“From cringing grotto
to sun-dappled weald
We bloomed like morning’s glory.
Cottonweed seeds borne by the four winds,
We measured the breadth of the world.”
--Opening verse of “Vit’gno Loed,” an early
is fitting that a reclusive race should have origins shrouded
in mystery. Humans long discounted the existence of gnomes,
often mistaking them for halfling children on the rare occasions
when they spotted one. Noting the gnomes’ long beards,
their love for gems, and their tendency to live underground,
the halflings long maintained that gnomes were slender and
dexterous dwarves. The dwarves, for their part, fixed their
attention on the gnomes’ pointed ears and concluded
they were pygmy elves. The elves, as might be expected, have
long known more. A fragment of hide in the Library Aies, identified
by loresong as a draft illustration from the Imperial Chronicles,
contains the earliest reference to the gnomes. One of the
illustrations, a catalogue of cave-dwelling creatures, depicts
a tiny humanoid figure covered with long, silvery-white hair.
A note written below the humanoid says “igno skaellim,”
a phrase that translates to “identity unknown.”
In their explorations, the elves found only trace evidence
of these beings--an abandoned campsite, perhaps, or a dessicated
corpse--but they never made extended contact with a living
specimen. Out of sheer frustration, or perhaps in a rare moment
of humor, the chroniclers of Ta’Illistim decided to
enter the evasive race into the royal bestiary under a name
derived from its original identification: gnome.
The gnomes remained a mystery even to the elves until the
beginning of the Fourth Age. In the year -4500, elven rangers
recorded the first extended contact with a living gnome in
the forest outside Ta’Illistim:
Gyldemar Forest, SW. Lead scout halted on approach
to a narrow, shallow stream. At the bank stood a creature
of perhaps two and one half feet tall, clothed in a rough
linen tunic. Eyes: brown. Hair: blond.
Beard: long and white. Ears: overlarge and
pointed. Squad took cover to observe its behavior. The creature
used a wooden spear to fish the stream, collecting its catch
in a wicker creel. It sang a song in an uncouth tongue.
Voice: high pitched and reedy. Tracked subject
with maximum stealth to nearby cave, where we overheard
a greeting to others of its kind. Laughter billowed out
of the cave, and the creature emerged with a broad smile
on its face. It pointed to each spot where our rangers hid,
then pantomimed walking with a heavy, clumsy tread. In its
own language, but in a remarkably accurate imitation of
our leader, the gnome barked out what might have been commands.
More laughter ensued, then with a quick wink the creature
disappeared into the cave. Lessons learned: subject
was a gnome; gnomes have developed the rudiments of civilization,
including technology, language, and a sense of humor.
Recommendations: additional observation and analysis.
This initial report was quickly confirmed by additional--but
still uncommon--encounters with civilizing gnomes throughout
the elven lands. At the very same time, scouts began to report
contact with a very different sort of gnomish beast: hunch-backed,
gangly, purple-eyed, nearly hairless, and anything but civilized.
Keeping strictly to their caves and shunning any light, these
creatures were inevitably hostile to the elves, attacking
with crude and generally ineffective weapons.
There was--and still is--no satisfying explanation for the
difference between civilized and savage gnomes. Most gnomes
vehemently repudiate any connection with the creatures that
have come to be called "cave gnomes," despite what
others consider obvious similarities of size and features
(hair and eye color, for example). Only the gnomes of Bloodline
Rosengift recognize any relationship, and that only in one
of their folktales:
And it came to pass that the gnomes, growing more accomplished
with every year, left the lesser races far behind. Among
the bloodlines, however, the struggle for dominion was fierce.
One bloodline in particular so hungered for power that they
communed with Fash’lo’nae. “Grant us,
lord, some small part of your knowledge,” they prayed.
In a voice impatient and curt, the god replied: “To
what end?” “That we might outstrip our kin,
of course, and rule the forest far and wide.” A wry
chuckle blew down on the wind, and the god’s voice
replied, “It’s Imaera you want, not me.”
And so the gnomes communed with the goddess of nature,
who appeared to them in sylvan form. “How can I help
you, children of the forest,” she asked. “We
seek knowledge, great lady, that we might better serve your
ends.” But Imaera had observed their exchange with
Fash’lo’nae, and she saw the will to power in
their hearts. “Very well,” she replied. “From
this time forward, you will know nature to its very core.”
For a short while the gnomes rejoiced in the idea that their
wish had been granted; but foul Imaera, that perfidious
wretch, had a crueler fate in mind. Within minutes, the
entire bloodline devolved into children of nature, crude
savages incapable of higher thought or organized behavior.
Rosengift distrust of nature notwithstanding, most historians
believe that the truth lies in the opposite direction: that
the civilized race evolved from the savage. This raises questions,
however, about why time left the cave gnomes behind. In the
end, there is no evidence sufficient to close the debate.
Civilized and cave gnomes alike differ radically from the
creatures depicted in the ancient elvish record, and thus
is also possible to conclude that a single event, shrouded
in the darkness of the end of the Third Age, sent the groups
off on two divergent paths.
