I was struck by this article over at io9, and my thoughts immediately raced to Moria, the Kingdom Under the Mountain, and Nogrod. Imagine, if we puny humans can achieve such a feat in a little over a century, what the dwarves, masters of stonecraft that they are, might achieve in the span of half a millennium.
Where a human might consider 75 a good run age-wise, 500 would be so for a mountain dwarf. That means a single generation of dwarves can do 6 times as much as a generation of men. While they would not have the benefits of modern machinery, of course, they have other means at their disposal to make up for it: magic, large animals to use as beasts of burden (giant lizards, for instance, to haul out loads of ore or slag), earth elementals that could be called upon to perform miracles of mining, etc.
The Bingham Canyon Mine is essentially a pit over half a mile deep and two and a half miles across. You would need something on the order of 1200 sheets of standard graph paper (8 1/2 x 11, 4 squares/inch), arranged in a square some 30 sheets by 40 sheets, to map such a thing. And that’s just one “level”. If the dwarves managed to hollow out that volume underground, assuming one “level” every 30 feet, you’d have 130 or so levels. Of 1200 sheets each.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a simple gaping hole in the ground. The dwarves, skilled miners and workers of stone that they are, would see a city and keep carving until they set it free, much as Michelangelo with his angel.
“Moria… You fear to go into those mines. The dwarves delved too greedily and too deep. You know what they awoke in the darkness of Khazad-dûm… shadow and flame.”
And naturally there is the famous trope of dwarves digging too deep, awakening some ancient sleeping evil, and thus sealing their doom. Once again, reality is cooler than fiction, when we see the example of Derweze in Turkmenistan. There, Soviet engineers thought they had breached a methane pocket and decided to burn off the dangerous gas. That was 40 years ago, and the gas is still burning in the mine today.
Imagine that happening in a deep dwarven delve. The dwarves dig too deeply and too greedily, and tap into an enormous pocket of methane gas seeping through the rock walls. The gas is set off by the torches and lanterns of the dwarves, and BOOM! Over the years, fire-loving creatures might well take up residence, and a gate to the elemental plane of fire might even spontaneously form.
Who needs diesel engines and steam shovels when you’ve got a centuries-long lifespan and a hankering to dig and delve?
Also, please don’t forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter going on right now! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?