A Guide to Gnomes

THE DWARF AND THE ELF ARE both fairly well known, and well played, however the gnome is one of the most understood AD&D races of them all. In fact, both Players and Dungeon Masters accidentally play them incorrectly, well, if they play them at all, which is sad because they do have some excellent features, and are capable of doing things that no other race can do without magical intervention.


I’m not sure of the exact source of this mythical race, but it is probably Celtic. The gnome has entered our current mythology in many ways. You see lots of people decorating their homes and especially their yards and gardens with them, this stems back to a belief that an image will draw beneficial spirits into your area and protect what needs protecting.

The dwarves in the story of Snow White are probably NOT dwarves at all, but gnomes. The gnome is a rich part of our fantasy worlds, especially on film; there is just something pleasant about gnomish faces, a wonderful blend of acting and makeup which keeps us entertained an wanting more of it.


The gnome is closely related to the dwarf, but different enough to form their own race. Like the dwarf, the gnomes are miners, typically they work mines that dwarves have given up as dead, and are able to pull out gems and metals missed by them for centuries afterward.

The Gnome is obsessed with gems, and they make the finest jewels in the realm. The finest jewelry and gem-work comes from gnomish craftsmanship, they also require a booming trade industry as they are not as industrious as their neighbors. They seek to live peaceful lives with everyone around them, and richly reward those whom they cherish as friends.


The gnome relies on close relationships with their neighbors to make life better. Because of their size, gnomish blacksmiths are rare so all tools, weapons, and armor must be brought in. The gnome is a gatherer, what can’t be found in their environments need to be brought in from the outside. They tend their environments like large gardens, knowing exactly where to find what they need. They don’t keep domesticated animals of any kind, and rarely hunt the creatures that they share their environments with, instead they befriend them.

The gnome is capable of communicating with the wild-life, including the giant varieties. These creatures are not pets, but each consider the other to be allies which depend upon the other for survival.

The Dwarf, which will never admit the superior level of skill that the gnome has in mining, commonly keep relationships with nearby gnomes as friendly as possible. While the gnome isn’t capable of creating steal, or crafting weapons of dwarven quality, they are more skilled at actually finishing the items. A dwarf will grumble about working besides gnomes, who tend to play jokes and sing while working, but they won’t grumble about the finished products that they are able to make together.

Elves also enjoy gnomish company, and even the reclusive Wood Elves allow them into their cities with open arms. While the gnome has a difficult time working magic himself, because of his attention to detail and craftsmanship dedicated to his art of gem cutting and mounting, his work is more capable of excepting magical charge then the work of any other race. Why this is has been the subject of debate among scholars, but this blog is simply not the place for that kind of language.

Halflings also gladly share their hearths with the gnome, recognizing them as small folk as well, but their relationship is closer then that as they tend to see things the same way, especially in regards to the Too-talls.

Humans, typical of their race, requires a little bit of effort to get along with, but the gnome does try. They are actually intreged by each other, and do depend on humans for a bulk of the supplies which they bring. Merchants absolutely love dealing with gnome towns, as the gnome won’t go to far out of their way to establish a trade route, however those traders who do maintain their relationships with the gnome is always richly rewarded.

Gnomes aren’t foolish with their money, but they are a bit on the odd side as they see wealth more along the lines of knowledge and experience and not in material objects. They won’t give their treasures away, but they will over-pay for services when they judge the person is going out of their way to aid them. The gnome is also strongly driven to craft jewels, and they will gladly trade fully worked and finished jewels and jewelry for unworked and raw gems.

The gnomes strive to keep all relationships with the other races as friendly as possible, with the exception of goblins and kobolts, who seek to take away the gnome’s land and homes, these creatures will typically be either killed or driven off on sight.


Rock Gnome: The rock gnome is by far the most common, and is primarily what this article is based upon. This gnome typically forms small communities in areas where they can find the gems that drive them so. This gnome makes for perfect Player Characters, as they are very curious and often spend a part of their lives adventuring and discovering what lays over the next hill. They commonly make temporary residence in the cities and towns of other races, seeking to learn new things which they can one day bring back to their people. They will establish trading routes, but once they are set up then they typically won’t maintain them more then overpaying the merchants who bring them the things that they need.

