Saturday 14 December 2019

Rebuilding Gnomes

A young adult Gnome, only 90 years old

1 Introduction

Following on from the previous post here’s a look at gnomes under this thought experiment. Gnomes are like dwarves in that they are not the result of sexual reproduction. They are instead created through a combination of ritual and geology. However, this connection with dwarves is fairly superficial and in many ways they are closer to humans than their supposed "cousins".

2 Nodules and Eggs

Although gnomes and dwarves are similar in appearance and both frequently dwell underground in well-kept and clean “mines” they create themselves they actually have little else in common, although the races tend to get on well and do form mixed settlements from time to time.

Whereas dwarves are created from fixed magical pots in the rock, gnomes are born from geological nodules which are found in relatively small groups.

Consequently, gnomes tend to be nomadic (gnomadic) and each group cycles through stages of hunting for nodules, mining and developing the nodules into new gnomes, and then after maybe 5 or 10 centuries in one place, the seam is worked out and they abandon their town for the open road and more exploring.

The nodules are special in some way which human sages have not ascertained but which dwarves and kobolds do understand intimately (but keep to themselves). They need to be treated by a ritual which uses electrum (a natural alloy of gold and silver) and powdered gems.

The problem is that the same nodules treated with just silver and powered gems can be hatched out into kobolds. Consequently, the war between the gnomes and kobolds is unending.

Whereas kobolds tend to horde the eggs/nodules for when they need to replace losses or just need a boost to the labour force, gnomes generally try to develop them immediately. Once consequence of this difference is that humans believe that little gnomes are found (sort of true) while kobolds lay eggs (not at all true).

Whereas dwarves have no females, gnomes do have what in human terms seem to be females, with breasts for suckling the young gnomes. Unknown to most humans, these females are also population pool for the gnome’s clerics and in that sense some are also the “mothers” of the baby gnomes. It is just about possible for a male gnome to be a cleric but only if somehow all the females in a clan are wiped out. Otherwise, whatever principle is the source of their clerics’ power will not answer any male’s attempts to gain spells. This situation may also arise during the formation of a new clan but even then it is very rare.

Gnomes do not view the raising of a child in the same way that humans do; it is more of a social duty and they have no real analogue for words like “father”, “mother”, or attendant concepts like siblings and extended family. Naturally, an individual is likely to become emotionally close to those that raised it, assuming that they were raised well which is almost universally the case but there is no idea of blood-ties, let alone negative institutions like blood-feuds or even blood-money.

The sex of a child is determined by the cleric who performs the ritual to hatch the egg.

3 Tell Your Fortune, Deary?

One consequence of this reproductive cycle is that gnomes have an entirely different relationship with the outside world than dwarves do, as once or twice a century the whole clan must up-sticks and travel in search of a new supply of nodules, a process which itself might take a century or two.

Thus, they must cross other lands and deal with other races rather than always being locked away in splendid isolation like the mountain dwarves.

Such groups normally travel in brightly-painted caravans pulled by stout ponies, often putting on fairs or magic-shows in the places they pass through, giving them a justified reputation for levity and fun. As with many demi-humans, their relationship with humans is tainted by a belief that gnomes are also good thieves and that they are good thieves through practise. In fact, this is rather true. But most gnomes restrict their stealing to very wealthy or evil victims and frequently try to help those worse of than themselves if they can, even humans.

Unlike dwarves, gnomes have managed to work around their own anti-magical nature by harnessing the simpler types of illusions and phantasms rather than “true” magic. A few have in fact mastered - if that’s not too strong a word for 2nd level spells - the spells of the magic-user.

Their other great magical interest is in alchemy and in particular the detection and/or identification of nodules which will produce new gnomes.

4 Alias, Smith and Gnomes

Although the best gnome smiths exceed the skill of the best dwarven ones, their relative lack of martial prowess means that it’s very hard to find gnomish weaponsmiths of the quality needed to create the more powerful magical arms and armour. However, gnome jewellers are unrivalled outside the grey elvan courts and many amulets and rings as well as items like the figurines of wondrous power are of gnomish design.

