This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.
Someone recently asked me what I dislike about gnomes in D&D that I feel Paizo has at least partially fixed in Pathfinder RPG. I figured I’d take a shot at explaining it, and this SOB entry is the result.
The three major problems I’ve had with gnomes in earlier editions that come immediately to mind at the moment, and how PRPG fixed those problems (at least in part), are:
Gnomes are really short in D&D. They’re actually ridiculously short. Hell, even dwarves seem ridiculous in their shortness, and gnomes make them seem tall by comparison. To make a race that small seem less ridiculous as an equal of PCs would, I fear, require making it entirely non-human — maybe like a squirrel.
PRPG, meanwhile, mitigated this problem by making them a bit taller. There aren’t exact measurements provided in the PRPG Beta to give me canonical heights, but based on the picture at the beginning of core races section where a member of each race is standing alongside the rest of them, the height of a gnome relative to a human seems to have increased. Yes, I did the math, based on a reasonable average for a human and the ratio of illustration heights.
Gnomes look ridiculous in D&D. Have you ever noticed that, before 3E, gnomes always look like half-size dwarves of the most preposterous sort? They have bulbous red noses, rosy red cheeks, puffy white beards, and so on. Hell, they’re a bit like knee-high Santa Clauses in appearance the way they’re generally depicted, described, and imagined in D&D editions prior to third. In 3E, meanwhile, they suddenly look like the bastard love children of halflings and “greys” (those spindly aliens with the gigantic noggins and funny looking eyes) to judge by the illustrations in the books and some of their descriptions. No way am I playing one of those, or letting one of them slip into a game I’m running where they simply won’t be taken seriously by at least some of the players.
PRPG describes gnomes as being of mixed fae blood, and their appearance as described in various Paizo/Pathfinder books (vaguely) and illustrated really reflects that origin of the race. They now look more pretty and, well, fey, and as a result they appear far less absurd and comical. It helps that they look a fair bit more nimble, too, considering that an old-school illustration of an AD&D gnome often looked like it could trip over its own belly or nose at any moment. The racial origin also gives the race a fair bit more reasonable explanation for why they’d be so good at illusion magic, if you want to go that route, too.
Gnomes are annoying by nature in D&D. Why is it that gnomes always seem to talk fast, act like absent-minded professors, and behave in a manner designed specifically to bug the living crap out of anyone and everyone? This is the last nail in the coffin, the final piece of evidence that even the people who developed the canonical D&D gnome think of them substantially as comic relief. The only D&D gnome I’ve ever liked was the “I’m a monster!” guy from the animated marketing video for 4E from WotC, and that’s only because the whole point of that video is to be funny.
The whole “gnomes have to be incoherent babbling stereotypes of accident prone nerds” thing has entirely gone out the window, with the flavor of things presented in PRPG. This makes me much happier with the prospect of a “gnome” race in my fantasy RPG campaigns.
Far from being relegated primarily to the realm of comic relief, the descriptions of gnomes in the PRPG Beta give them a role in the implied setting that can much more easily be taken seriously. In fact, given the description and images, I could easily see them becoming tragic or dark figures that lend to more depth in a setting, such as in the case of a gnome prostitute who caters to the desires of depraved pedophiles.
Of course, that last paragraph might be giving something away to my SigO, with regard to a vague idea I have for something one of her characters will run into in the future, but I think she can handle it. (Hint: I’m not going to turn your character into a prostitute, dear.)