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Main / Gnomes

Races - Chapter 1

Gnomes

Gnomes are a race that lives on the fringes of society. They are often confused with Dwarves or Halflings because they share a similar stature. Gnomes do not have a homeland like Dwarves do in the mountains or Halflings do with the Gold Hills in the Small Kingdoms. Gnomes have always lived on the edge of society where they are accepted but do not quite become the dominant population. Gnomes have learned the value of cooperating with members of other, larger races. Gnomes understand that alliances and friendship make for more prosperous neighbors than does feuding and war. The Gnomish Gods they worship are an example of the societal forces in their very homogenized society.

There isn't any magical vanishing act (with the exception of certain gnome illusionists), but both gnomes and halflings have inherent talents at "blending into the woodwork," so to speak--at least, in situations where they desire not to be noticed. This is not so much a matter of size as it is of skill; a skill they take time to cultivate (it's significant that the favorite game of both gnome and halfling children is "Hide and Seek"!).

Gnomes do share some traits with their longer bearded cousins: they are exceptional miners, comfortable underground, and resistant to magic. Yet, to the shorter nosed dwarves, gnomes seem excessively frivolous, sometimes even weaklings. Gnomes are quite comfortable out of doors, well at home in a forest. The major rituals of gnomish life all occur beneath the stars, and no cosmic symbol is as important to them as an eclipse, in contrast to the dwarves, who prefer nothing so much as solid rock overhead and care little for cosmic occurrences of any kind.

Gnomes are also cheerful and social creatures, of good-tempered and tolerant disposition. They regard rudeness as a major fault--a characteristic which in itself is enough to mark them as very different from most dwarves! Gnomes relish the company of other gnomes and will eagerly compete in the telling of tales. Their calendar is marked by many festivals, each of which is an occasion of great feasting, drinking, singing, and dancing.

Although gnomes are friendly, they are also reticent; it is possible to know a gnome for many years without learning much about him (or her). When a gnome does become friends with a member of another race, that person is adopted by the gnome's whole family as someone they like and trust. Gnomes have much to fear from the larger creatures of the world, but they have not allowed this caution to become a compelling paranoia.

Very fond of good food, gnomes show little imagination in their recipes. They are skilled with fire, and quite uncomfortable--even forlorn--if circumstances prevent them from having an evening blaze.

Finally, the gnomes have raised the art of the illusionist to a cultural heritage that permeates many aspects of gnomish life and society. The steadfast loyalty and useful skills of a gnome character can provide fine additions to any group of adventurers.

Living for the most part isolated from the other cultures of their worlds, the gnomes thrive and prosper. Their labors go unnoticed by mankind, their mines undiscovered or ignored as unsuitable by the dwarves.

Gnome Celebrations

All gnomes enjoy festivals. These celebrations typically involve much music, dancing, feasting, storytelling, illusionary magic shows, drinking, and contests of strength and wit. While the actual festival observances vary somewhat by subrace, a given community will generally gather for no less than 12 to 15 big celebrations every year.

These will be for many different occasions, including celebrations of harvests, seasonal occurrences like the solstice and equinox, and anniversaries--of birthdays, famous victories or discoveries, and even weather phenomena. Rock Gnomes have been known to hold celebrations to commemorate the date of a horrendous cyclone that once ravished their realm, the eruption of a volcano, or even a notable blizzard; anything which might serve as a good excuse for a party. The patterns can vary by subrace, since Svirfneblin don't keep track of dates and the Tinkers often forget what year it is, yet gnomes of all types seem to have a communal sense of when a gathering is needed. When the time is right, they'll get together.

The truly major festivals, however, are often years apart. The festival commemorating the total eclipse of the moon, for example, only takes place about once per century. For Rock and Forest Gnomes, this is the most significant occasion of all, and as such it calls for the grandest festival. Svirfneblin reserve similar festivities for the coronation of a new king or queen, while Tinkers celebrate the successful design and completion of an invention--now that's rare! Likewise, a gnome's most significant birthday in most subraces is considered his or her one hundredth.

Another trademark of the gnomish gala is that they go on for a long time--the bigger the occasion, the longer the celebration. Even the smaller festivals are generally two-day affairs, with the first day devoted to preparations (such as rehearsals of performances and cooking the wide variety of food necessary for the feast). The second day, beginning at dawn, is likely to be a sequence of songs and performances, mixed with appropriate rituals and remembrances, and liberally spiced with many opportunities to eat and drink. Ale and wine, together with the music and revelry, flows freely from dawn to dusk and throughout the following night.

