write for AAW Games, design bible for Stoneholme

Stoneholme Vocabulary: Development Blog #1

The demand for an Underworld-specific prologue that leads into Rise of the Drow proper has grown to the point we can no longer deny this project needs to happen! As a first step toward developing the Stoneholme trilogy into a polished setting and adventure on par with RotDCE, here’s a collection of vocab terms to aid writers in keeping to the tone of the setting. None of this is set in stone (sorry), but it can serve as the beginnings of a design bible for the project, for those interested in writing for roleplaying games.

Interjected amongst these terms are relevant notes regarding design and development that might pique the interest of readers, give some insight into the development process, and are useful for writers to keep in mind!

adamant. A rare metal, dense yet light. Mining, harvesting, refining, and forging adamant are tasks not even attempted by any but the most masterful of crafters. It is said to be the purest form of metal, forged by Balir at the dawn of creation. Stoneholme was founded upon a vein of adamant ore. (See Delvings.) Only two known alloys of the metal exist: adamanth and liavantium.

adamanth. A drow-made alloy of adamat and an unknown component, similar to liavantium but without that alloy’s signature violet hue. It is said the drow breed dweorg smithslaves to create adamanth, not having the expertise themselves. Notably, even masterfully wrought adamanth will decay rapidly when exposed to direct sunlight, a testament to the fleeting whims of the power hungry drow.

ancestral attunement. A property of certain magic items that allow a creature to attune to a fourth item, if the ancestral attunement’s other requirements are met.

Ancestral attunement is an idea for giving players some unique dwarf-inspired magic items, while keeping power creep to a minimum and exploring a lateral design space within 5th Edition. This could be limited to an artificer type feature/trait/reflavoring:  “clan” items that grow in power with you. This could just be limited to plot-specific magic items and artifacts.

Ancestral Cabal. The cabal guides the construction of the [stoneternals] and oversees their placement along the Last Road of the Lost. In this capacity, they serve as advisors to dweorg of all positions, but to outsiders they are seen as clerics and priests. Colloquially known as “forgepriests.”

When a word is in brackets like that it’s a placeholder. (Probably. Ideally.) In this case we’re referencing a location in Stoneholme known as The Last Road of the Lost, and [stoneternals] are the construct-like puzzle/trap rooms that comprise the Last Road. Exactly *what* one of these [stoneternals] is hasn’t been determined yet. I know I want a series of puzzle/trap rooms in the Stoneholme’s lower tombs, I know I want it to have a uniquely dwarven flair, and I know I want it, at least in concept, to have parity with the other big thing the dwarves of Stoneholme focus their efforts on, the Eternals. I’ll discuss Stoneholme locations at a different time.

Balir. Chief dwarven god.

Butterdrum. A semi-historic clan that is a modern day parable for clumsiness, shoddy work, shortcuts, procrastination, and other poor habits that conflict with dwarven ideals. Example: “Are you a Butterdrum or a Flintblade!?”, “They must’ve hired Butterdrum masons for that stonework, not a tight join in sight!” Historians recognize the origin of the parable from the Founding of Clan Firebrand.

Our name was never Butterdrum! At our founding, the gathered dweorg shouted for the new clan name at the same moment the brewer asked the clanarch what he was drinking. He chose to have his mug filled before naming his new clan in order to celebrate the naming! Now a Firebrand can’t walk down Steel Street without some dwarf buying him a barrel of buttered rum! —Myris Firebrand, dweorg merchant

This isn’t a particularly insightful or useful vocabulary term, but it is a fun world-building snippet. This type of corny one-off humor may not be the focal point of an adventure anthology about dwarven clans, honor, industry, ancestry, and so on, but it’s not out of place either, and it’s important to let writers know that!

clade. A clade is a group of dweorg devoted to one specific aspect of a clan’s clanhold. Similar in size and function to the human concept of family, a clade is primarily comprised of dweorg with direct blood relations, but existing within, sharing a surname with, and having close familial ties to, their larger clan. When the need arises to distinguish one clade from another, this is easily accomplished in Dwarvish, but the common tongue has no translation for clade names; the best attempts at doing so yield somewhat useless results, like, “FireFireFireBrandBrandBrand” or “The First Clade From the Third Clade From the Eighth Clade of the First Clade.”

