Gnomes are quite timid and have never been known to wage a war. They settle in communities anywhere there is a fortified human habitation, so long as the humans will allow it.
These people appeared around the same time as did the dwarves; that is, in the 14thc AUC. Our earliest records show them in a close relationship with humans, settling near human settlements and showing no particular kinship or enmity with dwarves.
They value community above all else. Everyone sticks together. A gnome who goes off on his own is regarded as being under a spell or quite insane, though there is one exception to this attitude; namely, when a gnome becomes a Companion.
They are accommodating, even obsequious. Other races, including humans, tend to dismiss them as inconsequential and even laughable. But gnomes are industrious, hard-working, and loyal. Humans sometimes take advantage of them, but if this persists, the gnomes will simply move away.
Gnomes are timid by nature, non-confrontational. They never attack, try to avoid, but they can endure much. They are polite and deferential, the perfect servant, though because they are short, they are not favored as domestic servants.
Their faces show almost no emotion. Among friends, they use words to convey emotion, while their faces reveal nothing.
They are happy when they are safe. Ask a gnome how he feels and he will say “safe”. They dislike rash or impulsive behavior. Rather than say an act was foolish, they say it was “incautious.” Being careful is a fundamental virtue. The entire race is OCD. Gnome farms are perfectly groomed. Their livestock walk in lines. Their homes are neat and clean. Whatever they make is of highest workmanship, but they take so long in the making that it’s never enough to go into business.
Positive words include cautious, careful, scrupulous, moderate, precise, circumspect, thorough, prudent, sober, judicious, mindful, watchful, vigilant, forethought, politic, sound, far-sighted.
Negative words include careless, rash, reckless, heedless, incautious, hasty, indiscreet, rude.
Gnomes are about 2.5 to 3.5 feet tall and typically live for about a hundred to 120 years. They dress in modest, drab clothing, but their bodies are covered with fur so the dress is largely decorative. They do shed.
Their fur is any number of shades of brown, with darker shades being by far the most common. A golden or straw color is extremely rare and is often thought to indicate a gnome with a wayward temperament. They have round eyes, also in the brown shades. They have short snouts rather than noses, not unlike a racoon or chipmunk, but don’t tell them that.
Their fur thins at the wrist, but not at the ankles. They have six fingers on each hand, though only five toes on each foot. Their fingers are double-jointed, allowing them extreme dexterity. They wear sandals to protect their feet, but their fur keeps them warm
Gnomes are like dwarves in that they work with magical objects but do not “do” magic. They call what they do Art or Skill, and do not regard it as magic in the way humans do. They regard it as discovering the true nature of objects, their multiple affinities and oppositions, their complements and discords. They are aware of things like sorcery and spell-casting, but they regard it as something not for their own kind. A gnome would never go so far as to condemn magic in another race.
That said, gnomes could and did create objects that other people regarded as magical, such as a box that opened only at the word of its owner. Gold rings that changed color according to the mood of the wearer. A gnome-made Truth Ring allegedly turned iron when the wearer lied, gold when truth was spoken. Gnome copper cooking pots could heat themselves. The reader will note that gnomes did not make “magic rings” after the fashion of dwarves. No Ring of Fire or Ring of Lightning. Rather, gnome-work was all about making the object be itself in a purer or more efficient manner.
Gnomes also excelled in leather work and tanning. They made the best leather armor available.
Gnomes said that true Art comes not from the artisan but from the vill. Stability (in the original Latin sense of the word) was the necessary underpinning of pure Art. If the vill was stable, then the artisan produced better work; the notion of a journeyman was utterly foreign to them.
Gnomes naturally form themselves into vills. Analogous to human villages, a vill exists only in relation to another community, whether human or dwarf or other (they will occasionally form with orcs or elves). A vill is largely self-sufficient, relying heavily on the associated community to provide imports and markets. There are specific times of the year when the young people of neighboring vills come together in festivals. Here is where marriages are formed.
Internal conflicts are rare, but when they happen, they are arbitrated by a neighboring vill.
