The Nirinen Region
Those who dwell in civilised human lands are used to a certain guarantee of safety - bandits may plague the roads, and there may be many lurking dangers in old ruins and remote forests, but a citizen of Vingaard and Lorknir can generally trust that it is safe to travel from one city to another. This is not so for the dwarves; dwarves are used to dwelling in fortified strongolds surrounded by their racial enemies, and the hills of Nirinen are no different. Large tribes of orcs led by powerful shamans roam the hills, fighting bitter conflicts with dwarven soliders wherever they meet. A large region of Nirinen is ancient and well-established as hill giant territory, and goblins nest in huge numbers in the caves that dot the region. With this in mind, many well-known dwarvish traits - skill in construction and weaponsmithing, along with their legendary stubbornness and love of stability - make a lot more sense.
As might be expected, much of Nirinen is a wild borderlands. The exception lies along the three trade routes that lead out of Nirkivish - west, towards Lorknir and Dagrenoth Ur - southeast, towards Vingaard and Warden - and north, towards the gnommish kingdom of Tamora. These trade routes are not widely travelled or hugely busy, even though the demand for dwarvish goods is high throughout Leng. This is for several reasons:
- The poor maintenance of the roads and the hilly terrain make large wagons unusable - pack mules are required, making transport of large quantities of goods difficult.
- The aforementioned dangerousness of the trade routes, which are practically frontier territory in places.
- The supply of arms and other crafts that the dwarves are willing to trade to unknown outsiders is inconstant - from year to year, a community may produce a huge surplus of such goods or none at all. They rarely specially make goods for the sole purpose of trade unless they are short of money.
- Dwarves prefer to trade with a small number of trusted merchants. These are the only ones they'll go out of their way to meet a supply quota for, but earning the trust and respect of dwarves is notoriously difficult.
- While they will never try to cheat you or get more than they feel their goods are worth, dwarves are notoriously stubborn and self-reliant. Haggling is much less effective; furthermore, all items are considered to be low demand (-10% value) except for precious metals and gemstones, which are considered to be in moderate demand. Only in exceptional cases (such as an iron shortage during a campaign against neighbouring goblins) will any item rise to "moderate" or "high" demand (+10% to +25% value).
Whereas in human lands, trade routes are dotted with market towns where merchants can unload some of their wares and resupply, the dwarven trade routes are more akin to a string of outpost in the wilderness. Food, water and mounts cost a premium price - especially if you want "human" mounts, such as mountain goats and mules. Dwarven mounts, like tame giant beetles or huge lizards, are often cheaper, but they are notoriously difficult for non-dwarves to control. Moreover, these settlements tend to be inhabited more by soldiers and rangers than by merchants.
The Kingdom of Nirkivish
For information on the foundation of Nirkivish, see the mountain dwarven kingdom of Rukon Zon.
Like most dwarven civilisations, the hill dwarven kingdom of Nirkivish is built around rich ore deposits. Specifically, it is a valuable source of iron ore, platinum, and copper. It also contains precious (blue spinel) and semi-precious(zircon) gems. Copper is used to produce mirrors as trade goods (rarely), jewellery, and surgical implements. The iron is, of course, used to produce high-quality steel. Some of the platinum is minted into highly valuable coins - however, the dwarves of Nirkivish have another use for it that is unique to themselves. They melt down gold received from trading with the outside world, and mix it with platinum via a secret process to produce white gold, which is more valuable and more durable than ordinary gold. This is sold to magic-users and used to produce high-quality jewellery or durable gold furniture and fittings.
The above items comprise the economy of Nirkivish, but amongst the other things they product there is one item that is little-known and never openly traded. The white gold made from platinum is not only valuable as a trade good; through the application of sacred runes known only to the Sect of Utharinn, which is exclusive to Nirkivish, it can be transformed into a magical material. This material is known as Zirithil, dwarvish for "firegold"; it has an attractive scarlet hue, and is of great power in any alchemy or enchantment related to fire. Furthermore, the metal itself glows with a constant inner heat - which varies depending on the quality of the metal and the runecaster. Some Zirithil is warm to the touch, while the finest can be used to smelt ore into a molten state.
The center of Nirkivish is Enôr Tulon, a great fortress akin to the mountainhomes of Dagrenoth Ur. It is a magnificent, low city of exquisite masonry that sprawls over a large area - comprising a population of 150,000 dwarves. It is encircled by massive walls of stone and is guarded by ballistae, crossbowmen, brown bears and wolves. The buildings of Enôr Tulon never rise above 1 story, but there are extensive subterranean sections of the city. The royal palace, the copper and iron mines, and the inns and meeting places of the city all have extensive underground components. Almost every home also has at least 1 level below the earth - simply put, a dwarf will extend his home downwards while a human is more likely to extend up. It is common for the basements of local taverns to have tunnels that connect to the underground parts of many dwarves' houses, avoiding the need to ever visit the surface.
Outside of the capitol, hill dwarven settlements come in three varieties - resource centers, village, and fortress. All of the large towns are built around mines that produce the valuable resources of the Nirinen - copper, iron, gems and platinum. One city in particular, Idräthziril, is the main source of platinum and the home of the Sect of Utharinn, which produces Zirithil; its position on the frontier of the Plains of Death places it under constant threat. Another is Alnorinen, which is built around several iron mines and contains blast furances inspired by those at Dagrenoth Ur, which are used to produce very high quality steel. Alnorinen steel costs 50% more, but is of high enough calibre to produce the very best masterwork weapons and is suitable for enchanting.
Outside of these large settlements, most of the hills are fairly sparse besides the occasional hill dwarven village. These may or may not be built around smaller and relatively unprofitable mines. Livestock such as goats, pigs and cattle are usually kept for food, with giant lizards sometimes making an appearance. Barley and rye are also grown where the terrain allows for it, and are kept in underground granaries. Where this is not possible, beer is instead brewed with dwarven mushrooms, but the finest alcohols have a mix of mushroom and barley. The final component of Nirinese settlements is comprised of imposing stone fortresses with deep subterranean warrens where dwarven soldiers can sleep and weapons can be stored. These are built along roads, at the frontier, and anywhere that the dwarves' racial enemies can be found. There are more dwarf fortresses in the northwestern part of Nirkivish (which faces the Plains of Death) than anywhere else.