Deep Gnome: Also known as the Svirfneblin. Many races simply assume that the deep gnome is the evil equivalent of the race, such as the Drow to the Elf, but they are incorrect, and the Deep Gnome has become such an extremely distrustful and reclusive race that they don’t bother correcting this misconception.

The Svirfneblin, unlike their cousins, are completely self-relient by necessity, as they live in possibly the most hostile environment in the world, the Underdark. The deep gnome has become a military state, as all of their neighbors, typically Drow and Drueger, hate them. They befriend only the wild creatures of the realm, bats and such subterranean creatures who can give them advanced warning when an enemy arrives. They are not sociable as the typical gnome, and do not use a calendar nor measure time in any way. Holidays and feasts, a gnomish cornerstone, are only practiced when a leader feels that it is time to do it to keep spirits high, but the different kingdoms of Deep Gnomes live so far away from each other that they rarely keep contact with the other clans.

Forest Gnome: This subrace is one of the most elusive and shy of any race, they are so apt at hiding their existence that not even the sharp eyed elves will be aware of their existence unless the Forest Gnomes choose to be seen.

Forest gnomes are not miners, and, like the Deep Gnome, completely self reliant. They tend the forests and secretly maintain friendships by supplying those who live within the forest with things that they can find. These gnomes never leave their forests unless forced to do so, which is rare since most of the time nobody is even aware that they are there in the first place.


Many people believe that the gnome is kin to the brownie, and magical in nature. This simply isn’t the case, gnomes have just developed a method of getting by in a world where they are viewed as undersized, and under powered. They have keen eyesight, and a knack for perfect timing. A gnome simply has this incredible ability to disappear at will, not by magic, but by misdirection and subtle distraction. Even in a busy tavern, a gnome can up and disappear without anybody realizing it, even if they are paid to spy on the gnome in question.

The fact is that gnomes are terrible with any magic with the exception of illusions. Nobody is sure why this is, but the facts remain that most magical devices and items are prone to malfunction or fail to function at all in the hands of a gnome. The gnome is immune to many spells, especially spells which target their minds. The gnome has evolved because of their sharp minds and their attention to details that most folks simply miss, perhaps this is the key to their gifted ability to work illusions.

A Gnomish village relies on illusionists, as this magic is a basic part of gnomish life. Illusionists hide the town from enemies, they level the fields of battle against stronger enemies, and it is the illusionist whom lead the festivals which each gnome holds dear to their hearts and bring the gods and their mythology alive.


The gnomes don’t claim to be the first to arrive, nor do they have a creation myth at all! The gnomes simply always were, and they always will be. The Gods of the gnome are many, and each of them are as real to them as you or me, as it is just excepted that they walk the earth, and they appear to! Unlike many races which fear their gods, or blindly worship them with no need of proof, the gnomish gods and goddesses are well known to send their avatars to make earthly visits.

Gnomish clerics keep to natural magics, and typically keep to themselves, but are always welcomed by all of their gnomish neighbors as if a part of the family. They are respected by the public and lead the many festivals, giving guidance to the village illusionists in how best to make their gods come to life.

The Rock Gnome calendar has more holidays and festivals then any other race, these festivals draw huge crowds of gnomes, but anybody is allowed to join, and encouraged to participate. The shortest festivals last for at least 4 days, and the longest can last for over a month! The most important festival for the gnome are those that observe an eclipse, either a solar or a lunar, both are significant. For it is during these eclipse festivals which all gnomes travel to one location to celebrate and party. It is during the eclipse festivals which families are reunited and everybody gets to see each other. Even those who have been ostracized from the communities are allowed and expected to join the major eclipse festivals.

The gnome is deeply tied to the element of earth in a way that no other race is. Elements of earth will never attack a gnome willingly, and seem to enjoy their company. Perhaps this is why a gnome can continue to yield stones from a mine that the dwarves have judged as dead?