Being naturally obsequious, it’s very easy for other peoples to take advantage of them. What happens when gnomes are exploited? Fundamentally, a secessio. They physically set themselves apart and refuse to work. The more retribution visited upon them for this, the more widely the secessio spreads. Separated from their farms, they rely on other gnomes for food. They also have caches, and they can hunt and gather. Beyond a certain point, called a bond break, they will leave and never come back. This happened a number of times in early human-gnome relations, and happens regularly with orcs. It is rare with dwarves.
There are of course other kinds of exploitation–sex, abuse, denial of rights. These are violations of individuals more than violations of the community. The defense against this is a communal ethic: a crime against one is a crime against all. Gnomes were pioneers of equality before the law. Here again, if justice is not given, then dissatisfaction spreads, and again the ultimate weapon is the secessio.
In theory, gnomes could abuse or harm their masters. In practice, such offenders are excommunicated—there is no traffic for the offender with any gnomes anywhere. The punishment involves the branding of both hands and feet. Most excommunicated gnomes kill themselves. This is regarded as acceptable expiation. Lesser crimes go to the court of the masters, but high crimes are tried by gnome assemblies.
Individual gnomes can be servants, either alone or (rarely) as families. This role is common with dwarven vills but is less so with humans simply because of the size difference.
In the case of catastrophe–weather, war–all share the reduction equally. If the masters are conquered, the gnomes serve the new master. The Dragon Age was as disruptive for gnomes as it was for dwarves. There have been gnome plagues. The village will call for replacements.
Gnomes maintain a lively trade network. They also do business on their masters’ behalf.
Gnomes are very badly used by orcs. Trolls kill them outright, regarding them as useless vermin.
Imperial gnomes are those who work imperial estates. They are protected against all local authority. Being an imperial gnome is the most coveted social position among gnomes.
What would happen if two communities (human, dwarf) went to war? What would their associated vills do?
They would continue to produce to the best of their ability. Gnomes don’t make weapons. They have little skill with iron or steel, working with the softer metals (copper, gold, silver). They did make leather armor. They would continue to do this right through the war.
What happened if they were attacked?
This basically did not happen. Instead, the invader would attack the castle or city to which the vill was attached. If the castle or city fell, the vill became the property of the victor. Gnomes have little interest in the conflicts of their associates.
Gnomes are big on folklore. Some have learned human script, and human folklorists (starting around 2500 AUC) have recorded gnomic tales, but for the most part gnomes are illiterate. The big exception is the position of notary. This is the educated person in a vill, a position mainly hereditary, who records transactions on behalf of the vill. This is a peculiar shorthand, a patois of dwarvish and human terms connected specifically with business.
The traditional gnome economy was based primarily on agriculture, strongly supplemented by handicrafts. They grew their own food in kitchen gardens and tended their own livestock (mainly goats, geese), while also working the fields of their allies–the gnomic term; most would use the word “master.”
The handicrafts are the real hallmark of traditional gnome economic activity. Their particular skill was in what humans call joinery–wood work crafted without the use of nails to join the wood. They made marvelous boxes, chests, armoires, and carvings large and small.
Gnomes also excelled at small-scale metal work such as tableware, and most famously their locks. A gnome could fashion a lock that could be opened only by a particular person. Or perhaps by a sprite. Gnome goldsmiths and silversmiths were widely sought after as a less-expensive alternative to dwarf work.
Starting around 2400 AUC there began the putting-out system (Verlagssystem). Human merchants bought wool from large-scale growers and put the wool out to gnomic vills to be spun into cloth. They took the raw cloth back to cities to be fulled, dyed and sold. In what would later be regarded as cruel exploitation, the gnomes were themselves shepherds to those very same flocks. That is, they never owned the means of production.
The Verlagssystem was cruel also in that it utterly disrupted gnomic economy, making them dependent upon the human merchants. Once a vill was dependent upon spinning, handicrafts diminished until by the 28th century they were all but completely lost. With the Steam Age, the wool trade was utterly transformed, leaving the gnomes almost without recourse. Their traditional vill-based society collapsed. Many moved to the burgeoning cities, where they suffered terrible injustices. Some became buffoons, adorning the courts of nobles and the parlors of the wealthy bourgeoisie for their amusement. Many became drunkards and drug addicts. Others became artists, which did not preclude drugs and alcohol. Still others became gardeners, and an element of stability was found in that trade.