5 We Are All Different

Gnomes show both more variety within a clan than dwarves do, and also much less as a race. There is a woody tone to their skins, which can range right up to a pale birchwood shade or down to a rich oak but never the pale chalk white or the deep coal black that some dwarf clans can exhibit.

They can and do burn in hot climes and one of their alchemical tricks is a very effective suncream for when they are migrating across such areas.

Alignment is much more variable too, and can be NG, LN, LG, or (rarely) N. Whether this is connected to where a particular gnome’s nodule was found and/or the ritual for birthing is unknown to those outside the gnome clergy (and possibly to them too).

Various prophecies circulate amongst the gnomes about nodules and possible future leaders and villains of the gnome race, but it is up to the individual DM to decide what they may be and whether or not they are accurate.

Innate languages and skills are just that - innate and do not need to be taught.


Kobolds are basically evil gnomes. The only objective physical distinctions are skin colour, which generally is darker and has a red tinge of varying depth, and of course the two little horns.

They also appear to humans at least to be rather ugly compared to the gnomes and where gnomes take pride in their dress and usually prefer not to remain in their work clothes at the end of the day (or night), kobolds are almost never seen except in the leather aprons, ragged shirts, or mouldy cuirboili which embody the individual’s current role in kobold society. Flat caps are ubiquitous, some using them to hide their horns while others cut holes in the caps (or peaks) to show them.

Kobolds hatch the nodules in a similar way to gnomes but they use silver in the process, which is overseen by a witchdoctor. Nourishment of the young is more or less the same as with gnomes but the kobold “mothers” are, to say the least, less caring. Where gnomes see it as a duty, kobolds are more likely to see it as a chore and to expect the growing child to “repay your debt” by indentured service. From this poisonous seed so grows the whole foul tree of kobold society, which is bound together by a grudging sense of obligation as well as the knowledge that almost everything in the world dislikes kobolds and is stronger on an individual basis.

The gnomes say that the fact that kobolds use only silver - a metal that tarnishes - in their ritual is the source of their own moral tarnish.

As mentioned, kobolds tend to horde nodules until the hassle of raising the children is seen as being outweighed by the utility of having them around. The brighter kobold leaders also know that disaster can strike at any time in the form of an incursion of gnomes or dwarves (or even elves!) and it pays to always have some young kobolds developing to fill any holes that appear in the rank and file due to holes unexpectedly appearing in the rank and file.

Nodules (for both races) develop and hatch very quickly after the birthing rituals, perhaps just a few hours. This means that in theory, a nodule is not a kobold nodule or a gnome nodule until that point. However, gnomes have always been squeamish about claiming a nodule from a defeated kobold stronghold unless the kobolds had themselves stolen the nodules from the gnomes in the first place. The latter is a possibility as the kobolds not only do not have such qualms but see gnomes as a potential way of avoiding the work of mining for nodules in the first place (and of course, they just enjoy depriving the gnomes).

After a kobold lair is cleared out, gnomes will generally smash any nodules they find “in case they’re tainted”.

6 Gnome Homes

At least in temperate regions, gnomes are much more partial to the open air than dwarves and will for preference build a village above mine workings rather than live permanently underground. If the geology is appropriate, they will build burrows very like hobbit holes. They especially love to garden and no gnome has really made it until they have a fish pond by which to sit and while away a long summer evening.

In hot or high terrains, they will retreat underground to control their climate but still usually retain a fairly visible presence on the surface even if it’s just a single building in which to meet human-sized visitors and traders.

A healthy and lucky gnome clan will grow over time and eventually it will split, usually into two groups of 200 or more adult “males” in each, divided along age lines. The eldest group will leave the current site, which becomes the “inheritance” of the younger group.

7 Changes to the MM

(Additionally to what is listed). For every 50 gnomes encountered there will be one fighter/illusionist of 1st-3rd level (same level in both classes). For every 150 encountered there will be an illusionist of 4th to 6th level and any clan with 360 or more members will have a 7th level illusionist (80%) or a 6th/6th fighter/illusionist (20%). If there is a 7th level illusionist, there is a 5% chance that s/he is also a 1st-4th level magic-user.

20% of gnomes will have a thief level of 1d12 and 1% of these will instead be assassins of the indicated level. These will be in addition to any other classes they have advanced in.

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