The elders of a clade teach their children all that they were taught, and all that they’ve discovered, all in an effort to secure and promote their clan’s industry. It is quite common for a dweorg to be included in more than one clade, though each dweorg always has a “first clade.”

clanarch. A clan’s current leading clan representative. Most clans have only a single clanarch, but it is not unheard of for a clan to have two or more clanarchs (often siblings close in age). The word is capitalized when it is followed by a proper name. Example: Clanarch Butterdrum.

clan fued. A battle without bloodshed between two clans. Notably distinct from the term “clan war,” a clan fued never results in the revivification or emergence of a new clan.

clandustry. The dwarven drive for excellence in craft and artistry and their lifelong motivation to become true masters of their clan’s trade is known as their clandustry. Every home is a workshop, every clan a company, and every dwarf an artist. You have honored your ancestors if you or your clan becomes known for its clandustry.

“Clandustry” is a good example of a former placeholder word. I need a word that describes the clan’s motivation, adherence to clan purpose. Similar to “drive,” “purpose,” “ambition,” and “life goals.” “Design” is good. “Endeavor” is also good. Neither is perfect. “Industry” is pretty close to perfect, but a uniquely “dwarven” word would be nice. I settled on “clandustry.”

clanhold. Dweorg rarely use the common tongue words “ancestry,” “history,” or “tradition,” instead preferring “clanhold” to represent the convergence of these three words that all dweorg hold sacred. A study of clandhold is seen as noble a life pursuit as religion or craftwork. The Stoneholme dweorg know the history of the dwarven people better than any other race of dwarves. They view themselves as the true line of dwarven descendants, and their clanhold proves it.

Gitwerc are corrupted souls that cannot be saved, for they have forsaken their ancestors to make deals with devils. Zwerc have lost their way in their chase for cosmic mastery, thus forsaking history’s lessons to those with unchecked ambitions. Even those dweorg who live in Embla are dangerously close to abandoning their clanhold, for they value trade and prestige more than honor and ethic. Their ever-expanding walls invite change that will one day corrupt their traditions.

Strange as it may seem, many dwarves of Stoneholme respect the deep dvrger more than that of their Emblan cousins, for though the dvergr are cruel and selfish, their clanhold, such as it is, remains uncorrupted. —[dwarf forgepriest npc]

clanholme. The main dwelling, fortress, and business place of a clan. Not to be confused with “clanhold.” Often the clanarch resides within the clanholme, if it is necessary or useful for promoting the clanhold, but it is just as common for the clanholme to be a place purely for administration and ceremony.

clanstructor. A structor that serves as advisor to a clanarch. When a clanarch and a clanstructor disagree so vehemently they become argumentative and distant, it is said to be the Dawn of a Clanwar, usually hyperbolically. Clanstructors are apprentices or former apprentices to the high structor.

clan war. A period of cultural strife—ranging from neighborhood shouting to city-wide civil war—at the end of which one or more clans revive or emerge. A clan war can also mark the end of a clan, but not always.

Delving (of Stoneholme). Delving (with a capital D) refers to the expansion of Stoneholme into the adamant ore vein on which it was founded. The First Delving, completed generations ago, is the city of Stoneholme as it currently stands. The Second Delving, which will open up new veins of ore access, is not scheduled to occur until the supply of adamant from the First Delving is spent. There is political debate amongst the clans over what that means.

The ore from the First Delving has been extracted and processed for over two centuries, but the city’s supply of refined adamant is still abundant. There are many clans who feel it is time to begin the Second Delving. There are others who say that if the supply of refined adamant grows too large, it will force the sale of too much of the precious metal to outsiders, which would result in a great risk to Stoneholme’s unassailable sovereignty.

There are a total of five planned Delvings, at which point the ore vein will be depleted, the city will be completed, and a vast region of the Underworld will be under Stoneholme’s benevolent rule, thanks to the Eternals, created largely from adamant. 

This developer thinks it would be neat if this vein of liavous ruby and adamant that Stoneholme is built around is some part of the Draco Prime. Like its heart. Does that cause conflict with previously published works? Does it create problems for geography? These are questions that need answers before introducing setting-altering content, which is why writers are cautioned against it in their pitches.

Dis Pater. Archduke of the second layer of Hel and the chief deity (and lord) of the gitwerc. He is known as a dauntless tactician both on the battlefield and in the Infinite Court of Hel. Any deal with a devil eventually makes its way to Dis Pater—or his legion—for collection.

dvrger. Deep dwarves who value industry and tradition as much as any dweorg. Many consider the dvrger the sixth high clan, conducting the same work as Stoneholme, simply far deeper in the Underworld. Others claim the dvrger are the cause of the Great Clan War and the creation of the Last Road of the Lost. As a result, individual dvrger are treated as outsiders in Stoneholme, though hundreds reside within the City of Ancients, having forged honor with their “bright cousins.”

Eternal. A construct of dweorg design that guards the Long Road and protects Stoneholme. Each Eternal is crafted in the likeness of a clanarch of Stoneholme.

