This post is to rectify a grievous injustice: for a long time Gnomes in Mystara were considered mere monsters and mistreated and, even when, in following D&D editions, Gnomes became a playable race, it was never in their real Mystaran shape. Don’t worry, here we are!
Note: while we like D&D 5e, the complex rules of the old PC2 – Top Ballista are impossible to completely adapt to this rpg, too many modifiers, too many things to consider. So it is intended that we will try to follow D&D 5e as far as we can and no more! You can apply these rules to D&D 5e but keep in mind that you have, somewhere, to make a leap back to the past!
Most of what you find here is based upon CM4 – Earthshaker, GAZ1 – The Grand Duchy of Karameikos, GAZ3 – The Principalities of Glantri, GAZ6 – The Dwarves of Rockhome, Gaz7 – The Northern Reaches, HW – Hollow World boxed set, PC2 – Top Ballista (TB), AC11 – The Book of the Wondrous Inventions (BWI), PWA I-III – Poor Wizard’s Almanac I-III, WotI – Wrath of the Immortals, a few Dragon Magazines. The precise works of Marco Dalmonte (“Razze di Mystara” and “Codex Immortalis” in http://ddmystara.altervista.org; you can also find the translated version in English out there; Marco used also AD&D – Mystara and some other additional sources) are also very useful in comparing the sources and for original ideas. Since there are these excellent works to look upon, we will only write the basics and something of our own. We also do not want to spoiler the artistic works that made us enjoy D&D since the beginning but we will sometimes refer precisely to certain manuals to harmonize old Mystara concepts with the general 5e rules.
A STORY OF GNOMES
Garl Glittergold (sometimes called Garal Glitterlode), is the patron god of the Gnomes. His history is not well known but it seems he was a Kogolor Dwarf and even today he is the protector of the remnants of these dwarf race in the Hollow World. Born back in the times of Blackmoor, he ascended to Immortality with the sponsoring of Kagyar, the Father of Dwarves, because of his intelligence and ingenuity. We think he may have known Blackmoor from afar, and also be interested to it and still be interested today, but we will explore this idea in a future post, when we will speak of the Relics of the Gnomes, Blackmoorabilia (a word from TB) and Serraine. As an Immortal, Garl soon created a new race, just like him: ingenious and eager to create and build strange new inventions, less strong and resilient, but more adaptable than their dwarf cousins. Unfortunately, only a few tents of years later, everything went downhill, Blackmoor collapsed and/or exploded in the Great Rain of Fire, around 3000 BC, leaving in its wakes only destruction, famine and disease. Maybe fearing that it was the end of his creation, Garl bred new communities of gnomes, in the next century or so, and placed them in the mountains and hills of the Brun continent (the future Earth Gnomes) and the icy peaks of Vulcania, in the southern continent of Davania, later called Ice Gnomes.
In the meantime the first stock of gnomes survived and decided to abandon the foolhardy search for technology, along with the faith in Garl Glittergold. Even today this Forest Gnomes are the only gnome sub-race completely refractory to technology: they live very reclusive lives, hidden in forests, in peace with animals and plants under the care of their new patronesses, Ordana and Djaea. It is quite ironic that they are the older stock and, probably, the only ones to conserve real, albeit old and biased, memories of Blackmoor and the life of Garl Glittergold as a mortal. It is also unlikely that Garl decided to abandon them: he is very personal with his followers, unlike the distant Kagyar, and he would not do the same error Kagyar did in abandoning the Kogolors (like Garl when he was a mortal), so probably they decided to abandon Him themselves. An interesting plot for a campaign would be a trial, by Garl, to have the Forest Gnomes back as followers …
The Ice Gnomes decided to cope with survival in different ways: some stayed in the icy mountains and glaciers and became masters in surviving in this frigid climate. Others decided to use the intense geothermal energy of the volcanic area till they became very different indeed, a new sub-race, the Fire Gnomes. In time these gnomes founded a big reign, the Snartan Empire and became a militaristic society, using big inventions, called Earthshakers (see CM4) to aggressively conquer their neighbors.
The Earth Gnomes, the most successful sub-race, spread in every continent, using inventions to thrive, often along dwarfs, in caves and underground cities. The most daring and foolish of them, needed to conquer the sky and even other dimensions, creating inventions that often endangered their own communities: sometimes the gods helped them in creating these inventions, like the flying city of Serraine, or saved them from a horrible death, relocating them in the Hollow World. These rare gnomes are nowadays called Skygnomes (see TB).
The gnomes are usually lower than 1 meter tall, around 90 cm or so with the Fire Gnomes the taller (around 95 cm) and more muscled, almost like dwarves, due to their belligerent society, and the Forest Gnomes the shortest (around 80 cm) and thinner, due to their reclusive lives. Earth Gnomes are stocky and resilient and Ice Gnomes are resilient too, better to survive their harsh environment. Skygnomes are leaner and nimbler because of the quick reactions needed to use flying inventions and catch a handhold to avoid a deadly fall. These last three sub-races are similar in height. For other physical stats see Marco Dalmonte’s works.
There are few data about gnomish communities and they are mostly for Earth and Skygnomes.
There are for sure many hundreds or a few thousands of Ice and Forest Gnomes, in small isolated or collaborating communities. The Fire Gnomes are more numerous, several thousands in the Snartan Empire and hostile neighbors.
As for locations, gnomes are diffused in almost all places, but there are no data about Skothar.
Forest: north-west of Brun, Wendar and the great Norwold woods till the Great Bay.
Ice: the southern coldest part of Davania but some moved to the northern Brun, Borea and Hyborea.
Fire: mostly in central Vulcania.
