The Dwarves in Dominion of Men begin with what seems at first glance to be a very similar situation to that of the Elves. Dwarven starting settlements are strung out across the northern half of the map, and can be split into roughly three sections: The Ered Luin in the west, Moria in the center, and the eastern settlements around Erebor, the Iron Hills, and the Ered Rhun.
Like the Elves, the Dwarves begin the campaign in possession of most of their homelands (with one or two exceptions that remain to be reclaimed from Orcs). Dwarven units can be trained at these homelands and nowhere else: in other provinces, Dwarves may train Mannish allies to bolster their forces.
Also like the Elves, the Dwarves suffer from low population (and slow growth) in their homelands. This sense of a dwindling population in the face of ever-growing Mannish realms beyond their borders gives a Dwarven leader a strong incentive to expand his realm if he is to secure it in the Fourth Age.
Population, while a concern for the Dwarves, is nowhere near the problem it is for the Elves. This means it is generally easier to recruit Dwarven units from the homelands, and allows for a higher proportion of
Dwarves in Dwarven armies.
And, outside the homelands, the Dwarves may train a wide variety of Mannish allies, called Hirelings. These troops give their Dwarven paymasters incredible diversity – and great rewards for establishing
colonies in distant lands. Settlements around Khand may provide Hirelinghorse archers, for example; settlements in Dunland provide Hirelings trained with axe and throwing spear. Whereas the Elves must rely upon a narrow selection of Elvellyn loyal to the Elven cause, the Dwarves know
that far more Men are loyal to gold.
The skills offered by Hirelings are important for Dwarven success, since their roster has many gaps otherwise. Without Hirelings, Dwarves can train no cavalry units, and their archers are limited to just 2
provinces. Though individually fierce and superbly armed, a footbound Dwarven army reaps great benefits from its Hirelings.
Regional-based Hireling recruitment means a Dwarven player will be eyeing the campaign map in the early stages, planning to expand into regions that offer advantages in troops as well as resources. And the campaign map presents some further unique difficulties and opportunities.
The heirs of Durin are somewhat more exposed in their initial position than the Elves are in theirs. While in the west the Ered Luin are relatively inaccessible by foes in the early going, many of the other
Dwarven homelands are quite close to the growing powers of Men. The great gate of Moria looks eastward, not too distant from the disputed territories of the Brown Lands and the middle Anduin. Moria’s West-gate is initially closed – still barred by the destruction wrought by the Watcher in the Water at the end of the last Age – but the way may be reopened by a Dwarf-lord in command of sufficient wealth. Opening the gate and roads westward brings trade – and the possibility of invasion.
Dunland and the Dwarves have been friendly enough in the past, but much is uncertain in these latter days, and other rivals have arisen in the lands west of the Misty Mountains.
The strongest homelands are perhaps those in the northeast – notably Erebor and the Iron Hills. These settlements are in a good position to support (and be supported by) the armies of Dale, a faction that has a strong alliance with the Dwarves. The wild men of North Rhun are the closest foes in this area, apart from Orcs and other beasts who have established strongholds in the frozen northlands – in some cases even making their lairs in ancient Dwarven halls. Thankfully, the starting Dwarven settlements here are close enough to reinforce one another and take back what was lost as well as taking the fight to the enemies of Dale.
Ered Rhun is an unusual case. Mostly likely a recent colony (or at any rate only recently declaring its allegiance to Durin’s heir), it is isolated from other homelands and not so well established as the halls
in Moria or the Ered Luin. This is without doubt the most vulnerable Dwarven settlement, open to attack from the Chiefdom of Rhun invading through southern Rhovanion or North Rhun conquering down through
Dorwinion – or indeed to any neighbor who dares to try its hosts againstthe imposing stonework of Dwarven defenses.
Given the scattered nature of Dwarven settlements, establishing a contiguous Dwarven kingdom will take tremendous effort that may not ultimately be worth it. Instead, think of your regions as separate
enclaves. At need, it may be possible to march reinforcing armies from, say, Erebor to Moria, but such treks will take many seasons and may well arrive too late. Better, then, to build up each region as largely self sufficient.
One important exception is the empty land north of the Grey Mountains. Most of the strongholds here are Orc-dens of little value, but driving out these foul folk ensures that your armies can march from Erebor to Eriador in safety, perhaps to link up your territories with the cities in the Ered Luin. Mount Gundabad, too, is a worthy prize – partly because of its prestige as the spot where Durin himself awoke; partly
because it commands passes into Angmar and the upper Anduin vales.
In the early years, though, establishing some strong Mannish provinces for the recruitment of Hirelings and the benefit of trade income is a better priority. Likely rebel targets include the settlement of Lune
just east of the northern Blue Mountains, or the middle Anduin settlements – provided you can get there quickly. In practice, though, it’s more probable that your reliable Hireling settlements will come as
spoils of war with a more organized faction, especially in the east where independent settlements are rare.
If possible, a good strategy is to follow Dale’s lead when it comes to involving your hardy Dwarves in the wars of Men. Push back Easterling rivals, especially in North Rhun, and try to establish a good string of
Mannish settlements before larger factions view your expansion as a threat. Once you have a secure source of income and Hirelings, it may be possible to strike out in other areas: Eriador from the Ered Luin; Dunland from Moria; Rhun or even Khand and Harad from your holdings in the east.
The Dwarven starting position is easy to defend but difficult to expand, if only because of the many choices available to a canny and bold Dwarf-king. Your people may be few, but they are not dwindling like the Elves, and they have the benefits of rich resources to aid their ventures. Led well, and supported by a varied army of Hirelings from all corners of Middle-earth, the Dwarves may be able to carve out a secure realm for themselves in this Age of Men.