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Player’s Handbook 2: The Return of the Gnome

Written by Janna - Published on March 11, 2009

Janna discovered D&D at the age of 16, and she's been rolling the dice for 16 years. (You do the math.) She is fond of intelligent villains, drow society, and campaigns that explore the Dark Side.

Image by WOTC

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m looking forward to the Player’s Handbook 2 with a really embarrassing amount of enthusiasm. It’s going to bring us new classes like the Invoker (which is no longer arcane, but divine), and bring back old favorites like the bard and barbarian. It will also reintroduce some PC races that got left out of the core PH – namely, the gnome.

You remember the gnome, right? He was shoved aside by the usurping tiefling, who became a PC race while the gnome was relegated to the pages of the Monster Manual. Many players were surprised by the switch. Gnomes are cute; tieflings are diabolical. Most of us old-school gamers tend to picture gnomes as harmless tinkerers or talented illusionists, always getting into trouble without meaning to.

As it turns out, gnomes in 4E have a dark side. Sort of.

The History of Gnomes in 4E

Apparently there was much debate about the role gnomes would play in the new game. Some developers were attached to the time-worn concept of gnomes as loveable bundles of comic relief. Others wanted to take gnomes in a new direction – a more sinister direction that recrafted gnomes as slaves of the Feywild’s vile formorians. The end result is the (rather limited) description of the gnomish race, as found in the Monster Manual:

“Gnomes are sly tricksters who excel at avoiding notice as they move between the Feywild and the world, driven by curiosity and wanderlust. When they are noticed, they tend to use humor to deflect attention and hide their true thoughts.”

Hmm. Doesn’t sound too sinister to me. Bill Slavicsek, Director of R&D, thinks this is as it should be. During a discussion with team members, he shared his opinion about the wee folk:

“We should stop trying to swim upstream to create a cool, dark, heroic gnome and instead turn our powers to making a cool, funny, heroic gnome.”

So now gnomes will be cool, funny, and heroic? Gnome fans shall surely rejoice at this news. Still, it could be said that they just don’t make gnomes like they used to.

Gnomes: What’s Changed?

The biggest difference between gnomes in 4E and gnomes in previous editions is that they’ve lost their propensity for crazy mechanical devices. It was decided that tinkerers had to go because their wild contraptions just didn’t jive with a medieval fantasy setting. I can see the logic behind this decision, but I have to admit, it makes me a little sad. Gnome tinkerers brought us excitement, creativity, and frequent friendly fire when their gadgets went awry. Plus, the concept of the mad scientist/architect/mechanic was always good for laughs.

Instead of wreaking havoc with their wacky inventions, the new gnomes have gotten back to their fey roots. They’re able to fade from sight and sneak around without being noticed. They’re also versatile in their game-play; In Dragon Magazine #372, James Wyatt explains how gnomes can be anything from curious wanderers to masters of espionage to bitter tricksters scarred by their history of enslavement. They are still talented illusionists whose magic comes from within, not from external gadgetry.

The Player’s Handbook 2 will contain the same brand of gnomes found in the Monster Manual, expanded into a full-fledged PC race.

Gnomes In Print

So why weren’t gnomes included in the initial PH? Simply put, the developers wanted to showcase the far-flung races of the new world. Thus, dragonborn, eladrin, and tieflings were in, and gnomes and half-orcs (who will also return in the PH2) were out.

According to James Wyatt, gnomes were never written off completely as a PC race. But the designers felt that gnomes would fit in better in the Player’s Handbook 2, where they could “expand the game rather than define its initial parameters”. Whatever the reasoning, it’s good to have them back.

What do you think?

What do you think of the new gnomes? Was it a good idea to bring them back as a PC race? Let us know how you feel in the comments section!

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Written by Janna

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Janna discovered D&D at the age of 16, and she's been rolling the dice for 16 years. (You do the math.) She is fond of intelligent villains, drow society, and campaigns that explore the Dark Side.



19 Responses to “Player’s Handbook 2: The Return of the Gnome”
  1. Syrsuro says:

    At long last, the tinker gnome is dead!

    Long live the fey gnome.

    (In short, yes – I am very very glad to see the annoying little buggers bite the dust and be replaced by something less out-of-place. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an exceptional gnome, somewhere, that dabbles in unusual ats. But as a racial predisposition – no thanks.)


  2. kaeosdad says:

    The new feygnome back story sounds like fun but I’m really looking forward to the return of the half-orc. A half-orc avenger sounds like it would kick ass!

  3. Nicholas says:

    I’m playing a gnome swordmage in my current game, I love that little guy! He makes a really funny defender because he’s three foot seven inches and standing up to dragons.

    I don’t really miss the mechanical tinkering aspects. It was really just an outlet for their natural curiosity and they still have that.

