D&D General what is the unifying theme of gnomes?

CreamCloud0

One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
In the beginning, gnomes were simple ... small dwarves. Really. If you look to the 1e PHB and Monster Manual, they are described exclusively in relation to "their larger cousins, dwarves ..." In many ways, gnomes were simply dwarves who lived in rocky hills instead of mountains.

There just wasn't a lot to go on. Of course, lore began to spread around them, often because of certain peculiarities; for example, gnomes were often thought of as curious and "tricky" not because of the racial description, but because they were the only race, other than human, that could become an illusionist (and could multiclass into illusionist). But, again, there just wasn't a lot "there" for a lot of the early history of D&D.
Yeah gnomes have always come across to me as like dwarves but slightly more nature-y due to inhabiting forests more commonly than mountains due to providing more natural cover and not having to carve out the stone, IMO like dwarves gnomes are great craftsmen but without having the same size, strength and sturdiness that dwarves do they needed to turn to more trickery and smarts, magic and gadgets, things that don't rely on physical attributes to be effective
 

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They are terrible.

But less terrible than elves.

And while you think that they might share less of a common theme than elves do, I suggest finding the common denominator between the three billion, four hundred million, five hundred thousand and thirty eight varieties of elves that we currently have.*

Elves are like Baskin-Robbins ice cream- so many flavors, all of them terrible.

In comparison, gnomes are fine.


*Number are approximate, yet accurate. Search your heart- you know it to be true.
I take it you are a dwarf fan then?
I think there are a few sources for gnome tropes that have been very influential for D&D...

One is the various Books of Gnomes that were very popular for a time. They portray gnomes as tiny forest people, industrious caretakers of nature.

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The other is the fairy tale of the Elves and the Shoemaker. Sure they're called elves, but they're tiny magical tinkerers, and I think that helped inspire gnomes.

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I am familiar with the David the gnome book line.
I have a hard time of thinking of gnomes as either; forest-dwelling caretakers or scatter-brained tinkerers (thank you Dragonlance).

As far as unifying themes; creativity, out of the box thinking, “squirrel”
it is tricky to see any underlining themes it seems.
being very small, curiosity, cunning and ingenuity is what link Gnomes of all types. Being small innately curious creatures they want to get in to everything around them but that leaves them exposed to larger menaces. Thus they must rely on cunning (trickery) to stay out of trouble and their ingenuity to negotiate obstacles.
That cunning and ingenuity can lead to to interest in illusion or tinkering or anything else a gnome wants to do
I am seeing paranoia as a logical negative trait.
Arguably, the issue with gnomes is that (like the Ranger class) they were poorly defined at the beginning of D&D, and have suffered ever since from the lack of definition.

In the beginning, gnomes were simple ... small dwarves. Really. If you look to the 1e PHB and Monster Manual, they are described exclusively in relation to "their larger cousins, dwarves ..." In many ways, gnomes were simply dwarves who lived in rocky hills instead of mountains.

There just wasn't a lot to go on. Of course, lore began to spread around them, often because of certain peculiarities; for example, gnomes were often thought of as curious and "tricky" not because of the racial description, but because they were the only race, other than human, that could become an illusionist (and could multiclass into illusionist). But, again, there just wasn't a lot "there" for a lot of the early history of D&D.

That meant that when the later "flavors" of gnome were introduced, specifically the tinker gnome (in Dragonlance) and the playable Deep Gnomes (UA), those flavors kind of overwhelmed the concept of the original idea- sort of like how, with the Ranger, later introductions (such as dual-wielding) often overwhelmed the original class concept.

That's why the "essence of gnome" is difficult to tease out now. You don't have some sort of pre-D&D lore that is agreed-upon (Tolkien) like you do with Elves and Dwarves and Hobb... Halflings. It's a diffuse concept, with later additions overwhelming the base.
so in essence what they really need was a setting without dwarves or halflings where they could really come into their own?
Why, if they were just small versions of the decidedly unmagical dwarves, did the author (presumably Gygax) decide that they could be illusionists? He must have already had the idea of "tricky" in his head in order to let them belong to that class.
I wonder what could make a culture love illusions so much?
Gnomes have no unifying theme.

They're basically there to give people a Small Size character option that isn't "Hobbit". Because way back when, that's all halflings were. It took time for halflings to be more than portly hair-footed Bagginses. And gnomes gave people a way to play small without being -that-.

That's it. That's the whole reason gnomes exist as an option for players.

