Elder Scrolls Lore » Discussions

Details of the Dwemer Part 2

  • Member
    July 2, 2014

    Disclaimer: This is an article of our former member, renown Loremaster Vix, acknowledged by Bethesda themselves. It ended up being deleted and I'm merely reposting it.


    This second installment is more about the technical aspects about a few of the more known qualities of Dwemer craftsmanship. Yet in this lies other aspects of their civilization as much of what a culture can build will speak volumes about them as a society in general. This includes not only the basics like weapons, armor, and automatons which are seen in game but also some of the more basic cornerstones of their nature as artisans. After all, if such a group can elevate craftsmen they surely have a certain notable character inherent in their manufactured goods.


    Settlement Patterns:

    Contrary to popular belief, the Dwemer did not strictly live below ground and out of sight. They had villages and Hamlets on the surface (The Seed) and generally act like many other communities. One of the founding differences is that there are both overland trails as well as underground routs which link these holds together which may have facilitated the later shift during the Chimer era between 1E 122-140ish of moving below ground. In fact, it's because of the Dwemer-Chimer wars that the shift underground was made likely to facilitate a better defense.


    The Dwarven settlements spanned most of Tamriel; there are colonies supposedly found in many major provinces as far as Morrowind to Stross M'Kai (settled by the Dwemer Rourken clan, the same one who created and threw away the hammer Volendrung and settled where it fell) off the coast of Hammerfell and almost every area in between. This indicated a rather substantial Dwemer empire spreading from East to West. Traditionally it has been thought to hail as an single consolidated power bloc originating in Dwemereth in modern Morrowind and in particular Vvardenfell. However, there are claims against this stemming from differences in architecture that paint a different picture.


    Dwemer cities are built differently depending on where you go. The Vvardenfell ruins are atypical with major civic and operation chambers being found near the surface. Why is not entirely clear but they could have been earlier continuations with cities built above them, or they could have been the required facilities to guests and visitors before the Dwemer-Chimer conflict necessitated a move downwards as we see elsewhere naturally. Mainland cities tend to have passageways and storehouses near the surface, it can be interpreted as defensive to limit the number of entrance ways to small defensible passages. Or it could point to simple step based colonization outposts that grew over time. Initial efforts were thus devoted to essential stores while civic structures are completed further downwards (Dwemer Inquiries vol 1).


    Again, it could be geographical considerations of local rock formations. The Northern Dwemer seem to construct cities with natural caverns in mind and part of their basic settlement design called Deep Venues by the author of Dwemer Inquiries vol 2. External buildings were constructed as separate free standing structures within such caves making self enclosed communities perhaps closer to what could have been expected in their past surface habitation. Whatever arcane experimentation may have been done are likely in places called Arcanex, small outbuildings that are generally combined with general studies which further deemphasizes magic in Dwemer culture. Far more attention was given to mechanical factories called Animoculotories.


    One of the principle founding aspects of Dwemer colonies is that they are almost entirely built out of stone but furnished in metal for working objects. These buildings still maintain a great deal of similarity though. They are geometric and 'perfect' mathematically thus squares are predominant and are built to last for ages (Dwarves v.1). This square pattern is quite different from the other elves but make their structures far stronger which further shows a mastery of geometrical figures that was garnered from their exceptional masonry skills that predates their metal-working and in many fashions far eclipses them.


    The subtle differences between games seems to not only point out differing manners of construction but perhaps a larger socio-economic reality for the Dwemer as well. It's quite conceivable and very likely possible that they stem from differing areas of central control over time and have evolved into separate styles. This could be interpreted as a break-down of inter-hold trade or a more loosely knit affiliation of kingdoms. The latter at least is supported given that many Dwemer cities maintain the names of their rulers and keep very separate details in ornamentation of metal works (Dwarves v.2, Dwemer Inquiries vol 1).


    Dwemer Artisans:

    The metal additions to settlements are made by the Dwemer artificers. Dwemer metal is often described as bronze but it is in fact quite a different substance. Scholars and metallurgists have tried to replicate the Dwemer metals time and time again but have always failed, the alloy itself seems irreplicable by common methods and the only known way of melting and forging new Dwemer artifacts is to melt down existing metals (Dwarves v1). Such Dwemer metals and artifacts were known to be illegal to traffic and sell in the Third Era probably because of the loss of information regarding construction. Dwemer metal works are all built in a practical light. Each serves a purpose whether as conduits or doors, or some manner yet the buildings themselves are not constructed from them.


