On the Table of Fate
Of the major demi-human races of Annwn, none are as poorly understood by the average human as the gnome. Neither as commonly encountered as halflings, nor as likely to figure in bards’ tales as the elves or Dwarves, these reclusive folk go mostly unnoticed by the world around them. But for those who take the time to get to know them, the gnomes prove a race like no other. For in them, the seemingly incompatible traits of frivolity and industriousness meet in the most harmonious of combinations.
gnomes are a people defined by their dualities: though hard-working and industrious, they are also universally cheerful and upbeat. Master miners and craftsmen, gnomes are hard-working, upright, and honest in their dealings, never cheating or infringing upon the rights of others. Yet they are also exceedingly social and frivolous almost to the point of excess. A gnome’s life is defined as much by the singing, dancing, storytelling, and revelry that occur in the evenings, as by the work that is completed during the day. All gnomes are emotional creatures, open in their displays of affection, celebration, and sorrow. Gnomes are incorrigible jokers and tricksters, and the ferocity of their practical jokes tends to increase with the familiarity to they feel towards a companion. A gnome’s tricks are never spiteful or designed to harm, but rather to make their victim seem foolish.
Though gnomes are comfortable underground, and build their homes in shallow tunnels in the rock, they are also a race of the forest and hills beneath which they live, and it is beneath the stars that all major gnomish celebrations occur. No fewer than a dozen major gnomish celebrations are held throughout the year, each one the cause of days of leisure and festivities. Most sacred of all gnomish events is the lunar eclipse, though this sacred occurrence happens only once a century. All gnomes have a strange fascination with fire, and their festivals are always marked by giant bonfires. Similarly, a night which doesn’t end around a fire, be it at home or while travelling, is a joyless one for any gnome.
Few having seen a gnome. the average human can be forgiven for mistaking a gnome for a miniature dwarves. On the surface the two races appear to have much in common physically. Like dwarves, gnomes are much smaller than humans, with the average male gnome only 3’7" in height and females about 3’5". And like dwarves, gnome males sport full, elaborate beards. But a second look reveals the many differences between the two. Besides being significantly shorter than the average dwarf, gnomes are much more lightly built, with the average male weighing only 100 lbs and the average female a mere 96. The aforementioned beards, long and wild on dwarves, are kept fastidiously groomed, bruised, and trimmed to a length of no more than half-a foot on gnomes. The gnomish complexion is uniformly brownish, but runs the gamut from lightly tanned to a dark, almost woody brown. Strangely, gnomes skin does not change colour from exposure to the sun like that of many other races, and these variants in skin colour occur naturally. Eye colour is typically blue, although green eyes are not uncommon. Yellow or brown eyes are rare, and typically seen as an omen of some great luck (though whether good or bad, none can say). Hair colour runs the range from blond to brown to black in juveniles, but turns universally white when a gnome reaches maturity at about 100 years, the same time male gnomes develop their trademark facial hair. But the truly defining physical feature of the race is the prodigious gnomish nose. Even the smallest of gnome-kind bears a nose larger than any dwarf or human, despite being half their size. The size of one’s nose is a point of pride for both males and females, and nose-measuring contests are a frequent competition during nights of revelry. It should be noted that it is considered the gravest of insults to make sport of a gnome cursed with a diminutive proboscis.
The gnomish language is an extremely rapid, complicated combination of chipper-sounding, multi-syllabic words that are difficult for other races to distinguish, much less decipher, and which many find headache-inducing (indeed, there is a dwarven saying that listening to a gnome speak is like skipping the ale and going straight to the hangover). Because of the rapidity of their own speech, many gnomes have a tendency to speak extremely quickly in learned tongues as well, though this is by no means universal. The gnomish written language uses an intricate series of small, intricate symbols that spread both horizontally and vertically at the same time. Because of this, to human eyes gnomish writing is often mistaken for elaborate, decorative scrollwork.
Gnomes value good food, good drink, and good cheer as highly as any material possession, with the possible exception of gemstones, which they prize above all treasures. It is difficult for the members of another race to truly appreciate the depths of the gnomish obsession for precious stones, particularly diamonds, which they hold in greatest esteem. All gnomes possess at least one gem which is their most prized possession, and it is common for many gnomes to be seen rubbing, fingering, or even talking to this gem periodically. Larger, more valuable gems are often owned communally, and are the pride of a gnomish clan.
