Dwarves: Great Race, or Greatest Race?

Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and mine is that dwarves have always been the best race in Dungeons & Dragons.

Dwarves were so good in earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons, they had to limit them at higher levels in case they overshadowed the human characters. A dwarf of certain classes was limited to level nine or fourteen, with an optional house rule of charging double or triple XP for dwarves to level up. Dwarves were just the superior race.

Dungeons & Dragons third edition did away with all that, but dwarves still enjoyed a long list of racial benefits. They take a +2 bonus to Constitution, the ability score that every class benefits from unless they’re planning to become an undead, and pay only a penalty to Charisma, the dump stat for almost every class. They’re the only race besides half-orc to have Darkvision, meaning they can see in pitch blackness, and gain a +2 bonus to saves against magic and poison, the adventurer’s deadliest dangers.

Look at the class options, too. A high Constitution and resistance to being tripped makes the dwarf a natural barbarian or fighter. He makes a tough, if slow monk, and aside from a small Charisma penalty to turn undead he makes a fantastic cleric. The melee-type ranger finds himself at no penalty as dwarf, gaining extra bonuses should he choose goblin, orc or giants as his favoured enemy. Dwarven rogues have the advantage of sneak attacking in lightless conditions, while a dwarf paladin suffers only a -1 penalty to saves.

Even unorthodox dwarf spellcasters work remarkably well. The dwarf druid makes speed gains with wild shape and takes no penalty to spellcasting. A dwarf wizard has an uncharacteristic toughness that lets him get closer to the thick of battle, again with no racial weaknesses. The dwarf bard takes no penalty to his Bardic Song as he fights, and only a few of his spells suffer from that -1 Charisma penalty. Even the rare dwarf sorcerer, the race’s weakest class option, suffers only a -1 penalty to spell DCs and one fewer bonus spell for his battle-hardiness.

Lets skip ahead and look at the dwarf’s incarnation in Dungeons & Dragons fourth edition. Here he moves only one square or five feet slower than a human, with the advantage of retaining that speed when heavily armoured or encumbered. He gains now a whopping +5 bonus versus poison, which stacks with his +1 bonus to Fortitude from a Constitution bonus. He retains his third edition trip-proofing, and gains +2 to Wisdom and can use his once-per-combat “second wind” ability as a minor action instead of wasting a turn ducking out to heal as I fondly remember doing with my third edition dwarf.

What do the other races get to match this feature set? Dragonborn get +1 to hit when getting their ass kicked, eladrin can teleport a tiny distance once per fight, elves grant allies +1 to Perception checks, and half-elves grant allies +1 to Diplomacy (real useful in a fight). Tieflings get +1 to hit and a little bonus damage once per fight, and humans have a boring bonus feat in a game edition that downplays the importance of feats. Halflings can force an opponent to reroll his attack, but dwarves? Dwarves can heal a quarter of their own hit points without even spending an action.

You can keep your skill points and your bonus feats. My guy’s got Dwarven Resilience.

Comments (11)

SuperSooga (May 18th, 2009)

This is something I can definitely agree with, and have blogged about in the past!

Dwarfs are so good they even have Halflings and Gnomes leeching at their concept!

Fat Alibert (May 18th, 2009)

Even beyond the mechanics, the typical backstory around the race in most campaign settings was the most interesting of all the races. The Dwarven kingdom is in decline due to constant battling with goblinoids and monsters, the remaining proud dwarves struggling to continue on with the traditions of their ancestors. More like ‘Last of the Mohicans’ and less like ‘Erol Flyn with Spock Ears’ (elves) = win!

RoboSheep (May 18th, 2009)

I made a 3.5 setting where Dwarves are the hegemonic race in world politics and I partially justified that based on their racial bonuses.
The only thing that sucks about being a dwarf is remembering all your racial features because there’s just so many.

Lord Darkmoon (May 18th, 2009)

I think you’ve misunderstood the +5 versus poison dwarves gets in fourth edition, as it’s not cumulative with Fortitude. The +5 is only to saving throws, and those are always passed on a 10 or more.

So it’s pretty hard to poison a dwarf, or maintaining it poisoned…

Un saludo,
Lord Darkmoon

Ameron (May 18th, 2009)

I’ve always found Dwarves to be a 1-trick pony. I rarely see any variety when people play dwarves. I like my characters to be unique. An axe wielding dwarf with a short fuse temper and no social skills is so tired and over played. I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone play any other take on this race. You may like them, and that’s fine, but I think they’ve become too type-cast. I’m not interested in this lack-luster race.

Jonathan Drain (May 18th, 2009)

Ameron: Actually, there’s a lot of variety in dwarves - not just axe-wielding fighters.

For example, they can be hammer-wielding fighters.

Scott (May 19th, 2009)

Or even rangers, and dual-wield one axe and one hammer. How much more dwarven can you get?

Seriously, most other nonhumans have the same problem. Elves? Sneaky woodsy archery types, or else magic-obsessed reclusive types (the latter of which are eladrin, in 4e). Halflings? Sneaky folksy foodie types. Gnomes? Sneaky tricksy easily-punted types. Half-orcs? Non-sneaky angry angry types.

That’s all down to the player, though. At least dwarves have a fun stereotype, if it comes to that. ^_-

JP (May 19th, 2009)

Aside from all the mechanical traits it’s the image of Dwarves that attracts people to them; a race of tough-as-nails, salt-o’-th’-earth people who don’t give up on their friends.

It’s certainly why my girlfriend found the calling and rolled up a Dwarf.

Tetsubo (May 22nd, 2009)

Of the traditional core races the Dwarves are my favorite. I once had a short lived campaign wherein the Dwarves were the ‘oil shieks’ of the world, with the only access to gold on the planet. They literally controlled the banking. It gave a nice twist to the typical Dwarven background.

One of my favorite characters was Drumor, a Dwarven Fighter that was also a skilled stone carver. He dreamed of marrying a Gnome woman and adopting children. He wore stone beads in his beard braids that he would use as ‘worry beads’ while talking. I would play with dice whenever he talked to simulate the action. Loyal to his friends, lethal to his enemies and in love with Gnomish women.

Toord (June 1st, 2009)

Hard to argue against dwarves as a great race to play just about any class (except sorcs. I tried building one and that -1 DC and -1 bonus spell does make a huge difference or at least it does outweigh the +2 CON).

Now, I know most DMs will outright prohibit the use of Waforged, but as a playable race they go toe-to-toe with dwarves and in some cases, I’d say Warforged are the better of the two.


DragonMann (June 29th, 2009)

You forgot my favorite incarnation, the Dwarf Monk. Pretty unorthodox but it works well in practice. The stability is a natural martial arts like ability. The Monk has always had good saves across the board and being a Dwarf only makes it better. The slow speed is no longer a problem. And It’s the perfect entry to the Drunken Master prestige class.

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