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"Labouring hard with a shovel in the darkness, stoking a massive boiler and bathing in the heat. Life on board an Ironclad, eh? Just like being at home."
‘One-eye’ Morgim, Sea Engineer aboard the Legend of Grimnir[1d]

Barak Varr, which means the Gate to the Sea in Khazalid, is unique amongst the Dwarf strongholds for being the only Hold built to be a massive harbor. Approaching from the land there is no indication at all of the busy port that lies ahead. In fact, even standing on the cliff edge it seems to the unsuspecting eye that the ships are destined to smash themselves into the cliff face. However, the powerful tides of the Black Gulf have carved out a deep cave system into the tall white rock, and here in these vast sea caverns the Dwarfs harbour their trading fleet.[1a]


The docks of Barak Varr

The Hold of Barak Varr is small in comparison to the strongholds that tunnel deep into the Worlds Edge Mountains, but the Dwarfs of the Hold enjoy a relatively cosmopolitan lifestyle, and are less dour and introverted than other Dwarfs. Not only is it one of the few strongholds that has remained open to traders from other nations, but the Dwarfs of Barak Varr are renowned for their hospitality. It is said that a Dwarf breakfast is a feast large enough to fill the belly of even the plumpest Halfling.[1a]

Dwarfs have a strong dislike of water and the Dwarfs at Barak Varr are unusual in that many of them become sailors. Even so, they still do not relish setting foot on the flimsy wooden ships used by men and Elves. Instead they put their faith in huge iron vessels driven by paddles and powered by steam boilers located deep within heavily armoured hulls, the arcane secrets of which are kept by the Sea Engineers Guild.[1a]

When traders of every realm, from Araby to Lustria, gather together at Barak Varr, they know that they can expect the legendary hospitality of the Dwarfs to refresh them on their arrival. Within the Hold there are many highly regarded establishments providing fare as diverse and impressive as any city in the Old World. It is a major trading centre, where bargains are made between merchants from many lands. This is reflected in the market area of the Hold where a visitor can buy anything, from fine Araby silks to exotic Lustrian statues, and from Halfling-mixed spices to fertility charms from the Southlands.[1b]

Tunnelled into the cliffs, the stronghold is almost impervious to attack by land. More than one nation has tried to assault Barak Varr by sea in the past, but the immense firepower of the Dwarf fleet has always driven away enemy armadas. Combined with the many cannons whose barrels bristle from revetments along the cliff face, an enemy fleet has to be very brave to approach the stronghold. Although it is strictly located in the lands of the Border Princes, this is diplomatically ignored by the Dukes and Barons who hold sway over the area, as the Hold protects them from invasion. This generosity they favour the Dwarfs with also extends to the Dwarfs’ free passage along the many trade routes that lead through the Border Princes. If truth be known, the Dwarfs inhabited the Border Princes long before any other race laid claim to the land and probably constructed the roads themselves. It is in fact the Dwarfs who put up with the presence of men in their ancestral realm purely because there is very little mineral wealth to be mined there.[1b]

The current King of Barak Varr is Byrrnoth Grundadrakk. He is known for maintaining traditional Dwarf values in the face of an ever-changing world and during his reign he has done his best to maintain strong links with the Holds in the Worlds Edge Mountains.[1b]


Like other Dwarfholds, the population of Barak Varr reached 150,000 during the Golden Age. Although it has declined to about a third of its former size, this decline is proportionally less than those experienced in the other Dwarfholds of Karaz Ankor. Barak Varr has provided shelter for many thousands of refugees from the Goblin Wars, and more recently it has become a staging point for expeditions into the Dragonback Mountains to recover lost treasure. Compared to the dangerous Badlands and volatile Border Princes surrounding it, Barak Varr is an island of stability and order.[1b]

The Voyagers of Barak-Varr

Barak Varr is home to a part of the Engineers Guild known as the Sea Engineers. This organisation specialises in building the great ironclad ships for which Barak Varr is famous. There is something about such vast machines that fascinates the more megalomanical engineers and there is nowhere else in the Karaz Ankor where such engineering feats are possible or required.[1d]

