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In the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game, gnomes are one of the core races available for play as player characters.[1] Some speculate that they are closely related to dwarves; however, gnomes are more tolerant of other races and of magic, and are skilled with illusions.[1] Gnomes are Small sized humanoids, standing 3-3½ feet (90-105 centimeters) tall.

Publication history[]

Dungeons & Dragons (1974-1976)[]

The gnome first appeared in the original 1974 edition of Dungeons & Dragons,[2] and in its second supplement, Blackmoor (1975).[3]

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition (1977-1988)[]

The gnome appeared as a player character race in the original Player's Handbook (1978).[4] The gnome also appeared in the original Monster Manual (1977).[5] A new gnomish subrace, the deep gnome (svirfneblin), was presented as a character race in the original Unearthed Arcana (1985).[6] Another gnome subrace, the tinker gnome (minoi), was presented in Dragonlance Adventures.

Gnomes were originally introduced to Dungeons & Dragons as a new alternative to dwarves, elves, and halflings.[7] They were developed from mythology from a number of different sources, originally being a bearded, short race similar to halflings and dwarves. The gnome's niche in play was made magical, to separate it from the more warrior-like dwarf and the more rogue-like halfling.[8]

Dungeons & Dragons (1977-1999)[]

The gnome appeared in the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (1977, 1981, 1983) as a "monster". The gnome appeared as a player character class in Top Ballista (1989).

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition (1989-1999)[]

The gnome appeared as a character race in the second edition Player's Handbook (1989).[9] The gnome also appeared in the Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989).[10] Four gnomish races - forest, rock, tinker, and deep (svirfneblin) - were detailed as player character races in The Complete Book of Gnomes and Halflings (1993).[11]

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition (2000-2007)[]

The gnome appeared as a character race in the third edition Player's Handbook (2000),[12] and in the 3.5 revised Player's Handbook.[13] Gnomes were detailed for the Forgotten Realms setting in Races of Faerûn (2003).[14] Gnomes were one of the races detailed in Races of Stone (2004).

Throughout D&D history, up to and including the third edition Player's Handbook, spellcaster gnomes were either illusionists or had illusionist as their favored class.[15][16] However, in Dungeons & Dragons v.3.5, gnomes' favored class has been changed to bard, as the favored class of "illusionist" was a subset of the wizard class. The wizard favored class was also already used by elves. In D&D v.3.5, gnomes are inventors and alchemists who love pranks and excel at engineering. The tinker gnomes of Dragonlance are mechanically skilled, though their devices are quite prone to backfiring. It has been suggested that gnomes be given the Eberron class artificer as a favored class, due to their technical aptitude.

Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition (2008-)[]

Gnomes appeared in 4th edition as a player character race in Player's Handbook 2 (2009).[17] The gnome appeared in the Monster Manual (2008).

Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (2014-)[]



Gnomes in Dungeons & Dragons have been further divided into various subraces:

  • Rock gnomes are the standard gnome subrace of Third Edition. They live in burrows beneath rolling, wooded hills. Friends to animals, rock gnomes have a racial ability that allows them to speak with burrowing animals.
  • Tinker gnomes are the common gnomes of the Dragonlance campaign setting. In that fictional universe, they dwell in the Mount Nevermind in the world of Krynn.
  • Svirfneblin, or deep gnomes, dwell in cities deep underground. They are more dangerous than the common rock gnome.
  • Forest gnomes are smaller than rock gnomes. They are a shy, secretive folk, living deep in wooded areas.[18]
  • River Gnomes are graceful and quick. They live in homes dug into the side of riverbanks and speak with river dwelling animals in place of burrowing mammals. They are non-magical but gain +1 to initiative and are proficient swimmers.
  • Arcane Gnomes are city dwellers. They generally keep to a small community within a larger city. Arcane gnomes are focused on the pursuit of knowledge making their populace, in large part, over-eager inventors or wizards.
  • Chaos gnomes are the most flamboyant gnomes. Brightly colored and rare, they are strongly inclined towards chaos, as their name suggests.[19]
  • Whisper gnomes lack the jovial outlook of other gnome races. Sly and suspicious, they are creatures of stealth.[19]
  • Ice gnomes dwell in the region of Frostfell in the Eberron campaign setting
  • Fire gnomes live on Bytopia, on the Outer Planes, where they help Flandal Steelskin, the Gnomish god of metal and crafting, in his work.
  • Sky gnomes appear in the Creature Crucible Top Ballista PC2 published in 1989. They are cunning engineers living in the flying city Serraine above the World of Mystara.