The gnomes do observe some evil gods, but they usually don’t worship their gods as the other races do. The gnomes seem to use them as reminders to themselves, particularly with the evil gods, to reassure each other of their morals and what could happen if we don’t observe them. Those gnomes who actively worship evil gods are not tolerated within the communities.


Gnome children are openly loved and cuddled by their parents, and aren’t forced to be productive in any way until they reach adolescence, which happens around their 50th year. A gnome is then expected to begin learning a trade, however they are encouraged to try their hands at several trades to find the one that they best enjoy. It is during these formative years in which a young gnome is most likely to go out in the world and “sow one’s wild oats”. Adolescence lasts for another fifty years, and the most important day in a gnomes life is his 100th birthday, for it is on this day that he becomes an adult. He settles down into his new role as a productive member of society.

The gnome loves to celebrate, so naturally every birthday is regarded as a big deal, but when a gnome turns 200 and every hundred years after that, the party is humongous and can last for days!

A gnome is happiest while at work, however they aren’t as content with doing it as their cousins, the dwarves. Gnomes merrily sing while working, as well as concoct practical jokes to play on each other. Everybody has a job to do, and that is why life is so good, because everybody does their jobs, and because they took the time to explore different callings, they are most pleased by what they are doing.

The most common job in Gnome Villages is, of course, Miner. Each miner has a task to complete based entirely on his personal knack. Strong gnomes break up the rocks, quick gnomes dig out the gems and ore from the rock, while the gnomes blessed with great constitutions remove the rock from the worksite. A company of gnomes can mine faster and more efficiently then any other race, including the dwarf.

Once a gnome gets too old to work anymore, he or she changes from a worker into a village leader, for the gnomes respect experience and knowledge more then anything, and it is the elders which guide the younger, more able bodied gnomes to true fulfillment.

A typical gnome can expect to live a full and happy life of 300 years, but it isn’t unheard of for an elder to celebrate their 700th birthday.

Young women are expected to get married, and raise a family, and there job is to tending to the household; gathering foodstuff from the gardens, shopping and preparing meals, mending clothing, but once they achieve a respectable age, they also become elders who have just as much say, and have an equal amount of power as the men do.

Women are not judged badly if they chose to hold respectable jobs, many can be found tending family shops, engaged in gem-work, and anything else that they fancy, but jobs such as mining and soldiering are left to the men to perform. A woman is just as capable of fighting as the men are, however they are required to care for the welfare of the young ones during times of trouble.

One final word about Gnomes, which really sets them apart from the other races is their emotional state and how they express themselves. Gnomes are very emotional creatures, and unlike the other races, whom strive to hide such things, the gnome is very open. Gnomes kiss and hug one another, regardless of sex. When a gnome is happy he sings, and when he is sad he openly weeps. This openness has a tendency to make the other races uncomfortable to be around, however because they are so open, many darker emotions such as revenge and greed are almost unheard of within a gnomish community. Even the grieving period for gnomes who have lost loved ones to death is shorter, not to say that it isn’t intense, but once a gnome stops crying over their loss they quickly come to terms with it.


Gnomes are not typically prone to committing violent crimes, and because of the clannish nature in regards to property, a gnome never knowingly steals from another gnome, however, legal disputes do happen. Many times this is because of a gnome who fails to observe the strict gnomish code of etiquette, which is very involved but can be summed up simply as, never mock another gnomes short nose to his face. This breach of etiquette has caused more squabbles then any other crime in the community. Still, some disputes over rights and property do happen. In these cases, the two gnomes who are squabbling are ostracized from their own family, not out of hate, but simply to allow the two to deal with their grievances without getting involved yourself.

Typically the two gnomes can come to some agreement on their own, but if this takes to long, or is too upsetting to productivity of the clan, then the two will be taken before the elders and the elders will make a judgment after hearing both sides of the case. To all gnomes, the word of an elder is final and correct. The two gnomes are always pleased with whatever decision that they make, and acceptance of the matter is had right then and there and both gnomes make up, normally celebrating their rediscovered friendships with a feast.

