The Gnomish Point of View by Roger Moore (still not that one)

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The Gnomish Point of View by Roger Moore (still not that one)

Post by Salasker » Thu Jun 10, 2021 6:59 pm

Disclaimer: This article was written, as the author states, from AD&D sources, so some things in it just do not apply to later editions of D&D (it was published in 1982, after all). More than the other articles, the very nature of Gnomes in D&D has changed a lot over the years, likely due to the popularity of how they were portrayed in the Dragonlance novels and later in World of Warcraft. However, I still think it provides some pretty interesting views on gnomes and conjecture on their society, so I present it to you, verbatim, here. (Grab a drink, it's a long one...)

The Gnomish Point of View

Gnomes are small demi-humans closely related to dwarves. They average about 3’6” in height and 80 lbs. weight; their skin tones range from brown to dark tan to grayish brown, and they have gray or white hair. Gnomish males are bearded but females are not. Despite their small size, gnomes have an average strength equal to most humans. Though most people tend to think of gnomes as just smaller dwarves, they have different capabilities and a much different outlook on life, and are certainly worthy of consideration as a race unto themselves.

Gnomes are perhaps the rarest of all demi-humans, though halflings in some areas are tied with them for the distinction. Only 5% or less of any adventuring types of human or demi-human origin are gnomes. They prefer living in temperate climates in rough and hilly terrain.

Gnomish communities are composed of elaborate underground tunnel complexes much like those dwarves inhabit, and all such communities maintain a network of mines for metals and gemstones. However, gnomish complexes do not go as deep into the earth as dwarven tunnel systems do, and tend to be spread out over a wider area. Though gnomes enjoy their mines and their close association with the earth, they also appreciate the world above ground, and love the beauty of the wilderness and of living creatures.

Gnomes seem to have struck a happy medium between the attitudes of dwarves and elves in this respect. Dwarves seek mastery over their environment, treating it as a thing to be shaped and governed; elves seek union with their sylvan environments, making themselves at one with nature. Gnomes, splitting the difference, look upon their environment and the creatures within it as separate but equal to them, as friends and helpers. For this reason they have learned to speak with all other burrowing mammals and often have working relationships with local groups of badgers, groundhogs, and so forth for food-gathering and mutual defense. Gnomes sometimes have such creatures as companions; they treat their animal friends as partners and not like pets. Certainly it does not hurt such relationships that gnomes are small enough to see “eye to eye” with these small mammals.

Communities of gnomes are closely knit, and tend to engage in much friendly competition with other such communities. The major trades include jewelcraft, mining, metalworking (including armor and weapons manufacturing), a minor amount of farming (a skill almost unheard of among dwarves), hunting, and involvement with the local military as scouts and community militia. Trade with other gnomish communities and demi-human villages and towns is brisk, though few gnomes leave their homes to become traveling merchants. In general, humans trade with gnomes less frequently than do elves, halflings, or dwarves, due to some mutual distrust and avoidance, but some human areas are quite friendly with gnomish folk, sending them clothing, foodstuffs and spices in exchange for ores, gems and jewels, and worked metal products (weapons, tools, armor).

Humor is very important to the gnomish personality. Gnomes go for practical jokes, especially the sorts that are directed against larger creatures and enemies. When directed against other gnomes, these jokes tend to be friendly, with no harm intended. But against humans and other large races (including humanoids), gnomes’ humor is more of a weapon, and takes on a darker aspect. A good practical joke played on an enemy (like substituting a Necklace of Strangulation for a Necklace of Missiles in a half- ore’s pocket) will win immense status for the responsible gnome.