Dwarfs are not generally fond of the sea; it is, after all, a very different environment to their mountain holds. Many regard it as being the domain of the Elves and as such no place for proper, right-thinking Dwarfs. There is certainly no record of Dwarfs taking to sea in vessels powered by oar and sail as they have no natural talent as mariners.[1d]

The creation of steam engines large enough to power iron vessels changed all that however. By making iron float and by directing their vessels without dependence on tide or wind the Dwarfs feel they have conquered the sea and proven the dominance of earth over water. Moreover they have, to their own satisfaction, proven that anything the Elves can do, they can do better.[1d]

There are relatively few Ironclad vessels in existence and those that there are can be divided into broad categories. The typical Ironclad is the equivalent of other races’ galleys and ships of the line in size. It is a broad category, however, and every ship is a unique creation that is testament to the skill of the engineer that built it. Monitors are smaller than Ironclads and are well-suited to patrolling rivers and inland lakes as well as oceans. They carry less fuel than Ironclads so cannot steam so far without refuelling. Monitors are rarely seen outside the Black Gulf and the Tilean Sea, whereas Ironclads can reach Lustria when fully provisioned. Dreadnoughts are even larger than Ironclads and each is a veritable floating fortress, complete with massive turreted cannon, far larger than anything seen on land.[1d]

There have been very few engineers skilled enough to build a Dreadnought and the sheer cost precludes them being built in numbers. The greatest Kings of Barak Varr have marked their reigns by commissioning a Dreadnought and each one is a mechanical marvel unparalleled in the world. The credit for designing the first Dreadnought belongs to the legendary Engineer Hengist Cragbrow and every one built since has owed something to his vision. Equally rare is the Nautilus. This is a ship actually capable of travelling beneath the waves. The first Nautilus was built by Cragbrow’s one-time apprentice, Mungrun Steelhammer. Steelhammer was determined to make a name for himself and, unable to match the scale of his Master’s creations, built something completely different instead. Other Nautiluses have since been built but in many ways it was an invention that was ahead of its time then and is still ahead of its time now.[1d]

Steam-powered vessels opened the world’s oceans to Dwarf trade and ensured that wherever you go in the Old World and beyond there is a good chance you will find Dwarfs, curious to hear news from the Worlds Edge Mountains and eager to taste thick, Dwarfish ale again.[1d]

Ironically the Dwarfs’ ability to traverse the world’s oceans owes much to the Elves. No Dwarf would admit this, but without accurate charts it does not matter how powerful one’s ship is. Within Barak Varr the Dwarfs maintain their Book of Charts. Whilst it might originally have been a single tome it is now more of a library. Many of the charts therein have been bought from Tilean merchants quite properly but the earliest maps, the ones that made seafaring possible, are believed to have been looted from the Elves during the War of Vengeance. These charts have spared Dwarfs the irksome task of exploring; instead they have always known where they are going.[1d]

An example of this is the aforementioned Mungrun Steelhammer. His last ill-fated voyage was made in concert with Estalian privateers. Mungrun accompanied one of their expeditions to Lustria in his Nautilus. Together they hoped to explore and loot the fabled sunken city of Chupayotl. The Estalians had searched for the city for generations without success, but found it with Mungrun’s help. Clearly Mungrun had access to charts that showed the course to the city. The tragedy of Steelhammer’s last voyage is that only one of his crew ever returned to Barak Varr.[1d]

30 years after the expedition departed a Dwarf was freed from the oars of an Arabyan galley, his mind long gone. He was recognised by a kinsman as being one of Mungrun’s mariners. All he would talk about was great, black eyes and webbed claws. Dwarfs will dare much for gold however, and despite this salutary tale it is only a matter of time before another great Dwarf mariner follows in Steelhammer’s wake.[1d]


Rune of Barak Varr, based on the Seagate.

