Gnomes: The Other Dwarves (or Gregory May Need to Let Go of Old Biases)

Long time Players in my games can tell you, “There are no gnomes on Rilmorn.”  That changes tonight.  Christina, my wife, long bothered by my anti-gnome stance, has convinced me to let her and Nicki, our daughter, play a gnome bard and a gnome druid, respectively.  With their eminent appearance in a Rilmorin campaign, it is time for me to delve into the anti-gnome history of my games.

In the 1500s A.D. the alchemist Paracelsus wrote about Gnomi.  He equated them with the Pygmæi of Greek legend and classified them as earth elementals.  I would not hear about them until 1976 A.D.  In 1976, Gnomes by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet (illistrator) was published.  It spawned gnotebooks and other such fripperies and they annoyed me.  I was a pretentious junior high school student, who had a rod stuck up my spine.  The inundation of gnome-related items irritated me and by the time I found D&D, gnomes were persona non-grata.

1E gnomes were uninspiring; they didn’t even appear in the size comparison illustration on page 18 of the Player’s Handbook.  They were poor cousins of the dwarves and the writers of 1E knew it.  They decided to give them an upgrade…Tinker Gnomes!  (Loyal Readers may recall how I feel about that – 4th paragraph.)  They were a joke race, even more of a joke than gully dwarves.  This trend was only acerbated by the treatment given to Tinker Gnomes in Spelljammer.  I really loathed gnomes, by this point.

I will only say Gnomes in Warcraft added to my annoyance.

When I ran my doomed Namori Campaign set on the Word of Terah, I allowed a gnome NPC in there.  He was in Quasqueton and my Players thought he was a weird dwarf or a dwarf/halfling mix.

Dungeons and Dragons 3E did little to change my perception of gnomes.  Their change of making gnomes bards, instead of illusionists left me…meh, but I did enjoy Chris Perkins’ joke in the Shackled City Adventure Path about how the illusionist gnomes of Jzadirune caught a magical disease called the Vanishing.  Ebberon’s gnomes seemed okay, but by this point I did not care.

4E gave gnomes a dark backstory and initially pulled them from the ranks of Player Characters.  Yet, when Wizards of the Coast were promoting 4E with some cool animated shorts, the gnome was a joke again.

I never got to run my players through the D&D Next adventure Reclaiming Blingdenstone, but it was set on my game world of Terah and was all about the Deep Gnomes.  It would have been interesting to see how my players would have reacted to gnomes there.

5E seems to have settled for a fairly straight read on the race of gnomes.  Christina and Nicki are not Players who tend to go for slapstick or comic relief characters, so I expect them to play their characters as realistically as possible.  It may give me a new perspective on gnomes and change my feelings about them.

The background I’m working on for these gnomes is the idea that they are a mixed colony of rock gnomes, forest gnomes and deep gnomes from Terah.  They have fled the destruction of their homelands and crossed dimensions to start a new life on Rilmorn.  They live in Featherstone – a tiny, hidden, mining village nestled between the Zagreb River and the once ore-heavy Laudervai Hills near the Village of Duvamil.  Christina has suggested that the focus of the campaign could be on the flutes given to each PC by Christina’s PC’s late grandmother.  I think I can make this work.  This is looking good.

The Games Librarian has a post in response to this post of mine.  Go Enjoy It.  I did. (2014.09.10)

Game On!


8 thoughts on “Gnomes: The Other Dwarves (or Gregory May Need to Let Go of Old Biases)

  1. I’ve had fairly similar thoughts about both gnomes and halflings in my various campaigns. Halflings had far too much Tolkien influence for my taste, and gnomes generally seemed unnecessary. When I set about running a game for my group in South Korea, I went out of my way to make it as non-traditional as I could, while still allowing for as many standard races and options as I could. (This was naturally borrowing from Eberron’s ideas of ‘anything that exists in normal D&D exists here, in some vaguely altered form’ ideas.)

    In this particular world, the gnomes were divergent line that originated with dwarves, and halflings were the similar divergence from elves. Of course, being non-traditional, the dwarves were more predisposed to magic, while the elves were more likely to be barbarians. I spent a lot of time on the game, trying to change expectations. For what it’s worth, it worked rather well. But as a rule, I would much rather avoid the normal portrayals of both gnomes and halflings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I, truly, love they way you create. Your design aesthetic differs from mine, but you have such great ideas that I am going to be forced to steal some of them. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Any and all are yours for the taking. Mayhaps my next post (after tonight’s various ruminations) will touch on what the worldset for that game was. I spent a lot of time on it, just to make it interesting. Didn’t run as long as I might have liked, but I’ve recycled the ideas here and there.

        Suffice to say, there was plenty of backstory to make sense of the gnomes and halflings in this campaign, moreso than I have ever put into the small races otherwise.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Fantasy Races: Design and Development | World Engineer

  3. Pingback: Gnomes and Rillmorn | World Engineer

  4. I’m the opposite, no Halflings (too much Tolkein in a bad way) – but also no Tinker Gnomes either (that annoys me more than Halflings). Gnomes were primarily developed as a culture by two different players in relatively close succession who both rolled up (with the old UA Birth Order Tables) Gnomish Royalty in the mid-90’s. I ended up with essentially hard-drinking, and hard-partying Celts in Kilts who were more inclined to be rangers than thieves and where Illusion was all “Faerie Magic” (which in turn led me to set aside “Shadow Magic” as being what the human illusionists were all about).

    They have all been a much-beloved part of the game world ever since.


    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s