Study & Jest

The Secret Life of Gnomes

By James Jacobs Dragon #291

Birth & Childhood

Childbirth is a private time for gnome families. For the majority of the mother's pregnancy, she enjoys the company of her friends, family, and neighbors, who often visit with gifts and stories. A pregnant gnome is assured that her time is always full of fun and entertainment. This all changes when the expectant mother reaches the final month of her term.

At this time, the mother retires to her home to be tended and cared for by her immediate family. During childbirth, the mother is tended to by her husband and a midwife (typically an alchemist or herbalist). Other close family members and friends are not allowed into the birthing chamber during the delivery, reducing possible distractions; they wait out the birth in an antechamber. At least one cleric attends the birth in this antechamber in case difficulties during the birth require magical intercession.

Gnomes don't think of names as unique personal identifiers, a fact that many non-gnomes find particularly frustrating. A gnome receives his first name minutes after childbirth (usually granted by one of the parents), and by the end of the day, the child usually racks up at least a half dozen more. By the time a gnome reaches adulthood, he's collected an impressive list of names. The gnome's skill with language allows him to easily keep track of numerous names, but it can wreak havoc with his non-gnome friends.

Immediately after childbirth, the baby is introduced to its birth pet. Gnomes are quite fond of small animals, due in no small part to the fact that from birth they are linked with an equally newborn animal. A gnome baby is coddled and smothered with affection by his parents, but he spends as much (if not more) time with the small newborn animal his parents have selected as a birth pet. Birth pets are traditionally small burrowing animals such as badgers, moles, gophers, rabbits, foxes, or burrowing reptiles like snakes or lizards. The two forge a powerful bond and often develop a strong sense of empathy.

Gnome babies are quick to pick up on language skills, and by the time they reach an age of 3 months, they are already forming their first words. For the first year of life, the gnome can do little more than mimic words and sentences he hears, but the particular words and sentences that he chooses to mimic are often strong indicators of what the gnome's future interests and talents as an adult might be. Gnomes feel that it's unlucky to actively encourage a specific set of interests in a gnome baby, and many feel that such activities tend to result in pensive, brooding children. This gift with language extends even to the gnome's birth pet; indeed, gnome children often master their birth pet's language before any other. This language consists of soft chattering sounds and is often quite intricate; the language is almost magical in that it incorporates a fair amount of telepathically transmitted empathy. As the gnome grows older and begins to speak gnome or other spoken tongues, his skills with his birth pet language atrophy to a point where the gnome can only communicate with creatures in this manner for a short period of time each day.

Rites of Passage

For the first few years of life, the young gnome is kept close to her parents and birth pet. By the time the gnome has learned to walk and talk, her parents become less protective and allow the young gnome free reign throughout the house, yard, and nearby outdoor areas. Gnome children make early contact with other young gnomes and form friendships at this time that often last a lifetime, but still, most of their play focuses on interacting with their birth pets. Young gnomes often pretend they are animals, possibly the brothers or sisters of their birth pets, digging around in the dirt and they spend many hours with their companions. Accidents are common at this time as the young gnome about things like fire, poisonous plants, wild animals, and other dangers the hard way. Non-gnomes often think of this method of raising children as irresponsible, but gnomes feel that experience teaches far more efficiently than dry lectures or overblown warnings.

It is at this early age that a gnome's magical abilities first start to develop. The young gnome has little control over these magical abilities at first, and they manifest as short-lived motes of multi-colored light, strange faint noises, and unseen forces that move small, unattended objects in strange patterns. As the gnome grows over the next several years, her control over these minor magical abilities becomes more refined and focused, eventually allowing the gnome to cast cantrips (dancing lights, ghost sound, and prestidigitation). Some gnomes never fully master these magical skills because they simply lack the intelligence to do so. A sharp wit and quick intellect are the most valued aspects of life in gnome society, and children who lack the skills to control their magical abilities become objects of scorn and ruthless torment by their one-time friends. Gnomes quickly learn to suppress their undeveloped magical skills after being subjected to these cruel attentions.

By the time gnomes reach the age of ten, they often form small groups of like-minded children who spend long hours together playing. Favored pastimes include playing the glittering path, (see "The Little-Lympics" for more information on the glittering path), magic competitions (the children strive to find the funniest or cleverest use of their powers), and inventing and building toys, vehicles, and often entire miniature villages and buildings.

Going to School

Gnome schools are very traditional and rigidly structured. A school term runs an entire year, with a two-week vacation at the turn of each season and various other days off throughout the year to observe religious or secular holidays. A school week runs for six days, followed by one day off during which the gnome is expected to practice his creative interests. Gnome schools have an unusual dress code; all students and teachers must wear traditional scholar's caps, commonly called "pointy hats."

