Forest gnomes are among the least commonly seen gnomes on Toril, far shier than even their deep gnome cousins. Small and reclusive, forest gnomes are so unknown to most non-gnomes that they have repeatedly been "discovered" by wandering outsiders who happen into their villages. Timid to an extreme, forest gnomes almost never leave their hidden homes.
Compared with other gnomes, forest gnomes are even more diminutive than is typical of the stunted race, rarely growing taller than 2½ feet in height or weighing in over 30 lbs. Typically, males are slightly larger than females, at the most by four inches or five pounds. Unlike other gnomes, forest gnomes generally grow their hair long and free, feeling neither the need nor desire to shave or trim their hair substantially, though males often do take careful care of their beards, trimming them to a fine point or curling them into hornlike spikes. Forest gnome skin is an earthy color and looks, in many ways, like wood, although it is not particularly tough. Forest gnome hair is brown or black, though it grays with age, sometimes to a pure white. Like other gnomes, forest gnomes generally live for centuries, although their life expectancy is a bit longer than is the case for either rock or deep gnomes; 400 is the average life expectancy of a forest gnome.
Forest gnomes are painfully shy creatures who neither feel the need nor want to interact with other races. For the most part forest gnomes would simply like to be ignored as they have been for millennia. Unlike deep gnomes this comes less out of a general mistrust of outsiders and more out of an extreme sense of privacy and affinity for the natural world, combined with a general ambivalence about things that are outside of their experience. Among their own kind, forest gnomes are quite friendly, if not particularly lively.
Like deep gnomes, forest gnomes rarely leave their remote homes. As a general rule, forest gnomes lack the curiosity that is typical of most gnomes and will only leave their homelands under intense pressure, such as a threat that they alone cannot overcome. For the most part, forest gnomes prefer to stick to what they know, caring for the wood around them.
Forest gnomes differ from the more common rock gnomes and deep gnomes in a number of ways. Forest gnomes, like halflings, are adept at obscuring their presence and slipping into places unseen, particularly when in the familiar terrain of their forest homes. In addition to the cantrip-like abilities typical of gnomes, forest gnomes also possess supernatural abilities similar to the spells pass without trace or speak with animals, although they can use these abilities at will.
Forest gnomes live in an extreme state of primitivism, though their lives are generally comfortable and idyllic. Forest gnomes are largely hunter-gatherers, harvesting their food from wild fruits, nuts, and berries, and supplementing their diet with a little meat. Forest gnome villages are usually composed of less than a hundred members, who are often all a part of an extended family. Forest gnome homes are generally small, reclusive, and so well-hidden that a human might well walk within a few feet of a gnome home and not even realize it. Part of this is because of the unique manner in which forest gnomes construct their homes, which are typically located within trees.
Forest gnomes spend the majority of their day tending to the forest and gathering food to feed the rest of the village, although a few, like their kin, search underground for gems in a manner unusual for most hunter-gatherers. Forest gnome children who are too young to contribute are generally allowed to do as they like, although they are prevented from wandering far from their protective parents. These children learn how to behave primarily by example, watching their elders, acquiring a reverence for the forest and appreciation for their society gradually. Forest gnomes are generally organized in a loose gerontocracy, with the eldest member of the community serving an advisory role to the rest of the community, who generally only make decisions by consensus. Outside of their homes, this ethic carries on, though gnomes rarely gather in groups of more than two or three beyond their secluded villages.
Forest gnomes only rarely become adventurers, usually due to some kind of threat to their home or other need that requires them to leave their reclusive hovels. Most gnomes are instead craftsmen or experts of various kinds. Those who do leave take on a variety of different roles. The forest gnome love of music makes many excellent, if somewhat shy, bards. Other forest gnomes become clerics or druids, who often play important roles in forest gnome society upon their returns. Very few forest gnomes would consider themselves proper warriors and forest gnome fighters are next to unheard of. On the other hand, many forest gnomes are well-suited for the life of a rogue, given their small size and stealthy natures. Some forest gnomes also show a propensity for the arcane arts and become, like so many of their kin, illusionists. Because of their historical conflict with those races, forest gnomes often have defensive training against kobolds, orcs, goblinoids, and reptilian humanoids, which serves adventurers well in their travels.
Art and Leisure
Forest gnome society, like that of most hunter-gatherers, is a curious mix of luxury and hard work. Forest gnomes spend most of their days working for the benefit of the community but after returning home from the forest, they are usually treated to a relaxed lifestyle with few causes of stress. During such times, forest gnomes devote themselves to a variety of humble but impressive artistic practices. Among these are gemcutting and jewelry-making, which forest gnomes, unlike the similarly primitive wild elves, have a deep fondness for. Typically, however, these beautiful designs reflect the natural world in a way uncommon to most civilized peoples. Forest gnomes also forge a wide variety of tools but have a notable taboo on axes, due to their common use in woodcutting by other races.