  4. Ben says:

    So Gnomes are more of Kender’s now? Interesting, Tinker gnomes fit well for me, they where like Devinci meets the wacky inventions of the Greeks, only they tended get results beyond the feasible for their time frame.

  5. Josh says:

    Weren’t the gnomes always forest-hill dwellers that talked to burrowing animals? I thought only Dragonlance had tinker gnomes.

  6. justaguy says:

    I think the DL tinkergnome became so iconic that gnomes in DnD (and even elsewhere… look at WoW) were forever saddled with the baggage. In ye olden days before DL I think they were just tricksters, who favored illusions. At least, that’s what I recall.

  7. Jeremy says:

    A few thoughts: first, the fade in/fade fade out thing, along with the humor piece, reminds me of Dungeon Master from the DnD cartoon. Second — and somewhat related to that — the supposed, but seemingly dumped, sinister side of gnomes also makes me think of DM…who was clearly using those kids for his own sadistic ends.

    Here’s what I think I’ll do with gnomes: they do have a sinister side…they are a little twisted, at least some of them. They really can’t be trusted. And I think I may set up some sort of long-term racial enmity with the Eladrin, who were in league with their masters in the Feywild, or something like that. Maybe the Eladrin were the capos, of a sort, and the gnomes were the eternal stooges. Dunno. The whole ‘plucky, cute comic relief hero’ thing makes me wretch…that’s the same story cesspool from which JarJar Binks once arose.

  8. Donny_the_DM says:

    And to think of all the “ZOMG! THEY KILLED OF TEH NOMEZ!!? posts I had to wade through last year LOL!

    @Jeremy – Jar-Jar makes my kids break out in fits! Annoying as he is, he gets a bye till they tire of him :)

    One can only wonder how much of the “old” D&D they supposedly cast-off will be making quiet returns…

  9. Visionseer says:

    One of my PCs, that lasted for years was Mother Marta Torsdatter… I built her as the punchline to a joke… and she ended up being one of my most popular and well-developed PCs. She was a monk-cleric, but of a House-Rule religion that forbade her to harm others. Undead were fair game, but all others needed to be saved or redeemed, if possible. Over time, she developed into a couples counselor, midwife, and cookie baker. The only thing I regretted was modelling her accent on Dr. Ruth Westheimer … Hard to keep that up. http://drruth.com/content/view/42/27/

    I never minded the steam-punky tinkergnomes. I always saw the race as vaguely like the Dutch… having a joy of living behind their actions that looks sort of bright-eyed insane to the rest of the world.

  10. GroovyTaxi says:

    I have to admit I always whined about how sad it was to see the gnome and the half-orc being removed. I’m glad to see them coming back, altough I still hate 4TH edition for all those weird changes to the fighting system and everything being divided in so many manuals. One player handbook is enough for my wallet.

  11. Todd Bradley says:

    I liked this bit:

    According to James Wyatt, gnomes were never written off completely as a PC race. But the designers felt that gnomes would fit in better in the Player’s Handbook 2, where they could “expand the game rather than define its initial parameters”.

    In other words, they took it out so that you would have to pay yet more money to buy PH2 in order to have something that seems like a complete D&D game. It’s all about squeezing every last dime out of the gaming community.

  12. Mike The Merciless says:

    The James Wyatt Translator says that they left out gnomes because they wanted to put it in a PHB 2 so they can sell more books. I see a PHB 3 on the horizon to fill in the noticable gaps in this so-called “RPG.”

  13. Rob says:

    I am personally glad to see gnomes get back to their fey roots. I had been playing D&D for years before I was exposed to Dragonlance Tinker Gnomes. To me, gnomes were always tricksters and illusionists.

    On the subject of multiple Player’s Handbooks, I actually don’t mind them. If they are going with that model though, I kind of wish they completely limited the introduction of new races and classes to the Player’s Handbooks though. Get rid of the Player’s Guides for campaign settings and expand classes/races/feats through the PHBs!

    One thing I hated about 3E is that every book threw in some Prestige Classes and some Feats to try to entice players to buy them. Books like the 3E Manual of the Planes and 4E Draconomicon are so DM focused, that this seemed like a flagrant money grab.

    They seem to be getting a little better about this in 4E. I felt the 4E Manual of the Planes still had this issue, with a few planar Paragon Paths and Rituals thrown in just to entice players to buy it. But the 4E Draconomicon seemed pretty free of this. The rituals in it seemed designed for use by dragons rather than players, and there were no Paragon Paths or Feats thrown in to entice players to buy a supplement designed primarily for DMs.

    If WOTC can deliver more books like the 4E Draconomicon without feeling the need to add “player bait”, I say let them put out as many Player’s Handbooks as they want.