But traditional gnomic society was gone forever, a victim of economic “progress.”
Gnomes are a people predisposed to service. They do not do well on their own, and flourish when they serve others. This came about from a long history of service with dwarves, going all that way back to the Second World and reinforced during the Long Dig.
Originally, they were like serfs. They farmed and produced goods, giving a portion to their lords in exchange for protection. There’s fairly strong evidence that they came up with the dwarves and that this was the relationship during the Long Dig.
Having no written language of their own, and being taken for granted by the other nations, gnome history virtually does not exist. Modern scholars have had to rely on the tools of archeology to reconstruct even the vaguest outlines of a history.
That gnomes arrived alongside dwarves was for centuries no more than an assumption or tradition. Modern archeology has been able to find no evidence of gnomic settlements before the 13th century, though scholars point out that the absence of evidence is not a sufficient argument. Even so, the presumption is widely accepted and has never been seriously challenged.
For centuries thereafter, gnomes continued to be all but invisible, being mentioned only tangentially in chronicles. Once we begin to get records from manor courts, vills appear everywhere and in a form that remained unchanged right down to the Age of Steam. That a whole people should essentially fail to change or advance is so unusual, some argue there must have been change but we are as yet unable to see it. Most, however, point out what happened to the vills once the Industrial Revolution began.
With the advent of Steam and industrial methods of agriculture, the vills collapsed with startling rapidity. For two generations we see the gnomes employing their timeless tactic of the secessio, but this time there was really nowhere for them to relocate. The vills began to unravel. In some places, gnomes sat idle, turning increasingly to hard liquor. Suicide rates soared. In other places, the families themselves came apart, and gnomes could be found wandering the countryside or huddling in alleys in the shadow of airships. By the time society began to recognize what was happening, it was nearly too late.
Early steps were nearly as catastrophic. Gnomes were gathered together in so-called safe harbors, lands specifically set aside for them. That grim history need not be recounted here. More or less contemporaneous with this, gnomes began to find employment in factories, where they were sought after by owners for their reliability and low cost. This got so bad that reforms were passed to protect them, collectively known as the Gnome Laws. But this had the effect of again leaving them unemployed or under-employed, a harsh fate for a gnome.
Their population did not merely dwindle; over the course of a hundred years, from the mid 25th to the mid 26th century, their numbers (never properly counted) fell by as much as 90%. Cruel as it is to say, this demographic crisis may have saved the gnomes, for today they are few enough in number that they have found a place in the larger economy. By far the greatest number of them live in traditional vills visited by millions of tourists every year. They live off their own harvests and sell quantities of handcrafts. “Living vills” are immensely popular.
There are those who are critical of this say gnomes are again being exploited, and that they are being cut off from any chance of “advancement.” Which brings us back to the earlier question: do gnomes advance? Perhaps they are a unique case, a people content with who and what they are. I will stay silent about the recent fad among New Age hippies of claiming to discover in gnome customs a kind of eternal wisdom and enlightenment.
A very recent development has been the appearance of gnomes in areas of high technology. They can be found not only in high-speed computing (much less so in commercial computing) but also in the space travel industry, where their small size makes them valuable crew members.
Gnomes believe in a variety of gods that are tied to emotional states. A god of love, anger, peace, war, fear, safety, and so on. They have no priesthood for these gods, nor even much in the way of ceremony. Rather, there is simply a reverence for the gods that one displays in one’s behavior.
This author has not explored gnome religion in any depth. Those interested may consult The Faith of Gnomes, by G. H. Strauss, published by Verlag Heucheln.
Found mainly in the Camargue, marsh gnomes live off fish and birds. They harvest the reeds and grasses, weaving mats for their homes, selling reed bundles to outsiders. They are poor and dirty and other gnomes are prejudiced against them, for they serve no one. The gardiens respect the in the way they respect other wildlife–they are useful, and have their place. To date, these are the only gnomes known to live in this manner.