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Warhammer Dwarfs - The Old World rules and lore

From north to south across the Old World, the Dwarfen Mountain Holds resound with the clangor of hammers and the fiery breath of the forge.

Warhammer the Old World Dwarf Ironbreake champion in form-covering full plate mail

The Warhammer Dwarfs are everything you expect from the most archetypical of fantasy races: short, curmudgeonly, stout of arm, fond of ale, quick to anger, and slow to forgive. They are avaricious miners and masterful craftspeople who dwell in holds beneath the World’s Edge Mountains, guarding their dwindling strongholds from the predation of Orcs, Goblins, and worse things besides.

This guide will give you an overview of the Warhammer: The Old World Dwarfs: their history, how to play them on the tabletop, and their currently available models. If that’s not quite what you’re after, we have guides to the other Warhammer: The Old World factions, plus The Old World rules and The Old World combat phase in particular: somewhere that the Dwarfs are very happy indeed.

Here’s what you need to know about the beardy, grumpy, stumpy Warhammer Dwarfs:

Warhammer the Old World Dwarf banner - a winged standard with two hammers

Old World Dwarf history

Dwarf history stretches back almost to the dawn of the Old World, for they were among the earliest races created by the Old Ones. A race of talented, yet insular, artisans and miners, the Dwarfs delved a mighty empire beneath the earth, their fortified holds studding the length and breadth of the World’s Edge Mountain range.

Each hold was a magnificent capital city, a working mine, a forge, and a fortress. They were connected from north to south of the Old World by the continent-spanning Underway.

In the Time of Woes, a series of cataclysmic earthquakes wracked the World’s Edge Mountains, followed by volcanic upheaval. Many holds were destroyed outright. Worse, the Underway was shattered, damaged beyond the capacity of the now diminished Dwarf race to repair. Their people would be forever sundered, and their decline began in earnest.

Warhammer the Old World dwarf rune priest holding a hammer and a staff

The dwarfs are known for their mastery over metal, and the ability to imbue powerful runes of magic into their masterworks. Even after the Time of Woe, this fine work saw the Dwarfs maintain a lively trade with their fellow elder race, the High Elves of Ulthuan.

But trickery by the Dark Elves drove a wedge between the two races, concocting a diplomatic incident that resulted in a party of Dwarfen ambassadors being clean shaven by the High Elves – a mortal insult. The War of The Beard that followed saw the two races break all ties of unity.

Dwarfs never forget a grudge. Indeed, any misdeed against a dwarf, no matter how petty, will be entered in the Great Book of Grudges, there to remain until such time as it is repaid in blood and treasure and can finally be stricken away.

A unit of Warhammer the Old World Dwarf Ironbreakers in full plate mail with large shields advance

For all that the Dwarfs mistrust the surface races, they have often stood beside the other forces of order to thwart the forces of Chaos and destruction. Perhaps most importantly of all, the High King Kurgan Ironbeard and the human chieftain Sigmar Unberogen fought side by side against untold hordes of Orcs and Goblins at the first battle of Blackfire Pass, saving the realms of both man and Dwarf alike.

In recognition for the valor of men on that day, the dwarven Smith Alaric the Mad forged the twelve Runefang blades as gifts for the twelve human tribes that participated – weapons still wielded by the Elector Counts of the Empire to this day.

Warhammer the Old World Dwarf Organ Gun battery at the forefront of a dwarf army

How to play Dwarfen Mountain Holds

To play Dwarfen Mountain Holds, you must first think like a Dwarf. Your arm is strong, your axe is sharp, your armor is robust (as is your stomach), your legs and temper are short,  your firearms the finest, your bullets plentiful, and somewhere back in the hold there’s a barrel of Bugman’s best ale with your name on it. Let the enemy come to you.

Dwarf infantry units are all anvils. Every Dwarf has a Toughness of at least 4, and every infantry unit wears heavy armor and may take a shield – except for Slayers, but they can’t be panicked and they can’t be broken, which means they might die but they will never flee.

Warhammer the Old World Dwarf hammerers, Dwarfs with gromril weapons, led by a commander and banner bearer

Many Dwarf units are also hammers, be they regular Dwarf warriors with great weapons, butt-naked Slayers with the ability to wound anything on a 4+, or the deluxe, gromril plated Hammerers.

The problem is that those hammers have very short handles and not much swing: with Move 3 across the whole army, and low Initiative scores, Dwarfs will only get to alpha strike if your opponent misplays badly or rolls miserably for their charges.

An army of Warhammer The Old World dwarf armies advance behind a banne

This doesn’t mean you’ll never strike first. With The Old World’s new combat rules, a unit that can win combat against a charging enemy – because it has a full rank bonus, a standard, and is so tough it doesn’t lose many models to enemy attacks – is in a position to counter charge. It will counterattack with an initiative bonus of 2 or 3 depending on how far the enemy has retreated.

Because they can’t force an enemy into melee, Dwarfs are always at risk of being outmaneuvred and flanked. Your troops are all Heavy Infantry, so flank and rear charges need to come from units with a strength of 10 or more to disrupt them and strip their rank bonus, so light cavalry and skirmishers are less of a worry once they’ve lost a model or two – but proper flank charges can be lethal.

Warhammer the Old World Dwarf organ gun, a multi-barreled cannon, accompanied by crew and an engineer with a metal arm

Dwarfs can mitigate their mobility issues with serious firepower from handguns, crossbows, and a battery of different artillery pieces. While this can’t be counted on to kill an enemy unit outright – this isn’t Warhammer 40k – it can force flanking skirmishers to take panic checks, thin out elite cavalry, soften up monsters, and strip rank bonuses from enemy infantry blocks, so that the enemy’s hammer blow lands like a wet slap.

With solid starting stats and an ample selection of runes that let you build the custom magic items of your dreams, it’s possible to tool up your Dwarf characters into invincible killing machines. Resist the urge to do this as much as possible!

A block of Hammerers, led by a King tooled up with Master Runes out the wazoo, still only has a three inch move. You can’t kill what you can’t touch, and with such stumpy legs, that’s something your opponent gets to decide.

Warhammer the Old World Dwarf Engineer stands in between two organ guns

Warhammer Dwarf models

Currently, Games Workshop has not rereleased much of the Warhammer Dwarf model range, but some parts of it are on sale in the ‘Cities of Sigmar’ Age of Sigmar army. These Dwarf kits are currently available from Games Workshop:

  • Dwarf King (sold as Warden King)
  • Runelord
  • Dwarf Gyrocopter
  • Dwarf Gyrobomber
  • Ironbreakers
  • Irondrakes
  • Hammerers
  • Longbeards

You can just about build a legal 2,000 point list with these models, but you have to spend 500 points on a single block of Longbeards (30 of them with Shields, the Drilled rule, full command, a 50 point magic standard and 50 points of runes for the champion just about does it), as that’s the only core choice.

If you already have the models, you can proxy Ironbreakers as Dwarf Warriors and and Irondrakes as Thunderers for the time being. If you can’t wait for GW to rerelease the rest of the Dwarf range, our guide to fantasy wargames has several miniature ranges with Dwarf models that will do the job nicely.

Can’t get enough of short, bearded, curmudgeonly, subterranean fantasy folk? Check out our guide to the Dwarf 5e DnD race.