The origin of the gnomes thus remains an open question,
a matter of great speculation and rancorous debate.
The Great Schism
Historians agree that gnomes are indigenous to Elanthia
and Elanith, and that like other civilized races they first
saw light in the First Age, from which no tales survive. In
that savage epoch, the gnomes eked out a short and brutish
existence--flying from danger or hiding in the darkness of
shallow, natural caves--as the prey of larger and more powerful
creatures. There are few beasts of smaller size or more modest
power than the gnome, of course, which perhaps explains why
their savage period extended so far beyond the rest. Those
gnomes who survived these barbarous conditions developed the
attributes that still characterize the race: stealth, speed,
ingenuity, and above all a wary distrust of others.
Little is known about gnomish culture in its infancy except
that their religious sensibility began in ancestor worship.
Individual families of gnomes kept elaborate records of births,
deaths, and marriage alliances. The few surviving records,
scratched on cavern walls, indicate that the gnomes practiced
exogamy, seeking always to bind additional persons into an
ever-more inclusive group. These early gnomes identified themselves
by reference to their earliest known ancestors, who gave their
names to the extended family groups known as bloodlines. To
this day, when outsiders commonly identify members of the
race according to their home in Forest or Burg, the gnomes
insist that only bloodline matters--or, to quote one of their
earliest epigrams, that “Character is drawn in lines
By longstanding tradition and from a continuing need for
security, gnomes kept close to their ancestral caves. When
overcrowding became a problem, several families would leave
as a group to settle another cave nearby their original home.
Thus the extended bloodlines remained physically and spiritually
close to one another. In the year -135, however, a strange
pestilence began to strike at the children of the gnomes.
The disease progressed in this manner: the eyes became sensitive
to light, and then a terrible weakness set in as the muscles
became slack and unresponsive; the skin became pasty grey
and then began to develop colorful growths resembling the
lichen that grows on cavern walls; the disease ended with
a lingering, but mercifully painless, death. As more and more
children succumbed, the gnomes began to worry for the survival
of their race. While no cure was ever found, the gnomes soon
discovered that children were less likely to develop the wasting
disease in the fresh air of the forest, in the energizing
light of the sun. Without pause for thought, the gnomes streamed
out of their caves and established camps in sunlit forest
glades, and sometimes even in the grassy plains. This was
dangerous, as it exposed the gnomes to predators, but the
spread of disease came to a swift halt.
After a few seasons of exposure to predators and to harsh
seasonal elements, the gnomes began to contemplate a return
to their homes. Though the evacuation of the caves was originally
conceived as a temporary measure, whispers began to circulate
that the plague was a sign from the gods directing the gnomes
to leave the caves, to expand their territory, and to take
a more visible role in Elanthian life. This idea struck a
chord with many gnomes, who felt a competitive desire to measure
themselves against the other civilized races. A conservative
element argued that life above ground was too dangerous, but
a majority felt that the race was becoming too soft, their
culture stagnant and hidebound, and that they needed the challenge
of living above ground to stimulate further development.
These ideas eventually found their way to the leaders of
gnomish society, who called an unprecedented meeting of bloodline
elders. Recognizing that this decision would impact the entire
race, the elders abandoned the tradition of gerontocracy in
favor of a more democratic system in which every adult gnome
would be allowed a vote on the issue. The gnomes gathered
and spent weeks debating the issue, while craftsmen created
wooden tokens marked with the identifying pattern of each
bloodline. When the lots were cast, the decision went overwhelmingly
in favor of leaving the caves.
No sooner was this decision made that a new wrinkle arose.
A young gnome named Sander Withycombe suggested that his people
might secure their goals more quickly, and at less trouble,
by abandoning the forests altogether and moving into the cities
and towns of other races. Groups of adventurous gnomes had
occasionally explored the cities of the elves, but were daunted
by the advanced civilization they found there. The more rustic
towns of the humans, however, were comfortable and inviting.
Withycombe’s cousin and childhood friend, Doneagil
Basingstoke, rose to speak in opposition to this idea. A great
argument ensued. Lasting the better part of a year, it alternated
between formal debate and rancorous shouting match, until
finally it was determined that no compromise was possible.
It was resolved that the gnomes would take one final action
as a unified people. Those resolved to attach themselves to
the human cities would leave kith and kin forever, while the
rest would keep to their forest home. A vote was taken, and
its results surprised no one. Smaller, weaker gnomes--the
curious, but also those lacking discipline--chose to leave
for the cities. The strongest and wisest of the race chose
to remain where nature had placed them.
It is impossible to overstate the disruption that this vote
brought to gnomish society. The division cut across families
as well as bloodlines, and the departure of random groups
violated the most ancient traditions of bloodline continuity.
It was therefore resolved to mark the moment—which came
in time to be called the Great Schism—with a reorganization
of cultural groups. The entire record of gnomish ancestry
prior to the Great Schism was destroyed, and two new groups
organized under their most vocal advocates. Sjandor Withycombe
led the Burghal Gnomes into the cities and towns of the Kannalan
Empire, while Doneagil Basingstoke led the Forest Gnomes back
to their ancestral demesne.