The greater festivals last many days or several weeks, with the most significant lasting a full month or more. However long the celebration, the gnomes are generally quite ready to pitch back in to work as soon as the festivities are concluded. In the case of the longer celebrations this is an especially good thing, since a month of extreme partying can pretty much exhaust the food and drink reserves of a community!

Fires

Gnomes have a peculiar fascination with flame and the light it brings into the darkness in which they would otherwise dwell. One well-known gnomish nursery tale relates the story of Verpoolisch Popplepip, a typical gnomish hero:

A master illusionist and thief, Verpoolisch crept into the halls of the gods and watched the deities labor at their forges. Becoming intrigued by the shower of sparks falling from their great hammers, he substituted an illusionary brightness for a real spark and stole the actual flame. By the time the gods realized the deception, Popplepip had made it safely back to the world. There he nourished his spark, and it became the father of fire. With typical generosity, the gnomes shared this blessing with the rest of the world.

Every gnome has a place in his or her home for a small fire, and in pensive moments he or she will be inclined to sit before the flame and meditate.

Marriage and Family

Weddings, perhaps surprisingly, are not big social occasions. Instead, they are private ceremonies attended by the immediate families of the young couple--and even these guests soon depart to leave the newlyweds with a chance to get to know each other privately.

Bride and groom have generally been friends since childhood and have made the match of their own free will. Marriage commonly occurs during the decades immediately following the coming of age period for members of that specific subrace, though gnomes who choose not to wed are not ostracized or even considered odd. Gnomes marry for companionship as much as procreation, and a couple will almost always remain happily married until one or the other of them passes away. Remarriage is rare, although it has been known to occur; divorce is unknown.

Gnomish couples rarely have the numerous broods familiar to halflings and humans. A family with three children is considered large, and only sizable clans will have five or six youngsters dwelling in the warren at any one time. Even in adulthood, gnomes retain deep bonds of friendship with their siblings and parents. It is very common for brothers and sisters to join together in business endeavors, for example.

The Nose Knows

The big schnozzola is an important status symbol among all of the gnome subraces. Parents proudly point out the size of their children's noses and make enthusiastic prognostications about future growth. While the practical applications of such a facial feature are admittedly limited, gnomes will frequently embark on size contests, with heavy wagers, between members of rival clans. Svirfneblin go so far as to make this a primary determinant in the selection of a new king or queen!

Food and Drink

Gnomes enjoy feasting and drinking, but their diet and beverage selection reflects far less variety than does that of the halfling or even most communities of humankind. No gnomish subrace, for example, uses yeast in the baking of bread nor in its brewing. They don't keep cows or make cheese or butter. Sugar is unknown in their diet, and gnomes tend to avoid sweets even when they travel to places where cakes or candies are available. Also, spices and sauces are rarely employed in the preparation of gnomish cuisine.

However, those foods that gnomes do cook they cook well. They are excellent at preparing wild game and in using the natural products of their surrounding areas for salads and hot dishes. All gnomes like salt, although the Deep Gnomes carry this to the greatest extremes. They cook their meat until it's very well done. This tendency, coupled with the liberal use of salt, insures that the food keeps for a long time without spoiling.

The brewing skills of the gnomes are effective, even if the results are not exactly tempting to humans and other Demi Humans. Heavy meads and ales are favored. In areas where fruit can be readily harvested (apples and cherries are preferred) gnomes make passable, if somewhat astringent, cordials.

Gems

More than a medium of wealth, gems are cherished to a degree difficult for non-gnomes to comprehend. Every gnome has a small gem he or she will carry at all times, often feeling or stroking it when thoughtful or troubled. Every gnomish village will have a few particularly splendid stones that belong to the community as a whole, each with an accompanying legend, and enchanted gems are the favorite magical items of gnomish spellcasters.

Craftsmanship

The single most artistic endeavor of the gnomish craftsman (excluding Tinker Gnomes) is, of course, the carving and mounting of precious gems. These little folk are adept at every aspect of the jeweler's trade, including the smelting and finishing of precious metals. While each subrace has a special affinity to a certain type of stone (diamond, ruby, and emerald respectively for the Rock, Deep, and Forest Gnomes; coal for the Tinkers), their gemcarvers are capable of working with virtually any type of stone.

This artisanship goes beyond mere rote skill. Gnomish jewelers are capable of very creative designs in jewelry and have developed the most elegant royal crowns, sceptres, and decorative sculptures known to demi human-kind?. Stonecarving is another skill at which gnomes excel, and in those caverns where they have dwelt for many centuries intricate patterns have been scrolled into many of the walls and ceilings, enhancing the natural beauty of the rock.

