Hig Kalduhr is a system-neutral dwarven fortress, complete with easy access to a vast underground realm. Fancy introducing a dwarven city inspired by Bay 12 Games’ beloved Dwarf Fortress into your world? We hope this article and its resources will give you a solid start.
Welcome to Hig Kalduhr, a dwarven mountain-fortress several generations old. Here you’ll find eccentric inventors, scholarly acolytes, fierce warriors and more. Hig Kalduhr is a relatively peaceful place, aside from the occasional strange beast crawling up from the caverns below.
Five dwarven clans occupy Hig Kalduhr: The mighty Bloodminers, guards and lumberjacks. The ingenious Blazeforge clan, artificers and engineers. The hardy Mudguts, miners and stone carvers. The studious Stonebrothers, pious and well-read. And finally, the Deepbringers, guardians and scouts of the unknowable depths.
The Main Entrance
The first thing any traveler sees of Hig Kalduhr is its guarded entrance. Two heavy, stone doors sit in the entryway, ready to be closed if necessary. Beyond those two doors there’s a short hallway. One wall is completely plain, but the other has a series of vertical slits in it, ready for defenders to stab spears through it if the main door is breached. At the end of this hallway is another set of stone double doors.
Flanking the main doors is a pair of statues, each depicting a dwarf holding a mining pick. These are not particular dwarves from history, but general depictions of virtuous, dutiful dwarves guarding their home.
The Common Area
Just behind the entrance is a large cavern, its roof held up by stone pillars. The area has the general atmosphere of a market, though there are more tables than the average market. Many dwarves can be found milling about here, trading, eating food, conversing, and just generally living their lives.
Near the center of the common area is a complex array of gears with water flowing through it. This is a water clock, used for measuring time in the sunless interior of the fortress.
Small shops are strewn throughout the common area, owned by dwarves who don’t belong to a particular clan.
Rafroth the Red, a dwarf with blazing red hair, sells leatherwork engraved with the iconic angular style of dwarven art.
Strotel, a broad-shouldered dwarf, sells arms and armor near the water clock.
Grotlyn, a dwarf with small tusks to either side of her mouth, sells strange arrows by the score.
- Standard Arrows: 1 GP for 20. These are made of a variety of materials. Most are various kinds of wood, but some appear to be made of bone.
- Armor-Piercers: 2 GP for 20. These arrows have thin, long heads, carefully hardened by a smith. These provide a slight bonus to hitting armored targets.
- Injection Arrows: 5 GP for 20. These arrows feature a chamber for liquid, and a sharp, thin tip with a small piece of leather covering a hole in the side. These are used to deliver poisons and the like at long range. Maybe a healing potion would work, too, although if it heals less than the arrow harms, that may not be a good plan.
- Less Lethal Arrows: 10 GP for 20. According to Grotlyn, the canister at the end of these arrows is filled with a small explosive charge and a net, and will ensnare anything it hits. In practice, there’s a roughly one in twenty chance of this actually working as intended. Most of the time it either doesn’t go off, shreds the net, or lights the net on fire.
Travelling salesfolks can often be found here as well, using tables as impromptu booths. A goblin rancher called Wags is the most common of these, but somebody like Brouk from our Town of Fog’s Edge article would fit in as well.
To the left of the common area is the Bloodminer barracks, and to the right is a small section of rentable rooms. They’re small and cramped, since they were the first bedrooms carved into the fortress.
The Grand Staircase
The Grand Staircase is a spiral staircase that forms the spine of Hig Kalduhr. It is carved right out of the mountain, and etchings of scenes from the fortress’ history line it. Due to the construction of the staircase starting at what is now its midpoint, the carvings are not in any sensible order. Some highlights:
- Facing the entrance is a carving of seven dwarves, one of which is holding a pick up above his head. The others are cheering.
- A helmeted dwarf with a twin-braided beard screams as a monster with tentacles and a beak grasps him.
- A five-foot tall, intricate carving of a wooden mug.
- A carving whose exact details are a little hard to make out, but it appears to be a carving of a dwarf carving a statue of a piece of swiss cheese.
- One carving-area is actually a deep alcove with a statue in it. The statue is of a dwarf with a helmet, with a pick slung over his shoulder. This display represents the first breach of the caverns. Any party member who attempts to look at the front of the statue (by shoving themselves between the wall of the alcove and the statue, assumedly) will notice that it has a twin-braided beard.
