For almost every wargamer, the choice of an army ties in heavily with its background, lore, history, overall character of the race. So, like most of you, I started thinking about a possible background when I opened my first box of Dwarfs. Playing around with the idea of using a GW hold or coming up with my own I quickly chose to use my own. The advantage of course is that it allows for a lot more freedom. I decided to choose the location of my hold on the armies that my friends were playing. But since most of my friends either played Dark Elves or High Elves that was going to be a bit hard. Luckily, back then, another friend (that since then has already quit) started playing as well and choose Wood Elves.
With Wood Elves having a fixed location as well, for the most part, that made the choice a bit easier. In the end I settled on a Karak Nornesque kind of background with my hold situated in the Grey Mountains.The name itself I choose while looking through a copy of Stone & Steel: I came upon ‘Wyr’ which means snowy/white/ice, a word that is simple and yet easy to use as a symbol. So Karak Wyr will be situated in the Grey Mountains overlooking Athel Loren to the south!
The harder stuff: filing in the holes.
Now, my personal experience being a DM/GM and a player in a lot of RPG campaigns made me kind of question a background that’s not 100% solid. So I quickly set out to fill the holes in my background. Who were the Dwarfs of Karak Wyr? How did they come to live there? Who were their enemies, what was their history?
If you try to tie in your own fluff into an existing background, the one thing you need to be is consistent. So in placing my hold in the Grey Mountains I was going to have to make sure that the clans of Karak Wyr had a reason to live there. My clans had to have come from one of the fallen holds in the south of the World’s Edge Mountains. In choosing Karak Wyr as a name I had chosen to name my hold the White Hold. If you look into the background of the clans that choose to settle in the Grey Mountains, in defiance of the High King of Karaz-a-Karak they wanted a new beginning and a return to the ways of the Ancestor Gods in spreading through the mountains and building new holds. So if a new beginning was going to be central theme then the best choice for the original hold would be Karak Drazh. Going from the Black Hold to the White Hold, from old to new, is powerful symbolism and would be a good foundation for the history of my hold. The trek from the southern World’s Edge Mountains to the Grey Mountains would be the perfect base for a Trail of Tears-style history. It would also allow for a traditionalist movement to exist whose aim would be to reclaim Karak Drazh once and for all. And where there are different movements, friction exists and friction makes for interesting story-lines.
Who lives there?
When I started writing this, there was a topic active on the Bugmans forums which attempted to map all the Brewery Holds and the GW holds, both active and ruined. This topic went on for quite some time and people were encouraged to write a small snippet of background. One of the things that struck me from these personal backgrounds was that the amount of dwarves living inside these holds were often disproportionally large, 10,000 to 100,000 dwarfs living in Brewery holds whereas most GW holds didn’t even hold that many. So a reasonable amount of Dwarfs living inside Karak Wyr became a priority. I chose just under 4000 for my hold as it allows for a lot of different people and variation without it becoming too large for its own good.
Like most of you, I had already chosen names for my various characters and had even started naming my units/regiments. There’s Farain Farinson, sergeant of Farain’s Flamers, my thunderers unit; Snorri, Sergeant of Snorr’s Snipers, a quarreler unit. Dourin, my thane and general, Rorek my BSB, … soon my army was starting to feel a lot more personal. My mini’s were becoming the beer drinking, grumbling, bearded stunties that we all have come to love.
But a Hold is not just a Dwarf army. It’s a living breathing city complete with citizens, merchants, politicians, craftsmen, etc. The completionist in me had started stirring. Quickly coming up with a few clans, one of them turned out to be called the Malnarsons. The Malnarsons hailed from Karak Wyr, were on a grudge quest and had not been seen for a few decades but were heard from occasionally. And with that, I had an excuse for my army: a clan on a grudge quest throughout the world. Background like that is very convenient as it allows you to ignore a lot of the details that comes with designing and building your own hold. Your army is a self-contained entity.
As my throng grew, it became clear that incorporating things like Gyrocopters, lots of cannons and even an anvil would force me to rethink the background of my army. Dragging an anvil of doom all around the old world does not fit with the Warhammer background for Dwarfs. Anvils are priceless possessions and will stay with the hold, only to be taken out if the entire hold marches to war or is besieged.
