To continue with Pseudo-Scandinavia as a setting for a sandbox game. Human settlements on the coast and in valleys of this mountainous realm already make a great setting with a reason for characters to be adventurous and for society to tolerate and encourage such behaviour.
This time I will craft a simple culture for mountain dwarves, out of common cliches with a few tweaks to show how to make dwarves ready adventurers.
So lets go with some basic cliches:
Dwarves live in cities carved into and under the mountain, this gives a reason to have underground dungeons, or it will with the next point.
Dwarves are a race in decline, they have not had to dig new cities in some time as they have more than enough existing space and a drive to recover lost and abandoned underground cities.
Dwarves are obsessed with family honour and prestige. This means they avoid shaming their kind and want to recover their lost wealth.
Dwarves are greedy and wealth obsessed.
So from this I envision a dwarven culture in which dwarves are separated into families, electing a lord or king from the most noble and high held of current families. This means families will be deeply ashamed of any of their kin who engage in (and are caught) in dishonourable practices. But just because your culture decries such practices doesn't mean they don't happen. There are thieves, adulterers and liars amongst dwarves, so how should they deal with it? If they are family and honour bound lets say kin-slaying is out, no matter how vile.
Lets bring in another cliche: The living dead dwarf. Be they GW Slayers, or Dragon Age Legion of the Dead or some other pastiche there can be a caste of Dwarves who seek immediate death in battle. This really can't be everyone, wouldn't be many left as most would die on the first goblin spear they find. So lets assume this is a worst case scenario for the truly irredeemable crimes.
So being a rigid society, lets assume that those who chafe under their family obligations or who are accused (but not proven) of crimes are either forced from their family or "suggested" they leave. These dwarves would be removed of any ties to their family in the eyes of society. Without family ties they need to go out to seek wealth to survive, and for some a more important goal, to gain glory and fame. If they gain enough they may gather acolytes from other Clanless dwarves and form a Hero Cult. If they become truly noble they are granted their own Clan name, and may form a new clan and start their own families.
But if battle gains glory and the society is somehow shrinking, perhaps we can bridge these two together and have a REASON there are so few dwarves. Perhaps a dwarven male must earn his right to marry his betrothed? Every young dwarf must prove his worth in battle, go out and slay to earn honour, the more honour he accrues through battle can be seen as a dowry. The menfolk gain honour that is gifted to the brides family while the bride pays gold for the upkeep of their daughter in her new house. Gain more honour, get more gold. Of course if you die gloriously your fiance goes right to widow..your family wants their money for your death after all. That cannot help their declining population.
Finally, a house may be poor and in the slums currently..but somewhere out there is their old estate, with coffers full of their gold. Why hasn't another dwarf taken it? Being greedy and suspicious, each dwarven family mints their own coins. To have the coins of another dwarven clan without a writ transferring ownership..why that would be a grave dishonour to your family...(perhaps you should avoid getting caught and melt it down).
So now the regions dwarves provide plenty of abandoned dungeons, a gradual loss of manpower they refuse to admit is killing their empire made worse by the young dwarves they sent into the dark on suicide rushes, leaving behind childless widows. We have clanless dwarves out seeking glory to found new clans, shamed fanatics out to die gloriously, and young dwarves out to earn their right to have children.
You now have reasons to adventure and places to adventure built into the culture, all utilizing familiar cliches.
A Hubristic, Misty and False Review
8 hours ago