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Magic vs. Technology: The Dwarven Mystery

Librarian Comment: 

Taken from the The Essential Site, this thread includes in-character roleplay about the culture of the Dwemer. Hasphat Antabolis is played by Kurt Kulhmann, Temple Zero by Michael Kirkbride (who also appears as himself), and Kier-Jo by Douglass Goodall. WormGod is the alias of GT Noonan and Tedders of Ted Peterson. Fel Droon could be either Michael Kirkbride or Kurt Kuhlmann, as both developers have written under that alias. It is the origin of the text A Type of Zero Still to be Discovered.


Having been doing some study on the Dwemer, looking through all texts that have even the slightest hint at anything relating to the Dwarves, I've developed some speculations that I thought should be brought up for discussion.

The most prominent -and indeed the point that colours all other hypotheses on the Dwarves- is the whole subject of Dwemeri society being an entirely non-magical one.

This is, in itself, something unique among all the races of Tamriel, possibly in whole of Nirn: a society totally devoid of using magick, even in the most mundane sense, instead completely dependant on physics to sustain themselves and their way of life. Not only that, but the fact that the Dwemeri not only did not use magic, but did not even BELIEVE in magic of itself!

When one studies closely Dwemer society -what little information of it there is available- this attitude towards magick becomes more evident, and more puzzling, the closer the examination. The question that begs to be asked all the more is: Why the total aversion of the Dwemer towards the use of, or even the recognition of, magick?

It could not have been due to the Dwarves being ignorant of the existence of magick. If the generous presence of magicka within the confines of natural sources were not enough to scream proof, then certainly its use against them by the enemies of the Dwemer would more than bear its acknowledgement -by duress, if nothing more.

It also could not be attributed, despite certain Elven claims to the contrary, to the Dwemer lacking intelligence to recognize the existence and properties of magicka, for the same reasons.

And yet, throughout all knowledge of the Dwemer, there seems to be not even the slightest use of magick. Indeed, it seems that the Dwemer went so far as to take great pains to remove even the slightest hint towards the existence of magicka from their lives. A prime example would be in astronomy, where the known constellations, universal among all peoples, are identical all but with the exception of the Mage, which is instead substituted with the Mechanist.

This anti-arcanal attitude, despite immeasurable contrary evidence, can lead only to one conclusion: that the Dwemer PURPOSELY denied the existence of magick, for reasons known only to them at this time.

Such a position could be considered tantamount to blasphemy, as it is well known that the source of magicka is the planes of Aetherius, from which magicka flows -through the stars- to the mortal realm. Indeed this heretical denial of magick might even reach to the accusation of atheism, as to deny magick is to deny the source of magick (i.e. Aetherius), which would equal denial of the gods themselves. To further this accusation it is interesting to note that nowhere do we find evidence of Dwemeri religion among any of the ancient cities, artifacts or survivng texts of the Dwarves; or any pantheon of gods; or even a Dwemeri creation myth among the those of the other races, though Dwarven influence has been found from one end of Tamriel to the other.

And yet the Dwarves do give testimony to having spirituality of a sort, one seemingly bound to their mechanistic nature. The Dwemeri devotion to their machines may hold the answer. Through existing texts, there is the theory that the Dwarven metal is tempered by the souls of their dead. Tales of the creation of the Anumidum involve "the sacrifice of so many of their golden souls to create Anumidum's metal body", and their forming of the Mantellan Crux is likewise steeped in spirituality. It has been theorized that Anumidum's creation was, in itself, a refutation of the gods, though others claim this nonsense.

However, this may be the key to understanding Dwemeri aversion to the arcane. Is it possible that their evident lack of recorded religion, when contrasted with their complete devotion to the mechanism, instead reveals an even greater piety? Rather than sculpting effigies of their worship in inanimate stone, were their machines, used in every facet of daily existence, their icons and the means of their spiritual transference?

Perhaps. And perhaps this is the clue to why the Dwarves disappeared from the face of Nirn, not through disaster, but through attaining a goal unreachable through magic. And perhaps this was the true goal behind Tiber Septim's unquenchable thirst for all things Dwarven, and the source behind his unique achievements to conquer the whole of Tamriel beneath his throne.


*applause* Nicely reasoned and nicely written.

** WormGod

Did they abandon magic? The Dwemer were quite aware of magic. Not only were they aware of it, they practiced with the use of it quite often. And to further make it interesting, they experimented with it, which made many outsiders (other Dunmer) very cautious and in some instances, frightened. The mending of machine technologies and magics is probably like the thought of Zeus taking a trip into orbit via the space shuttle. There have been many cases where the Empire and Telvani have gotten their hands on numerous Dwemer artifacts that appear to be quite simple to operate with the use of steam or a static current (harnessed lightening). But, they have not found out why they will NOT operate. The key may very well be the absence of a magical strain. This magic could be in the form of a spell enchantment or even a charm of some sort (magical key item?). This much could be explained by the use of the dirigible in Redguard. I will guarentee there was more than hot air powering that thing. And that huge Iron Golem appeared to be steam driven. Ok, thats cool, but where did the intelligence come from to attack? I doubt it was an onboard processor. Perhaps a summoned Daedric entity, trapped inside that huge shell? Its possible. So are a number of other things of course.

Anyways, just keeping things interesting for ya. Afterall, the Dwemer are on my hot plate right now, and have been for about 6 months. I have been living through the missing bastages to get their goods all built and mysteriously understood. They are/were definately a crazy bunch of whackos. ;)

** Hasphat Antabolis

As usual, the ubiquitous "GT" manages to muddy the sublime with his persistent focus on the mundane. In my excavations of numerous Dwemer sites (sir, I beg of you, where do you derive your interesting, ah, theories about the Dwemer?), I have found ample evidence to support the idea of a strong anti-magick strain pervading the whole of Dwemer culture, as Mr. Sleigh so persuasively puts it.

An interesting exception to the well-known cliche about Dwemer artifacts (that "GT" trots out as if it were a revelation) are the ruins found on Stros M'kai. The several fine examples of working Dwemer technology currently held by the Imperial Museum were all removed from Stros M'kai by Lon Twembel's famous expedition. But not a single functioning artifact has been found in the much more extensive ruins found throughout Morrowind. Coincidence? If your interest has been piqued, I'm sure you will look forward to the publication of my "Steam and Spirit: The Dwemer Exodus to Stros M'kai And The Implications Thereof To Accepted Theories of Dwarven Technology."

** Fel Droon

Hasphat is, of course, begging the question he so desperately wants to answer (since 'S&S: &tc., &tc.' can now be found weighing down the handwagons of the capital book-hawkers): did the steam-driven Rourken Clan of Stros M'kai somehow stand at a technological counterpoint from the Velothi Dwemer and, if so, why?

What implications, anti-religious (in the magickal sense) or otherwise, does this hold for our modern view of Dwemeri culture? Was the exodus not only religious in nature but (for lack of a better word) technical as well? I think the Elder sleighr has already noticed that there is hardly a divergence between the two....

Fel Droon, Office of the Imperial Secondary Excavations Survey of Sub-Extant Civilizations (Tamriel)

** Michael


You're good enough to write books for the game. Just thought you should know.



Thanks. Coming from you, that is high praise.


I concur. I suppose most of us here are. But, it did almost seem like I was reading one of those books from the game, written by some sage/scribe. Hey, its even the right length. I still don't get why you'd pay over 700 gold for a book that's about 2 pages long... But I digress. I can almost see that little bit of literature almost being a book itself in MW or something. I dunno. Whatever you guys at Bethesda decide. I concur with my brother (who does not post here), as well, in that you guys have put forth a lot of effort to create a world so detailed. Middle-Earth and my D&D world are about the only other ones I've seen with anything close to this level of detail.

Odin Fenrir

Its simple, they were written by hand, in Medeval times, hand. Now I don't if Tamreil has magic book writing things, or not, or magic box that make cold, and heat, or ones that stop food form rotting.

And which d&d, there servel settings, and the Shannara world is pertty detailed also.

** Temple Zero

'A Type of Zero Still to Be Discovered' -- a traditional Dwemeri children's rhyme. (Maybe this will help.)


Wake up, khundakar, it¡¦s a new day, traditional style, and thank you for breathing.

Wake up, suchi-el, get dressed, reconsider your [science], here¡¦s an official daguerreotype.

Good morning, Ae, here¡¦s a side of the story you seldom suffer.

Good morning, Aurbis, you¡¦ve got numbers to ignore.

Look out, First Moon, wearing those are dangerous in this industry, so try to enjoy.

Look out, Second Moon, not everything is inexplicable and extortion is for [skeptics].

Nice day, khundakar, we have your table ready, the divinities are already waiting.

Nice day, suchi-el, the world-nirn cannot be mapped, so forward your dismissals to the eight givers.

Afternoon, Ae, I hope all is well in the world of modern folklore.

Afternoon, Aurbis, the reports are true, there is a type of zero still to be discovered, all [critics- ?] agree.

Good night, First Moon, stay out past [supper], return these to the [proper authorities].

Good night, Second Moon, it¡¦s time to go, love the metal all you want, three easy ways of comfort.

Bedtime, khundakar, put away your star-mobiles, [anecdotes- ?], and bone collection.

Bedtime, suchi-el, stay over, bring your astrolabe, we think there¡¦s still some ghosts.

Sleep well, my children, tomorrow I¡¦ll buy you both the sea.

** WormGod

As usual, the ubiquitous "GT" manages to muddy the sublime with his persistent focus on the mundane.

Everywhere and always. Much like the voices that that wont allow you to sleep at night. And when it comes to the Dwemer, is anything really mundane about them? Kinda makes ya wonder. ;)

In my excavations of numerous Dwemer sites (sir, I beg of you, where do you derive your interesting, ah, theories about the Dwemer?), I have found ample evidence to support the idea of a strong anti-magick strain pervading the whole of Dwemer culture, as Mr. Sleigh so persuasively puts it.

I dont doubt your thorough examinations and studies of Dwemer culture and invention. I am actually a large follower of your "findings and works". However, and I take it you have not heard, that within the Bal Ur region of Vvardenfell, an "Imperial" smuggling ring was recently broken up by Tribunal officials. Apparently, these smugglers, who claim they are NOT working for the Empire, uncovered a hidden Dwemer ruin and attempted to remove findings. Sources have said that they are INDEED agents of the Empire. Thay have since been removed from the province. The findings were examined extensively by the Tribunal before myself and several other "artisans" were allowed to view them. Just as the findings within the Stros M'kai excavation, there were several working machinations within the dwelling. Many of which were alien to the Stros M'Kai works. Steam was used, just as it appeared in the west, but this is where it gets interesting, kind sir. Among other findings, were numerous devices that appeared to be other sources of power. I cannot say for sure if they are magical, but if so, this may surely be an exciting find. It appears, that steam in conjuction with these devices, can create an extremely efficient means of power. This is simply a theory right now, but it is being worked out as I speak. I urge you, Antabolis, to come out east and see for yourself. With your knowlege and skill on such findings, you may be able to unlock this mystery. And to make it worth your time, I would be willing to present to you many more findings, even greater than this, that will surely allow you to understand the mystery. I am sorry I cannot speak of these finding here, for there are far too many Imperial snitches and spies about.

An interesting exception to the well-known cliche about Dwemer artifacts (that "GT" trots out as if it were a revelation) are the ruins found on Stros M'kai. The several fine examples of working Dwemer technology currently held by the Imperial Museum were all removed from Stros M'kai by Lon Twembel's famous expedition. But not a single functioning artifact has been found in the much more extensive ruins found throughout Morrowind. Coincidence?

Until now my friend! These are trully great times closer to home!

If your interest has been piqued, I'm sure you will look forward to the publication of my "Steam and Spirit: The Dwemer Exodus to Stros M'kai And The Implications Thereof To Accepted Theories of Dwarven Technology."

I look forward to your future writings. My interest is always focused in your direction.

The Ubiquitous GT ;)


So then, if the Dwemer are only technologist not a magick user, why the great Anumidum was designed with a enchanted heart inside it? Or is it just the modification made by Zurin Arctus to the already steam working anumidum?

If so perhaps this powerful artifact was using somekind of unknown fuel to operate then, and in the end this caused the head of Imperial Battlemage sacrifice his heart for it to work? I do not know the truth about this since the Underking died (eternally, eventually) in the Warp of the West. I could not interview him ;-)

But for me, these mysterious Dwemer are not *fully* abandon the magick. I just found some other reference that they were using magical artifacts during Nord War (King Wulfharth's war) and don't forget they were using Volendrung.

Dzu'Rith Dragonsbane

It's definately something for Bethesda to think about. If they actually DO need people to write histories or simply legends for the game, I'm sure that any number of us here will more than willingly submit. Not to mention the fact that many of us are more than skilled authors (I like to include myself here, though most are yet to see a great deal of evidence for this. Patience, my friends. They will come ^_~ )

All you need to do is ask. There will be a great deal of interest, I have no doubt.

The Obsidian Serpent

Perhaps the Dwemer simply did not recognize magic as a particularly special force.


Indeed. Despite the claims of my associate to the idea that magick WAS in fact in use by the Dwemer, he has little evidence to support his theory, merely circumspection. Certainly the mechanical colossi [read: "golem"] among the Rourken findings in Stros M'kai hint at intelligence in their ability to seek out prey, as do the smaller, sword-wielding sentinels found strewn among the ruins. But this is no definite evidence of magickal infusion -at least in the popular sense. This, in fact, gives more weight to the contrary, as atronachs are created daily and easily by the Mages' Guild, without the use of mechanics. The use of both magick and mechanism to create their golems would imply unnecessary excessiveness on behalf of the Dwemer. Like lighting a candle in full daylight to read a scroll.

Examination of the fighting patterns of the Dwemeri golems have revealed patterns to their movements. If the target moves in a particular direction, the golem moves towards it; if the target moves away from the golem's facing, the golem turns in the same direction; if the target stays stationary, the golem attacks.

However, this strategy on behalf of the golem seems to work only if the target is at ground level to the golem, and if any obstacle is in its way, such as a wall, platform or pillar, the golem is effectively stumped as to strategy. Does this indicate intelligence? No. Only that it senses a nearby target.

Similar ability can be found among snakes, which sense by vibrations in the ground of approaching creatures, which it uses to determine the direction in which to strike. Liquids such as water too can show vibration, moving in the opposite direction to the source of vibration and temporaily shifting weight in the process. A pan of liquid, if properly balanced, will lean away from a source of vibration. A liquid metal -e.g. quicksilver- bound in a closed pan, could be used as a directional tool under such circumstances, setting off contacts (whether by weight or by the use of tamed lightning) that would in effect give the golem directions; centralizing the vibration telling the golem when to strike.

Of course, this is only a general description, the workings of a Dwarven golem would be be much more complex. But there, the theory of magickly imbued intelligence, refuted in an elementary lesson known to even the lowest-level alchemist.

The airships too, are not necessarily pregnant with magicka, as the basis behind their flying ability. A base system of released gasses could easily account for propulsion and steering (not to mention the air-rushing sounds they make), and also account for the suspiciously positioned holes set in the hull.

This is not to say that complete devoidance of magick use by the Dwemer is definite, just that there is little solid evidence to prove the opposite in what we know about them. The Imperial and Telvani failure in getting their artifacts to operate may be due to inability to find some possible magickal key. However, that key just may be the lack of anything magickal at all, and simply due to ignorance of Dwemeri methods and mechanisms, for which the only ones true in knowledge would be Dwemer. Unfortunately there aren't any around. Certainly it is difficult to deduce a complicated magickal formula, especially if it does not exist.

** WormGod

Antabolis and Sleighr, perhaps I can aim you in the direction of a top researcher on the Dwemer use of science AND magic. He is slightly mad, but quite a genius. You may have heard of him.... his name is Serjo Telvanni Baladas Demnevanni. Many would refer to the 2000 year old Telvani mage as Klickety Klack, for obvious reasons if you were to meet him. Baladas has ample evidence that that insists that magic "was indeed" a "tool" used by the Dwemer. If I recall what I read in one of his writings, he claims that the Dwemer may have nearly perfected their "own" form of "enchantment". This enchantment combined with their use of machinery may have been the lifeforce we find mysterious. I believe this form of "enchantment" may have been either taught or borrowed from the Daedra. That is a guess, but it is very possible. Baladas firmly believes the Dwemer to have been striving to actually build a "man", or a new "life". Thus, Anumidium. They may have been dangerously close according to current findings, and this is very well, possibly a clue to their disappearance.

I am journeying to Tel Aruhn very soon to meet with a few associates over the protection issue on smugglers invading many new-found ruins. The Telvani have taken a VERY special interest in such matters and will be dispatching several security forces to all known ruins located in Vvardenfell. Almost daily now, new ruins are being found in the province and they must be protected at all costs. I should you could join us in Tel Aruhn. It seems there are still many contradicting issues involving the Dwemer mysteries and discussing them could prove to be quite relishing.


I would be most honored to attend, if I can acquire the proper visas (Imperial bureaucrats do love their forms, don't they?). This unique "enchantment" (life-magick?) of the Dwemer intrigues me, not only for its leads toward understanding the possible Dwarven heresy and the Rourken exodus, but it could also give some clue to the Schism that divided the Altmer in the first place.

** Western Knight of the Sandy Mane

Kier-Jo scoffs at this so-called scholarship.

"It was Science!"

"No, it was Magic!"

These kittens should be sent back to the Clan Mother's breasts. Kier-Jo hears such baby-talk from sugar addicts, yes, but rarely from alleged scholars.

How could even the Unclawed not know the twenty-four terms? The Dwemer knew. The Chimer knew. They left "heaven" with the Deceiver (a false title, of course) and the Morning-Star, Keeper of Secrets, who taught them how to make these terms real. But the Dwemer had ambition, so the Keeper of Secrets gave them exactly what they wanted. Morning-Star always protects her children and her true children.

Pools of quicksilver? Kier-Jo laughs at the Golem that follows it's own footsteps!

And what of the Dwemer artifacts that still have power? Does steam last a thousand years? Did Anumidium not dance to the Psijiic plans, with their seven goals, seven puppets, and seven false totems? Does it not dance even now? Even without the heart of what you mer and men think was Zurin Arctus? When will you smell the true power source behind this Dwarven "science?"

Golems need more than steam to creak their joints. Kittens who say otherwise have more hot air than a so-called "dirigible." The Scarab Knights aren't the only ones who know how to twist metal back into shape. Kier-Jo tells you that much.