Other inconsistencies had started to crop up as well and needed to be addressed. As a result I parted from the idea of an army on a grudge-quest. The clan would continue to exist, but my army wouldn’t represent it anymore. Instead my army would be the Hold’s army, the military might of Karak Wyr, the Ice Hold on the warpath. This meant of course that all those little details that actually matter when writing about a city came back. How are all these Dawi fed? What do they do during the day? Where do all the war machines come from etc.
The Engineering Guild
The next thing I created was the Engineering Guild branch of Karak Wyr. Wanting to be innovative with my army (I have nothing against a traditionalist army when properly done but I like my gyrocopters, cannons and organ guns too much to leave them at home all the time). The Engineering Guild might be a conservative entity as a whole but they have some very innovative members and the two places in the Karaz Ankor where the Engineering Guild is at its strongest are Zhufbar and Barak Varr. Being closer to Barak Varr, my hold would petition the Engineering Guild there to set up a branch at Karak Wyr.
Now we were starting to get somewhere. The Engineering Guild is a powerful organization in any Hold, responsible for the construction and maintenance for most of the hold’s war machines, mining machines, etc. This sees them firmly entrenched and in close relationship to a lot of other clans and guilds and would help me determine what and who those other clans and guild would be. The Mining Guild for one would be an important one, seeing as how mining has, is and always will be a focal point of Dwarven culture. But, and this was were it became interesting instead of just generic, the Grey Mountains are relatively poor in minerals and ores; this would turn the Mining Guild into an honourable institution but with relative little power and importance.
Turning to the one resource that the Grey Mountains do have in abundance, stone itself, would see the Guild of Stonecutters and Masons become an important player in Hold politics, able to seal trade contracts with the surrounding villages and cities from the Empire and on the other side of the mountain range, in Bretonnia. Reading through the WFRP2nd edition source book, the WFRP Companion, a quick inspection of the Old Worlds rivers and waterways told me that this was a good way to go. Transport by caravan and later on by boat of Dwarven quarried stone for the building of fortifications would make for some nice profits and dedicated members of the Merchant Guild of Karak Wyr would of course have to be onsite to negotiate the contracts and the terms.
Last year I went on a holiday to Rome, Italy. I had already been to Italy before, to Tuscany to be precise and had visited Pisa, Firenze, San Giminiao and other cities but Rome was an eye opener on an architectural level. As soon as I got home I got to thinking of Dwarven Culture as a whole and how it might affect their architecture. There are lots of images of Dwarven holds and buildings but what I wanted to investigate was how Dwarven artistry might have evolved over the centuries and millenia. Dwarfs are a very conservative people but some progress is unavoidable as changes in styles, fashion, availability of materials (remember the change from woods to metals and steel with the latest armybook?) and even the outbreak of war and destruction of holds would all influence how Dwarfs would go about depicting these things on murals, hanging carpets, banners, statues, etc.
My personal vision of Dwarven holds has never been one of damp, dark holes in the ground or caves but vast, immense underground halls, with the ceiling lost in the smoke of candles, torches, oil braziers beyond count. A vast underground lighting system designed to illuminate all the halls, rooms, corridors and tunnels that make a hold a proper hold. Intricate details on walls, stories and sagas depicted on walls, doors, gates, temples; proper Dwarven icons everywhere, arches, bridges, larger than life statues,… the sky is the limit! You have a race of the best and greatest artisans in the world and you’re going to make them live in a hole in the ground? Be sensible! Every Dwarven hold is a marvel to behold and a testament to the skill of the Dwarven race and my hold was going to reflect that. Now, seeing as how Karak Wyr was going to be a relative new hold meant that I had a lot of freedom in designing my hold. YES!
I bought a few books on history and evolution of architecture, the architecture of churches, building and bridges. I started work on my Khazalid Language treatise as language is inseparable aspect of a culture (been working on it on and off for a few years now) and how it worked and was used would indicate the mentality of the people that use it (and did some research on that as well). That would further influence the artistry, the murals, the portraits, busts, statues, every decorative element would be influenced by it. Now, Dwarves being a very functional people would make sure that even decorative elements would have a functional side to it.
