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Gnomes tend to be thought of as a mixture of irritating tricksters and half-mad inventors, with a hefty dash of poor impulse control just for spice. However, there is a lot going on with gnomes just beneath the surface. For players looking to step outside the stereotypes of this inherently magical race, there are all sorts of wild possibilities for who (and what) you could become.
Before we get to those, however, remember to check out the rest of this series at my 5 Tips For Playing Better Fantasy Races master list over on my blog Improved Initiative. And for more content just like this, don't forget to check out the rest of my archive here on Vocal!
Tip #1: What does your color scheme say about you?
Gnomes are magical creatures, and their experiences are written all over their faces in a very literal way. The more meaningful experiences they have, and the greater the power those experiences resonate with, the more vibrant a gnome's coloring becomes. Not only that, but their coloring could even be changed and altered, depending on what they've faced, and how they've internalized the experience.
As an example, a gnome might have had sandy hair before going on a prolonged quest. The pulse-pumping nature of the chases and battles, then escaping from a red dragon, mixed with the bravery (and foolhardiness) they showed may have turned their hair a bright, bloody red. It could also light a fire in their eyes, giving them an additional intensity caused by their sheer lust for more adventure.
Alternatively, a gnomish sneak thief might find their hair and eyes going a dark, lustrous black. Their eyes, and even their nails, might darken as they meld with the shadows, and sneak past guards to filch priceless treasures. As the scores grow bigger and bigger, their experiences become much more visible to those who look at them.
Whether your gnome has a more "normal" color scheme, or a wild one, ask what caused them to look that way. And as you go through the game, don't be afraid to make little additions, showing how their experiences are affecting them.
Tip #2: How do you hold off the bleaching?
The Bleaching is one of the most feared conditions among gnomes. Symptoms of lethargy and depression manifest, and color begins to leech from the gnome. They become a listless gray, the condition slowly leading them in a downward spiral that ends in madness for some, and death for all.
This is something that every gnome contends with, and it's one reason they constantly seek new and exciting experiences... because otherwise, they begin to bleach.
So take a moment to ask if your gnome has any odd beliefs about bleaching. Any home remedies, lifestyle choice, or warding gestures. Do they check their hair and skin regularly? Are they prone to humming or tapping, believing that silence always accompanies a bleaching? Do they avoid ever ordering the same food, or going to the same inn unless there's a new event happening? Do they try to stay on the cutting edge of experiences in everything from art to religion?
These beliefs don't have to be true... your gnome just has to believe these things will keep them flush and fresh.
Tip #3: How fey are you?
Gnomes are creatures of the First World, and while their people left the fey realms thousands of years ago, it has left its indelible mark on them. From their in-born abilities, to their uncanny relationship with many fey creatures, gnomes may have a decidedly other nature at times.
So ask what odd, strange, or unusual tics your gnome has that can be attributed to their fey roots.
Do they have an aversion to iron, even if their heritage is diluted enough that it won't harm them? Do they have a fondness for children, and an occasional urge to simply steal them away? Do they always hold to the letter of a bargain they've made, and expect the same from others? Do they play tricks on others they feel have violated some unspoken rule, or reward those who have behaved in ways they approve of?
There are all kinds of fairy tale tropes you can work in here, and while they aren't required, they can make it clear that your gnome sees the world from a distinctly inhuman perspective.
Tip #4: How do you relate to elves?
Elves and gnomes have an odd relationship, and it has put the two races closer to each other than many would assume. Elves often allow gnomes into places they would not allow other races, respecting them as a kind of younger sibling.
Assuming that mutual connection to the older, stranger parts of the world remains in effect, how does your gnome relate to elves?
It's entirely possible that your gnome has no opinions about elves, having never really seen or interacted with them. But it's equally possible they might feel a kind of kinship with the long-lived race. Something that intrigues them, and compels your gnome to introduce themselves to elves they meet, or at the very least to acknowledge them. A calling of the blood, perhaps.
Alternatively, your gnome might have deep-running feelings that came over with them from the First World. A dislike of certain kinds of elves for no reason, but they feel it in their bones. Perhaps it's a sort of racial memory, passed down from the Fey Courts so long that it's become an instinct. Or perhaps you feel a need to be helpful where elves are concerned, offering to act as a guide, to entertain them, or simply to polish their boots; an instinct handed down from gnomes who were protected by the elder race.
Again, it isn't a requirement... but it can add some interesting twists to how your gnome acts in certain situations.
Tip #5: Dig Deeper
This is a tip that applies to every race, but it should have a special consideration when it comes to gnomes. Too often gnome characters are simply one-note jokes, or they're played as an excuse to be kooky and to make nonsensical decisions. As I said in "The 5 RPG Characters We Should Stop Playing," though, you can only tell a joke one time before its freshness starts to run out.
Now, don't misunderstand this. Your character can still be funny. They can tell jokes, play pranks, and be quirky... but their entire existence is not a joke in and of itself.
How do you tell the difference? Well, once you've made your pun, or told your joke, or had your funny moment, is there anything else to the character? Are they still a competent wizard, a talented scout, a capable healer, etc.? Do they still have goals they're trying to accomplish, or motivations they're following? Or did you just put them in this situation to make them say a catchphrase and hope to get a laugh? Or just to mess with the rest of the table for the lulz?
Every player I've ever met has a horror story about a gnome for this reason. So think it through, and ask what the shelf-life of the character is going to be.