30 Things That Grow in a Dwarven Beard
Because somebody had to make a list...
While it's true that dwarves eat more seldomly than most races, they are hardly immune to the sudden snack attack. When mining deep underground, however, food is usually several hours away at best. Ever pragmatic, dwarven horticulturists developed several species of fauna/flora that will always be near at hand -- in the dwarf's own beard!
1. Mushrooms: Several types of edible fungi have been adapted to thrive within a dwarven beard. The most important qualification (besides taste), is discretion; beard mushrooms must blend in with the beard to avoid causing embarrassment. Most beard mushrooms are therefore long and stringy, with tiny caps. They come in a variety of natural hair colors, and have a mild and somewhat fruity taste to them.
2. Lichen: Dwarves have developed quite a taste for lichen over the millennia; it features in much of their most famous cuisine. Unlike beard mushrooms, beard lichen comes in a riot of colors -- from acid greens and yellows, to vivid pinks and reds -- and is meant to stand out, rather than blend in. Often dwarves will cultivate two or three kinds at once. Yellow/green lichens are pretty sour, while oranges have a smokey/earthy taste. Reds are very spicy, so beware!
3. Sweet Ants: Any dwarf would be proud to boast a colony of industrious sweet ants. They keep the beard clean of crumbs and other foodstuffs, clean up after themselves and are a fantastic snack. Their lower abdomens are swollen with a clear, sweet liquid that goes perfectly with a shot from the dwarf's trusty flask. Sweet ants do make combing the beards a little more time consuming, however, as the dwarf must be careful not to destroy the delicate colony that the ants have woven from sticky threads (usually towards the back of the beard).
Dwarven beards are (unfortunately) ideal places for parasites to live, being warm, dark, and with plenty of moisture and food at hand (dwarves are not the cleanest eaters, after all).
4. Fleas: The most common type of beard parasite, fleas are an almost daily nuisance for the dwarven underclass (and a big embarrassment for the rich on occasion). There's nothing really special about them. Beardfleas are usually a little hardier and more difficult to exterminate than regular dog or cat fleas, but that's about it (unless the dwarf is actually infected with undead beard fleas). Dwarves hate them with a passion, and some have active flea-phobias.
5. Orbweavers: Not all beard spiders are beneficial. Orbweavers are a particularly nasty example, due to their proclivity and the stickiness of their webbing. While generally harmless, an orbweaver infestation will spread quickly if unchecked, coating the entire beard with sticky white webbing that is near impossible to comb out. They will die out if deprived of food (usually crumbs or other beard-dwelling insects), but the dwarf will have to be fastidiously clean for months if he wants to be sure they don't come back.
6. Bittersnipes: Ahhh, ticks. A dwarf might mistake one of these slow-growing pests for a mole or wart at first, but eventually their size becomes unmanageable and they must be removed. Bittersnipes are rock-hard, difficult to remove, and disease carriers to boot. Their name derives from the dwarven tendency to experiment with many different cuisines -- once. After the first taste of bittersnipe, the dwarf is likely to be put off beard snacks for a long while.
7. Chin Crud: A particularly unsightly malady, chin crud is the common name for dwarven beard mites. A dwarf with chin crud will often believe that they have an infestation of beard fleas (judging from the insatiable itching), and will treat it thusly. Unfortunately, the mites are normally unaffected by most common flea treatments. If left unchecked, chin crud will eventually cause tufts or even whole swathes of beard to just fall out.
8. Chin Chiggers: Otherwise known as dwarven beard lice, chin chiggers are particularly prevalent in young dwarves' beards. Once a chin chigger infestation has begun, the whole house will have to be doused with scented waters in order to contain the outbreak. There are only two sure ways of getting the blighters out of your beard -- domesticated beardspiders or shaving. Unsurprisingly, most dwarves opt for the spiders.
9. Gremlins: Beard-dwelling gremlins are thankfully rare, but more than trouble enough. They're tiny things, vaguely humanoid and no more than a quarter of an inch high, with shaggy fur and small glittering eyes. Beard gremlins are malicious pranksters. They love to tie beards in knots, remove or destroy any beard decorations, cause their host's beard to dip frequently into his food, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. Rumor has it that the gremlins are a curse of a fiend who the dwarves defeated centuries ago, and the treatment for them seems to bear out that claim. A minor exorcism will clear all but the worst infestations.
