I haven’t committed to my next character yet, but one (of many) in the running is a Dwarf Cleric with the Forge domain. I’ve loved dwarfs and clerics for as long as I have been aware of D&D (mostly through reading the Dragonlance books), but I’ve never really put the two together. The Forge domain is thematically perfect for a Dwarf and a great excuse to build a dwarf tank steeped in his race’s culture and lore.
When working on this background, I wanted to get away from some of the more typical tropes, especially since Forge domain Dwarf Cleric isn’t exactly a unique idea. I’ve always loved the idea of ekphrasis which, borrowed from the Greek, typically means an overly dramatic description of a piece of art. I associate the term most with the Shield of Achilles from Homer’s Iliad where the god-made shield (Hephaestus) is described in elaborate, poetic language. Here, I wanted my character’s adventuring goal to be the gathering of materials (most dangerous) and crafting of a set of armor worthy of being described ekphrasticly.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Thurn looked at his brother, stray tears coursing down his hardening face into his bushy beard, though no one present would ever acknowledge him crying. “We’ve lost, little brother.”
Urgus bellowed, “We are not lost though! We still have my hammer and my skill! I will forge us more weapons and armor to sell. I have a new technique that’ll make ‘em even …”
“No Urgus. You do not understand. I traded the last we had – weapons, ingots, everything – for this final push. There’s nothing left to smelt. Nothing left to make anything!”
Silence fell over the room. The only noise was the heavy breathing and quiet sniveling of the last sons and daughters of Clan Overforge. Once proud and mighty, the last few centuries had not been kind. Their rival, Clan Underforge, were inferior blacksmiths but superior businessmen. Once abandoned by Mantle Overforge, one of the greatest Hill Dwarf blacksmiths to ever live, his Underforge cousins vowed revenge on him by any means necessary.
They found that means by undercutting, selling at a loss, and going after Clan Overforge’s suppliers while simultaneously paying off other dwarves to place large orders only to cancel them last minute. Their direct assault on Clan Overforge’s bottom line took a few centuries, but revenge against the Overforges was their only tradition in Clan Underforge.
The failing business began to erode away at Clan Overforge’s once sterling reputation. When it fell to older Thurn Overforge and his younger brother Urgus, he miscalculated the clan’s standing among the other dwarven clans. Now, on the eve of his failed bid to become Thane, Clan Overforge was broke and a distant fourth in the running.
Urgus gritted his teeth. He always felt like he could repair any situation with cheer, even if it was false. “Moradin be praised, we at least have the victory ale.”
At the sound of their god’s name and the promise of ale, the pall of defeat seemed to lift. Despite losing everything and despite being unsure what would be left of the clan tomorrow, they made great toasts to Moradin and drink until the darkest hours of the night.
Urgus was drunk. He stumbled his way down to the forges and started lighting the fires. He always felt he did his best smithing with a belly full of ale. He also knew no better way to relieve his stress than to take it out on some new weapon or armor he wanted to make.
He also felt a knot of guilt that he had carried for months. He loved and believed in his older brother Thane, but he hated how much money they had wasted. He had trained long and hard to become the greatest smith alive, but no matter how good Clan Overforge’s wears were they rarely made money.
Urgus soon lost himself to his craft. Despite the alcohol, he turned out weapon after weapon of amazing quality with the remaining ingots the clan had left. The heat in the room grew. He pushed himself further than any smith should ever push himself. He hammered his heart into every hammer. His heart beat with every swing and the pain, sweat, and heat soon made him forget everything else.
He grew faint and fell to the floor. The exhaustion overwhelmed him as he slipped out of consciousness. Darkness comforted and cooled him as he slept for the first time in days.
All his life, Urgus had dreamed of being as good as the great Mantle Overforge. His older brother Thurn showed little aptitude for the forge, but Urgus took to it immediately. Even as a young lad, his dreams of being a great blacksmith often visited him in his sleep. One dream in particular, one that he could never quite remember, came to him again as he slept on the floor of his forge.
Only this time, it was not a dream but a vision.