Those whom gnomes do not trust are dealt with carefully; they may find themselves perplexed, led around in circles, and kept unsure of just what is going on. The gnomish brand of humor is demoralizing to enemies of the gnomes, who may find themselves constantly subject to booby-traps of every conceivable sort. Humans have found it helpful to develop a manner of humility and respect when passing through a community of these small folk. Those who are earnestly friendly and supportive of gnomes may soon find them to be close friends. Gnomish mercenaries will assist non-gnomes fighting directly for gnomish causes; their service may also be given in other, non-critical (to a gnome) situations, but they won’t take things quite as seriously in such instances, and won’t necessarily stop their practical jokes (though they will become more friendly and harmless).

The lawful good orientation of most gnomes comes from their sense of community spirit and cooperation with one another and other allied beings. This is muted to some extent by a more neutral, nature-loving concern that includes a tolerance for other alignments and a desire to maintain the balance of nature. Though gnomes may not like chaotic evil beings, there is still the feeling among most gnomes that such creatures are necessary in some way to maintain a balance with other alignments. Neutrally aligned gnomes are not often prone to be closely involved with other races, with the possible exception of sylvan elves and rare communities of tallfellow halflings of neutral alignment.

Perhaps because of their close association with the earth, gnomes are tough when it comes to constitution and related matters. They are resistant to many poisons and magic spells; as with halflings and dwarves, certain magic items (i.e., rings) may malfunction when used by gnomes, because of this resistance. Gnomes are also able to consume large quantities of alcoholic beverages and not be as affected as a human might be; gnomes drink as much as dwarves do, but whereas a drunken dwarf becomes (generally speaking) more obnoxious and gruff, with a tendency to fight everything that moves, a drunken gnome becomes euphoric, laughs at everything, and joyfully insults anyone or anything larger than himself or herself.

Gnomes are rarely on good terms with any evil humanoid race, but their most hated enemies are the kobolds. Both races compete for the same sort of living space and materials, and their deities have long warred with one another. Garl Glittergold (the major gnomish god) once caused Kurtulmak’s most elaborate and richly decorated throne room to develop a structural defect in the ceiling, making it collapse at an untimely moment when the kobold god was entertaining one of the major arch-devils. The latter believed the ceiling collapse was an assassination attempt, and in vengeance hung Kurtulmak by his tail over an active volcano for six weeks. The kobold god has since devoted all his energies to the destruction of all gnomes, but his efforts seem to have only made the gnomes tougher on the whole. All in all, it was a grand joke indeed.

Goblins also hate gnomes, though not with the single-minded fury that kobolds have for them. Gnomes, in turn, hate these races to the point where they will attack them in preference to any other race of enemies, and gain a bonus to hit them as well. Because gnomes are small enough to dodge between the legs of larger opponents and evade blows, humanoid beings of gnoll size or larger have a very tough time scoring any hits on them.

The physical senses of gnomes are very well developed. Eyesight is good and includes infravision out to 60’ or so. Gnomes have the most sensitive hearing of any demi-human race, and their communities are unusually quiet compared to those of other races as a result. Some gnomes prefer walking some distance ahead or behind groups of noisier (usually meaning human) races. Gnomes also have a more highly developed sense of taste and smell than other races, and have larger noses that some people find quite amusing.

Gnomes go adventuring for various reasons; many such adventurers are multiclassed. Gnomes are able to learn the skills of the fighter, thief, illusionist, and assassin and are better able to mix classes than either dwarves or halflings. Gnomish thieves and illusionists, for obvious reasons, are especially able to use their talents to pull jokes on other beings. The feeling that gnomes have been slighted by many other races without cause (a claim not without substantial evidence) makes the fighting and thieving lives most attractive, as a way of evening up the imbalance. Assassins are motivated by a similar “get ‘em back” philosophy, and enjoy taking vengeance on their enemies with macabre humor. Illusionist gnomes are rare, but highly respected in their home communities for their powers; learning illusionist powers takes a great deal of time and practice compared to learning fighting skills or thieving. Gnomish adventurers of any sort often think of themselves favorably as “giant killers” (“giant” here meaning anything larger than 5 feet tall).

