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The Hammerer is the executioner of your fortress. Normally, a dwarf that has committed a crime will be subject to justice at the hands of your Sheriff (later the Captain of the guard), who will imprison the criminal in jail. However, if the crime is particularly heinous, the Hammerer will dispense the swift and brutal justice that rides on the head of his or her hammer.
Upon arriving at your fortress, the Baron and his court sweep in with a smile, stories of wealth and power, and the unspoken promise that you'll soon be spending a lot of time dealing with ridiculous demands. But the Baron also brings with him a sweaty, brooding, bug-eyed dwarf whose résumé is just a list of poorly spelled acts of unspeakable violence. This is the Hammerer. The Hammerer is not interested in love, money, pretty clothes, or beautiful, one-of-a-kind artifacts. The Hammerer's one and only love is viciously beating nearby dwarves into small pieces of wet, hairy gristle. There are many stories about the Hammerer. Some say he was raised by goblins before being saved by the Baron. Some say he crushed his twin brother while still in the womb, then used his twin's femur to bludgeon his mother to death from the inside. No one knows the truth behind the Hammerer's violent obsession, but whatever the reason, the Hammerer is a genocidal monster with a fetish for blunt force trauma.
The Baron, being a shrewd politician, saw the possible usefulness of such complete devotion to savagery, and tried to tame the Hammerer, attempting to redirect that unrepentant wrath into a powerful arm of dwarven justice. Unfortunately, the Baron only succeeded in giving the Hammerer a license to torture any dwarf in your fortress. The Hammerer did learn one thing from the Baron, however, and that was how to spot an important dwarf, like your legendary weaponsmith.
Note that it is possible to greatly reduce the damage inflicted by the Hammerer by marking his hammer for dumping. This causes him to dispense justice with his bare hands instead, which can greatly inhibit the growth of the Hammerer's kill count. However, working without his hammer makes the Hammerer very unhappy, which is a fairly terrifying concept. Another option is to recruit the soon-to-be victim and assign him or her to wear some armor, which should help mitigate some of the damage. Another option is to simply ensure that you do not have any room in your jail - with no available chains, all dwarves sentenced to receive hammerstrikes will be downgraded to a beating from the captain of the guard.
Injuring your Hammerer is also a good strategy, as they can't beat criminals while unconscious in bed. Retractable menacing spikes in bedrooms are good for this. Getting something like a bolt stuck in their leg is better. The holy grail of Hammerer injuries is a mangled (red) nervous injury (spine, brain or neck) which will cause them to spend the rest of their life in bed, leaving your dwarves safe to ignore mandates once more.