The concept of the dwarf comes from Norse and Teutonic mythology. In particular, the dwarves in the Germanic story The Ring of the Nibelungen and the Brothers Grimm fairy tale "Rumpelstiltskin" have been called "ancestors" of Dungeons & Dragons dwarves. Along with giants, dwarves were one of the first types of non-humans to be introduced into the Chainmail game, the forebear of D&D, when miniature figures of varying sizes were used together in the same wargame.
The dwarf first appears as a player character class in the original 1974 edition of Dungeons & Dragons, with a design that is strongly influenced by the dwarves of Poul Anderson's 1961 novel Three Hearts and Three Lions. This early version of the D&D dwarf is limited to playing a fighter, and can not progress beyond the sixth level. The dwarf is again a character class in the original Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (1977). With the arrival of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the dwarf was modified into a player character race in the Player's Handbook (1978) and detailed as a monster in the original Monster Manual (1977). A number of dwarven subraces are presented as character races in the original Unearthed Arcana (1985).
In 1989, the hill dwarf, the most common dwarven subrace, appears as a character race in the second edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook and as a monster in the Monstrous Compendium Volume Two. Dwarves are detailed as a race for the Forgotten Realms setting in Dwarves Deep (1990). Several dwarven races are detailed as player character races in The Complete Book of Dwarves (1991). The dwarf appears as a character race in the third edition Player's Handbook (2000), the 3.5 revised Player's Handbook (2003), the fourth edition Player's Handbook (2008), and the fifth edition Player's Handbook (2014). The arctic dwarf, gray dwarf, gold dwarf, shield dwarf, urdunnir, and wild dwarf are all detailed in Races of Faerûn (2003). Dwarves are one of the races detailed in Races of Stone (2004). The dwarf, including the dwarf bolter and the dwarf hammerer, appears as a monster in the fourth edition Monster Manual (2008).
Dwarves average four feet in height, with squat, broad bodies. Male dwarves grow thick facial hair. The female dwarves in The Lord of the Rings novels, which greatly inspired D&D, were able to grow beards as well. Some authors, such as R. A. Salvatore, have followed suit in their writing, though the game rules' official position is that females do not grow beards—the fourth edition of Dungeons and Dragons portrayed female dwarves as "beardless and even attractive". In specific campaign settings, the potential for female dwarven facial hair sees much variation: In the World of Greyhawk some females can grow beards but those generally shave, in the Forgotten Realms they can grow full beards but also usually shave, and in Eberron they do not grow facial hair at all. In older editions of the game, female dwarves did grow beards in various campaign settings.
The book Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson strongly influenced Dungeons & Dragons, having a dwarf named Hugi with a Scottish accent. Most popular portrayals of dwarves feature such an accent. Dwarves tend to be more useful for combat-oriented players, as they gain a number of special abilities and bonuses in combat, mostly related to their hardiness and smaller stature compared to humans. Dwarves are also resistant to poison and magic, can see in the dark (a skill called infravision in earlier editions and darkvision beginning with third edition), and can detect different types of mining-related features underground, such as sloping tunnels. The dwarven ability to detect a sloping passage underground is also taken directly from Anderson's book.
Dwarves are generally good in alignment. Ilan Mitchell-Smith wrote that dwarves, along with other races allowed for use by players such as elves and halflings, are "defined in terms of subjectivity, and ultimately, humanity" as opposed to many other creatures who serve as a type of "monstrous other".
Dwarves usually worship Moradin, whom they believe is their creator. According to their legends, Moradin fashioned the dwarves into a likeness of himself using gems and metal. He then breathed life into them. In many campaign settings, the dwarven pantheon of gods consists of the leader Moradin, as well as Abbathor, Berronar Truesilver, Clanggedin Silverbeard, Dugmaren Brightmantle, Dumathoin, Muamman Duathal, and Vergadain. Other dwarven gods may be present in different campaign settings.
Dwarves get along well with gnomes, who are often regarded as close cousins of the dwarven race. Dwarves are accepting of humans, half-elves and halflings. Dwarves often do not get to know humans well as they live longer than the average human, and prefer to become friendly with the human's family in general. Dwarves do not trust half-orcs, and fail to appreciate elves, with whom they only ally in their many battles against orcs, goblins, evil giants and trolls.
