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Imagine a dwarven city, a fairly backwater one, completely unlike the likes of Erebor or Moria. This one scrapes together barely, and is only as large as it needs to be, which is to say 5 feet tall tunnels and hallways all around, and tonnes and tonnes of dirt and rock around.

The city is then now under assault by some glorious 8 feet tall giant humanoids. They can't fit inside. How might they try to assault the dwarves?

Notes:

  • The dwarves have a complex water system sourced from even deeper underground.
  • The dwarves have a large dwarven made cavern deeper underground which is where they have most of their food production
  • The dwarves are adept at detecting mining efforts by the invaders and can effortlessly collapse any tunnel the attackers attempt to create.
  • The setting has renaissance era technology and simple magics

How might these large attackers get into and attack the city? Suppose that they are there for the McGuffin stored in the most secured part of the dwarven city.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do they (either side) have access to magic or primitive gunpowder weapons? $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Apr 15 '15 at 13:17
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    $\begingroup$ just smoke them out errr... this remind me of Vietnam war didn't the small built Vietnamese soldier dug trench too! $\endgroup$ – user6760 Apr 15 '15 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ @user6760 It does seem eerily similar to the predicament of US soldiers in Vietnam. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Apr 15 '15 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ Mind your head! $\endgroup$ – Brian Drummond Apr 15 '15 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ Make them call the Balrog sleeping under the city to make it a two-front war. $\endgroup$ – Mast Apr 16 '15 at 19:57
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Open Pit Mining

Pit Mine

The giants are big and strong. They can move a lot of dirt. A pit mine directly over the dwarven city is difficult to stop - the dwarves could collapse parts of it, but only by doing the giant's job for them (making the mine bigger). It will cause casualties but presumably the giants are willing to accept some of those as part of a siege.

Magic or some basic mining tech makes this much easier, although tech opens things up to sabotage and the like.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this idea alot, it reminds me alot of the story of Braum from LoL, who was faced with an unbreakable door, but decided to simply tunnel in through the top of the mountain instead. Gratuitous warfare. $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Apr 15 '15 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ If the dwarves can move the McGuffin, I expect they could/would start digging deeper tunnels away from the assault pit, which I expect they could do faster than humans can make such a pit. This would be a very long-term project, though depending on the underground situation, the Dwarves may eventually run out of places to go that work for them. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Apr 15 '15 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Dronz but where would they move the excavated dirt to? and would their new tunnels have accessible water and ventilation shafts? $\endgroup$ – user2813274 Apr 16 '15 at 3:52
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    $\begingroup$ @user2813274 Depends on the "underground situation", as I mentioned. We know they have a way to get air and water, but not how it's set up. There could be abundant natural underground waterways and caverns, or only scarce ones. As for where the excavated dirt & rock goes, I expect it would tend to go into blockades and traps to hinder any giants who get near the original city. If they do abandon it before the giants strip mine down to it, they might be able to arrange for the whole strip mine to collapse into the city as a trap and to obscure their escape tunnels. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Apr 16 '15 at 5:27
  • $\begingroup$ I kind of asumed that the dwarves was living inside a mountain, in that case you would have to remove the mountain first before digging the hole in to the dwarven settlement. $\endgroup$ – Magic-Mouse Apr 16 '15 at 7:40
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Want to cause all sorts of trouble for people living underground? Just divert the nearest river to the mouth of a cave that leads into the Dwarven habitation and let gravity and hydrodynamics do the hard work for you. Any giants capable of the earth-moving necessary for open-pit mining (as Dan Smolinske suggested) can dig a trench and drop a few boulders in the riverbed.

Unless it's a very small stream, this puts the dwarves in a world of hurt, as they simply can't mine faster than water can flow in. The only thing they can do, once they realize what's going on, is evacuate as quickly as possible, and if they don't have some sort of teleportation available, or tunnels on comparatively high ground that lead to a distant settlement, the only feasible way out is likely to drop them in the middle of the giants' army, giving the giant general exactly what he wants: a stand-up fight out in the open.

The tricky part, then, is retrieving the MacGuffin from the city afterwards. The steam engine was originally developed to pump water out of mines, not to move trains, but that happened well after the Renaissance. To get someone in there would probably require magic. But... one thing at a time. Flooding the place is the most expedient way to get rid of the dwarves, simply because it takes effect very quickly. Smoking them out or mining will take a long time, giving the dwarves plenty of time to plan against it and counter it. Plague takes a long time, can be healed with magic (maybe) and shut down with quarantine. But floods are devastating to city dwellers, and they're devastating very, very quickly!