Given the race’s obsession with gemstones, it is no surprise that all gnomes have a natural affinity for gemwork, and are without match in cutting and setting precious stones. They are also master metalworkers, though only in the softer precious metals, having little affinity for iron or steel. In addition, gnomes make excellent stonecutters, jewellers, and woodcarvers, and indeed any craft whose work is more decorative and artistic than structural. Gnomes, for example, make excellent tailors, but have no skill for weaving or otherwise obtaining cloth. Gnomes make similarly abysmal farmers, and food, like most basic resources, is traded for rather than produced, usually with precious stones or jewelry.
This reliance on trade forces gnomes to interact with other races more than many of the demi-humans, though it is always an interaction on the small-folk’s terms. Though gnomes are naturally cooperative, both with their own race and others, they are also reclusive, and prefer to remain apart from the larger world as much as possible. Gnomes are one of the few, if not the only race, which is on good terms with both elves and dwarves, each of which finds something of itself in the gnomish psyche. Gnomes fell a special kinship with hobbits, though most consider the halfling life a bit too dull and joyless for their taste. humans are viewed with some trepidation, being by far the most dangerous and unpredictable of the goodly races. Yet even they are generally treated warmly, if warily, by the small folk, so long as they behave themselves. Despite their misgivings, all gnomes find the other races fascinating, and the strong streak of curiosity common to most gnomes causes many amongst them to leave their home for a time, and view the world outside their own lands. A travelling gnome is a strange creature to behold as caution wars with curiosity at each new experience.
When threatened, most gnomes do their best to avoid direct confrontation. Masters of negotiation, serious problems are often able to be solved through compromise. Even openly hostile humanoids are often coaxed into deals and alliances with gnomish communities, the small folk preferring bribery to outright conflict. When faced with a fight or flight decision, most gnomes will choose the latter. Cleverness is valued above bravery or strength in arms, and a gnome who escapes a direct battle today can defeat his opponent through trickery and subterfuge tomorrow.
Magic is a way of life for the gnomes, integrated into their culture to an even greater extent than that of the elves. All gnomes have some innate magical ability, and have a natural propensity towards illusions. Gnomish illusionists rival, and some would argue even surpass, the greatest of human wizards in this school. Faith magic is also common in gnomish communities, and most villages have either a priest, druid, or both amongst its number, as both divine and earth magic is equally respected. Though there are many gods within the gnomish pantheon, most priests are typically devoted to Garl Glittergold, the patron God of the gnomes.
Gnomish dress is typically bright and colourful, with rich greens, blues, and yellows most common. Outer layers and travelling clothes are often earth-toned, to better allow the gnomes to blend into their surroundings and avoid the notice of larger, dangerous humanoids. As gnomes do not produce their own fabrics, the type of cloth used varies greatly depending on the type of settlement closest to the clan. Those blessed to trade for fabric from a nearby elven community enjoy some of the most elaborate and supple of raiments, while those forced to obtained their fabrics from dwarves make do as best they can. Male clothing typically consists of tunics and short breeches, while females wear long, one piece dresses, or tunics and practical skirts if travelling. Popular amongst both sexes, small conical hats, frequently in bright primary colours, are considered to be the height of gnomish fashion. As mentioned, gnomes are extremely fond of ornate jewellery and gems, and few gnomes of either sex dress without ornamentation of some kind.
Gnomish society is slightly patriarchal, in that most women involve themselves in home making and the raising of children, while the craft of the household is typically practised by the male. Despite this, positions of authority within the community, which are typically given to those of age and wisdom, are as likely to be held by females as males. Females have equal rights to own property and before the law, and it is not unusual for a female gnome to devote her life to a craft rather than raise a family. As gnomish survival is based primarily on wits instead of aggression, female gnomes are just as likely as males to risk the dangers of the outside world and take up the path of an adventurer.
Three sub-races of gnomes exist on Annwn, Rock Gnomes, Forest Gnomes, and Deep Gnomes. Rock Gnomes are by far the most common, and have been described above. Forest gnomes are smaller and far more reclusive than their kin, dwelling deep within forests rather than in wooded hills. Less numerous, they are shy and rarely choose to interact with the other races if possible. Deep gnomes, also known as Svirfneblin, are a rare, hairless sub-race of gnomes that live deep within the Underdark. More self-reliant and reserved than their light-hearted cousins, they have little love or trust for outsiders.