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


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Sure, part of the problem is that the gnomes don't have strong literary archetype to draw on, but they're not alone in that among D&D races. And I don't dislike gnomes, but I still feel they're rather unnecessary. But then again, I feel that way about at least half the D&D races. I really think D&D races would be more interesting if there were fewer of them, so that there wouldn't be so much thematic overlap and vagueness, and on the other hand the species wouldn't need to be sillily narrowly flanderised to remain unique. Like for example if you removed gnomes and made their Disneyish foresty animal friend subspecies to be a type of halfling and gave the mad-scientist tinkerer thing to dwarves so that they could sometimes be something else than just shortish drunken axe-wielding Scottish Vikings, then I feel both halflings and dwarves would be improved, yet the thematic concepts of the gnomes would be preserved.
 
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I got into D&D just as both Pathfinder and 4E were starting up, and since both Pathfinder and 4E went the route of gnomes being related to fey I've always had that as my conception for them (and therefore don't particularly care for rock gnomes, which are generally portrayed as more inventive dwarves). It also frequently results in me being confused as to why people think halfings and gnomes are interchangeable until I remember that Pathfinder and 4E's fey take is an outlier.

For whatever reason I have no strong feelings about halflings whatsoever while gnomes are among my favorite D&D races.
 

Weiley31

Legend
I always liked the 4E lore for Gnomes and pretty much use that for my 5E games. Granted, that probably would mean that technically you'd have to homebrew it that they count as Fey since 4E Gnomes come from the Feywild. Pretty much the Forest Gnomes would be the typical 4E Gnomes who escaped from the Feywild, while the Rock Gnomes are those who, upon escaping from the Feywild, found themselves in Gond, and then learned their Tinkering ways there.
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
How is that different than elves? Desert, sea, moon, ...
They don't erase the base archetypal elf. It's just -another- kind of elf.

Meanwhile 4e made -all- Gnomes into Fey, and 5e brought them back to Humanoid.

The baseline "Gnome" gets changed because there's no real consensus or idea of what it is at its core.

Sort of like Ranger.
 

In my campaign I divide between forest gnomes and rock/tinker gnomes. Forest gnomes are kind and curious nature loving folk. You can walk through a forest gnome community and not even realize it between how they blend in to nature and their knack for illusion magic. They're quite inventive so be careful, they also like to play good natured practical jokes and pranks.

Rock/tinker gnomes are unabashedly stolen from WOW, as inventors of overly complicated devices that they keep trying to perfect. The more complex the invention, the more perfect it is. I've described one of the largest rock gnome cities as being akin to Las Vegas with contraptions and everyone trying to outcompete each other with crazy inventions.

On a related note, both goblins and gnomes are descended from feywild goblinkin that long ago came to my world. The feywild goblinkin are mischievous pranksters and when they left the feywild some followed the light hearted harmless pranks of Garl Glittergold's pantheon and became gnomes. Others followed the cruel, intentionally hurtful ways of Maglubiyet.

So I've given them identities over time that may not match very closely with established lore.
but what is the gnomeness they share the key things that makes something a gnome
Their creator, Theophrastus "Paracelsus" von Hohenheim, designated them as beings of elemental earth.

Within D&D they've settled into the space of folkloric little people / mythic trickster that Elves and Dwarves can't occupy, because they glom too closely to Tolkienesque tropes.
interesting
Goblins I’ll give you, but Tucker’s not withstanding, were kobolds ever not cute?
since when have kobolds been cute they are horrible dog-like dragon servitors I suppose they could be worse they could be halflings.
Symbiotic fungal growth!

Dwarf are small Goliath?
possibly goliath could use some more lore and connections to the world and both are orderly to the point of madness
They don't erase the base archetypal elf. It's just -another- kind of elf.

Meanwhile 4e made -all- Gnomes into Fey, and 5e brought them back to Humanoid.

The baseline "Gnome" gets changed because there's no real consensus or idea of what it is at its core.

Sort of like Ranger.
fair point.
.
 



Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Answered your own question there.
C4E7D922-2E6A-4036-ACA0-11E94D57F8A0.jpeg

Not Cute
 


Gnomes are just non-Tolkien elves.

Yep. Gnomes exist to fulfill the weird, funky little folkloric and fairytale elf role that went unfulfilled when D&D got the elegant, pretty Tolkien elves as its elves.