- A carving of Eztar, embodiment of this mountain, looking down at a dwarf writing in a book. This represents the founding of the Stonebrothers.
- A dwarf standing on top of a mass of squiggly lines that are probably supposed to be tentacles. This relates to the first Deepbringer expedition.
A few years ago, the Mudguts breached a system of caverns beneath the mountain. Strange things lurk there, some of which seem to be highly valuable.
The first chamber of the caves is a split-level area, with the entrance to the fortress on the upper area. This chamber is uncomfortably damp, and a large variety of fungi occupy the lower area. This is Dedmer Mudgut’s Fungi Farm.
There are two exits to this chamber. To the east is a twisting corridor filled with mortarshrooms, which eventually narrows to the point of being impassable. Rushing water can be heard beyond the narrow area of the corridor.
To the west, there’s a large chamber that reeks of rot and death. The corpses of strange, misshapen creatures lay strewn about here. Nothing beyond this chamber is mapped properly, and nobody is quite sure where these things come from.
Many strange fungi can be found in the caves. Here’s a few examples for your players to encounter.
Mortarshroom, a white mushroom with a bowl-shaped cap that often collects condensation. If not fully cooked, by boiling or frying, both the mushroom and the water in it can cause severe vomiting.
Bear’s Heart, a red mushroom with a crumpled cap. Can be eaten raw, but if boiled in a tea this mushroom will cause the drinker’s sense of smell to be heightened.
Dag’s Helix, a single mushroom that looks like two coiled around each other. When either of its caps are touched, it will explode, showering the area with spores. If inhaled, these spores cause auditory hallucinations for roughly eight hours.
Meltcap, a pale mushroom with a sharply pointed cap. This mushroom is incredibly acidic and will cause internal damage if eaten, but if dried, crushed and mixed with water it forms a powerful acid with many alchemical uses.
Thag’s Blaze, a red-spotted, black mushroom that burns like a torch if lit. Very handy in an emergency.
Thag’s Blunder, an orange-spotted, black mushroom that, when exposed to high heat (like, say, a torch) will explode, spewing needle-like spines in all directions. They’re not poisonous but they do hurt. Just remember the mnemonic: Red spots, red flames. Orange spots, absolutely do not light it on fire.
Cronchshroom. This yellow mushroom has a very firm outer layer, but the inside is soft and tasty. And not poisonous to most people.
Other Points of Interest
The Rock Cannon, an intricate set of holes and grooves carved into smooth rock a few hundred meters from the main entrance to the fortress. On special occasions, these are filled with gunpowder and lit, providing a sort of fireworks show.
The Shaft: Near the top of the mountain, there’s a large hole meant to allow air to leave the fortress. While it is technically wide enough that a person of nearly any species could crawl down it, about 10 meters down it splits, with one branch continuing straight down and the other continuing at a 45 degree angle for a couple dozen meters before heading downwards again. This first branch prevents rainwater from falling into the air exhaust, instead redirecting it to the mushroom farm’s reservoir. There are several other branches similar in structure to this, but the other “wrong way” forks are intentional traps, narrowing slowly until the intruder accidentally wedges themselves in.
Wags’ Ranch: About a kilometer away from the fortress’ entrance is a cleared piece of land owned by a cheerful goblin. Wags lives in a single-room dugout with a wooden roof. A couple dozen feet away from the dugout sits two square coops, one of which is filled with chickens and the other with creatures that look like miniature gelatinous cubes.
The Arena: A few levels below the common area, below the deepest burrow, there is a complex series of chambers and doors. Combatants— be they prisoners, volunteers, or what have you— are carried into the chambers blindfolded (and caged, if need be). Every round, doors between adjoining chambers open, starting a new round of one-on-one combat.
The top of each chamber is covered in strong glass, allowing attendees to watch the matches in relative safety. The standard layout of the arena is 4×2, allowing for a maximum of eight combatants, but this may be different for your game. Matches are not typically to the death, but whatever happens, happens.
A quick note on clans: For this particular dwarven society, a “clan” is more like a guild. You can be born into it, sure, but it’s possible to transfer to a different clan later in life, generally. This only applies within the same fortress, however. A dwarf outside their birth-mountain will keep their clan name for at least as long as they’re away, barring exceptional circumstances.
Clan Blazeforge was responsible for founding Hig Kalduhr, long ago. Since then, they’ve used its rich supply of metals to master metallurgy and engineering. They tend to be ambitious but a little out of touch with the realities of the fortress’ situation.
