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A dwarven 'beard' consists of both his cheek whiskers and his chin whiskers, and is specific to males. (Code to enable female beards is in creature_standard.txt, but commented out by default.) The game keeps track of a hidden 'length' attribute for each tissue. At birth, a male baby dwarf has a beard of length zero. After that, they gain 1 length every day until they have 1000 length.
The beard does not affect anything other than the description as yet. Interestingly, different dwarven civilizations tend to have different cultural hairstyles, including beard styles.
Although most creatures have both of these tissues, they have no such appearance as a beard. This leads to many players believing that elves have beards, which is incorrect.
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Dwarven hair is extremely hearty; the average dwarf hair is many times longer and several times thicker than the average human hair. The range of colors is quite large; common colors include dark blues, black, any number of shades of gray, silver, white, brown, copper, rust, and even flaming orange-red.
Because they are grown to such incredible lengths and thicknesses, dwarven beards act as an extra layer of defense against external dangers - the resiliency of the beard helps protect the dwarf's face from physical blows, the expansiveness of the beard helps protect the dwarf's face and upper body against sources of radiation, and in its normal state, the beard almost completely covers the nasal passages and the mouth, acting as a sort of natural gas mask, which keeps noxious gases and other airborne contaminants from being inhaled. Also, each hair is coated with unique oils that give it the ability to attract and trap some germs and bacteria, which are then either scrubbed out in the bath, or (more commonly) immersed in strong alcohol from the inevitable poorly-aimed quaff.
Dwarven beards as a sensory organ
The remarkably thick hairs of the male dwarf's beard are a marvel of biology. Each hair contains millions of sensory receptors of incredible diversity, including but not limited to hairs that gauge humidity and air flow, hairs highly sensitive to the presence of alcohol, air pressure sensing "
Bad Fun Decision" hairs that are hooked directly to the brain's pleasure center and chemically reward dwarves for digging deeper, and even hairs that produce more and more vitamin D the longer a dwarf spends underground, to the point where any solar contact at all results in an overload of vitamins and immediate nausea. The only sense that dwarven beards lack, are heat sensories.
Dwarves also use their beards to procreate. Female dwarves use their long, luxurious knuckle hairs for the same purposes.
Dwarven beards as a symbiotic organism
In actuality, dwarves are not singular creatures such as humans, but are colonial organisms consisting of a single humanoid body (referred to as a 'Dwarf' for simplicity's sake here), and a colony of beard strands. Dwarves and beards have formed a symbiotic relationship over the years, to the point where neither is capable of survival without the other, similar to a Portuguese Man o' War.
Strangely enough, the higher intellect, agency and decision-making of the colony is not handled by the humanoid part, but by a hive mind residing in the beard -- which goes a long way towards explaining why the dwarf's humanoid brain must be sloshed with alcohol in order put the colony into good working order, i.e., with the beard at the helm. While each individual beard strand is very small, much like cloud computing, together they are able to form complex thoughts. Because they are each rather simple, they tend to all get aligned on the same thought at once, leading to a dwarf deciding "Getting -troll fur sock- at all costs" is the only thing worth doing right now. The body is essentially a sack of meat used to move the beard from place to place.
Dwarven beard strands have been observed to attempt to bond with humans, due to a similar body structure, but such symbiosis is always short lived for the human.
"Dwarven Ghosts" are actually the remaining beard strands when the 'body' segment dies. The strands, similar to muscle memory, assume the shape of the body they once inhabited and attempt to carry out their routines. Due them just being thin strands in a humanoid shape, they appear gossamer and ethereal to onlookers, and objects pass through them by slipping past the strands. This also explains why ghosts die of old age; it takes a while, but eventually the strands exhaust their nutrient supply, being unable to draw from the dead host.