Gnomes are organized into classes by age and gender, and the standard age at which they begin schooling is 30 years old. A typical day at school lasts for six hours, divided into five classes of various subjects. A class lasts for a year, after which the gnomes are evaluated by their teachers and then, if they have demonstrated sufficient skills, allowed to progress to the next grade of education. Gnomes divide school into nine grades of education. The first three grades of school cover the basics of various subjects like mathematics, history, reading, and writing. The second three grades of school become more focused, and the student is allowed to choose a particular venue of scholastic pursuit. The classes offered are still rigidly constructed and generalized. Not all of these classes teach skills; many of them teach young gnomes special tricks (such as how to effectively fight against goblinoids, dodge giants, or use metamagic feats). During the last three grades, the gnome is rewarded with the responsibility of directing his own education. He can organize his own classes and conduct independent research under the guidance of favorite teachers and professors. These gnomes are also often called upon to serve as teachers or aides in the education of first- and second-grade gnomes.

Eventually, the scholar earns enough commendations from his professors, teachers, and mentors to allow him to apply for graduation. To graduate, the student must prepare a specific thesis, experiment, or demonstration in his chosen field of study. His final year at school is often dominated by this Final Showing, as it is called. A Final Showing is observed and studied by no less than nine of the gnome's mentors, and all nine of them must judge the Final Showing favorably in order for the gnome to progress to Certification.

Certification is the most grueling part of a gnome's education. He is allowed a week of respite between his Final Showing and his Certification; wise gnomes spend this week in study and preparation, but many gnomes spend the week celebrating their imminent graduation. Certification always begins at the crack of dawn and sees the nervous scholar sitting alone at a desk facing the nine mentors who judged his Final Showing. These mentors spend the next six hours grilling the student with hundreds of complicated questions, trying their best to test the limits of the gnome's accumulated knowledge. Certification is a stressful event, but by this point most students have so immersed themselves in their chosen field that they can demonstrate their knowledge to a sufficient degree that their mentors approve their Certification even if the gnome stumbles through the ordeal.

Of course, school is not just a time for study. Classes only consume six hours a day, leaving many more open for non- scholastic pursuits. Some gnomes spend this time studying, but most spend the time socializing. Truthfully, this is just as important to the development of the growing gnome as his studies, and it helps the gnome prepare for life as a full-fledged member of society.

There are a few gnomes who can't handle their education. A gnome might reject his education for any number of reasons. He might be bitter after a childhood spent being mocked by his more intelligent friends, he might just be a loner or someone who eschews society and would prefer to make his own way through life, or he might actually be bored by his studies. It's not unheard of for such gnomes to drop out of school simply because they feel that education has nothing to offer them. Gnome dropouts still find places in society, often as laborers or soldiers.

Pointy Hats

The size of a gnome's hat directly relates to his education. First grade gnomes who have just been admitted wear very short hats with a slightly pronounced point at the top. As the gnome rises in grade level, he is allowed to wear taller and taller caps. The material from which the pointy hat is made (including color schemes) varies from school to school. In this way, one gnome can instantly tell the grade and home school of another gnome simply by glancing at the other gnome's hat. Teachers and professors get to wear the tallest hats. Such hat measure at least 15 inches in height, possibly more for important professors. These hats often bear enchantments as well; many gnomes with the Craft Wondrous Item feat make magic pointy hats to give as gives for favorite mentors. Gnomes who can't afford magic hats often opt for masterwork pointy hats. A masterwork pointy hat typically grants a +2 bonus on all Diplomacy checks made with other gnomes and gains a +1 bonus to all saving throws to avoid its destruction. This bonus to saving throw does no stack with any bonuses the hat may receive for being enchanted. Masterwork pointy hats are often encrusted with gems, and precious metals, and while their minimum cost is around 50 gp. they are often much more expensive.

A gnome caught wearing an inappropriate hat faces expulsion from his school. Once a gnome has graduated, he is no longer expected to wear his pointy hat, but many continue to do so out of pride. Gnomes who have not completed or attended school are allowed to wear pointy hats only if the hat is made of felt, red in color, and no more than 11 inches in length. Despite the somewhat awkward social stigma of wearing a commoner's pointy hat, unschooled gnomes wear them anyway since a hatless gnome can't be trusted.

Of course, there are exceptions. Gnomes tell stories of famous but eccentric gnome heroes who go hatless, but there are merely the exceptions that prove the rule. More often, a hatless gnome has been spurned from gnome society for good reason. But regardless the cause, a hatless gnome means big trouble.

Courtship, Marriage, & Family

School is an important part of a gnome's growth, but it often takes a back seat to an equally important development - puberty. Young gnomes often become involved in romantic relationships during school. Such relationships are all but unheard of at earlier ages, and when such relationships occur they are looked upon unfavorably by adults; it isn't proper for an uneducated gnome to engage in idle trysts, after all.

Once school begins, this all changes. Many gnomes meet their future husbands and wives in school, and for some gnomes, the prospect of meeting a spouse is the driving factor for enrollment. Gnomes are creatures of impulse, though, and more often than not these relationships end as quickly as they began. Curiously, gnomes of both genders tend to express their interest in a partner not by giving gifts or composing poetry, but by playing practical jokes on the object of their desire. The more intricate and unique the joke, the better the gnome's chances are of being noticed. Once a couple gets over these jokes and is comfortable together, it's common for them to turn their impish natures against their friends and relatives. One gnome alone can concoct devilish practical jokes, but the heat of passion experienced by young gnome lovers seems to push their imaginations and creativity into overdrive.

Eventually, a gnome couple realizes that they want to spend the rest of their lives together. This realization often comes suddenly, and gnomes are wont to act on this realization immediately. Gnome weddings are traditionally small and unassuming affairs, but this is more a result of lack of time to plan and prepare than irreverence toward tradition. It is very unusual for an engagement to last longer than a month; more often, it lasts for only a week. The marriage itself is traditionally performed by a cleric, although marriages performed by alchemists, wizards, sages, or any other respected gnome are recognized as official unions provided at least three witnesses swear to the event. Once a gnome couple weds, they are expected to set up their own home and work together to provide something useful for the village. Gnomes are also expected to wait until after they graduate from school to get married. Nevertheless, many gnomes can't wait that long and get married in secret while still in school.

Divorce and remarriage are fairly common in gnome society. Creatures of impulse, they often suddenly realize that they'd be happier with a different spouse, or perhaps with no spouse at all. In cases where both partners feel the same way, annulment of a marriage is a quick and painless event requiring little more than a splitting of common belongings and signing of a legal document to be stored in the town hall. In cases where one of the gnomes still harbors strong feelings for the other, divorces can be ugly events that end in loud and often violent altercations. These separations result in one or both gnomes moving out of the neighborhood or village to create a new life elsewhere. Once a couple has a child, divorce is quite rare. Gnomes adore children, viewing their love of life and chaotic activities as a breath of fresh air. Parents are drawn even more closely together after having a child, and the concept of splitting up and causing anguish to the child is unthinkable.

Society, Friends & Pets

A gnome makes friends easily, even with non-gnomes. Gnome communities are fairly small, and they are almost always hamlets according to the classification system on page 137 of the DUNGEON Master's Guide (population of 400 or less). The reason for this is simple; gnomes have a natural desire to know and be friends with everyone in the immediate area. In large cities, this is plainly impossible, so when left to their own devices, gnomes naturally form smaller villages rather than sprawling metropolises. Nevertheless, it isn't unusual to see gnomes living in cities populated by other races. Even then, gnomes tend to focus on their immediate neighborhood, and they come to view this neighborhood as a separate entity apart from the city as a whole.

While gnomes are social creatures who enjoy the company of close friends and casual acquaintances alike, they also adore the natural world and the animals that live in it. This is another reason gnome villages tend to be small; hamlets are much less damaging and intrusive to nature. A gnome village is built to be at one with the natural surroundings; gnome architects make use of existing topography and vegetation to maximum potential, utilizing such features as foundations and even walls or roofs for buildings. Dwarves often mistake this practice as a sign of laziness, believing that the gnome carpenter is only building what is necessary. In truth, gnomes do this to live as close to the natural world as possible.

To a non-gnome, a gnome village can be hard to find. Many gnome villages are located on or just off of major trade routes, and merchants often travel these routes their entire lives without realizing the village exists. Artificial structures are often built to look like trees, rocks, or even hills. Not only does this style allow the gnome to live at ease in nature, but it provides a valuable camouflage to protect gnome villages from their enemies.

Gnomes are not a warlike race, and as a general rule prefer to let their camouflaged buildings be their primary defense against their enemies. Goblins in particular have a hatred of gnomes, and vice versa. A gnome village won't normally have an organized militia, but the residents are so at ease and familiar with their neighbors that they can quickly form highly organized groups in times of crisis. Many gnome villages house a fair number of gnome laborers and soldiers who can provide ample protection, but they prefer to rely on magic and alchemy to fight the enemy. A gnome village located on a frontier or near hostile lands incorporates alchemical traps and magic wards to help protect the citizens. Tanglefoot bags are a particular favorite of gnomes; their ease of use and potent effects can often demoralize an invading force without either side ever having a chance to draw blood.

With the notable exception of kobolds and goblins, gnomes get along famously with the other humanoid races. This is partly due to the fact that gnomes seem to be naturally friendly and easy to get along with. The main reason for this is that there's a lot for other races to see and respect in gnome society. Dwarves have great respect for the gnome skill at gemcutting, and many dwarven miners look to their gnome neighbors when it comes time to polish and cut their yield. Elves approve of the respect for and knowledge of the natural world that gnomes possess, and the two races share a deep love and respect for arcane magic. Halflings get a kick out of the gnome sense of humor and empathize with the troubles those short of stature have living in a world filled with bigger folk. Gnomes, being kindly souls, often find themselves at odds with orcs and their ilk, but so long as goblins aren't involved, gnomes are okay with leaving these savage folk alone, if they keep their troubles to themselves.