While some dwarves prefer purely mechanical or chemical means of caring for their beards, others prefer a more 'natural' approach. The most common solution to pests is the widely-available beardspiders, but they are by no means the only creature bred to this purpose.
10. Beardlizards: most commonly available in red, white and gold, beardlizards are skittish, nocturnal reptiles that are 2 to 4 inches long. They require very little food, and will 'hibernate' when deprived for too long. One beard lizards is usually enough to keep a dwarf's beard free of beardspiders (whether harmful or beneficial) and bittersnipes, but chin crud, fleas and chin chiggers generally escape their notice. Dwarves prize their beardlizards, and will often train them to show themselves at mealtimes by clinking their silverware together in exchange for a small morsel. Otherwise, the lizards are rarely seen, and are the devil's own nuisance to catch once released into a beard.
11. Sprites: When all normal remedies have failed, a dwarf will sometimes resort to making a deal with a clan of sprites to help rid him of a particularly bad or tenacious infestation. Sprites are known for their cleaning prowess, and will temporarily set up shop in a dwarf's beard if invited, though they must be paid in bread, mead and honey for the duration of their stay. They'll normally be able to clean up an infestation within a week, and will even comb, wash and lightly scent a dwarf's beard before they're through. There's just one catch: if they like your beard enough, they may just decide to stay and raise a whole family . . .
12. Sticky Toads: Sticky toads are generally less efficient than beardlizards, but some dwarves prefer their solid, calm demeanors over the lizards' flighty ones. They will cling to the hair with their sticky feet and methodically wipe each hair clean of pests with their long, agile tongues. They are actually blind, but their inability to see has sharpened their tactile senses. Like a spider, they are easily able to locate a source of vibration along any of the strands of hair currently stuck to their bodies.
13. Beardbots: They brush! They trim! They disinfect! Beardbots are the invention of a particularly gifted dwarven toymaker who had an intense chin chigger phobia. Normally about 1 inch long and powered by clockwork, the beardbots come equipped with tiny scissors, razors, brushes and steam hoses for disinfecting an area with a brief burst of heat. They will trawl up and down a dwarf's beard from root to tip and back again, snipping off split ends, brushing out the hair, and killing any pest they encounter. Problem is, they're not entirely free of defects (it's worse than you imagine), and some of them have begun to self-replicate using scraps of metal harvested from beard ornaments.
14. Jewelled Ants: Not for snacking, these ants. Jewelled ants look like tiny, mobile gemstones of various types (emerald, ruby and sapphire being the most common), and are highly efficient groomers. They will keep a beard completely clean of crumbs and foodstuffs, and will look good while doing so. Jewelled ants are also self-regulating, and will decrease their population when food is scarce. They hate non-hair environments, and will almost never venture outside of their host's beard.
15. Beardcicles: One of the odder lifeforms that the dwarves have adapted, beardcicles are tiny, almost crystalline grubs that collect water from their environment. They will keep a beard clean of excess moisture from air or sweat, greatly increasing the dwarf's comfort. After they absorb moisture, they excrete a hard, clear serum around their bodies that hardens into a very icicle-like shape. The 'icicles' get longer as the grubs mature. Eventually, the beardcicles will emerge from their clear cocoon as an adult moth.
Dwarves are just as fastidious about their appearance as members of other races. True, their tastes are different, but they have used their natural affinity for minerals to great advantage when developing beard ornaments.
16. Ore: Dwarves don't metabolize metals like humans do. While a human can swallow small quantifies of silver or gold with no discernible effect (despite what some charlatans claim), dwarves' bodies actually process excess metals of all types. Normally, the excess metal goes into a dwarf's bones, making them tougher, albeit heavier. But softer metals like silver and gold are too weak to serve in this way, so instead, the dwarf's body will flush them through the dwarf's beard. If a dwarf eats gold/silver dust, he can expect gold or silver nuggets to grow dispersed throughout his beard like tiny ornaments, that grow slowly as they consume more ore. Most dwarves don't bother, as the precious metals attract unwanted attention from thieves, and can be better used elsewhere. Only the dwarven nobility regularly indulge in this practice. It is possible to coax the ore into coating the hair instead of forming nuggets, but the process is extremely labor intensive.