In the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, gnomes are also known as the "Forgotten Folk".


Gnome society had changed greatly over the different editions of Dungeons & Dragons. In the first edition, they were portrayed as intensely curious and intellectual, keeping in theme with their spell-casting niche, with an interest in gemstones.[15] They typically lived in hills, and acted as intermediaries between dwarves, elves, and halflings.

In the second edition, gnomes received further background. According to The Complete Book of Gnomes and Halflings,[20] gnomes have an intricate society based on their love of all kinds of arts, pranks, and their long lives. Their society is based on art; all gnomes must take up some form of art whether music, painting, cooking, building, or any other form that is considered creative by the time they come of age.

Gnomes are naturally friendly, highly social and fun loving people. They are respected by Elves for their communion with nature and knowledge of arcane magic, admired by Halflings for their humor, and sought out by Dwarves for their gemcutting skills.


Mothers give birth at home and the birthing chamber is open only to the father and a favored professional, like an herbalist, midwife or physician. They alone will assist the mother. The first and last names are given at the time of birth by the parents. However, gnome births are cause for a family gathering.

Beyond the birthing chamber, a cleric and numerous friends and relations gather to await the newborn’s arrival. Many names will be given to the child this day. Any member of the community can offer a name.

Additional names are given throughout a gnome’s lifetime. They are usually descriptive of the person but can also be given in playful jest. Gnomes have exceptionally long names by the standards of other races. For this reason, gnomes will choose a name with which they prefer to be identified. Often this name is chosen for its ridiculousness or difficulty in pronunciation.

Birth pets[]

Prior to the birth of a child, gnome parents select what they believe will be an appropriate childhood pet. The pet, itself a newborn, is given to the child at birth. This bonds them for the life of the pet.

Gnome babies learn to speak the language of their birth pet in much the same way as twins are said to share a special language. However, this bond does not survive childhood. As a gnome child ages and gains mastery of the gnome language, communication on this empathetic level becomes exhausting. Adult gnomes can communicate with such an animal for only a few minutes a day.

The death of a birth pet is a rite of passage for gnome children. This is usually a gnome child's first experience with death.

Relationship with animals[]

Gnomes treat animals with the same respect as that of sentient races. The close relationship gnomes have with nature rivals that of the elves. Gnomes befriend their animal neighbors and often invite them to live indoors in exchange for service. Cages, leashes, or restraints of any kind are barbaric and distasteful.

Magic in common[]

Gnomes can perform the spell-like abilities of dancing lights, ghost sound and prestidigitation. These skills are taught in early childhood and play a large role in both childhood and adult games. Gnome children are competitive in the use of these powers. Practical jokes are perceived as contests of wit and skill.


Gnomes believe that pushing a child into a particular interest or vocation may be damaging to the child’s nature causing unhappy or introverted children. Gnomes are encouraged to explore all of their interests as they come. Gnomes are blessed with ever expanding imaginations. They seek to improve their world without bringing it harm through the use of mechanical inventions and alchemy. Gnome homes and villages are often littered with peculiar new creations and unfinished projects.

At the age of 30, gnome children begin school. Their studies continue for 9 years divided into three main sections. The first 3 years focus on the general studies of alchemy, history, mathematics, reading and writing. Grades 4 through 6 focus on the specialization the gnome child has chosen, and the last three years are largely independent study.

Upon completion of schooling, gnomes are required to offer a Final Showing. This culminating project may consist of whatever the student believes best demonstrates their knowledge and skill in their chosen course of study. 9 mentors in the appropriate field will judge this Final Showing. All nine must judge the Final Showing project positively for the gnome to qualify for a Certification test.

Certification is a stressful 6-hour long process. Graduating students again face the 9 mentors from their Final Showing alone. This time, the mentors will pose numerous questions designed to test the limits of their knowledge.