Gnomes are also quite fond of animals, particularly burrowing mammals. A typical gnome household contains as many animal pets as gnome inhabitants, if not more. These pets are often allowed to wander about as they please; gnomes find the practice of keeping pets in cages barbaric. If you have to keep your pet caged or leashed, well, then it's not really a pet, is it? It's little more than a prisoner. Gnomes also don't understand the common human practice of using animals as beasts of burden. This is little more than slavery to a gnome, and it is even more distasteful than keeping an animal in a cage. Of course, the fact that gnomes can actually talk to their pets makes it much easier for them to understand and befriend animals. In many ways, pets are more like guests who have chosen to stay in a gnome's house; often, such animals provide valuable services in return for the shelter. A badger might help a gnome dig out a new room for a house built into the side of a hill, or a bird might function as a doorbell.

Practical Jokes

One unique aspect of gnome society is the practical joke. For other races, such jokes are looked upon as idle amusements. For gnomes, though, a good practical joke can be as important as a wedding or funeral. Indeed, isn't uncommon for practical jokes to end with weddings or funerals.

Practical jokes are traditionally perpetrated by one gnome on another single gnome. Other gnomes are often called upon for assistance or to play specific roles in carrying off the joke but there is one mastermind and one victim at the center of the mess. Once a gnome realizes she's the butt of a practical joke, the joke ends.

Depending on its success, the perpetrator is either showered with praise or ridiculed terribly. The victim of the joke is always the most vocal in this praise or ridicule. Of course, the victim is expected to some day extract revenge on the joker in the form of a bigger and more elaborate joke of her own design.

Many intricate and effective practical jokes can be designed with magic (especially with illusions), but the most memorable jokes involve completely non-magical components. Against non-gnomes, this tradition is relaxed somewhat, since non-gnomes don't understand the hard work and skill needed to pull off a good zinger, resulting in wasted effort.

A practical joke can be a simple affair (such as drilling a tiny hole in a bottle of ink so that the victim dribbles it all over his clothing, or hiding a piece of rotten food in a gnome's house and watching as they tear the place apart looking for the source of the stink) or an incredibly complex design (such as building a booby-trapped house for a friend).

Superstitions & Beliefs

Gnomes have a fairly extensive pantheon of deities, but they are not overly superstitious or religious. The naturally analytic mind of a gnome has a hard time dealing with matters of faith; when confronted with a problem, a gnome is more apt to try to figure out what's causing the problem and how it can be fixed rather than simply accept the problem for what it is and learn to live with it. This is reflected in the gnome attitude toward magic; they are much more at ease manipulating the logical and rigid spells of the arcane path than the sometimes nebulous and often contradictory nature of divine magic. Gnomes can understand magic that builds things or breaks things, but magic that deals with the body and soul or the intervention of mystical forces from other realms tends to bore them. If it can't be seen, then what's the point?

Gnomes think of themselves as realists. Confronted by a problem, a gnome does his best to understand and overcome the situation. If it becomes apparent that the problem cannot be overcome, the gnome does what he can to avoid the problem. For example, if a gnome village is beset upon by terrible droughts three years in a row, the citizens might start to study weather patterns throughout history and try to figure out how the topography of the region could be affecting rainfall, rather than pray and hope for some mystical deliverance from the lean times. They might eventually decide to build an aqueduct to pipe in water from a river miles distant, or even try to invent some sort of alchemical way to seed clouds and create rain themselves. The concept of holding out and hoping that the problem solves itself or that some other force or being fixes things never occurs to gnomes.

Nevertheless, clerics and druids are common sights in gnome settlements. Gnome clerics are somewhat unusual in that they prefer to view their deities as close friends or mentors rather than all-powerful beings. Gnome religious texts read more like historical accounts than myths. Their gods are heroic and embody all of the ideals a gnome could hope to live up to, but they are no more mysterious or special than the carpenter who built your outhouse or the neighbor who came home late from the tavern and threw up in your flowerbed. Gnome clerics tend to think of their spells as tricks "loaned" to them by their deity rather than an investiture of power. Gnome druids view their abilities as natural extensions of their deep study of nature and are thus the logical outgrowth of years of study and introspection. These views are difficult for gnomes to explain to non-gnomes, and they get frustrated when religious members of other races ask stupid questions. Visitors of this kind to gnome communities quickly become quite knowledgeable about the ins and outs of gnome practical jokes.

Diamonds & Stinktar

Gnomes are very close to nature and eschew the sprawling cities and nations so valued by humanity and the other races. Still, gnomes are no less civilized than city-folk. Gnomes place a high value on personal skills and talents, and they have produced some of the most talented and accomplished craftsmen and artisans in the known world. But the fields where gnomes excel far and above all others are gemcutting and alchemy.

