender and lightly built of dwarvendom. These thin hairless dwarves are with some practice and poor lighting, able to pass themselves off as human teenagers, or children. Sometimes make-up and disguising magic items can be used to hide their race when infiltrating a target. They will affect the clothing and general appearance of the general population of the city/fortress/region they are going to be working in.


The Dwarven Sapper is a saboteur and trouble-maker. Vanishing into a local population, they are given a variety of tasks to weaken the local population so that they are more willing to negotiate with the Dwarven Kingdoms, or are softened up before being attacked by the dwarven military.

Firebug - Firebug Sappers set controlled fires that damage parts of a city, but not destroy it completely. This often is focused on destroying food stockpiles, wooden gates and gate mechanisms, and wooden parts of the target that are engaged in economic activity, such as common markets, tanneries, and so forth. A skilled Firebug is part alchemist and can make some exotic flammable agents allowing for precise burns, cutting metal gates, and heat weakening of stone. Firebugs see extensive work if the Dwarves are required to march against the elves, and have unleashed targeted forest fires to dissuade the Elves from their military ambitions. In a regional campaign, Firebugs cut bridges, burn ferries, and otherwise interrupt the movement of men and goods through the contested region.

Poisoner - The Poisoner is rare even among the Sappers. This sapper will infiltrate his or her target and then dispense a contaminating agent into the water supply. The most common agent is a nausea inducing concoction that causes vomiting and diarrhea, and other bodily discomforts. Less common are lethal poisons, though when using lethal compounds, the sapper is more likely to target stored goods like lagers and wines. Such tactics cause less collateral damage and are more likely to demoralize enemy leadership.

Rabble-Rousing - Every city, state and region has its simmering rivalries and causes de jour and it is the Rabble Rouser who moves in and pushes these over the limit. Sometimes this is through carefully orchestrated set-ups that start revenge and vengeance cycle violence while other times it is simply putting gold in the right palms to get things rolling. A food riot here, a thieves guild war there, and the rabble rouser has already scooted on down the road.

Assassin - This is a rare occupation, but the Sapper-Assassin is a skilled stalker, and will have some sort of dwarven contraption, typically a folding crossbow or other ranged weapon, and will use it to take out predetermined specific targets. Some sappers have their own methods, such as skulking and sneaking through windows to use the knife while the target is in bed, others will use poison, or even magical devices to carry out their dirty work.


The dwarves are a pragmatic and honorable group, and they seldom do those really effective military tactics of sneak attacks, pre-emptive strikes, or engage in general military deception. They show up, they fight, and either they are victorious and march on, or they are defeated and fall back to regroup. They can, in certain situations as circumstances demand, fight much more flexibly and adaptively, it is a matter of pride and honor that they keep their honor and rigid discipline. But, this frequently lead to longer than required battles that often ground to painful and often costly and pointless stalemates and losses of life on both sides.

It was discovered that if some 'softening' was done ahead of the military, the battles could be shortened, and the cost in dwarven lives reduced. It was also found that the sappers who went ahead could bring back valuable intelligence, or send word through magic messages or even through birds carrying notes. Strong enemies could be evaluated, while weak enemies could be forced down. It sped up the pace of the actual battles and left plenty of time for the things the dwarves wanted to do, parade and sharpen their weapons, and drink and boast after the battle, and reduced the amount of time actually fighting those battles.

The first Sappers were mercenaries, and turncoat humans or other dwarven sympathizers. After the first few did well, the dwarven lords decided that it would be best for that sort of work to be brought in-house rather than being farmed out to mercenary scum and human cowards and betrayers. The dwarves selected for Sapper training were taken from lesser houses, and even from the common folk, the workers and the laborers rather than the soldiery or mining clans. Frequently, these were women dwarves. They drilled in their tasks, and they worked on imitation and disguising skills so that they could vanish into a human crowd hostile to dwarves, and not be noticed. They became very good at it, since poor dwarven sappers were invariably captured, tortured or killed in gruesome manners usually reserved for captured mercenaries and criminals.

Notable Sappers

Black Bess - A young female dwarf drawn from the mountain clans, she was intended to be a water carrier until she found a husband and started a family in her small mountain clan. She was picked for her narrow build and thin face. She has long black hair, and can pass as a human female teenager, as she typically wears a long dress and shoes with disguised lifts in the heels. Her name is whispered in trembling voices around planning tables as her main mode of operation involves bringing and dropping vials of plague spores as well as releasing a variety of slimes and oozes into a targeted city. She is an early operative and has been linked to several disease outbreaks and the black ooze infestation of Castle Meadowlark.

Brimstone - A male Firebug, Brimstone is among the best in the business. While many firebugs go after soft targets, Brimstone will seek out specifically difficult and inherently valuable targets to go after. Why burn the stables when the wizard's guildhall is full of so many delightfully flammable things? The Lord's Tavern? Too easy. The Lord's Personal Residence, that's more like it.