Courtship, love and marriage[]

Gnomes begin to take interest in the desired sex during their school years. Prior to the start of school, romantic involvement is generally unheard of and strongly discouraged. Courtship comprises a series of practical jokes with the intended being the target.

Gnome weddings last for a week as gnomes love indulgence and they make all celebrations on the grandest possible scale. Gnomes take a traditional approach to love and marriage. Relationships last as long as both partners desire it so and no longer. If love begins to go wrong between a couple they may break up, believing it was a prank by Garl Glittergold. In cases where one partner has broken the bond prior to the other partner realizing it, the injured party may become hostile forcing one party to relocate to a new village. Such occurrences are rare and usually involve a mentally unhealthy partner. Gnomes are in touch with their emotions and tend to be honest with their feelings.

Gnomes are known the world over for their superior gem-cutting skills. A rock is not a rock, nor a stone a simple stone. They are living parts of the earth with their own life essence. Gnomes get to know a gem before deciding to bring out its inner beauty. Particularly spectacular gems may go uncut for many years before a worthy cutter may be found.

Burgomaster and governance[]

The burgomaster is the current leader of the gnome village. The honor of burgomaster is bestowed by acquiesce on an annual basis to the wittiest amongst the villagers. Candidates campaign through competition. Each candidate seeks to prove their worthiness by improving the lives of the villagers. The competition concludes when the last competitor withdraws in favor of the new burgomaster. As gnomes are a just and learned people, the election process lasts about a week despite a lack of imposed time limit.

The burgomaster works with a council of 9 community leaders who run the village. Each council member has a specific area of responsibility and serves for 3 years.


Gnome communities are small and close knit. A sane gnome would never consider trespassing on another gnome beyond the usual practical joke. Gnome criminals are considered insane and are treated by alchemists, clerics and magicians until cured. This said, however, most gnomes would gladly kill their hated enemy, kobolds.


In the Greyhawk cosmology, the primary gnome deity is Garl Glittergold. In many campaign settings, the gnome pantheon also consists of Baervan Wildwanderer, Baravar Cloakshadow, Flandal Steelskin, Gaerdal Ironhand, Nebelun, Segojan Earthcaller, and Urdlen.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Tweet, Jonathan (July 2003). Player's Handbook Core Rulebook I v.3.5. Renton WA: Wizards of the Coast. 
  2. Gygax, Gary, and Dave Arneson. Dungeons & Dragons (3-Volume Set) (TSR, 1974)
  3. Arneson, Dave. Blackmoor (TSR, 1975)
  4. Gygax, Gary (1978). Players Handbook. TSR. ISBN 0-935696-01-6. 
  5. Gygax, Gary. Monster Manual (TSR, 1977)
  6. Unearthed Arcana, by Gary Gygax, published 1985, ISBN 978-0-88038-084-3
  7. EN World - Morrus' D&D / 4th Edition / d20 News - View Single Post - Gary Gygax Q&A, Part V
  8. EN World - Morrus' D&D / 4th Edition / d20 News - View Single Post - Gary Gygax Q&A, Part V
  9. Cook, David (1989). Player's Handbook. TSR. ISBN 0-88038-716-5. 
  10. Cook, David, et al. Monstrous Compendium Volume One (TSR, 1989)
  11. Niles, Douglas. The Complete Book of Gnomes & Halflings (TSR, 1993)
  12. Tweet, Jonathan; Cook, Monte; Williams, Skip (2000). Player's Handbook. Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 0-7869-1550-1. 
  13. Tweet, Jonathan; Cook, Monte; Williams, Skip (2003) [2000]. Player's Handbook v.3.5. revised by Andy Collins. Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 0-7869-2886-7. 
  14. Boyd, Eric L.; Matt Forbeck; and James Jacobs. Races of Faerûn. Wizards of the Coast, 2003
  15. 15.0 15.1 Gygax, Gary (1978). Player’s Handbook. TSR. ISBN 0-935696-01-6. 
  16. Cook, David, et al. Monstrous Compendium Volume One (TSR, 1989)
  18. Gnome ::
  19. 19.0 19.1 Noonan, David (August 2004). Races of Stone. Renton WA: Wizards of the Coast. 
  20. Niles, Douglas. The Complete Book of Gnomes & Halflings (TSR, 1993)