To a gnome, gems are more than pretty little minerals pulled from the earth; they are friends and companions, and each of them has a unique story to tell. Gnomes keep small collections of gemstones and jewels - often little more than polished river stones or chunks of rock crystal. A skilled gnome gemcutter can coax great beauty out of a dirty rock picked from a horse's hoof, though, so to the untrained eye a gnome-polished hunk of quartz might look more valuable than a diamond. Despite this, gnomes truly value and love the most expensive gemstones, for it is these jewels that possess the greatest beauty and purest facets. A gnome might spend months studying an uncut gemstone, pondering the best way to cut and polish it so as to maximize its beauty. Often, a particularly precious gemstone goes uncut because no gnome feels skilled enough to do the gem justice.

Of course, the skill that gnomes are most famous for is alchemy. As alchemists, gnomes are unparalleled; the art of coaxing pseudo-magical effects out of common household ingredients and naturally occurring products has fascinated gnomes for untold ages. Gnome alchemists spend long hours examining and experimenting with chemicals, reagents, metals, plants, extracts, and anything else they can get their stained fingers on. Most alchemical discoveries are little more than harmless chemical reactions that look interesting or produce a memorable smell or sound, but sometimes a gnome stumbles upon a true discovery like stinktar or red wrigglers. Gnome alchemists tend to work only with vague plans and half-formed goals; 99 percent of the time the truly useful alchemical discoveries are accidents.

Gnome Alchemy

Gnomes continually experiment with alchemy; many famous alchemical items (such as the tanglefoot bag and the tindertwig) are said to have originally been gnome inventions. Presented here are several lesser known alchemical recipes that have been perfected by enterprising gnomes over the years. Each of the items listed below is given an Craft (alchemy) DC rating; this is the number required to prepare the item successfully.

Spiderlilly Essence: A single dose of spiderlilly essence is enough to coat a single Small creature. Each size increase requires twice the dosage of the previous size, and each size decrease requires only half the larger size's dosage. Spiderlilly essence is particularly noxious to most vermin (with the notable exception of spiders, who ironically cannot detect the stuff). Fine vermin avoid creatures that wear the essence, and monstrous non-spider vermin must make a Will saving throw (DC 15) to attack the target. Once a vermin makes a Will save (DC 15) against essence of spiderlilly, it is immune to the essence for an hour. Spiderlilly essence lasts for one hour before it wears off.

Glitterbright: This sparkling liquid enhances flaws and facets in gemstones. Any Appraise or Craft (gemcutting) checks on a gem treated with a dose of glitterbright receive a +4 alchemical bonus. This effect lasts for 1 minute.

Red Wriggler: An active red wriggler is an ingenious invention that resembles a large writhing worm or centipede. In truth, a red wriggler is nothing more than a specially treated strip of fabric and twine about a foot long and no more than a half inch wide. When a red wriggler becomes wet, it becomes puffy and slimy and begins to twitch and undulate in place like a dying worm. The wriggler remains active for 3d6 rounds before the special resins finally cause the thing to melt away into an acrid yellow cloud that quickly fades. Red wrigglers are popular items for practical jokes; a gnome often hides one in someone's bathing suit or slips one into someone's drink when they aren't looking. Red Wrigglers have little practical use, but their value as components for practical jokes is without bounds.

Snortawake: Snortawake is a pungent-smelling clear liquid that is kept in tiny glass vials. A single dose of snortawake poured into the mouth or nose of a living creature removes 1d8 points of subdual damage. This useful liquid got its name from the highly amusing snorting noises people tend to make after they are revived from being knocked unconscious.

Stinktar: Stinktar is a foul substance that is said to be the most successful alchemical accident of all time. The gnome who invented stinktar was trying to perfect a non-magical love potion; instead all he invented was a viscous lack, sticky ooze that reeks worse than a diseased ogre's cistern on a hot summer day. Stinktar is typically carried in tiny glass vials sealed with wax; these vials can be hurled as grenadelike missiles. Stinktar has a 10-ft. range increment, and deals no damage. Stinktar has no splash effect.

A creature struck by stinktar must make a Reflex saving throw (DC 15) or the tar sticks. As long as the reeking tar is stuck to the victim, he exudes a powerful stench, and his eyes constantly tear up from the fumes and make it difficult to concentrate on the task on hand. If the victim has a sense of smell, stinktar imposes a -4 penalty to Concentration, Diplomacy, Search, and Spot checks. Regardless of the victim's own ability to smell, stinktar imposes a -4 penalty to Hide checks made against targets with a sense of smell. Creatures struck by stinktar cannot use the scent ability and can be detected at four times the normal distance by other creatures with the scent ability. The effects of stinktar last for one hour. It takes one minute to scrape stinktar off of an affected creature or object.