The Eternals are the subject of a different blog post! Suffice to say that they’ve been upgraded from the originals and they’re a major focus of Stoneholme as a set piece. They’ll probably make an appearance in an adventure.

forge honor. When an individual, family, or clan wishes to merge with another clan, they must forge honor with their new clan in order to be considered an equal. The process of forging honor is unique to each clan, but undoubtedly includes a history exam on all the clan’s ancestors and their contribution to the clanhold. Honor is forged in three stages: Adjunct, Auxiliary, and Adjuvant. Outsiders, that is anyone who is not dweorg, who seek to forge honor can never raise their status above Adjuvant. They are fully trusted and valued clan members, but they have no say in politics or industry. They must keep to the clanhold, but they do not keep it. A dweorg who has forged honor enough to become Adjuvant instead earns their place amongst the clan.

It’s worth noting that more peoples than dweorg (and gitwerc and zwerc) will have a presence in Stoneholme, but that presence must be framed within the canon lore of Stoneholme as a monolith of dweorg culture. Part of the development process is finding ways to “allow” other races—because players want variety!—without diminishing the lore. That’s what this forge honor term is here for.

forgepriest. A structor who is also a devout follower of Balir. The Ancestral Cabal is comprised of forgepriests. Dwarven faith is a deeply personal affair, and discussions of doctrine and dogma rarely take place between even close dweorg. When such conversations do arise, a forgepriest will often begin by asking, “Do you seek my wisdom, or that of Balir?” And the result of the conversation is usually just as cryptic: “That is what Balir has crafted for me, but he has yet to finish his work on you.” 

The implication here is that, like any dweorg-worthy craft, you must learn and master faith in your own way.

founding. The founding of a clan, most often used in the personal sense (see below). Occasionally used in reference to the founding of Stoneholme, which includes the time of clan wars prior to the Great Clan War.

“That signpost has been there since my founding!”
“Shoddy masonry has no place in the city of my founding!”
“My founding saw seven clanholds end and one begin. Think on that ‘fore you start counting cousins.”

gitwerc. Dwarves descended from a clan once known for martial prowess, both in personal combat and as tacticians on the battlefield. When faced with a foe that could not be defeated by traditional means, they forged a pact with devils, forgoing the teachings of their ancestors and the god who made them. The Last Road of the Lost is named for this clan, for it was deep into their earth this road took them on their quest for power. They are abominations and exist within Stoneholme only as outlaws, using deception and guile to hide in plain sight.

high clan. There are hundreds of clans in Stoneholme, but only five high clans. Each high clan controls an area of the city, sometimes known as a clan district. Each high clan is like a city unto themselves. Certain aspects of daily life within a district reflect the high clan (rather than the clade): preferences on food/currency/aesthetic, jargon, and of course, trade. In this way Stoneholme is like five distinct, but closely related, cities. Any dweorg from a high clan who choses to dwell away from Stoneholme must forsake their clan name (or force a clan war in which they establish their own clan).

high structor. Advisor to the Monarch and the master structor responsible for crafting the Monarch’s Eternal.

liavous glass. A glass made from the byproduct of mining liavous rubies, uniquely the trade of the Quartzfell clan. It is translucent but has a faintly violet hue. Within the crafting culture of Stoneholme, liavous glass is seen as a poor imitation of liavous ruby gemcraft. Outside of Stoneholme, particularly in the [unspecified high desert culture on the surface], liavous glasswork is the pinnacle of dwarven art and craft.

Personally, this developer would like to see a cat-people culture fill this role. Ultimately it will be the writer who decides what to pitch and the creative director who decides if there’s room for it in Aventyr.

liavous ruby. A rare gemstone similar to a ruby or sapphire, violet in color, that is found only in and near Stoneholme. Many (if not all) high end trade goods offered in Stoneholme use liavous rubies in their construction. The gemstone’s color is always apparent in the final product. Most notably, liavous can be made to “extend” a supply of adamant without diluting the metal’s other properties. The gemstone itself can be used as a crafting material (rather than a component) only by the most studied of structors, owing to its density and hardness.

The Liavheart Pendants, artifacts held by the five Monarchs, are crafted of the five largest known liavous rubies.

Magic items and artifacts are the topic for a different day, but keen-eyed readers might wonder why the namesake ruby from the original trilogy doesn’t get mentioned here. Reasons.

liavantium. An alloy of adamant and liavous ruby, created through a process known only to the dwarves of Stoneholme. Properly treated, liavous ruby dust extends a supply of adamant without diluting its favorable properties. Curiously, liavantium decays noticeably over time outside of the Underworld. However, a skilled smith with the proper supplies can prevent the alloy from permanent damage, even in such alien conditions.

