Technology for Fantasy Dwarves
Hugrubb Urbrukk, the chieftain of the Orc tribe, the Urbrukks, was waiting. His warriors were hungry for battle, their weapons sharpened and the goblins were getting more and more frenzied. They would show those stunty dwarfs a thing or two about fighting.
Suddenly from out of the sun came a strange sound, a regular, almost hypnotic beat, then they could see the source of the noise, strange wingless flying creatures made of metal. A band of Orcs let loose with their arrows, but to little avail.
As the strange flying things passed overhead, they dropped what looked like small metal canisters, as they hit the ground they exploded in a ball of flame and smoke. An entire goblin regiment was decimated by just one of these canisters. As Hugrubb took cover, he noticed that the flying things carried a dwarven pilot.
As the flying machines left, a roaring clanking sound could be heard in the distance. Hugrubb strained to get a look, it was the Dwarven army, but what were those smoking clanking monsters leading the army, a flash of light followed by the destruction of his elite guard, confirmed Hugrubb’s fears and he ran…
Sergeant Horithimm Kazald of the Seventh Dwarven Armoured Brigade, looked at the devastation wrought by his new weapons. The Engineering Guild had surpassed themselves, these machineries of war were unbeatable.
Most fantasy worlds are set in quasi-middle ages or renaissance earth style setting. The sword and arrow rule the battlefield, but many rule systems take into account, cannons, bombards, arquebuses and other weaponry.
In the realms of high fantasy, the Dwarf is a miner, mining the ground for gold, precious metals and gems. They are skilled artisans and produce fine armour and weapons made from mithril, steel and other metals. Metallurgy is a science near exclusive to Dwarven cultures.
On the battlefield the sturdy dwarven armies are feared by their enemies, the edge and strength of their weaponry making them fearsome foes for any opponent.
In most fantasy worlds, Dwarfs are the technological wizards, they smelt metals, and produce extravagant weapons of war which devastate their enemies.
What this article hopes to do is show what sort of technology you could theoretically use in fantasy battles and that would be available to a quasi-medieval society as is often used as a background for games. You can of course base your games in a techno-fantasy world, where steam engines work alongside magic, similar in fact to R. Talsorian Games’ new Castle Falkenstein. Then you can use this article as a source for some ideas for these sort of games.
The Steam Engine
Dwarfs are adept at mining in most fantasy worlds, digging deep into the ground for gold and other precious metals, various ores to smelt into metal and gems. As their mines get deeper they will come across the recurring problem of water. It must be pumped out otherwise, the mines will flood. Pumps are relatively simple inventions, but require a certain amount of power to operate, especially if the water-logged mines are deep down in the ground. In our world, it was this very problem that led to the invention of the steam engine. Connected to a pump, this initially crude invention was the spark to the Industrial Revolution.
A steam engine is a source of power with two advantages: Firstly it did not depend on the elements and could be made mobile. Water wheels and windmills both provided power, but were stationary. Mobility gives you a tactical advantage. Secondly, you can use the power from steam engines to power many different machines, though it is possible to do this water power, the huge power output of the steam engine makes it easier and more efficient.
You can use steam power not only to pump our mines, but provide power for various uses, it can run machines, and more importantly agricultural machines, enabling the populace to change from a rural farming population to an urban industrial one. A steam engine connected to a generator can provide electricity, but for this a knowledge of magnetism is needed. Electricity will open even more doors…
Steam powered ships were an obvious outcome, their large size meant they had the capacity to take the then very large steam engines, as engineering improved, steam powered vehicles, mainly tractors and gurneys, started to appear.
In fantasy games you can of course use steam powered ships, though on a personal note I feel that paddle steamers as used by the British army in the Sudan are more in keeping than a “dreadnought” style ship. On the battlefield, a steam powered bolt thrower firing tens of bolts (similar in style to a gatling gun). A landship (tank) trundling over the ground, armoured in thick protective iron cladding, bristling with the barrels of tens of arquebuses (or just plain crossbows).
