Dwarves, Mines and the Underdark / Darklands.

This all started out with the thought that “Mining should be more interesting!”, but as I started to work through that I realized that I needed to understand Dwarves better, and then that I had to have a better idea of what lay below the surface of the game world.   However, don’t worry too much – no one from any of my games are going to the Underdark, this is more to do with refining the campaign rules for when I use them again.  It won’t affect the current rules.

“Surface Society”

I am going to start with an overview of my version of “Surface Society”, or at least the part of the world that adventures come from in my games.  Surface Society, and it cultures, is primarily Human, although halflings and half-humans (half-elves, half-orcs) are an integral part of it.  Dwarves, Elves and (to a lesser extent) Gnomes have cultures of their own, that while they are compatible with human society, are separate and different.  Elves have their own countries, cities and towns, most of which are reasonable Xenophobic –  they don’t kill intruders, but they aren’t welcomed, and are ushered away as quickly as possible.  Gnome society is chaotic – you never quite know where you are going to find them, or what they will be doing – apart from experimenting obsessively with Alchemy or some other craft.  Dwarves sit on the border between the surface world and everything that goes on below –  they aren’t, quite, part of either world.

Dwarf Strongholds.

Dwarves are the civilized world’s gatekeepers to the world below the surface.  Their strongholds are normally built around mines, but they also connect to a network of underground tunnels and caves that lead deeper underground.  These are often a source of trade with other underground races –  many of whom have metals and gems to sell.  While they avoid many of the underground races, they trade with many others, creating a series of trade routes that bring underground trade goods to the surface world.

These underground trade routes are dangerous, sparsely populated and not well travelled, they wind and twist along (mainly) natural caverns, that can be home to all sorts of hazards.  Other humanoid races send hunting parties out to monitor the routes, so merchants either have to be strong or stealthy to travel them –  so many of the ‘merchant caravans’ are small and only carry a few trade goods with them.  Whatever they trade, has to be valuable, or the risk is too high. A single bottle of whiskey can be worth many hundreds of gold pieces when you are two miles underground! 

Races such as Pech and, Svirfneblin live deep underground and trade the most valuable goods, such as diamonds and mithral.  Mongrelmen and Kobolds are closer to the surface, and are less sophisticated in their mining and smelting techniques, so they likely bring lower value gemstones, or perhaps nuggets of  pure gold (or silver)  with them.


I had got used to the concept of ‘The Underdark’ and documented a basic ecology (just enough to inform play) but never really developed an interest in it.  I have adventured there once, in 40 years of playing, and never run a game there.  Pathfinder’s ‘Darklands’ concept, of a three layer Darklands, has more appeal for me, as it  allows me to create a more precisely defined sections  of Nar-Voth that fit below my various dwarven strongholds – and they can be a size that suits me, rather than the ubiquitous, and (for me) relatively boring  expanse of the Underdark.

That said, I like some elements of the Underdark, so my version will incorporate various things that I have worked with previously – although they will be modified. I also use resources from AD&D1 and AD&D2 as I built things.

This Link covers some of the work that I have done on the ‘Below Surface ‘world previously. I suspect that I will keep a lot of it, as I don’t like to discard stuff that works 🙂 Oh, and I love Nubbe Paste – and watching dwarves wind up the surface colleagues with it.

Beer and Ale

For some reason I have been thinking about making alcoholic beverages this morning.  Perhaps it is because I was talking to someone who is into home brewing recently, and that made me think about making some home brew of my own again.  In the past, when work has been slow, I have made beer, wine and mead – but I always stopped when work got busy again.  Now, I have more time on my hands again, and home brewing has become an option again.  Then I realized that my game rules doesn’t really cover small scale brewing at all.  So some modifications were in order, and this is my latest take making booze.   

Note, however, that it is heavily biased towards my game world, and uses ingredients that are commonly available there.  While broadly correct, in terms of process and history, don’t take it as real-world reliable.

In my world you can buy

  • Small Ale:  Weak, watery and hardly alcoholic (<1% ABV)
  • Local Ale:  Just called Ale it is a  ‘quaffing’ beer that is fairly bland but drinkable (3% ABV)
  • Named Ales: Such as Poachers Pale, River Run Sweet or Cheerful Delver Stout – which are much more flavoursome and keep well – but are more expensive.

This is how they are produced.


Beer, in RL, has been made for millennia and generally refers to an alcoholic beverage made from grain.  It really doesn’t matter what the grain is and, historically beers have been made from all sorts of different cereal crops although barley is the favoured grain for modern beer making.  The process is fairly simple, prepare the grain by sprouting and drying it, soak it in water, boil for a bit and add yeast, then leave it for a while until you get beer.

Now that isn’t very good beer, and it doesn’t keep for all that long – BUT it is safe to drink because the brewing process has killed off the nasty bacteria that might have been living in the water.  To improve the flavour and make it last longer you add a gruit, –  which is just a name for a set of ‘herbs’, often controlled by what is available locally.  For specialized and consistent beers with a longer shelf life, gruits were replaced with hops –  and you get the beers and ales that we know today.

So beers and ales in my game world …

Home Brewing

Just about every smallholding and country farm will make its own ale, for home consumption, from whatever grain is available (probably a mixture of maize, wheat and barley).  Most of it will be Small Ale, with little alcohol (<1%), for general consumption. There will probably be some stronger Ale made for festivals and parties –  but it won’t keep for long and has to be consumed fairly quickly.

Produce: Small Ale, Home-brew

Basic Brewing

Most towns and some villages will have a basic brewery (Craft Workshop) that produces ale, with a longer shelf life, for local consumption. Each basic brewery will have a preferred mix of grains available locally and use a locally sourced gruit to help preserve the ale.  In my world (not that it is important) the gruit is usually a combination of Mugwort and Ground Ivy – both traditional gruits that grow like weeds.  This Ale keeps for a reasonably long time and is supplied to local bars and restaurants, as well as being sold for home consumption

With a more sophisticated brewing set up a basic brewer is able to make a ‘second running’ brew.  Once the proper ale has been made, the grain/gruit mix is used to make a second batch of ale – although it is much weaker and less flavoursome than the original.

Produce:  Ale, Small Ale

Named Ales

If you want to make a named ale, rather than simple, generic ale – you need a brewery, the equivalent of an MW craft workshop specialized in making your recipe.  For the first time you need an expert Brewer, hops are introduced to the recipe and you get a consistent ale that will last for a long time.  Examples of named ales in my world include River Run Sweet Ale, Poacher’s Pale and Cheerful Delver Stout.  Because these ales last for longer, they can be transported over longer distances, and they may well be known across a region, rather than just being a local ale.

However, you now have an expert Brewer running things – and they can squeeze three runs out of the mix.  The named ale, a ‘local’ ale and then a small ale as well.  Which makes them ideal for large towns and cities.  After all, who wants to drink city water?  You never know what has polluted it.

Produce:  Named Ale, Ale, Small Ale.


There are a number of ways that ale can be enhanced.  Many small bars, which cater to less well-off patrons, sell ‘Grog ‘- two-thirds of a mug of small ale topped up with whatever is cheap and strong.  The small ale dilutes the ‘burn’ of the cheap spirit, and it is often laced with herbs to give it a bitter flavour.  It is cheap strong drink for the working man (or woman)

Ales and beers can also be distilled to make a Whisky variant, but I’ll write about distilling later