ItemCostWeightCreate DC
Spiderlilly Essence75 gp-25
Glitterbright5 gp-20
Red Wriggler25 gp1 lb.15
Snortawake25 gp-20
Stinktar50 gp1 lb.25

Social Classes, Justice, & Politics

Apart from the occasional alchemy experiment gone explosively wrong, gnome villages are idyllic places. Strife and crime are fairly rare in these regions, mostly because everyone knows everyone else in a gnome village. It's hard to be a thief in a town where your neighbor quickly recognizes your new gemstone collection and realizes you didn't really buy it from a merchant down by the old oak tree.

In other cultures, the leaders of society are traditionally the most attractive, the strongest, or simply those with enough dumb luck to be born into nobility. Gnomes have little interest in following this model. In a gnome village, the most important person is the smartest, wittiest person. You can wear all the makeup you want or bully the less fortunate for days, but you won't impress a gnome and earn her respect until you can outsmart her. Since intelligence and wisdom come with age, it's natural that gnomes would look to their elders for leadership and guidance. A typical gnome village is lead by one burgomaster who has demonstrated his or her quick wit time and time again, be it in insult duels or through alchemical discoveries or by driving off enemies using tactics and subterfuge. The post of burgomaster is an elected one, and every year the gnome villagers hold new elections. New candidates are nominated by the villagers (typically there are no more than four contenders but sometimes the number can reach a dozen or more), and the contenders then embark on aggressive and intricate campaigns to win the respect of their fellows. Apart from frequent debates on various topics, these campaigns steer clear of mudslinging. A gnome is rarely impressed with a person's ego or ability to prove how much better they are than another person. Instead, these campaigns often turn into unorganized competitions where the various candidates embark on crusades to improve the village in creative and intelligent ways. These competitions nearly always benefit the village. The campaigns have no set time limit, but they rarely last more than a week. Gnomes do not actually vote for a burgomaster; they are selected by attrition as lesser candidates are forced to submit to a superior intellect and wit.

A burgomaster doesn't run a gnome village by himself, though. He has a board of advisors that consists of a group of nine gnome professors or teachers from local schools. An advisor serves a term of three years, after which he selects his successor (subject to the approval of the other advisors and the burgomaster) from a different local school. While the burgomaster is in charge of the day to day running of the village and peacekeeping, each of the advisors has a specific role. The alchemist, magical theorist, and craftsman guide and represent the various producers (inventors, farmers, smiths, wizards, and so on) in the village. The artist is responsible for organizing festivals and keeping the village a pleasant place to live. The engineer is responsible for public works like sanitation and repairs. The historian takes census and keeps track of town history. The mathematician acts as the town treasurer, the religious studies adviser as the town's spiritual leader, and finally, the master of literature is responsible for running the town hall and keeps town records organized and updated.

Despite this fairly rigid structure, gnome villages are not without their share of troublemakers and miscreants. These rabble-rousers are fairly mellow and only rarely cause problems in excess of brawling, graffiti, and petty thievery. Murder, rape, arson, and other felonious crimes are quite rare. When terrible crimes such as these do occur, the burgomaster assembles a squad of hand-picked investigators selected specifically for the nature of the crime and provides them with funds so they can quickly and efficiently capture the criminal. Gnome villages are small and since everyone knows each other, capturing the criminal is a fairly easy task. Gnomes believe that criminal behavior in their kin is caused by various forms of madness. A captured criminal is thus treated as a victim in many ways. The gnome is confined to his quarters for several months or even years while a team of gnome specialists studies him and attempts to cure him of his criminal ways using various forms of alchemical and magical treatments. In areas where dozens of gnome villages are located in close proximity to one another, an asylum might be constructed. Gnome asylums are run by clerics and are located in secluded areas so that the occasional escapee doesn't have a convenient nearby populace to vent his aberrant behavior upon. Often, Enchantment magic is employed to keep the criminals docile and susceptible to personality reconstruction. Exile and death are never used by gnomes as punishment; exile simply foists the criminal off on someone else, and death is viewed as the lazy way out. To use an analogy, if a table has a crooked leg, you don't break it up and throw it away. You fix its leg so it can go on providing a useful service for many years to come.

As a result, deviant or criminal gnomes are loners or outcasts who dwell in non-gnome societies or wilderness regions. There are even tales of traitor gnomes who have joined with goblin or kobold tribes in order to aid their traditional enemies in battles against their own kin.

Good Gnomes Gone Bad

Although gnomes are, on the whole, kind, generous, and friendly, there do seem to be a fairly sizable amount of evil gnomes in the world. Certainly, the percentage of evil gnomes is much greater than the percentages of evil halflings, dwarves and elves (discounting the underground-dwelling off-shoots, of course). An evil gnome is a terrible thing indeed, for such monsters never seem to lose their sense of humor. Their practical jokes merely turn from embarrassing and humiliating to downright deadly. One gnome exile, for example, has perfected a terrible recipe for lime pies that actually uses a variant strain of green slime that remains dormant (and lime flavored) until exposed to any sort of acid (such as stomach acid) at which time it quickly awakens and begins to eat away at whatever poor soul ingested it in the first place.