Sailing boats have existed for thousands of years, windmills have been used as well for the milling of cereals. Wind power is a powerful force, which is now seldom used.
Land Yachts, huge fighting vehicles moved only by the power of wind do exist in fantasy literature, sometimes also seen as floating airboats. Dwarfs, given an inventive streak could build such a machine. The disadvantage of such a machines is it’s dependability on the wind. In the rolling European style countryside of most fantasy worlds, it would probably never move, but in a desert environment where water is scarce -making steam engines out of the question -the relative flatness could be seen as perfect for a Land Yacht.
In our world as trade grew, accounts and rumours of an exploding black power from the Far East increased. The Chinese invented gunpowder well before the West did. Rockets were the primary use of gunpowder by the Chinese, for festivals and similar. It was only the violent West that realised the lethal potential of gunpowder. The ubiquitous bombard was superseded by the cannon, then came the handgun, arquebus and the musket. Much later came the breech loading rifle. Metallurgy is a necessary skill before cannons can be utilised and even then they are still likely to blow…
Medieval alchemists found it very easy to produce black powder, controlling it was another matter. The cause of death given to the many alchemists found dead was that they had been ripped apart by daemons from the netherworld. When you consider the carnage and the smell of cordite could you expect anything less of those medieval coroners. We can assume that Dwarven Alchemists, adept at metallurgy and other related chemistry would one day find out (and control) the gunpowder formula. It could be debatable if they would use it in weapons or in fireworks, but most fantasy settings give Dwarfs a very human like attitude, well to be more precise a Western European attitude. Anything more advanced than muskets requires some form of tooling, which normally requires some form of industrial base. Something else to be considered is the logistical availability of supplies, arrows can be easily retrieved and reused, cannon and musket balls must be supplied, a logistical nightmare whilst on a campaign.
The ability to fly with the birds has always been a dream of mankind. various attempts at flight by imitating birds have normally failed because man does not have the power-to-weight ratio a bird does, nor the muscles (or technique) to flap wings.
Leonard de Vinci did put forward some ideas on helicopters and parachutes, but these never got off the ground.
Do Dwarfs like flying? Citadel seemed to think so, remember that dwarf mini helicopter? Airships and hot air balloons provide another way to get your dwarfs into the air. Airships are difficult as they require hydrogen (or helium) and to get hydrogen, you need water and electrolysis – which requires electricity. But you couldn’t use magic, could you? Hot air balloons are slightly easier, as Montgolfier will no doubt verify. Aeroplanes and Gliders, the glider is a much simpler device, powered flight is more flexible. As for the Citadel mini-helicopter, if I remember rightly this was powered by a small steam engine, yes very likely, but magic could be used to power it.
One advantage (or disadvantage) in a fantasy world over our own is that magic exists. Technology and magic can be substitutes for each other. Imagine the effect of battery powered torch on a medieval peasant. They will be astounded that you have “bottled the sun” and promptly proclaim that you are a witch.
One use of magic is to aid technology, an airboat, kept aloft by magic with its motive power being provided by a steam driven propeller, as already stated above. You can use magic as an excuse for using technology, it works, because a continual fireball spell means that you don’t need to stoke the engine, whilst a create water spell maintains the steam pressure.
New technology does not necessarily mean that it will be used on the battlefield, the fact that the Chinese used black powder for use in firework displays rather than as weapons of war does signify that it is possible in your fantasy world, that the steam engine may exist, but may only be used in pumping out flooded mines rather than steam powered armoured land tanks.
Army commanders may be rather staid, and not open to change -the French Army of 1940, was still stuck with the strategies of the Great War, and was not prepared for the new fast lightning attacks of the Blitzkrieg. Stephen Baxter in his novel Anti-Ice shows that the British commanders in the Crimea were unwilling to utilise the new devastating anti-ice weaponry, relying on artillery and cavalry charges before desperation forced them to try the new weapon. Conversely, there may be commanders open to new initiatives and weaponry that could turn the tide on the field of battle.