Aside from elves, gnomes are the longest-lived race among humans and demi-humans, reaching a maximum age of over 750 years. As with the elven folk, this has to some extent changed the gnomes’ concept of time. Gnomes are not usually prone to hurry with tasks, and are good at making up a variety of amusements with which to occupy their time. Joke-playing and other humor is very useful in this respect. Gem and metal crafts take up much of a gnome’s time in later life when adventuring begins to pale, and community service is a popular option. Mining, of course, can be done at any age, and frequently is.

As a race, gnomes are quite adaptable. Though they do not particularly like the sea or other large bodies of water, they are more willing than dwarves to live in such areas. Undersea communities of gnomes, with tunnels leading from great air-filled caverns beneath the waves to rockier ground on the shore, have been reported. These complexes would be extremely rare, since most gnomes do not know how to swim. Other colonies of gnomes have been reported in arctic areas, clustered near geothermal springs or places with mild volcanic activity.

Recently, a purely subterranean subspecies of gnomes was discovered; known as “deep gnomes” (see AD&D™ Module D2, The Shrine of the Kuo-Toa), these beings are on close terms with many sorts of earth elementals, just as surface gnomes associate with burrowing mammals. They possess an innate magic resistance and spells of illusion; their language is a modified form of the surface gnome tongue. Gnomes seem to be turning up in the most unexpected places — perhaps their way of having a little joke on all the other races.

The gnomish personality is well represented by their chief deity, Garl Glittergold. Garl is mischievous, courageous, witty, and strongly drawn to the adventuring life. His great axe is actually his companion; Arumdina is quite intel¬ ligent, and has the power to cut stone and heal Garl as desired. It is interesting to compare Arumdina (as Garl’s companion) to Moradin’s hammer (which is non-intelligent and his personal tool) and to Corellon Larethian’s sword (which is an extension of the elven god, virtually a part of him). Gnomes have a number of other gods, but Garl is the best representative of gnomes as a whole. His everchanging gemstone eyes seem to fit well into his unpredictable (though still lawful) nature.

Like dwarves, gnomes have a distinct sexual imbalance in numbers (two males for every female), and this does have an effect on their society. Gnomes, however, do not have the rigid sexual and marital mores dwarves have. Expressions of love and caring are shown more freely, and courting is a popular pastime among gnomes. Since most gnomes do not marry early in life, this means very long courtships, some lasting several hundred years (making for some particularly amusing tales and jokes).

Those males who choose not to be married become more immersed in their crafts, and develop close, non-sexual relationships with friends who are either other male gnomes, humans or demi- humans of either sex, or animals. These relationships are looked upon by married and unmarried gnomes alike as being as valuable and important as a marriage relationship, though humans and other races might be hard pressed to see things that way. Gnomes will go to great lengths to aid those they become attached to, and will feel a strong sense of responsibility for them.

As presented in the AD&D rule books and played in AD&D campaigns, gnomes at times seem a little too much like dwarves. The two races share some characteristics; yet, in order for each to remain a separate and distinct character type, differences should be present. It might be worth discussing ways in which gnomes could be made a little more unlike other character races; it is suggested that the sexual ratio of males to females be evened up, perhaps nearer seven males for five females. It is odd, too, that while dwarves are said to be unable to cast magical spells (excluding the clerical sorts possible to many races) due to their magical resistance from their constitutions, gnomes gain the same magic resistance and are allowed to become illusionists. Further discussion of this matter and other possible changes might be worthwhile in making the AD&D system more logical and reasonable.

Material for this article was gleaned from the AD&D Players Handbook, Monster Manual, Dungeon Masters Guide, and the DEITIES & DEMIGODS™ Cyclopedia. In addition, the novels Three Hearts and Three Lions, by Poul Anderson, and Enchanted Pilgrimage, by Clifford D. Simak, provided some additional details on various matters.

(One more to go, folks. Soon as my fingers recover again!)

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