Thursday, August 18, 2016

Thoughts about Gnomes

I like Gnomes.

I like the concept of a diminutive race with a beard and a silly hat that has magical abilities.  It has a pedigree greater then Hobbits or Kobolds and as long as Fairies.

However, when I was listening to an episode of Ken and Rob talk about stuff, they said an off hand comment about how Gnomes were redundant.

Metagamer's Anonymous followed it up with a similar response.

I thought it was time to flesh out the concept

I guess my question to anybody using Gnomes as either a pc or npc is to decide what sort of Gnome you wish to use.  Too often they are created as skinny dwarves or short elves, but they encapsulate a lot more concepts and ideas.


History of Gnomes

Medieval Gnomes

The word originally comes from Renaissance Latin gnomus, which first appears in the works of 16th century Swiss alchemist Paracelsus,

It is possible it was derived from the term from Latin gēnomos (itself representing a Greek γη-νομος, literally "earth-dweller").

Auroieus Phillipus Theostrasus Bombastus von Hohenheim. better known as Paracelsus
"The type of gnome most frequently seen is the brownie, or elf, a mischievous and grotesque little creature from twelve to eighteen inches high, usually dressed in green or russet brown. Most of them appear as very aged, often with long white beards, and their figures are inclined to rotundity. They can be seen scampering out of holes in the stumps of trees and sometimes they vanish by actually dissolving into the tree itself." Paracelsus

Gnomes may be malicious or tricky when their trust is not earned, but loyal and nurturing if they are not in some manner betrayed. Their association with the direction North causes them to be, at times, despondent and melancholy.

The Garden Gnome

The garden gnome is called “Gartenzwerg” in German, which translates to “garden dwarf.”

Most people are familiar with  gnomes, not from literature, but as ornaments that appear on your lawn.

Garden statuary has been common in Europe at least since the Renaissance.  Among the figures depicted were gobbi (Italian for dwarfs or hunchbacks). In particular, Jacques Callot produced 21 designs for gobbi, engraved and printed in 1616.

Small gnome statues began appearing in Europe in the early 1600s, but the garden or lawn gnomes as we know them appeared in Germany in the mid- to late 1800s. The gnome was used because local myths suggested that underground gnomes came alive at night to work in the garden and protect the gardens from evil sorcery.

Garden gnomes were first introduced to the United Kingdom in 1847 by Sir Charles Isham, 10th Baronet, when he brought 21 terracotta figures back from a trip to Germany and placed them as ornaments in the garden.

While not gaming material, I will argue that this image is the default of gnomes in popular culture and has affected gaming to some degree.

From Dungeons and Dragons

The gnome first appeared in the original 1974 edition of Dungeons & Dragons (and thus gaming as a whole), and in its second supplement, Blackmoor (1975).
"Gnomes are an open and trusting people whose lives revolve around their work. While kind to each other and their patrons, gnomes are easily annoyed by individuals who needlessly  distract  them from their precious work.  You can see they really were skinny dwarves at this stage of development.  The only major change was the fact that gnomes were nomadic, in effect, wandering journeymen.  The thirst of knowledge, rather then gold, fueled their wanderlust."

This was the archetype until the fiend folio was released, where the Svirfneblin, or deep gnome was added to the equation.  It went back to their elemental roots and created an "under-race", to go with the drow and duragar of the elves and dwarves respectively.  It became a viable character in 1st edition adnd unearthed arcana where it proved fairly popular (and when combined with the dart rules before 3e, absolutely terrifying)

The next great archetype of gnomes was the Tinker Gnome. They are an overly inquisitive and curious race,that often leads into danger or trouble. They're always trying to tinker with the way things work or function. They will tinker with magical or mechanical devices just to see if there's a way to make them better or just to see how they work. Tinker gnomes have been known to put so much of their time and energy into research & development of new mechanical devices or new magics that they lose track of all time.  Unfortunately, Dragonlance was known as the land of annoying races, and is responsible for some of the most irritating qualities of Gnomes when they are considered distinct.

The 2e complete books of Gnomes and Halflings added the forest gnome to the mix.  This is a throwback concept to early interpretations in literature and various media at the time.  They went back to sneaky forest folk that often acted as animal guardians that sneaked really well.

Of particular of note is Zilargo is the Gnome civilisation in Eberron, the world created by dungeons and dragons for 3rd edition. The Zil are a people that thirst for knowledge. Everything from the smallest bit of gossip to the biggest of state secrets is ambrosia to a gnome of Zilargo. As a result it is a place of a communal secret police that is ingrained into their culture.

4e gnomes are funny when compared to their ill.  They were not in the 4e phb which is the first time they weren't in one.  In fact this was a common joke as shown by the following flash video.

They were defined in the monster manual with the following block of text

“Gnomes are sly tricksters who excel at avoiding notice as they move between the Feywild and the world, driven by curiosity and wanderlust. When they are noticed, they tend to use humor to deflect attention and hide their true thoughts.”

When they finally arrived as a viable pc, they were in the player's handbook 2 as they thematically fit the book better (it was the primal power source book).  In it they were defined as less mechanically inclined and more likely to be the sneaky folk. They are more fey then genius and a lot of there racial powers emphasized their mastery of illusions.