  14. Mike The Merciless says:

    With 3E, though, Rob, the DM didn’t have to accept every feat or Prestige Class that came down the pike. For instance, I completely rejected the Heroes of Horror book as unplayable, along with the Book of Vile Darkness and the Book of Exalted Deeds. Heck, I rejected most of the new spells out of the Spell Compendium. I rejected the Weapons of Legacy book as sophomoric. Don’t get me started on the drivel that was the Tome of Magic book. Though some of the spells from these books were interesting, I saw no need to put them in the game at all. I never minded splat books because I saw no urgent need to augment the game with every new thing. And if a player wanted me to apply the rules out of a book, I told him that I would look into it.

    But with 4E, it now seems as though it’ll be tougher to reject a lot of this new material for the DM if he finds something wrong with it because of how the game is arranged.

  15. Drax40K says:

    @Mike The Merciless

    You don’t need to buy the PHB2 at all to play D&D the game is completely playable with only the three core books, I know, I’ve been running a campaign for about 4 months now. This book doesn’t ‘complete’ the game and isn’t required. It’s no different then the Races of Stone book for 3e if you ask me. As a matter of fact there is nothing stopping you from playing Gnome, Shadar Kai, Gnoll, Hobgoblin, Orc, Hobgoblin, Goblin, and several other races by using the information in the Monsters Manual. They don’t get a full two page spread like the core races, but it’s more then workable.

    I can’t think of a single roleplaying system out that doesn’t follow the same method of putting out a number of books to support their game in the same fashion, White Wolf, Pinnacle/AEG, Fasa/WizKids, Palladium, etc….

    Wizards didn’t ‘stumble’ onto some new and nefarious business model, it’s been alive and well, and what’s more successful for some time now. I don’t think Wizards have really hidden the fact that they’re out to sell more books…that’s just common sense, and good business.

  16. GiacomoArt says:

    Yes, tinker gnomes did start with Dragon Lance, and never did find their way out of it in any of the gaming groups I played with. And everyone who complains about this being a money-grab by WOTC doesn’t understand that (1) of course it is — that’s why they’re in business; (2) they’ve already delivered a complete game that you can play without further source material, so if you feel the need to buy their supplements, that doesn’t mean they’re slimeballs, that means either they’re delivering more of a good thing or you need to re-examin your priorities; and (3) if they’re actually delivering more of a good thing, they deserve to get paid for the more, not just work for charity because you paid them for something once upon a time.

    I also have zero sympathy for players who whine that the arrival of 4E spells the end of WOTC’s support for 3.5. No other RPG in history has enjoyed the level of support that each edition of D&D has received, and that’s never stopped me from GMing all the other, better games out there that struck my fancy. If you want to play an older edition of D&D, just play it and ease up on the sniping.

  17. Todd says:

    Tinker gnomes have been about for a very, very long time. Anyone remember the blue and green clad gnomes with the red hats that eventually became garden gnomes? They were always portrayed as using a host of “better mousetrap” style inventions. Krynn just upped the ante with steam power. That is where it really breaks down. A medieval engineering approach to gnomes would still be very viable, just not as a PC class. Think swiss family Robinson, with the water wheel elevators and such. This could easily remain an aspect of their culture (if you choose to go there) without infecting the DND game with all kinds of anachronistic technologies.

    On the other hand, I like gnomes as faeries. In that case, they become the shoemaker elves and brownies of the 4e world. I personally always thought that elves, and now eladrin, should have been the illusion practitioners, but you get what you can take I suppose. Sadly, despite how appropriate it might be (because of history and fae leanings combined), there exists no real “glamour” class for them to pursue. I suppose the closest class at this point is the bard. Wait… that is kind of scary…

  18. Nightmare says:

    Rediculus, its just another book to buy…they could have easilty done it all in one but they had to get greedy. Enjoy your board game, im going back to AD&D.

  19. Nicholas says:

    @Nightmare: Publication takes time and money. Employees developing and testing ideas takes time and money. You’re right, they could have put everything in the PHB2 into PHB1. It would have made the book much larger and more costly to print. It would have taken just as long to develop the content as it did for the PHB1 and 2, so it would just be coming out now. Because both of those things cost money, it would have also been far more expensive.

    Once this massive omni-tome came out it would be slow to market, over-sized and costly. At which point, people like yourself (but hopefully with better spelling) would complain about the cost of books and paying for content you might not want.

    To top it all off, it still doesn’t solve the initial problem. They are still likely to want to add more content that they came up with after release. If they do that then there would again be the accusations that it is all a money grab. If they don’t release supplements, the community would rise up and complain that WotC isn’t supporting their products.

    So I guess WotC can’t win on that front. Although, they might win on the front of so many people buying the PHB2. You know, because it is a good product and has content that people want and are willing to pay for.

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