Thursday, July 24, 2014

Bureau Dwarves

Originally published in Secret Santicore 2013, vol. 1.


A dwarf without work is a sorry dwarf indeed. Miners must break rock, architects must build great halls, and kings must fill them with revelry. A dwarf finds meaning in having a task and performing it well, and it content to work hard and then take his meal and mead along with his brethren in the great hall.

But some deviants do not find satisfaction in the daily grind. For them, work is painful and tiring rather than joyful, and the din of their dim-witted colleagues unbearable. It is these dwarves who, through training or accident, learn that the average dwarf is easily influenced—one must simply give him a task to perform.

Bureau are thus these disenlightened spirits who have seen that there is no meaning in the world. In doing so, they can often see bigger picture goals than other dwarves can, and this combined with their ability to corral many dwarves towards a single project makes them dangerous.

Bureau are regular dwarves who do not find meaning in work, but can thus rise above it and assign work to others. They are the taskmasters, project managers, administrators, and bureaucrats of the dwarven world. They are extreme nihilists who attempt to fill the hole left by their lack of purpose through influencing and crafting purpose for others.

Bureau often have neither hair nor beards. Some argue this is because a beard represents the dwarven spirit, which the bureau have lost. Others will counter that many bureau purposely shave, to which the former answer, “exactly!”

When in the presence of a bureau, most common dwarves feel supremely uncomfortable, and even after having been given (and while executing) direct commands, will insist that it is their own idea. As such, bureau’s influence is often under-estimated by all those around them.

Bureau prefer not to deal with most common dwarves, and instead have their tasks relayed by intermediaries. These are common dwarves too stupid to serve well at performing tasks, and who instead must be made to feel important as they run about, bossing other dwarves around.

Bureau are quite rare, and offer much respect to one another. Even while rallying entire dwarven tribes to war against each other in their nihilistic games, two opposed bureau can chat calmly over a cup of tea.


Mechanically, a bureau is a dwarf who, in lieu of all dwarven racial traits except dark vision, has several spell-like abilities (called “social moves”) at their disposal. Bureau gain levels and saving throws as a dwarf, but gain social move slots as a cleric. What this means exactly depends on the system, but generally a bureau should not have dwarven constitution, fighting, or skill modifiers. A bureau requires a positive Charisma modifier (+1 or above), and uses Charisma as its primary stat.

Unless otherwise noted, social moves do not require typical charisma or loyalty checks. Indeed, the whole point of the bureau is to have a class that does not require loyalty in order to get its way. Most social moves can be attempted also through role-play or charisma checks (depending on the system, group, and/or context), in which case they do not take a move but also have a chance of failure.

There is a single exception to the efficacy of social moves: they do not work on PCs, and must be roleplayed. They do work on hirelings, henchmen, and other PC-friendly NPCs, and played right they will work on the players as well.

A bureau must meditate after a good sleep in order to clear her social move slots. The form this mediation takes is up to the player—some exercise, some practice mindfulness, some play solitaire games. Some may even pray to the Gods they don’t believe listen.

There are no 0-level bureau; before they gain levels, they are but dwarves like any others.

Whether a player can play a bureau is up to the DM, although it is this author’s suggestion that the specifics of the player class be hammered out by the DM and her player ahead of time.

The bureau is a combined race+class, as per Basic and its clones. Making it compatible with other races or classes is left as an exercise for the reader.

Social Moves

Below is a sampling of bureau-specific social moves, followed by a list of cleric and magic-user spells that can easily be used as social moves. Original social moves are usually more powerful, but also more specific, than spells of the same level—this is by design.

Social moves are NOT magic. They reflect the charisma, social capital, and systematic authority of the bureau. This holds true also for spells used as social moves. A bureau cannot read magic nor use scrolls.

The creation of other social moves is left as an exercise for the reader. Hopefully between this list and the “works cited” below, I’ve given you enough inspiration.

Quell Crowd – 1st Level

With a powerful voice and well timed gesture, you can get a group of people to stop being agitated and look at / listen to you for several seconds. Useful for settling a crowd, stopping a riot, starting a speech, distracting a group, etc.. This can also be used to stop a single person dead in his tracks, regardless of what he’s doing. While they are only influenced by the move for several seconds, the caster may attempt to keep their attention through other means (which may be conventional or other social moves).

The size of the crowd that this will work on is a function of the bureau’s level using the equation 3^level. So 3 at level 1, 9 at level 2, 726 at level 6, etc. If there are more people in the crowd, then only the closest number will be under the effects of the move—but again, a talented bureau can use this to their benefit regardless.

