Artwork by Pat Loboyko
Written by Darrell Hardy
Gnomes are industrious, intelligent extensions of the deep earth. With their stone flesh and large mass, they are mountains unto themselves: quiet, patient, and immovable.
Gnomes stand a head shorter than man, though their wide bodies weight nearly twice as much. They have rock-like skin in several different hues of mottled brown, black, white, red, and green (similar to granite or marble). Their hands are as large as their heads, and shaped like shovels with three fingers and a large opposing thumb. Gnomes’ feet are larger than their hands, with four very large toes that are crusted with extra layers of rock-skin for added toughness. Their hair resembles thin soft wires of gold, silver, and copper. Their eyes appear to be two small gems of diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds set into black onyx eye sockets. Gnomish facial features are broad, but generally similar to a human, with a large nose, mouth, chin, and very small ears.
Male gnomes grow their body hair—especially their beards—as long as possible. They care little for their appearance: their matted hair and stony skin are often covered in grime, stains, chips, and dust or pebbles from whatever project they’re working on. They bathe only for special occasions. In the heat of their labors, gnome males wear little clothing. In combat or dangerous environments, they wear special suits of leather and metal that protect their legs and torsos.
Female gnomes are more fastidious about their appearances. They do their best to keep their rocky skins free of dust and dirt, and bend their malleable hair into various clever designs that other races would have to use special greases and animal fats to achieve. When practical, they wear simple white dresses so as not to distract from their hair styles. When working in the earth or going into battle, they wear their own versions of the male armor suit.
Gnomes are creatures of earth and stone. Their skin is literally made of stone, but it is living stone: it has a form of nerves, and bends and flexes as necessary for movement. Beneath these shell of rock, a gnome’s internal body is made of softer, warmer rock (a form of magma) that serves as its muscular system. At their cores, gnomes have miniature furnaces that generate incredible heat. Their cores are actually molten rock, which is slowly pushed outward to replenish the stone in their muscles and, eventually, their skin.
Skin of stone is, as one would expect, quite resistant to damage. Sharp swords hold little fear for gnomes, though heavy hammers can still shatter their shells. Lesser weapons and accidents can chip away at a gnome’s stone skin. If sufficiently pricked, gnomes bleed the thick, hot liquid rock that serves as their blood. Stone muscles also give the gnomes strength twice of that of any human their size.
When called upon to fight (as they often are), gnomes are armed with some of the finest weapons in the Known World. As a race of craftsmen, smiths, and engineers, they pride themselves on wielding weapons that are as sharp and durable as they are beautiful. But while most gnomes know how to swing a sword, and will gladly do so in defense of their homes, they are not a warrior race. They are builders and makers, and only those of the warrior guilds are trained and drilled as soldiers.
As part of their elemental connection to the earth, gnomes have the ability to meld into stone surfaces. This is not a fast process. It takes half a day for a gnome to reach his hand into a stone wall; it takes two days to step completely into the stone. Melding like this gives the gnome an inherent knowledge of the stone: its weak spots, its mineral content, any water, tunnels, or other features lurking inside it. Gnomes meld when mining, to figure out the best path to take. They also meld completely from time to time in order to meditate and commune with their gods.
Gnomes are easily the longest-lived of the elder races. A careful gnome can live for up to 500 years. When fully melded into stone, gnomes don’t age, so a gnome who spends enough time in this “stone sleep” can live for thousands of years. (There are stories of a deep cavern filled with gnomes who melded millennia ago and have yet to emerge.)
Gnomes live in the mountains of the Known World. Most of them live inside the mountains, in great subterranean cities surrounded by feats of engineering, architecture, and stone craft. Rhovma, a city-state in the Rhok-Drunnor mountain region, is the capitol of the gnomish nation and home to their god’s high temple. There are newer, younger cities in Frinth and Raanon, where gnomes are less conservative and devout than their Naalgrom cousins.
Inside the cities of the gnomes, residential areas are made up of a labyrinthine system of tunnels and caves. Each clan has its own “neighborhood” and is free to dig where ever it wants to create new homes, streets, and public areas for its members. Outsiders from the surface world—or even other tribes—are likely to get lost if they try to find a certain home without a guide.
Public spaces in gnomish cities are vast, open caverns crisscrossed with broad streets that are well-labeled, if not orderly. Large, ornate buildings rise from the cavern floor. Some of them are built up with generations of stone and metal. Others are carved from floor of the earth itself. All of them are bedecked in jewels, carvings, and other graceful, delicate ornaments that are the gnomes’ mark of pride. The most impressive building in any gnomish city is the temple to Gnorr, God of Mountain and Stone. Second to this are the dozens of guildhalls.
The focus of every gnome’s life is creation. Whether etching a silver pendant, forging a battle ax, or designing a vast cathedral, nothing fulfills a gnome like making something. From before birth they are taught that they are the gods’ craftsmen: The creation of the world isn’t something that stopped with the foundations of the earth; it is still going on, through the hands of the gnomes. Being industrious isn’t just a gnomish trait. It is a sacred calling.
