Friday, April 17, 2009

Re: Alchemist Gnomes

Date: Fri, 10 Sep 99 16:28PM PDT
From: "Rip Van Wormer" Add To Address Book Add To Junk Mail
Subject: Re: [GREYTALK] Alchemist Gnomes

In a message dated 9/10/99 5:21:27 PM Eastern Daylight Time, rtaylor@CMC.NET writes:

>> I see gnomes as being basically soft metal, gem, and woodworkers, not unlike a milder form of dwarf.

You already have dwarves, though. You don't need any watered-down versions of them. It's important to determine what makes gnomes a unique and interesting race in their own right, or it would be better to get rid of them altogether (though I consider the two races to be closely related).

The Northern Reaches gazateer for the D&D Known World setting had a ruined gnomish city in it. When gnomes lived there, they actively bred slimes, oozes, and jellies (in middens protected against their acids) in order to utilize them in making synthetic construction materials and other alchemical concoctions. Of course, nowadays the gnomes are gone and the blobs are wild, but it wasn't always so.

There was a gnomish NPC in the City of Greyhawk boxed set with a rubber chicken made from Hepmonaland rubber trees, or perhaps they were in the Vast Swamp. Silly, yes, but it's one of the exotic materials I imagine gnomes working with.

That's not to say there aren't gnomish miners and gem-workers and smiths.
There are. Gemstones and gold are a fundamental part of their religious symbology, and the race's connection to the oerth and elemental earth is one of their defining characteristics. Svirfneblin are certainly more elementally-aligned than dwarves are, while the gnomes who dwell among the roots are almost as close to them as dryads. I just don't see them as milder than dwarves; they're subtler, more detailed, more obsessed with intricities. A dwarf builds a gigantic square building with cyclopean sculptures. A gnome builds a twisted tower made of interlocking spheres, made to blend in with the natural limestone formations. A dwarf wears a gold ring carved to look like a dragon, while her gnomish friend wears a complex matrix of silver dragons and golden auromvoraxes that bite each others tails when you hit a button. It's this kind of attitude that causes them to look deep into the fundamental nature of the elements in more obsessive and strange ways than a typical dwarf bothers with.

Both gnomes and dwarves are generally lawful, but dwarven law is more about community and tradition, while gnomish law is a continuous creative effort tailored to individual craftsgnomes and clans.

The primary differences between dwarves and gnomes, ability scorewise, that a gnome is more likable, less robust, more intelligent and less practical and stalwart than a dwarf is. A gnome is more magical, specializing in the least practical form of glamour. The relationship between gnomes and illusions deserves a bigger post than this one, but here it is:

Gnomes are very concerned with appearances, perhaps self-conscious about their sizes and visages.
Gnomes are aware that things are rarely exactly as they appear to be, something that reflects itself in their traps, architecture, religion (based on secrets within secrets and holy puzzles), and scientific endeavors.
Gnomes are tricky, as fond of crafting machiavellian schemes and pranks as fine jewelry, and with as much attention to meaningless detail.
Gnomes are magical, with a relationship to leprechauns and jinxkin like that of, but not as close as their kinship with the dwur.
Dwarves, on the other hand, are utilarian, using artwork to tell a story record a history, please a patron, or make a calculated impression but often leaving a sword or facade blank when there is no need to do otherwise. They are concerned with physical strength and endurance above anything else, concerned with making their artifacts outlast them; their gods reflect this, manifesting themselves as creatures of enormous strength and vigor. A dwarf is forceful, remaking his home in his own image, while a gnome attempts to preserve some of the natural features. Dwarves lack the gnomish guile, although many will lie when necessary or guard a secret with the same zeal with which they would a pot of gold. Their magic, too, is practical, used in crafting and war, but never for things they see as frivolous.

I'm unsure what "dwur" would mean in Flan. I'm sure it doesn't mean "short person," since an AD&D dwarf does not commonly impress humans as being small. I imagine it would be something like "maker," referring to their superior creative abilities (compared to the Flan) and posession of iron and steel. "Iron people?"

"-niz" does refer to a small size (or possibly young age), appended as it is to both gnomes and halflings, who have little else in common. Gnomes are also craftsmen, but their crafts are not always as tangible as a dwarf's are.

These are the impressions a wandering Flan would have of a gnomish city. Superficially, it would seem not to be there at all, cloaked by illusions and made to integrate into the natural world. If he was invited in, it might have seemed to be a place of wonders, with fantastic substances and intricate devices, some real and some imaginary. What sort of people scheme from an invisible world and craft miracles that humanity hasn't even dreamt of?

"Noniz" means "little divine ones."

No comments: