Dwarven Symbology: House Identification Language in Gokrenxia | World Anvil

Dwarven Symbology: House Identification


Over the years, the Dwarven people have developed an intricate language using symbology to communicate an individual's status within society. This includes such items as their House, rank, role, accomplishments, and territory. These symbols are often stitched, etched, or carved into their clothing, armor, or shields, chiseled into their cavern walls, or even tattooed on their bodies. Even a basic understanding of the kinds of things to look for can improve your awareness, in broad strokes, of the status and importance a given Dwarf may hold in the grand scheme.   In this first of what is expected to be a series of essays, we will discuss one core theme, an ancillary consideration, and provide some examples to aid you in your journey to understand Dwarven culture.  
The first thing to understand about our symbology is some amount of interpretation will always be needed. You can go check every Elven library in the land. You won't find a single compendium holding the keys to unlocking our secrets. It just doesn't work like that. There are broad themes conveyed in many different ways.
— Sargyev of House Vogrem, Historian

Core Theme: Houses

Symbology: The Mount & the Count*

Central to the mindset of the Stormbreak Dwarves is, unsurprisingly, their fanatical devotion to their home in the Stormbreak mountain range. This translates to their symbology as well. When you first encounter a Dwarf wearing their identity, begin by locating the mountain range. It should be one of the larger and more obvious symbols.   Next, carefully review the area immediately surrounding the mountain range. Typically, this is a clear night sky representing the dimly lit world in which these people reside. Somewhere in that sky will be a set of similar symbols. Traditionally it was a cluster of stars, but younger generations seem fond of different items, such as stones. The number of these items reflects the territorial distance from the Northernmost tip of the Stormbreak Mountain range. In other words, the single star of House Zunoch has ancestral lands the furthest North, while the twelve stars of House Zulzny lives at the Southern edge of the range.
Dwarven philosophy around North/South directionality and relative societal importance is far too complex to get into here. The key thing to remember for Houses is: Find the mount. Find the stars. Fewer stars, further North, more "important."
— Sargyev
* On a completely unrelated note, I've always chuckled at the Tide Trader's Tax use of "Mount" (clearly that's us) and "Count." Since numbers have meaning to us, giving "a coin to the Mount" could be taken as we see you just as important as the Empire. But then they turn around and say "the rest is your Count" where more is implicitly better, but actually implies you are of lower importance in our way of thinking about "the Count". Who knows...
— Sargyev

Ancillary Consideration: Intricacy

I would like to leave you with one additional point. It is much more subtle, but the concept can be applied to all Dwarven symbology (vice just House symbology). That is, the concept of intricacy. These designs take time. More intricate designs take more time. They require more skill, which means fewer artists available to do the work. That translates to money. So the more intricate a design is, the more influential the individual is generally considered.
Let's make this simple: If you encounter a group of Dwarves, odds are good the one with the most intricate symbols has the most money, the most influence, and the most pull.
— Sargyev

Sample Assessment

Three stars in the upper left section of the sky denote this as a symbol for the 3rd-ranked House Dyber. The inclusion of the sun rising beneath these stars (on the West side of the range) could be an aspirational statement that this House is growing and expanding its reach. A single star in the upper right, but lower in the sky could be seen as an insult aimed at the 1st (and 2nd)-ranked Houses. This mindset is further emphasized with the inclusion of the "fallen" stars below the mountain. Combining these factors leads one to conclude the bearer of this seal is likely ambitious and forward thinking, possibly suffering from some amount of arrogance and a superiority complex. Note too the use of a gradient of colors, the detailed shading of the mountains, and the deep backdrop of stars in the sky. This symbol belongs to an individual of considerable influence.
Ouch. I'd steer clear of this guy and his crew. They're not here to make friends and are screaming "looking for a reason to prove something."
— Sargyev

Sample Assessment Two

Five stars crossing the full expanse of the night sky mark this as a symbol for the 5th-ranked House Pervak. Compared to the first assessment, this symbol is much simpler, with fewer colors and details (though there is still a good bit of intricacy). It is likely the bearer was neither high, nor low-level within their House. The highly symmetrical design from top to bottom could indicate the bearer's focus and desire for equality amongst the Dwarves. They likely come from a family known to be level-headed and reasonable. The choice of color is interesting here. The teal blue along the edge of the mid-range mountains (which could represent this House's ancestral lands), combines with the almost wave-like appearance of the areas in between the lower mountains to most likely indicate a strong tie to the Elves, specifically contracts with the Tide Traders and other sea-based logistics.
Mid-level member of a mid-ranked House whose family is very egalitarian. If you're willing to sacrifice some time and put up with some tall tales over ale, these folks are saying "we're reasonable people" (and will likely buy).
— Sargyev
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Reader Challenge: After reading this primer, how would you assess the dwarf at the top if this article? Leave a comment!

Further Reading

Cover image: by dream by WOMBO


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Aug 8, 2023 13:20 by Amélie I. S. Debruyne

That's an original and fascinating way to use symbolism! I really love it and the examples you've provided :D   As for the dwarf at the top of your article, seems like he's also from a 5th rank house from the 5 stars and using a rather simple image?

Aug 9, 2023 00:48

Thanks so much! Great assessment. :)

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