The majority of evil gnomes, it would seem, are a result of gnome society. There is little room in a gnome village for the stupid, and while many dumb gnomes are content to live out their lives as blunt-hat laborers, a large portion of them quickly learn to hate and envy their smarter (an better-liked) kin. These dull-witted gnomes often become fighters, barbarians, rogues, and rangers (who prefer to hunt smart gnomes over all else), and tend to move out of gnome society early to make their fortunes breaking laws in other societies.

Interestingly enough, there also seems to be a large portion of evil gnomes who are incredibly intelligent. These gnomes include those who are brilliant enough that they often feel hampered, embarrassed, or even insulted by their merely quick-witted neighbors. These gnomes are usually spellcasters, often illusionists, and often prefer to remain in gnome societies and use their superior intellect and magical skills to hide their true personalities and schemes as they work to take full advantage of their environs. A surprising number of gnome villages are actually ruled by a hyper-intelligent gnome who manipulates politics from the shadows to fuel his own twisted plans and desires.

Death & Burial

Gnomes learn to deal with death the hard way. The most difficult period of a gnome's childhood is invariably the death of her birth pet. Sometimes this tragedy occurs as a result of a terrible accident, but more often the birth pet simply dies of old age. This is often the child's first experience with death, and while the child's parents do little to prepare her for the inevitable event, they step in to offer explanations and support. This event often leaves the child emotionally scarred, but gnomes believe that dealing with death in this manner is the best way to prepare the child for the often brutal and sudden dangers that occur in life.

The death of a gnome is a solemn event and marks the only real time that religion plays a heavy hand in gnome society. If possible, the body of the deceased is returned to her parents or home town for a proper gnome funeral. Gnomes, being closely bonded to nature and burrowing animals, prefer to bury their dead rather than cremate or otherwise dispose of the bodies. A standard gnome funeral consists of a short eulogy given over the body of the deceased at her home by a local priest. The gnome's body is dressed and made up to appear as if she is merely sleeping; damage to the body is repaired with strong alchemical glue and specialized resins. After the eulogy, the deceased is borne from the house on the shoulders of her friends while immediate family follows behind; all other gnomes in the village trail behind the family and sing hymns and prayers. An honor guard of several clerics or druids leads the procession, which winds through the village and eventually ends at the graveyard. Gnome graveyards are located well out of town in serene natural locations, more out of respect for the dead (allowing them to rest as close to nature as possible) than any real fear or superstitions regarding graveyards. At the graveyard, the gnomes select an empty plot and the grave itself is dug by the gnome's friends and family. The body is interred without a coffin or funeral wrap and then buried by the local priests. All gnome cemeteries have a caretaker - a solitary cleric or druid who lives alone in a shack near the graveyard and keeps an eye on things to insure that trouble (necromantic or otherwise) doesn't plague the graveyard. The caretaker does not attend funerals out of respect for the family and friends of the deceased.

The family and friends are expected to grieve for several weeks, after which time the deceased's will and possessions are arbitrated by the historian advisor to the burgomaster and closed. Gnomes have no real taboos against bringing back the dead via spells like resurrection, but such high level spells are often beyond the means and budget of most gnomes. More often, a particularly powerful or rich gnome family pays to have the deceased reincarnated by a local gnome druid. The reincarnated gnome is left to make her own choices in her new life; most stay with their friends and families for a few weeks before quietly slipping off into the woods to make a new life in the wild.

Gnome Adventurers

With their strong magical, alchemical, and invention skills, gnomes are naturally drawn to the adventuring lifestyle. Rare is the gnome family who can't boast of at least one member who wandered off to join an adventuring group and has since become rich, famous, and powerful. Adventuring gnomes run the gamut of character classes, but most have at least some training as illusionists. Non-gnome adventurers particularly value the gnome party member's skill with identifying potions and supplying the group with cheap alchemical devices. It's still standard for a gnome to graduate from school before going off to adventure, but it's not uncommon for a group of friends to set out looking for adventure the day after graduation. Such gnomes are rarely at home, but this doesn't mean that they don't miss friends and family left behind. An adventuring gnome often tries to come back home to visit and share the stories and wealth of his experiences with his family. As with other races, gnome adventurers rarely live to the age of retirement, but those gnomes who have had their fill of the dangerous lifestyle invariably return home to take up jobs as craftsmen, advisors, or professors. For this reason, many gnome villages often have an unusually high number of high-level citizens.

Evil gnomes who have managed to hide their crimes and deviant behavior often become adventurers. These sinister gnomes strike out on their own; when they do join groups it is under the guise of a friendly face. Many adventuring parties function for several years without knowing the true motivations or sinister goals of their gnome companion. Evil gnomes are territorial, and don't like sharing the spotlight with like-minded gnomes; as a result, parties of evil gnome adventurers are very rare.

