Gnomes, or the Forgotten Folk as they were sometimes known, were small humanoids known for their eccentric sense of humor, inquisitiveness, and engineering prowess. Having had few overt influences on the world's history but many small and unseen ones, gnomes were often overlooked by the powers that be, despite their craftiness and affinity for illusion magic. Gnomes were present in nearly every human city and most caravan-stop villages where other cultures and non-human races were at least tolerated.
Gnomes were very small compared to most other races and, with an average height ranging between 3′0″‒4′0″ (0.91‒1.2 m) and a weight range of 40‒45 lb (18‒20 kg), gnomes were generally larger and heavier than halflings, though forest gnomes – ranging between 2′1″‒2′10″ (0.64‒0.86 m) in height and 21‒35 lb (9.5‒16 kg) in weight – tended to be smaller than halflings, leading some scholars to erroneously classify all gnomish races as "smaller than the Hin".
While halflings were commonly said to resemble short humans, gnomes were more comparable with elves, with whom they shared pointed ears and high cheekbones, or even dwarves, due to their tendency to grow beards and live underground. Many gnomes had a more feral appearance than either, however, with hair that often sprouted from their heads in odd directions.
The skin of gnomes ran in hue from reddish tans to earthy browns or even shades of gray, with exact hue somewhat dependent upon the ethnic origin of a gnome. Similarly, gnomish hair varied wildly in color from blond and brown to more exotic colors like white, orange, or even green. Gnomish eyes were often—particularly in individuals who were native to the Feywild—glittering black or blue, although more natural eye colors were also known to the race.
In terms of clothing, gnomes often preferred those with earthen tones or made of leather. They similarly preferred jewelry with earthen tones.
Gnomes were an intelligent and innately curious race. Gnomes might have lacked the drive and ambition of other races, particularly humans, but their creativity gave them a strong ability for ingenuity. Most gnomes were content to live simple lives, acquiring knowledge merely as a hobby but others explored lost ruins, delved deep into the heart of the world, and conducted dangerous research in their unquenchable thirst for knowledge, leading more than a few to an untimely demise.
Gnomes were naturally witty and jovial, and they preferred to overcome obstacles through cunning and innovation rather than the obvious way. Ever curious, gnomes were drawn to adventure more often by a desire to see the world than out of greed or the hope of fame. It was this curiosity, along with their cunning and witty repartee, that made gnomes both entertaining friends and adept arcane spellcasters or scholars.
Gnomes who left home to seek an adventurer's life were rare, given the race's famed shyness and lack of ambition. Those that did were motivated by a number of factors, but the impulsive race was often driven by curiosity more than anything else. Many gnomes felt no more rationale for adventuring than simply to explore the world that surrounded them. A few, the more orderly ones that is, sought out adventure for more innately noble purposes, such as to help others, but these gnomes were rare. Other gnomes were driven to become adventurers by little more than simple avarice, as adventuring was often seen as a quick, if unsafe, avenue for wealth. Adventuring was not necessarily a welcomed lifestyle among gnomes, despite the curiosity that filled the whole race, and sometimes was, in fact, seen as a betrayal of sorts to a gnome's clan.
Gnomes were a naturally intelligent and creative race, with a charm about them unusual for other humanoids. Gnomes also had a strong affinity for all things magical. In particular they had a natural grasp of the arcane, innately possessing the ability to cast the cantrip ghost sound and some possessed the ability to cast prestidigitation and mage hand as well. Gnomes also had a natural affinity for stealth, an affinity they could sometimes pass on to others, and illusion, both for the purpose of using it for themselves as well as seeing through other attempts at it. After the Spellplague, gnomes innately were able to use the fade away power to disappear temporarily from sight and additionally had a reflexive tendency to take cover and hide when suddenly endangered. Some gnomes learned also to combine their fade away ability with teleportation like that of an eladrin. Other gnomes were capable of casting dancing lights.
Gnomes were talented illusionists, with a natural grasp of the arcane. Regardless of their other talents, all gnomes were capable of casting a cantrip or two and had the capacity to disappear from sight if they wished. Gnomes were well-suited to all forms of arcane training, particularly that of a bard, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard. They were the only non-elven/half-elven race capable of becoming Elven Dualist specialist wizards; in their case, Nelluonkkar (illusionist/necromancer).
Gnomes were known to wear a wide range of armor and shield types into combat. Including leather, studded leather, ring mail, and chainmail. In terms of weapons they most commonly fought with clubs, short bows, short swords, slings, and spears.
