I'm developing a semi-realistic game involving stereotypical dwarves digging into mountainsides and carving out grand caverns for themselves, similar to those in Moria or the Lonely Mountain from Tolkien's works.

I'm attempting to research what kind of layers of rock (in layman's terms) you'd expect to find in a typical non-volcanic mountain range in say, northern Europe. So far though I'm at a loss so at this point anything would be a help!

  • $\begingroup$ Have you tried playing Dwarf Fortress and seeing what rocks you encounter? $\endgroup$
    – dunc123
    Aug 2, 2016 at 12:53
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Earth Science might be a better place to ask this $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Aug 2, 2016 at 12:58
  • $\begingroup$ @dunc123 yes, and it's a decent point of reference, but I'd like to find out how mountains are composed in real life $\endgroup$ Aug 2, 2016 at 12:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix ah wasn't aware of that one, thanks $\endgroup$ Aug 2, 2016 at 12:59

2 Answers 2


All sorts! Pretty much anything you want. The mountainous bits of the UK have sedimentary rocks (shales, limestone, sandstone, mudstone), igneous rocks (granite and ancient volcanic rocks from millions of years ago) and metamorphic rocks (slate, gneiss). Plus tons of other rocks I've forgotten.

Mountains tend to have long and complex histories. For instance Snowdonia in Wales has rocks dating as far back as the pre-Cambrian, and as recent as the Tertiary and pretty much everything in between.

If they are carving caverns, a soft rock like limestone or many sandstones is less hard work than a hard rock like granite. On the other hand, unless they have a good pumping system perhaps they don't want a porous rock, like those limestones and sandstones, or they'll be flooded at regular intervals!

They could even make a home in a salt mine like this Polish salt mine with chapels.

Up to you. Decide what sort of rock your dwarves want to be selling. Slate for roof tiles? Salt? Diamonds? Then have them set up some in that bit of the mountain.

  • $\begingroup$ Great answer, thanks! I hadn't considered until now that the carving/digging should take extra work with harder rock, which could add to the gameplay. $\endgroup$ Aug 2, 2016 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ @RossTaylor-Turner Good answer here, it's all plate tectonics, any terrain could one day become part of a mountain. I believe Moria is Granite. This is a much harder rock that would take the tenacity and knowledge of dwares to cut through to the extent they had (I believe it plays to the Dwarf 'mythical' side that they were capable of mining through something modern mining would hesitate to undertake). For softer minerals, remember limestone and any other calcium carbonate will dissolve with acids...interesting story point if your dwarves were heavily using acids to cut through it. $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Aug 2, 2016 at 18:56

I like your game idea. As it happens, I have spent a bit of time thinking about the same thing for a game I have been developing (not quite as focused on a dwarven cavern system as you, but similar). I settled on the idea that the tunneling race would want to follow softer rock types and also that they would logically live in areas that had previously provided something useful, which had been mined out. For example, the caverns might follow what used to be a natural gold vein. Tunnels might follow coal deposits. Salt is very easy to mine and work and worth money to surface dwellers, plus it makes a nice, dry cavern.

This led to the notion that in a large complex/city (Moria like) you would probably have "districts" based on what used to be mined there. For example, the poor dwarves live in the "coal district" because rich people don't want to live in tunnels that inevitably cover them in bits of black soot. Rich people live in the "gold district" because they like the fact that the walls are made of swirls of iridescent minerals. Middle class people live in the "salt district" because it's easy to cut a new chamber for a newlywed couple (their equivalent to us putting up a new house in the suburb) and salt is a good, reliable source of trade that will always sell to the humans.

Basically, I figured that tunneling underground to make a city is a very labor intensive way to do it and it would make at least a little more sense if it were linked directly to economic considerations.


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