Illusionist is the favored class for gnomes, but the bulk of adventuring gnomes are fighters or rogues who take a few levels of illusionist to round out their skills. There are also a fair number of gnome druid and ranger adventurers, as these classes are closely tied to nature. Evil gnome adventurers focus more strongly on the illusionist class, possibly because this class, more than any other, allows the gnome to hide his true nature. Gnomes are rarely barbarians; gnomes tend to be lawfully aligned, and their love of communities and the advantages of civilization tend to keep their barbaric urges to a minimum.

In any case, the gnome party member, with his illusions and natural alchemical skills, is a strong and valuable addition to any party of adventurers. However, the gnome's friends better be prepared to learn the joys and wonders of the classic gnome practical jokes first hand!

Gnome Subraces

Several subraces exist in addition to the rock gnome, the most numerous subrace of gnomes, and each has a somewhat different outlook on life.

Forest gnomes are much more elusive than rock gnomes. They are nearly as numerous as rock gnomes, but their reclusive lifestyles make them much more rare. Forest gnomes are even more in tune with the natural world than the standard rock gnome, and their villages are always at one with their environment. Druids are very common in forest gnome society, and they often serve as village leaders or advisors. As a result, forest gnomes are more spiritual people than rock gnomes, and they don't place as heavy an emphasis on education. They also tend to avoid flashy pursuits such as Alchemy and explosive inventions; they do nothing that might betray their cleverly hidden villages to casual passersby.

Svirfneblin, or deep gnomes, are much different than their surface-dwelling cousins. They build their homes in deep natural caverns, often hollowing out large stalactites and stalagmites to use as houses. Their world is a much more dangerous realm, and as a result, education in svirfneblin society isn't as important as martial and magical training. Hundreds of years spent in battle against terrifying underground races have honed their skills and magical knowledge to such an extent that the average svirfneblin is a much more dangerous foe than most other gnomes of equal experience.

A third gnome subrace, river gnomes, are isolationists and prefer the company of other river gnomes over all others. As a result, they rarely interact with other societies. Little is known about how river gnomes live, save that they prefer to live in shallow burrows dug into the banks of rivers deep in the wild, or in larger caverns located behind waterfalls. They are natural swimmers and can leap into action with startling grace.

The mysterious arcane gnomes are perhaps the least-known gnome subrace. Unlike other gnomes, arcane gnomes prefer to live alone in large cities where they spend their time researching magic. They are known to be both mischievous and foolhardy, but these qualities are tempered with a near boundless intellect. These gnomes have made great discoveries in arcane magic, mostly because they can't be bothered with safety when it gets in the way of progress. Arcane gnomes do not build cities. They prefer to live in peace with other races who build cities for them in small family units of up to a dozen members. Many boarding houses and inns have been forced to shut their doors to regular paying customers when a resident arcane gnome family grows too large.

Additional gnome subraces exist. Some scholars theorize that gnomes are so closely bound to the natural world that a particularly large family of gnomes that dwells near an area of great natural power or beauty will, over the course of as little as one generation, develop strange new traits and skills that more closely match this new region. This theory does little to explain how arcane gnomes came to be, but adherents to this theory are quick to point out that arcane gnomes have eschewed the natural world and as a result, their traits may represent what it really and truly means to be a gnome without the "taint" of the world imprinted on their magical souls.

River Gnome Traits

River gnomes benefit from a number of different racial traits. These traits are in addition to the basic gnome traits, but in many instances, they replace standard gnome traits, as detailed below.

River gnomes use their speak with animals ability to speak with river dwelling animals such as fish, ducks, and otters; they cannot speak with burrowing mammals.

River gnomes have a swim speed of 20 ft. They gain a +8 racial bonus to any Swim check to perform a special action or avoid a hazard. They can always choose to take 10 on a Swim check, even if rushed or threatened when swimming. River gnomes can use the run action while swimming, provided they swim in a straight line.

Although they do not possess any inborn ability to breathe water, a river gnome can hold his breath for a number of rounds equal to four times his Constitution score.

River gnomes are graceful and quick to spring into action and gain a +1 racial bonus to initiative checks.

River gnomes are not as magical as standard rock gnomes, and do not gain the ability to cast dancing lights, ghost sound, and prestidigitation.

Arcane Gnome Traits

Arcane gnomes benefit from slightly different racial traits. These traits are in addition to the basic gnome traits.

Arcane gnomes are smart but brash; they are a little too eager to finish what they start and often take dangerous shortcuts with projects. They gain a +2 bonus to Intelligence and a -2 penalty to Wisdom; this is in addition to the standard +2 Constitution and -2 Strength all gnomes enjoy.

Use Magical Device is always a class skill for arcane gnomes; they have an inborn ability to understand and wield magic items.

Arcane gnomes have little skill or time for the natural world and cannot speak with animals. They still enjoy the companionship of animals, but these relationships are more like standard master-pet relationships in human societies.

An arcane gnome's favored class is wizard.


Races of Faerûn
Character Creation