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"Trust not the gnome. Do not listen to his witty banter. What he lacks in stature he more than makes up in malice for humankind. Do not take his money, for then he will cast you into debt and force you to sell your own children into slavery…"
- Anti-gnomish pamphlet, signed by "Veritas"

On the surface, gnomes seem to have much in common with their cousins, the dwarves. Both tend to value craftsmanship, industriousness, and expertise in their chosen fields. Yet their focus is different - while it may be the greatest praise for a dwarf to be told that he can forge blades exactly as his great-great-grandfather could, gnomes (as they would put it) would never insult their ancestors’ memories by trying to slavishly imitate them.

For gnomes, the highest achievement is to come up with something truly original. For this reason, they tend to study a broad range of subjects in their chosen area of expertise, in the hopes that this will provide them with new insights. A true genius, the gnomes say, shouldn’t limit himself to what others have created before him. And once they have enough insight to create a masterpiece, they will move on to the next project. While a dwarf weapon smith who creates excellent axes will often be content to create one masterwork axe after another for the rest of his life, a gnome who forges a masterwork axe will either search for ways to make even better axes, or turn his attention to different kinds of blades. Gnome adventurers should pick one area of expertise that they are interested in above all others (or constantly look for such an area if they haven’t picked one yet), and miss no opportunities to learn something about it.

Another important aspect of gnomish culture are their large and convoluted social networks. Every gnome has a long list of friends, acquaintances, and people with similar interests which whom they try to keep in contact as much as circumstances permit, whether through regular activities of a club they are both members in, irregular meetings in pubs or each others’ homes, or through lengthy letters they write to each other at every opportunity. While the generally congenial nature of gnomes explains parts of this behavior, it is also true that a large number of favors is traded regularly through this network, which tends to give gnomes a large amount of political power behind the scenes.

Gnomish society does not place any gender restrictions on the kinds of professions gnomes can pursue as such. However, custom and tradition expects men and women to develop separate and gender-exclusive social networks which only interact at rare festivities and celebrations (which tend to double as match-making events for gnomes coming of age). The purpose behind this is to allow a newly married couple to effectively double their social networks, providing it with a large power base useful for a young family (and indeed, the number of important and influential contacts a gnome has tends to be more important for his marriage prospects than personal wealth). And since there are few settlements where gnomes are in the majority, gnome men and women tend to cluster to professions accepted for their gender by the population of the majority race. Gnomes won’t discriminate against, say, a female gnomish soldier, but if the human population of the city she lives in has prejudices against female soldiers, then she won’t be able to work effectively in her job and she will make few useful contacts in that profession. Most gnomes try to avoid situations like these and pick their professions accordingly, but if a gnome manages to prosper in a job despite such obstacles, she will get a lot of respect for her shrewdness.

List of Articles about Gnomes

Adventure Ideas

Designer's Notes & Resources

Like with the dwarves and dragonkin, I was inspired by parts of Jewish history when writing up the gnomes of Urbis. In this case, the inspiration was the role of Jews as moneylenders in medieval Europe. Another link is their role as "secret rulers of the world" in paranoid conspiracy fantasies. If you ever come across an anti-semitic pamphlet or diatribe, replace "Jew" with "gnome", and you will get a good idea of how many people in the Known Lands feel about gnomes…

In D&D 4E, gnomes are no longer among the "standard" player character races, but their writeup in the appendix of the Monster Manual is sufficient to play them. They had already developed their own niche in the setting, so I decided to leave them in.

Oh, and here's a little piece of advice if you want to play a gnome: Say repeatedly that "there is no such thing as a Gnomish World Conspiracy". Deny the existence of such a conspiracy loud and often. Naturally, this will cause the other players to become even more convinced that such a conspiracy exists, but that's part of the fun…


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Urbis - A World of Cities © Jürgen Hubert. All material on this site excepting forum posts is owned by him.