Any enemy approaching Barak Varr will first be confronted by the armies of the Border Princes. These warlike lords are fiercely protective of their domains and can be expected to mount strong resistance. Even if they are overcome then there is no way into Barak Varr that can easily be assaulted as the approaches run through tunnels well set with thick gates, cunning traps and solid defences. Approaching from seaward is even more hazardous, one must face both the Dwarf fleet and the most formidably gunned defences in the Old World.[1e]

Because of this, the throng of Barak Varr is rarely mustered to fight invaders, as there is, after all, little for them to defend that is near at hand. Barak Varr’s primary interests are the sea lanes, along which trade is conducted, and the nations that engage in trade. The army of Barak Varr is therefore most likely to be seen well away from its own lands, protecting the wider interests of the Hold. The throng of Barak Varr has fought in Tilea and Estalia, bringing those merchants who dare to deal dishonestly to justice. Their banners have flown in Araby when rogue Pashas have attempted to fill their treasuries through piracy and in Khemri where the Dwarfs reason the dead have no use for the gold that lies in tombs beneath the sands. When distant outposts like Skeggi in Lustria have been threatened the only help they can expect is from Barak Varr, as a friendly port in those waters is almost as valuable as gold (almost!). In all these cases the army is transported by the fleet, a feat made easier as the Dwarfs that make up the throng are in the main the same Dwarfs that crew the fleet.[1e]

Barak Varr is also home to the Storm Wardens.

Lords and Heroes

Barak Varr armies contain all the lords and heroes usual to normal Dwarf armies. There are some differences in the frequency that they appear however. Slayers are normally drawn to the Troll Country, as few see the benefit of having to travel by sea to find a Troll when there are so many close at hand! Consequently, Daemonslayers and Dragonslayers are much rarer in the armies of Barak Varr. The Hold has always been home to that branch of the Engineers Guild who specialise in building sea vessels, the Sea Engineers. Indeed, many of the great clans of Barak Varr owe their prestige to an ironclad vessel, designed and built by an ancestor, which they continue to proudly operate. Also the Hold makes tremendous use of cannons both at sea, and in its own defences, so Engineers are a common sight in its armies, eager to test their creations in action.[1e]

All Dwarf Holds have ancient Anvils of Doom, but that of Barak Varr is rarely taken to battle as it is kept in a great forge overlooking the harbour from where its runes can be used to repel invaders.[1e]

Standing Army

The mainstay units of Dwarf Warriors, Quarrellers and Thunderers are all present in Barak Varr armies. Frequent fighting from ships makes missile weapons very popular. Though there is a slight preference for handguns over crossbows, crossbows are not only cheaper but more reliable in wet weather, making it unlikely that crossbows will ever be completely supplanted on ship.[1e]

Barak Varr’s location makes Rangers and Miners a rare sight in its armies, this is not to say they don’t ever occur, just that any such regiments will normally be passing through from elsewhere for a particular reason. A regular sight in the livelier taverns of the Hold are the Skrataz, a loose group of prospectors who eagerly follow up any rumours of gold and silver in distant lands, often without consulting the masters of those lands; “If they wanted it, they would have already dug it up themselves” is used as the justification. The Skrataz will sometimes find themselves in the Throng of Barak Varr, normally when it is in their interest or when they are given no choice.[1e][1f]

The sea gate symbol of Barak Varr is used on shields and banners but not exclusively. Within the Hold different clans trace their lineage to the great Ancestor Gods Grimnir, Grungni, Valaya or to other, lesser Ancestors and will use their symbols instead. Additionally there are many Trade Guilds that member clans take great pride in being part of and display the symbols of accordingly.[1f]

Because Barak Varr is a thriving port there is a wider range of dyes and textiles available than anywhere else in the Dwarf realm. As a result there are no dominant colours in the Throng. Rare and exotic fabrics like silk are far more attainable and are excellent for demonstrating a warrior’s prestige. The Dwarfs of Barak Varr are rightly proud of their wealth and are loath for it to be out of their sight. Rich clothing and jewellery enables them to keep their hoard close to hand where they can enjoy it and provides them with the resources to do their own trading when the opportunity permits. A common sight on Barak Varr Dwarfs are arm rings of silver that can be used as currency virtually anywhere by the simple expedient of cutting chunks off one of them with an axe.[1f]

Specialist Units

Just as Daemonslayers and Dragonslayers are a rare sight in the Throng, so are units of Giantslayers and Trollslayers. Occasionally a band of such individuals may pass through while seeking a particular legendary monster to confront, but such sightings are uncommon and normally have a story attached to them.

