The Dwarves of Far Reach are typical examples of their species, tough as nails, stubborn as mules but as steadfast an ally or as inplacible a foe as one could possibly imagine. The dwarven population in Far Reach accounts for approximately 10% of the total population of the civilised races, the vast majority of which are typically found within the three dwarven stronghold cities of Gun Gadrun to the west, Kaz Dorn to the south and Dun Barad to the east. Barely one in twenty of all the dwarves in Far Reach live above ground amongst human lands and none at all within elven territories, whom they find far too flippant and flighty to tolerate.
Those few dwarves who live in human lands never speak of what dwarven civilisation is like within the stronghold cities to outsiders, many of which had left due to becoming disenchanted with the heirarchial nature of the caste system. Despite this they see dwarven civilisation as dwarven business, and very few non-dwarves are ever admitted into the stronghold cities. To accomodate trade with humans (and rarely but occasionally elves), the dwarves have errected market villages near the entrances to the stronghold city gates.
It is common knowledge amongst all the intelligent races that the three stronghold cities are all interconnected via underground roads deep beneath the surface. The dwarves use these to trade and travel between the cities as well as expand mining operations. Since the outbreak of the succession civil war twenty years ago, numerous attempts by both the princes and various warlords have been made to petition the dwarves for permission to access these roads, seeing them as a vital tactical advantage over their opponents. The dwarves however have long since determined that the human civil war is a human matter, and as such it is no business of theirs. Despite the fact that they are happy to trade fine quality iron and steel for human gold the dwarven Kings are determined to maintain a military neutrality.
Besides, it is not unheard of for the subterranean races to occasionally find and breach one of these roads, leading raiding parties against travellers and very rarely even striking at one of the dwarven cities. It was one such breach that led to the fall of Caer Banorn, a former dwarven stronghold city to the north about two hundred years ago. Since the fall of Caer Banorn, armed patrols keep a very close eye on the roads up to within a hundred miles of their native stronghold city.
Dwarven Caste System
Each dwarven city is divided into different levels, each level of which is allocated to a particular caste, or role, in dwarven society. The higher the level, the lower the position in society.
The highest level is reserved for the dishonoured, being made up primarily of criminals but also occasionally disgraced soldiers and bankrupt merchants. Due to the nature of the dwarven psyche, there are typically far less undesirables in a dwarven city than one would expect in a human city of similar size. The dishonoured are stripped of their clan name and heritage, left with only their first name and accorded no rights, typically being left to their own devices to survive.
Above the dishonoured is the merchant caste, a position in society which is perhaps undervalued in dwarven society. Dwarves have a love of ale and meat, but their underground habitat typically means that they are unable to acquire these commodities for themselves, therefore it is up to the merchant caste to trade fine dwarven goods with surfacers willing to trade. Contracts with the artisan caste are often fiercely contested, and it is not uncommon for a merchant to lose everything as they vie with each other to try to earn the more lucrative contracts.
Above the merchants are the artisan caste, which includes miners and engineers as well as craftsmen. The wealth of a city depends heavily on the success of it’s artisan caste, as well as the skill of the merchants with whom the artisans have set up a contract. Prestige and reputation are everything to a member of the artisan caste, and they can often be quick to abandon a member of the merchant caste who has been found to be involved in shady dealings or have had their honour besmirched in some fashion.
Above the artisans are the soldier caste, the soldiers who both enforce the law from within and defend the city from without. It is most often dwarves soldiers that choose to leave the city rather than face the perceived dishonour of no longer belonging to the military caste. There are numerous divisions within the soldier caste, the most famous of which are the Ironbeards who serve as the King’s personal guard and the Stoneguard who patrol the underground roads and protect them from Netherdeep incursions.
Above the soldiers are the noble caste, the nobility who serve as the council to advise the King. Above all else, it is the nobility who hold their honour above all else. It is not uncommon for clans to be involved in an invisible war that neither side admits to as they vie for position and power within the council. Similarly they guard their positions very carefully, it is extremely difficult for one outside of the noble caste to join their ranks.
Finally at the top of the chain is the King, the ruler of a stronghold city whose responsibility it is to ensure the prosperity of the city and its denizens. Typically the position is King is passed down from father to son, but there are records of times past when the council has had to declare a King (or his heir) unfit to rule, an extremely rare circumstance which involved the Kings of the other three cities (this has yet to happen since the fall of Caer Banorn) to convene and decide whether or not to uphold the council’s decision and invest a new King or to override them.
Surface dwarves occupy an usual position within the perception of a stronghold city’s society. They are generally afforded the respect of a position in fitting with their occupation but with none of the rights or accomodations afforded to those of that rank. For example a dwarf blacksmith would be afforded the respect of one of the artisan caste, but could not live on the artisan level or establish contracts with members of the merchant caste. Enterprising members of the merchant caste have adapted to the slow but steady rise in surface dwarves wishing to visit the stronghold cities by establishing inns complete with a variety of amenities such as an operational forge, training halls, etc.