It is said that innocent joy can only be found in the beaming eyes of a child. I wonder if there is a hidden and grim meaning to this saying. Yesterday, my companion – a brawny gnome and savage warrior with purple hair – strangled a highway robber with his knobby hands. Like most of his race, he is always a little skittish, but after the battle he was extremely excited and cheerful. In great detail he described the snapping sound, the last breath’s smell, and in his newly colorful eyes I saw a joy no grown or sane man can ever experience. – Delwik Oakes, Pathfinder
Physical Description and Psychological Outlook
Gnomes are one of the smallest of the common races, generally standing just over 3 feet in height. Their hair tends toward vibrant colors such as the fiery orange of autumn leaves, the verdant green of forests at springtime, or the deep reds and purples of wildflowers in bloom. Similarly, their flesh tones range from earthy browns to floral pinks, frequently with little regard for heredity. Gnomes possess highly mutable facial characteristics, and many have overly large mouths and eyes, an effect which can be both disturbing and stunning, depending on the individual.
At about 3 feet in height, gnomes are slighter and taller than halflings. Their ears are humanlike, but their highly mutable facial muscles allow for disturbing grins ant their oversized eyes emphasize their often disproportionate expressions of emotion. With skin, hair, and eyes of varying, often vibrant colors, gnomes look the most alien and out of place of all of Golarion’s common races.
Gnomes trace their lineage back to the mysterious realm of the fey, a place where colors are brighter, the wildlands wilder, and emotions more primal. Unknown forces drove the ancient gnomes from that realm long ago, forcing them to seek refuge in this world; despite this, the gnomes have never completely abandoned their fey roots or adapted to mortal culture. As a result, gnomes are widely regarded by the other races as alien and strange.
Once and ancient and immortal race of fey, the wily gnomes of present Golarion are transmuted and displaced. They still cling to the era of agelessness they left behind as they emerged from Golarion’s progenitor, the First World, and stepped into the alien and hostile reality of the Material Plane. The first records of otherworldly gnome trailblazers scouting the land date back to the Age of Anguish, but to this day, the reason fo the race’s exodus remains a mystery. While the stocky, wrinkled tale spinners of the oldest gnome enclaves claim that their unmatched curiosity drove them to exploration, the eldest dragons and reclusive aboleths speak of a devastating catastrophe wrecking the gnome’s fey realm in a reflection of the destruction brought upon Golarion by the Starstone. Some sages even suspect that the race fled its homeland solely to wash suspicion from its mischievous hands.
The shadowy First World was a place of wonders for the gnomes. Ageless life and never-ending pranks were sources of continuous delight. Uprooted from this ancestral home, the race never cured the spiritual wound the separation caused, resulting in an affliction called the Bleaching. When born, a young gnome’s skin, hair, and eyes are vibrant in color and remain that way during his first years. From adulthood on, these features are subject to radical change depending on the individual’s experiences. Gnomes who exist in an unchanging environment see their colors pale and their sanity wither, while those with a knack for the new remain lively and vibrant.
During the gonmes’ first, mad dash into the new word, the strain of the Bleaching and the loss of their once innate ability to manipulate shadows and space allowed Golarion’s dangerous denizens to take countless gnomish lives. Had it not been for the retention of their cleverness and nonlinear genius throughout this attempt at frenetic exploration, the gnomes would have been destroyed in the era of their diaspora. Most who survived did so by forming enclaves, where gnomes uncharacteristically banded together for mutual protection. Sages tell that some embraced the maddening touch of the Bleaching and used it to warp their minds an bodies into dangerous forms capable of defending themselves. The descendants of these curmudgeonly misanthropes are called Lonely Ones by the gnomes, while humanity refers to them as spriggans.
The gnomes of Golarion are a wounded race. Traumatized by their exodus from the realm of fey, they suffer from an affliction they call the Bleaching. Every gnome needs new and exciting experiences on a regular basis or else she starts to lose color, substance, and awareness, while slowly passing into the afterlife. This need, paired with their unconventional ethics, has caused the race to be recognized as fickle and chaotic, but also as innovative, daring, and radically progressive.
Gnomes tend toward eccentric pursuits and are attracted to objects that help to “anchor” them to Golarion and delay the Bleaching. Besides collecting stories and friends, they favor mechanical gadgets, riddles, flamboyant outfits, nicknames, perfumes, and other complex and distinct items and mannerisms. Sometimes these affectations turn into an obsession with weird and useless items like rusty blades, spoons, knots, and other hodgepodge. Some gnomes suffer the Bleaching but are able to exist calmly in its emotional void. Gnomes call them “bleachlings” and they suffer the Bleaching to become more than before, able to speak with animals freely and most of the time becoming druids and respected elders. Most gnomes, however, simply die. Note the difference between bleachlings and spriggans, where the first simply continue to grow within the Bleaching and the last indulge in its insanity and become a menace of society.