WotC and most other brands and writers try and differentiate gnomes by making them tinkers or fey or bankers (which has antisemitic roots) or whatever other role they can create that is as far from "Hobbit" as they can manage. Eberron made them Teachers, for example, tutors for the wealthy and powerful and...

What are the rest of the gnomes doing while some tiny portion acts as teachers? Same thing as everyone else. Only in the "Small People" Ghetto where halflings, gnomes, and sometimes goblins hung out. And the Keith went "Let's get crazy with halflings instead!" and made them into dino-riders instead of hobbits. Well. Almost. He turned around and made Ghallanda and made them hospitable hobbits, too.

Anyway. Yeah.

Gnomes exist to give players a short race that isn't Bilbo to play. Everything else is just tacked on additions over editions to try and make them stand out more.
then why were they not just made to be the same race like the 108 types of elf?
 

Halflings are just midget humans and are far to Tolkien, and yeah monster races are a thing - imho though goblins are scavengers, thats there defining thing
Disagree in halflings - they've removed the Tolkein and replaced it with wanderlust and curiosity (toned-down kender, really)

Goblins and kolbolds are at the forefront of de-monster-ification of monstrous races - they're cute now.
Yes this. Forest gnome curiosity it is seen in their interactions with animals, and fascination with mushrooms, herbs and roots
,
That's a cool take, actually.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
Does anyone have any idea what all types of gnomes share from both present editions and past verities?
Mostly what gnomes share is being an afterthought for the designers across all editions. Other than Dragonlance and Eberron - two settings where some serious thought was put into what the gnome's place was in the world and how they differed from dwarves and halflings - mostly it feels like devs kind of think about gnomes in an "oh yeah - there are also gnomes. We need to figure out what to do with them" sort of way. Kind of like how they treat encumbrance :)

Honestly though I like the fact that there isn't really a "party line" on gnomes. Being "small folk who aren't dwarves or hobbits" is a huge space for personality and culture and gives a lot of room to have gnomes be all over the place. Because players don't bring their preconceptions to the table about gnomes the way they do dwarves or halflings - and if they do it's mostly asking if they wear pointy red hats.
 

Disagree in halflings - they've removed the Tolkein and replaced it with wanderlust and curiosity (toned-down kender, really)

Goblins and kolbolds are at the forefront of de-monster-ification of monstrous races - they're cute now.

That's a cool take, actually.
the modern halfing is what happens when you breed a hobbit with a kender hence an ultimately more useful and well balance concept.

the amount of dnd players I have seen on Reddit who find goblins cute just creeps me out.
kobold player minds just confuse me as they seem to depend on two contradictory ideas being in people's heads.
Mostly what gnomes share is being an afterthought for the designers across all editions. Other than Dragonlance and Eberron - two settings where some serious thought was put into what the gnome's place was in the world and how they differed from dwarves and halflings - mostly it feels like devs kind of think about gnomes in an "oh yeah - there are also gnomes. We need to figure out what to do with them" sort of way. Kind of like how they treat encumbrance :)

Honestly though I like the fact that there isn't really a "party line" on gnomes. Being "small folk who aren't dwarves or hobbits" is a huge space for personality and culture and gives a lot of room to have gnomes be all over the place. Because players don't bring their preconceptions to the table about gnomes the way they do dwarves or halflings - and if they do it's mostly asking if they wear pointy red hats.
so again my thought on them really needing a setting where they lack dwarfs and halflings and where gnomes can really come into their own seem strong.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
(...) You don't have some sort of pre-D&D lore that is agreed-upon (Tolkien) like you do with Elves and Dwarves and Hobb... Halflings. It's a diffuse concept, with later additions overwhelming the base.
As an aside, gnomes do match Tolkiens' "Fallohides" branch of hobbits pretty well, whereas D&D (and most RPGs) mostly attempt to emulate the Harfoots (Harfeet?) and Stoors (or in 5e terms, Lightfoots and Stouts) which are more prominently represented in LotR.

IIRC, Fallowhides were friendlier with elves and it was hinted that they may even had some elven blood (unlikely to be true, but they may have bared some resemblance). In D&D terms, mix a halfling and an elf and voilà: gnome!
 


As an aside, gnomes do match Tolkiens' "Fallohides" branch of hobbits pretty well, whereas D&D (and most RPGs) mostly attempt to emulate the Harfoots (Harfeet?) and Stoors (or in 5e terms, Lightfoots and Stouts) which are more prominently represented in LotR.