Their special affinity to stone makes gnomes exceptional excavators, miners, and tunnelers. Those gnomes who seek employment among other cultures might work as gemsmiths if sufficiently skilled but are far more likely to find work in the mines of humankind. Even dwarves, grudgingly, admit that gnomes are almost as good at digging as themselves. This is, in fact, an ungenerous assessment--Rock Gnomes in particular are every bit the equal of dwarves in this profession!

Beyond the working of stone, however, the gnomes are somewhat limited in the tooling of materials into useful products. As a general rule, gnomes find it hard to produce raw materials but easy to shape it. For example, they do not weave, so all their clothing is either made of leather or of materials bartered from other folk. However, given the right fabrics, a gnomish tailor can create almost any kind of garment, often with elaborate stitching and similar attention to detail characteristic of all gnomish work.

Carpentry is another skill that demonstrates the gnomish penchant for elaboration. Whereas dwarves will hew timbers to shore up a mine shaft and at need can make rough tables, beds, and chairs for their own use, gnomes have a compulsion to cover every available inch with decoration which goes far beyond utility. Thus gnome miners will often use their breaks to carve delicate designs into the support timbers (taking care not to weaken the beams!), often having friendly contests between different shifts as each continues the other's work. Gnomish furniture is a marvel of fine woodcarving, with a multitude of baroque detail.

Trade

The primary stock-in-trade of the gnomish folk, whether on the surface or under the ground, is naturally the gemwork that is such a trademark of the race. The urge to create is so strong (in Tinker Gnomes, it has run amuck) that gnomes regularly trade finished jewelry for uncut gems, and gnomish gem traders will sometimes travel great distances in the course of their labors.

However, gems aren't the only thing gnome communities seek in trade. Salt is a necessity to the gnomish diet, and if there is no natural source available gnomish traders will go to great lengths to acquire it. Weapons, fabric, and raw steel are generally not made by gnomes but needed by the community. Delicacies, such as tender meat, dark flour, and strong liquor, are other items sometimes gained by trade.

Since these folk have little interest or capability in freight-hauling, those who would sell such bulk goods to them generally have to take responsibility for delivery as well. Human and demihuman traders know this, and many a human and halfling merchant has gotten rich simply by carting loads of textiles or steel to the vicinity of a gnomish village. Often, the trader will sell cart and pony at the same time--after all, he or she doesn't need much space to haul away a fortune in finely-cut gems!

Taboos

Gnomes are a fun-loving society, with a great emphasis on personal freedom. However, a cornerstone of this freedom is a respect for the rights of others--and those who tromp on those rights are considered to have committed a grave breach of gnomish etiquette. This cornerstone of individual responsibility is the key to understanding the gnomish culture.

Some of the worst infractions of this personal code that a gnome can commit involve the performance of his or her work. It is, however, a rare circumstance for a gnome to shirk a duty or to perform it at anything less than his or her highest level of ability. Those few gnomes who refuse to work are generally, after many chances to reform, cast out from their communities. They don't usually live too long on their own.

It is a little more common for offending behavior to occur in social settings, often accompanied by the consumption of alcohol. Virtually all gnomes enjoy drinking, and ale and mead are important features of gnomish festivals and clan gatherings. In most cases, gnomes become quite jolly and carefree when they drink, singing, laughing, and joking--the "mean drunk" is not a familiar character in gnomish society.

However, strong liquor is not a customary drink among gnomes--their ales and fruit wines, while strong-tasting by human standards, are not the match of brandy or whiskey in potency (Svirfneblin fish beer and Gogondy excepted). When a gnome gets hold of something stronger, trouble has been known to result. When it does, the malefactor is subjected to stern criticism from the bulk of the community--usually when he or she is in the throes of the worst hangover of his or her life. One such experience is generally enough to bring about a lifelong reform.

The contests that are an integral part of every gnomish festival are another source of pride to these small demihumans, and the honor of the participants is accepted and, for the most part, taken for granted. Wagering is a common practice, but one is not expected to bet more than he or she is prepared to lose. Welching on a bet is a gross affront to a gnomish sense of right and wrong. Similarly, a trader who cheats gnomish clients by substituting inferior goods for those promised will be marked for life; no gnome will ever trade with that individual again.

Finally, while friendly insults are commonly and frequently exchanged among gnomes, one is expected never to criticize lack of nose size. Those gnomes who have been cursed with small noses (those that stick out less than, say, three or four inches from the face) are assumed to suffer the curse of their shame inwardly. It is nothing more than needless cruelty to ridicule this unfortunate lack of endowment.