Gnomes eat rocks. They eat other materials too, including what other races consider food, but the smoldering core burning at each gnome’s core is capable of “digesting” anything the gnome eats. Anything hard enough to simply melt and not turn to ash (such as rocks) is turned into magma-like blood, or pushed outward from the core as new flesh. Anything too hard to melt (such as diamonds) is pushed outward towards the skin. When it breaks the skin, the gnome picks the impurity out and disposes of it. If a male gnome is obsessing over a project, it is not unusual to see a handful of impurities poking their way out of his skin.
A gnome family has its own home in its clan’s neighborhood. Gnomes mate for life, though their marriages are arranged by the clan elders. The elders also decree which clan the newly married couple will join. When it is time for a couple to reproduce, they go to the Stone of Joining, a sacred spot near the lowest reaches of the city. Here, they both meld into the Stone, remaining for about a year. When they return, they bring their offspring out of the stone with them: a young boy or girl gnome.
Gnome children can walk and talk, though not well, when they emerge from the Stone, as a portion of their time was spent communing with their parents and learning these basic skills. They begin their lives as miniature, amalgamated versions of their parents, and grow in stature by consuming rock. Gnomes reach maturity at around a century.
Each gnome clan has a particular metal, gem, or stone that is its specialty. The clan’s techniques for working with the material are passed down from one generation to the next, and are closely guarded secrets. While not every member of the clan works with the material (some are warriors, some are priests, etc.), they all identify with it, and may work it into their personal motifs.
Gnome society is also divided into hundreds of guilds. Some are large, with chapters in every city. Others are small specialized guilds only found in one city. Each guild is centered on a specific type of task: iron-smithing, deep-ore mining, gem-cutting, combat, etc. Gnomes advance in their guild based on their skill in the guild’s task.
Traditionally, there is overlap between clans and guilds. That is, members of a certain clan typically join the same guilds, and certain guilds are typically made up of members from the same batch of clans, century after century. This overlap creates a system of bonds that helps unify the gnomes in the face of hardship or adversity.
The closest thing the gnomes have to a central government is the Stoneborn. This sect is considered “first among equals” and sets the rule of law for all gnomes. Most of these laws are simple codes of common sense and respect, so they are honored and help maintain discipline in the clans. The Stoneborn maintain their seat of authority in the hidden city of Rhovma. Here, they are advised by the eldest of the other clans, who serve as their council.
While neither a clan nor a guild, the Stoneborn sect is an increasingly influential group within gnomish society. The group is dedicated to maintaining conservative gnomish traditions at any cost, and advocates isolationism and keeping the race “pure” from outside innovation. Members of the Stoneborn are typically followers of the gods Gnorr and Fors. They have no official hierarchy, and while some members proudly proclaim their Stoneborn heritage, others keep their membership a closely guarded secret. For this reason, it is hard for outsiders to face the Stoneborn as an enemy, or embrace them as an ally.
In day-to-day matters, the clans are self-ruling. Any disputes between families are mediated by the clan elders, who also serve as priests for the clans. Within a city, the various clan elders work together to overcome any inter-clan disputes. They only appeal to the Stoneborn for guidance if absolutely necessary.
There is no “noble” class of gnomes. While the Stoneborn make the laws, they are not above them and are expected to hold real jobs and trades in service to the community. All clans and guilds are officially considered equal.
More than any other race, the gnomes are known for what they create. If something can be forged, molded, cut, etched, or polished, they are the best at creating it. They craft tools, ornaments, crowns, amazing weapons, and beautiful armor. They export all these items, selling them to their allies, but keep the best of them, especially the weapons and armor, for themselves.
Gnomes keep to themselves for the most part, and rarely seek out the company of other races. Most of their wars have been and continue to be against the salamanders. Undines occasionally meet with the gnomes at underground water sites to trade goods and information. Giants sometimes come down from the north lands of Jurel to raid the realms of gnomes. Sylphs are cordial, living with the gnomes in their mountain homes, but are considered untrustworthy as all sylphs sell secrets to the highest bidder.
Gnomes have developed a working, if tense, relationship with humanity. With the blessings of their gods, Gnomes sometimes teach humans on how to forge weapons and tools. One of the few cities of men, Hrace, holds three towers made of granite by the gnomes. In recent times, however, men have forged alliances with the salamanders and taken up arms against some of the gnomes.
Beliefs and Gods
Each clan has its own ancestral God, who is identified with that clan’s metal, gem, or stone. Ruling over all the ancestral Gods is Gnorr, God of Mountain and Stone. All gnomes worship Gnorr, and their clan elders serve as priests to both Gnorr and their clan’s ancestral god.
Some of the ancestral gods include:
- Bruin, God of Gold
- Rethan, God of Iron
- Fors, God of Granite
- Methussa, Goddess of Diamonds
Gnomes are a practical folk who never hold elaborate rites. Most religious ceremonies involve prayer to a particular god or goddess whenever something is created or repaired. After a small sacrifice of a valuable gem, ore or stone to the event, the ceremony is done.