IIRC, Fallowhides were friendlier with elves and it was hinted that they may even have some elven blood (unlikely to be true, but they may have bared some resemblance). In D&D terms, mix a halfling and an elf and voilà: gnome!
where do they get their beard from then? as halfings and elves are not known for facial hair?
 

Laurefindel

Legend
where do they get their beard from then? as halfings and elves are not known for facial hair?
... and now that I went back to google fallowhides, they do mention that they "never have facial hair". Bah, I guess they had to differentiate them somehow. Still, I stand by my statement that even gnomes as D&D defines them bare some Tolkien's origins.
 




BookTenTiger

He / Him
I think the problem of trying to find a unifying theme is that there isn't one, because D&D has never cared about having strictly defined characteristics for different races. It's just not that important that two gnomes being played at two different tables have a unifying theme, other than their mechanics. The players really get to decide if their gnome is mischievous, or industrious, or sneaky.

Mechanically, the through-line seems to be magic. Gnomes always seem to be able to cast spells, speak with animals, or create magical mechanical beings.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
They are terrible.

But less terrible than elves.

And while you think that they might share less of a common theme than elves do, I suggest finding the common denominator between the three billion, four hundred million, five hundred thousand and thirty eight varieties of elves that we currently have.*

Elves are like Baskin-Robbins ice cream- so many flavors, all of them terrible.

In comparison, gnomes are fine.


*Number are approximate, yet accurate. Search your heart- you know it to be true.
 

I think the problem of trying to find a unifying theme is that there isn't one, because D&D has never cared about having strictly defined characteristics for different races. It's just not that important that two gnomes being played at two different tables have a unifying theme, other than their mechanics. The players really get to decide if their gnome is mischievous, or industrious, or sneaky.

Mechanically, the through-line seems to be magic. Gnomes always seem to be able to cast spells, speak with animals, or create magical mechanical beings.
Rock gnomes are a core race and have no magic
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I want to say "Halflings are to humans as Gnomes are to Elves+Dwarves". Sometimes it bothers me that there isn't a symmetry there (a third small race so one can go with Elves and the other goes with Dwarves), but then at others I'm annoyed by the need for symmetry.

Is it as simple as the Halflings are the non,-magical small race and Gnomes are the magical one?

As much as I love Halflings, is anything lost by having Halflings be a sup-type of Gnome? ("Gnomes that follow agragrian culture - instead of Sylvan, hill Dwarf, or tinker - are commonly called Halflings due to their unfairly being stereotyped as just small humans.")
 


BookTenTiger

He / Him
Rock gnomes are a core race and have no magic
I would argue that these two abilities are themed around magic:

Artificer’s Lore
Whenever you make an Intelligence (History) check related to magic items, alchemical objects, or technological devices, you can add twice your proficiency bonus, instead of any proficiency bonus you normally apply.

Tinker
You have proficiency with artisan’s tools (tinker’s tools). Using those tools, you can spend 1 hour and 10 gp worth of materials to construct a Tiny clockwork device (AC 5, 1 hp). The device ceases to function after 24 hours (unless you spend 1 hour repairing it to keep the device functioning), or when you use your action to dismantle it; at that time, you can reclaim the materials used to create it. You can have up to three such devices active at a time.
 


I think the problem of trying to find a unifying theme is that there isn't one, because D&D has never cared about having strictly defined characteristics for different races. It's just not that important that two gnomes being played at two different tables have a unifying theme, other than their mechanics. The players really get to decide if their gnome is mischievous, or industrious, or sneaky.

Mechanically, the through-line seems to be magic. Gnomes always seem to be able to cast spells, speak with animals, or create magical mechanical beings.
it is more you think they would have some core ideas for them as they seem to be made up of left overs of the other classic demihumans?
I want to say "Halflings are to humans as Gnomes are to Elves+Dwarves". Sometimes it bothers me that there isn't a symmetry there (a third small race so one can go with Elves and the other goes with Dwarves), but then at others I'm annoyed by the need for symmetry.

Is it as simple as the Halflings are the non,-magical small race and Gnomes are the magical one?

As much as I love Halflings, is anything lost by having Halflings be a sup-type of Gnome? ("Gnomes that follow agragrian culture - instead of Sylvan, hill Dwarf, or tinker - are commonly called Halflings due to their unfairly being stereotyped as just small humans.")
you are mistaken the dwarves are the other short race who are supposed to be associated with something really big.
 

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