Like other races, gnomish culture varied based on region and ethnicity, but a few characteristics were common to most gnomes. Among virtually all gnomes, great value was placed on one's ability to avoid trouble and stay out of the way of others. Children's games often involved elements of stealth and, among adults, drawing attention to one's self was considered a breach of etiquette. Most gnomes tried to remain inconspicuous and quietly left the scene of a fight. The few legends of gnomish heroes were not of powerful warriors but of subtle tricksters, who sneaked past or tricked their opponents rather than vanquishing them in combat. This in part came from the long-standing issue gnomes had faced, namely their miniscule size compared to larger predators or enemies such as the fomorians of the Feywild, whom few gnomes could hope to stand toe to toe with in a fair fight.
Gnomes had an intricate society based on their love of all kinds of arts, pranks, and their long lives. Gnomes loved indulgence, and they made most celebrations on a grand scale. Gnome weddings lasted for a week, even though gnomes didn't view love the same way humans did. If love began to go wrong between a couple they might break up, believing it was a prank by Garl Glittergold. Their society was based on art; all gnomes had to take up some form of art, whether music, painting, cooking, building, or any other form that was considered creative by the time they came of age.
When living among other races, particularly humans, in an urban environment, gnomes were often shopkeepers or worked as everyday blacksmiths (leaving the fancy armor and weaponsmithing to the dwarves). They also worked with brass, bronze, tin, and pewter, casting and etching practical household items. Other occupations included gemcutters, mechanics, sages, or teachers, the last in particular being a highly valued profession by human employers, who knew that a single gnome could tutor multiple generations.
In Feywild, as well as some places on Toril, gnomes typically lived in earthen burrows and dug-out homes akin to those used by badgers, foxes, or rabbits. As such they were fond of these small animals, feeling a sense of natural kinship with them. And much like these animals, gnomes had an aversion to danger that made them naturally inclined to hide away if able. Thus many gnomish homes were carefully hidden by magic or other methods.
Gnomes primarily lived in wooded, hilly landscapes, most often underground. They typically built earthen homes with cellars and escape tunnels. Above-ground structures were often round and made of stone and thatch. Generally speaking, though, gnomes enjoyed the fresh air a good deal more than other subterranean races such as dwarves or drow and rarely burrowed very deep, spending a great deal of time on the surface. Gnomish homes or communities were generally well-hidden, making it difficult for unwelcome visitors to find them. Within, gnomish houses were warm and comfortable, akin to the burrows of small mammals.
Gnomes were found widely throughout the world, though rarely in large numbers. Small communities were most commonly found in the Western Heartlands, Elturgard, and along the coastline of the Shining Sea. Other gnomes, notably the svirfneblin or deep gnomes, were found in the Underdark and were even more secretive than other gnomes, maintaining their distance from other races except for dwarves, with whom they were careful to maintain polite relationships for the purpose of protection.
The Feydark was home to a large number of gnomes. Their physical appearance differed from their surface-dwelling cousins, having larger eyes and skin so pale it appeared almost translucent. Feydark gnome culture was also quite different from that of surface-dwelling gnomes. They were known for their violent tendencies and gallows humor, while madness and savagery where considered positive personality traits. Feydark gnomes were also extremely xenophobic.
The primary gnome deity of the gnomish pantheon was Garl Glittergold. Other deities of the pantheon were Baervan Wildwanderer, Gaerdal Ironhand, and Urdlen. These gods were all themselves, at least after the Spellplague, members of the Seldarine, the fey pantheon headed by Corellon Larethian.
Gnome funeral rites often employed cremation. It destroyed the body, (preventing desecration), and released the spirit to find its own way. Cremation was also not land-intensive, and they were fairly quick to pull off if wood was abundant. Personal objects were also burned to send into the afterlife with the deceased. Different gnome deities had conflicting rules for burials, such as Baervan Wildwanderer and Urdlen.
Most gnomes spoke Common as well as their own language, Gnomish. Some were known to be capable of speaking Dwarvish, Halfling, Goblin, and Yipyak. Others were even said to be capable of speaking with burrowing mammals.
Gnomes, in general, were a reclusive people who'd rather stay out of others' affairs. Though some races interpreted this as cowardice, it's more the case that gnomes simply had nothing at stake in the conflicts between most other races and after centuries of being ignored or stomped on, were not particularly eager to fight someone else's fight. In fact, generally speaking, gnomes were a very courageous and good-hearted race, who frequently used their neutrality as a way to negotiate disputes. Of all the races in Faerûn, it's fair to say that gnomes had the fewest enemies, although they had very few friends as well.
Gnomes rarely intentionally invoked ire in any group, but at times circumstances made conflict with other races unavoidable. In the Feywild, gnomes were particularly wary of the fomorians that sometimes enslaved them, regarding them with fear and caution. In the Prime Material Plane, gnomes were most often at odds with goblins and kobolds, who shared their underground homes and often war with them for territory or wealth. In these cases, gnomes were rarely the aggressors, owing to their tendency to avoid trouble rather than cause it.
Gnomes were on fairly good terms with other fey, being particularly fond of eladrin, though they also shared good relations with elves. Gnomes also had sympathy for the fey commonly enslaved by fomorians, feeling empathy for creatures that shared the fate many of their forbears had suffered. Gnomes also got along well enough with halflings.
Among those gnomes who lived in the caverns of the Prime, dwarves were often counted as friends, due in part to the two races' physical and cultural similarities. Additionally, dwarves and gnomes both counted goblins and giants as enemies and could often be found working together against them. Gnomes were generally suspicious of other races, however.
Gnomes produced distinctly-colored glass items. The gnome glass was green like impure jade and translucent. This hue was a result of the gnome crafters melting and reshaping glass. Gnomish green glass cups were a commodity found throughout the Realms.
Many gnomes were weak compared to other humanoids, though this was far from a universal trait for the race. Like elves, gnomes had sensitive hearing and were often capable of hearing things that other races might miss. Gnomish eyes were also suited for seeing in low-light conditions, to a degree comparable with elves or eladrin.
Gnomes were also very long-lived, often living as long as elves, which meant living over three centuries was not uncommonly rare and five centuries was not unheard of. Generally, gnomes were considered to reach maturity at forty years of age. However, unlike elves or eladrin, gnomes showed a greater degree of aging as they grew older and once a gnome had passed his or her first century, their hair began to gray, if it was not already white, and their skin began to wrinkle as in humans or dwarves. However, even the oldest gnome retained a vitality that would be extraordinarily unusual among many of the younger races.
There were several subraces of gnomes, as listed below:
- Forest gnomes
- Smaller than other gnomes, these gnomes were a shy, secretive folk, living deep in wooded areas.
- Rock gnomes
- Rock gnomes primarily occupied burrows beneath rolling, wooded hills throughout Faerûn.
- Deep gnomes
- The deep gnomes, or svirfneblin, dwelt in cities deep underground in the Underdark. They were far stealthier, much more combative, and avaricious than surface-dwelling gnomes. The former two qualities being because they had to constantly defend themselves against drow and other deadly enemies. Surface-dwelling gnomes had great respect, even reverence, for their Underdark brethren.
The Treatise Historical of the Dragon Tyrants held that gnomes were created in approximately −24,500 DR from gems hidden in caverns beneath a mountain in the land later known as Netheril. Kobolds enslaved the first gnomes and stole the gems that contained yet-unborn gnomish souls. This prompted Garl Glittergold to collapse the mountain, killing most of the kobolds (including their leader Kurtulmak) and creating the depression known as the Hidden Lake, later as the Shoal of Thirst.
Gnomish myths held that the gods of the gnome pantheon originated as gems deep within the bowels of the earth that were then exposed to open air. Likewise, these myths held that the gnomes were created when Garl Glittergold discovered similar gems and breathed life into them, which he followed up with a joke, inspiring the race to craftiness and mischief. This story also related that gnomes born of diamonds became the rock gnomes, while those forged of emeralds became forest gnomes and those made of rubies were the ancestors of the deep gnomes.
Other than these early tales, little is known about the formative history of the gnomes. While humans, dwarves, eladrin, and elves all forged empires and waged terrible wars that devastated the land, the gnomes did nothing of the sort. Nor did gnomes have a known, original homeland like the halflings. Throughout history, they were known as a scattered race of hidden villages, clans, and holds, rarely caught up in grand events. The gnomes were sometimes referred to as the Forgotten Folk and this title is perhaps apt, and few of their race ever graced or troubled the mighty, instead remaining characters who faded, for the most part, into the background while others went on to forge mighty legends.
For a time, there was an exception to this on the isle of Lantan, a nation dominated by gnomish engineers. Here the gnomes, as an exception to the rule, were dominant and it was their culture that dictated the laws of the land. However, the isle was overwhelmed by great tsunamis resulting from the shifting of continents that occurred during the Spellplague, destroying this small bastion of gnomish ingenuity and culture.
As the number of humans grew and gnomes became further marginalized, younger generations began to question the wisdom of their forebears in taking a deliberately passive role in world events. This attitude was seemingly encouraged by the appearance of Gond, the god of invention, among the gnomes of Lantan during the Time of Troubles (1358 DR). As a result, there was a gradual trend in more and more gnomes leaving their reclusive homes to travel the world. However, as always, gnomes had an aversion to becoming a part of anything "too big." Thus many scattered into smaller, like-minded communities instead of attempting to direct larger ones.
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