Elminster's Guide to the Realms
The Black Dwarf Mine
by Ed Greenwood, illustrated by David Day, (Dragon #316)
The countryside due east of Waterdeep consists of open grazing land, long denuded of trees and bushes by Waterdhavian military decree - and kept that way by foragers in search of any firewood they can sell to citizens in the often chilly and fog-shrouded port city.
An endless succession of caravans and driven livestock keeps the terrain of the "Bare Hills" close-cropped and muddy. The topography of this stripped land is obvious to the casual eye: a series of small, rolling hills whose sides occasionally break into rocky outcrops and faces, known as tors.
For years small children in search of baubles and adults in search of mineral wealth have chipped away at exposed rock here and there on these tors, creating several small, shallow caves. These often serve foxes or wild dogs as dens and occasionally shelter more dangerous beasts - until word spreads and soldiers sally forth from the city to "cleanse the holes" again. Some six summers back, persistent probing of the hills began. The prospectors were a handful of dwarves driven from the Sunset Mountains by Zhentarim attacks.
These dwarves couldn't accept that the stones of so many hills could hold nothing of value. They spent three years digging holes, into which enterprising Waterdhavians promptly began dumping more embarrassing sorts of refuse (such as corpses and stolen items too easily identified to be salable). Eventually the dwarves worked their way to a point about 7 miles east of Waterdeep. There they found a long, low ridge whose roots held an extensive and very pure vein of iron ore, and what's come to be called the Black Dwarf Mine began its legitimate operations.
The name comes from the chief trade negotiator among the five dwarves, Aldurghen Stormhammer (N male dwarf War 3/Exp 6). Gruff-voiced but often joking, he is distinguished by two things: crude, black, homemade armor (a knee-length mail shirt studded with armor plates and an iron helm) and an ankle-length and always-filthy beard. Stormhammer is seldom seen in Waterdeep without his armor, but when he does doff his helm, he reveals a face that is equally blackened (either permanent pigmentation or the result of never washing) - hence his nickname: the Black Dwarf.
Stormhammer comes to Waterdeep accompanied by at least two dwarves, whose backbreaking labor has left them not only strong but with a very low tolerance for pranksters and thieves. Not that many folk have the strength to steal from them: They typically sell pig iron and cast-iron pots, pans, fire screens, clothes irons, boot-lacks, door "dragons" (ornamental weights that hold doors open), and trivets. They transport these wares in a handcart, the finished goods stored under a braced bottom weighed down by hundreds of pounds of pig iron. At the end of a trip to Waterdeep, the cart is instead filled with smoked sides of meat and several kegs of strong drink, leaving behind the cargo of iron - and words muttered in a few shrewdly chosen ears by Stormhammer about what's "in back" of his mine (described below).
What Meets The Eye
The Black Dwarf Mine comprises a series of tunnels bored into the western upper face of a bare rock ridge, with gravel paths linking them to a heap of tailings and a furnace. The dwarves work the mine with pickaxes and tip-carts, carrying ore and stone rubble out of the tunnels to the furnace or the tailings heap, respectively. Two other paths lead away from the mine: One connects to a drovers' trail running down to that Waterdeep-bypass spur of the Trade Way known as "the Run," and the other winds westward across the hills to a limestone quarry.
There are also two large, ramshackle wooden sheds with watertight roofs. One just below the furnace covers the casting trough into which molten iron is poured. The other - off to one side - stores charcoal, carts, and piles of raw materials. The dwarves do not use it for shelter; in wet weather, they sleep with their finished iron in one of the worked-out tunnels. Only exhaustion, not storms, can stop the near ceaseless forge-work.
The furnace is a squat stone chimney lined with firebrick beside a spring of rushing waters that turn a water wheel. The wheel's axle in turn drives two vertical wooden pistons through a series of cranks. The pistons rise and fall inside cylinders that look like over-sized, straight-sided kegs, although with far heavier strapping; the cylinder tops have flap valves that let them "breathe" in and out. The pistons force air through pipes into a mixing chamber, and thence via a tapering copper pipe into the depths of the bulbous furnace, to keep its fire hot.
The dwarves tip cartloads of iron ore, limestone from the nearby quarry, and charcoal into the furnace from above through the "maw," a hole in the side of the chimney above the fire. The limestone serves as flux: During smelting, it combines with non-metallic parts of the ore to make glassy slag (waste tailings). The dwarves buy charcoal from the busy human and halfling woodcutters along the fringes of the High Forest. They know very well how to burn charcoal for themselves, but their forge-work simply doesn't allow them time.
Day and night, the dwarves "feed the maw," dumping successive layers of ore, then flux, and then charcoal atop the air-blasted fire. Two and a quarter tons of ore, a ton and a half of flux, and a hundred handcarts of coal make a ton of Black Dwarf iron (in less-rich ore deposits, two and a half tons of ore and 150 carts of charcoal would be needed). The stack can't be more than about 35 feet high, or the weight of ore crushes the charcoal and chokes off the fire.