17. Crystals: Being a rock-dwelling race, the dwarves' diet naturally contains higher levels of silica (in fact, they often include gravel or other rocks in their food, to help wear their teeth down). As with excess ore, dwarves do not necessarily digest these minerals, excreting the extra substances instead into their skin or hair. Beard crystals form when the excess silica in their beard is primed (by dunking the beard once a day into a special liquid), and then exposed to air. This process starts a chain reaction that leeches silica from the beard, combines it with oxygen from the air, and forms hundreds of tiny crystals all throughout the beard. The color of the resulting crystal depends on the liquid that was used to prime the beard, though quartz is most common. Once started, the crystals will continue to grow until trimmed off.
18. Beardbushes: Not all dwarves' beards are created equal. Be it faulty genetics, sickness or even old age, there may come a time when a dwarf's beard loses its volume, becoming scraggly or possibly even partially bald. Toupees work to a degree, but some dwarves have found a better alternative in the beard bush. A beard bush is a non-flowering plant that grows hairlike fronds out of a central 'stalk'. They come in black, brown and blonde, though a true red has yet to be developed. The dwarf anchors the bear bush in a soil pouch (concealed in what's left of his natural beard) and waters it discretely once a week or so. Unsurprisingly, the term 'beardbush' has become a colloquialism for a lie or falsehood.
19. Binders: Bearing a strong resemblance to walking stick bugs carved from bone or ivory, binders are small stick-like insects that have formed a symbiotic relationship with some dwarven clans. The dwarves will feed the little bugs with bits of moss or other plant matter, and the bugs will braid or bind the dwarves' beards in intricate patterns. Their skills are hereditary, and each line of binders will weave beard strands in a slightly different pattern. For this reason, many dwarven clans have adopted the specific binding as a sort of clan symbol. Binders are solitary creatures, so no more than two or three can coexist peacefully in a single beard.
20. Moss: It is a common misconception that dwarves have no appreciation for botanical beauty. I would challenge any surface-dweller to say the same after seeing the care with which dwarves care for the mosses that adorn their beards. There are probably as many varieties of beard mosses as roses on the surface, and they are just as valued. When grown in the beard, mosses are used as vivid highlights of color, and primarily come in greens, blues and purples. Unfortunately, beard moss has fallen out of fashion among the younger dwarves, but there are still beard moss festivals and competitions for the dedicated growers.
What dwarf doesn't need a light at times? Even with their enhanced eyesight, they don't perceive color very well in pitch darkness, and sometimes they like to have a light handy for silent signals or for the comfort of guests.
21. Torch Fuzz: over the centuries, dwarves have bred a form of campfire fuzz that is content to nest in their beards. The beard-dwelling version is exceptionally lazy, and will burn with a gentle warmth rather than with a campfire's heat and light. As a result, they give off energy much more slowly than wild campfire fuzz and can go several days between meals. They won't normally light up, and must be shaken vigorously to get them to do so. The benefits to the dwarf are obvious: a beard that stays dry and warm, and gives of a moderate glow when needed. Just remember not to attach any iron trinkets to your beard - torch fuzz flee when exposed to iron.
22. Lightning Moths: For the dwarf who wants a little more zest, lightning moths are a good choice. Adult moths maintain an attachment to their cocoon all their lives, returning to it each day to hide from the light and from diurnal predators. Vendors will sell lightning moth larvae that are close to pupating, and the dwarf must simply release them into its beard and feed them bits of moss until they spin their cocoons At night, the lightning moths will emerge in search of food, and will glow in a gentle halo in the dwarf's general location, concentrated around his head. The slow, blinking glow attracts small insects, which the moths electrocute with quick bursts of static.
23. Beardlanterns: Actually a specialized breed of Veracit's furball, beardlanterns have been bred to better suit dwarven sensibilities. First, their forelegs have been strengthened and elongated, making them capable of clinging with ease to an anchor ring that has been tied within the dwarf's beard. Second, they are generally silent unless directly spoken to, only piping up if they are really hungry. A dwarf will generally keep only two or three at a time, and will try to keep only those of the same gender. Otherwise, he may very well wake up one morning with a beard full of tiny, fuzzy balls, all asking for food.
