Return of the Dark Ones
The Fereldans don’t know a great deal about their dwarven neighbors in Orzammar, other than that they’re a stout folk whose troubles are many and whose craftsmanship is exquisite. Neither, in fact, do the dwarves living in Ferelden. Long estranged from their kin, the bulk of Ferelden’s dwarves belong to a dwarf caste known as the “Surfacers” and they are regarded with barely concealed contempt by their kind, though this apparently doesn’t prevent Orzammar dwarves from doing business with them. Long years ago, Fereldan crafters regarded merchants with distaste, as they profited from goods they had no hand in creating. When dwarves first started selling their wares within Ferelden’s cities, the locals thought they were the crafters of the goods in question, and the dwarves saw no need to educate them otherwise. The dwarves eventually offered to move the merchandise of the various crafthouses for them, which was agreed to, so long as they didn’t undercut human goods with their own. This accord grew over the years into the creation of the Trader’s Crafthouse, which now handles the selling of goods throughout Ferelden and beyond, even as far as Orlais and the Free Marches.
In ancient times the dwarves ruled a huge underground empire. They had many cities and settlements, all connected by Deep Roads that ran far beneath the surface. Today only two dwarf cities remain: Orzammar in the Frostback Mountains and far-distant Kal Sharok. Both are waging an endless war against the darkspawn that conquered the old dwarven lands. While the two fortress-cities remain strong, dwarven numbers have been dwindling slowly for the past thousand years. For the most part Orzammer and Kal Sharok look inward. Dwarven society is rigid and caste-based and politics is notably vicious.
One caste stands apart from the others though: the surface dwarves. They play a vital role but curiously other dwarves look down on them. Surface dwarves are largely merchants and middlemen, trading goods and raw materials to humans and elves. They provide ore, gems, finely-forged steel, expertly-crafted goods, and the precious mineral lyrium. Dwarf adventurers and wanderers also belong to the Surface Caste. In Orzammer and Kal Sharok dwarves of this caste rank below all others except the casteless and the criminals. It is ironic that the most famous dwarf adventurers in human lands have little standing and no prestige in their homelands.