Each dwarf in Blazeforge has a heavily-patched, time-worn leather apron they use when working, for protection.
Goals: Finish the Dwarfstruct, convince Dorasdoroika not to keep working on the Dwarfstruct.
Dorasdororika, megalomaniacal leader. Dorasdororika has been trying to build an “Dwarfstruct” for the last several years, and her devotion to the cause has driven away many members of Blazeforge over the years. But she’s on the cusp of it now, she thinks.
Tundebo, beleagured inventor. Tundebo would much rather be working on her self-playing, coal-powered “autoband,” a group of animal-inspired constructs that play instruments. She can sometimes be heard plying the harp in the fortress’ common area.
Dracmir, metallurgist. Dracmir, commonly called “Thin Drac” despite there being no other Drac in the fortress, is a dwarf who has devoted his life to understanding metal. His understanding of alloys and optimal crystalization temperatures is unmatched in the fortress, but he fears it is being squandered on the Dwarfstruct project.
The Dwarfstruct: A five meter tall dwarf-shaped machine with a cockpit in the chest. The beard functions as a hatch, pivoting upwards at the chin to allow access to the cockpit. On the back of the dwarfstruct is a platform and a bucket of coal, meant to be shovelled into the hip-mounted engine by a firedwarf whose life expectancy has been lowered significantly.
Clan Mudgut are the dwarf’s dwarves. Miners, stonecutters, carvers all. They are responsible for most of the tunneling in Hig Kalduhr, and the elaborate story carvings on the Grand Staircase’s wall.
The Mudgut burrow is a few levels down from the entrance. Its common area is a cool cavern of smoothed stone. Mudgut also controls a mushroom farm near the subterranean entrance to the fortress, using a complicated, Blazeforge-designed series of mechanisms to periodically flood the “farm” with water to keep it moist.
Mudguts often wear brightly-painted helmets, even when not working.
Goals: Make Hig Kalduhr the most glamorous dwarven mountain-fortress in the world, recruit more labourers.
Thasdraelynn, old hand. “Grey Thas” knows damn near everything in the fortress, even the things the Deepbringers and Bloodminers made him swear to forget. Thas has a rough, gravelly voice thanks to years of inhaling dust.
Thasgit, eager youngster. “Young Thas” is a new addition to Mudgut, having transferred from Blazeforge about a year ago. He’s not the best carver yet but he can haul more than enough to earn his place at the table. Most likely to get lost.
Dedmer, farmer. Dedmer is a stout, black-haired dwarf who perpetually smells like mildew. He cultivates various giant fungi as a food source for the fortress.
Clan Deepbringer is the newest, and thus smallest, clan in the fortress. When the caverns beneath Hig Kalduhr were breached, the dwarves quickly realized that it was best to found a new clan to specialize in protecting and exploring them.
The Deepbringer burrow is an austere place, its common area consists of little more than a few fungi-wood tables and some food storage.
The Deepbringers have no signature item of clothing, but some of them wear cloths over their mouths and noses when in the caverns.
Goals: Protect the fortress from The Things Below, explore the caverns below.
Khulmada, wayfinder. Khulmada is a blind dwarf with a twin-braided beard. He makes his way around the deep caves by clicking his tongue and timing the echoes.
Hen, some kind of mushroom-dog-thing. It seems friendly enough, and lays eggs that are edible once cooked. It will lick the shins of any party member that gets close to it. Its saliva causes numbness. One of the Deepbringers found it on an expedition.
Skaznaginn, ranger. Skaznaginn is pale dwarf with light blue eyes and a white beard. He carries a sword that’s wider at the tip than the base, perfect for cutting through fungi and vines.
Clan Bloodminer is composed of the roughest, toughest dwarves in Hig Kalduhr. They’re responsible for most surface tasks— Guarding the entrance, hunting, woodcutting, all that fun stuff.
The Bloodminer common area looks like a mix between a tavern and an armory. Wooden tables are strewn about the place, and one wall holds a massive map of the surrounding area. Racks of spears, shields and swords sit near the main doors. One of the back corners is usually kept empty, and is used as a place to spar.
The Bloodminers wear leather cloaks emblazoned with the fortress’ sigil when on duty.
Goals: Defend the fortress from the world beyond, provide food and wood.
Weraf One-Eye, leader. Weraf knows the area like the back of his hand. He lost his eye fighting against some human bandits, who he ultimately slew. This incident is carved into the Grand Stairway, a few levels down.