Unlike most races, gnomes do not generally organize themselves within classic societal structures. Whimsical creatures at heat, they typically travel alone or with temporary companions, ever seeking new and more exciting experiences. They rarely form enduring relationships among themselves or with members of other races, instead pursuing crafts, professions, or collections with a passion that borders on zealotry. Male gnomes have a strange fondness for unusual hats and headgear, while females often proudly wear elaborate and eccentric hairstyles.
Throughout their lives, most gnomes have many intimate relationships, but they rarely engage in long-lasting ties. Lifetime bonding or marriage is extremely rare. Usually, a gnome family is loosely organized and the vigorous children are taught the ways of life by the community until they are grown enough to learn from their own experiences.
Gnomes are most common in the hills and forests of Avistan, where they built their first enclaves and managed to find some measure of peaceful coexistence with the natives. The largest of the gnome cities is Brastlewark, the legendary capital of the Gnome King within the borders of Cheliax, most lawful and stable of all gnomish settlements. Other important settlements include the elusive Shay Citadels of Irrere near Holgrim, the welcoming and boisterous community of Thom near the River Kingdoms, as well as Katapesh in the country of the same name, and Quantium in Nex. Additionally, gnomes occupied important positions in the courts of Ancient Osirian pharaohs, and earlier editions of the Pathfinder Chronicles contain hints of a debased spriggan society inhabiting a monolithic stone city in the Mwangi Expanse. Beyond the enclaves, many gnomes constantly roam the land in search for new borders, physical and mental, to explore.
Gnomes have difficulty interacting with the other races, on both emotional and physical levels. Gnome humor is hard to translate and often comes across as malicious or senseless to other races, while gnomes in turn tend to think of the taller races as dull and lumbering giants. They get along well with halflings and humans, but are overly fond of playing jokes on dwarves and halforcs, whom most gnomes feel need to lighten up. They respect elves, but often grow frustrated with the comparatively slow pace at which members of the long-lived race make decisions. To the gnomes, action is always better than inaction, and many gnomes carry several highly involved projects with them at all times to keep themselves entertained during rest periods.
Since the Bleaching remains the only natural cause of death among gnomes, religion and the worship of deities is explored in great detail under its aspect. If it had not been for the affliction, the descendants of fey might not have taken up the mantle of worship at all, but as it stands, gnomes maintain an exuberant interest in faith often bordering on zealotry. As with almost everything else, pious gnomes do not quite know when to quit.
Although gnomes are impulsive tricksters, with sometimes inscrutable motives and equally confusing methods, their hearts are generally in the right place. They are prone to powerful fits of emotion, and find themselves most at peace within the natural world. Gnomes are usually neutral good, and prefer to worship deities who value individuality and nature, such as Shelyn, Gozreh, Desna, and increasingly Cayden Cailean. Erastil and Nethys are also popular amongst gnomes.
Gnomes’ propensity for wanderlust makes them natural adventurers. They often become wanderers to experience new aspects of life, for nothing is as novel as the uncounted dangers facing adventurers. Gnomes make up for their weakness with a proclivity for spontaneous magical feats, so many are sorcerers or bards.
Language and Naming
Gnomes speak Gnome. It is actually a motley conglomeration of words from other languages. Conveying their ideas through voice was a novel concept the race started to pick up upon their arrival. Immediately, they took sounds and words they fancied and assigned random meaning to them to forge a language of their own. The result might be the most irritating language to learn, and someone overhearing a conversation in Gnome is likely addled by the strange use of familiar words.
They have names that are unnecessarily long, multi-syllabic, and intentionally difficult to pronounce. Female names reverse the male conventions, being simple and short, although many females claim their names are actually short for something. Gnome family names, which change every few generations, typically contain some Common words, as well as several syllables of gibberish. Examples include Frothelthimble, Garisgnawing, Mommanpopple, Palepartlinger, and Thicketbotter.
Male: Abroshtor, Bastarger, Halungalom, Krolmnite, Kremernesh, Lumrolur, Nulrakgrult, Poshment, Quokgol, Sarzuket, Tenzekil, Tongtokl, Varknarnost, Xurshuklo, Zatqualmie.
Female: Abe, Besh, Bagi, Dei, Fijit, Gant, Hip, Lini, Lim, Neji, Majet, Pai, Queck, Trig, Zheit
Sources: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting