Learn about the deep-dwelling Dwarves known as Duergar
Duergar are Underdark dwelling Dwarves that were once slaves to the psionic mind flayers. Their enslavement led to physiological differences to the race, being imbued with psionic abilities and developing a grey skin, leading to them sometimes being called gray Dwarves. The Duergar typically live deep in the ground and as such, like most dwarves, have a natural affinity with the earth.
The Duergar were first introduced as a playable race in D&D 5e in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes but have had some updates to their rules in Monsters of the Multiverse. Our guide has everything you need to know to play as one of these gnarly Dwarves.
What are Duergar in D&D 5e?
Duergar are also known as Gray Dwarves or Underdwarves. They were once enslaved by mind flayers whose experiments and treatment of them has transformed them giving them resilience against psionic attacks and certain innate, magical abilities. Freed from enslavement, they’ve know made their homes much deeper than most Dwarves, in the depths of the Underdark. This hostile home has harden them beyond that which most other races need to achieve to survive.
The Duergar are Dwarves and share many traitsin common such as their short height, stocky build and propensity towards growing beards. Despite this, they also appear distinct from their Dwarven brethren with the most distinguishing feature being their grey skin. Duergar also tend to be balder and thinner than their less deep-dwelling kin.
Those Duergar that do appear on the surface tend to be exiles and criminals. This means that not only do they tend to be much rougher, but also have brands and tattoos labeling them as such.
The hardships of the Underdark and a wretched existence as slaves and test subjects has built within the Duergar a morbid and pessimistic outlook on life. To combat their dreadful state of being, Duergar became less and less emotional, hardened to the trials of their life. This has led to the Duergar taking Dwarven principles to the extreme. They are often very insular, greedy and cynical of others and to a much greater degree than their other Dwarven kin.
In taking Dwarven values to the extreme, Duergar consider themselves to be the archetypal Dwarf and that all other Dwarves have lost what it means to be a true Dwarf. They’re not tough or industrious enough to bring pride to the Dwarven name.
Since becoming free of the mind flayers, the Duergar have built impressive and near impregnable strongholds deep in the depths of the Underdark. It’s a credit to the industry of the Duergar that they’ve been able to build such impressive fortifications under such constraints. It is a love of industry and a pride in their accomplishments that have driven the Duergar to such levels of craftsmanship as well as a necessity to survive.
Because Duergar live a long time, many have experienced first hand the tales told by Humans as legends. Duergar will tend to recycle names, with the clan elders naming a child after some legend or other. These names bear significance and if a Duergar brings dishonour to their clan, they are no longer allowed to use a Dwarven name.
Some examples of male Duergar names include: Adrik, Barn, Dain, Einkil, Fargrim, Harbek, Horbir, Kildrak, Orsik, Rurik, Thoradin, Traubon, Tugnuth, Ulfgar, Vondal, Wenmead
Some examples of female Duergar names include: Amber, Dagnal, Eldeth, Gunnloda, Gurdis, Harra, Kathra, Ilde, Ismel, Lodra, Mardred, Sannl, Tharfani, Tobera, Vistra
Duergar will also have clan names that will represent a hierarchy within Dwarven culture. Belonging to a prominent clan is a matter of immense pride to a Duergar. Clan names will tend to revolve around trades and functions performed historically by that clan.
Some common clan names include: Anvilclasm, Balderk, Battlehammer, Clawhelm, Dankil, Dragonbreaker, Fireforge, Holderhek, Loderr, Rocksmelter, Rumnahein, Stonesmoke, Torunn, Ungart, Ulmbrewer
How to play as a Duergar
If you’re playing as a Duergar, you’ll likely be mistrustful, cynical and highly insular. These qualities can be challenging when trying to cooperate with a party so it’s also important to remember that Duergar are quite capable of cooperating even while they grumble about how everyone but them is doing something the wrong way. You may be a miserable git, but it doesn’t mean you can’t contribute.
While ensuring that you don’t make things difficult for the rest of the party, you will still want to play on the cynical nature of a Duergar. You’ll likely treat kind gestures at attempts to manipulate you or fool you, will be vocal about the mistakes of others and proud of your own heroics.
While Duergar do lean towards being evil in nature due to their greedy and sullen nature, this does not need to be the case for your character. Instead, you can play lean into the idea of a character who is essentially a good person but that has drawn the short straw in life. You might help others while complaining that it’s always you that has to do things the right way, never letting on that you’re trying to help, just acting like you’ll have to do it yourself if you want something doing right.
Duergar Features in 5e
The following part of the guide will focus on rules provided in Monsters of the Multiverse rather than the original version of he Duergar published in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. The latest version gives you better choice for ability score improvements, more logical resiliences and improved innate spellcasting so is a better option anyway.
|Ability Scores||+2 to one ability score and +1 to another or +1 to 3 different ability scores|
|Lifespan||About 350 years|
|Languages||Common and 1 other|
|Traits||Darkvision, Duergar Magic, Dwarven Resilience, Psionic Fortitude|
|Book found in||Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes|
If you want to play as a Duergar, your character will have the following traits and abilities:
Darkvision – You can see in dim light for 120 feet as if it is bright light and in darkness as if it is dim light though you can only discern colours as shades of grey in such light.
Duergar Magic – At third level, you can cast enlarge/reduce on yourself and at 5th level, invisibility on yourself without needing to use material components. These spells can only be cast once per long rest without using a spell slot. Your spellcasting ability for these spells is intelligence, wisdom or charisma (whichever you choose).
Dwarven Resilience – You have advantage on saving throws against the poisoned condition. You also have resistance to poison damage.
Psionic Fortitude – You have advantage on saving throws against the charmed and stunned conditions.
Which classes work best for Duergar?
With Duergar being updated in Monsters of the Multiverse, you can now choose which ability scores are improved. This means that matching a class with your race is more about which classes will get the most from your abilities.
The main abilities to consider are your increased defences against poison, stun and charm. Generally, martials that are in the thick of battle gain most from these types of abilities but they are useful for anyone and provide protection from more conditions than most races. The other benefit is your innate spellcasting gaining invisibility and enlarge/reduce. These can only be cast on yourself so no need to buff up on one of the spellcasting abilities.
Best classes for Duergar
Enlarge is the main game changer here. It provides an extra d4 damage on each attack you make. This doesn’t help spells but it does help both melee and ranged weapons and doesn’t matter if you’re using dexterity or strength for your attacks. This means that your best options are classes that make a lot of attacks on their turn. With that in mind, we’d recommend using the following classes when playing as a Duergar:
The fighter and the monk are the best options here as they get the most attacks so will get the most bonus d4s in combat. They also tend to specialise on melee combat making resiliences a greater benefit. Rangers and paladins do have spell slots though which means they can recast those innate spells allowing for more uses between rests.
You might also make a case for certain subclasses that gain extra attacks like hexblade warlocks and college of sword bards.
Worst classes for Duergar
Classes that tend to steer away from attacking will benefit less from a Duergar’s abilities so things like bards, sorcerors, warlocks and wizards. Artificers might seem like a good option if going with a battle smith or armourer that get extra attacks, but they already have access to enlarge/reduce and invisibility so gain little here. Barbarians might seem like an obvious choice with their martial prowess, but rage and the innate spells can’t be used in conjunction as you can’t cast spells when raging and will lose concentration once you do rage.