King Byrrnoth, like all Dwarf Kings, maintains a guard of Hammerers. The commander of this regiment is responsible for the sea gates and bears the ceremonial keys of the Hold. They are the eyes and the ears of the King and are entrusted to deal with any disturbances in his name. The appearance of a Hammerer will normally quieten down any Dwarfs in a dispute and they have many ways of calming unruly visitors. They are so tied to the security of Barak Varr that they only take part in expeditions led by the King himself.

Wherever there are Dwarfs there are Longbeards and the Longbeards of Barak Varr are amongst the most enthusiastic followers of the King, recognising in him the qualities of a true Dwarf. They are, if anything, more ostentatious than the rest of the Throng as visitors to the Hold are not always aware of the respect rightly owed to wealth. Barak Varr Longbeards often have richly inlaid armour, helmets and weapons as a consequence.[1f]

Unknown to many there are Undgrin routes from Barak Varr to the holds in the Worlds Edge Mountains. These are vital to the Hold but are so long that they cannot easily be kept in the best condition. A former Sea Engineer by the name of Knut Krakkerson operates a steam-powered caravan that plies the tunnels and helps keep trade moving. Ultimately, however, it is the work of the Ironbreakers that ensures that Barak Varr remains the Dwarfs’ gate to the world. They diligently patrol the Undgrin and aggressively hunt down any Goblin, Skaven or other creatures that they catch sight of. The Ironbreakers include many of Barak Varr’s finest warriors and no major expedition would be complete without a regiment of them. In many ways the presence of the Ironbreakers determines whether a Throng represents the King himself or is merely a private venture.[1f]


When it comes to artillery, Barak Varr is exceptionally well-supplied. In particular they favour cannons and some of the largest pieces in the Old World can be found in their coastal batteries. The needs of the fleet mean there is no shortage of Dwarf gunners and there is a keen rivalry between different clans over who possesses the most accurate cannon. Grungni’s Hammer is the best known. It is at least nine centuries old and is the pride of the Halfarnason clan. It is said that one shot from this great gun sent a Dark Elf Black Ark to the bottom of the sea from a range of a mile and a half, a feat no one has bettered. Grudge Throwers and Bolt Throwers are still evident but are regarded as being a little old-fashioned. Above all else, Dwarfs are practical and the ability of Grudge Throwers to drop their iron-bound rocks through the decks of enemy vessels is greatly appreciated, as is the way that Bolt Throwers can bring down high-flying creatures with greater accuracy than cannon.[1f]

When fighting foes equipped with wooden vessels, Flame Cannons are extremely useful and any Engineer who has built one is always welcome in Barak Varr. By comparison Organ Guns lack the power to penetrate the hulls of enemy ships and are a little rarer. Whilst Barak Varr has many possible uses for Gyrocopters there are no Engineers currently resident who have mastered the technique of building them. In all probability this is because Barak Varr is best known for Engineers who want to make huge engines to power the largest ironclad vessels, not those who are interested in small, lightweight engines. That said, there are Gyrocopters, but these are easily lost in any mishap over water and are thus a rare resource.[1f]

One area in which Barak Varr differs significantly from other Dwarf holds is in its use of Dogs of War. It is a major port and sellswords regularly pass through. Long Drong and his Slayer pirates are frequent visitors to stock up on rum and powder whilst Vespero's Vendetta sometimes accompany Tilean merchants as bodyguards. As many of the conflicts that Barak Varr gets embroiled in are related to trade it has become acceptable for the richer merchant clans to finance their own armies. As evidence of this, the Throng that stormed the lair of the Estalian pirate Alphonso Garracha included more mercenaries than Dwarfs, including the renowned Daddallo and his Birdmen of Catrazza.[1f]

It is not unheard for there to be Dwarf mercenaries in the service of foreign princes. Many of these mercenary bands come from Barak Varr itself, the best known of them being the Company of Torston Treehaka.[1f]


  • 1 White Dwarf #307 (UK edition)