Forest gnome architecture is also unique. Like many of the Tel-quessir, forest gnomes make their homes in such a way as to disturb the local environment as little as possible. However, unlike elves, who often live in the branches of trees, weaving their architecture into the surrounding structures, forest gnomes build their homes within trees, carving them in a careful manner devised by druids that does as little harm to the living plant as possible. Each tree hovel is usually a few hundred feet away from every other one, allowing each family the privacy that forest gnomes as a whole crave. The homes themselves are usually made of several tiny rooms stacked on top of one another, with trapdoors and ladders connecting them. Each room is about four feet tall and line with windows to let in the sun.
Because of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle forest gnomes neither keep livestock nor pets. However, forest gnomes are fond of wild animals and will sometimes forge bonds with them. Of the forest's wildlife, forest gnomes most prefer the company of creatures close to their own size, such as foxes and squirrels.
Magic and Religion
Like most gnomes, forest gnomes prefer the use of illusion to other schools of magic, which they embrace as a way to protect them from harm. Frequently, forest gnome illusionists use their talents in concert with the more naturalistic camouflage that is a part of forest gnome architecture to hide their homes from outsiders. When forest gnomes are forced to deal with outsiders, they often delegate illusionists, who will conjure an image of the intruders' own race as a form of communication that distances the gnomes from their potential attackers.
Unlike other gnome peoples, forest gnomes also have a strong tradition of divine and primal magic. Clerics are well-respected among forest gnomes and typically offer their healing powers to help animals who've been injured by hunters or traps. Druids are also respected among forest gnomes, though forest gnomes are so shy that they rarely join larger druidic circles. Those that do, however, find their extroversion is well-rewarded, with the addition power gained from such association helping to protect their forest homes.
Forest gnomes have a stronger sense of faith than any other gnome subrace, although it is often very different from that of the typical gnome, incorporating into it animistic traditions and a reverence for the natural world. Priests are often communal leaders, who help to keep distant villages in touch. When large numbers of forest gnomes gather priests of various types are usually there to bless the meeting.
Of all the gods, forest gnomes feel the closest to Baervan Wildwanderer, who is often associated with the wild places where forest gnomes reside. According to forest gnome tradition, Baervan has personally entrusted the care of the wilderness to his followers, a burden the forest gnomes are happy to accept, and clerics of the god often serve as caretakers of the forest. Segojan Earthcaller is another popular god, and gnomes venerate his teachings to treat with respect and friendship the animals of the wild. As a way of showing their veneration for the god, the few forest gnome warriors often wear grass and roots as part of their armor. Like most gnomes, forest gnomes fear the influence of Urdlen, who represents unknown threats, though, for the large part, the god has ignored the gnomes, who he seems to unusually appreciate.
Relations with Other Races
Although forest gnomes are a shy and reclusive people they are not particularly resentful or untrusting of outsiders. Usually, it's more the case that forest gnomes simply don't care about other races and, when they meet outsiders they're often friendly, if painfully timid. When given the chance, forest gnomes can be close and loyal friends.
Of the other humanoid races, forest gnomes are most fond of rock gnomes, elves, and halflings of all types, with ghostwise halflings preferred among the latter. Forest gnomes get along particularly well with elves and ghostwise, thanks to both races sharing similar homes to the forest gnomes. In regards to other races, forest gnomes usually do not care about them, although an exception is made for orcs, kobolds, and lizardfolk, whose harsh treatment of forests make them natural enemies of the forest gnomes. Forest gnomes have a similar, but more amiable opinion of humans, thanks to loggers, trappers, and hunters of human civilization.
Like other gnomes, forest gnomes rarely bother to keep meaningful historical records. Anthropologists and historians have postulated that the tiny people may have helped save forests throughout Toril from overlogging and other forms of destruction but there is no concrete proof of these efforts. For their part, forest gnomes of various villages often mark years by important events, good or bad, that befell their community, but these events are rarely significant on a larger scale and mean little to outsiders.
Forest gnomes are a rare sight, but they are not particularly uncommon. In addition to inhabiting their ancestral homes in the Feywild, forest gnomes can be found in Aglarond and the Great Dale. Wherever they live, forest gnomes are well-hidden and so are often unnoticed, sometimes for centuries, by their neighbors.
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