It is not necessary to restrict new technology to Dwarfs, other races may be just as inventive.
Unreliability of new inventions may curtail their effective battlefield use, steam power relies on pressure which if suddenly released can have quite violent results. Cannons can explode as will any gunpowder weapon. It only takes one malfunctioning weapon for a General to dismiss the new fangled weaponry as rubbish, and go back to using the good old dependable cavalry charge.
Miniatures and Models
Citadel Miniatures provide a wide range of miniatures which are suitable for Techno- Dwarf armies, available in their “25mm” scale and these are quite popular. They have also started to produce some Dwarven ships for their new Man O’ War game, which are very Techno-Dwarf. One possible conversion using the new Emhar 1/35 kit of the WWI Mark IV Tank (Female), add a steam engine (from a Dapol OO model railway kit, arm it with some Wargames Foundry cannons and handguns and you have a landship all ready for a battle. You could also use the Warhammer 40,000 Land Raider, as that is very Techno-Dwarf… The Grot Cutter from Gorkamorka is ripe for conversion as well.
The Flintloque range of miniatures from CCI-Alternative Armies is also a good choice for Techno-Dwarf models including some very nice Dwarves in helmets with guns.
Old Glory do a range of “smaller” 25mm Dwarves including a wonderful steam-driven WarWagon.
Dropping down a scale to the now very popular 15mm, both Peter Pig and Alternative Armies produce 15mm Dwarfs. Combine these with Dapol OO gauge railway accessories, a few of the Minifigs WWI vehicles, perfect. Various boats are available in 1/120 and 1/100, which can be converted into airboats. I have seen a kit of two ACW monitors which are very Techno-Dwarf.
Dropping further into 10mm and 6mm, we have a wider choice. Irregular already provide an Orc Tank, which could have a smoke stack attached and turned into a dwarven landship.
Hordes of the Things (HOTT)
HOTT already caters for the Techno-Dwarf with element definitions which cover most aspects of this medieval technology. Airboats covers various machines, whilst Flyers could encompass Leonardo’s flying machines. Use Behemoths for those armoured landships and other machines of war. Artillery can cater for bombards and cannons, and for the handgunners use Shooters.
The following army list is only an idea of what a HOTT Techno-Dwarf army should be, please change at will and according to taste.
HOTT Techno Dwarf Army
Behemoth General (armoured landship) @ 4 AP
Artillery (dwarven cannon) @ 3 AP
Shooters (dwarfs with arquebus) @ 2 AP
Blades (dwarfs with axe or warhammer) @ 2 AP
Flyers (dwarf mini helicopters) @ 2 AP
Alternatives: Airboat (dwarven airship) @ 3 AP, or Sneakers (party of dwarf adventurers) @ 3 AP
The introduction of Dwarven technology into your world is something to consider, though you have to be careful not to go overboard. Games Workshop released Man O’ War, in which the Dwarfs jaunt around in armoured ironclad paddle steamers. This I find slightly difficult to grasp, as the technology needed to produce ships of this size and complexity means that the Dwarfs in the Warhammer world must be undergoing a massive Industrial Revolution. It is one thing to smelt iron in a small forge to make arrowheads, swords and shields. It is something vastly different to smelt iron on the scale required to clad ships of war, you will need a huge forge. And if this is not next to the ship building yards, you need some form of transportation in order to move this heavy amount of iron. Sorry, oxen and carts won’t do, you need the railways… Of course steel is lighter and less brittle, but to produce this you need steel works which again requires a similar Industrial Revolution, as stated previously.
Care is essential if you are to retain a medieval flavour to your fantasy games, however, you can of course, as stated previously, base your games in a techno-fantasy world, where steam engines work alongside magic.