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Where does the D&D concept of a dwarf come from?

In all traditional fantasy RPGs I've heard of or played, Dwarves are a mining/smithing race of short, anti-magic humanoids. They like beer, dislike Elves, hate Orcs/Goblins (and in the systems that have them, Dark Elves and Grey Dwarves) and use Warhammers and Battleaxes as favoured weapons, with some crossbows too.

Where did this trope originate? It seems like it must be older than D&D, which first used them in an RPG (as it was the first RPG). What is the oldest reference to dwarves that is recognisable as what we have today, or was the 'modern' dwarf created by Gygax and co.?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/2564/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 11:26
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I'd actually say this question is close enough to be the same as the other to be a duplicate of the other and would vote to close; take a look at the other one - lots of source and answers that would answer this one. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 12:00
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Another SE site has a couple good discussions on this as well: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/21026/… \$\endgroup\$
    – BBlake
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 13:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ I already closed the other and migrated it to scifi. Please only ask questions here that are specific to the scope of RPGs. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 23:23

3 Answers 3


Dwarves are critters of Norse/Germanic myth (of the two, probably a little heavier in Germanic influence). That's the origin of at least the short, mining, and craftsmanship aspects (and the very name 'dwarf'). Take a look here:

German Dwarves

Norse Dwarves

I suspect your other listed qualities are either from the folklore too or from Tolkien (who was heavily influenced by existing mythology for his work). Tolkien then gets robbed mercilessly at pen point by Gygax when he created D&D. (If you're not old enough to remember, D&D used to have Hobbits not halflings [it only changed after legal action]). Gygax, being the big success he was, was then in turn ripped off by most everyone else who made an early RPG. So there's your family tree of dwarf origins.


Much of the standard tropes of dwarves comes from Norse/Finnish mythology. Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings both feature dwarves, and both are older than D&D by about 40 and 20 years, respectively.


The primary source for the modern dwarf trope is J.R.R. Tolkien's Dwarves from The Hobbit, which are based on the Norse mythology. The same mythology also inspired Wagner for Der Ring des Nibelungen.

One point to note is that D&D is not the only source of early RPG Dwarves. Games Workshop brought Tolkien's Dwarves into their Warhammer world in 1983. What we expect from dwarves today is a synthesis of these two early mass market games.

Games Workshop emphasised the distrust of arcane magic, use of runic magic, ancestor worship and deep grudges that dwarves can hold for centuries (and pass down to their children). They also exaggerated the heavy drinking of ale into Bugman's XXXX.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer actually seems to be better than most in the duplicate question. (The top voted answer seems a little superficial, in that it pins everything on Tolkein alone, and doesn't discuss how the idea transitioned into RPGs.) Although this question got closed, you should copy your thoughts over to the other one. \$\endgroup\$
    – starwed
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 15:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Tolkien's dwarves are actually based on Medieval Jews, and based much of their story on the return to Israel. This reflects both positively (good craftsmen), negatively (separate from the rest of the world, love of money) and neutrally (language, appearance). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 16:40

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