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  • Writer's picturePeter Humburg

Grimwald Keep: Shapers

I've promised for a while now that I would share more details on the civilisation that created the dungeon I'm building for Dungeon 23. Time to follow through on that! This continues to be a work in progress as I'm still discovering new aspects of this culture myself.

As part of the dungeon crawling experience will involve piecing together information about its builders, there are spoilers ahead. Consider yourself warned.


Shaper Physiology

Most shapers spend their lives below the city peak and in underground tunnels. They are well adapted to this dark and often cramped environment. Shapers are of slim build with long arms and the ability to dislocate many of their joints, allowing them to squeeze through narrow cracks. This is further facilitated by a slime-like substance excreted through their skin. When exposed to sunlight, this slime layer hardens, taking on a cracked, stoney appearance.

Both male and female Shapers have strong facial hair growth with long whiskers and bushy beards. The beard is home to a symbiotic glowworm species which feeds on nutrients secreted by the shaper skin. These glowworm colonies provide a reliable source of dim light, which is bright enough for shapers to see clearly for at least 10 feet. They cannot see in complete darkness, but their whiskers help them judge the width of tunnels even then.

Portrait of a Shaper. Created with Midjourney.

Shaper Society

Shaper cities are governed by a queen and organised in five orders associated with the four elements Air, Earth, Fire, and Water, and the royal order. Each order serves a distinct function in shaper society. When a shaper joins an order, usually, but not always, at birth, their body begins to adapt to the unique requirements of their new role. Almost all shapers are capable of using at least some magic, typically spells associated with the element of their order, but the shapers of the Royal Order excel at it.

The Order of Air

Members of the Air order are responsible for contact with the surface world. They serve as traders and emissaries. Their skin has a grey pallor, even without exposure to sunlight, but still hardens if exposed. When travelling on the surface, air shapers tend to wear long, hooded robes to protect their skin. Despite this, their frequent visits to the surface cause their skin to harden and take on an increasingly rock-like appearance. The Air Order maintains extensive bath houses where shapers returning from the surface can immerse themselves in a milky liquid known as Milk of the Earth.

Much of what surface dwellers know about shapers is based on encounters with the Air order, as these are the only shapers to regularly visit the surface.

The Order of Earth

The earth order oversees the building of the city. They excavate tunnels below the surface and use the stone and earth extracted to build the city and the peak above it. Their mining activities are aided by secretions from their unusually large hands that can soften stone. To obtain the building material, the earth shapers eat the stone and regurgitate it as a grey paste that hardens as it dries out. Experienced earth shapers have remarkable control over the properties of this paste, from the time it takes to harden to its hardness, texture and appearance. Metals and precious stones included in the rock are excreted separately and are used as raw materials by the Fire order.

The Order of Fire

Shapers of the Fire order are crafters who turn the metals and gems extracted by the Earth order into weapons, tools, jewellery, and decorations. They operate large forges and workshops, often located below the city proper. They bind fire elementals to gems (typically rubies) to fire their forges. Amongst their most prized creations are glow stones that provide a source of reliable light in the darkness of the tunnels.

The Order of Water

The Water order oversees water supply and food production. Its members are farmers and engineers who collect water from the surface and underground streams and divert it to large reservoirs to supply the city. The collection and distribution of water supplies are aided by enchantments and water elementals bound to gems (typically aquamarines). They create underground grottoes where they farm mushrooms and mosses, carefully regulating illumination and humidity to create the perfect environment. Some water shapers spend time living on the surface to farm plants that cannot be grown underground. They create small, extremely fertile fields in carefully prepared valleys on the flanks of the city peak.

The Royal Order

The queen and her offspring are the spiritual and secular leaders of a shaper city. They are capable of mastering powerful magic, exceeding what even the most skilled shapers of the other orders can achieve. They are responsible for the cohesion of the city. Ensuring that the orders work together towards common goals. Some royal shapers undergo a transformation to join another order where they serve as priests.


Although all orders provide soldiers to defend the city when necessary, the commanders of shaper forces are almost exclusively drawn from the Royal order. Those chosen as soldiers undergo a series of rituals that lead to physical changes in their bodies. Their skin hardens, providing natural armour, and their strength and dexterity increase, making them formidable warriors. This makes it also easier for soldiers to spend time on the surface, as they are less susceptible to sunlight. It also means that their ability to navigate narrow tunnels is reduced, and they are rarely found below the city. Most soldiers will spend some time serving on the surface as guards in a shaper keep, protecting access routes to the interior of the city peak.

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