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    $\begingroup$ Good idea, but it requires your giants to have water engineering skills, and since the dwarves have a complex water system already, they may be able to cope with this. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Apr 15 '15 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ I also hope that the undescribed MacGuffin does not take badly to being washed in river water...! $\endgroup$ – Jane S Apr 15 '15 at 23:18
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    $\begingroup$ @TimB: That's much easier said than done. The normal human strategy for keeping rainwater out relies heavily on the principle of "build on high ground", with "high" in this case meaning "at a slightly higher elevation than the lowest point in local geography", and it tends to fail catastrophically when actual floods come. Underground, the main strategy would involve the fact that physical access to their dwellings from the surface is limited to a few specific points. They would have channels in place to take care of rainwater, but again it would be overwhelmed by flooding. $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Apr 16 '15 at 9:58
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    $\begingroup$ This might also be tricky if the city is built into a mountain, since there might not be a river you can divert up to it. Any river coming down the mountain that could be diverted would probably just pass through the caves and out the bottom. Couple dams and no one gets wet. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Apr 16 '15 at 14:01
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    $\begingroup$ Water drainage was a major problem for historical miners. In the Comstock Lode, it was such a huge worry that a german engineer that built a [drainage tunnel][en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutro_Tunnel] gained huge wealth as a result. OTOH, perhaps dwarves already know the importance of drainage tunnels? $\endgroup$ – Bryce Apr 17 '15 at 10:33
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Burn them out.
Get extremely large quantities of flammable oils and other fuels and start pouring it down every air shaft and entrance.
Put large smokey fires with toxic chemicals on lower entrances, and when they ignite the oils in the upper passages and air shafts it will pull in oxygen from below, drawing the smoke into the caves.
In a house fire it usually not the fire that gets you, it's the smoke.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this...Kentucky fried Dwarf, anyone? $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Apr 15 '15 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ @DJMethaneMan ...I dunno I have a feeling dwarf is kinda gamey and tough. $\endgroup$ – James Apr 15 '15 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ What if most of the dwarven city is lower than any entrance? The dwarves already need to have developed some sort of air systems to have an underground population that doesn't suffocate itself. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Apr 15 '15 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Dronz If that's the case then the whole thing is vulnerable to flooding. They'd need to have drainage going down. Finding the drainage may be tricky... However, even if the living spaces are below the entrance as you propose, once the smoke is in the cavern it will spread out and disperse, which is where the extra toxic stuff comes in. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Apr 15 '15 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ This works... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eigg#Massacre_Cave $\endgroup$ – Brian Drummond Apr 15 '15 at 19:01
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The giant general sees the predicament he is in. The self-sufficient dwarven city is growing its own food underground and even has its own water supply. They can hold out indefinitely against his mighty army.

However, he sees a solution. He remembers reading a textbook in evil-monster-likes-cake school titled: "How to Kill a Dwarf." The number one way listed in the book was to trap the dwarf in an underground cave and seal all entrances, exits and air-holes, letting him suffocate.

A light bulb goes on in his head and he decides to implement it. He orders his army to set up camps along all the entrances and exits of the city and orders his dragon-mounted warriors to quickly scout out the ventilation shafts of the dwarven city and place large rocks on them. After a day and a half the dwarves exit the base in surrender rather than suffocate.

The giants order them to bring their king to them as a hostage and they agree. They quickly subdue him and send him to the giants as insurance along with all the noble families. The giants then agree to remove the rocks from the ventilation shafts if the dwarves bring all of their precious McGuffin out.

After receiving the McGuffin the giant decides to test the theory from "How to Kill a Dwarf." When the dwarves renter their city he orders all the entrances and ventilation shafts destroyed with cannon fire. He resolves to come back in a year to see what became of the little roaches.

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Probably the best way is not to try brute force, but to use intelligence. All of the approaches (strip mining, smoke, flooding, siege) seem to me things that the dwarves are going to be good at countering if they have managed to build an underground city in the first place, unless they run out of places they can dig and still get enough food/water/air (which might be the case, but it may take you years or decades to achieve).

So I think your best approaches to get the McGuffin you want will be things like soft/friendly negotiation, trade for something they want more than they want the McGuffin and can't get themselves, alliance (they might really like trade access), challenge to single combat, deception, theft, or getting an inside or visiting dwarf to get it for you.

If you really need to force the McGuffin from them, I'd say you should get some help. Other dwarves who have a feud with those dwarves. Magicians. Other underground nasties, as long as you're sure you can get them to give you the McGuffin.

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The humanoids should try to deliver a disease (like the black death) to the city population to force them to surrender or die. They may throw infected animals using catapults to the city or they may contaminate the city water supply like ancient Greeks did.