Vi - A male rabble-rouser, Vi is a consumate liar, actor, and imitator. With a variety of masks and a cloak of confusion, Vi has started feuds between city guards and kingsmen, caused a riot by moving the Prostitutes Guild to go on strike, spread rumors so vile and nasty that rioters turned out to drag the offending victim of the rumormongering out into the street. Several nobles have been pulled out of their beds and hung by their own guards after proof appeared for diabolism, cannibalism, and the sadistic abuse and murder of missing children.

Grim - a female Assassin, Grim is blonde haired, and blue eyed and even before learning about disguises and imitation, could pass as a halfling or even small statured human. She will worm her way into the service of a noble house or major guild, where she will be overlooked as just one of the children servants. She can work industriously for months before making her move. Her weapon of choice is a steel stiletto that she can hide in her hair, her bodice, her boots, and a few other places. Several of her targets were killed so neatly that most assumed that they had died of natural causes, in their sleep. Grim works out of a deep and personal sense of duty and responsibility, as she has lost many of her brothers in pointless battles and blood feuds.

Plot Hooks

The Mission - The PCs are a Sapper Cell and have to work together to undermine the City of Umberhulk, ruled by a human wizard, the Necromaster. The population is oppressed, the Night Guard is jack-booted and armed with dogs, and the dwarven host will be here soon.

Dwarf-Hunting - The Rogue PCs are tasked with finding a group of dwarven sappers who may or may not already be in the city before they can start their trouble making.

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Comments ( 10 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted Gossamer
May 15, 2013, 13:05
At first I was about to bang the big gong of herecy, after reading about beardless sneaky dwarves, but this makes a lot of sense. I don't think I would use it, my dwarfs only bicker with drow, but it did make me think. No obvious spelling errors, neatly divided. Nice one. But the city of Umberhulk...the Necromaster...Really?
May 15, 2013, 13:59
I wrote this in one sitting, so technically it is oekaki, and no I didn't put a lot of time into the names in the plot hooks. During the writing process I kept feeling a DnD 2ed vibe growing and that's where the names came from. Later I'm going to do City Image: Umberhulk just for you ;D

Inspired, lol!
Voted Murometz
May 15, 2013, 14:14
Dwarven Sappers. This topic is way too interesting and full of potential for an oekaki (:p)

Really liked the exploration of sapping of the non-literal sense. I assumed this would deal with tunnels, digging, special equipment (Sapper Flies?), and castles sinking into the earth, but this is more from a pov of general sabotage and sneakiness.

Well done. Like the designations (firebug, rabble-rouser, etc) and some of the details (skinny and beardless).

Just wish there was more of "mechanics and engineering of a dwarven sappers' siege" type stuff
Voted Cheka Man
May 15, 2013, 23:23
Given how much dwarves are said to like beards-if that's true they sacrifice a lot to join this group.
Voted Dossta
May 16, 2013, 19:06
Not sure they're given a choice to join, Cheka. It sounds like Black Bess, at least, had a whole other life that she was taken away from. Maybe that's where her anger comes from. This is a really nifty concept, and it's refreshing to see some more "classic fantasy" stuff from you, Scras. I especially liked how you were careful to fit this into the dwarves' established value systems and make it work.
Voted Shadoweagle
May 16, 2013, 23:09
How do other dwarves regard the sappers? These people are dishonorable tricksters AND they shave their traditional beards off - I think they would be seen as scum to the general populace. Perhaps some sappers turn to this life because they are already hated by their peoples, while others lose their earned respect in society by becoming one.

Perhaps some criminals are approached by the military in prison and are offered a 'second chance' at freedom by becoming a sapper for them; shaving their beards and changing their appearance gives them a new identity in their home.

Anyway, I likey!
May 16, 2013, 23:39
Or they are the truly brave because they do their deeds for the sake of dwarvenkind, and not for their own honor and glory. No songs will be sung of them, their tales will not be told, but their deeds will be remembered by the soldiers who return alive, and not on their shields.
Voted Kassy
May 18, 2013, 8:18

Delightfully nasty buggers. I think it's great that they are able to set aside their customs and culture for something like sabotage.
Voted valadaar
May 24, 2013, 11:22
I like this submission - it adds a necessary dimension to the dwarves. When survival is on the line, many taboos drop away.
June 20, 2013, 0:45
Update: Recovered from the Void
Voted mimic12455
November 20, 2015, 4:00
Definitely interesting, I'd give it a vote up.



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There, on the horizon- a tower. Squat, it stands alone on a tiny island. However, it's the only land in sight, and any more of this ferocious storm will crush the boat to splinters.

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