The mountain dwarves found in the world today descend from those who ruled from their mighty citadels. Those ancient dwarves studied and mastered runic magic, taught proper praise for the dwarf-father Moradin, and first learned to forge steel. The few who remain cling to the strongholds still left to them and guard their realms with a ferocious tenacity.
Unlike their Hill Dwarf cousins, Mountain Dwarves are equally at home above ground as they are underneath it. Their increased stature, longer arms and taller frames make them at home on the mountain side as well as under it.
Mountain Dwarves have a curved spine which, while resting, gives them a slight hunch to their back, directly behind the shoulders. However this feature includes very flexible vertebrae which allow them to stand at and average 51/2 feet when they need to. Their hands appear more brutish with each digit being slightly square and callused.
_The heat was stifling and the sulfuric stench oppressive. Wicka covered her mouth and suppressed a bout of coughing as she marched through the great central forge. Lava cascaded from a troth above into a great pool. It was then poured into large cauldrons and ushered into smaller trenchers, where the smiths started working it with their hammers.
The mountain dwarves that lived here had been transformed by their burns. Many stood shirtless, droplets of sweat rolling down their bubbled flesh. The burns were not accidental, these dwarves were professionals at metallurgy and smithing. They worked the hot ore with intricate precision. She could see by the patterns that the burns were purposeful, a form of art. They were brands. And they seemed to be set in thatched patterns across their bodies. The younger dwarves appeared less marred by them. The older the dwarf, the more their appearance was a distorted mess._
For them, from what she could gather, it wasn’t a matter pride or toughness. They saw the burns as a badge of honor, much like a soldier wearing medals. Receiving a brand was part of a sacred ritual. The more brands, the deeper the connection the dwarf had with the forge, and often the better the craftsman they were. They also held a spiritual reverence for the fires, something she didn’t quite understand herself.
The Branded are mountain dwarf artisans of the highest quality. Their entire culture revolves around the forge and crafting items of the highest quality. Each time they create a masterpiece, or something they’re proud of, they go through a ritual to receive a brand, marring themselves purposefully. Those that do not have brands are seen as lazy or purposeless individuals.
They are a reclusive bunch. Despite their masterful skills, they do little trade with outsiders. Their crafted works of art are put on display, or used by their own people, if they’re tools or weapons. To use masterpiece is a sign of respect and is said to heighten the craftsman, worker, or warrior’s own abilities. They believe the transfer of skill and expertise to be done at the spiritual level, as well as through experience.