The metal melts and runs down to the bottom of the furnace into a small crucible, the "hearth," where it builds up behind a clay plug. The dwarves open a large cinder hole just above the hearth hourly to rake out the slag from atop the molten iron. The plug is broken every 12 hours or so to let the liquid iron run out. It flows out into a channel dug in the deep sand under the adjacent shed, into a long central trench (the "sow") that branches, like the veins of a leaf, into rows of smaller side cavities (the "pigs"). When these are all filled, the hearth-dam is plugged again. After the bubbling, smoking metal cools and hardens, the dwarves use hammers to break the pigs apart from the sow, then lift the smelted iron with hooks to prepare the trenches for the next pour. A pig of Black Dwarf iron weighs 75 pounds, and a sow 250 pounds.
Smaller tappings of the hearth fill fire-hardened clay molds buried in the surface of the sand to make pots and pans, or run into a clay-lined casting ladle set into the sand. A casting ladle is a long-handled pan with a beaklike spout on one side, which is lifted out when full to pour the iron into smaller, more delicate molds.
Pig iron is hard and brittle because it contains a lot of carbon. Producing malleable wrought iron requires removing the carbon, and the dwarves of the Black Dwarf Mine have begun doing this too. Directly north of the furnace they have built three smaller forges - open fireboxes that burn charcoal with forced-air drafts from another trio of water wheel-and-cylinder assemblies.
Many dwarves consider all of this backbreaking but simple work too crude for their skills ("leave such to the gnomes" is a common dwarven expression), but these landless outcasts don't seem too proud for it, and they obviously enjoy their forays into Waterdeep. They incur no shipping costs, so they can undercut the prices of all other ironworkers and thus capture the market.
In just a few seasons the Black Dwarf five have become very wealthy - not just from their iron, but also from their work "in back."
In its first year of operations, many folk of Waterdeep dropped by the Black Dwarf Mine out of curiosity - and suspicion. After dark rumors of "walking metal men" and other dangerous weapons swept through the Dock Ward, they wanted to see for themselves what the dwarves were up to.
Most came away with the impression that Stormhammer and his fellows work far too hard to be up to anything. So drenched with sweat that they often stagger into the millstream to drink and cool themselves at the same time, the fire-blackened dwarves toil nonstop with their hammers and tongs, in austere surroundings resembling a cave more than a building, and in heat and din so fierce that humans must peer at what's going on from a fair distance.
However, the mine does indeed have a very profitable secret sideline: discreet, short-term, high-fee storage of "hot" goods and other items folk want swiftly hidden. This is what the Black Dwarf five refer to as "in back." Valuables are stowed in the worked-out back caverns, often behind temporary walls of heaped rubble that look for all the world as if the digging ended there. Corpses, monster body parts, and more dangerous goods are often buried under the slag heaps (covered by an over-turned tip-cart if such treatment would harm them).
Ye should be aware that what makes Aldurghen Stormhammer's armor and skin black is not the iron at all, but a grimy preservative oil in which he regularly submerges both his tools and his armor. This edible but horrible-tasting oil, called "thaclet" by dwarves, is a mixture of specific stone dusts and oils derived by boiling particular plants. It serves two purposes: to drive out dampness, and to dissolve rust and tarnish by undoing what ye call the "oxidification" that occurs when air, water, and most metals meet. Many dwarves keep a small open barrel of thaolet on a worksite to stand tools in, or to wash away the blood of foes from weapons after battle.
Most dwarves prefer not to look like wet coal-heaps when dealing with humans, and wash thoalet away with clear oils before donning their armor for "public viewing" but Aldurghen cares not. Humor and whimsy rule him, although he's shrewd behind his jests and air of wide-eyed deviltry. Let not his act conceal from ye a mind as sharp as honed steel and a gaze that misses nothing
As for what's "in back" at the Black Dwarf mine, all I'll say is: Ye'll be surprised.
Aldurghen Stormhammer, Male Dwarf War 3/Exp 6: CR 8; HD 3d8+6d6+27 hp 62; nit +0; Spd 15 ft.; AC 17, touch 10, flat-footed 17, Base Atk +7 Grp +10; Atk +11 melee (1d8+4, +1 warhammer); Full Atk +11/+6 (1d8+4, +1 warhammer); AL N; SV Fort +10, Ref +3, Will +7; Str 16, Dex 11, Con 17, Int 11, Wis 12, Cha 13.
Skills: Appraise +5, Bluff +5, Craft (armorsmithing), +8, Craft (blacksmithing) +4, Craft (weaponsmithing) +6, Climb +5, Handle Animal +3, Intimidate +7, Sense Motive +5, Spot +5, Profession (iron worker) +13, Use Rope +4.
Feats: Endurance, Great Fortitude, Neogotiator, Skill Focus (Profession (iron worker)).
Languages: Common, Dwarf.
Possessions: Masterwork spiked chainmail, +1 warhammer, +1 dagger, bracers of armor +2, 2 potions of bull's strength, 47 gp.