24. Glow Buttons: Not all types of beard mushroom are edible. Glow buttons are a hybridized type of subterranean fungus, that has been adapted to cling to fibrous surfaces. They look like tiny white pearls, strung all throughout the beard, and they glow softly when it is dark. They leach the nutrients they need from the beard, and absorb light to give off later. Glow buttons are generally less well received than beardlanterns, despite needing less care and feeding. For one, you can't turn them off (and marking your position in the dark is not always a brilliant idea). For two, they make grooming the beard vastly more time-consuming. Still, some wealthy dwarves love how they look, and like to pair them with beard crystals or ore so that their beards seem to perpetually glitter with wealth.
Dwarves pride themselves on always having the right tool for the job. Whether mining, crafting or adventuring, the enterprising dwarf will find these beard fauna/flora to be valuable aids.
25. Flutterswipes: Surface-dwellers are familiar with the expression 'canary in a coal mine': namely, something that will give early warning before a disaster strikes. What they don't know is that the dwarves were the originators of this practice. Flutterswipes are tiny birds that originally dwelt in caves near the surface. They make nests from their sticky, clear spittle which then harden onto the cave wall. Now flutterswipes are widely regarded as 'the miner's best friend'. Once it has been coaxed to build its nest in a dwarf's beard, it will fly in and out at will, keeping the air around the dwarf mostly clear of flying pests. What's more, it will drop unconscious or dead if the subterranean gases rise to dangerous levels, giving the dwarf time to evacuate to safety. If the bird expires, all is not entirely lost - the leftover nest is a delicacy in dwarven cuisine.
26. Beardbats: Somewhat hardier than their bird counterparts, beardbats also provide an early warning system of sorts. Rather than warning of gases, however, beardbats provide a passive scanning system for weaknesses in the stone. While a dwarf's natural stone-sense is very keen, it's very possible for him to miss something if his attention is directed elsewhere. Beardbats have been trained to scan the immediate area for anomalies (weaknesses, unnatural formations like trapdoors, etc), and swoop back and forth between the dwarf and the affected area in exchange for a small treat. The rest of the time, they keep the area completely clean of flying bugs.
27. Manna Fleas: It's not that dwarves don't use magic; they just tend to be more careful and conscientious about its use, a habit they probably picked up as an apprentice when they were made to wear manna fleas. Dwarven wizards will commonly summon and bind manna fleas into an apprentice's beard, both as a test and in an effort to keep his lab clean of excess magical energies. When the apprentice is new, he or she will often waste a little energy each time they cast a spell, and the fleas will feed passively off this source. But as the apprentice grows in skill, there is less wasted energy for the fleas to consume, and they will begin to bite the apprentice instead. This is called the 'scratching phase'. The apprentice is usually promoted to journeyman status when the flea bites have gotten so bad that they are noticeable around the edges of the beard, and with the promotion comes the banishment of the fleas.
First off, not all dwarven females have beards. That is usually a very clan or world-specific phenomenon. However, if your dwarven ladies sport the fuzz, they probably care for them as much as their male counterparts do (if not more). For the female dwarf with discerning tastes, here are a few of the most popular choices of beard flora/fauna.
28. Flowers: What lady doesn't like to have flowers twined in her hair? Beard 'flowers' aren't actually flowers - rather, they are small clusters of leaves that bear a strong resemblance to petals and usually come in blue, white or gold. Caring for beardflowers is fairly tedious, requiring that the lady dwarf conceal a few tiny packets of earth in her beard to hold the root ball, but they require surprisingly little water or light to thrive, and can be mixed and matched according to her tastes.
29. Goldvine: For the lady with refined tastes, goldvine is a true classic. Goldvine attaches directly to the beard and requires no soil, just occasional watering as it leaches the excess minerals from a female's beard (particularly copper). The copper is then metabolized into the vine along with excess tin, zinc or aluminum to create a very passable imitation gold color. Goldvine sports delicately curving tendrils that twine the female's beard into intricate patterns, and has made it into more than one dwarven ballad of love and ladies fair.
30. Tufted Beardmice: Looking somewhat like a cross between a mouse, a chipmunk and a squirrel, tufted beardmice are gentle, playful companions that dwarven ladies just adore. There are actually several established breeds -- the Grey Swishtail, Copper Chipper and the White Lynux are among the most popular - and breeders will often compete in events that attract thousands of beardmouse enthusiasts each year. While not nesting or sleeping in the beard, tufted beardmice will ride on the dwarf's shoulder and squeak shrilly if anything alarms them. As an added bonus, they can often be handed to a noisy dwarfling to play with for awhile, though the beardmouse will always scamper back to its nest at the earliest opportunity.