The god Moradin was there looking upon Urgus’s work, streaming hot tears hissing as they rolled down his stonelike face before simmering and disappearing in his beard. Urgus too was crying, and through his tears, he saw a suit of armor that he recognized to be his own, only it was more ornate and elaborate than anything he had ever dreamed of before. Urgus watched as the god Moradin removed his own armor and began to don the armor he had crafted. Before he could witness the god wearing it, Urgus woke up.
Cursing the timing, his eyes opened in the dawnlit forge. He struggled to find something to write with and write on. When he did, he poured out everything he could remember from the dream, the beauty still fresh on his mind. He hastily sketched the design and wrote its description:
The sabatons are like magma found in the deepest mountains. They burn and smoulder. Out of their fire, young dwarfs crawl upward through dark tunnels carved into the greaves. The tunnels sparkle with hidden gemstones. Some tunnels give way to large openings where armored dwarfs vanquish ruby-eyed drow, their blood spilling out in even more rubies.
The greaves give way to heavy plated faulds, each plate depicting a different dwarven hero in stunning detail. The cuirass depicts a massive dwarven empire at the height of its glory with immaculately built stone structures. All races enter the market, each in awe of the craftsmanship they find. Though rich beyond measure, each dwarf has worn hands and slumping shoulders. Their bodies used in holy industry to honor Moradin himself. Temples and forges abound and alehouses overflow with drink.
Above the cuirass on the armor’s shoulders, each pauldron honors the weight all dwarfs must carry. On the right pauldron, all the sigils of the greatest clans gather to be celebrated though I did not recognize them all. Chief among them, Clan Overforge’s dented and worn anvil, sits proudly at the center. On the left, a carving of the god Moradin’s head lost in deep contemplation, awe-inspiring in its likeness to the god himself.
Moving back down, the vambraces depict dwarven wealth and industry: great piles of ornate weapons and armor, gold, and jewels. The fists of each gauntlet are reinforced above the knuckles to strike like a hammer.
Atop it all, a heavy helmet crowned in raw gemstones each larger than the last. On it, two drinking horns that magically fill with ale once detached completes the set.
Despite being elaborate, the armor is as strong and tough as the whole of the dwarven race. It offers maximum protection and has no weaknesses.
Later that same morning, Urgus went to Thurn. For the first time, he noticed how tired and drained his brother has become. In truth, the late night of drinking likely did not help though Urgus was sure it had delayed some of the pain.
“Brother, we are blessed!” Urgus told the story of his vision. He described Moradin in exquisite detail. He went on for ages about the Overforged Aegis as he had come to call his destined creation. Fire and passion burned in Urgus’s eyes hotter than any forge he had ever worked.
They did not burn in Thurn’s.
Thurn listened but he was not present. Everything he had worked toward was behind him. Worse, he was a failure. His little brother had charm and talent, but Thurn felt like he stood alone in the Clan Overforge’s failings.
It only dawned on him that Urgus was leaving, perhaps for good, when Urgus broke his hug.
“You are going, aren’t you?”
“Aye, I must. Moradin calls me. This’ll be how we rebuild our clan, brother! Pack your things while I get mine.”
“What? But Moradin ca …”
“I don’t care what you or Moradin say!” Thurn’s placid demeanor rose back to life in an instant. “I need your talents here, little brother. I need your hammer to rebuild this clan, not some dream to chase.”
Urgus felt his temperature rise and his temper flare. He muttered an unintelligible prayer to steady himself. “Brother, I love you with all my heart. I have given everything I can to his clan and to you. Give me this in return. Let me follow our god’s will and make something truly remarkable. No more mass produced horseshoes and tools. Something worthy of our name! Something that’ll fix our reputation.”
Thurn darkened and he withdrew further. “And I too have given all I have to give. Do what you must Urgus.”
Nothing else was spoken. Nothing of the mutual animosity the two brothers had let fester. Nothing of their equal weighted guilt. No more of their love for one another or for Clan Overforge.
Urgus packed and began his adventure that same day.