Emotions

Gnomes are very emotional creatures, given to laughter and joy, weeping and sorrow, in loud and affecting displays. This applies to both work and play. Despite their physical resemblance to dwarves, a group of gnomish miners can easily be distinguished not only by their smaller size but by the laughter and song that accompanies them on their task.

When given cause for sorrow, such as the death of a friend or relative, gnomes grieve openly and loudly. Natural disasters or malicious acts from enemies are likewise cause for wailing and crying--so much so that an observer might assume that an entire community has just received a sentence of painful doom. However, these moods pass quickly (perhaps because of the effusiveness of their grief) and many a boisterous party has resulted from what began as a funeral observance.

Very unlike dwarves (or elves, for that matter), gnomes are quite open in displays of affection and love. Hugs are frequent whenever friends, spouses, and relations meet. Parents cuddle children, and the youngsters accept the attention with no self-consciousness. While romantic couples are private with their intimacy, husbands and wives will loudly and publicly profess their affection and love.

Humor

Gnomes are famous, or perhaps infamous, for their sardonic sense of humor. All gnomes love practical jokes, the more elaborate the better. This can be very disconcerting when a gnome decides to express friendship or affection to a non-gnome by making that individual a special target for a string of practical jokes. As a rule, it's considered bad form to devise a joke which actually hurts somebody; the art comes from surprising the victim and making him or her look ridiculous.

In a way, practical joking takes the place filled by violence in many human cultures; two gnomes who have a heated argument are more likely to launch a feud of booby-traps to prove who is the cleverest than come to blows. Taking their cue from Garl Glittergold himself, gnomes extend this attitude to their military endeavors; it's considered a more courageous act to make an enemy look foolish in the eyes of his or her allies or followers than it is to kill the same enemy.

Animal Friends

A warren of gnomes will typically be guarded by several watchful mammals. In the case of Forest Gnomes or Rock Gnomes, these will be woods-dwelling or burrowing creatures. Among the most popular companions are badgers, wolverines, and weasels--in mundane as well as giant size. Svirfneblin sometimes gain similar companionship from moles, shrews, bats, and giant rats. In return for kind treatment from the gnomes, these creatures often take up residence nearby gnome dwellings.

These creatures are not domesticated as humans understand the word; they are allies, not pets. Still, they provide useful service as sentinels, quickly bringing word of any strangers in the area, and if the community is attacked the animal guardians will always fight savagely in defense of their friends. Many villages have tales of youngsters who have fallen into a stream only to be plucked forth and saved by the jaws of a giant weasel, for example, or of young climbers who have gotten into trouble on the steep and rocky slopes so common in gnomish habitat only to be carried to safety on the sturdy back of a climbing badger.

Warfare

Like halflings, gnomes are slow to anger and reluctant to wage war. However, also like their diminutive cousins, they become savage and tenacious fighters when fully motivated into battle.

Because of their small size, gnomes try to avoid combat situations that place them in open terrain where they must meet the head-on onslaught of much larger attackers. They prefer instead to fight in rough terrain, sheltered by rocks or trees, where their size can actually work to their advantage. In underground combat situations where they have sufficient time to prepare, gnomes like to excavate numerous low-ceilinged tunnels for mobility of attack and retreat.

They are not so adept with missiles as are halflings, but gnomish troops can nevertheless deliver a furious barrage of arrows and sling stones when such a tactic is needed. Firing in an undisciplined fusillade, they continue to pepper their targets with this painful attacks for as long as possible. They launch their arrows from sturdy shortbows or solid, albeit small, crossbows.

Though many of them wield spears, they prefer to use these as melee rather than missile weapons. Gnomes are adept (and very courageous) at setting these spears to meet the charge of much larger attackers. They will also use their quickness to strike from ambush, and when a force of gnomes can mingle among the troops of a larger enemy, their small size allows them to inflict a lot of damage. A favorite tactic, useable only when gnomes gain complete surprise (such as that provided by a mass invisibility spell), is to fearlessly dart among enemy horsemen, using their sharp daggers to cut the straps holding the riders' saddles onto their mounts. Such a tactic, when successful, can go a long way toward evening the odds of an unbalanced engagement.

When marching to battle, most gnomes will carry a missile weapon as well as a hammer, spear, or short sword, with a dagger reserved for the final line of defense.

Gnomes are also skilled at using deception, diversion, camouflage, and disguise as battle tactics. Their natural talents at illusionary magic help a great deal--gnomish illusionists will frequently create the appearance of the force in some unimportant area, while other spellcasters conceal the actual presence of the gnomes from enemy discovery. The sudden appearance of a gnomish force, virtually in the midst of the enemy, can be enough to throw the most veteran army into confusion.

