Too Much Fun: Reconcepting Dwarves

I wrote earlier this year about how I don’t like the ‘dwarf’ as conventionally presented by 4e D&D. I don’t like the implication it has in the world, I don’t like the space for human culture it eats, I don’t like the baggage from Tolkein and World of Warcraft and I really don’t like the way dwarves are so bloody good if what you want is the mechanical portfolio to build a tough hard to move character in 4th edition D&D.

The Dio Baragh, Baragh for short, are the Cobrin’Seil replacement for the Dwarf. Mechanically, they are exactly the same, but they’re not the same fortress-building, ancient-artifact-having, Jewish-stereotyping squat Scottish humanoids. Instead, the Dio Baragh (from a Scots term meaning ‘The Outcasts’) stand apart from the dwarf, on their magnificent goaty legs.

Let me tell you about a culture that was born in magic, and made itself real.

Let me tell you about people who were kicked out of the Feywild for partying too hard.

Let me tell you about people of hammer and oak and axe and thorn.

Let me tell you about the Baragh.

Glossary Note: Conventionally, the term used in D&D for this mechanical package is race. This is the typical term, and in most conversations about this game system, the term you’re going to wind up using is race. For backwards compatibility and searchability, I am including this passage here. The term I use for this player option is heritage.

The howl of joy unending
Defiant of kings and gods

Baragh Heritage Traits

Average Height: 4’6″-5’6 (138-167 cm)
Average Weight: 220-440 lb. (100-200 kg)

The Baragh have all the traits of the Dwarf, and are considered mechanically the same things as dwarves. In a setting where dwarves are a player option, the DM should consider permitting players to play Baragh, a distinct and discrete heritage with different lore.

Wild people of the woods and mountainsides, the Baragh are goat-like humanoids possessed of a zest for life expressed in a disdain for death. Most commonly mistaken as relatives of the Satyrs, the Dio Baragh are an offshoot, an outcast clan of the feywild, ejected from the fey courts for drunken and disorderly behaviour.

Symbolised commonly by the axe (in the woods) and the hammer (in the mountains), Baragh adventurers are proud, stubborn warriors, who seeing problems in the world, seek to make them change, even if they have to do all the carrying themselves.

Play a Baragh if you want…

  • to be hard as nails and barbed as thorns
  • to have roots that reach deeper than cities
  • to eat and drink with joy and rage
  • to be able to survive the first blow and land the last one
  • to be a member of a heritage that favours the paladin, cleric, and fighter classes

Physical Qualities

A Baragh is a humanoid creature with a very clearly explicable anatomy, looking somewhat ‘like a goat’ in the same way that a human looks ‘like an ape.’ They have broad noses, wide eyes, horns, and light fur all over their body. Baragh stand upright, with shoulders over their hips. Baragh have digitigrade legs, with hooves instead of feet and toes, and their fingernails on their hands are hard and tough in a way that fingernails aren’t, sometimes even capping the whole fingertip.

A number of features vary across Baragh appearances; horns can be small and stublike, no larger than a knuckle on their foreheads, or they can be wide and spread and curled. Some Baragh have a velvety pad on the underside of their nose that reaches to the top of their lip. Some baragh have beards whose colour doesn’t match their head hair, and some don’t. Beards are nongendered for Baragh, and it is not considered notable for Baragh of any gender.

Baragh wear all common clothing that other cultures do, adapted for their needs. For example, Baragh tend to wear armour strapped onto the front and back of their body, rather than armour that has to be pulled over the head. Where other heritages wear boots, they buckle on greaves to protect their lower legs. They often wear gloves that are fingerless, and because of their body fur, they don’t feel the cold the same way as peoples of other heritages.

Baragh are extremely heavy by comparison to their height. This is just a matter of density, where Baragh bodies have layers of bone and muscle that make them tougher and more robust. This is also part of how they run – while Baragh have smaller strides than most, and do not move as fast in short sprints, they’re incredibly surefooted (surehoofed) and can run for longer than most other peoples, while carrying heavy loads. The tallest Baragh are about as tall as a short human, but they may weigh as much as twice as much.

Playing a Baragh

Baragh are creatures that live outside of most cities, but within shared communities, usually built out of home lodgings arranged around large central common-use buildings like longhouses for eating, breweries for or curing sheds for food cultivation. Baragh are commonly regarded as hedonists, interested in doing things they find fun, overcoming challenges that they see as defying them, and obtaining things they want to have. This hedonistic rush sets them up for a variety of heroic pursuits – where being the subject of great stories, adored by people, or toppling great monsters are themselves, seen as pleasurable pursuits.