    Almost everything of the Dwarves is run by steam power from their automatons to their basic core operations within cities. These are often fueled by geothermal energy from magma yet it's of course impossible to tell by what principles they operate other than saying there are red hot conduit pipes as well as pipes and regulator vales with many pneumatic components that seem to operate perpetually well beyond the end of the Dwemer civilization. One of the peculiar notes is that it seems this steam is readily damaged or stopped by the application of cold, Ruins of Kemel-Ze relates that a great twenty-foot tall centurion golem was stopped merely by an encasement of ice. It didn't arrest its progress rather it cooled the steam core and halted the attacking golem; it seems that the Dwarves had very few defenses against magic in general (Pocket Guide to the Empire 1st edition). However what is also speculated is that they are locally powered through some means as Dwemer automatons removed from their place of origin will automatically shut down.


    There seems to be some dabbling with the arcane and divine arts, most notably and climatically through the Heart of Lorkhan but also through a great many other inventions. Soul stones are used at least as focusing blocks though it's doubtful they are used for real components for basic operations. There is, nevertheless, Arcanex areas of many holds though it seems to be used as a novelty and are combined with a number of other purposes in mind rather than strict research or the arcane.


    The heavens seems to be one area of Dwarven fascination. The Dwemer constructed a number of orraries for scrying the heavens yet may be used for various purposes from the mundane of working as locks to acting as centers of of scientific research. The Dwarven understanding of cosmology seems to be quite complete: they are well versed, have star maps and astrological devices in many locations. Their orraries contain working examples of the Mundas plane with all nine planets of the Nirncentric plane (Nirn plus the 8 divines as is commonly understood, not including moons as seen in Redguard and Oblivion). The Dwemer-Chimer war and perhaps the Nord invasion was enough to show a destabilization of society and perhaps this period marks the Dwemer cultural high-water mark given that they seemed to give up their surface buildings and focused more on subterranean works. These above ground observatories and many mentions of the heavens shows a fundamental change occurring as a result of actions that were not directly under Dwemer control (Ruins of Kemel-Ze).


    Weapons and Armor:

    Dwemer armor is known to be heavy and bulky and thus quite unsightly but it seems this is strictly because they are nearly completely comprised of scavenged bits thrown together at random. Thus they work against each other rather than with each other, making the armor far less practical than they were designed to be. Then again, it could very well be because Dwarven armor as we know it is actually the exterior casings of automatons rather than full suits of personal body armor which is what fuels speculation regarding the practicalities of Dwemer compared to intangible specters (Ruins of Kemel-Ze).


    We can gather that standardization was not practiced or at least not so far as is understood. While utilitarian ideals remained there is often far too much personalization for parts or artifacts to be used interchangeably. Weapons in particular are built in a utilitarian way far less fancy than traditional Mer designs. The sharp edges and geometric designs are interspersed with decoration but all other considerations for weapons were a far second to the primary purpose of killing. The problem was that while the material was excellent the progress of technology never advanced beyond the most basic elements for which they were designed. This means that contrary to what was often believed, the Dwarven quality comes less from their craftsmanship skills and more from their metallurgical skills (Dwarves v2).



    As a final note there is more constructed by the Dwemer than just metal and stone. The Seed relates that the Dwemer merchants cut down the Hist in order to obtain the rich pliable resin and even purchased the services of outside individuals to act as woodsmen/mercenaries. This incident led to the death of a great many Argonians in order for the Dwemer merchants to collect more resin. It seems that there is some manner of near-stone material used for the building of plaques and inset tablets mentioned in Ruins of Kemel-Ze but beyond that there is little mention of them again.


    Of course while the Dwarven metal may have been a significant foundation due to its physical hardness it's impossible to say whether other materials were used, broken, looted, or simply rotted away in the nearly 3,800 years since the Battle of Red Mountain. What is lefts seems to be predominantly their two principle building components, metal and stone.


    <- Part 1: Culture Part 3: History ->