They are also good at using these spells to conceal the true nature of the battlefield--either to create the appearance of obstacles where there are none or to conceal the location of hazards such as ravines, thickets, bogs, and streams. Many a thunderous charge has been broken when the howling attackers suddenly find out that what looked like solid ground is actually intersected by a twenty-foot deep gully, its bottom lined with sharp stakes.

Other uses of illusionary magic have stretched the creative bounds of military imagination. In one famous battle, gnomish illusionists concealed the actual location of the sun and replace it with a duplicate, causing the enemies' reinforcements to march five miles to the east when they were supposed to be going west! They have also used images of dragons, giants, beholders, and other horrors to distract the attention of their foes and keep them guessing as to the true nature of their opponents.

Another asset that gnomes carry into battle is the lack of the hubris that can so often be the downfall of human or dwarven command-ers. Gnomes show no hesitation when it comes to abandoning a lost cause; when things start to go bad, the gnomes will run away, preferring this pragmatic tactic to a doomed stand motivated mainly by pride. The retreating gnomes quickly scatter and (if possible) disappear down holes into the ground or vanish among the enclosing underbrush of a forest. Even if the victorious opponents pursue ruthlessly, they are unlikely to kill or capture more than a handful of the gnomish survivors. Of course, this scattering means that it takes longer to reassemble the force and prepare to fight again, but that is a drawback that any gnomish commander willingly accepts rather than see his or her forces annihilated.

Magic

The primary sorcery of the gnomes, of course, is illusionary magic. This is far more than a practical application of arcane powers, however--in gnome society, the casting of illusions affects all aspects of life from art to romance to celebration to war. A lover might woo his sweetheart with a message borne by a whispering wind spell, for example. For gnomes, illusionary magic is a way of life, not something they use just to make life easier.

Illusions are also constantly employed for practical jokes among these fun-loving folk. Of course, gnomes are more adept at recognizing illusions than are most other creatures, so those illusionary pranks targeted against them must be subtly crafted and strategically planned in order for them to succeed. Invisibility , illusionary script, and wraithform spells are popular choices for this purpose.

Illusionary magic is often used to complement the finest efforts of gnomish craftsmen. A fine piece of jewelry, for example, might be enhanced with a shower of light caused by a phantasmal force, or even a hypnotic pattern, in order to create a truly stunning work of art.

On the practical side, illusionary magic is not usually employed to screen the location or nature of a gnomish community. Though such arcane devices might prove effective at concealing them against mundane detection, the emanation of magical power actually serves as a beacon to those who use spells such as detect magic. The latter enemies are judged, rightly, to be far more dangerous to a gnomish community than the former.

However, on the battlefield or in other contests of might and skill, gnomes will pull out all the stops. Hallucinatory terrain, the various applications of invisibility, and illusionary walls will be used to disguise the true nature of the battlefield, while spells such as phantasmal force, fear, phantasmal killer, and shadow monster will be employed directly against the enemy troops.

Wandering

Unlike the other short folk, the halflings, gnomes are often possessed by a strong desire to wander. Their natural curiosity leads them to constantly wonder about what's beyond the next hill, or across that sea or even down that dark hole in the mountainside.

A major compulsion for this wandering among all gnomes is the desire to find the perfect gem. Tales of rich veins of rubies, or a wealth of diamonds or emeralds, will often draw an entire party of gnomes onto a long and dangerous quest. Whether or not they've seen evidence of the find, their belief in its existence will be strong, even unshakable, and determined gnomes will brook no diversion in their pursuit of this ultimate treasure.

Despite their reticent nature and the care with which they conceal their communities' exact locations, gnomes are quite willing to make friends with those visitors who prove themselves worthy of that friendship. Many a wide-eyed gnomish youngster has listened to a human knight tell of great castles or a merchant describe the wonders of a large city market. These gnomes typically grow up with the desire to see these places, and no one thinks it odd when, after reaching adulthood, they pack up their belongings and head down the road.

Another strain of this honest friendliness is a deep-running loyalty to those the gnomes consider friends. The suggestion that one of these kindred spirits is in trouble will also prove a strong motivation to bring a gnome onto the adventuring road.

Finally, gnomes keep a close eye on their surroundings and are very familiar with the world in their general vicinity. If they notice things changing (for example, a village crop-ping up on what used to be a wilderness stream) they will be irresistibly drawn to the scene to find out what's going on.