Dwarven society rarely forgives those who break tradition, whether intentionally or not. A dwarf who deviates even slightly from the norm finds himself shunned by the rest, and more often than not forced into exile. So it was with Durand Stonetalker. From a very early age, the other members of Durand's clan noticed that he was different. He rarely if ever participated in games and lessons along with his peers, and he showed only passing interest in the typical dwarven pastimes of smithing, drinking, and working with stone. The latter disinclination made him truly stand out: Durand was disgusted at the thought of cutting living stone out of the earth. He claimed that he could hear the voice of stone and could hear its pain when it was cut -- an assertion that caused suspicious murmuring among his elders.
As he grew older, Durand spent less and less time in the warrens of the clanstead, choosing to wander the unexplored, untouched "wilderness" of the cave system that riddled the mountain. He soon came to understand its subtle seasons, the variety of wildlife, and not only how to survive, but thrive in its simplicity.
One day, Durand stumbled across a set of tunnels that he had never encountered before. They eventually led to an opening on the side of the mountain, and Durand was stunned to see the surface world for the first time. He hurried back to his clan and excitedly shared what he had seen. It had been untold centuries since any of Durand's clan had been to the surface, and few believed that it even existed. The mad ravings of the young dwarf proved more than the elders could stand -- Durand Stonetalker was finally banished from the clan.
Durand's exile disturbed him little; he took the opportunity to explore the new land he'd discovered. As his dwarven eyes adjusted to the brilliant sunlight, he discovered that his gift for talking to the stone and animals of the caves worked just as well with the trees, cliffs, and streams of the surface.
Durand lived in peace for many years, learning the ways of the forest. But this innocence ended abruptly when a family of bears told him about a disturbing sight on the opposite side of the mountain. Durand traveled over and discovered a huge mining camp run by hobgoblins. He single-handedly began a guerilla war against the overwhelming numbers of the hobgoblin camp. For two years, he and the mountain animals harried the goblins wherever and however they could. Durand almost succeeded in wiping out the camp, until a large contingent of hobgoblins arrived as reinforcements, making any further assault suicide.
Durand immediately went from being the hunter to the hunted. Larger and larger patrols of hobgoblins, goblins, and soon orcs from surrounding tribes were sent into the rocky terrain with the goal of eradicating this single dwarf. He remained one step ahead of them, using his environment and honed sense of survival to stay alive.
He discovered through some captives that the hobgoblin miners were reaching a portion of the caves that would soon lead to his old home. Torn between his feelings of independence and the old loyalty that slumbered in his dwarven heart, Durand made his way back to the clanstead to speak to the elders about the hobgoblin threat. The meeting was a tense one, because by dwarven tradition, his former clan mates could not even acknowledge that he was still alive, much less present. Eventually, Durand managed to convince the elders about the danger approaching. The dwarves hastily assembled a defensive force. Durand showed them secret tunnels and passageways that only he knew, enabling the contingent to surprise the hobgoblins before they had any idea what was happening.
A horrible and lengthy war ensued, with increasing numbers of goblins, hobgoblins, and orcs being drawn to the conflict by the lure of an untouched dwarven stronghold. Durand fought alongside his former clanmates, who treated him with respect mixed with superstition and more than a little suspicion.
The war raged for years, until finally the dwarves emerged victorious but seriously weakened. Durand was asked to rejoin the clan, but he refused, feeling the tug of the surface world in his heart.
About the Author
Eric Cagle is a designer and editor for Wizards of the Coast's Roleplaying Games R&D department. Recent credits include codesign of the Star Wars Roleplaying Gameand editing Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil.