How to Play A Duergar In D&D

The idea of Dwarves in Dungeons & Dragons often brings to mind boisterous festive-goers enjoying lively parties. But few know that beneath the surface, a different side to the dwarves thrives in the shadows of the Underdark. The Duergar are a stoic subspecies of dwarves who spend their lives toiling away in the mines and forges, scorning the idea of personal happiness.RELATED: Dungeons & Dragons: How To Build An Echo Knight Fighter


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Marked by tragedy, these dwarves gained psionic abilities that set them apart from their surface counterparts. With their Dwarven constitution and innate magic, the Duergar are a compelling option for anyone hoping to put a unique spin on the traditional Dwarf archetype.


History Of The DuergarDungeons & Dragons: Two humanoids on a raft, looking toward the city of Mantol-Derith

If you’re thinking of rolling a Duergar for your next character, it’s important to understand their deep and intricate history.

The Duergar, a unique subspecies of the Dwarf family, hail from the industrial underground city of Gracklstugh, a city defined by the glow of its countless forges and persistent smog. The appearance of these dwarves—stout, stocky, and gray-skinned, with a noticeable lack of hair—reflects their hardy nature and horrific past.

Once a clan of surface Dwarves, the Duergar were abducted and cruelly experimented on by the Mind Flayers. This ordeal left an indelible mark on their society, transforming them into a distinct subspecies—so distinct that they could no longer identify as Shield Dwarves.

Baldur's Gate 3 - A Mindflayer reaches out towards the viewer

Having never forgotten that no one came to their aid in their time of need, the Duergar renounced the surface and remained in the vast subterranean tunnels of the Underdark. This has also led to deep tensions between them and their surface counterparts.

Their history of abandonment and survival has bred a deep-seated bitterness and resilience within these joyless dwarves and deeply permeates their worldview, relationships, and motivations.

Duergar Species Features, Explained

Dungeons & Dragons: Xardorok Sunblight Defending His Forge
Xardorok Sunblight Defending His Forge by Paul Scott Canavan

Dwarven Resilience

  • You have advantage on saving throws you make to avoid or end the poisoned condition on yourself. You also have resistance to poison damage.

Thanks to their Dwarven blood—and the ever-present acrid smog of their forges—the Duergar are highly resistant to poison.

Poison damage is an extremely common damage type, present in all manner of beasts, monstrosities, and weaponry.

Because poisonous attacks often require a Constitution saving throw against the full damage of the attack, Dwarven Resilience can often grant you a chance to reduce the damage you take from poison by 75 percent.

That’s pretty nifty, especially in the earlier levels, when beasts and humanoids are common foes.

Psionic Fortitude

  • You have advantage on saving throws you make to avoid or end the charmed or stunned condition on yourself.

The Duergars’ Psionic Fortitude functions similarly to their Dwarven Resilience, though its origins are likely much darker—the Mind Flayers, under which the Duergar were once enslaved, are fond of using psionic blasts to stun their victims.

Still, though the feature isn’t likely to be used quite as much as Dwarven Resilience, it can come in handy.

Creatures that can inflict stuns include aberrations and Underdark creatures, whilst charms are common among spellcasters and the fey.

If you know in advance that your campaign will feature many of those, then Psionic Fortitude could save your life.

Superior Darkvision

  • You can see in dim light within 120 feet of you as if it were bright light and in darkness as if it were dim light. You discern colors in that darkness only as shades of gray.

Common among denizens of the Underdark, the Duergars’ eyes have adjusted to the constant darkness after generations of living beneath the earth.

This feature probably won’t see as much use as the others but can be especially helpful in campaigns that feature tons of dungeon-delving or underground travel.

Duergar Magic

Starting at third level, you can cast the Enlarge/Reduce spell on yourself with this trait, without requiring a material component.


Starting at fifth level, you can also cast the Invisibility spell on yourself with this trait without requiring a material component. Once you cast either of these spells with this trait, you can’t cast that spell with it again until you finish a long rest.


You can also cast these spells using spell slots you have of the appropriate level. Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma is your spellcasting ability for these spells when you cast them with this trait (choose when you select this race).

Perhaps the most interesting and useful feature of the Duergar species features Duergar Magic helps these stout dwarves combine magic and might in battle.

Both of these spells are excellent options for any player to have, whether they’re martial fighters looking to give themselves a boost before the fight, or spellcasters providing support for their frontliners. More on this in the next section.

Best Duergar Class Options

Dungeons & Dragons: Klondorn, the Duergar Priest
Klondorn, the Duergar Priest via Wizards of the Coast

The Duergar’s unique abilities give them synergy with a handful of classes that greatly complement their tenacity and spell-casting abilities:

Classes

Benefit

Monks, Fighters, and Barbarians

  • Enlarge/Reduce grants increased size, advantage on strength checks, and increased damage. This, of course, makes for an incredible combination for most martial classes by buffing their close-combat prowess.

  • Your innate resistances and sturdiness will also keep any striker or defender right where they need to be: at the front of the line, bashing foes and keeping them off of your Bards and Wizards.

Paladins and Bladesinging Wizards

  • Much like the other martial classes, Paladins and Bladesinging Wizards are also strikers who benefit greatly from the effects of Enlarge/Reduce.

  • These classes, in particular, also gain the extra benefit of being able to cast the Duergar’s innate spells with their own spell slots, but without them having to take up a spot on their list of Spells Known.

Rangers

  • When a creature is enlarged, so are any weapons they are carrying, dealing an additional 1d4 damage.

  • Surprisingly, this also works on ranged weapons such as short bows and longbows. This makes the Enlarge/Reduce spell useful for enhancing shots, especially when combined with the optional feature, Favored Foe.

Bards

  • While Bards probably won’t find themselves leaping into the fray, the Enlarge/Reduce and Invisibility spells are still great to add to the repertoire of any support spellcaster.

Best Duergar Feats

Dungeons & Dragons: Durth Sunblight
Durth Sunblight via Wizards of the Coast

Feats are great ways to elevate your character flavor, and there are plenty that complements the already-unique dispositions of the Duergar.

Feat

Benefit

Tavern Brawler

  • Adds a point to Strength or Constitution, bolstering your physical prowess.

  • Allows grappling on the attack with unarmed strikes or improvised weapons.


  • Synergizes with the advantage on Strength checks from Enlarge/Reduce, creating a powerful grapple build.

Tough

  • The additional health is great for any frontliner, especially one who wants to tank hits.

  • Increases your hit point maximum by 2 HP every time you level up.

Sentinel

  • Sentinel offers defenders the means to control a battlefield and protect allies.

  • The effects of Enlarge/Reduce also increase the range of your opportunity attacks, letting you stop more enemies in their tracks and better protect your squishies.

Dwarven Fortitude

  • Though the Duergar might disdain their surfacer cousins, they still possess some of their Dwarven heritage. Dwarven Fortitude lets you skip short rests altogether, using your hit dice to heal you each time you use the Dodge action.

  • The extra Constitution from this feat is also a plus, especially if you’re playing a tanky defender or striker.

Duergar Subspecies: Derro

Dungeons & Dragons - Sketched images of various Derro
The Derro via Wizards of the Coast

Though not a playable Species, the Derro are a separate subset of Duergar, and they look even more removed from their surfacer cousins than the Duergar do.

Their origins are largely unknown—though it’s widely speculated that they were also victims of the Mind Flayers, to a greater extent.

Predisposed to genetic madness, erratic, and hateful of everyone and everything, the Derro live alongside the Duergar in Gracklstugh, though they are treated with great unease and largely considered second-class citizens in the city—held in lower regard than slaves and confined to hovels in impoverished districts.

NEXT: Dungeons & Dragons: Motivations You Can Give Your Character

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