Baragh also are possessed of a mindset of surprising acuity for their own expectations. Where many hedonists find it difficult to maintain long-term plans, because it can be difficult to connect delayed pleasures to their current actions, as long as the elements a Baragh works with are controllable and predictable, they are capable of maintaining surprising focus on projects that they know will result in something enjoyable. When those processes are unpredictable, or can have wild outcomes, Baragh lose interest. Similarly, Baragh are capable of seeing ways that their pleasures interact with other people, so they tend to avoid indulging in ways that hurt others, which in turn leads to Baragh typically trying to be isolated enough that they can party as much or as loud as they like and only affect other people who want to be.

This leads to the anecdote that Baragh brew beer but buy barley: Baragh communities often have distilleries and breweries, and they are often magnificently well-tended, because those are processes that a Baragh can understand, very clearly, will result in something they enjoy, and they can recognise how much they will enjoy them. Growing crops however is beholden to all sorts of challenges that are unpredictable, like weather and yield, and that makes the process boring.

Baragh also take to tasks of work with that same hedonism. Baragh like constructing finely crafted objects, things that fit together with a satisfying, cabinets and doorframes and structures that have a pleasing function, but as long as they can enjoy the process. Clockwork and locks tend not to appeal to them – because the mechanisms are hidden, and the way the pieces interact are not visibly interesting. This can sometimes make them seem fickle and unreliable to other traders; a Baragh who enjoys jewelcrafting may get a sack of uncut gems and cut all the ones that they find interesting to do, then leave the rest uncut, because they’re boring.

Baragh adventurers tend to be the people who want to make something that needs travel, want to learn something that they can’t in their home towns, and want to explore. Many Baragh adventure to protect their homes, or obtain trade agreements for things that they can use.

Finally, Baragh tend to view cities in terms of groups, or clans – like a bigger system of groups that relate to one another. For example, they don’t tend to see guards or watch as something that’s an extension of the city, but rather a group that sees its job as interfering with other stuff. That’s not to say Baragh tend to antagonise guards and watch, but they definitely see them as something to avoid or ignore.

Baragh are perceived as… Tough, Indulgent, Obstinate, Proud, Focused, Hedonistic

Names: Audor, Thurior, Cadra, Allag, Baen, Mac, Gethn, Gioc

Baragh names are derived from a tradition of a language of the Baragh’s own. In this language, there are some letters and sounds that you won’t see as represented in common. For example, a ‘tt’ sound would typically be pronounced as a ‘d’ instead. The letter K does not show up in these names, compared to a C. J is instead more likely to be a Gi or Ge sound.

TIP: If you want to look up real-world names for Baragh, consider looking into Icelandic, Scottish, and Welsh names as your base.

Baragh surnames tend to be slightly modified versions of common words, often tied to locations or their clan locations. Terms like ‘storm,’ or ‘cleft’ or ‘mountain’ or ‘wood’ or hybrid words that tie some of these ideas together like ‘caverncleft’ or ‘thunderwood.’

There are certain small name components that Baragh keep as reference to a philosophy or a perspective. The common examples are Dae (loud), Boe (hidden), Gogh (river), or Fal (love). A Baragh would then typically structure their name like, for example, Cadra Fal Sturm.

Common Baragh Classes

Because the Baragh were once Feywild creatures and resemble Satyrs, there’s a common vision that they use nature magic, with classes like the Druid, the Warden, and the Shaman. While Baragh absolutely can take those classes, and do a great job at them, it’s often due to that single Baragh finding a connection to nature, personally, rather than a clan-wide idea.

The Baragh hedonism and socialisation plays into the classes they tend to pick up. The most obvious is the fighter, where Baragh’s natural toughness and strength can be brought to bear. There’s a whole history for the Baragh, where they favour iron and steel armours and weapons, as former creatures of the feywild, where those items have an association with being ‘special’ and ‘threatening.’ Therefore, the non-magical fighter, with metal weapons and armour, is iconically powerful to the Baragh people. Some Baragh make weapons and armour out of haunted Ironwood trees, and that haunting imbues them with magic that was crafted by the hand, rather than by druids or wizards.