But back to the layout of my hold. Early on, I had wanted to build some Dwarven boats, monitor and dreadnaught class. Incorporating them in my hold was proving to be difficult however as it was not consistent with general Warhammer background, but one that could be solved:
During an expansion of the hold, a chamber with an underground lake was breached and while the water wrought some initial havoc, having access to an underground lake and water reservoir would be a good thing to have in times of sieges. Exploring the cave system however, the Dwarfs found that the underground river went on and came out in Lake Bögen, a lake formed by the retreat of a glacier and which fed the river Bögen. Having access to this lake would allow trade to pass easier between the hold and the cities downstream. An underground marina and small trade-fleet capable of patrolling and defending the underground system would be constructed. It would stay sufficiently small so as not to interfere to much with the current setting (my original version had the underground river running as far downstream as Marienburg…) where Barak Varr is the only Seahold.
This of course had a major impact on the internal layout of my hold. The various Halls and Deeps would have to take this underground lake into account, the Engineering Guild would channel a lot of the water for use in their workshops, dams and vast aqua-ducts or zhufdrins in Khazalid would be constructed to be used as part of the beautification of the hold, as part of the logistics of getting drinknig water to every part of the hold but also as part of the traps if the hold were to be breached with vast floods of water sweeping away any attacks.
For the front of the hold, I was heavily inspired by the Palace of the Nation in Rome. This COLOSSAL building would be the foundation of the entrance to the hold, a huge stairway defended and overlooked by lots of different levels allowing defenders to fire on attackers making it over the outer walls while still being protected.
The strength of guilds like the Stonecutters and Masons and the Engineering Guild makes for a lot of fun and interesting political squabbles. The Dwarfs as depicted in Dragon Age are what made me do this. Dwarfs the way there are depicted in Warhammer are a bit too much of a caricature, too one-dimensional to have any depth. Now if you add internal bickering and political discussions to it, it becomes a lot more interesting and serves to humanize them, without having them turn into shortlived Umgi of course. I guess the point I want to make is that Dwarfs are a lot more then meets the eye and they have a lot of depth to them. That aspect, which as I said I took from Dragon age, makes Dwarfs a lot more interesting.
Trying to depict this, I finally started to write a comprehensive background spanning the millennia since the foundation of the hold. The Edict of Guarded Expansion would force my Dwarfs to think of everything in terms of survival, adding functionality and defensibility to even the smallest of decorative elements. Stone and soil removed from the hold during expansion or construction would be used for traps or avalanches in case of siege. Mines that had been exhausted would be collapsed so that Goblins and Skaven would not be able to infiltrate them. Everything was geared towards the safety of the Hold.
The invention of heavier then air travel or steam engines, handguns, wars going on in the Empire and Bretonnia, Wood Elf incursions, all would be incorporated in my holds history in order to make it a part of it; the good and the bad things that happen would leave their mark and in doing so, make it more believable and consistent. In the end, I had a believable timeline for my hold, a proper place for it in the world, believable people living there and defending it. Nice.
So what’s next for the Ice Hold?
Well, my construction log of my Thunderbarge should be incorporated soon. I would like to have a believable explanation for my hold to be building it. At the moment I’m also doing research into Beer Brewing as I’m writing the background of my Brewers Guild, more specifically the processes involved in brewing but also the agriculture associated with barley, wheat and hops. Where do they get the raw materials from to brew beer anyway high up in the mountains? It’s something I will be exploring soon.
And recently, I used the coronation of my main general, Dourin Grudgesworn, that I wrote for my 2,000th post at Bugman’s Brewery here to make finally make him King of Karak Wyr. Doing this, having my background evolve with my army as I continue to play this game and this setting, makes me feel part of the story. And that of course is why I do it.
There it is, a small overview of how I came to write my background.
NOTE: As a small note, I’d like to mention Alfred Nunez’s excellent write up of Karak Hirn. In it, he expands on the knowledge of the Hornhold and turns into a proper living and breathing city (just google alfred nunez or mad alfred). I was happily surprised upon reading it that he had gone into a lot of the details that I had gone into, going so far as to talk about ventilation shafts for air and light as well. It served to vindicate a lot of my choices and inspired me to make some others and to go that extra mile. You can find it with a simple google search, it’s well worth it.