In the rare occasion were a gnome has committed a violent or willful act against a fellow gnome, then this gnome is discharged from the community. Depending on the degree of the crime, he may at some time be forgiven and allowed to return, but if the act was heinous enough then his banning will be permanent and all gnomes will find out about it and shun him as well. This lack of kinship is the ultimate punishment to a gnome, worse then jail or death. A gnome who is truly alone experiences a hell which no other race can begin to fathom. It is this fear which keeps a gnome on the right path, and those who suffer this punishment will be remembered for a very long time as a warning to those who give into such actions.


By nature, a gnome is not bloodthirsty and is repulsed by bloodshed no matter whose veins are spilling it. The gnome is not a coward, however, and though he will avoid going to war for as long as possible, and in any way that he can, if push comes to shove, then those that do the shoving will quickly learn that they have grossly underestimated the gnome as an enemy.

In dealings with other races, the gnome will refuse to go to war unless they themselves are physically attacked. Typically the gnome will send a diplomat into the village or city of the enemy who is currently trying to take away their freedoms, there he will engage in talks, keeping negotiations as long and as drawn out as possible. If the enemy refuses to listen to the gnomish pleas for peace, then the gnome will give up, however this race finds its greatest pride in outsmarting and outwitting their larger enemies, and any victory that a race can get over a gnome will be made as hollow and as meaningless as possible.

Most threats against a gnomish village will be brief and quick. The gnome does not try to rout an enemy, the gnomish way is to force a retreat. Even against such hated enemies as the goblin and the kobolt, the gnome will allow them to retreat with their lives.

They have developed ways of using their size and agility against bigger and more powerful enemies, and are masters of lowering an enemies moral as quickly as possible. Usually they will attack not with violence, but with the gnomes innate ability to distract an enemies attention away from what they are doing, and attack their pride before actually hurting them. A typical gnome tactics involves cutting the saddle straps of mounted Calvary when they aren’t looking, or lighting small fires in the shoes of a companies general.

Failure to embarrass an enemy into a retreat calls for a harsher response. The gnomes strive to always know the terrain more intimately then their enemies. Illusionists will create obstacles where there aren’t any and hide traps and the natural pitfalls that are there while archers stay hidden from view and pelt them with an unending wave of stones and arrows.

This is typically enough to even cause stupid orcs to launch a retreat and inform their grand children about the gnomish terror years later!


Gnomes make great player characters, but we do have to watch how they attack their enemies. Gnomes respect life, even the lives of those who wish them harm.

Deep gnome and forest gnomes are good for specialized campaigns which take place in their areas, but the do make excellent NPC’s for DMs, particularly because PC’s won’t initially know what to make of them, or their intent, but they will make great allies that will surprise them if, and when, their assistance is required.

While elf players are generally considered overpowered, we must not neglect players who want to explore the way of the gnome. They have some sever limitations, simple things like not being able to buy armor that isn’t specially made, as well as clothing and most weapons. All of their gear must be special, and because of this limitation we DMs must remember to play up on their strengths as much as possible.

Gnomes are capable of going where larger characters can’t go without limitations themselves, as they are used to fighting in cramped quarters and can fit into spots where even the dwarves are too big. Gnomes can disappear and blend into a crowd without penalty, they can move through their native climates without leaving a trail or making any noise. They are closer to the earth then any race, and the earth itself seems to help them along.

Gnomes are not halflings, and aren’t homebodies. They enjoy going out and seeing the world for themselves and should be more common to encounter then what we are probably giving them credit for. They may not observe the same currency as the dominate races, but they do have a knack of fitting in and earning a living in foreign cities. Many gnomes open up shops in the cities of other races for a time, establishing different trade routes into their hometowns which they will one day return to, and learning how the other races live so that they can take back the best of their world with them.

All player races have a good relationship with gnomes, this can be very helpful for any adventurer who has a thirst for gathering information. Nobody can gather intelligence with the speed and tact as the gnome, and typically the almost work for free! Talk about an untapped resource for adventure.

Art is a selection of “Teamwork” by Larry Elmore


Nope said...

Once again, an awesome article. I'm loving these write ups!

Noumenon said...

I like the point about Snow White, that would be a fun drop-in to a game. One house full of seven gnomes...

Post a Comment


Contact me at Ripx187@gmail.com

Search This Blog

Blog Archive