Earth: they are almost everywhere, many in Alphatia, Rockhome, Karameikos, a bit less in Darokin, Heldann Freeholds, Wendar, Ylaruam, Alfheim, with minor communities in Denagoth, Black Mountains and Hule. In the Hollow World they live only among the Kogolor Dwarves.
Sky: a few clans in Darokin and the highest peaks of Rockhome, some in Stoutfellow (Alphatia), Serraine and, in the Hollow World, Oostdock. They could be found almost everywhere since they travel very far.
In practice if you play in the center or south of Brun, you only have the possibility to meet Earth, Sky and Forest Gnomes, but the second ones are rare, the third very rare.
In 1014 AC, a few years after Wrath of the Immortals, there are still several gnomish communities in the Known World:
Highforge, Karameikos: 6500 Earth Gnomes. We reject the number 5000: there is no reason for a fall of more than 20% of population in a few years, respect to the value of GAZ1.
Hule: a few thousands of Earth Gnomes, recently freed from the Master of the Desert Nomads. The number of 50000 refers to the sum of elf, dwarf, halfling and gnome population, impossible to know the exact number of gnomes.
Serraine: about 1500 Skygnomes
Rockhome: the gnomes were not playable when Rockhome was published, so they were only mentioned in passing, but if we guess a 1-2% of gnomish population for a million dwarfs, we have 10-20000 Earth Gnomes, easily 2-3 times Highforge, maybe more.
In Hollow World: Oostdok (20000 Skygnomes); Stoutfellow (15000 mostly Earth Gnomes, a few hundreds Skygnomes); Alphatian Neatharum (500 Skygnomes)
Gnomes can use almost all the equipment their cousin dwarves use, and also halflings, with no distinct preferences: they use almost all small weapons and armors with a few exceptions. They do not like to use two handed weapons, even though they can, in the same way as dwarves: only soldiers or martial classes normally use them. They also never use plate armors, usually nothing heavier than a mail armor. The reasons are several, they like nimbleness over protection and they are usually encumbered by tools (tinker box) and their own inventions. An exception to this are the Fire Gnomes: the harder, the stronger, the better, is a very honored saying of them.
Forest Gnomes do not like to use heavier than leather armors and they have very few warriors anyway.
If there is a fondness that all gnomes share is for hammers, handaxes and knifes that can be used as a tool as well and, for technological gnomes, crossbows over bows (for Forest Gnomes, slings), for the possibility to “improve” them by tinkering.
PSYCHOLOGY AND TECHNOLOGY
The Gnomes are very adaptable and conform to different environments in a few generations, giving easily birth to new sub-races. They are more magically gifted than dwarves, they have certain magical abilities tied to their environment and several spellcasters, favoring Sorcerers, Illusionist Wizards and a few Warlocks. No wall is too high to climb, no barrier too strong to break: for the gnomes the impossible do not exist, it only takes time and dedication. From the Rules Cyclopedia:
“Gnomes are excellent smiths and miners. They love gold and gems and have been known to take foolish risks just to obtain them. They love machinery of all kinds and prefer crossbows and war hammers as weapons. Gnomes like most dwarves, but make war with goblins and kobolds, who steal their precious gold. They usually attack kobolds on sight.” This is true for all gnomish sub-races a part for the shy Forest Gnomes and some, like the Skygnomes of Serraine, used to have some kobold neighbors. It seems that the enmity between Garl Glittergold and Kurtulmak aka The Shining One started when the patron god of kobolds was still a mortal and he destroyed the big gnomish realm in the north of Brun (see the Falun Caves in Gaz7). In some places (TB, Alfheim) it is said, but in not too many details, that the gnomes are jolly folks, they like to meet exotic people and play strange practical jokes. So they are curious, full of joy of life and big pranksters!
Almost all Gnomes, apart for the Forest ones, are very dedicated and very serious about science, inventions and technology, sometimes with very different perspective. They can play jokes among themselves but never about inventions, because they are part of their inner nature, given them by their patron god: it is an almost wish-like preternatural ability to make the impossible possible. What they are able to believe true for their inventions, they make it true, even if it should not be possible: these concept are called in TB, Fantasy Physics (the visualization and design of inventions) and Machine Building (the ability to make the theory work in a real machine) and we will consider it two facets of the Tinker feature of the Player’s Handbook 5e in the next paragraphs.
The Forest Gnomes refuse this part of their nature, and even their patron god, so inventions have no part in their lives. Ice Gnomes are expert of ice/cold inventions but also of agriculture in frozen lands and heating: their inventions are quite literally for survival and the worship of Garl Glittergold. Some are masters of burrowing/sliding in ice and navigating on and under frigid waters. Their neighbors Fire Gnomes have a totally different view: the majority of them revere Brandan Earthshaker, an aggressive Gnome Immortal, that pushes them to conquer new lands using big mobile weapons. The few of them that still worship Garl, only just manage to survive. Their inventions are strong and big, fueled by a fiery core taken, in a way or another, from volcanic heat. Their approach to inventions is militaristic. They are master smelters, metalsmiths and heaters. The Earth Gnomes are masters of land-bound and burrowing vehicles, used for transportation and mining. They are also very good with stone-related inventions. Their approach to everything is to make sound and well protected a land or underground community. Skygnomes are geniuses of the air, creating inventions to temporarily or permanently tame the air: balloons, gliders, air planes, cloud abodes, castles and even cities in the skies. Their approach to technology is of a craving and, sometimes, dangerous madness: they are the most foolish of the gnome inventors, eager to launch themselves in the air to reach the moon with a rocket or pass a Gate to the Plane of Nightmares just to see what is on the other side. From TB: “Simply put, the skygnomes are mechanical maniacs, filled with a consuming desire to invent newer, bigger, ever more bizarre and complicated contraptions for the weirdest, most impractical purposes.”