Thag, axedwarf. Thag is a pale dwarven teenager with gigantic biceps and an affinity for axes. He can often be found chopping wood in the forests nearby, and dragging trees back himself.
Ormar, shieldmaster. Ormar is a dark-skinned dwarf who carries only a shield into battle. He’s a simple dwarf who prefers to punch things.
The Stonebrothers are a clan of highly religious dwarves who believe their duty is to appease and honor the mountain-spirit. They spend most of their days reading writings from previous members and trying to create new rituals to honor the mountain and the ground beneath it.
The Stonebrother burrow is located roughly in the center of the mountain. Its central area features a large statue of Eztar, the physical embodiment of this mountain’s spirit. He’s a stout man with a severe face and a very elaborately carved beard and eyebrows.
The Stonebrothers do not have a particular signature item of clothing, but they often carry leather bags of books and writing implements.
Sakhaem, priest. Sakhaem is a highly religious dwarf with a very good memory for rituals and sermons. Most conversations with him swing around to the importance of paying proper respect to the natural world at some point.
Skamer, acolyte. Skamer used to be a Mudgut, but experienced a religious revelation after getting caught in a cave-in incident. He believes he heard the spirit of the mountain reaching out to him.
Gamdean, scholar. Gamdean is a white-bearded, old dwarf. Gamdean has a deep love for books and stories, and spends his free time making copies of books and scrolls. He’s friendly enough, but he doesn’t like talking to strangers if he can help it, mostly because he has a pronounced stutter.
Wags, goblin rancher. Wags is a goblin who has claimed a property roughly a kilometer away from the fortress’ main entrance. He raises chickens and some kind of miniature gelatinous cubes. He often travels to the fortress to sell eggs and milk. The milk comes from the cubes.
Wags’ grasp of Common is shaky, but he is very eloquent in Dwarven. Poetic, even. This is because he learned Dwarven from books of poetry, long ago. If you can improvise iambic pentameter, Wags is a great vehicle for showing that off.
Bek Aleheart, dwarven poet. Bek Aleheart was once a traveller, but she has settled in at Hig Kalduhr long-term. She is, according to herself, a well-respected poet from the ancient mountain-homes, on a poetic sabbatical. In actuality, she is of no note poetically, she’s just very good at lying.
In the middle of winter, when it is coldest and most miserable, the entire fortress grinds to a halt for a day. Each clan gathers in its own common area, around a roaring fire, and recites stories of hardships the clan has survived. This event is meant to rejuvenate the dwarves by reminding them of what others have endured, and the legacy they carry.
Every 20th Sunday is Wine Day, a celebration of merriment and an excellent excuse to drink heavily. While it is, in theory, every 20th Sunday, the dwarves claim to have a very hard time keeping track of exactly which Sunday it is, so most Sundays are Wine Day for at least some dwarves in the fortress.
The caves make an ideal dungeon-esque environment, especially for a low magic campaign where keeping track of torches is very important.
Young Thas was working on a mining project when the floor he was standing on collapsed, breaching a previously unknown section of the caves. Can our heroes find and rescue him?
Ever since the party entered the fortress, one dwarf has kept within earshot of them, writing things down as they talk amongst themselves. Is she a spy of some kind, or just curious? (She’s Bek Aleheart, trying to find good material for poems.)
Hig Kalduhr sits atop unfathomable riches. (False. while Hig Kalduhr does have a decent amount of nearby ore veins, none of it is particularly valuable in its raw form)
The Blazeforge clan plans to use its bizarre devices to conquer the surrounding region (False. Blazeforge’s only real ambitions right now are “build the dwarfstruct” and “convince others not to build the dwarfstruct,” respectively)
Terrible creatures from beyond reality live under the fortress (True. It gets weird down there.)
The best way to infiltrate Hig Kalduhr is through the ventilation shaft up the mountain (False. Without a map of its branches, you will probably just die.)
Map and Asset Downloads
We’ve collected these battle maps together for you in order to facilitate many sessions of subterranean adventure!
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Damp Mine Exterior$1.00
Cavern Alchemy Lab$1.00
Cavern Torture Chamber$1.00
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D&Tea sent me here! This is so well written, I love your website the UI, the graphics, and your writing. Really well done.
Really love these system-independent locations that you create, there’s always a lot of inspiration in them. Keep up the good work and delve only as deep as you can manage.