5e Gnomes feel like they are trying their darmdest to fill in the roles of previous editions.  Honestly, I think it's exasperating the issue of not defining them yet again, but there's a lot you can do with it because of the breadth.  However, the 5e PHB art of the small folk is simply horrendous which might deter future pcs.


World of Warcraft

World of warcraft took the tinker gnome aspect from dragonlance, and played it much straighter, abet with tons of humor.  As a result, they (and goblins) are responsible for much of the innovation of that world.  They have been forced into exile when Gnomeregan was destroyed.  The Trogg invasion of their homeland still occurs to this day.


Pathfinder Gnomes  

The First World, from which the gnomish race originally hails, is a land of wild imaginations and impossibility, where the Eldest of that plane have the power to reshape reality on a whim. Even though our own world has magic and other fantastical wonders, it is nevertheless based on a physical reality that is constant and unchanging. Because of their heritage, gnomes have difficulty coping with and accepting this reality, and must therefore constantly strive to innovate, dream, and take in new experiences.

As a result, Gnomes of Pathfinder have to keep themselves from being bored as they will die.


Key Features

A buddy of mine said to reduce the gnome concept to it's absolute base.  After some thought, I've been able to reduce it to the following:
1. Brilliant.  Gnomes know things. Whether they are simply clever or masters of magic and technology, the fact is Gnomes are, as a rule, brilliant at learning.  Whether they are competent with the material is another matter entirely.
2. Short.  Gnomes are shorter then even Halflings.  In fact Gnomes have appeared in the literature as small as mouse sized.
3. Sneaky.  Gnomes are sneaky bastards.  Whether it's with word play or the ability to creep in and out of houses undetected, the fact is taking a gnome at face value is a risky proposition, even if they are on your side.
4. Their Nose.  They usually end up with a nose that is much larger then the rest of their face when compared to humans.  This also gives them a keen sense of smell when compared to other races.

Base Culture: The more I look at the literature of Gnomes that existed before gaming, they seem to be a personification of the German Volk (German for peasant).  This shows in their attire, their architecture, their association with animals and like peasants, they are unknowable.  This gives you a base to build your character as you see fit.



As seen by the historical check, there are a number of archetypes for gnomes that are different drastically:

1. creepy sneaky people that steal valuables and children.
2. elementals tied to the planet earth.
3. mad geniuses of magic and technology.
4. lovable tricksters and rogues.
5. the forgotten folk, who are the fey you don't see.
6. homicidal psychotics that have infected your garden.

Near Species 

There are number of species from various that are close enough to gnomes to be enveloped by them

Leperchaun: In many ways the traditional Leperchaun fits the gaming gnome archetype closer then traditional Gnome folklore. They are tricksters, and often away from house and home.  Heck, we even used it as a build for our st. Patrick's Day special in 2015.

Redcap: A red cap or redcap, also known as a powrie or dunter, is a type of malevolent, murderous dwarf, goblin, elf or fairy found in Border Folklore. It is super easy to just use this to reinterpret this as a evil gnome and would also explain the red caps that seem to be favored by Gnomes.

Smurfs: Smurfs seem to fill the same niche in literature as the standard gnomes.  It should be relatively easy to take one of their storylines and tweak it to be used by gnomes.


Examples of Gnomes

David the Gnome, Dungeon Master (Dungeons and Dragons animated cartoon), Geblin Mekkatorque (World of Warcraft), Gnomes of Zurich, Mechazod (World of Warcraft), Jan Jansen (Forgotten Realms) Rumplestilskin (Brother's Grimm), The Nomes of Oz (Ozma of Oz/Return to Oz), The Gnomes from Three Hearts and Three Lions, Tinker Gnomes (Dragonlance), Underpant Gnomes (South Park)



Gnome Folklore

How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack

Our Gnomes Are Weirder

Ken and Rob talk about stuff

Metagamers Anonymous - entire episode

Silly gnome names

The History and Mythology of Garden Gnomes

garden gnome - wikipedia


Gnome D&D

Wow gnomes

Gnome, Tinker (3.5e Race),_Tinker_(3.5e_Race)

Pathfinder Gnomes

Eberon Gnomes


Gnomes: Written by Wil Huygen, 1977 Edition, (New Edition) Publisher: Harry N. Abrams [Hardcover] Hardcover – May 16 1977, ISBN 9026949588

PHBR9 The Complete Book of Gnomes & Halflings (2e), Wizards of the Coast; 2nd edition (March 9, 1993), ISBN-13: 978-1560765738

1 comment:

  1. Interesting! Thanks for putting all the context together. I had been thinking of rolling leprechauns and gnomes together since I'm not using gnomes as techno-tinkerers, but now, thanks to you, I'm starting to think of 1/4 scale "little people" that are gnome = dwarf = goblin = elf = leprechaun = (sometimes) redcap.

    D&D racial conflation satisfies Occam's Razor in a way that is very satisfying to me.

    In Iceland the elfs also are reputed to live inside rocks, and there are apparently rocks with little doors drawn on them all over the place.

    Also there's some old story about little people who will make shoes and presumably do other craft work if you leave them enough food and drink to have a party.

    So, putting things together, I have: capricious, wealthy, age-withered but crafty, tiny, more or less camouflage-dressed humanoids that live inside solid rocks and trees, or if you're lucky, in or under your house.