The other two classes that the Baragh favour are the Paladin and the Cleric. The trick with these classes is that the Baragh love of hedonism and their knowing of themselves make them very appealing vessels for power from divine entities. In many of these cases, the Baragh find themselves either a small god or cause to champion, and see their divine font of power as a friend or ally, rather than some vast, remote power that they serve. The Baragh idea of a Cleric or Paladin tends to be about I will do what my friend needs me to do.

When We Came From: Party As In Party

The Baragh are a heritage with an obvious-seeming origin. They look like Satyrs, and they live in connection with nature, in places that other heritages often find challenging. Also, many of the heritages that operate in the same locations tend to be magical, or connected to the feywild. Coupled with the similarity to Satyrs, it’s not uncommon for the Baragh to be seen as a type of Satyr – which they are very much not. A satyr is composed of human elements, with skin, not fur, and also, are magically sustained creatures of the feywild.

Baragh are not of the feywild.

They were.

But they’re not.

The feywild is a place of mystical life; it is in many cases, an unreasoning, incomprehensible chaos of life energy, with ecosystems forming instantly then being equally extincted by competition a moment later. Most of the feywild, by volume, is just this roiling life energy, changing psychotropic colours and existing only as fancifully as a story. But towards the centre of the feywild, at least, the centre as it is known to the people of the Prime plane, there is… some sense. There are places that look like forests and things that work like cities. There is a coherence of the narrative of the place that resembles what the Feywild looks like, when it strives to be a bit like what they call The Real.

There are numerous heritages of the Feywild – it’s well known that Eladrin and their Elf and half-Elf sibling cultures are in their root, from the Feywild. Less well-known is their association with the Shadar-kai, who sought to use the Shadowfell to sustain themselves. There are others as well, flitting back and forth between the Feywild and the Real.

Real is an interesting thing to the Feywild. Real has permanence and Real has impact. Real can be tasted and Real can be drunk, and while the Feywild is a space of dreamlike pleasures, Real can stand apart from that as a sort of strange, deviant indulgence. Fey empires often steal or trade or even make war with the Real to claim some resource from it that takes the shape of their particular indulgence in The Real.

The Baragh, or, to use their full name, the Dio Baragh, are a culture of the feywild, a bit like the Satyr, that at some point, indulged in the Real too much. They enjoyed the Real, they enjoyed food and beer and dance and music, and they enjoyed the way it felt to have ears that could hear sounds as made by instruments and feet that could stomp to a beat that they felt in real chests and real hearts.

Also, the story goes, they may have had a drunken revel with Real beer in the Feywild, and a Fey Monarch of some variety was so disgusted they ejected them. About the lands of the Baragh that were, they set great, dinosaur-like treant-creatures, known as Treeslugs, which even now patrol the boundaries between the Feywild and the Real, sniffing for Baragh influence.

Of course, the Baragh, now a culture made of meat, did not take to being ejected from reality poorly. They thrived, and made new of themselves, and became a culture, proud and strong and fearsome. They even in many cases, have lured out Treeslugs and trained them to be compatriots of the Baragh people.

Kraft Mayo Truth: The Fey REvolution

See, here’s the thing.

The truth of the story, a story that has been hidden from the Baragh.

The Baragh were ejected from the Feywild because they were partying too much. They were doing things they thought were fun, after a long, long time spent partying across the Feywild and the Real. But you know what’s lots of fun?

Toppling royals.

The Baragh, drunk, seized with confidence appropriate to that kind of extensive partying, raided the grounds of a Fey king, beat up a bunch of guards, and tried to destroy the king’s throne. That king, then, as the great monarchs of the Feywild, tried to unmake the Baragh…

… and found they could not.

They could not end that story, because the Baragh had become Real. The Baragh had, through their indulgence, through their want, had made themselves more Real. And the Feywild rejected them, throwing them to the mortal realm, then tried to destroy any sign or history of this story. Because the idea they could be rebelled against, the idea that Fey Kings were not inviolate, the idea that their power had limits against the Real

Well, that was a secret that needed to be kept hidden.

As a coincidence, this led to the Fey Monarchs investigating the way the Eladrin and Elves interacted. The elves don’t know what this means, but the elven feywild cultures seem to be aware that the Baragh are ‘bad’ somehow, that they did something ‘wrong’ – which has a strange animosity neither culture can have a good, resolute explanation for.

The images used in this post to illustrate kinds of Baragh and their Treeslugs are from the 3d-Printable miniatures by EldritchFoundry, available over here. This was a minor concern for the eventual aesthetic of the Baragh: Can a player meaningfully get a miniature of them?