They also get all the spare folkloric traits of dwarves after D&D's Tolkien-derived dwarves got what they did.

Basically Gnomes are a grab bag from the remnant folkloric attributes for fey peoples that Tolkien didn't use.
 

A dive through the history of gnomes, with a Gygax quote and other things.

interesting, I think I have figured out what I dislike about tieflings they force me to have to having to deal with extra plane monsters that I have always disliked and outcaste has never really been a role I enjoyed playing, I prefer something that has connections to something bigger with a real place in the world other than being stepped on a lot.
Yep. Gnomes exist to fulfill the weird, funky little folkloric and fairytale elf role that went unfulfilled when D&D got the elegant, pretty Tolkien elves as its elves.

They also get all the spare folkloric traits of dwarves after D&D's Tolkien-derived dwarves got what they did.

Basically Gnomes are a grab bag from the remnant folkloric attributes for fey peoples that Tolkien didn't use.
I will need to think on this some more as I have debated trying to build better gnomes with a real place in the world.
 


Like for example if you removed gnomes and made their Disneyish foresty animal friend subspecies to be a type of halfling and gave the mad-scientist tinkerer thing to dwarves so that they could sometimes be something else than just shortish drunken axe-wielding Scottish Vikings, then I feel both halflings and dwarves would be improved, yet the thematic concepts of the gnomes would be preserved.
See, I've always been of the opinion Halflings are the easier one to ditch on that behalf, especially because the vast majority of the halfling subraces are barely different. Except the one which psionically talks to elves which, honestly, is basically an inbuilt gnome trait to begin with

The mechanically focused gnome is such a well known archetype in this day and age that it goes beyond the D&D space and has gained its own life
 


Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
I have something I need to get off my chest. It's a piece of information about myself that is particularly difficult to share on this board. I am deeply ashamed of this part of myself.

I like Gnomes. They're actually one of my favorite player races. They're in the top 3; just behind Warforged, just above Changelings.

Maybe it's that I haven't played any of the previous editions and was mostly introduced to them through Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, or maybe it's just that some of their quirks are particularly relatable to me (having both ADHD and ASD). Or maybe my liking them is just objective badwrongfun and I should hide this part of my D&D-identity even more than I already do.

As others have said, Gnomes (like most other D&D races, if you're being honest) don't really have a single unifying theme, and haven't had one in decades. They're more of a mish-mash of ideas taken from folklore versions of Elves and Dwarves and similar creatures (brownies, hobs, nisse/tomte, some types of Trolls, etc), as well as a few modern additions to make them more unique (Tinker Gnomes from Dragonlance and World of Warcraft). They're Santa's Elves, Snow White's Dwarves, and mad scientists/inventors that constantly invent new types of explosives entirely by accident.

In D&D, races almost never have "unifying themes". They have grab-bags of ideas taken from pop culture and (typically European) folklore assembled into confusing amalgamations with taped-on lore that changes every edition (and sometimes in the middle of one).

In 5e, most of their broad themes are "quirky short people that look more human than Goblins but less than Halflings and have obsessions with either animals, tinkering, or gems/elemental earth". This is different from what it was in every previous edition, and is probably different from how they will be in the next edition.
 

Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
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.
Did you miss the part of Eberron's Gnomes where they have the not-so-secret police that controls most of Zilargo and also have a monopoly on most of the communication and major newspapers in Khorvaire? Sure, Eberron's Halflings ride Dinosaurs, which is cool and all, but the Gnomes are over there in Korranberg publishing whatever propaganda the Trust tells them to write while also deciding who gets to use their magic cell service.
 



Vaalingrade

Legend
Part of the problem gnomes have is that they've historically been the nail from which D&D hangs a lot of jokes.

They're scientists, but at best only for baubles and toys and at worst, they make things that fail catastrophically.

They're nature lovers, but only to talk to small, furry animals.= and Disney Princess their way through everything.

They're magic, but only illusions, which the game rarely takes as serious magic.

Ultimately, they're halflings with bolt-ons that make them less serious. I'm a guy that absolutely refuses to take this game seriously, and even I think the game does gnomes pretty dirty in terms of what rasions detre they've been given.

If I was inclined to not just fold them into halflings, I would lean far into the magic thing; give them back thier folkloric origin stolen from them when they were also kobolds and make them earth elementals. Give them earthglide, natural DR, and a builder/make society.
 

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