100% that gnome
Reposting myself from October. People periodically link to the post in an old thread I made, with my explanation that, IMO and IMC, I don't see gnomes has having too many disparate focuses; they have one focus that's never been properly identified as such:
The most devilishly handsome gnome there ever was said:Gnomes are the equivalent of magical rabbits. They are smaller and weaker than almost everyone else (except for kobolds, whom they compete for living space with -- no one ever remembers that kobolds also live in dark forests per the RAW). EVERYONE can wipe them out if they want to, so gnomes, like rabbits, have learned to hide.
They're not illusionists because they're into Zen Buddhism, as Races of Stone tried to explain. They're illusionists because, if they're not, the local orc tribe will dig them all up and eat them during the next lunar eclipse.
And they're not illusionists in the cold, dry way that D&D magic is often portrayed. It permeates every aspect of their society. They learn tricks to hide their settlements, with secret doors and traps all over the place (albeit less cruel than the ones the kobolds use). They tell tall tales about the size of their settlements and nations, concealing the fact that the local king of the gnomes rules over four families living beneath a single meadow. They use false names and disguises when dealing with outsiders, to effectively increase their numbers. They lie and trick everyone they meet to see how easy they are to fool -- because they have to fool them to survive. Garl Glittergold isn't some Harlequin-style fool, he's El-ahrairah, the rabbit trickster hero from Watership Down. Some of them might even tell the world they're halflings because, you know, they're short and smart-alec and who really checks what race the short guy is?
They speak with animals because even the elves don't worry if a ground squirrel is watching them move through the forest, little realizing that the ground squirrel will pop into a gnome burrow for a treat later on, and tell the gnomes all about the band of elves marching single file through the woods.
They play with clockworks to bolster their numbers and master technology as an outgrowth in their trap-making expertise.
They trade in precious gems to buy the things they need to survive, and they call themselves "forest gnomes" who know nothing about mines and such when they're talking to races that figure a gnome burrow full of gems will be easy to rob.
There's one race of gnomes. They're just not foolish enough to show a single face to the world.