So, I've had the 5e Player's Handbook for about two weeks now and I have slowly been getting a feel for it and the world that it implies. I'm going to start with the races, since that's the first thing that the PHB discusses. As always, your feedback is encouraged.
1. Subraces are back!
I am no expert on some editions of D&D, but it seems like every other major iteration of the game either adds in or subtracts out subraces. I don't recall hearing about them before Unearthed Arcana, and they seemed to be gone when 2e came around. 3e brought them back, 4e did away with them. I may be wrong here, but this might be the first PHB that actually has mechanically separated subraces. Personally, I like the idea of subraces. Your low-density races might be more homogenous, but in a D&D-trope-centric world, there are going to be plenty of dwarfs and elves, so it makes sense that there will be substantial differences in culture.
|Karkaz Axeshield, representing Mithril Hall Vocational Technical School,|
scored his education on a throwing hammer scholarship.
Dwarfs in 5e are certainly your typical grudge-bearing, greedy, god-fearing grumps they always seem to be. They all get to use dwarfy weapons (hammers and axes--and the terrifying thought of THROWING HAMMERS (see the picture to the right)) and have some sort of vocational training. Of note, they don't get an attack bonus against greenskins--which means that a 5e world doesn't necessarily HAVE to have the Dwarf-Greenie conflict.
Hill Dwarfs are wiser and more resilient than Mountain Dwarfs and Mountain Dwarfs are stronger and more armored than Hill Dwarfs. Mountain Dwarfs are also 4" taller, on the average, than Hill Dwarfs.
The assumption I am getting from this is that Mountain Dwarfs have a much more militant society than Hill Dwarfs. I reckon they are on the frontlines of SOME conflict and have a mentality where EVERYONE is a member of the militia when push comes to shove. It could be a siege mentality similar to Israel or maybe an isolationist streak like Switzerland.
Hill Dwarfs have been a little less straightforward than their cousins. I'm seeing them as a more introspective and philosophical than the Mountain Dwarfs, but I'm at a loss to explain the extra hit points. Maybe the outdoor hill living has helped Hill Dwarfs provide a healthier and more balanced diet than the iron rations-chowing Mountain Dwarfs.
So, what I am taking from all of this is that the dwarfs who left the mountains became a little softer and more intellectual than the Spartan dwarfs in the mountains, fighting ancestral foes.
3. My Dwarfs
With all of these assumptions, I am wondering how the different dwarf subraces (to include the Duergar) came to be in my D&D 5e world. Greed and Grudges seem to be the main negative drives of dwarf culture, while family and faith are the positive drives.
Ten thousand years ago, the dwarfs ruled huge swaths of the Underdark, being at the top of the subterranean cultural pyramid. Unfortunately, they grew lax in their homage to the Stone Spirits that gave them their power to rule over the Underdark. One clan's hubris was so powerful that they forswore the Stone Spirits and declared themselves superior over all--even the Gods. The remaining clans, while not as degenerate, hedged their bets, providing lip service to both sides in the conflict, waiting for a clear victor before going all in. This angered the Stone Spirits, who cursed the Dwarfs. The rebel clan became the Duergar and the remaining clans became the Dwarfs we know today, exiled from their great cities to the fringes of the Underdark, closer to the surface. Some of the dwarfs repented their inaction and dedicated themselves to service of the Stone Spirits, hoping one day they will return their calls and prayers. They renounced the greed and hubris that led them to exile and toil in the mountains, hoping to regain a portion of their lost glory. Some of the dwarfs turned their back on the Stone Spirits and the mountains. They settled in the hills and took the gods of man as their own. Fully committed to their greed and lust, they are ruthless merchants, decadent profiteers, traffickers of flesh, and all manners of base commerce.
Next week, I'll try to finish out the Big Four races.