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  • $\begingroup$ How do you know that Yersinia Pestis effects giants or Dwarves? They might be immune to it. It is not humans attacking the city, but giants. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Apr 15 '15 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ I used this disease as an example, but it could be anyone which affects to dwarfs but not to giant humans. $\endgroup$ – pys Apr 15 '15 at 14:10
  • $\begingroup$ Disease in theory might be one of the most effective tricks, in theory, except the giants need to know a disease that dwarves are vulnerable to, and how to deliver it (which is post-medieval understanding, so likely the giants have to guess). Catapults don't seem very helpful against an underground city, even to deliver diseased corpses. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Apr 15 '15 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ Catapults wouldn't help since it's underground, and the water supply is stated to be (presumably) deeper than the giants can get to, but finding a disease that dwarves ( and not giants ) are susceptible to seems like it should work fine. Swarms of rats maybe, or pouring a large quantity of infected water down their entrances and ventilation shafts. $\endgroup$ – HammerN'Songs Apr 15 '15 at 16:59
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The thing about dwarven cities is that they are, effectively, bunkers. Historically, pre-bunker-buster, there have been a few ways that underground forts have been taken.

During the Roman conquests, there was a battle in the Middle East in which a number of soldiers attempted to breach a fort through an underground passage. The swift response was dumping a burning conglomerate into the tunnel, inclusive of sulphur, which basically flooded the Roman lungs with sulphuric acid. This also highlights the importance of ventilation—if you were to blow enough smoke into the tunnels, particularly if they are as small as you say, you could easily choke the dwarven inhabitants out.

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There is something I always thought about when designing defensive dwarven tunnels. I think they would build some very narrow, small ones, like a vietkong tunnel. This way any medium creature would have to crouch and most would have to carry torches. Dwarves would stay on foot, they would see in the dark, and they would drop their axes and grab some shortswords, spears and nasty, pointy knifes.

What I like about this strategy is that it can be done at any time. Say the enemy decides to dig over de city. The dwarves could let them. Then they collapse their tunnels, and create very narrow passages around the colapsed streets. Also, they create tunnels that go up the mountain, but around the excavation.

When the enemy got to the city, they would think they had breached the walls, and would swarm in, facing little oposition by the retreating dwarves, that would be there just not to give away the real plan.

Once the enemy army went further into the city, they would start being delayed and funneled by the tunnel collapses, and forced to take narrower and narrower passages, to the point where they would be fighting in small dark tunnels against fierce dwarves.

In the meantime, the dwarves would spring their trap. They could send large numbers to the upward tunnels and encircle the excavation. Since they only need a couple dwarves to hold a small tunnel below, they can easilly send the bulk of their forces to descend on the minees. These dwarves would be on a high ground, charging down an enemy that is already engaged and funneled into multiple traps. It would be a masacre.

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  • $\begingroup$ Also, there is another way. The best way, maybe, would be to come from below. That's hard, but I imagine some evil duergar, or more probably drow, would be able to do this, literally swarming the dwarves with some giant spiders and then invading from bellow. That is the single best way to attack a dwarf city I can think of, and in many fantasy settings, this works. Dragon Age, Lord of the Rings... Always some terror comming from the deep. So... statistics point to it, I guess? $\endgroup$ – Eric Oct 27 '16 at 4:26
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A siege, the invaders are using the dwarves tactics against them self.

First they are zapping their way through the tunnels, to make the dwarves cut them self off from the outer world and collapse important part of their cave structure such as food production, since food in caves are scarse and not much wildlife can live there the dwarves are dependand on artificial food production.

When that is done, they simply wait till the dwarves grow so hungry they either attack hungry and starved, giving an advantage to the siege holders, or the dwarves surrender.

All this while carefully carving out the cave to make one get in.

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    $\begingroup$ The dwarves grow their own underground food. $\endgroup$ – SF. Apr 15 '15 at 14:44
  • $\begingroup$ @SF - "dwarves are dependand on artificial food production" $\endgroup$ – Magic-Mouse Apr 16 '15 at 7:31
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    $\begingroup$ How would the humans cut the dwarves off their food-production cavern? According to the data provided, it's "deeper underground", meaning accessing it or forcing cutting it off would require bypassing the core of the fortress somehow. $\endgroup$ – SF. Apr 16 '15 at 7:51
  • $\begingroup$ It states that the dwarves would make cave-ins to prevent the humans/giants progress. Since there is no specific maps, i'm mentioning the possibility, not giving an exact definitive answer. $\endgroup$ – Magic-Mouse Apr 16 '15 at 13:20

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