"A race of stonecutters, artisans, and craftsmen. They invent machines and build elaborate underground cities where they worship their gods of reason and logic." -Avatar of Io
The dwarven society is ruled by complex and unforgiving castes. The casteless are the lowest station of the dwarves. Outcasts in their own city, unable to take up work among the higher castes, nor to defend their honor in the Provings, these are the dwarves rejected by their own. Dwarves who are exiled or born on the surface are also officially casteless - but since the formation of the empire, they are instead called surface dwarves. The average dwarf will never see the surface, and often will have superstitious beliefs concerning surface-life, such as falling into the sky, or the sun falling to the ground. Those dwarves who are most commonly seen on the surface tend to be merchants and traders, or on occasion smiths, but amongst the dwarves they might have been thieves, murderers, or worse.
Above the casteless are servants, miners, merchants, smiths, warriors, nobles, and deshyrs. Nobles are the height of dwarven society, while the deshyrs are dwarves who participate in the Assembly on behalf of their noble houses. While it is possible for some dwarves to better their family's station by performing great deeds and/or siring children with higher-caste dwarves, these remain rare and difficult circumstances. Lower-caste dwarves who rise in caste are generally considered ascended by the highest castes. In dwarven society, children inherit the cast of their same-sex parent; should a son be born, he would inherit his father's caste, or castelessnes, should that be the case.Monarchy is the dwarven standard of government, but heredity tends to be a weak factor in determining who sits on the throne when the time comes for a new ruler. While a king may propose his heir to the throne, the next ruler is ultimately determined in the Assembly by a vote of the deshyrs. It has been mentioned that most of the wealth of the dwarves comes from their extensive mining and trade with the Halflings of the Nentir Vale and the Men of Nerath.
The dwarves are a free-thinking and reclusive people who prefer the dark, enclosed spaces of the Underdark. The dwarves, in general, are a very advanced and powerful civilization. Dwarven society did not force the use of engineering over magic, but the general view of their society was that magic was unimportant and pointless, so much so, that most surfacers believed they worshipped no gods. Though opinionated, it could be said that the dwarves are a naturally noble and honorable one. Legends tell of their heroic tales of honor and glory.
The judicial functions of government are split between the king and the Shaperate. The king and his warriors deal with crime and maintain order, while the Shaperate deals with civil disputes. The Shaperate is also ultimately responsible for the preservation of all records current and historical. As a result, it is the supreme authority over the authenticity and binding nature of contracts, as well as legal precedent. The Shaper of Memories is considered a role of absolute impartiality in dwarven society, and commands enormous respect as a disinterested third-party in legal matters.
In dwarven society the role of the Shaper is one of great honor, privilege, and also hardship. A Shaper must honor the memories, protect them, and record new history. However, this means that a Shaper must seek out knowledge and history beyond the city and its inhabitants, venturing into the deep to record the history of thaigs and crypts and dwarves whom the Memories might otherwise forget. A Shaper must be prepared to risk all, perhaps even their own lives, so that the dwarven race might claim knowledge and learn from it.
The Provings are public arena battles fought for the sake of honor and glory and to entertain the masses. They take place in an arena. Dwarves believe that a fighter who wins a Proving has the approval of the ancestors and so they use Provings to settle debates and honor challenges that could not be settled otherwise. This usually falls to warrior caste champions. Some Proving matches are fought to the death, as one death is thought preferable to the widespread bloodshed of a conflict between noble houses. On occasion, the Provings have also been used for entertainment and events to honor special guests, and each year the best fighters in Hammerfast meet for the Trials of Blood, a great tournament that crowns the kingdom's best and most popular fighter.
The twelve great dwarven kingdoms joined together to form the dwarven empire in the first era, making them the single most powerful force in the Underdark. Hammerfast is said to be the largest, greatest and proudest of them. The dwarves are ruled by a constitutional monarchy, consisting of a king and one legislative house entirely of nobles. Other castes are not represented in any fashion in the Assembly. The noble houses which are allowed to have a deshyr and represented in the Assembly are those which can trace a general or a deshyr among their ancestors. Subsequently, lesser noble houses may not have a vote in the Assembly, and the number of deshyrs in the Assembly can easily vary. The Assembly holds the power to advise the king, approve or veto acts of the king, propose policy, and elect new kings. Furthermore, the Steward of the Assembly is a non-voting member.
The Legion of the Dead is a military organization that it accepts anyone from any level of society. Many join the Legion to avoid punishment for various crimes or to regain their honor. Others join to have their debts forgiven, thus restoring their families' lost honor. Some even join for the glory, and the Legion accepts them all the same.
Before they permanently leave Hammerfast and enter the Underdark, the Legionnaires undergo a symbolic funeral where last goodbyes are spoken to friends and relatives and all ties to their former lives are cut. It begins with chanting and toasts, then the dwarves bid farewell to their friends and loved ones. This funeral clears the dwarf's name and restores their family's lost honor. They are recorded as dead in the Memories, viewed as having found glorious and redemptive death in battling the dwarves' enemies. The Legionnaire must then work to make this a fact through a courageous and honorable death.
Legionnaires are typically marked with grim tattoos and equipped with heavy armor. When a Legionnaire dies in battle the Legion entombs him or her, thus returning them to the stone. The Legion celebrates the fact that the fallen has finally found peace. Non-dwarves may also join the Legion but these are considered to be an extremely rare cases. The headquarters of the Legion of the Dead is located in Bownammar, also known as the City of the Dead, an impressive fortress in the Underdark.