Give Task – 1st Level

A bureau can give a task to any dwarf in her own clan, bureaucratic unit, or other appropriate social hierarchy which that dwarf will perform, regardless of his opinions on the bureau and the task. The complexity of this task is limited by the bureau’s level. A level 1 bureau can only force a dwarf to work at the taks for 1 day, and at each level that number doubles (2 days at level 2, 4 days at level 3, etc). The dwarf will try his hardest to complete the task while under the effects of the move, but if it is not completed within the allotted time, the dwarf makes a loyalty check, and if it fails he no longer has to attempt it. This loyalty check recurs each time the length of the move has passed (so for a 2nd level bureau, the dwarf makes a loyalty check at the end of every 2 days).

Notice that this works only on dwarves, and only on those who recognize the bureau as an authority of some sort (although it does not require that they respect that authority).

Public Oration – 2nd Level

Get a group of people to listen to you and agree with what you’re saying. The effect will last as long as they’re all together (and longer if they’re predisposed to the message). The size of the group upon which this works is the same as Quell Crowd. Useful for getting information across, influencing societies, marking arguments in front of courts or parliaments etc.. Can also be used to start a riot, although this will be an uncontrolled one whose purpose will be wanton destruction.

Stonewall – 2nd Level

Anyone asking questions or trying to get their way with the bureau is pushed off politely, gently, but firmly. They will think that they have gotten their goals achieved, and it will only be on later close reflection that they will realize that they have not. This can be attempted on other bureau, but will only work on those of a lower level (and they will be aware that it is working, although will be powerless to stop it).

Bind Henchman – 3rd Level

Upon the leveling up of a henchman, the bureau can choose to bind that henchman to his will. The henchman now has the highest loyalty to the bureau as set by the rules of the system, and can cast one 1st-level social move per day (at his own level), as long as it is done in service of his master. Upon each level the henchman takes, he can cast one more spell per a day (but can never cast spells higher than level one).

Casting this spell permanently uses up one third-level spell slot. The only way to free this spell slot is to unbind the henchman. The henchman will be unbound only if he dies by the hand of the bureau who has bound him—his dying in pursuit of his master’s goals (or of old age, etc) will not free up the slot.

Upon the death of their master, a bound henchman will go mad.

Public Influence – 3rd Level

Get a group of people to listen to you, agree with you, and act on your suggestions. Useful for causing a controlled protest, swinging a vote your way, getting unpopular work completed, etc..

Turn to bureau – 4th Level

After much discussion, cajoling, and psychological damage, a dwarf loses half his/her XP but becomes a bureau of the appropriate level (a zero-level dwarf becomes a first level bureau at 0 XP). This will require a number of hours of discussion equal to the dwarf’s level multiplied by 10 (so 20 hours for a second-level dwarf), but these may be spread out over time. As long as the dwarf listens (whether willingly or under duress) for the right amount of time, he will be turned.

As long as the process of turning is underway, one 4th level spell slot is taken up by the process. The bureau can chose to regain this slot by normal meditation, but in that case all progress towards turning is lost and the process must start anew.

If a bound henchman is turned, he becomes a bureau and can make all social moves as a bureau except “bind henchman”. He remains bound in all other ways. Upon the death of their master, a bound bureau is set free (although often chooses to continue their master’s plans).

In addition, all the following magic-user and cleric spells can be performed as social moves by a bureau. In some noted cases, the social move has a different level than its equivalent spell. All of the spells saves and restrictions do apply. However, these are not magic when used by bureau, and all saves must be vs. paralyze or charisma checks.

All spells were taken from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but other sources should work fine.

Charm Person – 1st level magic-user spell

Command – 1st level cleric spell

Confusion – 4th level magic-user spell (3rd level bureau social move)

Detect Lie – 4th level cleric spell (2nd level bureau social move)

ESP – 2nd level magic-user spell (5th level bureau social move)

Forget – 2nd level magic-user spell (5th level bureau social move)

Power Word Stun – 7th level magic-user spell

Remove fear – 1st level cleric spell (social move only removes non-magical fear)

Suggestion – 3rd level magic-user spell (1st level bureau social move)

Further Inspiration
Evil, psionic-using dwarves.
Evil dwarves who influenced the bureaucratic machinations of Nazi Germany.
Particularly Parts I and VI. Bureau are the “sociopath” layer of Dwarven society.

A Song of Ice and Fire (books) / Game of Thrones (TV show)
Varys is a prime example of a bureau dwarf.

House of Cards (netflix series)
Kevin Spacey’s character? Definitely a high level bureau. The British version of the show (also on netflix) gets bonus points for better portraying how a bureau hides his true nature from those around him. Stanhoe in the British version is definitely a bound henchman.