Fantasy is overflowing with images of bearded dwarves wielding double-headed axes, with the occasional dwarven sword thrown in for good measure. But would dwarves actually use these weapons to fight their many enemies? And if they did, would they be effective?
While axes and swords might be useful against other diminutive foes like rival dwarf clans, goblins, or riled-up hobbits who had missed third breakfast, these weapons would be virtually useless against most of the dwarves’ traditional foes.
When you’re fighting massive creatures like ogres, trolls, and even giants, the last thing you want to do is get too close to them. Most of these adversaries could squish a dwarf flat with their weapon, so why would any dwarf in their right mind want to get within ax range of them?
These problems are magnified in large-scale battles, where the dwarves’ lack of reach would be devastating in formations. With the dwarves’ short arms, they wouldn’t be able to respond to attacks from their larger foes who would have a much greater reach. And battles where one side can’t hit back rarely last very long.
So, what weapons would dwarves use then? Below I’ll go over some of the weapons dwarves would most likely use in battle.
Pikes are the obvious weapon for dwarves to adopt in their armies. Pikes are effective against mounted troops and in trained hands are almost unstoppable against infantry formations. And the best part about a pike is that height doesn’t matter when you’re wielding a 16-foot long weapon.
A block of pikes would also likely be very effective against dwarves’ most dangerous foes. While dwarves armed with axes and shields would likely struggle to respond to a giant or ogre charging their line, a bristling wall of pikes could stop anything short of a dragon. If pikes could historically stop an armored knight’s charge, they can stop a 10-foot-tall ogre.
The one downside to a pike formation is that it can be shot to pieces by missile troops. And while most dwarven enemies aren’t renowned for ranged weapons – with the possible exception of goblins – it could still be a concern leaving pikemen without support. This brings us to crossbows.
Some fantasy books and games describe dwarves as having ranks of archers in their armies (though to be fair, many arm their dwarves with muskets or crossbows), and while bows are powerful in the hands of a human or an elf, bows would be a terrible weapon for a dwarf.
Assuming dwarves have normal body proportions for their height, a longbow or even a shortbow would be too unwieldy for them to use. And if they reduced the size of the bow for dwarves, it would lower the range and effectiveness of the weapon.
Crossbows, on the other hand, don’t care about a person’s height or draw length. Anyone can use a crossbow, and they are a powerful weapon on the battlefield. A dwarven pike formation supported by crossbows could deal with most threats a fantasy world could throw at it with ease. Especially if they have some pony-mounted dwarven cavalry to watch their flanks.
While pikes would be effective in a dwarven army, they are almost worse than useless as a personal weapon. No self-respecting dwarf setting out on an adventure would bring along a pike, which brings us to polearms.
Most of the more common polearms are a cross between an ax and a spear – the perfect weapon for ax-loving vertically challenged dwarves. And these weapons’ long reach ensures a dwarf wouldn’t be at a disadvantage when facing a taller opponent using a sword or ax.
Polearms are also particularly effective against armored opponents, making them invaluable when facing bugbears, orcs, or evil human Easterlings marching against Gondor. And polearms offer a variety of designs, with some having a hook to dismount riders, while others resemble sword staffs, with long blades mounted on the end, making them perfect for slashing and cutting.
If dwarves reside in a fantasy world where they’re constantly facing opponents twice their size or larger, it would only make sense for them to use weapons to negate their enemy’s size advantage. And while axes might be iconic, in my opinion, they would make a terrible weapon for a dwarf to use in battle.
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.