Gully dwarves have an extensive verbal history of their origins. Unfortunately, no two versions told by different gully dwarf clans agree on any relevant details. The stories are very colorful and entertaining to others, though gully dwarves take them very seriously.
Gully dwarves are a fourth-generation demi-human race. Originally a human people who worshiped the god Reorx, the ancestors of the gully dwarves were magically altered by their deity as punishment for straying from the path of neutrality that Reorx espoused and for selfishly misusing their skills and talents. Reorx reduced his human worshipers in size and filled them with the urge to tinker, invent, and construct – and thus was the race of gnomes created.
Certain gnomes were later profoundly altered by the Greystone of Gargath, turning-them into the two races of dwarves and kender. The dwarves were filled with the lust for wealth and the urge to possess material goods; their curiosity drive was reduced, and they tended to think along static, rigid lines. In later years, intermarriage between dwarves and gnomes occurred in isolated communities across Ansalon. Surprisingly, the children of such marriages proved to be of an entirely new race, with their own particular characteristics, but the members of this new race lacked all the better qualities of its parents.
Further intermarriages of this sort were banned by dwarven and gnomish societies, and members of this new race were driven out of their own clans, particularly by the dwarves, who regarded the new race as a blight. This new dwarven race became known as the Aghar, or “anguished.” Humans later christened them “gully dwarves” noting the low status and poor living conditions that the race experienced (as well as the general disgust felt toward the Aghar by other intelligent races of Ansalon). Aghar are also called dumpmen, muckers, and dirt-eaters by their dwarven cousins.
Much of the anguish that gully dwarves suffered came from the bad treatment they received at the hands of other races. Dwarves of other thanes (races or major clan houses) even now regard the Aghar as unworthy of respect. Aghar were driven into the wilderness and forced to grub for existence among abandoned ruins, swamp-lands, and the refuse piles of old cities. They were used as slaves by the darker empires of old Ansalon and even by the crueler dwarven races such as derro.
The Cataclysm was at once the curse of the world and the salvation of the gully dwarves. The destruction of civilization in Ansalon opened up dozens of deserted, ruined cities to habitation by wandering gully dwarf tribes, and soon once-mighty towns like Xak Tsaroth became havens for the Aghar. Undisturbed by the rest of the world, the gully dwarves were free to establish their own cultures – such as they were.
Gully dwarves still congregate in the larger ruined cities of Ansalon. Draconian armies have conquered many of these places and have reduced the Aghar once again to the status of slaves. In places like Pax Tharkas, gully dwarves have been imported as slave labor from surrounding areas. While they obey their new masters, the Aghar wish to return to the days of freedom they once enjoyed, and they will usually seek outside-help in ridding themselves-of their new lords.
Gully dwarf communities are usually quite small. Aghar prefer to live in extended family united called clans, which have up to 20 members. Some very large clans exist which can have up to 60 members, and a few tiny families of only 2-8 members may be scattered through wilderness areas. Most gully dwarves live in villages abandoned by previous owners, or in the wilderness in old mines and caves. Small clans may live in the slums and refuse dumps of large cities, and several major cities in Ansalon have gully dwarves living in their sewer systems.
Clans living in or near major cities are often hired to perform (under strict supervision) menial tasks such as garbage collection, street sweeping, tinkering, cooking, and so forth. They face great prejudice when attempting to obtain any other work, and many have adopted a fatalistic and subservient attitude-when working with goblins, humans, or other dwarven.
Aghar acknowledge Reorx as the patron deity of all dwarves, but they do not believe that Reorx has any influence over their lives – in fact, they believe Reorx has abandoned them. Instead, gully dwarves believe that the spirits of their departed ancestors protect them from harm and ensure their survival.
Gully dwarves cannot cast any form of magic, though they are fascinated by lesser sorts of “magic show” legerdemain cast by non-Aghar mages and illusionists. Powerful spells frighten them. They hold magical items in disdain, but they universally believe that inanimate objects hold great power in themselves. Possession of such objects gives the wearer the benefits of this power, which comes from the spirits of ancestral gully dwarves. This cross between animism and ancestor worship appears to be natural dwarven materialism raised to a new plane of meaning.
Aghar believe that magical items are no good because their magic was put into them by other races. The most powerful items, say the wisest gully dwarves, are those that seem to do nothing at all. Such items are regarded as holy and are given to shamans for safekeeping. The origin of this belief is lost, but Astinus of Palanthus says that it is a way of rejecting the races that scorned them. Things that other races value must be bad, since the other races are mean to gully dwarves; thus, gully dwarves do not need magic because it is important to other races. This attitude also appeals to the simple view of the world that gully dwarves have. Magic is complex and difficult to understand; if gully dwarves can’t understand it, it must not be any good for gully dwarves.
Objects such as old bones, rotten fruit, furballs, dead animals, mud, and bent sticks are venerated and treasured, though not just any old bone, dead animal, or stick will-do. An item is judged holy or not after a long period of deliberation among the gully dwarves who found it. The item is examined in detail and its relative merits as a holy item are widely discussed. After a community vote, an item is either kept or it is thrown away. Shamans keep these “holy relics” and administer their use.
Curiously, human clerics before the Cataclysm sometimes pointed out gully dwarves in their sermons as models to emulate, not as objects of ridicule. “No other beings have the strength of faith that gully dwarves have in their relics,” one cleric noted. “We would do well to consider their example.”
The most important facets of a gully dwarfs personality are generally agreed to be survival instinct, stupidity, pride, and endurance. Though derided by other intelligent races of Ansalon, gully dwarves continue to thrive under conditions that would have broken many others, and they have much to recommend them.
Gully dwarves are not above stealing, cheating, lying, informing, and bullying in order to survive, though they don’t often do these things to other gully dwarves. They can fight well without weapons, biting and punching. Dirty tricks, such as kicking dust in the eyes, jumping on fallen opponents, throwing food, etc., are often used. Food-fighting is also one of their favorite sports.
Gully dwarves are master scavengers. Much of their clothing, armor, weapons, and other possessions were recovered from garbage dumps or hammered together from scrap. They have a remarkable talent for putting apparently useless items to good use again – like converting a battered pot into a helmet, or a twisted board and nails into a rat-catching trap.
Most Aghar don’t recognize numbers greater than one, which may derive from the fact that most gully dwarves do not recognize the needs of anyone other than their individual selves. Any number greater than one is called “two,” which simply means “more than one.”
Finally, gully dwarves are used to adversity and can withstand great punishment as individuals and as a race. They plod through the bad times with determined, defiant spirits, often with a surprising cheerfulness. They’ve outlived so many other previous troubles that one more isn’t seen as very important.