M’shku. Demon lord of darkness; worshipped by goblins and gitwerc. A servant/lieutenant of Dis Pater. It is said that M’shku is the archduke’s shadow given form, created to undertake those tasks the archdevil deems vital and better kept secret.

M’shku and Dis Pater are holdovers from the original Stoneholme Trilogy. They’re currently included in the adventure outline, but already, even at this early stage of development, they stand out as somewhat out of place with regard to the themes and motifs the rest of this vocab list creates.

That doesn’t mean they’re facing the chopping block. It means there’s a reason they’re included here.

Monarch (singular). The king or queen of Stoneholme, currently High Clanarch [Antwon Cornelius Hyperbong] Deepthunder. While Dwarvish has words similar to “king” and “queen” in the common tongue, dweorg prefer to translate these words as “Monarch” when speaking Common. All dweorg make a distinction between the singular Monarch and the plural “Monarchs.”

Hahaaahaha “Hyperbong!” I’m pretty sure the original trilogy names the “king” of the dweorg. I’m gonna need to look up that name, eventually. It’s also worth noting that names are likely to change during this development, for a variety of reasons.

For example, in the original there’s a surname for an NPC: Deppenkut. Even with my limited German lexicon, I can tell you that name is too silly for the role I want this NPC to play. “Deepthunder” was also a surname from the original, but one that fits the dwarven asthetic we’re going for. Since there is at least some visual similarity between the two names, it was easy enough to swap in a known good name for the poor name.

Monarchs (plural). The five clanarchs of the five high clans, including the Clanarch Deepthunder, the defacto Monarch. Thus, all dweorg make a distinction between the plural “Monarchs” and the singular “Monarch.”

polytunement. A property of certain magic items that allows multiple users to attune to the same item. Often an item’s magic is altered according to the number of attuned users.

Again, this is a setting-specific idea to give something to pique the players’ interest and explore some lateral game design space. Development of ideas like this rely on writers to engage with the concept and expand it beyond the one or two items inherent to the story arc.

structor. This is a dwarf skilled and knowledgeable in all trades and realms of expertise. They are experts in ancestry, industry, and tradition, which makes them experts in everything dweorg hold dear. A clan may count hundreds of structors amongst their number, but there is commonly only one structor recognized as the advisor to the clanarch. 

vassal clan. Any clan of Stoneholme that owes fealty to (and is usually an offshoot of) another clan. All clans are vassals to one of the five High Clans. When a vassal clan grows large enough, it can spawn vassal clans of its own, though this is short lived by dweorg standards, owing to the eventual clanwar such branching inevitably creates.  

[walkabout]. A dweorg tradition of exploring the world for at least thirty years prior to entering adulthood. The purpose of these travels is to learn all you can of your chosen trade, craft, or art from the world’s masters. In this way, Stoneholme ensures there is no magic, technology, or miracle that is unknown to them.

Amongst the humans, the student asks the question, “Why is it this way?” Amongst the dweorg, the student knows they are being shown the best way, thus their question is, “Would not this way be better?” —[Sagey McSagedwarf]

“Walkabout” as a word conjures too much real world imagery that doesn’t serve the narrative of Stoneholme’s culture. “Caminar” would be a great here if it weren’t also a literal real world word. When we’re talking about a fictional culture it’s important to keep the invented words unique to the fiction and not rely on our own language barriers to give a false sense of fiction. Or to put it another way, the word for this dweorg practice of travel and learning should invoke those ideas in English, to some degree, without bringing any real-world baggage to the concept. And it should feel like it belongs amongst the other invented words. Word Seeds: Ambul, Pram, Travel, Travail, maybe something to do with learning?

zwerc. Dwarves descended from a clan once known for their mastery of magic and interplanar travel. Zwerc are considered fallen, clanless dwarves, to be pitied for a lack of restraint that destroyed their clan, for true mastery requires a methodical approach to withstand all trials. They are outsiders in Stoneholme, though many a clan count several of zwerc descent among their number, the lost souls having forged honor with their kin through admirable displays of restraint in the face of tempting discoveries.


What a unique project this is! To really remaster the Stoneholme trilogy into something worthy of being on your shelf next to RotDCE, building upon a common “voice” for the material is paramount, and that starts with vocabulary. What do you want to see next from the Stoneholme design bible? Join us on Discord and let me know! Interested in contributing?

1 thought on “Stoneholme Vocabulary: Development Blog #1”

  1. I am interested in helping, though I’m not quite sure how or what you are thinking in the way of help. I just bought U1, U2, and U3 and have been reading through them prepping to run them after the holidays and then into RotD. Let me know your thoughts on possible ways I can help and maybe it will work.

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