Dwarves (1982)

This is Dwarves (1982), the first of Mayfair’s Role Aids sourcebooks for D&D. It’s a little low rent but it is actually an example of outsiders understanding what early D&D players wanted better than the folks making D&D. The cover says this is an adventure, and there is one, and a bunch of adventure locations, but this is primarily a book of lore.

It’s pretty clear in the table of contents: “Chronology,” “Life in Ostohar,” “Religion,” “The Dwarven Rite” and so on — the book covers the history of dwarves, where they live and how they live in rich detail. We get gods, heroes, an explanation for their enmity with elves. Whereas in D&D at this point the only official knowledge about dwarves was their entry in the Players Handbook, and their entry in the Monster Manual. Noting that lack, the folks at Mayfair decided to fill in all the details they could.

This wasn’t unprecedented at the time. Cults of Prax came out in 1979, detailing the religions of RuneQuest’s various societies, and the Iron Crown’s Middle-earth books flesh out all aspects of the regions they presented. D&D had the World of Greyhawk map folio (1980) that gestures at this sort of worldbuilding without committing. More serious setting material from TSR would appear in the World of Greyhawk box set (1983) and in DL5, which is a sort-of sourcebook for the world of Dragonlance. Neither of these feel quite right in the way that Dwarves does for anyone who has ever read a ’90s era Forgotten Realms sourcebook. Dwarves and the other similar Role Aids sourcebooks nail the recipe that would dominate TSR’s approach to campaign settings and supplemental material from about 1986 until the death of the company. It’s weird!

Doubly so because Dwarves…isn’t really exciting. It’s a pretty conservative approach to dwarves the sticks to the genre clichés. You can only break so much ground at one time, I guess.

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