Winning Races: Duergar

Jay Turner, narrative director of Sword Coast Legends, takes an in-depth look at a race of cold, hard working dwarves with some surprising abilities.

“We’ve seen a fair amount of drow, elves and dwarves but the duergar don’t get a lot of press in my experience. They’re just conceptually an interesting race of beings that traditional RPGs haven’t really messed with,” says Jay Turner, narrative director of the Sword Coast Legends videogame. “The duergar city of Gracklstugh is a major player in the Underdark, so it’s interesting to go into a new place in the world and deal with types of characters that we haven’t really looked that closely at.”

These dark reflections of the more traditional Forgotten Realms dwarves are physically similar to their counterparts in some ways, but are more wiry and lean, with black eyes, bald heads and long, unkempt, gray beards for the males. Their differences come from a catastrophe in their past. Where Tolkien’s dwarves dug too deep and found a balrog, the Faerûn dwarves delved deeper than any dwarf ever had before, and were enslaved by mind flayers for eons. Although they eventually won their freedom, it changed them forever.

Gray dwarves, as they are also known, are grim and bitter. They expect nothing from life but unending labor and suffering, and their only joy comes from inflicting the same misery on others. They have the typical dwarven appreciation for order, tradition, and impeccable craftwork, but their goods are purely utilitarian, shunning aesthetic or artistic value. These grim, ashen-skinned dwarves now take slaves of their own and are as tyrannical as their former masters, although they seem to prefer selling captives over killing them.

“Where the drow are chaotic and mean, the duergar just don’t care about you,” Turner adds. “They’re cool in that they’re indifferent to anything but work, and they’re very dour and they don’t go in for decorations or fun times. All they care about is what they have to do and making sure they do it to the extent that they can.”


Duergar are a sub-race of dwarves and therefore share the same racial traits, as listed in the Player’s Handbook, with some surprising additions in the tabletop roleplaying game. That includes the innate ability to shrug off their small stature and grow to ogre size, or turn invisible.

“From a gamer standpoint, a lot of D&D monsters can feel very random. Wow, there are these dwarves that have weird powers! The fact that duergar can turn invisible and grow to giant size and have quill shooting abilities makes them strange and interesting,” says Turner.

“As you read up on duergar society, you think what would a society be like if every single person in that society could turn invisible? Would you ever have an open conversation with someone because you don’t know who’s standing around? How would that affect how these people operate? And that became very, very interesting.”

In the tabletop roleplaying game, when a duergar reaches third level, they can cast the enlarge spell; and when they reach fifth level, they can cast invisibility. Both spells can be recast following a long rest, unless they are in the Underdark, when the ambient magic of the faerzress restores the powers after only a short rest.

If you’re thinking that makes this race an attractive pick for your next character, it’s likely you’ll need to check with your Dungeon Master to see if you can play as a duergar. Few duergar become adventurers and those who do leave their subterranean cities are usually exiles. Fewer still make it to the surface world, because they are a hidebound and suspicious race, but also because they struggle in daylight. Thanks to their Sunlight Sensitivity, they have disadvantage on attack rolls and Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight, and cannot use their duergar magic abilities.


Gracklstugh is also known. Their underground lives are made much easier thanks to the duergar’s superior darkvision, which has a range of 120 feet. It also doesn’t hurt that their natural resilience gives them advantage on saving throws against poisons, illusions, paralysis or being charmed.

Smithing is key to the city and the fine steel they produce is impressive, considering the quality of the iron they start with, allowing them to demand high prices. Yet duergar may choose to follow many paths, including becoming clerics, lairds, psions, mages, shamans, thieves, miners or merchants. Their best fighters ascend to serve the Stoneguard, a 500-strong elite royal force that serves King Horgar. These strong, no-nonsense soldiers take their business very seriously and you can spot a Stoneguard member by their King’s Blade: a short sword with a serrated edge and the face of Horgar V on the pommel.

Unlucky adventurers may even encounter duergar riding a kind of giant tarantula, as these resourceful dwarves make use of what their environment provides. These Steeder riders can walk on walls and ceilings using the giant spiders’ sticky appendages, jumping up to 240 feet to greet foes with a poisonous bite from their steeds.

Turner continues to be fascinated by these unusual underground dwellers and believes their integration into Sword Coast Legends offers a unique element to that videogame. “They’re unlike all the other very passionate races, such as very honor-bound people like the dwarves or moustache twirling evil villains like the drow,” he enthuses. “I find them compelling in that they’re very different.”

To learn more about the duergar, and other races of Faerûn, see the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide.

Sword Coast Legends Adventurer's Guide