Over the history of D&D publications and rules editions, more than a dozen subraces of dwarf have been described. Hill dwarves are the standard dwarven race. Mountain dwarves live deeper underground and have fairer skin than hill dwarves. Aleithian dwarves are deep-dwelling psionic dwarves who follow the dragon god Sardior. In the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd editions of D&D, Azers physically resembled dwarves, though they were unrelated. In the 4th Edition of the game, they are a product of the enslavement of dwarves by giants and titans. Badlands dwarves have adapted to life in the inhospitable wastes, developing a natural knack for finding water and tolerance to heat and thirst. Deep dwarves dwell underground and have a greater ability to see in the dark, but are sensitive to light. They are more resistant to magic and poison than standard dwarves. Dream dwarves are contemplative dwarves in touch with the world around them, which they call the "earth dream." The duergar are an "evil and avaricious" subrace that live in the Underdark. Frost dwarves are extra-planar dwarves who reside on the Iron Wastes of the Infinite Layers of the Abyss. They were once duergar enslaved by frost giants. Glacier dwarves reside in cold glaciers, mining a special material known as blue ice. These dwarves have great skill at crafting with ice and magical ice, and are tolerant to cold weather. Seacliff dwarves make their home in high seaside cliffs and are excellent swimmers.
On Athas, the planet of the Dark Sun campaign setting, dwarves stand less than 5' tall and weigh nearly 200 lbs. Each dwarf pursues a singular obsession, called a focus, that requires at least a week to complete. Athasian dwarves do not live underground, but some communities focus on unearthing long-lost dwarven strongholds. Physically, the dwarves of Athas are unique among their kind, having no hair at all. Athasian dwarves can breed with humans to produce muls, who are sterile offsprings that share the strength and resiliency of dwarves with the size of humans.
In the Dragonlance setting, the dwarves are divided into three distinct groups, which are sub-divided into clans. Hill dwarves consist of a single clan called the Neidar. They are very similar to the mountain dwarves but are slightly more forthcoming towards other races and cultures. Flint Fireforge, one of the Heroes of the Lance, is a Neidar. Mountain dwarves consist of several clans, two of these being the Hylar and the Daewar clans. Gully dwarves, or Aghar ("the Anguished") are thought to be the offspring of gnomes and dwarves. Gully dwarves are first referred to in the Dragonlance Chronicles, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, as a "miserable lot." Several clans live together, following the rule of their chieftains or one particular powerful leader.
The Forgotten Realms world of Faerûn has several major dwarven subraces. Shield dwarves, also known as mountain dwarves, are the dominant dwarves in the northern parts of Faerûn. These dwarves tend to be fatalistic due to generations of declining numbers. Gold dwarves, also known as hill dwarves, are the dominant dwarves in southern Faerûn. They are generally a more upbeat group than their northern cousins. They primarily reside in and around the Deep Realm, an underground realm surrounding a Grand Canyon-like gorge. Arctic dwarves (also known as the Inugaakalikurit), found in the northernmost reaches of Faerûn, are smaller and stronger than most other dwarves, and immune to cold. Urdunnir, also known as orecutter dwarves, have the magical ability to shape metal and stone, and can walk through the latter. Wild dwarves are short, primitive dwarves found in the deep jungles of Faerûn. Gray dwarves, or duergar, are mainly found in the Underdark, and have an aversion to light. Bruenor Battlehammer, a Shield Dwarf, is the king of Mithril Hall in the Forgotten Realms setting who reclaims his homeland from monsters including a shadow dragon named Shimmergloom that he kills single-handedly.
In the World of Greyhawk setting, the group of humans known as Flan call dwarves dwur. They are found throughout the Flanaess, and are particularly numerous in the Lortmils, Principality of Ulek, Glorioles, Iron Hills, Crystalmists, and Ratik. Lord Obmi is a notable dwarf of the setting, a servant of Iuz and member of the Boneshadow organization.
Dwarves of the Spelljammer setting operate in huge spacefaring asteroids, honeycombed with tunnels.
D&D novels prominently featuring dwarves include the following:Dragonlance
Dragons of the Dwarven Depths (July 2006), by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, (ISBN 0-7869-4099-9)
Dark Thane by Jeff Crook
The Dwarf Home trilogy by Douglas Niles
The Dwarven Nations trilogy by Dan Parkinson
The Gates of Thorbardin by Dan Parkinson
Gully Dwarves by Dan Parkinson
Kender, Gully Dwarves, and Gnomes (August 1987), edited by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, (ISBN 0-88038-382-8)
The War of the Spider Queen series by R.A. Salvatore
The Icewind Dale Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore